Feature Article – The Truth About Dredge

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Wednesday, April 7th – Throughout the Extended season, people have been crossing their fingers and hoping to dodge the dreaded Dredge. Or they’ve been packing their sideboards with inefficient answers to the graveyard-fuelled menace. Ben Lundquist brings us a thorough look at how to pilot the deck. If you’ve still got a PTQ left, could Dredge be the answer?

Magic is an ever-changing game that is pretty much impossible to master. We play a new format every few months, there are new sets added to these formats, and the metagame is constantly shifting week in and week out. Not only do you have to keep up with all these important factors, but you also have to play each game without making many mistakes, because we all know what the smallest mistakes can potentially lead to. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is that you don’t know how to play against Dredge and you hope you never have to.

Every round I filled out the match slip I was told the same thing, “I was hoping to dodge dredge.” There are a few reasons why this is, so let me explain to you what is actually going on here. Part of the equation is that Dredge is going to win the majority of game 1’s. This format has very few answers to a turn one Hedron Crab or Drowned Rusalka, so the game is actually over just as quick as that. Then if you hope to have a chance for the next two games, you better have a great sideboarding plan. Here the problem is that in order to have a chance in the next two games you need to be bringing in some extremely narrow cards, and plenty of them. Combine this with the fact that Dredge only makes up 4% of the metagame it starts to make sense as to why you are hoping to dodge this deck; you can’t afford to commit enough of your decks slots in order to beat it.

You may be thinking that the sideboard cards that beat Dredge aren’t actually that narrow because they serve other functions, so allow me to go over the pros and cons to current sideboard cards that people are using.

Leyline of the Void: This is the most problematic card that Dredge can play against. When your opponent starts the game with one of these in play it is going to need to be answered or the game is pretty much over. Dredge can potentially mill you out or beat you down with Bloodghasts and other bad creatures, but both of those situations aren’t going to come up that often. On the flip side, you must start with this card in your opening hand and hope they don’t have an answer in the near future. It is not like sideboarding in Deathmarks against Zoo, which is still going to be good even on turn 5, this is a card you need in your opening hand in order to live until turn 5.

Extirpate: This appears to be the card of choice for most of the Depths decks, and the card couldn’t make me any happier. I am well aware that Dredge isn’t priority #1, so I am fine with people sideboarding this card at the moment. It is good enough in the matchups you want it, but let me tell you that it isn’t very effective against Dredge. If you are one of the people that are happy to have this for the Dredge matchup, then you better keep dodging the matchup.

Tormod’s Crypt: I think this is the best sideboard card to fight Dredge with, but since Dredge takes up so little of the metagame it is hard to justify playing it. I believe it to be better than Leyline for a few reasons. The first being that it is not played very often. What I mean by this is that Dredge players are responsible for following the way sideboards are being made and have to set up their sideboards to beat yours. When a card that is this good against Dredge stops seeing play, it is going to catch them off guard and cripple them when you do play it. Not just this, but it can be transmuted for through Tolaria West, is good to draw after your opening hand, and abusable with Academy Ruins. It also costs no mana, so it will fit into your curve no matter what your draw consists of.

Relic of Progenitus: Imagine Tormod’s Crypt, but instead of it fitting into any draw it makes you at least a turn slower. Now factor in that this card can’t be transmuted for with Tolaria West, isn’t abusable with Academy Ruins, and costs 2 mana to use right away instead of the 0 that Tormod’s Crypt takes. That’s what I think of this card.

Ravenous Trap: This card is also not very good. I lost to it at the GP and am pretty bitter over it. I cut the sideboard Thoughtseizes as a suggestion from a friend for Meddling Mages, and let me tell you I lost a match because of it and am not very happy. Much like Extirpate it is easy to see coming, but this card can actually cripple you. Board in your Thoughtseizes and this card won’t be a problem. Other than that you can choose to stop dredging when they repeatedly ask to see your graveyard and sacrifice a bridge token when you flashback Dread Return and they won’t be able to trap you anymore since a token is not a card.

Of course you can never be positive of what the opponent is going to be bringing in against you. Some Depths decks bring in Leyline and some bring in Extirpate. Some Hypergenesis decks bring in Leyline, and some bring in nothing. The problem most Dredge players face when they first pick up the deck is how to win the sideboard war when you are always at a disadvantage of not knowing what they have. I do this by sideboarding as little as possible for game 2, and adjusting what potentially needs to be fixed for game 3, after figuring out what they do have. Before I go to deep into sideboard strategy, let me give you an updated list and reasoning behind choices…

1 Breeding Pool
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Steam Vents
3 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Verdant Catacombs
3 Watery Grave

3 Bloodghast
4 Drowned Rusalka
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Hedron Crab
2 Iona, Shield of Emeria
4 Narcomoeba
4 Stinkweed Imp

4 Bridge from Below
3 Dread Return
3 Glimpse the Unthinkable
4 Ideas Unbound
1 Life from the Loam

1 Ancestor’s Chosen
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Darkblast
3 Echoing Truth
1 Life from the Loam
4 Thoughtseize
2 Nature’s Claim

Dredge decks don’t change very much from one list to the next, but if you are interested in playing this deck it is important to take notice at what differences there are in each list. As you can see, I have the full set of Ideas Unbound and only 3 Glimpse the Unthinkable. My reasoning behind this is that most of the sideboard games turn into grinding the opponent out while playing around there hate, and drawing into the sideboard cards you board in is a lot of the time better than milling into them. Like I said though, there is not much different here, so if you have any questions leave a message in the forums and I will be happy to get back to you.

Like I said, Dredge is going to win just about every game 1. Keeping a bad hand, being on the draw against a different combo deck with a great hand, or dredging poorly are the only real ways to not finish this game with a W. Some matchups are a race, and some become grinds with Drowned Rusalka and Bloodghast making tons of zombie tokens. These games are all very similar though, so let me get to the sideboard for you…

Depths — Some of these decks are playing Leyline and the rest are playing Extirpate. What there plan against you, besides one of these two cards, is to get a Hexmage into play that will hopefully negate your Bridges, kill your early creature, and Thoughtseize you in order to take your discard outlets or Leyline answers. The biggest issues I have with all of this is mostly the fact that they are Thoughtseizing me. They get to pick at your hand and leave you with a grip of Golgari Grave Troll, Dread Return, and Bridge from Below and I am not cool with that. In order to combat this, I board in all the cards that will be good for me in the beginning of the game in order to be Thoughtseize Proof. I don’t want to sit there not doing anything while my hand gets destroyed and they get to develop their own board position. As such, I sideboard like this…

-3 Glimpse the Unthinkable, -1 Iona, -1 Dread Return, -1 Golgari Grave-Troll
+2 Darkblast, +3 Echoing Truth, +1 Life from the Loam

By bringing in all cards that will be good in your hand you lessen the impact of their Thoughtseizes that would potentially cripple you. Glimpse is a complete blank against Leyline, which is why I would much rather have Ideas Unbound in the deck in order to draw into more gas. If they start game 2 with a Leyline and you don’t draw an Echoing Truth, then game 3 make sure to bring in the 2 Natures Claims. Substitute them for an additional Troll and one of the Loams. Dredge 6 is a very important part of the deck, but most of the time you would rather have a Stinkweed Imp in your hand that will block their 20/20 or a way to get that Troll in the graveyard. Their Thoughtseizes make this difficult, so dredging via Darkblast and Loam is more than acceptable. It is also unlikely that they have both Extirpate and Leyline, so don’t worry about playing around Extirpates if you ever see a Leyline. If their sideboard plan is indeed Extirpate, don’t even worry about bringing in Thoughtseize. As Owen Turtenwald would say, Extirpate is actually just a napkin in a sleeve. As you can see, I don’t really care about their Thopter plan and don’t feel it’s worth it to bring in Ancient Grudges either.

Zoo — This matchup is both a race and a grind. It isn’t unlikely that Zoo will have very much hate for Dredge outside of Meddling Mage, so they sideboard games don’t change very much from the first game. Don’t play Hedron Crab on turn 1 because they are one of the few decks that have removal for it and you will lose 2 life off a shockland that you didn’t actually need to. Make sure to not do much with Drowned Rusalka on your own, since unless you get very lucky you aren’t going to accomplish very much. Block with your creatures before you throw them away and the game should run rather smoothly. Here is my sideboard plan for them…

-4 Ideas Unbound, -1 Dread Return, -1 Iona
+1 Loam, +2 Darkblast, +2 Echoing Truth, +1 Ancestors Chosen

Ideas Unbound is good at two things. The first is getting a huge turn of dredging when you already have some cards in the graveyard, and the other is to dig into sideboard answers to their hate. Since digging isn’t relevant in this matchup and you should already be winning if you have dredgers in the graveyard, Ideas is the easy cut. Sometimes they have Tormod’s Crypt, so bring in the Ancient Grudges for the Echoing truth if this is the case. Echoing truth is there just to slow them down or bounce a meddling mage. Neither of these is particularly important as Darkblast can handle the mage by playing it before your drawstep, dredging it and then playing it again. Darkblast is also very good in combination with Bloodghast and Bridge from Below and lets you create tons of tokens that will overwhelm the Zoo player in no time.

Those are the decks that are going to make up the majority of your tournament. There are many decks out there, so take the time to figure out what their sideboard plan is going to be against you. Here are some general tips from my sideboard that do just that…

Natures Claim — Don’t bring this in unless you are positive they have Leyline, or it is going to be awesome against them, like Affinity for example. Most of the time they won’t even start the game with Leyline and even then an Echoing Truth can buy you enough time to get enough business going before they recast it. Remember that this deck wins the majority of the game 1’s and there will be 2 more to play. Don’t dilute the deck so much that you give yourself a handicap at winning one of the next two games.

Ancestors Chosen — I didn’t give this card the respect it deserved before the GP and wasn’t even going to play it. I have since played quite a bit with it and it is an important card to have access to. I thought zoo would still overrun me with their animals when I brought this guy back and that is not the case at all. He buys you time against the decks that have burn spells and wins the game hands down against a deck like Scapeshift that can’t deal an extra 30 damage to you.

Ancient Grudge — I didn’t board this card in very often and knew it wasn’t the best option for the sideboard. I even left a Steam Vents out of my 75 for the GP because I knew this was the case. However, it is good when it is good so it should keep its place. It is good at fighting the opponents’ artifact hate while you dredge, but not something I care to weaken my draws enough to play a bunch of them.

Darkblast — This card is awesome against Faeries, Elves, Boros, Zoo, Dark Depths, and the Mirror. If I could have a 16 card sideboard I would fill the extra space with the 3rd of these, but how it is now 2 is just fine. They don’t get much better in multiples.

Echoing Truth — This is the most versatile sideboard card you can get. It buys you turns against agro matchups, it bounces hate cards like Relic/Crypt/Leyline when you aren’t sure what one they have, and it can also bounce random monsters in the Hypergenesis matchup or 20/20s against Depths.

Thoughtseize — At the GP I didn’t play this and had Meddling Mage instead. If I had this card the scapeshift matchup that I lost would have been a walk in the park instead of a complete Firespout blowout in their favor. It takes their Ravenous Traps, their counters for your Dread Returns, or their Scapeshift. I would also bring it in against other combo decks, but only if you know they don’t have any hate for you. Hypergenesis no longer plays hate, so I would bring it in against them, but you can’t afford to bring in this card and an answer to Leylines at the same time. If your opponent potentially has hate, stick to the card that will be good in most situations, and that would be Echoing Truth.

Life from the Loam — I wasn’t originally going to play this in the sideboard I played at the GP either, but in the end I decided it was worth it. Thankfully that was the right choice because this card was very good at powering the deck up in the sideboard games. It is a castable dredger and also fuels the Hedron Crabs and Bloodghasts. Other than against Depths and Zoo I would bring it in for the mirror match and any of the Pox decks. They will likely be boarding Smallpox out against this deck, but it is the sort of matchup where it would be good regardless.

There is only one week of PTQs left, but if you have the time, then get this deck together and learn how to play it in the next couple days. It is unbelievable how little tournament play this deck is getting and the lack of sideboard respect it gets in that area as well. The deck is only a sliver in the metagame right now so take advantage of people unwillingness to pack the proper hate. Along with my 17th place finish at the GP my friend Matt Boccio won the PTQ on Sunday with an almost identical list to what I have above and I am sure he would attest to how good a choice this deck is going to be for the last week of PTQs. Good luck!

Until next time…

Ben Lundquist