Innovations – Dredge: A Serious Problem, And How To Deal With It

Read Patrick Chapin every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!
Extended, the format on everyone’s mind at the moment, is plagued by a proverbial 800lb Gorilla in the room… at least, that’s the view of Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin. Dredge, he feels, is significantly warping the young metagame, to the point where the hate is generally not enough. Is the grave-born strategy that much of an issue, or can it be taken down with a little application? Decklists, matchup tips, game walkthroughs, and more!

Did you really think everyone was in on it?

A conspiracy this big was bound to leak. I mean, there are just too many people working together trying to keep this under wraps. Did you actually think that every writer was on the payroll trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes regarding the Dredge deck?

Okay, sure, you may be saying to yourself, “No, no, no, everyone has acknowledged that there is a dredge deck.” (Well, almost everyone…)

You may even be familiar with the lists that are seeing play on MTGO. How much have you played Dredge recently? Do you realize that Dredge decks are so fast now, that they usually don’t even run 4 Ichorids? What would John “Friggin” Rizzo say, upon seeing what’s become of his baby? What once was an innovative beatdown deck that dodged permission like no deck before, has become the wretched abomination that is corrupting every format including Vintage. Dredge is now a turn 2 (or 3) combo deck even in Extended. It certainly doesn’t win turn 2 every time, and it is certainly not unbeatable, but I have to ask, “What have we come to?”

Dredge is fair much the same way life is.

As in, it is not.

In the big picture, it all averages out, and there are things you can do to give yourself positive EV, but some times you are just screwed and all too often it is over long before you want it to be.

The Dredge mechanic is fundamentally flawed from a design standpoint as it allows uncounterable tutoring that actually pays you to do it. (Milling yourself in Magic is generally a valuable resource, especially when you have other Dredge cards.) It is the only keyword too strong for Mental Magic. That may not mean much to many, but those in the know realize that Mental Magic cuts to the core of what is really going on in Magic. If Mages could do anything, isn’t it interesting that they would choose to Dredge…

But I don’t want this discussion to degenerate into talk on Mental Magic.

The topic at hand is Dredge.

Okay, let’s grant that we are going to live with Dredge. After all, it wasn’t originally the monstrosity that it is today. They just had to keep pushing.

Dread Return? I am with you here. This is an interesting card.

Narcomoeba? Bridge from Below? I mean, really. Is this necessary? We get it. We got it the first time we read the spoiler. This isn’t even funny anymore. What are you trying to prove?

Yes, obviously there are cards like Leyline of the Void, Tormod’s Crypt, and Yixlid Jailer. Seriously though, is that even a healthy way to have things be? I mean, even assuming you are not cheating on sideboard space and manage to find room for four graveyard hate cards, what have you done?

First of all, Dredge decks usually win game 1. This is because they are the fastest (or one of the fastest) decks in every format but Vintage (the only format where Dredge is the correct speed). In addition, almost every card in the opponent’s deck is a blank. Because of just how extreme Dredge is, almost every card is a blank… save the hosers, which are very strong. Dredge is very fast and very consistent (it usually never uses a draw phase on any turn but the first).

So to begin, we are in a situation where the lightning quick, consistent deck starts up a game. This means it has to go second game 2, but it gets to go first game 3. That alone is huge. If you want to beat Dredge completely on the board, you have to do it on the draw one game.

In addition, you only have so many bullets. What do you think the chances are that you’ll mulligan into a bullet and still have enough strength to defeat the Dredge player? Do you think he will just roll over and die to a Tormod’s Crypt? Aside from Pithing Needles (which they will have), he can just slow play things and force you to Crypt to deal with his yard of 16 or so. What are you gonna do? Let him just work a Bridge, a Cabal Therapy, a Stinkweed Imp, and an Ichorid, while he is beating down with a Narcomoeba and a Putrid Imp?

The point is, even if you board in four Tormod’s Crypts and you are willing to mulligan aggressively, you are not likely to draw them much more sixty percent of the time. Even if you win most of the games you draw the Crypt, you are still talking about only winning half of your post sideboard games. Let’s say you have some killer strategy that does something proactive or that inadvertently hoses Dredge. Then what? Are you going to win enough to make up the fact that you will likely be in a bad way game 1? The Dredge player gets good odds for their bet. They only need to win one post board. You have to win two.

I have some suggestions.

First, the enemy.

The maindeck is set up to goldfish people. The numbers of land, Dredgers, discard outlets, business you want to mill, and Blue card draw to mill half your library turn 2 are optimized to plan for the turn 2 goldfish, with turn 3 as the late game. The only points of note:

Cephalid Sages are better than additional Flame-Kin Zealots, since by the time you can Dread Return, you can mill your entire library with this guy, finding another Dread and your Flame-Kin. The key is that you need two Bridges to for sure go off with Flame-Kin. Sage only asks one.

Remember to time the replacement effects properly with your Breakthroughs, Tolarian Winds, and Cephalid Coliseums. You want to replace the first draw trigger with a Dredge. Then replace the next draw with a Dredge, if you can. This can include a creature that was Dredged by the previous Dredger. Repeat this process for as many of your draws as possible, in general.

Typically, you want to start the game with a discard outlet on turn 1. If you don’t have a way to start Dredging by the second turn, you need to mulligan. The primary ways to do this are Putrid Imp (a fine attacker), Tireless Tribe (a fine defender), and Tolarian Winds (a fine card drawer). Remember, with the Winds, you can discard your hand that includes a Dredge creature, then Dredge it back to your hand as part of the resolution of the spell. Resolve each Dredge separately!

As far as the sideboard goes, Chain of Vapor is your all purpose problem solver, dealing with problems like Leyline of the Void and Yixlid Jailer. Pithing Needle is there Specifically for Tormod’s Crypt, but can name Engineered Explosives (which is usually set for zero), particularly if they already have the Explosives in play and you want to go off this turn. Simply Needle the Explosives, then sac your guys to Dread Return and start making zombies.

Cabal Therapy is your way of interacting with other combo decks, and with decks that may want to counter your Dread Return then untap and Damnation or Explosives. Remember, the Counterspell deck can rarely stop you from Dredging half your library. Once you have done this, it is simply academic to Cabal Therapy them sacrificing a Narcomoeba or Ichorid and naming Counterspell (or whatever). In a pinch, it is important to remember that you can Cabal Therapy yourself to start Dredging, though a hand like this better have card draw for turn 2.

The Dragon Breath/Sutured Ghoul combo is to get around Red Mages that make it impossible to rely on Bridge from Below due to their Mogg Fanatics, Grim Lavamancers, and burn.

Sample Games:

A. Dredge versus Tron

Tron wins die roll.

Tron plays turn 1 Hallowed Fountain.

Dredge plays turn 1 Polluted Delta and fetches an untapped Watery Grave. Dredge drops a Putrid Imp.

Tron plays a turn 2 Urza’s Tower.

Dredge discards a Golgari Grave-Troll to Imp. Replaces draw on turn 2 with dredge of Grave-Troll. Reveals Bloodstained Mire, Narcomoeba, Golgari Thug, Breakthrough, Bridge from Below, and Tireless Tribe. Dredge discards Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp to Putrid Imp. Dredge plays and activates Cephalid Coliseum.

Replace first draw with dredge of Grave-Troll, reveal Flooded Strand, Flooded Strand, Stinkweed Imp, Tolarian Winds, Putrid Imp, Flame-Kin Zealot.

Replace second draw with Dredge of Stinkweed Imp. Reveal Golgari Grave-Troll, Dread Return, Godless Shrine, Narcomoeba, Bridge from Below, and Dread Return.

Replace third draw with Dredge of the Grave-Troll just revealed. Reveal Dread Return, Polluted Delta, Ichorid, Stinkweed Imp, Tireless Tribe, and Tolarian Winds.

Dredge discards same 3 cards that it just got back. Dredge discards his hand to Putrid Imp. Dredge Sacs 2 Narcomoebas and the Putrid Imp to play Dread Return targeting Flame-Kin Zealot. Dredge puts 6 2/2 Zombie tokens into play.

Tron plays Remand.

Dredge sac’s 3 Zombies to play Dread Return targeting Golgari Grave-Troll (11/11) and passes the turn.

Tron untaps and plays Flooded Strand, fetching Island. Tron Transmutes Tolaria West to go get Tormod’s Crypt. Tron plays Crypt and Crypts Dredge (so as to not die to Ichorid).

Dredge draws and attacks for 17, putting Tron at 2.

Tron untaps, draws and concedes.

B. Dredge versus 5cRed

Dredge wins the die roll.

Dredge plays turn 1 Bloodstained Mire and fetches a Godless Shrine, playing Tireless Tribe.

5cRed plays Windswept Heath and fetches Stomping Ground, playing a Mogg Fanatic.

Dredge discards a Stinkweed Imp on upkeep to Tribe. Dredge replaces draw with a Dredge of the Stinkweed Imp, revealing Breakthrough, Bridge from Below, Stinkweed Imp, Putrid Imp, and Dread Return.

Dredge plays Watery Grave untapped and discards a Stinkweed Imp to Tireless Tribe. Dredge plays a Breakthrough for 1, replacing first draw with Dredge of Stinkweed Imp, revealing Golgari Grave-Troll, Hallowed Fountain, Tireless Tribe, Cephalid Coliseum, and Polluted Delta.

Dredge replaces second draw with Dredge of Troll, revealing Delta, Ichorid, Troll, Tolarian Winds, Tireless Tribe, and another Delta.

Replace third draw with a Dredge of Troll just flipped up. This one reveals Narcomoeba, Tireless Tribe, Bridge from Below, Delta, Coliseum, and another Narcomoeba.

Replace final draw with a Dredge of Stinkweed Imp, revealing Ichorid, Troll, Thug, Breakthrough, and Narcomoeba. Discard hand except for a Tolarian Winds.

5cR Fanatics a Narcomoeba in response to third Narcomoeba being played.

Dredge plays Dread Return, sacing all three creatures it has left and targets a 15/15 Grave-Troll, passing the turn.

5cR plays a Godless Shrine untapped, an Isamaru, and a Grim Lavamancer for its turn 2.

Dredge untaps and returns 3 Ichorids to play, then replaces draw with dredge of troll, revealing Flooded Strand, Putrid Imp, Stinkweed Imp, Flooded Strand, Tolarian Winds, and Breakthrough.

Dredge plays Tolarian Winds for 1, replacing draw with Dredge of Grave-Troll, revealing Narcomoeba, Dread Return, another Narcomoeba, Bloodstained Mire, Stinkweed Imp, and another Troll.

Dredge attacks with the team. Isamaru chumps the troll, 5cRed drops to 6.

5cRed untaps, draws and concedes.

Now, obviously Dredge will not always work like such a well-oiled machine, but these are actual games from testing today. Dredge is incredibly fast and incredibly consistent. Realistically, unless you have some sort of graveyard combo yourself, you are going to need some serious hate.

This brings us to the heart of things.

The Hate

Now, everyone knows what kind of cards hate out decks like Dredge, but the key to good sideboarding in a format this warped is to have plans for when you don’t just draw the hate natural.

Here are some suggestions.

If you are playing Tormod’s Crypt, you can magnify your chances of having it be retrieved and relevant if you can consistently tutor to it on turn 2. For example, Chrome Mox into Trinket Mage or Tolaria West can be much more effective than the turn 3 action. A turn 2 Crypt is a very strong weapon against these decks, more so on the play, of course.

In addition, Academy Ruins plus Crypt is all but a Hard Lock versus Dredge. Now, not everyone will be able to tutor up their Ruins, but Tolaria West, Living Wish, and Sylvan Scrying are all very good ways to do so.

Leyline of the Void is obviously devastating to Dredge’s plan. However, if you don’t have it in your opener, it is much harder to drop it and have it be relevant. In general, if you are on the Leyline plan, mulligan aggressively. You really do need to start with it for it to work right.

Yixlid Jailer is amazing, combining the best of both worlds. He is a permanent solution to most of Dredge’s attacks, yet can be easily cast in a relevant time frame. Living Wish, Eladamri’s Call, etc are fine ways to fetch this guy, but it is fine to just play a few Jailers and try to draw them, either on your draw step or with Blue card drawing.

Remember, it is a guessing game, as far as the hate you are presenting to them. If you have Crypts, Needles are needed. If you have Jailers, Chain of Vapor (Or something similar like Darkblast) is needed. A mix of the two can be stronger than the sum of their parts. As a matter of fact, when I play Trinket Mage decks, I like to play 1 Crypt main to go get, plus another in the board to give me a lot of outs that way, but then also bring in a few Jailers to attack from another angle. 3-4 Trinket Mages, 2 Crypts, and 2-3 Jailers is a lot. Throw in Ruins, Engineered Explosives (for Zombies), and acceleration, like Chrome Mox, and you have a very robust plan.

Don’t kid yourself. Shuffling up four Crypts is not going to cut it. Besides, you and I both know that you don’t really want to use four sideboard slots that way. The real money is at having relevant action and plenty of ways to find your bullets.

Alternatively, you could just play a Red aggro strategy and play tactically. Kill Putrid Imp. Shut down Bridges. Put a fast clock on them, while slowing them down. Red decks will typically fight a different kind of game with the Dredge player. The 5cRed decks are actually the control deck!

Other cards that are just solid for this season that have utility against Dredge include Withered Wretch, a fine all around man, though a bit slow; Morningtide, which is often too slow, but a legal Wish Target; Extirpate, which is usually not enough by itself though certainly relevant; and cheap instant speed mass removal, like Engineered Explosives or Deed.

Finally, an important strategic positioning is whether or not you are going to grant Dredge game 1. If you have a realistic plan, such as fetching a turn 2 Tormod’s Crypt, or even Living Wishing for Jailer, then you are not under as much pressure to go undefeated after boarding.

If you take nothing else away from this piece, just keep it in mind that you must attack Dredge from more than one angle. I guarantee that while your hate may be good, they have anticipated it. Also, you aren’t going to draw even a four-of sideboard card every time.

Do not underestimate Dredge. If you want to succeed in the days to come, you need to come with a real plan that takes into consideration their primary plans to deal with hate.

Some final thoughts on Dredge:

There are numerous twists and variations floating around. You can kill with Ghoul plus Breath to begin with. You can use cards like Careful Study, Chrome Mox, and Street Wraith to speed the deck up even more. You can certainly play more disruption, such as Cabal Therapy, in the main. You can also slow the deck down to do things like Deep Analysis or Life from the Loam. There are a lot of ways to take advantage of cards like Golgari Grave-Troll.

While this is certainly not the only graveyard combo strategy seeing play, it is probably the most extreme in terms of an unstoppable assault assuming no hate (though it is more vulnerable to graveyard hate then other graveyard strategies like Breakfast or Loam).

An interesting feature about Dredge decks is that their matchups aren’t really that connected to the deck they are facing. They are far more closely tied to the amount of hate the opponent will realistically be able to offer up.

Okay, I am out of here. In closing, let it be said that Dredge is far from unbeatable, it is just disgusting in terms of how much it warps the format. While the best cards in the format are probably cards like Tarmogoyf, Spell Snare, and Chrome Mox, it is strategies like Dredge that provide for very harsh conditions that make building new decks hard. On the one hand you have obnoxious aggro decks Double Striking people out on turn 3. In another direction you have control decks that Counterbalance-Top you on turn 2. And on the combo front, you have to deal with the twin threats of turn 3 storm Decks and turn 2.5 Graveyard decks.

Be ready! And do something proactive. In this format, being completely reactive is a surefire way to lose. You can’t protect yourself on every front forever. Look at the control decks. Counterbalance, NoStick, Slaver, they all do something proactive. On the flipside, you can’t just race. You are not outracing Dredge, save maybe with Breakfast (Cephalids). If you are going to play an attacking deck, make sure to come with plenty of disruption to slow the combo player’s fundamental turn, as Michael J would so rightly point out.

This does not have to be in the form of permission, land destruction, or even discard. It needs to be something with synergy with your strategy, that fits your mana curve, that does what you need done. For some, it will be the Duress/Therapy package. For others, it will be Trinket Mage. Still others will use Burning Wish. Whatever you do, don’t just race (or if you want to race, I guess play combo). Interestingly, certain types of Red cards are very good at disrupting right now, such as Mogg Fanatic. He stops so many combos, it is actually comical.

Well, I will see you next week. I leave you with a bonus decklist for Vintage. No, it is not the most groundbreaking new archetype. I just think this is a very good build.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

PS: Have you seen that new Treefolk from Lorwyn? He is BGW for a 0/5 that makes every creature (including itself) deal damage equal to its toughness, instead of power, when fighting. In general, he is a bit of a 5/5 for BGW with a small ability (such as powering up your Tarmogoyf). However, he is very abusable with cards like Tireless Tribe. Just saying…