Judging Dredge: Top 8 at Virginia States

It’s not everyday that a sixty-card draft deck makes the Top 8 at a big tournament like States, but that’s what appeared to happen last Saturday in Richmond. Today Bennie explains what this crazy deck is, how it came together, and whether cards like Stinkweed Imp, Moldervine Cloak, and Greater Mossdog belong in future iterations.

Hi all! It’s been a while, but it’s great to be back here at Star City with something decent to write about. I’ve got about a half-dozen unfinished articles that I started writing for Ted over the past year or so, but my time for playtesting is in woefully short supply these days. While I was able to start many an article on thoughts I had for various deck ideas, without actual playtesting data to give the readers something worth their time (and to help them past the Knutson Reject Firewall), the articles withered on the vine without seeing the light of day. In the interim, I see I’ve lost “Featured Writer” status – which is perfectly understandable given my absence, but makes me sad nonetheless. [Technically Bennie’s status is “retired,” which is different from “fired.” – Knut] I’d been a Featured Writer for Star City since the beginning of time. Ah well, I’ve decided to rechristen myself “StarCity Geezer” instead. I think it’s an apropos moniker for an Old-Timer like me who may occasionally dredge up something worth talking about.

Dredge, heh… I’m so clever with the segues.

I bring good tidings! After a four-year hiatus, I finally made a fourth Top 8 appearance at the Virginia State Champs… and I did it on the back of Stinkweed Imp. As I write this, so far it looks like I may have been the only one.

I originally wanted to play G/B Rock chock full of all the good stuff that Green and Black had to offer, and managed to lay my hands on 4 Overgrown Tombs soon after Ravnica released. I couldn’t get a list together I was completely satisfied with though-there’s literally not enough slots available in a sixty-card build to cover all the cards I’d want to play.

In the weeks leading up to States, my circle of Magic friends started tossing emails between each other with decklists, ideas, and critiques-Vintage innovator Shane “TripleSSS” Stoots, multiple PTQ Top8’er Josh Adams, “techmeister” Jay Delazier, and the young Mr. Tony Vicario, recently returned from the abyss of Vs. to walk again the righteous golden path of Magic. Jay had kicked out an initial sketch for a Dredge deck that I had noodled around with, and since I had not yet settled on a Rock build, I threw the Dredge deck together just for kicks. It performed surprisingly well leading up to the home stretch; I have to admit part of me wanted it to fail miserably so I could get back to working on the Rock. It kept winning against Public Enemy #1, White Weenie splash Red… so long as they did not drop an early Hand of Honor, which turned an easy game win into a horrible loss. A lot of my tuning was spent adding ways into the deck that could deal with that large-pain-in-the-rear weenie.

The day before States, I end up throwing the deck against other matchups and beat Josh with Gifts. I then beat Star Wars Kid with Gifts (a deck he’s won a PTQ with and has played exclusively for the past 4-5 months, and the deck he ran to Top 8 also at VA States). I also annihilate several other random decks along the way.

To the bitter end, I was fully prepared to walk away from this deck. It plays Stinkweed Imp for Pete’s sake! Ultimately though, it was just hard to argue with results. My major wish was that I had come around to the realization that yes, I was going to be playing a friggin’ Dredge deck earlier and could have focused more time on tightening the deck, getting more practice (it can become surprisingly complicated as the game goes on), and building a decent sideboard.

For those of you who haven’t already seen the deck posted on the boards, here’s what I played:

NiceDraft.dec (G/B Dredge)

Yes, cards like Stinkweed Imp, Greater Mossdog and Golgari Thug might offend your eyes. I could not take them seriously for a while, either. It was entertaining watching my opponents go through a variety of reactions while we played: starting with amusement at the scrubby cards I was playing, changing to confusion as the game seemed to be turning around in my favor, to eventual horror as I buried them in an ever-recurring avalanche of mediocrity. As we signed the results slip, they’d often have a look of stunned disbelief.

After nine rounds of tournament trial-by-fire, there are certainly changes I’d make to the deck, and I’ll discuss them and some of the things I’ve learned about the Dredge archetype later in this report. Right now I’ll quickly go over some of the choices I made in this particular decklist going into States.

The Wrath of Mr. Hand

Many seemingly strange choices in the deck come from the struggle against Hand of Honor. Much like how Red decks from the Onslaught era struggled to contain Silver Knight, I was having a hard time with another two mana 2/2 that had Protection: Your Entire Deck. That’s how Greater Mossdog made the cut over the superior Shambling Shell. I tested Necroplasm some but it rarely stuck around long enough to make a difference, usually taking a Shock or Lightning Helix or Jitte counter before then. Isao was a midnight addition, able to take down the Hand, and even survive with enough mana. It also had the added benefit of likely being decent against the last-minute MUC metagame handgrenade Flores tossed out there on Friday.

Thug Life

Some of my buddies questioned Golgari Thug, but I found him to open up possibilities that the Dredge archetype would otherwise miss out on, namely running late-game bombtastic creatures. Anyone playing the Dredge archetype will find the deck reaches a Sweet Spot, the point where you simply stop drawing off the top of your deck and Dredge back the cards you need each turn. After you pass the Sweet Spot, any non-Dredge spells are never going to have an impact on the game… unless you run Thugs who can die and tutor up something large to swing the game.

The Incredible, Amazing Stinkweed Imp

Many of you will find it hard to believe without seeing it with your own eyes, but this card is literally one of two vital lynchpins to the Dredge archetype (the other being Life from the Loam). Darkblast is fantastic at nailing fast weenies; Stinkweed steps up to take care of just about everything else. The fact that he usually dies when blocking too is actually what makes him fantastic-not only does he kill a creature (or sometimes eats a removal spell) but he then packs your graveyard with an amazing Dredge 5 as you bring him back to your hand. Replay him, dredge him back, over and over and over again, eating your opponent’s cards one by one while setting your deck up for the Sweet Spot. We’ve taken to calling him Stinky, or Stinkweed Pimp.

Nullmage Shepherd

I wracked my brains trying to figure out a creature-based answer to both enchantments and artifacts that I could run maindeck that would not prove useless once I reached the Sweet Spot, and this was the best solution I could find. Ends up I only needed or was able to use its ability once but that one time was certainly helpful. I hope that Guildpact or Dissension has a better option.

Dimir House Guard

These guys were leftover from an early version of the deck that tried to set up Bloodbond March with Kokusho(s) in the graveyard and one to cast from the hand. I give Jay Delazier full props for this bit of technology. DHG’s transmute ability proved handy to go and fetch the March, but as I tested the deck and leaned more heavily on the Dredge aspect, I found I rarely if ever needed to worry about trying to set up the March “combo kill.” Still, having a creature that can tutor for a four-drop opened up the possibility of adding a toolbox element to the deck-something I personally love to have available. Nothing drives me up the wall more than my opponent playing something and realizing I have zero ways to handle that card or situation in my deck. DHG lets me go fetch a Shepherd, Nightmare Void, Greater Mossdog, or Nekrataal to answer a variety of threats.

Grave-shell Scarab

A lot of people have been surprised I wasn’t running 3-4 copies of this card. I usually joked back “it’s too good for this deck.” The truth is that, at Dredge 1, I wasn’t usually very eager to bring him back to my hand. He just didn’t flip enough cards into the graveyard. I kept one in the deck as my “hand brake” for Dredge in case I ever got to the point where I was worried about decking myself, and that only really came up in a single game. For that use, you only really need one copy.

Shizo and Okina

Why are they missing? Oversight. There’s no reason not to run them with a couple of legends in the deck. You’ll get them with regularity.


Since I didn’t decide to actually run this deck until late Friday night, I had not dedicated much time to the sideboard and it certainly shows. The Arenas were great though, and came in against any deck I felt wouldn’t clobber my life totals too quickly. The combination of extra draw power and never drawing a useless card is brutal. I probably only needed 1-2 more copies of Nightmare Void since you only really need/want to draw one copy. The Exiles were pure gold; once Darkblasts and Stinkweeds and random green dorks mixed it up with White Weenie, Exile just put them in a no-win situation. I never boarded in the Plague Boilers but I was actually glad to have the insurance versus weird enchantment-based decks I may otherwise have zero chance against.

Here’s a quick overview on how the deck plays out. First, aggressively mulligan into some way to getting your Dredge engine fired up early. This will typically involve Darkblast or Stinkweed Imp. Occasionally you’ll need to spend turn 2 tossing Life from the Loam into your empty graveyard to start Dredging. An early Top helps, especially when you can Dredge away the garbage.

Next, let Stinkweed Imp work his magic. He sucks out all of your opponent’s good cards-his best creatures, removal spells-and keeps coming back for more, all the while filling your graveyard and getting you close to the Sweet Spot. When in doubt, dredge back Stinky.

Finally, start planning out your endgame. You’ll be deep into Dredge Zone now with a graveyard that stretches halfway across the table and tons of options. Maybe it’s just to Cloak up a dredge creature or two and beat down. Maybe you use Thug to fetch a non-dredge all-star critter like Ink-Eyes or Kokusho. Most often though, you’ll be animating Svogthos the Restless Tomb, who will be typically be in the one-or-two-hits-and-your-opponent-is-dead size range. Your opponent has a Putrefy? No worries, Life from the Loam brings him back for more.

Here’s a recap on how I did at the tournament.

Rd 1, 2-0 vs Reinhardt with B/G/u Kudzu

Reinhardt was an extremely pleasant opponent sporting an original deck that appeared to be trying to feed his ever-growing Vinelasher Kudzus with Dark Hearts of the Wood and Life from the Loam. Stinkweed Imps held back the Kudzus while I sprint for the Sweet Spot and go nuts from my graveyard. Nullmage Shepherd actually helps here in shutting down the Dark Heart shenanigans so that I can actually win both games.

Rd 2, 2-0 vs Matt with W/U/G Control

Matt was playing a “good stuff” control deck with green acceleration, counterspells, Wraths and Keigas. Much to Matt’s horror, creature removal and counterspells hardly slow down a Dredge deck and I eventually end both games with huge Svogthos beatdown.

Rd 3, 2-0 vs Teddy Cardgame with U/B Seth Burn.dec

In a Star City “feature match” I get to exact some revenge on Ted for the heinous flaming beating he unleashed on my dome the last time we met across a tournament table. Stinkweed Imps suck down good cards like Hypnotic Specters and creature removal, stocking the graveyard and coming back for more. Game 2 was bad for Ted, who stalled on mana for a little too long to have a chance against the avalanche of draft cards.

Rd 4, 0-2 vs StarWarsKid playing (what else?) Gifts

Game 1 I have to mulligan and my initial Dredging doesn’t yield much action, and meanwhile SWK just happens to mise a Kokusho and Meloku. Who needs to actually cast Gifts? Game 2 I have to double mulligan and again SWK draws his fatties without having to tutor for them. I make a crucial mistake at the end of the match when he uses Goryo’s Vengeance yo toss a Kokusho at me while I’m at 4 life, and have nothing but Stinkweed out to defend me. Stinky can block, but he’ll destroy Kokusho and I’ll lose the life I’d lose anyway if I didn’t block. I totally missed my out until it was too late-I had a Darkblast in my hand, I could have blocked Kokusho and then Darkblasted Stinky so that he was a 0/1-his destroy ability only kicks in if he deals damage. I was on the way towards stabilizing that game when that happened, so I might have been able to force a game 3 if I had thought things through.

Rd 5, 1-0 vs Matt with G/W/r Control

Matt was quiet and thoughtful the entire match, but occasionally he’d express his frustration to his buddy who was watching. “I don’t know what to do against his deck,” he said (or something close to it). Yeah, who expected to face off against a Draft deck at States? These games were long and drawn out because Matt had a metric ton of removal and loads of high quality powerful rares that Stinkweed Imp had to work overtime to take down. The endgame began to come clear to me and I set it up pretty nicely. Early on I had made him discard a Yosei with Nightmare Void, and when he’d played Ink-Eyes, he stole a Thug from my graveyard. I played my Ink-Eyes and killed them both, and then played a Thug of my own. He got a Loxodon Heirarch down and ran his Thug and elephant at me, so I blocked the Heirarch with my Thug, let his Thug through, and fetched my Ink-Eyes with the Thug’s ability as it died. I then drew it, put it into combat with Ninjutsu and stole his Yosei. I knew he had a Wrath in his hand and there was no way he could not cast it facing down Ink-Eyes and Yosei, so I tapped him out and then on my turn attacked with a lethal Svogthos. Game two went to time with me keeping alive against his (Dragon sword 5/5 dragon token) assault and a Phyrexian Arena life drain by getting back Mossdog and Cloak each turn and sacrificing the critter to Miren.

Rd 6, 1-1 vs Bob with WW

I had to mulligan and keep a mediocre hand, not knowing he was playing fast monowhite weenie with Jittes, Anthems and Promise of Bunrei. He runs me over quite handily game one, but I bring in my Exiles and Shaman suite. A turn 3 Isao slows him down a smidge and when I cloak him up he becomes a huge wall that clogs up the ground. Darkblasts knock his fliers out the sky and his lone Jitte gets the Shaman treatment. Eventually I dredge up an Exile and over the course of several turns he has nothing left to let my squad of silly critters take him down. Time’s called as we’re shuffling up for the third game.

Rd 7, 2-0 vs Ron with WW/r

This was the quickest match all day for me. I managed to get the perfect draw against Ron-Darkblasts, Stinkweeds, and (game 2) Exiles galore. It doesn’t hurt that he gets a bit color hosed in one of the games. I thought Ron got extremely irate at how the games progressed against my pile of Draft cards, but later on he sought me out and asked me to email him my decklist because he thought the deck was cool. No hard feelings then!

Rd 8, 2-0 vs Travis with MBC

Travis was Matt’s buddy from Round 5, so he was very well versed with my deck and seemed both amused at having to play me and convinced he had zero chance against my deck. He gave me some scares over the course of the game: hitting me with Shadow of Doubt when I tried to Transmute for Nightmare Void, but lucky me I ripped my second Dimir House Guard to go get the recurring Coercion and rip apart his hand slowly but surely while building toward the sweet spot. He managed to kill Stinkweed, Mossdog and friends several times but all that does is eventually set up the lethal Svogthos.

As the final round results are tallied, there’s the swarm of players trying to figure out who and what decks are going to be in the Top 8. I’m assured that I’m in. I ask what decks have been at the top tables, since many of my games have gone extremely long, and the few quick games I had I dashed out of the room afterwards for restroom/fresh air/rehydration. I was told Gifts, WW, and a couple Greater Good/Yosei lockdown decks. I was told not a single B/G Rock deck made it. Interestingly, there are three former VA State Champions in the elimination rounds.

Anyway, I make Top 8 at fourth place seed, and get paired up with Wes Moss. It’s a battle between two State Champs! Wes is an incredibly nice opponent, laid back and personable, but he’s got a cool stoic confidence when he plays that I found a little intimidating. At this point in the day, four hours of sleep, the remnants of a cold, and the lack of sufficient playtesting has taken it’s toll and I’m feeling worn out, physically and mentally. Then Wes admits he’s a little worried about playing my deck because obviously he had not playtested against it. That makes me feel a little better; going rogue does have some advantages!

I end up having to mulligan and keep a tolerable hand. I realize I have no idea what Wes is playing, but when he leads with a tapped Overgrown Tomb and then a Forest with no action, I assume he must be playing Gifts, or possibly the Greater Good combo deck. I spend my third turn Transmuting for a Nightmare Void, and then Wes drops a Hypnotic Specter. Uh-oh! Wrong call. The Void helps keep his Ink-Eyes off my back but dickering around with the Transmute early and not getting with the early Dredge program put me a bit behind and Wes takes the game. For the second game I get a good hand, race for the Sweet Spot and bury Wes in the Avalanche of Mediocre Cards™. Game 3 I make a huge error, keeping a hand with little early Dredge action outside of tossing out a Life from the Loam on turn 2. I know better-I had just talked with Jim Ferriaolo about an hour before about how fantastic the deck mulligans, but for some reason having those four lands in my opening hand demanded keepage. Fatigue and nervousness conspired on that bad decision, and as I watched Wes stall on one land – but claw out of it anyway with two Birds and two Elves – I knew a proper mulligan into a Darkblast would have easily won me the game. His mana critters churned out a Nezumi Graverobber which quickly stalled any hope of getting my Dredge going without a Darkblast, and draw after draw after draw after draw failed to cough up the little black removal spell that would have been amazing. Props to Wes for capitalizing on my error and progressing to the Top 4!

At the end of the day, I finished fifth overall and felt quite proud to have done so well with a deck that was so obviously off people’s radar. Here are some more observations I’d like to share.

First, Dredge is a deceptively strong mechanic. Greater Mossdog is just a Hill Giant; Moldervine Cloak is just an Aura for creatures, but adding the keyword Dredge gives a card a lot of subtle power. Dredge cards feed themselves, revealing more and more of them to choose from as time goes on, until you eventually stop having to randomly draw off the top of your deck at all. That advantage is easy to disregard when you’re “just” getting back seemingly mediocre cards, but it’s huge. While your opponent may stumble and draw two or three lands in a row, you’re getting action each and every draw. The major disadvantage of replacing your draws with Dredge-not drawing enough land-is negated by the awesome Life from the Loam; each time you Dredge it back you’ve got land drops for your next three turns. That said, you need to make sure that you Dredge early and often.

Speaking of which, embrace the notion that Stinkweed Imp is amazing in this deck. This little common critter is like a card magnet, sucking up good cards from your opponent turn after turn-his best attackers and removal spells, all the while stocking your graveyard full of goodies with his high Dredge count as he keeps coming back for more. He’s your awesome defense that will eventually provide for his own Moldervine Cloak, allowing him to go aggro if the path is clear.

Realize too that a Dredge deck is very forgiving on mulligans; when you start Dredging back gas each and every turn, the fact that you started with one or two less cards isn’t going to hurt that much.

A few people have asked whether I was ever worried about decking myself. When I was initially putting the deck together, that was definitely a concern, but in practice that was never an issue. I think there was only one time Saturday when winning before I decked myself looked like it might be problematic, so I started leaning on Grave-Shell Scarab with the nice safe Dredge 1 ability to bring home the bacon.

For Sensei’s Divining Top, Dredge is just as good as shuffle effects, resetting the top of your library and smoothing out your draws. After you reach the Sweet Spot, you can still spin the Top just to make sure nothing golden is lurking on the top of your deck that you may want to actually draw. The Tops are also handy at “cashing in” for a Dredge spell-for instance, cast Darkblast on a Watchwolf during your upkeep, Dredge it back during your draw phase, cast it again, and then tap the top and Dredge it back again to kill the pesky 3/3. Just make sure you resolve the Top for a Dredge card correctly (I was doing it wrong initially): tap the top for the draw and the put on top of the library effects. You replace the draw with Dredge and immediately pay the costs involved (ie. Milling off X cards into your graveyard) and put the card in your hand. Then the rest of the effects resolve and Top is put back on top of the library. You can even put the spin activation on the stack first so you can take a peek at the top of the library at the end.

When contemplating adding non-Dredge cards to the deck, keep this in mind: after you reach the Sweet Spot, the odds are that any non-Dredge spells in your deck will get milled away and be useless to you (with obvious exceptions). The Top can help, but you will find yourself “cashing in” the Top to double up on a Dredge draw more often than not. Utilizing the Thug, you can have access to non-Dredge creatures, and I would recommend using higher end critters that can finish games. What about other stuff? Here’s my new rule of thumb-if the card is something useful you’d like to see early on, then it can’t hurt to have it in your deck. Like any game of Magic, a Dredge deck will draw off the top of your library in the early game before it sets up the Sweet Spot, so you have pretty good odds at drawing the card early and using it. That’s why I think I’m going to try running green mana critters like Birds and Elves. The acceleration they provide is incredible early in the game, but what’s fantastic about them in a Dredge deck is that you don’t ever have to worry about ripping a Bird off the top of your deck late game when you’d much rather have drawn something you can beatdown with. You’ll be in the Sweet Spot and just Dredging up action each turn.

Last, keep in mind that you can get away with running fewer higher cost Dredge spells and expect to see them when you would want to, so long as you have plenty of cheaper ones. Each Dredge lets you virtually see deeper and deeper into your deck, so running 1-2 copies of Scarab or Golgari Grave-Troll is plenty in a dedicated Dredge deck.

So, after putting the archetype through the crucible of States and thinking about the deck quite a bit in the past weeks, I think this is going to be the new version I test.

NiceDraft.dec (G/B Dredge) v2.0

by Bennie Smith

4 Sensei’s Divining Top

4 Darkblast

4 Birds of Paradise

3 Llanowar Elves

3 Life from the Loam

2 Golgari Thug

4 Stinkweed Imp

3 Moldervine Cloak

3 Greater Mossdog

1 Nullmage Shepherd

1 Nightmare Void

1 Grave-shell Scarab

1 Kokusho, the Evening Star

1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

1 Myojin of Night’s Reach

2 Svogthos, the Restless Tomb

1 Miren, the Moaning Well

1 Okina, Temple of the Grandfathers

1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

4 Overgrown Tomb

4 Llanowar Wastes

5 Swamp

6 Forest

The Myojin was Jim Ferriaolo’s idea and it certainly seems worth trying out as a perfect pre-Svogthos strike setup. I’m a little less fearful of Hand of Honor now; for one thing, WW seemed to not do as well in this environment as feared, and for another, a Cloaked Bird or Elf can handle the situation early on if need be. Exiles, Viridian Shaman, and Phyrexian Arenas will definitely be in the sideboard, the rest of it is up in the air currently.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this surprising and fun new archetype, and I look forward to reading about your results and seeing what directions you all take this. Jim is already doing some major overhauling of the concept to push it outside the box, so hopefully he’ll chime in with his findings too.