Week by week, month by month, Dredge is quietly putting up good performances at top tables. It comes in two varieties, largely divided by the presence or absence of Lion’s Eye Diamond. My teammate JP Meyer has long said that Dredge is the secret budget deck for Legacy; with a Grand Prix rolling around and StarCityGames.com tournaments continuing throughout the year, it’s a good time to talk about the best “cheap” deck around. In this week’s article, I have compiled sixteen high-placing Dredge decks to cull the best composite list from the selection. These were decks that made Top 8 in 32+ person events, and through comparing the decks, we can see what the most popular Dread Return targets are, what people place on their sideboard, and how to construct a good manabase for the deck.
The Core of the Deck
Dredge has a sacrosanct core of cards that make sure the deck functions properly. Since Dredge wants to replace every draw step with a dredge activation, it needs a certain threshold of dredgers. The dredging cycle from Ravnica fits the bill, with the most effective dredgers ending up in maximum numbers. One of the big debates in Dredge is what number of dredgers is proper. The numbers range from nine to twelve; Golgari Thug is the fill-in past Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Grave-Troll. I had expected Darkblast to show up as another dredger, but I only found one maindecked copy among all sixteen lists. When I found Thugs, they averaged out to show up in a pair. Thus, the dredge core looks like this:
The next question is how to get those dredgers into the graveyard! Here is where the fundamental difference between the sub-archetypes plays out; Lion’s Eye Diamond is a free One With Nothing
that will often Lightning Bolt you (bye, mana burn!), and while that sounds like the worst effect ever, it is exactly the effect that Dredge wants. The Diamond can also enable flashback on Deep Analysis, leading to raw first and second turns where one dredges in upward of twenty cards (by replacing the draws from Deep Analysis with dredges) and finishes with hellbent zombies. While the Diamond is a great one-shot effect, it is by no means the only one. Decks also run Breakthrough, which, when cast with X=1, can be a great dredge powerhouse, and Careful Study, a solid roleplayer that sets up more dredging the next turn. I found that Breakthrough was universally loved as a 4-of. Interestingly, of the ten decks that did not use the Diamond, all of them had at least three Careful Study, while those with the Mirage artifact rarely ran any Studies. Thus, I believe the core of the one-shot dredgers is:
Dredge does not live by one-shot discard effects alone, though, and it often packs buyback discarders like Putrid Imp. One of the core differences between the LED decks and those without it are the replacement of the artifact with another repeatable discard effect. Five of the ten sans-LED lists ran four Tireless Tribe, and the ones that did not replaced it with Bloodghasts or bumped up the numbers of cards like Dread Return. Even with Lion’s Eye Diamond, three of the six lists ran two Tireless Tribe. The white nomads are great at blocking creatures from Zoo while the Dredge player sets up for an explosive turn, while the black Imp is fantastic at swinging in the air. I’ve seen several games decided by Dredge using Putrid Imp and Narcomoeba to finish off the opponent! The essential discarders are, therefore,
Rounding out the core, we have the Bridge from Below engine that makes Dredge truly scary. By running several effects that sacrifice creatures, Dredge can utilize Bridge to make many tokens. Thanks to Dread Return, it can cash those tokens in for a giant monster. It can also play it slow and force opponents to make tough decisions; if you attack and they chump block with their Putrid Imp, do you want them getting two Zombie tokens? Those zombies, combined with Flame-Kin Zealot, can create a giant first strike out of nowhere. These are not slow and lame zombies, these are 28 Days Later zombies, and thanks to the Zealot, they are probably on fire.
While Dread Return is the star of the show, several support cards get it started. Cabal Therapy provides a free sacrifice outlet to make tokens, and Ichorid and Narcomoeba lend warm bodies to sacrifice. Every deck ran four Therapies and four Narcomoebas. Players were a little more divided on Ichorids, though; there was an even split down the middle between three and four copies. Bloodghast was moderately popular, showing up in five of sixteen decks. I also found that Dread Return was nearly universally a trio in Dredge. The reanimation package composite averages out to:
Next, we have to look at what that Dread Return will actually bring back. While Flame-Kin Zealot will turn all of the zombies into hyper-aggressive attackers in a single turn, only eleven out of sixteen decks opted for it. Eleven decks also ran at least one copy of Iona, Shield of Emeria to put on the battlefield as a lock-up. Seven decks ran a copy of Sphinx of Lost Truths; when reanimated, it produces three more draws, leading to some more killer graveyard-stocking turns (which usually end with a Zealot being reanimated). Some outlier cards included Woodfall Primus, Sadistic Hypnotist, Angel of Despair and Sphinx of the Steel Wind. The reanimation core consists of:
For me, the greatest appeal of Dredge is that it has a stone-cheap manabase. You can effectively run it with zero dual lands, while still being able to cast every spell you can think of. No Underground Seas means that you can put this deck together on the fly, and you can even port over an Extended list with ease. Eschewing Lion’s Eye Diamond means you have a shot of throwing this together for a hundred bucks or less!
Almost all of the sixteen decks ran a full four Cephalid Coliseum, which makes sense because the card is so nice to you! Not only does it let you draw/dredge three cards, it conveniently discards them for you to dredge again! All decks also ran City of Brass, though only eleven of sixteen opted for the full four. Gemstone Mine also proved popular, with people usually running either two or four, the difference accounted for by the presence or absence of Undiscovered Paradise (in Bloodghast lists). Two decks even supported the ultra-painful Tarnished Citadel! Dual lands were few and far between; only one list out of sixteen had Underground Seas, and it supported them alongside Watery Graves. The composite manabase for Dredge comes out to:
Fourteen lands does not look like a lot; the deck often functions fine with one or zero mana, but it can be hard to get it rolling without a land in the opening hand (especially without Lion’s Eye Diamond).
That core comes out to 61 cards when tallied up. You can play with the numbers a little; I came up with the following list:
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp
2 Golgari Thug
4 Putrid Imp
4 Careful Study
4 Cabal Therapy
3 Dread Return
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Bridge from Below
I used the Underground Rivers for budgetary concerns; Watery Grave or Underground Sea would also be fine there. Some back-of-the-envelope calculations show that this deck costs about $150 from the StarCityGames.com store right now. If you already have Breakthrough and Cabal Therapy, you save quite a bit already. It’s definitely an inexpensive deck to throw together. Porting it from Extended just requires more lands and some of the older Dredge pieces like Ichorids.
Dredge has a peculiar sideboard that will remind you of what combo decks play. Dredge is highly favored in most opening games, while it has to fight against a multitude of graveyard hate after sideboarding. To combat this, many Dredge players pack cards that will shut off or bounce the most abundant anti-Dredge cards. These include Tormod’s Crypt, Ravenous Trap, Leyline of the Void, Relic of Progenitus and more. To deal with these, Dredge often runs Pithing Needle and/or Chain of Vapor. Both are cheap and efficient; while Chain only bounces the card for a turn, it can handle cards like Ground Seal or Leyline of the Void, which Pithing Needle cannot. Eleven decks ran Chain of Vapor, usually running between two and four. Five ran Pithing Needle and many of those that skipped the Kamigawa artifact ran Ancient Grudge instead, using it to target cards like Tormod’s Crypt to force inopportune activations.
I was also interested to see the anti-aggro cards that showed up. While it seems like Dredge would walk right over a deck like Zoo, the latter can hose Bridge from Below by targeting its own creatures with burn spells to remove the enchantments from the game. Thus, Dredge sometimes has to fight a close race. To help in that regard, many players ran a copy of Ancestor’s Chosen, who can gain in upwards of twenty life and provide a first-striking blocker to stop any further attacks. I was also fascinated by the prevalence of Firestorm. The Weatherlight instant can blow away an army of weenies while simultaneously stocking up the graveyard.
Players also often ran anti-combo cards like Mindbreak Trap. Others opted for Unmask instead, hoping to strip out key acceleration from the opponent’s hand and make subsequent Cabal Therapies hit home. While Dredge doesn’t have a great game against combo decks, it can still put up a fight if it gets one of its disruption cards in the opening hand. I feel that Unmask is the better choice for the sideboard; while it is less powerful than the Trap, it is far more versatile.
Finally, players often ran another Reanimation target on the sideboard. This included a Flame-kin Zealot if their maindeck lacked it, or a Woodfall Primus or Terastodon to blow away annoying permanents. I don’t think this spot is that crucial, but if you end up boarding out something like Iona, bringing in Terastodon is a fine substitute. Several players also ran graveyard removal spells of their own in the final few spots.
My composite sideboard looks like:
So that’s the deck! I presented a list without Lion’s Eye Diamond, since they are quite a bit more common in tournament Top 8s than ones with the artifact. However, switching in the LEDs is as easy as tweaking the Careful Study numbers and shaving a card here and there. If you’re looking at getting into Legacy but you’re unsure of playing Zoo or Merfolk, give Dredge a try. It’s a powerful deck that requires and rewards player skill, and graveyard hate isn’t as common as it probably should be in the format. If you have questions about Dredge, post in the feedback forum thread, send me an email or find me on Twitter!
Until next week…
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