Dredge is a strange deck, in that it does not have a bad matchup against decks, it has a bad matchup against specific cards. It is true that Dragonstorm was not something that a Dredge deck particularly liked seeing on the other side of the table, but the arrival of Tenth has taken care of that little problem. This leaves the hate cards to contend with.
We are, I believe, at a point in the metagame where graveyard hate is at an all-time low since Dredge first started being taken seriously. I say this both because I have seen fewer and fewer decks running Tormod’s Crypts and Leyline of the Voids, and because the U.S. National Championship coverage agrees with me. I mentioned in passing last week that the coverage included a listing of every card included in the maindeck and sideboard of every deck played in the tournament with a winning record, of which there were forty nine. Here are the hate cards played at US Nationals, in what I believe to be the order of scariest to tamest.
The Hate Profile
Leyline of the Void — 4 total
The Leyline is pretty much the single scariest card that you can see on the opposite side of the table. Withered Wretch comes close, but the Leyline is free and all-powerful. Many Dredge decks have Krosan Grips in the sideboard for this card, though they benefit from being able to hit things like Tormod’s Crypt and Pithing Needle. Llanowar Mentor is also powerful against this card, as some people mistakenly believe that a zero- or one-land hand with a Leyline in it is a good keep, and you can build your own army and attack for the win.
Withered Wretch — 7 total
Some people play fast and loose with their Wretches, tapping out to kill whatever dredgers you happen to have in your graveyard, and those are the people that you’ll manage to beat with a Darkblast in your upkeep and again after you dredge it. However, if your opponent knows to sit back on his Wretch and protect it from Darkblast shenanigans, then you’ll have a hard time breaking through this man. The good news is that Tenth Edition has given us Pithing Needle as a tool against this man, and against Tormod’s Crypt. Some Dredge builds also play something like Death Rattle or Last Gasp to kill this man, but both are weaker than Needle.
Tormod’s Crypt — 10 total
At this point, the hate is no longer game-winning. Leylines and Wretches can each be beaten, but played correctly they are huge obstacles to overcome, and often ones that you simply can’t beat. Tormod’s Crypt is clearly very good against you, but it is slightly awkward to play correctly. If your opponent plays it and doesn’t immediately blow it, they risk losing it to a Tormod’s Crypt. If they do play it and blow it, then you might just be able to get right back into things with a Mentor or Magus. They can try to sit on it until you combo off, at which point you can force the question with a Golgari Grave-Troll. If they want to stop your Troll from hitting play as a 10/10, then they’ll have to use the Crypt and give you another dredge outlet at the same time. Yes, Crypt is a very good card against Dredge, and yes, multiples can win the game, but it is not nearly as terrifying as Leyline or Wretch.
Extirpate — 23 total
This is like the sleeker model of Tormod’s Crypt. Timed correctly against an unaware Dredge player, Extirpate can stop a Flame-Kin victory for just a single mana. It can also hit Grave-Trolls on turn 2 or turn 10, and blow away Dread Return targets or the Dread Returns themselves. Its weakness, however, is its pinpoint accuracy. Dredge fires on many cylinders, and if it loses its Bridges can go for Grave-Trolls. If it loses its Grave-Trolls it can go for Svogthos. If it loses its Loams, it can go for Dread Return on a fatty. And so on.
Pithing Needle — 14 total
Pithing Needle is essentially an Extirpate for the Dredge deck’s enablers. If you lead off with a Magus of the Bazaar, your best man might just be a Kobold when your opponent plops a Needle into play. Luckily, though, most Dredge decks have a diverse suite of enablers to use, so losing your Magi just means you need to fall back on your Thought Couriers or Llanowar Mentors. The Needle also falls to splash damage from Krosan Grips brought in against potential Leylines.
Yixlid Jailer — 0 total
The Jailer stops nearly everything in the Dredge deck, though it won’t stop you from actually playing any Grave-Trolls or Svogthoses you already have in your hand. However, banking on a 2/1 creature against a deck that may be packing up to four Darkblasts is not exactly the best idea, and only the Mono-Black Rack deck has been known to sport this man.
Not Quite Hate, but a Strong Dislike
Many people believe that Tenth Edition’s Mogg Fanatic is reason enough to not play the Dredge deck. Mogg Fanatic is a first-turn threat that is also an answer to whatever enabler the Dredge player has kept, and it can sit on the board to blank Bridge from Below in the later stages. The truly unfortunate thing, though, is the pairing of Mogg Fanatic with cards like Martyr of Ashes or Greater Gargadon. Martyr of Ashes sweeps all enablers off the board and all Bridges out of the graveyard, or it can play defense against a horde of hasty 3/3s. Greater Gargadon simply sits on the sidelines, making sure that no big Bridge play can successfully go off.
The key, then, is to make sure that you aren’t too vulnerable to these things. Having your enablers under constant attack means that you need to have some way of getting the party started even when you’re playing against the triple Seal of Fire draw. Dredgers like Life from the Loam, Darkblast, and Shambling Shell can all leap from your hand to the graveyard without the help of men like Greenseeker or Drowned Rusalka.
Another angle that people often attack on is the mana. Most Dredge decks are looking to cast at least two colors of spells, whether that’s Green plus Black, Blue plus Green, or Blue plus Black, and some even go so far as to try and cast all three. Stuart Wright went all the way to the finals of his National Championships with first-turn Mentors, second-turn Looters, and fourth-turn Dread Returns. Unfortunately, he then ran into three straight Magus of the Moon, and his run ended in second place.
There isn’t much you can do to beat Magus of the Moon beyond playing some basic lands. If you’re playing Green, you can use Greenseeker to give yourself better access to the few basics you happen to have. You could also sideboard in Red removal, such as Incinerate or Pyroclasm, planning to use the Moon man’s ability against him.
So, what build of Dredge happens to include the best answers to all of these problems? We need good dredgers and good enablers, obviously, but we also need self-enabling dredgers, multiple angles of attack, and resilient mana. Considering all this, I present to you my updated Dredge deck.
- 3 Nantuko Husk
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 1 Shambling Shell
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 3 Stalking Vengeance
- 4 Greenseeker
- 1 Phantasmagorian
- 4 Llanowar Mentor
- 4 Narcomoeba
The combo kill included in this deck is the biggest sticking point for most people. Why would I want to use Nantuko Husk plus Stalking Vengeance when I could simply use Flame-Kin Zealot and win with one card instead of two? The answer, as hard as it might be to believe, is that more pieces is better. Nantuko Husk is relatively strong in his own right, comboing with Llanowar Mentor to be a huge threat against control or a huge blocker against aggro. He can also feed Stinkweed Imps to your graveyard so that they can be dredged up again. Stalking Vengeance is a good reanimation target as a simple 5/5 haste creature, but he also deters mass removal and is good friends with Shambling Shell and flashed back Dread Returns. Then, of course, when you have Nantuko Husk and Stalking Vengeance in play at the same time, your opponent is often simply dead. You don’t need to attack, which might be a problem against Empty the Warrens, Seht’s Tiger, or any number of potential hosers. You might not even need the Nantuko Husk if you have a large Grave-Troll or two and a Dread Return in the yard.
In other words, both Husk and Vengeance are strong on their own, and together are stronger than Flame-Kin. Killing a goldfish is certainly easier with Flame-Kin, but killing an actual opponent is easier with Stalking Vengeance.
The next thing most people ask about is the presence of only eight enablers. In this deck, the balance between the number of dredgers and enablers is skewed towards the dredgers; I have fifteen dredgers and eight enablers in the maindeck, while many Flame-Kin builds have approximately ten dredgers and fourteen or more enablers. I think that the dredger-heavy balance is a better one, since Darkblast, Life from the Loam, and Shambling Shell can all get to the graveyard without the help of enablers. This means that I have fourteen cards that can get the dredge party started, and fifteen cards to ride the waves.
So why play just Greenseeker and Mentor? Why not play Magus of the Bazaar and Merfolk Looter? Well, there are multiple parts to that answer. First, the Green enablers cost one mana, which means you can always start dredging on turn 2. When your men might be held off by Lightning Helix or Incinerate, making sure they sneak under the curve is important. Second, they’re the right color. Dredge, as a mechanic, is Green/Black. You’ll want to cast Darkblast, Life from the Loam, Stinkweed Imp, and Grave-Trolls, and you’ll also want to cast Dread Return and activate Svogthos. Playing the Blue enablers means you need to stretch your mana or give up easy access to Green or Black spells. Third, I think that the Green enablers are just better than the Blue ones. Greenseeker remains the best by far; he makes sure you hit your land drops right up to Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Grave-Troll, which is often crucial in winning games. Llanowar Mentor is nearly as good, since he mimics making land drops. You exchange the ability to thin your deck and grab Black mana for a host of 1/1 tokens, which you can use to feed Dread Return.
The last thing to talk about is the sideboard. It is geared rather heavily towards aggro matchups, where you might bring in as many as fourteen cards. Golgari Brownscale is not the life-gaining machine that he is with the Blue enablers, but he is a good facsimile of Stinkweed Imp, and the life you do gain is not insignificant. Ghosts of the Innocent is a board-staller that you can use to set up a Troll win at your leisure; there’s not much out there that can get through just one of these guys, let alone two of them. If you believe that you won’t be seeing much burn aggro, and will instead see a lot of decks like Mono-Green, then they should be swapped out for Blazing Archons. Delirium Skeins is an un-burnable enabler that will often knock a Char or three out of your opponent’s hand, while the fourth Darkblast is just insurance against decks like Rakdos. The cards that you want against control are the Loam, the Svogthos, and sometimes the Skeins. Which leaves us with Pithing Needle. I don’t really advocate bringing the Needles in unless you are sure that they will have targets, but when you are worried about Wretches or Crypts, these guys are your answer.
Your enablers are at a very high risk of dying in this matchup, even more so if you’re on the draw. This makes hands with multiple lands, Darkblast, and Stinkweed Imp much better than hands with a Forest, a Mentor, and a Grave-Troll or three. Your hope is to find a Darkblast to keep Confidants under control, and then sit back on Imps, Husks, and your Shell while you set up. If your opponent isn’t sitting there with a Fanatic in play, you can always go for the combo kill; if they Incinerate their own Guildmage, you’ll still get a hasty 5/5 to smash them. More often, though, you just drop some huge Trolls on turns 5 through 8 and kill them. The other thing that you need to watch out for is Hit/Run. Bringing back Stalking Vengeance without any chumps to sacrifice is often very dangerous. Llanowar Mentor, Narcomoeba, Stinkweed Imp, and Bridge from Below should all do a fine job of protecting you, though.
During sideboarding, I like to bring in ten cards: the Brownscales, the Ghosts, the Skeins, the Darkblast, and the Loam. To make room for these guys, I cut the combo kill (four Bridge, three Vengeance, and three Nantuko Husk). Your usual plan is to try and control the game and win with Trolls, so this plan just helps you execute that more frequently. The Ghosts will shut down pretty much anything out there, though the Trolls will still be able to inflict plenty of damage. If you have to, you can always sacrifice them to a Dread Return when you want to go for the kill. However, this is not the only way to sideboard. If you believe that your combo kill should stay in for games 2 and 3, you can bring in just the Ghosts and/or Brownscales and the fourth Darkblast, shaving various pieces. Cards that you can shave include one Life from the Loam, the singleton Shambling Shell, one or two of each of Stalking Vengeance and Nantuko Husk, and even the Dakmor Salvage.
If you know that you’re going to need the Pithing Needles, you have to sideboard even more drastically. With the combo kill already cut from the deck, the next place to find slots is in the reanimation package. Instead of bringing in all three Ghosts, you can bring in just one, and shave two Dread Returns. Again, this means that you’re relying on your Grave-Troll plan for victory, so make sure that you can execute it.
The Gruul matchup is similar to the Rakdos matchup in that your enablers are usually not safe past turn one. However, the creatures that Gruul brings to the fight are usually quite a bit larger, and as such not as vulnerable to Darkblast. Stinkweed Imp is much more important in this matchup, since it stops Tarmogoyf and Greater Gargadon, so make sure that you have an ample supply of them in play. As in the Rakdos matchup, you are generally playing for a Grave-Troll end game, so the important thing to do in the early turns is just keeping your head above water.
Depending on the actual makeup of your opponent’s deck, Golgari Brownscale may or may not be worth bringing in. If they have Tarmogoyfs, Call of the Herds, Scab-Clan Maulers, and other various 3/3s, then the Brownscales should stay in your sideboard. Ghosts of the Innocent is almost just as good, though, as are the Skeins. My usual boarding plan is to cut the Bridges, one Vengeance, and one Husk for the Ghosts, Skeins, and one Loam.
Needle is fine against Gruul, though I think you’re better off leaving it in the board for game 2 unless you are certain that it will have cards to hose. Tormod’s Crypt is not even close to as frightening as Withered Wretch, and so the gamble often pays off. If you do believe that you need them, though, cutting the full combo kill is usually the best way to go.
Your best tool against Project X is Darkblast. An opening-hand Darkblast can cut down the Birds that your opponent was depending on, and it can blank Essence Wardens so that they have to go for the Teysa combo kill. If you can accumulate two of them and two Black mana, then you can kill the Crypt Champion mid-combo to stop the loop. Another way to beat the Essence Warden combo is to just have Stalking Vengeance in play with a Shambling Shell or Nantuko Husk in the graveyard. One Essence Warden will gain them three life per loop iteration (one for Saffi, one for the Champion, and one for the guy you return). Shambling Shell will negate this while spreading out infinite +1/+1 counters. If you have to use Nantuko Husk, then each loop will gain them three life but lose them one life as you bring back and eat Llanowar Mentor, Greenseeker, or Narcomoeba. The Husk will also grow by +2/+2 during each iteration, so that when they’re done it can eat itself to reset their life total back to the beginning. In other words, Project X will almost always have to beat you with Ghost Council or Teysa. If they do get the Teysa combo, though, there is not much that you can do about it.
This makes Pithing Needle a guaranteed board-in. It hits Saffi, it hits Teysa, it hits Ghost Council, and it hits Withered Wretch if they’ve brought him in. You’ll also want the fourth Darkblast, since it does so much against them. You can also bring in Skeins if you’d like, but they’re not as impressive here as they are against burn decks. I cut the Bridges, since you’ll be killing their guys quite often, and when you aren’t, they can just sacrifice some. I also shave a Nantuko Husk to fit in the fourth Darkblast.
Blink decks of all flavors are almost 100% reliant on sideboard hate cards to win this matchup. They have almost no way to stop a one-drop enabler, and their Remand/Venser defense is far too weak to stop your combo kill. If they do manage to get the game to go long, you’ll have to worry about your Trolls and Vengeances getting bounced out of play, but very few games should make it that far.
Your sideboarding plan is very straightforward. You want to cut the Darkblasts that are essentially dead and the Shambling Shell for two Skeins, one Life from the Loam, and one Svogthos. The Svogthos will allow you to weather Wraths if you get moved onto the Troll plan, and the Skeins are just extra disruption to try to keep them from getting their long game on.
Playing against Angelfire is similar to playing against Blink, but more balanced. With Demonfire and Lightning Helix, Angelfire has a better chance at keeping you from getting off the ground if they’re on the play. However, they don’t have a massive bounce engine to sit on in the late game, so you’ll have less resistance when going for either the combo kill or the Grave-Troll plan. Angelfire is also more likely to have Wrath of God, so you need to make sure that you play accordingly. Cashing creatures in for Zombie tokens is often too greedy; you’d rather just sit on your Bridges and make any Wrath painful for your opponent. Phantasmagorian is also valuable in potential Wrath situations, due to his ability to dump unexpected Bridges into the graveyard in response to a Wrath of God.
The Angelfire sideboard plan is the same as the Blink one. You are cutting dead weight for game-plan insurance.
With so many good matchups in the field, I can’t do anything other than recommend Dredge for post-Tenth Standard. I didn’t play it at Nationals because I was too scared of the hate, but as soon as I realized what was going on, I managed to crush side events all weekend long. At this point I told my Magic Online clanmates how good I thought the deck was, and they won multiple 2x Premiere Events, even in the face of Dragonstorm and Kird Ape.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM