We are awakened with the axe
Night of the Living Dead at last
They have begun to shake the dirt
Wiping their shoulders from the earth
I know, I know the nations past
I know, I know they rust at last
They tremble with the nervous thought
Of having been, at last, forgot
Speaking their names, they shake the flag
Waking the earth, it lifts and lags
We see a thousand rooms to rest
Helping us taste the bite of death
I know, I know my time has passed
I’m not so young, I’m not so fast
I tremble with the nervous thought
Of having been, at last, forgot
-Sufjan Stevens, “They are Night Zombies! They are Neighbors! They have come back from the dead!”
Whether you’ve never heard of Dredge, are casually familiar with it from other formats, or consider yourself an experienced Vintage Dredge player, this is perhaps the most comprehensive look at the Dredge strategy in Vintage ever produced. I’m going to break the deck down into its parts, and provide strategy and rules tips, as well as example versions of the different Dredge strategies.
Let’s get started by looking at the pieces that make up the deck.
Ravnica block unleashed a new mechanic on the Magic world: Dredge. Subsequent printings in Future Sight and Zendikar have resulted in a deck that is among the top-tier decks in Vintage. There are six cards with the Dredge mechanic that see play in Vintage.
Golgari Grave-Troll: Every Dredge list includes 4 Grave-Troll, as it has the highest Dredge value available (6) and is also a powerful Dread Return target. Remember that if you use Dread Return targeting Grave-Troll, the Grave-Troll counts itself when you calculate the number of counters it receives.
Stinkweed Imp: Every Dredge list also includes 4 Stinkweed Imp, which has the second-highest Dredge value (5). Because it is a black creature, extra Stinkweed Imps can serve as Ichorid food, and can also be pitched for the alternate cost on Unmask.
Golgari Thug: Most Dredge lists include some number of Golgari Thug, typically between 2 and 4. Thug has the third-highest Dredge value (4), and is also a Black creature that can feed Ichorid and be pitched to Unmask.
Darkblast: Most Dredge lists also include some number of Darkblast between the main deck and sideboard; it is the only removal spell that also includes a Dredge value (3). Darkblast rises and falls in value depending on what is seeing play in the metagame. It can be a valuable tool to destroy Goblin Welder (to prevent Tormod’s Crypt recursion), Mogg Fanatic (to prevent a reactive break of your Bridge From Belows), Yixlid Jailer, and Gaddock Teeg (by casting it and dredging it back to cast again).
Life from the Loam: Some Dredge lists include a Life from the Loam, which can serve several functions as well as serving as a dredger (3). For Dredge decks that include Bloodghast, Life from the Loam can guarantee a never-ending supply of landfall triggers. Life from the Loam can also target Bazaars or Cephalid Coliseums in the graveyard to provide additional dredging.
Dakmor Salvage: Dakmor Salvage is the only land with a Dredge value (2). Despite being a relatively poor dredger, the ability is highly relevant for builds that use Bloodghast as it guarantees that even if you’re out of actual land drops, you’ll be able to trigger your Bloodghasts provided you dredge through enough of your deck.
Draw Spells / Effects:
To make use of the Dredge mechanic, a Dredge deck needs to have draw spells and effects so that it can quickly dredge through its library. Similar spells used in other formats, such as Burning Inquiry, Goblin Lore, Ideas Unbound, and so on generally do not see play in Vintage. Similarly, creature-based draw / discard such as Magus of the Bazaar, Merfolk Looter, and Drowned Rusalka do not make the cut in Vintage. Some builds have used Putrid Imp as an additional discard outlet, but that is usually the extent of creature-based discard. I have not seen Tireless Tribe used in Vintage, for example. Here’s what does see play:
Bazaar of Baghdad: Bazaar is the key to Vintage Dredge, and the difference between a moderately powerful deck (Legacy Dredge) and a format-warping monster (Vintage Dredge). Bazaar allows Vintage Dredge to have an outrageous game-one match-up against blue decks, because unlike similar decks in Legacy, you cannot counter a Bazaar of Baghdad with Force of Will. No other card in Magic so effectively functions as both a draw engine and discard outlet. While some Dredge decks choose to supplement Bazaar with additional draw / discard spells, others choose to rely simply on Bazaar.
Breakthrough: Once a dredger or dredgers are in the graveyard, Breakthrough is the most powerful draw spell for the mana cost. A resolved Breakthrough will often dredge through 1/3 of the deck, and is sometimes enough to win the game. While Breakthrough is often played with X=0, it is not uncommon to play it with X=1, so that after dredging, you can keep one card in your hand. This can serve several functions. It might allow you to hold onto an anti-hate card (such as Chain of Vapor) in post sideboard games; you might also want to hold onto a land to trigger Bloodghast(s), or a draw spell (such as another Breakthrough).
Careful Study: More popular in Legacy than in Vintage, Careful Study still sees some play in Vintage; while not as powerful of a draw spell as Breakthrough, it is better suited in the early game to help you get dredgers into your graveyard. Mana Dredge decks can therefore use it to help reduce their reliance on Bazaar of Baghdad. Versions that play Force of Will also use it to increase their blue spell count.
Fatestitcher: While not technically a draw spell, Fatestitcher primarily functions as an uncounterable draw effect. Decks that use it do so in combination with Bazaar of Baghdad, paying a blue mana to Unearth Fatestitcher and untap Bazaar to fuel additional dredging. Fatestitcher is also versatile in that it can tap down Trinisphere (to turn it “off” and allow spells like Dread Return or Cabal Therapy to be played) or blockers (such as a Tarmogoyf left back to play “defense”). Fatestitcher also has haste and can add one damage to an attack, and can tap down lands in the first main phase to keep an opponent off something like Mana Drain. Remember to avoid the rookie mistake of trying to Dread Return a Fatestitcher into play for the purposes of untapping Bazaar; if you do so, it will not have haste. I have seen some instances where this is a legitimate play (for example, to tap down an Oath creature), but they are rare.
Ancestral Recall: Many Dredge lists play Ancestral Recall as it is a powerful draw spell (3 dredges for U) as well as just one of the most powerful cards in the game. In post-sideboard games, Recall can help draw into the anti-hate cards the deck needs to function.
Cephalid Coliseum: While not an auto-include as it is in Legacy, Coliseum is still a powerful and uncounterable draw effect that sees some play in Vintage, mostly in versions heavier on mana. Remember that against a deck like Noble Fish or Landstill, Coliseum can be hit by Stifle.
Street Wraith: Street Wraith is a one-shot draw effect for two life, which can be played as quickly as turn one after a Bazaar activation. Street Wraith is seen most often in Manaless Dredge, where it can also feed Ichorids or pay for Unmask.
Disruption / Protection
Dredge is one of the faster decks in Vintage, but far from the fastest, and even the format’s control decks such as Tezzeret have the capability to “win” on the first or second turn of the game using some combination of Time Vault and Voltaic Key / Tezzeret the Seeker. To buy the two-to-three turns that Dredge decks need to lock up the game, many turn to some method of disruption or protection.
Cabal Therapy: Every version of Dredge includes Cabal Therapy, typically a full set of four. Cabal Therapy is one of the most powerful spells in Dredge. It disrupts the opponent, provides key information by revealing the opponent’s hand, creates Zombie tokens due to the interaction with Bridge from Below, costs no mana to play, and can help create the three creatures you need to flashback Dread Return. Remember that you can also Cabal Therapy yourself, should you need to do so; for example, you may find yourself with Dread Return in your hand that you need to get into your Graveyard, or a Dread Return target. You can also discard Dredgers into your Graveyard using this method. Also remember that if Cabal Therapy gets hit by Misdirection, you still control the effect and choose what to name.
Unmask: Unmask is the other discard effect usually seen in Dredge decks, although it is far from the auto-include that is Cabal Therapy. Unmask remains popular in old-school manaless builds, and many more recent versions still include it. On the play it is a powerful anti-hate card against anything except Leyline of the Void, and the existence of Ravenous Trap has increased its stock as well.
Chalice of the Void: Another card that seems to move in and out of Dredge builds is Chalice of the Void. Playing and resolving Chalice of the Void on 0 when on the play almost guarantees victory for the Dredge player, as it locks out Moxen, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Lotus Petal, and Tormod’s Crypt. In other words, it removes the opponent’s ability to race and reduces many decks to simply saying, “Land, go.” While it is much worse on the draw, it is still powerful against TPS, ANT, and decks like Tezzeret that might want to race using Yawgmoth’s Will. As of this writing, Chalice is not particularly popular among Dredge players, which actually increases its value, especially in the third game of a match where you have lost game two, where it is unexpected.
Leyline of the Void: Leyline of the Void is a deceptively powerful effect against the majority of Vintage decks, as Vintage is the most Graveyard-centric of all of the Magic formats. Against Tezzeret, it prevents the use of Yawgmoth’s Will, which is often one of the mechanisms by which Tezzeret can race Dredge. Against TPS, it also eliminates the use of Yawgmoth’s Will and prevents Threshold on Cabal Ritual. Against Stax, it takes away the use of Goblin Welder and blanks Crucible of Worlds. The effect is obviously also powerful in the Dredge mirror. This is an example of why scouting with Dredge is so important. When you play Dredge, it is in your best interest to identify the other Dredge players in the room if you are running maindeck Leyline of the Void. Be aware that many Dredge players are now including some number of maindeck outs to Leyline of the Void (such as Nature’s Claim or Chain of Vapor), so you may not have an “auto win” against the mirror by taking mulligans into Leyline.
Force of Will: For Dredge decks that carry enough blue cards to support it, Force of Will is a powerful inclusion. It helps prevent other decks from racing, and it can counter any hate card except Bojuka Bog and turn-zero Leyline of the Void (being particularly good against Ravenous Trap). It is also often used to make sure an anti-hate card actually resolves.
Dread Return and Targets
One way to think about Dredge is to consider it a disruptive and explosive reanimator strategy. The majority of Dredge decks in Vintage include some amount of Dread Return (typically two or three) and some number of targets beyond Golgari Grave-Troll (also typically two or three). Some builds run additional Dread Return targets in the sideboard, while others operate under the assumption that the Dread Return package will be sided out for games two and three to make room for anti-hate cards.
Flame-Kin Zealot: Flame-Kin Zealot, or FKZ, is probably the most popular Dread Return target and is extremely effective at ending the game immediately. Typically, you will have creatures in play (Narcomoeba, Ichorid, Bloodghast) due to your dredging; you will then use those creatures to flashback Cabal Therapy to remove any counter-magic in your opponent’s hand. Paying the flashback cost (sacrifice a creature) on Cabal Therapy will result in Zombie tokens from Bridge from Below (one Zombie for each Bridge in the Graveyard, for each creature sacrificed). Once you know the way is clear, you then sacrifice three remaining creatures (typically at least one non-token creature has to be involved for FKZ to be effective) to Dread Return Flame-Kin Zealot into play. Any creatures already in play, plus the Bridge from Below tokens generated by the Dread Return, as well as FKZ itself, will get haste and +1/+1. If your opponent is at 20 life, you would need to generate at least 6 Bridge from Below tokens along with FKZ to get through for lethal damage, assuming the opponent has no blockers or removal spells.
There are other, more obscure uses for FKZ beyond the use of Zombie tokens, which are less common in Vintage but may still come up. For example, if your opponent has Propaganda or Ghostly Prison in play, you can Dread Return a very large Grave-Troll into play, and then Dread Return the Zombie tokens away into Flame-Kin Zealot to give the Grave-Troll Haste, and pay the two mana for Ghostly Prison or Propaganda to attack for the win. [Note: This exact situation came up for me in a Legacy tournament, and while Ghostly Prison and Propaganda are rarely played in Vintage, it is still possible and indicative of the outside-the-box thinking that can change an average Dredge player into a very good Dredge player.]
Sphinx of Lost Truths / Cephalid Sage: Cephalid Sage has been mostly supplanted by the superior Sphinx of Lost Truths, but both serve a similar purpose: they provide additional dredging. Particularly in game one, some Dredge players elect to go for a speed kill with Flame-Kin Zealot, and use a Sphinx as their other Dread Return target.
Iona, Shield of Emeria: Iona has become a popular Dread Return target in Dredge, as it can lock up the game against Tezzeret, TPS / ANT, and Oath decks. The 7/7 body with evasion also provides a nice finisher. Iona is one of the best targets that doesn’t win the game immediately.
Eternal Witness: Eternal Witness is not particularly popular currently, but is a strong Dread Return target that can serve a number of functions. In decks with Fatestitcher, Eternal Witness can return Lion’s-Eye Diamond or Black Lotus to your hand, which would allow you Unearth multiple Fatestitchers to dredge out your deck quickly. Witness can also give you back a land to trigger Bloodghast, a Bazaar for additional Dredging, or a draw spell like Breakthrough.
Woodfall Primus: Primus sees some play in Legacy, where a number of targets can be problematic (such as the previously mentioned Ghostly Prison), but is a decent choice in Vintage as well. The appealing part of Primus is his interaction with Bridge from Below and Cabal Therapy. You can Dread Return Woodfall Primus into play, destroy any non-creature permanent (such as a land or Time Vault or Ensnaring Bridge), and then sacrifice Primus to Cabal Therapy, taking a card from the opponent’s hand, destroying a second permanent, and triggering Bridge from Below tokens as well. Primus also has Trample and a decent-sized body.
Terastodon: Terastodon is similar to Woodfall Primus, but offers a larger body as well as the ability to target your own non-land permanents to create a large attacking army. It can also destroy three mana sources immediately to lock up a game.
Angel of Despair: Angel is similar in function to Primus and Terastodon, except that it can hit creatures, which can be a key difference. The oft-cited target is Platinum Angel, although few decks actually use Platinum Angel in the current metagame. It also has better evasion (Flying) compared to Primus (Trample) and Terastodon (none, it’s just a huge elephant).
Sundering Titan: Sundering Titan falls into the same category as Terastodon and Woodfall Primus, but is generally a worse option and no longer sees much play. I would lump Realm Razer into this category as well.
Platinum Angel: Some Dredge players have used Platinum Angel in the main or sideboard as a Dread Return target. Platinum Angel offers protection against Aggro and Combo decks, and is a powerful choice in the Dredge mirror, but has generally been supplanted by more recent options such as Iona.
Sharuum the Hegemon: Sharuum functions as a kind of super-Eternal Witness, and gives Dredge decks that use it a number of interesting interactions. Like Eternal Witness, Sharuum can return a Black Lotus or Lion’s Eye Diamond to play (and put them directly into play unlike Witness, which returns them to your hand) for the purpose of providing mana to fuel Fatestitcher. Sharuum can also target a finisher like Possessed Portal to lock up a game; conveniently, Portal does not lock out the Dredge player from additional Dredging. With a Bridge from Below in the Graveyard and two Sharuums in the Graveyard, a Dread Return on Sharuum can give you infinite zombie tokens: the Sharuum you Dread Return targets the second Sharuum, and as both are Legendary, state-based effects destroy them both while the trigger from the second Sharuum is on the stack. You can then loop into an arbitrarily large amount of zombies before finally targeting a different Artifact to break the loop. Alter of Dementia can be used to “mill” out the opponent’s Library to win without using the combat step.
Dredge decks utilize a set of creatures that can come into play without a mana cost as a byproduct of dredging, or otherwise have some kind of alternate cost to get into play. These creatures are used to fuel Cabal Therapy and Dread Return as well as providing an alternate win condition. They are also a critical part of winning post-sideboard games.
Ichorid: Dredge decks used to be known as Ichorid decks due to the presence of this creature, but in a post-Bloodghast world, not all Dredge decks utilize Ichorid. Many still do, as Ichorid is very good at what it does. Ichorids are guaranteed to have Haste, unlike Bloodghast, and will die at the end of each turn, leaving behind a steadily growing army of Bridge from Below tokens. The damage progression from a single Ichorid and two Bridge from Belows would make most aggro decks jealous:
Turn 1: Ichorid attacks for 3, and creates two 2/2 Zombies
Turn 2: Ichorid and two 2/2 Zombies attack for 7, and Ichorid creates two additional 2/2 Zombies
Turn 3: ichorid and four 2/2 Zombies attack for 11 damage, and Ichorid creates two additional 2/2 Zombies
In this way, Ichorid plays a key role in post-sideboard games by forcing opponents to expend hate cards like Relic of Progenitus, Tormod’s Crypt, and Ravenous Trap with minimal exposure by the Dredge player. The drawback of Ichorid compared to Bloodghast is that you can run out of “fuel” for the Ichorids, and are sometimes forced to feed an Ichorid to another Ichorid or to have to choose to feed a Dredger to an Ichorid. Regarding Ichorid, you may stack the Ichorid trigger in your Upkeep even if you have no valid targets at the time the trigger goes on the stack. With that trigger on, you may then use Bazaar to dredge potential Ichorid targets into your Graveyard, and then resolve the trigger. Just because you stack the trigger or triggers doesn’t force you to resolve them, either. Remember that opponents may respond to that trigger while it is on the stack as well.
Bloodghast: Zendikar unleashed a powerful new weapon for Dredge players: Bloodghast. Bloodghast attacks for less damage than Ichorid, and doesn’t die automatically and leave behind a zombie army, and this combined with its inability to block makes it a poor defensive option. However, it has a number of upsides when compared to Ichorid. You can get them into play during your main phase by simply playing a land. Dredge players can utilize Undiscovered Paradise to supply themselves with a source of Landfall triggers each turn. Petrified Field will also allow for Bloodghast to trigger twice. This means that you can have Bloodghasts in play, attack with them, and then use them to fuel Cabal Therapies, and then play a land to bring them back to fuel a Dread Return. They are very useful in setting up a fast, lethal Flame-Kin Zealot. Many Dredge players are choosing to use a mix of Bloodghast and Ichorid to get the upside of both creatures, and again this option gives the Dredge player a lot of resiliency against hate cards out of the sideboard. Note that Bloodghast’s Landfall trigger is a “may” ability so you must remember to return all your Bloodghasts to play when you play a land. Also note that although playing a land does not use the Stack, the Landfall trigger does go on the stack. Opponents can respond to that trigger by Exiling your Graveyard with Ravenous Trap, Tormod’s Crypt, or Relic of Progenitus.
Narcomoeba: Every Dredge deck includes Narcomoeba, which is the ultimate “free” creature; when you’re dredging and reveal a Narcomoeba, a trigger goes on the stack, and when you are done resolving your dredging, Narcomoeba comes into play for free. Note that this is a “may” ability, so you need to remember to resolve the trigger, and like the other creatures, opponents may respond while the trigger is on the stack. As a reminder, when you begin resolving a set of draws, such as “Draw two, discard three” from Bazaar of Baghdad, you must complete the full set of actions (typically dredging twice and then discarding the two dredgers and one additional card) before you move to resolve any triggers on the stack, or before your opponent can respond. The fact that Narcomoeba has flying is not insignificant, as Narcomoeba allows you to chump block an opposing Sphinx of the Steel Wind or Iona.
Dryad Arbor: Old-school Manaless Dredge decks sometimes play a number of Dryad Arbors between the main and sideboard. Dryad Arbor serves a number of functions. It is a free creature that can allow you to pay Cabal Therapy or Dread Return flashback costs. It also counts as a Forest, which means you can use it to play the alternate cost of Reverent Silence to destroy Leyline of the Void. Additionally, as Dryad Arbor is a Forest, you can use a fetch land to get it into play. Not only does this help you find it, but it can surprise an ill-prepared opponent that attacks with Yixlid Jailer, only to see an Arbor pop into play to block. Arbor also triggers the Landfall trigger on Bloodghast, although to date I don’t believe I’ve seen someone combine these two cards.
Most Dredge decks function using a variety of rainbow lands, while some also use fast mana, such as Black Lotus, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Mox Sapphire. Note that I have not included Bazaar of Baghdad, Dryad Arbor, or Cephalid Coliseum under this section.
City of Brass: City of Brass is the gold standard of rainbow lands. It allows a Dredge player to access any sideboard card from any color to combat the opponent’s hate cards.
Gemstone Mine: Gemstone Mine is a rainbow land that generally has no drawback in game one except against Workshop decks, where Thorns / Spheres / Lodestone Golems may force the Dredge player to tap it repeatedly to resolve spells like Cabal Therapy and Dread Return, which are normally free. However, it isn’t as strong in post-sideboard games, as you often need to cast several counter-measures against hate cards before one “sticks” or all the threats are handled.
Undiscovered Paradise: Paradise sees play due to its fantastic interaction with Bloodghast, but it too has some drawbacks, particularly against Workshop decks. If the Workshop player is able to build up several resistors on the board, Paradise can limit your ability to cast spells effectively, especially if you’ve drawn multiples.
Tarnished Citadel: Citadel is an option that sometimes sees play in Legacy, but hasn’t been seen much in Vintage.
Petrified Field: Petrified Field can be used as an anti-Wasteland tool that recurs your Bazaars while giving you two Landfall triggers. You can also use a Field to return a Bazaar or a rainbow land from your Graveyard to your hand. It is also solid against Workshop decks as it gives you another way to pay the extra colorless mana required by various resistors.
Black Lotus / Lion’s Eye Diamond / Lotus Petal / Mox Sapphire / Chrome Mox: Various versions of Dredge utilize different degrees of fast mana. Fatestitcher versions can make very good use of Lion’s Eye Diamond and Black Lotus in particular. Decks using Breakthrough are also more likely to play these two artifacts. For decks using Cephalid Coliseum, cards like Lotus Petal and Mox Sapphire (and to a lesser extent, Chrome Mox) are a way to speed up the deck; these cards are also a way to make the deck faster in a metagame that has combo decks which Dredge needs to race.
Bridge From Below
Bridge From Below is an automatic four-of in every Dredge deck, and along with Bazaar of Baghdad, provides the foundation around which the rest of the deck is built. Remember that Bridge From Below creates triggers that check again upon resolution; whenever a non-token creature you control goes to your Graveyard, you will stack a trigger for each Bridge From Below in your Graveyard. Then, as you resolve the triggers they will check again to make sure the Bridge From Below is still present. If it is Exiled from your Graveyard in-between the trigger going on the stack and upon resolution, you will not get the zombie tokens.
As an example — you enter your Upkeep, and stack an Ichorid trigger, and then use Bazaar of Baghdad to dredge 6 cards with Golgari Grave-Troll, revealing a Narcomoeba, and then 5 cards with Stinkweed Imp. You then discard Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp, along with a Cabal Therapy. You then resolve the Narcomoeba trigger. That gets you back to the Ichorid trigger, which you resolve by Exiling Stinkweed Imp. You draw for turn, and dredge 6 more cards off the Grave-Troll, which goes into your hand. During your pre-combat main phase, you sacrifice Narcomoeba to pay the Flashback cost of Cabal Therapy, with two copies of Bridge from Below in your Graveyard. This puts two Bridge triggers on the stack. In response to the Cabal Therapy, your Tezzeret opponent casts a Darkblast on his Dark Confidant. Darkblast resolves, and sends Dark Confidant to the Graveyard. This triggers the Exile clause on Bridge From Below. Then, your Bridge triggers resolve, and upon resolution, you no longer have Bridge From Below in your Graveyard, so you get no tokens. Finally, Cabal Therapy resolves.
You should also be aware that if you go into combat with an opponent, and some of their creatures go to the Graveyard, you will still receive your zombie tokens. So, in the previous example, let’s say that instead of casting Cabal Therapy, I instead move to my combat phase and attack with the Ichorid, and my opponent blocks with Dark Confidant. In this case, both the Ichorid and Dark Confidant will go to the Graveyard, and then I will receive two 2/2 Zombie tokens (one for each Bridge). Then, I will Exile all Bridge from Belows from my Graveyard. Your opponent may ask you to explicitly stack these triggers, so make sure you do so correctly.
Although Dredge is a highly linear deck, and is strategically limiting to the nth degree compared to a deck like Tezzeret, the mechanics of the deck do take practice and are skill-testing. Playing this deck extensively can go a long way toward helping you broaden your understanding of the Stack and how it functions.
Finding Bazaar of Baghdad
Decks that are “all-in” on Bazaar (which is to say those with only Bazaar of Baghdad as a draw/discard engine, or decks that must find it for other draw/discard elements to function) use several methods to find Bazaar; primarily this involves Serum Powder.
Serum Powder: Serum Powder is a powerful effect that allows you to Exile your entire hand any time when you could mulligan, in exchange for drawing a new hand. Your new hand will be the same size as the one you Exiled. As an example:
I am playing a Dredge list that needs Bazaar to function. My opening hand does not contain Bazaar, so I take a mulligan. My six-card hand also does not have Bazaar, so I mulligan again. My five-card hand is: Serum Powder, Narcomoeba, Golgari Grave-Troll, City of Brass, Flame-Kin Zealot. This hand cannot be kept, as it does not contain Bazaar. I have the option to either mulligan down to five, or Exile with Serum Powder. Exiling with Serum Powder is the right choice as it improves my chance of finding Bazaar; in game one situations, unless you’re against an opponent like TPS or ANT that you need to race, you rarely “need” to have Flame-Kin Zealot to win the game. In exchange for Exiling those five cards, I can draw a new five-card hand. This hand is: Cabal Therapy, Bazaar of Baghdad, Chalice of the Void, Stinkweed Imp, and Golgari Grave-Troll. Looks like a winner!
I have sometimes seen Dredge players discard Serum Powder at the first opportunity because the card is completely dead after your opening hand, but this is often wrong. Unless you’re purposefully limiting your exposure to hate in sideboard games, you’re almost always better off getting your engine cards into your Graveyard; Serum Powder is dead no matter where it is, unless you’ve used it to draw a new hand before the game begins. I’d also suggest you practice heavily with any Dredge list that does not run Serum Powder so that you can determine which hands truly can and cannot be kept if they don’t have a Bazaar of Baghdad. I have always felt much more secure playing with Serum Powder, especially if I’m going to play cards like Leyline of the Void and Chalice of the Void that have huge incentive to be in my starting hand.
Similarly, Dredge players ask a lot out of their decks in post-sideboard games. Consider: you’re looking for a hand that has Bazaar of Baghdad, a dredger, a source of colored mana, and an answer to hate cards. Additionally if you’re playing against the mirror, you also are heavily inclined to look for a hand with either Bazaar plus an answer for Leyline, or Bazaar and your own Leyline, or both. Serum Powder helps you find a hand that you can keep given these stringent requirements.
Don’t get gun-shy about using Serum Powder, especially game one. You should be able to win most game-one situations with almost any combination of cards in your library. I’ve won post-sideboard games where I Exiled two Bridge from Belows and two Narcomoebas, as well as games where I used Serum Powder to Exile my first 21 cards. Practice will help you understand which hands you need to mulligan and which you can Serum Powder, but generally speaking it is correct to Powder most hands.
One thing to remember, not just in relation to Serum Powder, is to always be aware of how many cards are in your library. One reason why it is beneficial to run Dredge spells of mixed values (for instance, Dakmor Salvage, Darkblast, Golgari Thug, Stinkweed Imp, and Golgari Grave-Troll) is that you can manipulate your library count to stay above three cards. One of the worst ways to lose a game of Magic is to have things locked up with Dredge, only to over-commit and have a blue opponent hit you with a “lethal” Ancestral Recall. This becomes a possibility very quickly in games where you use Serum Powder more than once, so watch out for it.
Crop Rotation: When Crop Rotation was unrestricted, players tested it in Vintage as a way to find Bazaar. Generally speaking, it’s a risky gambit. If you keep a hand based on playing a land into Crop Rotation for Bazaar, and your opponent counters, you might be in serious trouble. However, Crop Rotation is still a powerful card that also helps trigger Bloodghast.
Vampiric Tutor: I’ve also seen some Dredge lists that play Vampiric Tutor. Vamp can help you find either Bazaar, or a Dredger if you have a Bazaar and can’t locate a card to dredge with. Vampiric Tutor becomes more or less dead as soon as you have both a Bazaar and Dredger, unless you need to mill a specific card into your own Graveyard. Vampiric Tutor gives the deck some nice flexibility but most players ultimately find it isn’t worth the slot it takes away from the rest of the deck.
End — Part 1
This seems like a logical place to break.
Next week, I’ll move on to example decks so we can review how the pieces I laid out above fit together, and review sideboarding strategy. I’ll also discuss how to build a Dredge deck from the ground up to attack a specific metagame.
Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source