The very name of it drips with a toxic sound, of an outcast on the very edge of society. It is a deck that plays Magic, but only just.
Why then does it evoke such fear into the hearts of Magic players everywhere?
Well, primarily because so few people know how it actually plays. A mulligan happens. Followed by another, then another, and yet another. Possibly some number of Serum Powders are exiled. Eventually, when they keep a hand of three cards, you get to play some Magic. Or do you?
Turn one, you play a land, cantrip a bit, hold up your Force of Will and pass. Your opponent plays but Bazaar of Baghdad and passes the turn back. On your second turn maybe you make a threat. Delver of Secrets perhaps. Maybe Young Pyromancer. Possibly Tinker off a Mox for Blightsteel Colossus. You’ve got the game in a nice, safe place.
Then they tap the Bazaar of Baghdad. Draw 2, discard Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, Bridge From Below. Untap, upkeep, tap Bazaar, dredge, dredge, trigger, trigger, draw phase dredge, play a second Bazaar, Bloodghast triggers, flashback some Cabal Therapys, triggers, Zombies, eat your counters, Dread Return for Flame-kin Zealot, swing for 24. GG.
What just happened!
You got Dredged, son!
So how does it work?
Dredge works on the basis of using its graveyard as a resource to cast things from it or return them to play as an alternate method or cost to cast them. This comes in many forms: the requirements to sacrifice a creature from the flashback cost on Cabal Therapy, or three creatures from Dread Return. The landfall trigger on Bloodghast. The need to exile a black creature from Ichorid or even the very act of being placed in the graveyard from the library for a Narcomoeba, often triggered by dredging. None of these cards require mana in any way to cast them. Dredge does run a few lands (mostly Mana Confluence– or Gemstone Mine-type lands) to be able to cast spells like Nature’s Claim or Chain of Vapor on your hate cards. Even some of the anti-hate cards that dredge runs are cast with an alternate cost: Mental Misstep uses life and Unmask uses a card from your hand.
From there, the deck generates creatures from Bridge from Below, either by sacrificing creatures to the flashback spells or in the case of Ichorid, just letting it sacrifice itself at the end of turn. From here, there are many ways for the game to be finished off, either by Dread Returning a Flame-Kin Zealot to attack for a lot with your 3/3 Zombies, maybe Flayer of the Hatebound or even Sun Titan to get back another Bazaar of Baghdad to carry on the dredging train.
So how do we stop all of this from happening?
Well, the main priority is cutting them off their graveyard. This can be done in a variety of ways. Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace can completely neuter their ability to put cards into the graveyard as well as getting rid of what’s already there, in the latter’s case. These are a great way of shutting down the graveyard, but both can easily be bounced or destroyed with Nature’s Claim.
The next category of hate comes in the form of one-shot graveyard hate. Tormod’s Crypt is the age-old poster boy for this category and is a “free” one-shot graveyard removal artefact that does a job in decks it needs to but is rather inflexible. Ravenous Trap provides a similar effect for free, assuming that three cards have gone to the graveyard this turn (hint, they probably have if it’s Dredge!) with the advantage of being able to do so at instant speed without requiring it being on the battlefield.
The next closest is Nihil Spellbomb, which mostly sees play in Black decks which can pay the cantrip cost to draw a card as well. These Black decks will often go for this option as they will be looking to abuse their own graveyard with cards like Yawgmoth’s Will, or possibly the Blue delve cards. Relic of Progenitus completes this section, being both a continuous trickle hate card with the ability to go full nuclear if needed. This is probably the least played in Vintage, due to most decks wanting to be able to abuse their own graveyard and also being more mana intensive.
There’s also the option of selective removal, going for a scalpel rather than a hammer blow. These are also mostly Black effects with Surgical Extraction and Extirpate being the main weapons in the arsenal. Of course, the former is Black in technicality but is castable in any deck due to its Phyrexian nature. These can be very strong when played right as they take out all of your opponents’ Bridge from Belows and Golgari Grave-Trolls still in their hand or deck, or even nail a crucial Dread Return target at the right time.
Another way of getting rid of Bridge from Below is through having your own creatures that can kill themselves. Ingot Chewer is a common sideboard card that is brought in for artifact-heavy decks, but can also be employed in a pinch to eat enchantments out of graveyards if you’ve skimped on hate. Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor provide tokens which can be Lightning Bolted or just chump block to get rid of the Bridges. Even Snapcaster Mage can recycle a removal spell to use on itself in an emergency.
Speaking of creatures, one which is rather overlooked these days, but shouldn’t be, is Yixlid Jailer. It is far less susceptible to some of the anti-hate that is often used such as Nature’s Claim that doesn’t hit creatures. It also, importantly, provides a clock to start beating down with, which is a very important consideration as it is very easy to dilute your deck with too many hate cards.They, once used and dealt with, can often leave you in a top deck war which will often be won by the deck that can draw three cards per turn.
With this in mind it’s also worth looking at ways of stopping them from drawing so many cards. Your best ways of doing this are by taking out the Bazaar of Baghdads. This can be done either with Pithing Needle (risky, as a permanent-based solution it can be dealt with – then you’re back to square one) or with Wasteland or Strip Mine, which are a lot more permanent ways of dealing with it. The downside to these are that they don’t undo any of the work that the Bazaar has already done and give you a sizable tempo hit too.
Our final point of hate is a very flexible one: Grafdigger’s Cage. This does strong work against not only Dredge but also Oath of Druids decks and some Yawgmoth’s Will decks. It suffers from being a permanent, still, but is a great way of dealing with the creatures that are trying to escape the graveyard – whilst still leaving yours in place to delve away.
So I’ve told you how to beat it, now we need to know what if we’re going to need to. Looking at statistical data from the Vintage Super League over the past few months, Dredge has really underperformed there. In Season 2 it went 0-9 in match wins. Why is this? The opponents were both well prepared for it and played some very tight Magic against it. Oh, and Eric Froehlich suffered greatly from “Mulligan into Oblivion” Syndrome, which does sometimes hit Dredge players and is hilarious and serves them right. (This has a chance of happening approximately 3-4% of the time, so maybe once per large tournament. Certainly not the 50% of the time it did to EFro).
Looking at more local data, most of the Dredge decks at the previous two Manaleak Vintage tournaments were aided by proxies. However, I would still expect to see around 3-5 Dredge decks in the field at the Eternal Championships in May. With that in mind I would make sure I test the matchup thoroughly, learn how best to use my hate cards and look at having a range of different answers to what my opponent is doing. Somewhere around 6-7 cards, split between Grafdigger’s Cage, Ravenous Trap and Surgical Extraction is my likely plan if I’m on a Blue deck of some sort (which I probably will be, seeing as I got my Ancestral Recall not a long ago.)
If you really prepare for Dredge, it shouldn’t be a problem at all.
But heed this Scout’s Warning: BE PREPARED!
That’s all from me for this week. Don’t forget to sign up for the Championships. Slots are filling up at a good rate. It’s worth getting your name down early to guarantee your spot. Next week – in honour of it being St. George’s Day – we will see dragons. Lots of them.