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The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 24: Dredge Overview
By Stephen Bahl
I actually had a different article in mind, which will perhaps be published at some later date. CPA regular Terentius recently commented on my Dredge-based Commander deck...

quote:
I don't really get what makes Dredge good; I'd need to see it in action to understand it.

This seems like a good topic for an article, and it can even be one that follows on the heels of my previous “Storm Count” article, which mentioned Dredge a lot. In that article, with its rather silly format, I mentioned several cards that are used in Dredge-based decks and touched on card interactions, but I didn't actually bother to explain how Dredge works. One cannot, through reading The Storm Count, get an idea of what makes Dredge good. As Terentius indicated, seeing decks in action would be the best way to understand what they're about. And I could post examples of gameplay, but that would make for a dull article. Instead, I'm taking a few steps back, so that I can convey the essence of Dredge. It's like I'm writing something more technical, only without all the technical stuff? I don't know. Oh crap, I bet Spiderman is going to use that as a pull quote. Why do I do this to myself?

Dredge started out as the signature mechanic for the Golgari Swarm. For those who weren't around or do not remember, each two-color pairing got its own guild in the Ravnica block, and each guild had its own flavor, themes, and came with a brand new mechanic.

The Azorius Senate, drawing on the white/blue theme of plodding control and card advantage, got Forecast, a blatant ripoff of a mechanic that had already been printed years beforehand.



The Gruul clans, emphasizing typical red/green beatdown, got Bloodthirst, a mechanic that rewards dealing damage to opponents.

The Cult of Rakdos, capturing a reckless black/red style of aggression, got Hellbent, which rewards having no cards in hand.

The Selesnya Conclave, favoring white/green's potential for swarms of creatures, got Convoke. That mechanic has returned in a more general form in M15, but it was originally used by Selesnya decks to leverage tokens and other ways of getting large groups of creatures as a resource to cast even more cards and get even more stuff.

The Simic Combine, being a blue/green guild that's all about manipulating life and stuff, got Graft. It can move +1/+1 counters from existing creatures onto newcomers.

The Izzet League, demonstrating the blue/red proclivity toward instants and sorceries, got Replicate, a spell-copying mechanic.

The Orzhov Syndicate, with its ghostly white/black theme and focus on control, got Haunt, a mechanic that allowed cards to work once and then come back from the graveyard to work just one more time.

House Dimir, emblematic of blue/black's card manipulation, got Transmute, a mechanic that allowed cards to function as highly specific tutors.

The Boros Legion got Radiance for some reason. I never figured that one out. The mechanic takes the form of “target X and each X that shares a color with it have something happen to them.” What's white/red have to do with that? It's an odd choice.

And finally, the Golgari Swarm, with black and green being the two colors that interact with graveyards the most, got Dredge. Not all of these mechanics were equally powerful. While Boros proved to be one of the more powerful guilds, that had nothing to do with Radiance, which turned out to be a dud. But Dredge turned out to be very powerful.

And now, because this article is still looking too much like something a sane person might write, I'm going to jump ahead to this year, with the release of the new edition of Duels of the Planeswalkers. In the game, your starting deck is a two-color deck. Because I'm a sucker, I chose the Golgari deck, “Natural Order.” My current deck is more similar to Orzhov's “Life and Death” deck, exploiting Sanguine Bond and lifegain spells to kill my opponents. But all of the starting decks are pretty bad anyway. The initial “Natural Order” list looks like this...

11x Swamp

13x Forest
2x Death Cultist

2x Child of Night
2x Walking Corpse
2x Necromancer's Assistant
2x Bloodflow Connoisseur
2x Mind Rot

2x Accursed Spirit
1x Rescue from the Underworld
1x Shadowcloak Vampire
2x Flesh to Dust

2x Spire Tracer
2x Timberland Guide
2x Wandering Wolf
2x Titanic Growth
2x Advocate of the Beast
2x Primal Huntbeast
2x Hunt the Weak
1x Spider Spawning
1x Stomper Cub

2x Siege Wurm

That's a very weak deck! But there are a few cards in there that fit the purported theme: “Harness the cycles of life and death with black spells to reap rewards from the green creatures rotting in your graveyard.” Some of the cards act as sacrifice outlets, providing some benefit for killing one's own creatures, which gets them into the graveyard. Necromancer's Assistant even puts cards from the library directly into the graveyard. Spider Spawning and Rescue from the Underworld take advantage of this graveyard filling. It's not particularly impressive, but it does demonstrate a crude use of the graveyard as a resource. In such a deck, cards that fill the graveyard as part of a cost are advantageous. The self-milling of Necromancer's Assistant would not normally be good in a deck, but it's quite useful for setting up Spider Spawning.

Early Dredge

When Ravnica first came out, Dredge wasn't very prevalent. Early attempts at using the mechanic mostly operated on the basis that these cards provided manaless self-recursion. I don't recall seeing this done as the basis of a deck, but more in a one-off fashion, often with Graveshell Scarab, Shambling Shell, or Life from the Loam. While Dredge was seen primarily as a recursion tool, the self-milling aspect of the mechanic was also a point of interest, something that could be exploited with other cards, such as Svogthos, the Restless Tomb. Dredge cards played a role in Greater Good decks, as well as black/green midrange decks. The mechanic saw play, but didn't really amount to much at first. The following sets, Guildpact, and Dissension, focused on other guilds, in accordance with the overall structure of the block. So 2006 was uneventful and Dredge, while not bad, didn't seem remarkable. And then Time Spiral block happened.



The arrival of Future Sight into the Standard tournament environment completely changed the way in which Dredge cards were used. While the idea was always to turn the graveyard into a resource, this had previously been done by emphasizing recursion. The self-milling component of Dredge was a beneficial side effect that potentially put more Dredge cards into the graveyard. But the utility from Time Spiral block helped turn self-milling into a real weapon. Fueled by discard outlets such as Greenseeker, Bonded Fetch, and Magus of the Bazaar, these decks could get Dredge cards into the graveyard early, then sacrifice Narcomoebas and other creatures to flashback Dread Return for big creatures, generating a hoard of zombies through Bridge from Below. Here's a Standard decklist from 2007.

1x Akroma, Angel of Wrath

2x Flame-Kin Zealot

3x Bonded Fetch

3x Llanowar Mentor

4x Golgari Grave-Troll

4x Greenseeker

4x Magus of the Bazaar

4x Narcomoeba

4x Stinkweed Imp

2x Darkblast

2x Life from the Loam

4x Dread Return

4x Bridge from Below

1x Horizon Canopy

1x Island

1x Llanowar Wastes

1x Svogthos, the Restless Tomb

1x Swamp

1x Watery Grave

2x Yavimaya Coast

3x Forest

4x Breeding Pool

4x Overgrown Tomb

Sideboard:

1x Ancestor's Chosen

1x Bogardan Hellkite

1x Darkblast

2x Krosan Grip

3x Leyline of the Void

3x Pithing Needle

4x Tarmogoyf

Ichorid in Extended and Legacy

Extended tournament play united Dredge with an existing card that had amazing synergy with the mechanic, particularly alongside Bridge from Below. Ichorid, a card that had previously been unremarkable, had manaless recursion using the graveyard as a resource.


It may not seem like much, but it turned out to be a match made in Heaven. Or perhaps made somewhere else. I suppose that it depends on whom you ask. Here's Jonathon Geist's decklist from PTQ Hollywood in 2008.

1x Akroma, Angel of Wrath

1x Cephalid Sage

1x Flame-Kin Zealot

1x Golgari Thug

3x Ichorid

4x Golgari Grave-Troll

4x Narcomoeba

4x Putrid Imp

4x Stinkweed Imp

2x Darkblast

2x Tolarian Winds

3x Cabal Therapy

3x Dread Return

4x Breakthrough

4x Careful Study

4x Bridge from Below

1x Island

3x Flooded Strand

3x Polluted Delta

4x Cephalid Coliseum

4x Watery Grave

Sideboard:

4x Chain of Vapor

2x Darkblast

2x Hurkyl's Recall

1x Leyline of the Void

4x Pithing Needle

2x Tormod's Crypt

These decks in Extended, later ported to Legacy, were usually known as “Ichorid” decks. At some point, the naming preferences changed in Legacy and now it's more common for players to refer to these decks as Dredge decks, but the concept is the same either way. It's surreal, perhaps both impressive and disappointing, that Dredge decks in Legacy are still so similar to these old Extended decks. The gameplan is still to discard Dredge cards, replace card draws with dredging, get Ichorid and Narcomoeba on the board, and let the creatures die to make zombie tokens, following that up with big Dread Returns. The Dread Return targets have changed over the years, and Legacy decks have access to Lion's Eye Diamond, but the general concept remains the same.

Manaless Ichorid

Even by my standards, Manaless Dredge, originally known as Manaless Ichorid, is a rather bizarre deck. It takes the unusual features of Dredge-based decks to the extreme. Here's the version used earlier this year by Jonathan Wheeler.

1x Flayer of the Hatebound

3x Shambling Shell

4x Balustrade Spy

4x Chancellor of the Annex

4x Golgari Grave-Troll

4x Golgari Thug

4x Ichorid

4x Narcomoeba

4x Nether Shadow

4x Phantasmagorian

4x Stinkweed Imp

4x Street Wraith

4x Cabal Therapy

4x Dread Return

4x Gitaxian Probe

4x Bridge from Below

Sideboard:

1x Forest

4x Dryad Arbor

1x Reverent Silence

3x Nature's Claim

1x Sickening Shoal

2x Contagion

3x Surgical Extraction

Some of the cards are the same, and some of the plan is the same, but this archetype doesn't bother playing lands and tapping them for mana to play spells and use them to get going. Instead, it forgoes all that silliness and discards cards directly, through abilities. The only spells that are actually cast are paid for with creature sacrifices for their Flashback costs. Everything else is powered by filling up the graveyard, which Dredge takes care of, with Ichorid and Bridge from Below producing tokens in the process. Ultimately, this archetype wins either by producing a massive army of Ichorid-spawned zombie tokens (easier than it might seem) or by milling itself enough to Dread Return Flayer of the Hatebound and then Golgari Grave-Troll for lethal damage.

I've seen Manaless Dredge likened to playing some twisted version of Magic that isn't actually the same game at all. You don't drop lands and tap them for mana to play spells. You want to draw first and let your opponent be on the play, so that you can start discarding early. You want to discard your hand because you're only using cards from your graveyard. You want your creatures to die. You want your opponents' creatures to live. It's really an experience that's worth trying, for any player.

Ichorid in Vintage

Most optimal Vintage decks use eight of the legendary “Power 9” cards (with Timetwister only being present in some combo decks). Dredge is successful in Vintage for two major reasons. Firstly, it doesn't use any of the Power 9, and Bazaar of Baghdad is the only card it uses that is hard to come by. Secondly, Vintage Dredge decks are very powerful, being fast, consistent, and resilient against most other decks in the format. While these decks don't go to the weird extremes of Legacy's Manaless Dredge decks, they're still atypical, eschewing mana production in favor of rapid gravyard-filling. Bazaar of Baghdad is essential, and Vintage Dredge decks use Serum Powder just to be sure that they can get an opening hand with Bazaar of Baghdad. From there, the plan is simple: keep activating Bazaar of Baghdad and replacing the draws with Dredge, then use Ichorid, Narcomoeba, and Bloodghast to generate zombies and win. Here's the list that took Erik Pentycofe to a top eight finish in Eternal Weekend last year.

2x Golgari Thug

3x Ichorid

4x Bloodghast

4x Golgari Grave-Troll

4x Ingot Chewer

4x Narcomoeba

4x Stinkweed Imp

1x Ancient Grudge

2x Darkblast

4x Cabal Therapy

4x Unmask

4x Bridge from Below

4x Serum Powder

4x Bazaar of Baghdad

4x City of Brass

4x Petrified Field

4x Undiscovered Paradise

Sideboard:

4x Chain of Vapor

4x Leyline of the Void

4x Nature's Claim

3x Wispmare

Dredge in Commander

As I've mentioned in earlier articles, I'm currently running a Dredge deck for Commander games. This is my current list for Helcomb County Municipal Lake Dredge Appraisal.

Commander:

1x Karador, Ghost Chieftain

Deck:

1x Golgari Grave-Troll
1x Stinkweed Imp
1x Golgari Thug
1x Greater Mossdog
1x Shambling Shell
1x Golgari Brownscale
1x Bloodghast
1x Nether Shadow
1x Nether Traitor
1x Ashen Ghoul
1x Reassembling Skeleton
1x Dark Confidant
1x Fauna Shaman
1x Knight of the Reliquary
1x Eternal Witness
1x Qasali Pridemage
1x Abyssal Gatekeeper
1x Gaddock Teeg
1x Tarmogoyf
1x Karmic Guide
1x Reveillark
1x Spirit of the Hearth
1x Iona, Shield of Emeria
1x Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1x Sheoldred, Whispering One
1x Reya Dawnbringer
1x Angel of Despair
1x Triskelion
1x Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
1x Weathered Wayfarer
1x Shriekmaw
1x Fleshbag Marauder
1x Birds of Paradise
1x Avacyn's Pilgrim
1x Llanowar Elves
1x Apprentice Necromancer
1x Darkblast
1x Swords to Plowshares
1x Grisly Salvage
1x Crop Rotation
1x Vampiric Tutor
1x Entomb
1x Eladamri's Call
1x Worldly Tutor
1x Krosan Reclamation
1x Pull from Eternity
1x Life from the Loam
1x Unburial Rites
1x Dread Return
1x Regrowth
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Diabolic Intent
1x Scapeshift
1x Buried Alive
1x Maelstrom Pulse
1x Oversold Cemetery
1x Sylvan Library
1x Survival of the Fittest
1x Mox Diamond
1x Chrome Mox
1x Sol Ring
1x Crucible of Worlds
1x Liliana of the Veil
1x Dakmor Salvage
2x Plains
3x Swamp
2x Forest
1x Flagstones of Trokair
1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1x Dryad Arbor
1x City of Brass
1x Command Tower
1x Bayou
1x Scrubland
1x Marsh Flats
1x Verdant Catacombs
1x Windswept Heath
1x Golgari Rot Farm
1x Orzhov Basilica
1x Selesnya Sanctuary
1x Barren Moor
1x Secluded Steppe
1x Tranquil Thicket
1x Volrath's Stronghold
1x Miren, the Moaning Well
1x Mutavault
1x Strip Mine
1x Wasteland
1x Bazaar of Baghdad
1x Maze of Ith
1x Dark Depths
1x Thespian's Stage
1x Vesuva

1x Savannah

1x Horizon Canopy

This diverges from the Ichorid + Bridge from Below emphasis seen in Legacy in Vintage more out of necessity than out of any preference on my part. I'm not generally a very original deckbuilder, and, if possible, I'll port something in that I know worked elsewhere. I'm not quite finished tweaking the deck, and it's not what this article is about, but my point is that Dredge can help to allow decks to use the graveyard as a resource and generate a board position in an unorthodox sort of way. Here are some points I'm noticing as I test this deck. I realize that they may seem painfully obvious, but I, for one, didn't fully appreciate them before I tried to build this deck.

-I need mana moreso than a traditional Legacy Dredge deck, but not as much as most Commander decks.

-Noncreature spells that don't have some built-in recursion can be good to open with, but are dead when dredging, so they must be really good to warrant consideration in this sort of deck.

-Dredging up enough creatures to play Karador for three mana is very easy to pull off.

-It's actually not hard to dredge through a hundred cards.

-I'm a jerk who fills his Commander deck with broken combos.

-The concept really does work, although I'm still not clear on just how well it can work.

-That's actually all I can think of at the moment.

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

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