Every now and then Wizards of the Coast releases a mechanic that is too good for Magic, like those that break the fundamentals of the game. Phyrexian mana is a great example of this, but that’s another topic. Today it’s about dredge, a mechanic that is just as broken as phyrexian mana and now has a deck named after it. Dredge was introduced as the defining mechanic of the Golgari guild back in the original Ravnica block. Since the guild uses dead material to cultivate new growth, it made sense to have a mechanic centered around the graveyard. Cards with dredge have a number after the ability and the reminder text for the ability reads “If you would draw a card, instead you may put exactly X cards from your library into your graveyard. If you do, return this card from your graveyard to your hand. Otherwise draw a card.” In short, if you want this card back in your hand instead of drawing a new card, mill yourself. It doesn’t really sound that broken in a vacuum. When you combine it with the right cards is when it causes trouble. Bloodghast and Narcomoeba were two of the original payoff cards that were in the early versions of the deck and they still remain to this day. There was a time when the deck ran Bridge from Below, Vengevine, Skaab Ruinator, and Gravecrawler. Ever since the late days of Extended, and the early days of Modern, there has been some form of Dredge around. It had its time at the top of the tiers and the bottom of the tiers. Today, the payoff cards other than the two mentioned above are Prized Amalgam and Creeping Chill. In some way these cards have the ability to leave the graveyard or trigger when they are put into the graveyard. Bloodghast is the easiest one as its landfall ability allows it to come back into play for just playing a land. If Narcomoeba goes into the graveyard from the library, it comes out for free. If either of these creatures go to the battlefield from the graveyard, they trigger Prized Amalgam to return as well. The last card, Creeping Chill, normally costs 4 mana, but like Narcomoeba, it can be activated by going from the library to the graveyard. The whole idea is to get these cards into the graveyard and then get the creatures onto the battlefield for free or very little mana.
The cards that have the dredge ability should never be cast. Instead, their dredge ability will be used to fuel the graveyard. Stinkweed Imp has the best dredge ability as it can get 5 cards from the library into the graveyard. The only card that can dredge more than Stinkweed Imp is Golgari Grave-Troll which has dredge 6. The troll is currently banned in modern because of this deck. Golgari Thug is the other dredge card that is a creature and it has dredge 4. The last card is Life from the Loam which has dredge 3. These cards should never be cast because the creatures stats actually suck and getting lands out of the graveyard is useless in modern unless you find yourself playing against Ponza. Stinkweed Imp is probably the most useful due to its deathtouch-like ability.
To get the dredge machine started you need to get one of the above cards into the graveyard on turn 1. This was much easier when Faithless Looting was in the format. When this card was banned, players thought it would slow down the deck, but it easily adapted. Tome Scour and Shriekhorn are the cards that you want on turn 1. Tome Scour can get 5 cards into the graveyard while Shriekhorn has a limit of 3 uses and can only get 2 cards into the graveyard, but over the course of the 3 turns it can be activated, that adds up to 6 cards. Faithless Looting was used to get the cards in your hand into the graveyard in case one of your payoff creatures ends up in your hand and you cannot discard it. Now the deck has adopted Cathartic Reunion to replace Faithless Looting. Since dredge triggers when you would draw a card, Cathartic Reunion basically has the possibility of giving you three opportunities to dredge should you choose to.
When playing dredge, the ideal game is as follows: Shriekhorn or Tome Scour on turn 1. Dredge on the draw step of turn 2 if possible or play Cathartic Reunion discarding any payoff cards or dredge cards and dredge if possible from the draw card ability. This works since you discard as a cost to cast the spell, you can dredge any cards that you discard paying its cost when the spell resolves. There should now be a mix of payoff and dredge cards in the graveyard. The rest of the game is basically rinse and repeat going wide with your creatures in the attack step. Don’t be afraid to lose a few creatures since Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam can keep coming back into play as long as they are in your graveyard. The basic shell should look like this:
Prized Amalgam x3-4
Creeping Chill x3-4
Stinkweed Imp x3-4
Golgari Thug x3-4
Life from the Loam x3-4
Cathartic Reunion x3-4
Tome Scour x3-4
This may look like a 4-color deck and most versions of the deck are able to produce 4 colors, but you really only need red and blue to make this version of the deck work. Since dredge is a very popular and notorious deck, most if not all decks have sideboard cards to deal with it. Tormod’s Crypt, Grafdigger’s Cage, Relic of Progenitus, and Leyline of the Void are your worst enemies. Jund is also not an easy match up because your dredge activations can lead to a big Tarmogoyf in the early game. Now the goyf does have a limit, but I would rather deal with a 4/5 goyf on turn 4 than a 4/5 goyf on turn 2. Normally I wouldn’t go too far into a sideboard as it should be tailored to what you expect to go against in whatever meta you are playing, but since so much of the current modern meta can sideboard against dredge, games 2 and 3 are really dependent on how you and your opponent sideboard. Most of the hate cards against dredge are artifacts so Ancient Grudge, Shenanigans, and/or Shattering Spree should help. The deck doesn’t run too many removal spells, but if you need to kill something, like a 4/5 goyf on turn 2, I would recommend Abrupt Decay, Dismember, and/or Lightning Axe. Most decks run a few copies of Conflagrate in the main board which can deal X damage divided among any number of targets and it has flashback. The mana cost is a red and double X which is too expensive to cast from the hand. The flashback cost is 2 red and discarding X cards for damage. This is better used as a way to push damage across to end the game or ping an opposing board of low toughness creatures, either scenario is fine, but I would say it’s a flex slot most of the time.
Despite its reputation as one of the most hated decks, Dredge is also one of the most iconic decks of all time as it had a variant in Standard while it was legal and then it quickly moved into Extended followed by Modern and it even has some variants in Legacy and Vintage. It has also been affected by several bans over the years, but it still manages to find a way to adapt and keep putting up wins. Like its payoff creatures, the deck just won’t die. Let me know what deck you want to seen next in the comments down below.