Unlocking the Vault #7: Dredge Primer, Part 1

This past August, Dredge won the Vintage World Championships. While one can quibble with the way that Mark Hornung was able to pull out the victory, no one can argue with the power that Dredge can have in Eternal formats. In almost every way, Classic Dredge is a direct port of Vintage Dredge, more-so perhaps than any other port in Classic. The enablers of Dredge are all available on MTGO, aside from the rare cases where one may use Black Lotus and an on-color Mox or two.


Dredge Engine

Dredge decks in Classic are an upper-tier strategy because of one card, Bazaar of Baghdad. It’s the reason why Dredge is not nearly as viable in Legacy; without access to Bazaar, Dredge is nothing more than “draw-go.” Bazaar is equal parts card advantage and strategy enabler. As an uncounterable draw two, there are no other effects like it in the game.

It’s often understood that playing Dredge is like playing two different games in a single match. Your pre-board match-up is generally favorable, so long as something doesn’t go terribly wrong, and your post-board match-up is much like a chess match. The first part of this primer will focus on the pre-board configuration and strategy of Dredge, while Part 2 will focus on the sideboard strategy and the intricacies involved.


Dredging

The dredge process is very straightforward, but it does require a basic understanding of what the goal is. The beauty of MTGO is that all the triggers and interactions are automatically prompted for the user. Unlike in Vintage, where it’s possible to miss Narcomoeba triggers and miscount tokens from Bridge from Below, etc., these mistakes are quite impossible in the client, aside from those caused by mis-clicking.

As a Dredge pilot, your mulligan strategy is quite simple in Game 1: Mulligan until you find a Bazaar (or use Serum Powder to redraw a new hand to hopefully find a Bazaar). Even if you do not have a Dredger in an opening hand that contains a Bazaar, it’s not worth the risk to Mulligan again in hopes of finding both. Note: it’s advisable to mulligan down to one card if you have to. Although I haven’t been able to live the dream, I’ve heard stories of players who have mulled to one, found a lone Bazaar, and still managed to win. The simple fact is that without Bazaar, Dredge has an incredibly small chance of winning. Thus, aggressive mulliganning is highly advisable.

Once you find a Bazaar, your plan of action is to play the Bazaar and activate it at the end of your opponent’s following turn. Hopefully, the cards in your opening hand and the two that you drew off of Bazaar will yield at least one Dredger. Assuming you have one, discard that card as one of the three that you have to discard for the Bazaar activation.

On your second turn, during your upkeep, activate Bazaar again. If you have a Dredger already in your graveyard, you’re off to the races. Simply Dredge with that creature to dump up to six cards in your graveyard and discard the Dredger back into the graveyard to complete the Bazaar activation. In this way, you are then able to Dredge again on your draw step to further speed up your clock.

Depending on the strategy of your Dredge build, you will be looking to dump the following cards into your graveyard, either through Dredging or discarding to Bazaar:

Narcomoeba
Bridge from Below
Bloodghast
Ichorid
Dread Return
Cabal Therapy
Various Dredgers

With regards to the Dredgers available, here is a breakdown of all of the availabe options, ranked from best to worst:

Golgari-Grave Troll Dredge power 6
Stinkweed Imp Dredge power 5
Golgari Thug Dredge power 4
Dakmor Salvage Dredge power 2
Darkblast Dredge power 3
Life from the Loam Dredge power 3

Game Plan After Dredging

Once you have some of the aforementioned cards in the graveyard or on the battlefield, the next step is to execute the deck’s game plan. There are several ways to win with Dredge decks, but they all basically start with either grinding out an army of zombies and recursive Ichorids and/or Bloodghasts or Dread Returning a large fatty to win as quickly as possible.

When utilizing Dread Return, Dredge acts much like a combo deck. The combo pieces are Dread Return, a Dread Return target and three creatures in play, likely a combination of Narcomoebae, Ichorids, and/or Bloodghasts. For added value, having Bridge in your graveyard adds to the explosive nature of the deck.

Here are some of the most common Dread Return targets:

Flame-Kin Zealot — FKZ works best with Bridge from Below, as you can amass a large hasty 3/3 army very quickly with each Bridge in the graveyard beyond the first. For Game 1, there is unlikely to be a better option since you won’t have to fight through the various hate that post-board games present.

Iona Shield of Emeria — Iona can completely lock out an opponent on some occasions if they are heavily investing in a certain color. Iona is also a three-turn, or fewer, clock with evasion. Unfortunately, Iona is near useless against Shop decks, which is a large potion of the current Classic metagame. You could choose red or blue to lock them out of Slash Panther or Phyrexian Metamorph respectively, but that’s such a small percentage of their decks, if they play them at all, that Iona won’t disrupt them readily.

Sun Titan — The new kid on the block, the Titan allows the Dredge pilot to bring back Bazaar’s and many other useful cards from the graveyard. It works quite well in tandem with Fatestitcher and was the engine that Mark Hornung piloted to his Vintage Championship.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite — Another new kid on the block, Elesh Norn provides a fantastic answer to opposing creature decks and Dredge mirror matches by killing nearly every creature they have in play. While it will turn off your own Bridge’s if you don’t have a Leyline of the Void of your own in play, pumping your own zombies into 4/4 monsters should be enough to win on the following turn at least.

TerastodonTerastodon is a nice option to blow up some troublesome permanents that your opponent may have on the battlefield such as Oath of Druids and their lands. In a pinch, it can blow up your own lands and attack for as much as eighteen power the following turn.

Angel of Despair — The Angel fills a similar role as Terastodon by blowing up any single permanent. While it can only blow up a single permanent, it can target creatures, so there is some added value to try and race another fast creature deck like Hermit Druid, among others.

Woodfall Primus — Similar to both Angel and Terastodon, the Primus is another card that can blow up troublesome permanents. It’s closer to Terastodon in utility, but once in play, it’s can keep coming back and blowing up another permanent due to persist.

Sundering Titan — While outclassed by many of the newer creatures available to return from the graveyard, this Titan does nearly as much as Iona in stopping your opponent from responding to your Dread Return on the following turn. It also provides future value as fodder for another Dread Return down the line if need be.

Sharuum the Hegemon — While not receiving much attention from recent Classic Dredge lists, Sharuum provides a rather interesting combo win that does not require the Dredge pilot to win in the red zone. To combo off, you’ll need two Sharuums, a Bridge from Below, Altar of Dementia, and Dread Return in your graveyard as well as at least three creatures on the battlefield. You then cast the Dread Return to target one of the Sharuums and using it’s enters the battlefield ability choose the second Sharuum that’s still in the graveyard and repeat the process to trigger an “infinite” loop of zombies. The loop ends when you choose to not return a Sharuum from the graveyard, and you can use Altar of Dementia to mill your opponents deck with the zombies as fodder.

Platinum Angel — Similar to Sundering Titan, this Angel’s past her prime, but it still is a decent option if for nothing other than nostalgia.

Sphinx of Lost Truths — The Sphinx is a unique option in that it acts as a single-use Bazaar upon entering the battlefield, which could be enough to put the game out of reach. Because it is the best (and only reasonable) blue creature target, it may be played in order to increase blue card count to possibly include Force of Will in your Dredge deck, which has always been a Dredge player’s dream.

Golgari Grave-Troll — Rounding out the Dread Return, it’s entirely reasonable to cast Dread Return to target a Grave-Troll. In a pinch, the troll can be a large beater to help close out a game. The fact that it can regenerate is an added bonus.

It is possible to build a Dredge deck without Dread Return, or at least win without getting one into your graveyard. Grinding out with Ichorids, Bloodghasts, Narcomoebae and Zombie tokens is a certainly reasonable path to victory.


Other Synergies in Dredge Decks

There are other notable synergies within Dredge decks. Ichorid is a great recursive option to beat down and fuel Bridge from Below each turn. Using the black dredge creatures (Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Thug, as well as other Ichorids, you should have a steady supply of creatures for Ichorid to devour.

Cabal Therapy provides excellent disruption when combined with the recursive combination of creatures like Narcomoeba, Ichorid, and/or Bloodghast. Against Blue Decks, naming countermagic cards such as Force of Will or Spell Pierce can help open the way to cast Dread Return unimpeded. Therapy is also a great way to gain additional value out of your Bridge from Belows in your graveyard. Finally, you can target yourself to discard Dredgers or other cards you need in your graveyard.

Undiscovered Paradise will allow the Dredge pilot to recur Bloodghast from the graveyard each turn. Additionally, dredging Dakmor Salvage can help ensure that you can return your Bloodghasts if you miss a land drop.

Some Dredge decks will maindeck Leyline of the Void, which ensures that their Bridge from Belows in their graveyards do not get exiled when an opponent’s creature hits the graveyard. Additionally, it can disrupt many other graveyard strategies in Classic, most notably Yawgmoth’s Will, Goblin Welder, Hermit Druid, and opposing Dredge decks.

Lion’s Eye Diamond normally has a prohibitive drawback, but with Dredge decks wanting to dump cards into their graveyard, LED becomes a de facto Black Lotus, assuming you can use the 3 mana it provides. If nothing else, it can help you dump Dredgers in the yard without a Bazaar in play.

Building a Dredge Deck

Starting with the manabase, Dredge decks run few mana-producing lands. Obviously, Bazaar is a lock as a four-of, but beyond that there are only a couple of viable lands that they can produce all five colors of mana, also known as rainbow lands. City of Brass, Undiscovered Paradise, and Gemstone Mine are the best rainbow lands available to Dredge pilots. Beyond that, you can try some other useful lands such as Petrified Field, Dakmor Salvage, Dryad Arbor, and Cephalid Colosseum.

Most Dredge decks do not run more than fourteen lands, four of which are Bazaar, which leaves roughly ten slots for mana-producing lands. It may not seem like much, but it allows the Dredge pilot to cast most of their anti-graveyard cards post-sideboard so long as they don’t have to fight through sphere effects or a Chalice of the Void with one counter on it.

Here are some typical Dredge decks with brief synopses regarding how they function:

The idea with Fatestitcher Dredge is to chain out multiple Bazaar activations through Sun Titan and Fatestitcher. This deck is very fast, and capable of easy Turn 2 kills in Game 1. Due to the resilience of the Titan and Fatestitcher, it can fight through the usual hate available to opposing decks pre-board: Wasteland effects. Recurring/untapping Bazaar is often back-breaking and incredibly difficult for your opponent to recover from.

This is a fairly standard Dredge deck that can grind out a long win or combo off with Dread Return for a quick win. While it may be slower than the Fatestitcher version, it is more resilient, as it can maindeck answer cards like Chain of Vapor and Nature’s Claim. It also has access to recursive spells to bring back or search up a Bazaar such as Crop Rotation and Noxious Revival. Crop Rotation[card] is an excellent answer to [card]Wasteland, while the Revival can bring back a lost Bazaar from the graveyard at instant speed and for free.

Also of note is the interaction between Cabal Therapy and Gitaxian Probe (which also has synergy to fuel a dredge if a Dredger so happens to be in your graveyard. Visions of Beyond is a win-more kind of card, but serves as a suitable replacement for Ancestral Recall in this deck.

Here is an attempt at a “Blue Dredge” deck. It maxes out on blue spells to try to utilize Force of Will to prevent your opponent from doing anything broken before you are able to. It lacks the punch of other Dredge decks since it does not have access to Ichorid or the absurdly powerful Dread Return targets, having to settle for Sphinx of Lost Truths since it’s a blue card. It’s also slightly more difficult to find a Dredger without the Golgari Thugs.

This is another variation of Dredge (sometimes referred to as “Mana-Dredge”), this time using blue draw spells in addition to Bazaar to dig into your deck and dump cards into the graveyard. It can provide a nice alternative to a hand without Bazaar, but because you need mana and have to cast a spell (both susceptible to Mental Misstep and other countermagic), it’s a riskier deck choice. The upside is that if you can manage to get those spells off uninterrupted, you can go off to the races a turn or two faster.

Those are just a few of the many ways to configure Dredge decks in Classic. You’ll notice though that the core of each deck is the following:

That is a core of 41 cards, leaving about 20 open slots to tinker with. Generally, if you add Ichorid, you add an equal amount of Golgari Thugs to provide additional fodder for Ichorid. After that, if you decide to add a Dread Return target or two, you can quickly see how space is a constraint.

With each new set that Wizards releases, there is another opportunity to find new cards to contribute to Dredge decks, be it through new Dread Return targets, or new graveyard-based mechanics/abilities. The upcoming Innistrad block could provide several new cards. Additionally, if rumors are true about a future return to Ravnica block, we could get new Dredgers to play around with!

As mentioned before, Part 2 of this Primer will deal with sideboard strategies for Dredge. If you have any specific questions that you would like to see me address, please enter them below in the comment section.

enderfall
Follow me on Twitter: @enderfall!
Member of Clan Magic Eternal

 
  1. So why are rainbow lands so important? obviously you’re casting the Cabal Therapy, and occasionally hardcasting a Narcomoeba that gets stuck in your hand. I’m no expert in legacy, but aren’t U/B lands better here?
    I really like Noxious Revival in here. I’ll be trying that out once I get my 75 together again.
    Seems like a pretty good list, but there’s some weird as hell cards in here. Visions of Beyond, specifically. I’d never run that without the revival.

  2. Rainbow lands are vital because you need access to all 5 colors for your sideboard cards. If you notice the various cards in the sideboards, you’ll see all 5 colors are represented. Visions of Beyond is simply a value cards in most lists. It’s the closest representation to Ancestral Recall that we have, which is found in many Vintage lists. Is it possible that it’s just a cantrip for a Blue? Yes, but often with Dredge (at least pre-board), you’ll have 20 cards in your graveyard by turn 3 at the latest. Being Blue, it also allows you to play Force in the decks that are trying to fit it in. It’s not the best archtype for Force of Will, but it does allow Dredge to stop those combo decks that are faster than itself.

  3. For those curious, after the second part of the Dredge primer I hope to add some video coverage and other articles. My schedule for the last couple weeks has been very hectic as I’m trying to move to the East Coast and have a vacation that I planned at the beginning of the year.

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