It is 2:30 a.m., and I’m finishing up a night of Modern Masters Sealed and Draft. It was surprisingly fun, and I believe the only reason to buy a box of Modern Masters is to kill some time playing Limited. We got to play a ton of different archetypes, and even had someone try to draft Storm. But there was one archetype that no one dared build: Dredge. Aside from the fact that you’d likely just deck yourself out with only 40 cards, you’re just dumping your cards for no purpose without any decent draw spells or Dread Return. Without multiple Worm Harvests and Dakmor Salvages, it’s borderline unplayable in Draft. And that’s when it occurred to me: Why the hell are Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return still banned in Modern?
These two cards are close to my heart. A while back, I opted on a whim to build Dredge after a long hiatus from Legacy. The very week I built it, with only two days of real practice, I Top 8’d a sizable Legacy event. The following week, Dredge won me a Tundra at a WMCQ side event. My friends and I had a running joke that my most successful Magic payouts were from not actually playing Magic. It was easily the most enjoyable experience I’d ever had playing Legacy, and Dread Return and Golgari Grave-Troll were the reason behind it.
Both cards have been on the banned list since Modern’s inception out of fear that Dredge would make the format miserable. I totally understand the rationale behind the fearmongering. Dredge has long been considered “not real Magic” and “a mistake of a mechanic,” so it would make sense for Wizards to preemptively kill it as a deck. Yes, Golgari Grave-Troll is the Dredge card with the highest Dredge cost, and Dread Return is the most overpowered reanimation spell for a deck like that, but what Wizards seemed to have forgotten is that those two cards aren’t what make the Legacy version of Dredge broken. Dredge’s real power lies in the draw engines that let you actually Dredge your deck. Take, for example, my Legacy version:
Legacy Dredge by Tyler Priemer
Of all those draw spells, only Faithless Looting is Modern legal. No Careful Study, no Breakthrough, and certainly no Cephalid Coliseum. And ways to dump my hand into the graveyard like LED or Putrid Imp? Nope, not in Modern either. Right off the bat you’re missing all of the cards that allow Dredge to combo on Turns 1 or 2, which Modern strictly forbids. If we wanted cheap draw/discard spells, we’d have to run cards like Thought Scour, Burning Inquiry, and Goblin Lore, which are somewhat unreliable because of the random nature of the discard.
Not only would a Modern Dredge deck lack the explosiveness for which it was preemptively banned, it would also lack the consistency of its Legacy counterpart. One of the biggest boons for Dredge is that it can combo kill all in one turn or it can go for a grindier kill by recurring Ichorids and stripping the opponent’s hand with Cabal Therapies. Modern has nothing even remotely as strong as either of these cards, which immensely hinders Dredge’s midrange capabilities. Sure, there’s Bloodghast, but that requires you to run more lands and hit your land drops consistently, an arduous task for a deck that doesn’t actually draw cards.
And looking forward to M14, it becomes painfully clear that Dredge can be unbanned. Why? Two words: Scavenging Ooze. This Legacy staple is back with a vengeance, and was green’s big way of dealing with graveyards pre-Deathrite Shaman. Can you imagine Jund/Junk/Pod having access to Deathrite and Ooze? Normally this wouldn’t faze Legacy Dredge, but Modern? Being slower means that Deathrite and Ooze are actually able to get online early enough to have an impact on your graveyard.
Modern Dredge by Tyler Priemer
With this example in mind, it’s safe to say that a Modern-legal Dredge deck with Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return would be, at best, a Turn 4 deck. This is where Wizards wanted Modern combo decks to be, and it’s still more than reasonable to play as far as Dredge goes. However, there is another Dredge variant in Legacy that can be ported over to Modern: Manaless Dredge.
Legacy Manaless Dredge by Tyler Priemer
This … monstrosity defies everything about Magic as we know it. It doesn’t use mana to operate, and the Legacy version can consistently kill as early as the third turn. Through Dread Returning Flayer of the Hatebound, then Golgari Grave-Troll, the deck is able to go nuclear and combo without even having to attack. However, because you pretty much have to spend your first turn going “draw, discard,” it lacks the raw speed of the LED version. On the other hand, it’s also considerably cheaper to build due to the high density of commons and uncommons from Ravnica.
This, on the other hand, is the closest thing to a Legacy-playable Modern deck I’ve come up with in ages.
Modern Dredge 2.0 by Tyler Priemer
Now THIS is the Dredge deck I would bring to a Modern tournament! While it lacks cards like Cabal Therapy, Nether Shadow, and Ichorid, I’ve found that there are more than enough cards in Modern to pick up the slack. Bloodghast is the closest thing to an Ichorid that Modern has, so naturally I include a full set, along with three Dakmor Salvage to complement them. Being able to always Dredge back a land to trigger landfall is pretty big when I’m going for the kill.
I also have a full set of Gitaxian Probe, so between them and the Street Wraiths, there’s a full eight “free” cantrips. This gives the deck some serious speed, and with enough of them in your opening hand (say, three or four), you can go off as early as Turn 2 with the nut Dredges. Despite this, the deck still goes off on average on Turn 4, and its viability is entirely based on how lucky you are with Dredging. Is it perfect? Not at all. Is it broken? Somewhat, but no more than Splinter Twin or Melira Pod. But most importantly, is it fun? Hell. Yes.
It’s not unreasonable to unban cards that started their Modern lives on the list. Just look at Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Like Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return, it really only fits into one strategy, and can you really say that Scapeshift decks have dominated Modern? There was a slight surge in the months following Valakut’s unbanning as people tested the waters, but ultimately the deck settled down and joined the pantheon of viable Modern strategies. What’s to say that the same thing can’t happen with Dredge?
When it comes to judging whether Dredge with Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return would be overpowered, it’s important to take into account what kind of metagame it’ll be facing. Currently, the most popular decks are Splinter Twin, UWR, Birthing Pod (Melira/Kiki-Jiki), Tron, Jund, Junk, and RUG Scapeshift. Of those decks, three run a maindeck set of Deathrite Shaman, one runs four Relic of Progenitus maindeck, and three are capable of combo killing either the turn before or the same turn as Dredge. Graveyard hate is everywhere in the format, and with Dredge being considerably slower, the Modern metagame has more than enough ways to keep Dredge in check.
It’s more than reasonable for Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return to get unbanned in Modern. The format has stabilized to the point where they would not be anywhere near as powerful as Wizards had feared, and it would be nice to see what kind of potential decks come out of their unbanning. Was adding the Dredge archetype to Modern Masters an Easter Egg to a potential unbanning? Only time will tell.
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