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Priemer’s Primers: Dredging for Wins

Written by Tyler Priemer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

Priemer’s Primers: Dredging for Wins

Tyler Priemer

Tyler has been playing TCGs for nearly 20 years. A long brewer with a knack for Legacy, there's nothing he loves more than making crazy decks a reality

Hello, and welcome to my new on-going series about Legacy where I break down all the different archetypes of the format, from differing variants to matchup analysis to budgetary options for newer players. With each archetype I’ll also be interviewing veterans and players just sleeving up their decks in order to get as many voices as I can. For a format as diverse as Legacy, we’re in for one hell of a ride.

There is only one deck that I would ever give the honour of being the focus of the first installment in the series: Dredge. It’s a deck I’ve written about time and time again, but there is just so much depth to the archetype that even experienced players have difficulty piloting it. It’s not quite a combo deck. It’s not quite a control deck. It’s not quite a Magic deck. It’s just Dredge.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Dredge hinges entirely on the Dredge mechanic from Ravnica, where whenever you would draw a card, if there is a card with dredge in your graveyard, you may instead put the top X cards from your deck into the graveyard where X is the dredge number on the card and return the dredge card to your hand. Remember, this is a replacement effect and not an activated ability, so it doesn’t use the stack and it can’t be Stifled. While the cards with dredge aren’t broken on their own, they allow you to fill up your graveyard incredibly fast with effects that draw multiple cards, such as Cephalid Coliseum and Breakthrough.

So now that you are stocking up your graveyard, what comes next? With Narcomoeba and Ichorid you can cheat your creatures into play for free from Dredging, then sacrifice them to cast Dread Returns and Cabal Therapy for free. What makes this particularly powerful is that with Bridge from Below, you get to replace your sacrificed creatures with 2/2 zombie tokens, enabling the options of playing a slow, grinding game of incremental advantages and hand disruption, or go for a combo kill by Dread Returning Flame-Kin Zealot for a lethal all-in attack with a horde of zombie tokens.

WHY SHOULD I BUILD DREDGE?

Simply put, it’s a monstrosity of a deck. You are operating on a completely different axis than virtually every other archetype. Your graveyard is an extension of your hand. Your spells are mostly free. You have the ability to either kill on turn one or control your opponent’s hand and eke out incremental damage. Most importantly, the vast majority of your opponents don’t know how to interact with the deck. In the words of LegitMTG’s own Erin Campbell, @OriginalOestrus, “I love the idea of your graveyard being an extension of your hand and having so many more options because of it. It seemed really broken to me and I wanted to try that out for myself.”

Dredge is one of those decks that hides in the shadows of large tournaments, emerging once in a blue moon to tear a swath through your unprepared opponents. As my friend Mischa @MagicalSpider, a 5 year veteran of Dredge, says: “…it’s the idea of playing a deck that people don’t usually expect to see.” You get to play off your opponents being unprepared and confused about your deck and just collect free wins. This makes playing Dredge at larger events a wiser call than running a more common archetype as you can, on average, net three or four from the opponent’s inexperience alone.

Also, like most combo decks in Legacy, you’re able to goldfish the deck and practice on your own time without the need for an opponent. This allows you to familiarize yourself with all the interactions in the deck at a faster rate than the more “fair” decks in the format. In my case, I built my Dredge deck a week before a sizeable tournament and spent roughly five hours a day practicing the deck and seeing what kinds of hands I could keep. By the time the tournament rolled around, I had gotten a much better grasp of the deck than some people that had owned their deck for months.

Dredge is also one of the few decks that can aggressively mulligan and still win. Because you are living out of your graveyard, your actual hand is irrelevant provided you can get dredgers into the graveyard. Almost any hand with a land is a snap keep, even more so with a Putrid Imp or Lion’s Eye Diamond to get dredgers into your graveyard. You can actually, and this is one of the greatest tournament stories I’ll ever tell, mulligan to three cards and combo off on turn 1. My hand was Lion’s Eye Diamond, Faithless Looting, and Golgari Grave-Troll. I cast the LED and cracked it to discard my hand and flashback Looting. I flipped a second Grave-Troll off the first dredge, as well as two Bridge from Below, Griselbrand, and Dread Return. The second dredge netted Cabal therapy and two Narcomoebas. From there I reanimated Griselbrand and dredged my entire deck and comboed off with Flame-Kin Zealot.

Another important thing to note about Dredge is that as far as Legacy decks go, it is one of the cheaper decks to build. Even the “powered” version of the deck with Lion’s Eye Diamond is comparatively inexpensive. A set of LEDs will run about $360, plus another $50-$60 for the rest of the cards. For the cost of roughly two Underground Seas you get an entire deck capable of taking down tournaments. “It shows you don’t have to spend a ton to build a good Legacy deck” – @MagicalSpider

IT CAN’T ALL BE GOOD, RIGHT?

Right. Dredge, like all decks in Legacy, has it’s weaknesses. There is a multitude of graveyard hate spells in Legacy, and one of the keys to success with Dredge is knowing how to play around them. Typically there are three categories of graveyard hate: Permanent Solutions like Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger’s Cage, “Nibblers” that pick away at your graveyard such as Deathrite Shaman and Surgical Extraction, and Nuclear Options like Relic of Progenitus and Tormod’s Crypt that can wipe away your entire graveyard in one activation.

For Permanent Solutions, you have to use your sideboard. There is no playing around these types of cards; you can only destroy them. I recommend devoting 4-6 sideboard slots to answers for this category. Cards like Nature’s Claim and Chain of Vapor can get them off the table long enough for you to start establishing a graveyard presence, though Chain of Vapor is more of a stall tactic than a true solution. The only real anomaly is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in the Reanimator decks. She can come down as early as turn 1-2 and lock you out of the game. For that matchup you need to rely on Chain of Vapor, or playing around cards like Exhume or Show and Tell with your Ashen Riders or even your own Elesh Norn. If you have any graveyard hate, such as Faerie Macabre or Leyline of the Void, this is the match for those since you can just keep them from reanimating her.

Nibblers are easily the most annoying to play around simply because once they get going they can tear through your graveyard very quickly. Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze are the more common Nibblers, and they are also the only ones to see maindeck play. The key to surviving game one against an active Nibbler is to just go faster than they can eat your graveyard. You need to hit multiple Narcomoebas and Ichorids when you dredge so they can actually enter the battlefield and pray they don’t get two Nibblers online at the same time. Post-board I recommend bringing in cards like Firestorm and Elesh Norn to kill multiple Nibblers at the same time. Unfortunately, Surgical Extraction is almost impossible to play around. It pretty much happens, and you have to hope they pick a target like Dread Return or Golgari Grave-Troll where it isn’t absolutely crucial to you winning. You don’t play around Surgical Extraction so much as you adapt to life after Surgical Extraction. It sucks, but because of Dredge’s resiliency you can more often than not still have a shot at winning.

With Nuclear Options, your ability to win is dependant on how well you can bait your opponent into activating their card. Offering up a reasonably-sized graveyard, say after a dredge for six, can lure them into activating their Tormod’s Crypt, allowing you to rebuild your graveyard with relative ease. Since most Nuclear Options only appear postboard I recommend 2-3 Pithing Needles as a catch-all, but I personally make it a habit to not siding them in game 2 if I won the first game. That way I can at least see what they brought in and I don’t waste my Needle on a blind guess, because for all I know they didn’t even bring in a Nuclear Option which would render my Needles dead cards. Should I see a Nuke in game 2, then I play around it as best I can, and if I can’t then at least I know what to name with Pithing Needle in game 3.

Once you get a hang for how to play around graveyard hate, the power of the deck really shines. There’s just something about successfully fighting through hate cards that demoralizes a lot of opponents because then you start dredging in their face with the tenacity of the final scenes of You Got Served. As @MagicalSpider explained to me, “It’s amusing to see people’s reactions when you go off and win”, and she’s absolutely correct. The look on people’s faces tend to range from incredulous to just flat-out furious, and it always makes me smile knowing that I’ve surpassed what should be a death knell for the deck.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE LION’S EYE DIAMONDS?

Well, you’re in luck. There just so happens to be a Dredge variant that doesn’t require LEDS. Or lands. Or spending mana to cast spells. Or interacting with most opponents. Manaless Dredge is a deck that was born of necessity in the Scars of Mirrodin era of Magic. Mental Misstep was ravaging eternal formats, and slaughtering traditional Dredge in particular. This was a while before Faithless Looting was printed, so Dredge wasn’t running LEDS yet. The innovation was a version of the deck that didn’t require lands to operate. All you have to do is always, and I mean ALWAYS, be on the draw. This is so you can draw your card for turn, then discard a card. This card is always either a dredger or Phantasmagorian, and from there you start dredging your deck. It also runs a full set of Street Wraiths and Gitaxian Probes so there is some actual speed to the deck. The way the deck wins is by reanimating Flayer of the Hatebound, doing 4 damage to the opponent, then reanimating Golgari Grave-Troll for the rest of the damage. With a whopping 44 creatures, that Grave-Troll is going to be big enough to trigger lethal damage.

WHY WOULD I PLAY THIS OVER TRADITIONAL DREDGE?

If you have LEDs, you just actually shouldn’t. Manaless Dredge, while incredibly resilient in the right match ups, folds faster than an origami master to graveyard hate. Because you have no mana, you can’t really kill cards like Grafdigger’s Cage[card] or [card]Leyline of the Void, and a well-placed Surgical Extraction can keep you from ever winning the game. However, Manaless Dredge has two main advantages for newer players: It’s considerably cheaper to build, and it’s a better introductory deck to practice the fundamentals of Dredge. By not running LEDS, the deck automatically saves $350+, which makes it a better option for players on a budget while still being relatively competitive. As well, Manaless Dredge is easier to goldfish as there are fewer interactions for you to have to worry about. It’s an incredibly linear deck, and when practicing the basics of playing the archetype it’s a much better training tool. Another nifty thing about Manaless that doesn’t come up often but matters in a couple matchups is that because you don’t actually have to attack with this deck, cards like Ensnaring Bridge that can normally wall off regular Dredge don’t affect you. It isn’t a common occurrence, but when it does it feels amazing.

HOW ARE DREDGE’S MATCHUPS?

By playing Dredge, right off the bat your game one win percentage is through the roof. Barring multiple active Deathrite Shamans or them cheating a maindeck Elesh Norn into play, you are damn near guaranteed to win game one. As far as individual matchups go, you are favored against most of the more popular archetypes out there.

Your RUG Delver matchup is borderline impossible to lose. I wish that were hyperbole when I say that, but in the time that I’ve played Dredge, I’ve only lost a single match to RUG Delver. Their counterspells don’t really faze you, their creatures are difficult for them to kill so they have a tough time getting rid of your Bridge from Belows, and they only run the bare minimum graveyard hate. It’s the perfect storm of things you want to see that make this one of your best matchups.

Also, thanks to the invention of Ashen Rider, Sneak and Show has steadily become one of the better matches, in that you have much more ways to play around their cards. When they Show and Tell, you can drop Ashen Rider to exile their cards, or even drop Griselbrand and dump your deck the next turn. As well with Ashen Rider, its “When this creature dies” trigger works well against their Sneak Attack plan. You reanimate the rider, then when they attack with Emrakul, you sacrifice it to the annihilator trigger and exile the Emrakul. The bonus? You get to smack them with any zombie tokens you get from sacrificing your creatures! You also have the added strength of knowing that you really only have two cards to name with Cabal Therapy to shut them down: Sneak Attack and Show and Tell, thus decreasing the number of times you “whiff” on Therapy. Like RUG Delver, Sneak and Show also runs only the bare minimum graveyard hate, typically a pair of Grafdigger’s Cages, which can also work in your favor.

As far as bad matches are concerned, only three really come to mind: Shardless BUG, UW Miracles, and Painted Stone. Shardless BUG has the distinction of not only having Deathrite Shamans in their maindeck, but also Surgical Extractions and Nihil Spellbomb postboard. It’s those extra hurdles in the sideboard that make this a real pain in the ass most times. UW Miracles has thankfully been on the decline in recent months, but it still pops up from time to time. Miracles relies on the Rest in Peace/Helm of Obedience combo to win, which means if they stick a Rest in Peace game one, you’re dead. Postboard you have to be extremely cautious about getting blown out, but it’s still winnable through Cabal Therapy and Nature’s Claim. Painted Stone has experienced a bit of a surge recently, and while you’re favoured game one, they have a whopping 11-13 cards to bring in from their sideboard. Now, these are typically all artifacts, but you only have four Nature’s Claims, so you can do the math on that one. For this match you pretty much have to know what to name with Therapy and practice playing around multiple Permanent Solution graveyard hate cards. Note that this is one of the matches that brings in Ensnaring Bridge, which means Manaless would be slightly favoured if they opt to bring in Bridges.

For the non-interactive combo matches, you are slightly favoured just because you have Cabal Therapy, and so long as you are familiar with what cards to name you can win with relative ease. One of Dredge’s specialties is that while it is traditionally a combo deck, it can also play the control game while advancing its own game plan. Naming something like LED or Dark Ritual against Ad Nauseum Tendrils can slow them down long enough for you to kill them, or naming Shallow Grave/Goryo’s Vengeance against Tin Fins can Time Walk them and make them dig for another copy. As well, these types of decks tend to not bring in much graveyard hate because the maindeck is so tight that changing the makeup too much would hurt its ability to win.

FINAL VERDICT: SHOULD I BUILD THIS DECK?

Absolutely, if just to familiarize yourself with the deck. Playing Dredge gives you a solid understanding of how to interact and play around hate cards, and allows you to play Magic on a completely different axis than most people would expect. However, if this is your very first foray into Legacy, I would advise to keep Dredge on the backburner until you either get a bit more experience with the format, or you do a massive amount of research. As my friend Seth Black @SethBlack53 put it best: “I would recommend this deck to 2 types of legacy noobs: Sadists who hate their opponents and aren’t worried about a little thing called graveyard hate, and people who are looking for their second Legacy deck. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Dredge to the newest of new, as the deck is fairly difficult to play after sideboarding.” It’s an incredibly difficult deck to just jump into and there are dozens of lines of play that can only be seen with a great deal of practice, but playing Dredge can be an immensely rewarding experience. It’s something I recommend to anyone breaking into Legacy to at least try.

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