An Introduction to Dredge
Goodby Golgari Grave Troll, we hardly knew you.
For the uninitiated, the recent modern banning of Golgari Grave troll was a shot against dredge. Dredge rocketed onto the scene in modern about three months ago, and whether or not it will survive this loss is still to be determined. But before you get too down on our green friend, you should find succor in the fact that he is heavily played in both legacy and vintage where dredge has been doing basically the same thing for years.
Actually, not the same thing if we are to be honest. Modern dredge only virtually wins on turn 3.
How dredge really works.
The dredge deck is based around the dredge mechanic. A card with the dredge ability reads:
Dredge “number”. (if you would draw a card, instead you may put exactly “number” cards from the top of your library into your graveyard. If you do, return this card from your graveyard to your hand. Otherwise, draw a card).
So what does that mean? Well, let’s take a look at two cards not played exclusively in dredge to see.
Darkblast is a passable removal spell, that reads “when you need to kill an x/1, and Darkblast is in your graveyard, draw darkblast instead of a random card.”
I think this is what R+D intended - allowing you to recur spell when you needed them and your chances of drawing a (say) useless land in the late game. The problem is, even the most innocent looking dredge cards have alternate uses. For example, Life from the loam.
So this seems like a pretty narrow card, right? I mean, returning lands from your graveyard to your hand? When is that relevant?
The most competitive deck that really abuses this card is vintage Lands. Lands uses specific lands to both disrupt your opponent and win the game. For example, Wasteland is a powerful mana disruption tool, and Wasteland + Loam can lock your opponent out of playing spells. At the same time, by dredging Loam every turn before using it to get back the lands you put in your graveyard when you do, you are more likely to find the specific lands that help you win the game. This usually Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage (briefly, if stage copies dark depths, it is immediately sacrificed to make a 20/20 as it has no tokens on it.)
Minor note: Dark Depths is banned in modern.
So that’s what you can do when you are using a dredge card to enable your plan. But what happens when the dredge cards are your plan?
How do you win in vintage without blue or moxen? Why, cast your spell for “free.”
By dredging your creatures, you are effectively putting your deck into your graveyard as quickly as possible. You are also effectively searching for your combo pieces.
So how do you best enable dredge? Cards like Faithless Looting help put cards from your hand into your graveyard, and let you draw cards (which you use to dredge, putting more cards into your graveyard).
Meanwhile, you are running creatures that return from your graveyard to the battlefield. The most obvious is Narcomoeba, which comes into play for free when it goes from your deck to your graveyard. Alternatively, Ichorid can return on your upkeep by exiling other zombies (did you know most high dredge creatures are zombies?) and Bloodghast comes back when you play land. Any of these three can bring back prized amalgam.
But what do you do with them? In modern, the answer was “well, you attack, too many creatures too quickly”. In older formats you can have more fun.
See, there is a card (also banned in modern) called Dread Return. This card costs (not relevant) and says “return target creature from the graveyard to play”. I say ‘not relevant’ because it can also be cast from your graveyard by sacrificing three creatures. So you sacrifice your small creatures to return a big one.
But what big creature? The answer might surprise you, because the most normal answers are “only” 4 or 6 to cast regularly. The cards in question are Flame-kin Zealot or Dragonlord Kholigon.
Why those two? Because they give you zombies haste.
Wait, what zombies? Well, there is this enchantment called Bridge from Below. The relevant text for our discussion is “if Bridge is in your graveyard and a nontoken creature you control dies, create a 2/2 zombie.”
Okay, so the three creatures you sacked with Dread return each come back as a zombie. For each bridge in your graveyard.
And then they get haste.
If you have three bridges in your graveyard, just the three creatures you sacrificed to generate 18 power of zombies. If your reanimation target of choice is Flame-kin, that number is 27 (3/zombie) + zealot’s 3 for 30 damage. The dragon just gives +6, bringing the total to 24.
Potentially on turn 2.
So with all that in mind, what is dredge actually doing?
-Using your graveyard as a second hand, it helps you find your combo pieces.
-Acting as a fast mana, letting you put creatures into play for free.
-This in turn enables other spells, which put more creatures into play for free.
So what’s my point?
I have two points. The first is that dredge, broken as it is, is also really fascinating. These interactions, obviously once explained, are incredibly intricate and come from widely disparate blocks. And it’s fun sometimes to wallow into the degenerate mess that magic can descend into.
The second is to provide a baseline of knowledge moving forwards, because I plan on doing articles about things like card advantage and fast mana. And while officially Dredge uses neither of these, I hope I’ve demonstrated that when you drill down what the deck is actually doing it cheats on both in spectacular fashion.
Until next week!
Author: Robert Trueblood