Dredge: the Forgotten Standard
By Sean DeCoursey on March 9th, 2006 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
The Editors would like to point out that this is a speculative article. Please dear god don't take that final list to a tournament.
Dredge, forgotten? Say what homie? You been smokin' the doobie? Doin' the cystal? Dredge is all over Extended, and even shows up in Vintage and Legacy! How the heck can you say that Dredge is something anyone has forgotten about? Even my grandma knows Dredge rox.
That's all very true, but what about dedicated Dredge in Standard?
Bennie Smith took a T8 slot at VA State Champs with a dedicated G/B Dredge deck, and since then the deck hasn't been heard of at all. It's like it entered one tournament, did great, then disappeared. For reference, here is the list played by Mr. Smith.
First, the good about this deck. It takes draw control to a whole new level. Once you get rolling you never miss a land drop and never draw a useless card. This lends itself to a unique control/aggro approach. You play control in the early game while setting up your graveyard, then in the late game you bring out a threat every turn until your opponent runs out of answers and dies. It might seem like the lack of card advantage or two for ones would be an insurmountable obstacle, especially as the deck generally runs subpar creatures compared to the cost/efficiency of other decks in the format. However, this is more than made up for by the fact that you never, ever, never draw dead cards with this deck and essentially get a free tutor every single turn.
Now for the bad. And unfortunately there's a lot of it. The first problem isn't immediately apparent, but it is serious. What does the deck do on turn two? Casting Life from the Loam on an empty Graveyard isn't exactly stellar, and neither is playing Golgari Thug. Two mana 1/1s that put themselves back on top of your library, thus denying you a useful draw, aren't exactly what you want to be playing on turn two. The best use I can see for the Thug in this deck is that he can be sacrificed with Miren and placed on top of your library to prevent decking yourself if you empty your library completely. The Thugs purpose in Mr. Smiths deck is also subpar. To recover a creature with the Thug, you have to spend a draw step on the Thug, cast and kill the Thug, then spend another draw step getting the creature you really want. That's a lot more effort than I want to go through when there are better options available.
The second problem is even more subtle than the first, and it is, quite simply, that the deck doesn't seem to realize it has two game states.
- Early Game - drawing off the top of your library, you're playing stall/control while you build up mana and graveyard resources.
- Mid-Late Game - drawing exclusively out of your graveyard, whatever is in your deck no longer matters since you won't be drawing anything without Dredge written on it.
The real challenge in building and tuning this deck then, is resolving and balancing the conflict between these two different extremes.
First, we'll go over the G/B cards that you would most want in the early game, regardless of the Dredge aspects of the deck. Some examples are Sensei's Divining Top, Darkblast, Last Gasp, Festering Goblin, Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, Elves of Deep Shadow, Hand of Cruelty, Ravenous Rats, Dryad Sophisticate, Mourning Thrull, Naturalize, Golgari Guildmage, Nezumi Shortfang, Nezumi Graverobber, Isao, Enlightened Bushi, Gristleback, Viridian Shaman, Douse in Gloom, Golgari Brownscale, Shambling Shell, Plagued Rusalka, Bottle Gnomes, Ghost-Lit Stalker, and Rend Flesh.
Now let's list the cards that would be great in the late game when we're dredging all the time. Mostly these are the Dredge keyword cards, namely Greater Mossdog, Necroplasm, Life from the Loam, Golgari Brownscale, Shambling Shell, Moldervine Cloak, Golgari Grave-Troll, Grave-Shell Scarab, Nightmare Void, and Svogthos, the Restless Tomb.
Third we have cards that do interesting things when put into the graveyard. Soulshift, Sosuke's Summons, Vigor Mortis, Exile into Darkness, Akuta, Born of Ash, Death Denied, Groundskeeper, Debtors' Knell, Recollect, Junktroller, Toshiro Umezawa, Hana Kami, Ashes of the Fallen and Soulless Revival are all examples of this type of card.
Finally, there is a fourth category of cards which aren't early game all-stars, don't have dredge, don't do nifty things in the graveyard, yet are amazing in this deck. Mindslicer, Savra, Queen of the Golgari, Putrefy, Phyrexian Arena, Primeval Light, Creeping Mold, Priviliged Position, Eradicate, Biorhythm, Eradicate, Silklash Spider, Arashi, the Sky Asunder, Hideous Laughter, and Nullmage Shepherd all fit this criteria.
Some cards off this list can be easily eliminated simply because they are inferior to other cards on it, such as cutting Festering Goblin in favor of Plagued Rusalka. Others, such as Savra, Queen of the Golgari, can be eliminated because they have minimal individual utility outside of specific multi card combos. To further narrow the field beyond these obvious decisions, we must examine what the deck most fears from current decks in the environment, and what the Dredge deck in turn most wants to accomplish.
The Dredge deck wants to maximize it's advantages, namely, draw control. The time when draw control matters most is when both decks are in a "topdeck" mode. Draw control takes a significant amount of time to begin to matter over a longer game period where both players have a multitude of resources.
The current reset buttons available to green and black are fairly limited, Hideous Laughter, Kagemaro, First to Suffer, Mindslicer, Plague Boiler, and Necroplasm are the majority of the playable mass removal available, and all have drawbacks. Laughter leaves most of the Gruul Clans' creatures alive, Kagemaro only works if you have a full hand, Boiler and 'Plasm are both slow, taking several turns to be effective, and are vulnerable to removal besides. Arashi and the Spider only hit creatures with Flying, which outside of Meloku and the Dragon Legends just isn't that common in Standard right now.
The Dredge deck also wants to stall the early game. Against control decks, this isn't hard to do, simply play lands and pass the turn. Against aggro decks however, you're going to take a fair number of hits before you can begin to stabilize the board. Life gain is a simple and effective way to offset the early advantage aggro decks have while also providing a defense against burn decks and keeping a control player from lucking into an early win with a quick finisher. Gristleback, Miren, the Moaning Well, Mourning Thrull, and Golgari Brownscale are your best sources of life gain in this deck. It is useful to note that the Guildmage and Shell both increase the amount of life gained from three of those four sources.
Dredge decks do fear a number of things in the environment, oddly for a creature-based deck, Umezawa's Jitte is not one of them. The large number of sacrifice outlets and creatures with self-sacrificing capability mean that it can be extremely frustrating for an opponent who tries to put counters on his Jitte. It is important to remember that you can stack combat damage, then sacrifice the creature blocking or blocked by the Jitte bearer and this will prevent the Jitte from gaining any counters.
Land destruction and mana denial however, are much bigger concerns for the Dredge player. The tempo advantage these types of decks possess can be very difficult for the Dredge deck to overcome. The actual LD aspects of an LD deck are largely negated by Life from the Loam, this means that an LD focused opponent must go for a quick win while they have an excess of resources vs. what is available to the Dredge deck. Again, this is a situation where life gain can buy you enough time to stabilize, then pull ahead for the win.
Enchantments can also be a big pain for the Dredge deck. Leyline of the Void is the most obvious example, but other (more often played) cards such as Faith's Fetters, Pillory of the Sleepless, Glorious Anthem, and particularly Annex, Dream Leash, and Confiscate, can present real problems for the Dredge engine since they remove the enchanted card from the sphere of play, yet also do not put it into the graveyard for your easy retrieval. Nullmage Shepherd is an effective, though inefficient solution, while Primeval Light is an amazing solution, you have to draw it off the top of your library to get it into your hand.
So you have a lot of conflicting needs with the deck, and like most B/G decks, there just doesn't seem to be enough room to fit everything you need to be good against EVERYTHING into the deck. The answer to this problem is as simple as it is counterintuitive. Play a bigger deck. Woah, woah, back off there heresy watchdogs. Yes, I, and everyone else knows that a smaller deck is more consistent, draws multiples of the "best" cards more often and therefore usually beats the less consistent big deck. Well, what if your deck size had nothing to do with what your draw was going to be after about turn six or so? That changes the equation a bit. Also, with a Dredge deck, you never really need to draw more than a single copy of any one card since you can always just keep "re-drawing" that same card as often as needed.
Also, with a dredge deck, you see a much greater portion of your library than even the most draw intensive R/U deck does over the course of a normal game. So what's my recommendation for a Dredge decklist?
Yes, that's a WHOPPING 260 cards with nary a Battle of Wits to be seen. In all honesty, that's probably too big of a deck, something more like 120 cards or so is probably the right amount, but that wasn't meant to be the be-all end-all of decklists for this archetype. Simple a starting point for you to work off of. Oh, and the One with Nothings in the board aren't a joke, they're an answer to 'Owling Mine, which otherwise owns this deck hard.
Much like John Rizzo and Ichorid, I realize that there is a truly great Dredge deck in standard just waiting to break out. I personally believe the trigger keeping it down to be the fixation we all have on the sixty card deck. Once you've accepted that a Dredge deck plays much, much smaller than the actual number of cards in it, and once you've realized that you have no fear of drawing useless cards late game (barring a Leyline of the Void of course), it can be quite a liberating experience to play, getting to tutor for the card of your choice, for free, every single turn.
Dredge is a bad deck, with bad cards, but it does have synergy. Calls to mind another bad deck with bad cards that had only a stupidly broken mechanic and a few abusive cards going for it... something with four mana 2/2s and seven mana 4/4s, neither of which had any special abilities once in play. No, Dredge isn't even close to the level of Affinity in raw power, but it uses the same type of "that's a bad card by itself" and synergy with a truly broken mechanic to do some absolutely cheatyface game winning things.
Until next time,
By Sean DeCoursey on March 9th, 2006 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
About Sean DeCoursey
Sean Decoursey is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he served with the 2/124th Infantry from 12/02 through 03/04. He attended Truman State University where he was a member of the rugby team which ranked in the top ten nationally three times. Sean graduated with a degree in Justice Systems and now lives in Kansas City, where he works as a Financial Advisor.