What is Dredge?
Dredge is a deck that abuses the Ravnica’s Golgari Guild mechanic: Dredge X (If you would draw a card, instead you may put exactly X 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.)
For an example, here is the typical evolution of the Dredge player's board:
You might not be able to understand it at first, but the long stack you see at the end is the graveyard.
What do you do?
Your goal is play the game almost entirely from your graveyard. You accomplish this with cheap draw and discard effects (usually with cards that do both) that allows you to Dredge multiple times a turn an maintain the number of cards in your graveyard with easy. Ultimately, you try to win either by returning Ichorids or by flashing back Dread Return to reanimate a game winning creature. The process through which you accomplish this will be described in more depth below.
Clearly, there are a few important points to address by playing the game is such a way:
You are almost immune to hand disruption. Granted, a first turn Thoughtseize + Hymn to Tourach could hamper you greatly, but it requires Hymn to hit lands and for you to have a hand with only one discard out.
You can easily play around Permission. Since a number of cards that are vital to your strategy do not require you to cast any spells, you can bide your time against Permission heavy decks and force them to misuse their permission.
You are resilient to Mana Denial. This main not seem true at first, but cards like Wasteland and Rishadan Port do not hurt you very badly if you play carefully. You usually only need a single point of mana to get rolling. Thus, you can play around Wasteland and Port to weaken those strategies.
You are susceptible to graveyard hate. Fortunately, most decks do not pack hate game 1 and you will be able to make sideboard decisions to prevent opponents from impeding you.
As a result of the fact that Dredge plays the game almost purely from the graveyard, which results in effectively free spells, you can be explosively fast and boast a high game 1 win percentage against the majority of the metagame. There are very few decks that have a chance of fully preventing you from winning game 1 if you have a strong hand and Dredge decently.
Why play Dredge?
For the reasons above, Dredge does not fall under the traditional schema of decks: it is not aggro and it is not combo but it takes on elements of both. However, Dredge is not an easy deck to play and, despite what people will tell you, only game 1 is non-interactive if at all. Game 2 requires a vast knowledge of the metagame in order to sideboard and play correctly. You will need to be very good at controlling your opponent’s reaction to your plays so that they will be unable to use their hate effectively. Dredge is a very strong deck and with some practice, it is very easy to place with.
But doesn’t Dredge fold to graveyard hate?
This is a common misconception. Most decks need to board in at least 8 cards to actually control Dredge game 2 and 3 since you will board in 3-7 cards to counter graveyard hate and other various cards based on the match up. This of course means that Dredge will always be a victim of splash damage, so you may decide to stray away from playing it if graveyard strategies dominate the entire format.
But isn’t Dredge highly noninteractive?
This is another common misconception. Dredge players actually have to make all of their decisions based on their opponent’s strategy, from which spell to cast on turn 1-2 to whether it is safe to attack and especially what creature should be reanimated with Dread Return. This decision making process requires time and practice because it is actually not easily intuitive.
II. The Deck
As I said above, your goal is to play from your graveyard. The process through which this is accomplished and the cards that enable this strategy are grouped below based on function:
1) Dredge – Dredge is the fastest way to put cards into your graveyard. It is effectively free (costing you a draw which you do not want anyways when you play from your graveyard) and each card you Dredge can put more cards with Dredge into your graveyard, allowing you to keep generating cards to play. Generally we want to play 10-12 Dredgers:
Obviously the dredge number is more relevant than the other attributes of the card since you want to maximize the number of cards you place in your graveyard. Notice that on average, you will have a 1 dredger every 6 cards and you will want to dredge multiple turns since you will not always dredge 6 cards, it will usually be less.
As you can see here, you will be trying to put the cards put into your graveyard from dredging to good use.
Ichorids are aggressive and avoid permission, allowing you to put pressure on your opponents. The fact that they die at end of turn regardless is important because it interacts with Bridge from Below, which generates enormous board presence.
Bloodghast requires that you use Undiscovered Paradise to enable Landfall. As a result, there are both advantages and disadvantages to Bloodghast but the lack of consistent haste makes it less aggressive so Ichorid is usually preferred. Some lists will also run 1-2 Darkmor Salvage as a method of enabling Bloodghast in addition to Paradise.
To talk about Dredge, you first need a brief overview of the deck. The way the deck normally plays out is: turn one, discard outlet, discard at least one dredger; turn two, dredge at your draw step, cast a draw spell, dredge most of your deck. Then next turn you may return Ichorids, and then use Dread Return sacrificing combinations of Narcomoebas and Ichorids to produce an army of zombies with Bridge from Below and return a Flame-Kin Zealot to win. So now the question comes: where do Bloodghasts play a part? Since the recent incarnation of the deck, Dredge has used Ichorid as its main way to cast dread return, and for a while the deck was even named after the card, referred to as "Ichorid" rather than "Dredge". Now since Zendikar came into the playing field, Bloodghast has become another possibility to throw into the mix. Since Bloodghast entered there has been a debate on which legacy Dredge players are still battling with since there is no clear winner.
One of the issues between Bloodghast and Ichorid is the physical power of the two: Bloodghast is a 2/1 while Ichorid is a 3/1. The question becomes how relevant is this difference? To analyze this you must look at the general metagame. Currently, lots of the metagame is made up of Zoo, Merfolk, Horizons, Goblins, Storm, CounterTop and Death and Taxes. So how relevant is 3 power? Against almost the entire field, there is very little interaction.
Game one is fairly irrelevant. You will likely win anyway unless you're facing Storm.
Game 2 however, it can make a difference. Game 2 it can become less about Dread Returning and more about killing your opponent first. On occasions, that extra few damage, or being able to attack into a Wild Nacatl, Merfolk with lords or something of that sort can make the difference. However, there is also the fact that Bloodghast stays alive if it’s not blocked; this means it has the possibility to hit for more when being faced down by grave hate. This occasionally also makes the difference. Against CounterTop with few creatures, Bloodghast is most likely better. Against Zoo and Merfolk, Ichorid is probably better.
One of the biggest sticking points on Ichorid and why it is considered superior by most people is that it sacrifices itself at the end of turn triggering Bridge from Below on its own. Bloodghast comes back and it remains on the battlefield rather than eating itself at the end of turn. This has two sides to it. It means that it lets you hold things on the field so it is easier to Dread Return the next turn. This is an advantage versus grave hate since it is another threat for opponents to worry about and allows you to get more triggers. One idea some people are implementing is using both Bloodghast and Ichorid in order to vary things, get both triggers and get both benefits.
So far things look tilted in Ichorids favor but Bloodghast has one big advantage. The Bloodghast trigger comes off of lands entering the battlefield. This means two things; the downside is, you need a land. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. Undiscovered Paradise is an unquestionable addition when running Bloodghast. Dakmor Salvage is an added way to insure landfall by having a dredgable land. Some builds also use Sun Titan or Dryad Arbor to use Bloodghasts to chain Dread Return. The fact that Bloodghast returns off lands allows for added speed. Normally the way things work is that you discard a dredger then start filling your grave starting at your draw step turn 2. This means likely you won’t have an Ichorid in your graveyard during your upkeep to return. When you dredge a ghast at your draw step, you play a land and you get back it back immediately. This means it is easier to win turn 2.
Overall the decision between Bloodghast and Ichorid is a decision based on metagame, play style and personal preference. People have successfully piloted decks of both styles.
+stays on battlefield
+ returns on lands => chaining dread return
-no sacrifice effect
-needs black creature in grave
-doesn't stay over multiple turns
Narcomeoba fuels your spells, since your primary spells cast through Flashback require sacrifices to be cast.
Bridge from Below acts as a win condition due to its synergy with Ichorid, Dread Return and Cabal Therapy. It also allows you to retain control in aggro matches, preventing large amounts of life loss with blockers. Most players are very afraid of Bridge from Below and will go out of their way to attempt to prevent you from getting use out of it. This is a good way of control your opponents to force them to make plays to your advantage.
Dread Return is your primary win condition. You should be careful how you use it; you do not want it to be countered if possible because casting Dread Return usually ends the game. The number you run ranges greatly and you can actually heavily reduce the number of Dread Return and targets if your meta can be appropriately controlled with just Ichorid, Bridge from Below and Dread Return on Grave-Troll.
Dread Return Targets – in general, there are 4 maindecked Dread Return targets (not including Grave-Troll, which can be Returned as well):
Flame-Kin Zealot – combined with Bridge from Below, FKZ allows you to alpha strike for large amounts, effectively ending the game.
Iona, Shield of Emeria – locks out an opponent from playing spells, which usually ends the game for decks that don’t run Aether Vial. I used to be a fierce proponent of this lovely lady as a win condition, but recently I have felt her to not be as strong. The presence of Sneak Show decks have really hurt her position since decks are able to play around creatures that are protected from spells with a myriad of cards. Many other decks can simply fight past her if she lands too late. She can still win certain match ups with ease, but I feel that Flame-Kin Zealot and Ichorid are consistently more reliable and the sideboard options can correct your other match ups better than Iona can.
Sphinx of Lost Truths provides a one-shot effect, but is highly consistent compared to variable draw creatures. It also has a reasonably large body and flying, which can sometimes be relevant. Best suited to Bloodghast-free Dredge lists that either de-emphasize the combo or run very few Cabal Therapy. The standard choice for modern Dredge decks that want this effect.
Cephalid Sage, like the Sphinx, draws 3 cards and discards some cards. Threshold is basically never a concern if you can Dread Return the Sage, so it generally mills as many cards as Sphinx of Lost Truths. However, the smaller body and lack of flying, combined with the occasional inconvenience of only being able to discard 2, make this generally inferior. It shines in Bloodghast-heavy lists alongside with Dakmor Salvage. The first two dredges may be used to mill large amounts of cards, and the last may be used to dredge a Dakmor Salvage in order to play it, which will then return Bloodghasts to the battlefield.
River Kelpie is an unorthodox but powerful draw creature. With Cabal Therapy, River Kelpie can generate a zombie army almost by itself, due to the Persist mechanic. If used this way, the Kelpie also draws several cards. Because Narcomoeba and Ichorid both trigger the Kelpie's draw ability, the Kelpie is strong as a draw engine both immediately (trying to combo out) and over multiple turns. However, as these draws are not optional, this can be dangerous for careless players. Additionally, if several Cabal Therapy are not run, Kelpie may have a tendency to draw only a single card when it is first re-animated. In such situations, Kelpie contributes much less to combo initiative than the other options.
Each performs a different role but it is customary in unknown metas to run 1 Flame Kin Zealot and 1 Iona since it covers the largest number of matches. Sphinx and Sage are usually played with Flame-Kin Zealot to alpha strike win earlier. Golgari-Grave Troll is also an acceptable Dread Return target since it will usually be between 8 and 15 when you return it; sometimes you will have to Dread Return a Troll and FKZ when you do not have enough Bridge from Below to begin taking chunks out of your opponent. The targets are meta dependent and are not even necessary, since you can win with just Ichorid and Grave-Troll. However, this usually takes much longer than just reanimating a quality creature, so it results in an overall slowdown of the deck.
3) Draw and Discard – In order to enable your strategy, you need to do two things: put dredgers in your graveyard and draw cards. You want permanent ways to discard cards so you can keep putting cards in your graveyard. You will also want draw effects that are cheap and efficient since you will not want lands due to the speed which you play at and the fact that you will stop using mana once you dredge a sufficient amount. The normal suite is as follows:
Although Tireless Tribe is a superior discard out compared to Putrid Imp since it blocks like a champ, black creatures are needed to feed Ichorid.
Arguably, Cabal Therapy is one of the most powerful cards in the deck. I cannot stress enough right here that you will always want to cast Therapy before casting any of your other spells. Here are a number of tricks that are not obvious but make the difference in being a good dredge pilot:
You can use Cabal Therapy to put Dread Return targets back into the graveyard to return them a second time. This is very relevant with draw-effect Dread Return targets and with Flame-Kin Zealot if you do not have enough Bridge from Below for lethal damage.
You can protect your spells with Cabal Therapy. This will at the very least give you information about your opponent’s options and let you make an informed decision. In fact, you should always lead Dread Return or Breakthrough with Cabal Therapy either to draw an answer or to give you confidence that you can safely Dread Return.
You'll notice I added Darkslick Shores to the list. This may seem bizarre at first since it doesn't tap for multicolor mana but it is also worse than Underground Sea technically. With a deck running 14 lands, the chance of you playing Shores tapped is very small. In addition, you actually suffer splash damage from playing Underground Sea from creatures with Islandwalk. Therefore, Darkslick Shores is actually significantly better since Merfolk is a good match up purely because they have enormous difficult dealing damage to Dredge due to Zombies. Letting them get unblockable creatures is not worth it at all for the prestige of a dual land.
5) Sideboard – Game 2 and 3 almost all of your opponents will be running graveyard hate to prevent you from using your graveyard freely. In addition, there are some cards and strategies that are dangerous to you and you will want to board appropriately counter these plans. There are three issues we want to cover:
Leyline of the Void simply stops the dredge deck in its tracks until the enchantment is dealt with. As a result, the only strategy here is to return it to its owner's hand or destroy it before attempting to execute our combo. Keep in mind that discard spells like Cabal Therapy can potentially be used after bouncing the enchantment in order to make the opponent discard the Leyline.
Planar Void is most commonly seen from Enchantress decks, but comes close to Leyline of the Void in terms of effectiveness. The single mana cost means that returning it to its owner's hand is much less effective.
Tormod's Crypt is one of the weakest choices against dredge in terms of effect, but because it is free, it is also one of the best. To play through this card, try to make the opponent use it while you have plenty of ability to refill your graveyard. The main method for doing this is holding back draw spells and attempting to pressure their life total / hand with Ichorid and Cabal Therapy. Because a low number of Ichorid can potentially generate a lot of Bridge from Below tokens, the opponent will often be forced to activate Tormod's Crypt on an early turn of the game. Keep in mind that an opponent digging through their deck may be trying to find a Crypt, and will be able to play it if they find it. Pithing Needle is the strongest response we have, but suffers if they have multiple different hate cards. Tormod's Crypt is more likely in a deck running Trinket Mage, as the opponent can tap out to find the Crypt, and still play it.
Relic of Progenitus has both strengths and weaknesses compared to Tormod's Crypt. It requires a total of two mana to use, so a strong dredge hand in Game 3 may allow us to simply win before its controller gets the chance to activate the exile ability. The tap ability allows the opponent to exile cards one at a time, which makes drawing up to 8 cards and discarding at end of turn to get started impossible. Relic is a very common card in decks that struggle against Tarmogoyf, as both of its abilities are relevant for fighting the creature. A typical deck that might turn to Relic as a sideboard choice is Merfolk. There are a lot of possible responses we have to Relic, but Pithing Needle is probably the strongest, although the inability to name other cards at the same time is a serious drawback.
Leyline of the Void is much more common in black decks, as they might be able to re-play it if we return it to their hand. However, virtually any deck could conceivably be packing Leylines. Nature's Claim, Wispmare, and Chain of Vapor all answer Leyline efficiently. Keep in mind that you may wish to take a few turns to draw cards and set up a powerful hand before bouncing the Leyline, unless you can make them discard it immediately. The most common deck to run Leyline is probably Goblins with a black splash, but this is far from certain.
Bojuka Bog is basically unstoppable, but at sorcery speed. This card is unpopular despite how hard it is to disrupt. Again, Black decks are more likely to be running this.
Ravenous Trap is one of the easiest hate cards to defeat in the hands of an unskilled player, but deadly if used by a skilled opponent. If your opponent seems happy with his or her opening hand, but doesn't do much, you may decide that they probably have Trap. If so, the best thing to do is to skip a turn of dredging, and either cast or flash back Cabal Therapy. This will prevent them from being able to pay the alternate cost, and will likely blow them out if you are right. Because Trap doesn't require colored mana when cast via the Trap cost, almost any deck could be running it. Reading the opposing player (and preventing them from realizing that you know about the Trap) is critical. Keep in mind that a deck that has synergy with a different hate card will likely run that card and not Trap.
Nihil Spellbomb is a compromise between Tormod's Crypt and Relic of Progenitus for decks with access to black mana. For those without such access, it is a rare choice. Like Crypt and Relic, Pithing Needle is the most pro-active answer, but is also narrow if they've diversified their hate.
Extirpate is rarely a serious problem. The most effective Extirpate target is probably Bridge from Below, but this is basically an admission that Extirpate alone will not win the match. Extirpate needs to hit 3 cards to shut down dredge: Dread Return, Ichorid, and Bridge from Below. Exiling 2 of those 3 may be reasonable at slowing the deck down, but likely insufficient without strong board control or a fast clock. It is very common to see a player using Extirpate targeting a dredger. This is almost always the incorrect play, but may sometimes buy the most turns with a single Extirpate. If you suspect that your opponent is holding on to Extirpate, the best solution is most likely to avoid going all-in on Bridge from Below tokens or a particular Dread Return'ed creature. This will make the Extirpate ineffective when it does happen. Keep in mind that against a single black mana, it is acceptable to go all-in if they would have to stop both Bridge tokens and a Dread Return target. This is because Extirpate can only do one of those two when only a single mana is available (more mana and a second copy of the Extirpate would be needed to stop both).
Faerie Macabre sees much less play now that Survival of the Fittest has been banned. However, it can sometimes be used to buy a turn against dredge by responding to a Dread Return by removing the target. Keep in mind that this play is possible. Also keep in mind that Pithing Needle could potentially stop the Faerie.
Yixlid Jailer is almost as effective as Leyline of the Void at shutting down Dredge, but doesn't necessarily enter the battlefield on an early enough turn to stop us. Darkblast is the most effective answer, but this requires foresight by the Dredge player.
Gaddock Teeg, Ethersworn Canonist, and similar hate bears are not a problem on their own, even if they completely disable Dread Return. Simply attacking with Ichorids is often enough to overcome a hate bear or two.
Jotun Grunt, on the other hand, can sometimes be relevant. While he will sometimes come down too late or do too little to stop us, he can often keep slower hands from ever getting started. The best option to deal with him is to attempt to win (or establish a dominating board position) before he comes down, or (sometimes) to let him deal with all the graveyard cards and kill himself. Note that the opponent can potentially reset the Grunt with Flickerwisp, often closing out the game in this manner. Also note that he will exile any remaining Bridge from Below in our graveyard when/if he dies.
Aggressive Creature strategies (especially those backed with permission) – Zoo, Goblins, Merfolk, Bant
There are definitely other cards in these lists that I have not put but they are either dealt with in the same way as any of the other cards listed or cannot be dealt with easily and just requires you to play around them once they are in play.
All of these can be dealt with well with a combination of the following cards:
Chain of Vapor/Nature’s Claim – These two cards are most commonly used to combat Crypt, Relic and Leyline. Usually a combination of these two cards is the core of your board since these three cards are what you except to see boarded in. Chain of Vapor’s ability to deal with any permanent type makes it more flexible and generally a better sideboard option in most matches.
Ancient Grudge/Ray of Revelation – These cards are used to combat the main three offenders to a lesser extent but also deals with cards like Moat, Ensnaring Bridge, Elephant Grass, Humility and other cards that prevent you from winning without attacking your graveyard. These used to be staple until the introduction of Nature's Claim, which surpasses both of these in usefulness. Honestly, I believe these are unnecessary for the time being since Chain, Claim and Slow Dredging deal with offenders much better than these do and most of the decks where you would want two uses can usually be handled by Terrastrodon/Primus/Angel.
Pithing Needle – another strong option, but one that is harmed by the modern tendency of Legacy decks to divide their graveyard hate between multiple cards. It can also deal with a few fringe cards that no other option can, such as Faerie Macabre. A good option for decks that wish to not rely on Rainbow lands.
Wispmare – fights Leyline of the Void, often as a supplement to Nature's Claim. To a lesser extent, it also combats many stalling effects (most of which are enchantments).
Echoing Truth – Although it costs two mana, this is a historically important card for dredge. It can take care of any non-land permanent, and is much more effective when facing multiples. Multiple Leyline of the Void, in particular, are easier to deal with when using this instant.
Firestorm – This card is the one that hoses creature strategies. The most important part of this card is that you get to discard independently of its resolution. This is important against decks like Merfolk and Bant because it forces them to choose between letting you freely Study/Breakthrough, Cabal Therapy and Dread Return or losing all their men, which is very important for them. The fact that it is a sweeper against decks like Goblins and Zoo is less relevant since they do not interact with you like Merfolk and Bant do.
Darkblast – This card was discussed above and sometimes enters the board. This card usually competes with Firestorm for sideboard slots.
Back up Dread Return targets – in certain match ups, you will board in extra Dread Return targets because of how much they hose those strategies
Ancestor’s Chosen – An ace in the hole against any creature strategy. Gaining 30-40 life is hard to overcome for Zoo and Goblins and the creature himself is quite bulky and good at killing almost everything relevant. This clearly can go in against Burn as well since they will find it nearly impossible to deal with this if they cannot land Vortex (thought honestly this is a tough match up to lose game 1). This can also be boarded in against T.E.S./ANT, since it can pull your life out of the normal Tendrils range (they usually shoot for 10 spells, it is a bit of work to get much farther ahead, especially when it requires 20-30 spells).
Blazing Archon – A monster in a enormous number of match ups including Bant, Merfolk, Affinity and the Mirror. This man and his kitty will guide you to victory pretty splendidly. Many decks have trouble dealing with him once he lands on the table and it will buy you enough time to simply overwhelm your opponent when they are unable to get in the damage to end you.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – A new tool from NPH that functions similar to Blazing Archon. It is pretty brutal in the same match ups as Archon but it is vulnerable to Karakas. It might be relevant, but you can outmuscle your opponent very easily with this unslightly, um, lady?
The other cards are ultimately a metagame decision but the above three cards cover such a large spectrum of the format that you will find yourself boarding at least one of these three in each match up. Refer to the match ups section to see what kind of cards you want in each match up in addition to these to design your sideboard appropriately.
III. Strategy and Match ups
How to determine if you should mulligan: (written by SHABOOGS)
Dredge feels very much like a combo deck; therefore it is extremely important to determine the ideal opening hand, and be very disciplined to mulligan correctly. Here's the four components that must be in your opening hand during preboard games:
Although there are some cases where you can live without a draw spell, but the ideal hand should definitely contain those 4 components (Zirath: I should mention here that you actually don’t need a discard out either; having either an out or a draw/discard spell will usually do the trick. Cephalid Coliseum gets in on this too because it will allow you to explode without having a discard out if you played a spell like Breakthrough or Careful Study with Dredgers). This is why Dredge is one of the best decks in terms of mulligans. Going down to 4-5 cards can still be winnable hands as long as the pilot mulligans accordingly. These components may change during postboard games depending on the cards you use to fight the hate.
How to operate the Dredge deck: (written by ajfirecracker)
Dredge relies on getting a card with the Dredge mechanic (dredger) into the graveyard. After it does this, it will replace draw actions with dredges, milling a large number of cards.
The most common way to get a dredger into the graveyard is by playing a creature that will allow you to discard a card for an activated ability (discard dork). Because dredge doesn't want to run a large number of lands, the preferred discard dorks are Tireless Tribe and Putrid Imp.
Okay, so you've played a discard dork, now what?
For the rest of the game (ideally) you won't draw any more cards. Instead you will discard dredgers before you draw, allowing you to dredge them back. This will rapidly move cards from your library to your graveyard. However, this process is a little bit too slow against many decks in Legacy. As a result, draw spells are used to speed up the deck. In general, Careful Study, Breakthrough, and Cephalid Coliseum function as one-mana draw spells.
When you're resolving one of these spells, you replace each draw with a dredge, which means that you can dredge creatures for one part of the spell that weren't in your graveyard when you started. For example, if you cast Breakthrough with 2 Golgari Grave-Troll in your graveyard and reveal another one in the first 12 cards milled, you can dredge it instead of taking the third draw for Breakthrough's effect.
Zirath: If you are intimidated by the indepth description above (mostly because you are very new to the deck and many of the cards are still foreign to you), here is a simple list of how you ideally want to play game 1:
Turn 1: Stick a discard outlet (Tireless Tribe or Putrid Imp) and discard your dredgers. Do not just discard the dredgers, do it in a way to enable your deck (discard to Putrid Imp for flying, discard to Tribe for blocking).
Ichorid is by far the most dangerous creature in your library. Making optimal use of it is necessary when you do not have good dredge. This is not something can be understood until you actually play the deck yourself. It will become quickly obvious how much of an advantage Ichorids provide when well executed.
While not ideal, reanimating Golgari-Grave Troll will put tremendous stress on your opponent. He is large, in charge and will probably break a few skulls. Many decks have no good answer to him and will find his ability to regenerate an utter nuisance.
Stinkweed Imp has Deathtouch. Thus, he can kill everyone and everything. You can make people very unhappy by hardcasting him to block.
Putrid Imp and Narcomoeba can get into the Red Zone to help deal damage because of flying. This may not seem like much but against aggro decks, this little bit makes a difference since life totals matter.
Games 2 and 3 are not straightforward. You cannot open by trying to Dredge quickly because your opponents will try to stop you with a mixture of cards. You can either use your anti-hate cards to prevent cards like Leyline of the Void and Crypt/Relic from being effective or you can slow Dredge in the case of Crypt/Relic to force your opponent to crack it early at the risk of a dangerous play.
To protect yourself from the scrabble of Relic of Progentius, discard a card to Putrid Imp or Tireless Tribe. In addition, you can target yourself with Firestorm, if necessary, to discard the desired number of cards/deal the desired amount of damage. This is relevant against creatures like Tarmogoyf, who might grow larger as a result of casting Firestorm.
SHABOOGS: My strategy depends heavily on meta research. Knowing what kind of hate a certain deck will bring in always make it easier to fight hate. So reading other deck threads and decklists is always good practice. With that, here's an overview on my sideboard strategy when using the normal Ichorid list:
Simple Sideboarding Tips:
Against decks that use artifacts: -3 Careful Study +3 Ancient Grudge. My mulligan decision stays the same: Look for the 4 components in your opening and slow dredge your way to an ancient grudge or force your opponent to blow up their hate by pressure from Ichorid(s). Once you get rid of the hate, cast your draw spell and hopefully win before they can find another hate card.
Against decks that use enchantments: -4 Breakthrough and a combination of 2 of these cards (-1 Thug, -1 Tribe, -1 Therapy, -1 Dread Return, and/or DR Target(s)) +3 Nature's Claim +3 Chain of Vapor. Breakthrough is the most explosive card in the deck but it's nearly useless in digging for an answer. My mulligan decision changes a little bit since I need to mulligan into an answer or a way to dig for an answer (Careful Study). Although it's a very rare occurrence, Leyline of the Void and Wheel of Sun and Moon are the most annoying cards to fight since you can't use your yard while they are in play. So you really need to deal with them as soon as possible.
Zirath: Here some more sideboarding strategy that includes factors that are not graveyard hate:
Against decks that pack creature and permission: -4 Breakthrough, -1 Tireless Tribe, -1 Dread Return, +3 Firestorm, +3 Chain of Vapor. This is similar to enchantment strategy outlined above but decks like Mefolk, Bant, Tempo Thresh and Team America try to win off a few threats backed with permission. This makes Firestorm invaluable because they allow you free reign to cast draw spells if they counter Firestorm. Chain of Vapor is also very important since it can bounce creatures, which can blow out Tombstalker, neuter Coralhelm Commander and stop Tarmogoyf from landing that finishing blow. Chain also answers they graveyard hate, which in the case of the decks besides Merfolk, is pretty light (usually 1-3 cards).
Against decks that pack stalling cards: -1 FKZ, -1-2 Ichorid, +1-2 Ray of Revelation/Ancient Grudge (based on which one), +1 Angel of Despair/Terrastrodon/Woodfall Primus. Most decks that pack stalling effects prevent you from attacking, so you will need to attack their board. This includes decks like Enchantress, Quinn, Rifter, ThopterSword and Lands. You will just need to Dread Return Iona to lock them out fully and then follow up with hate to blow away their permanents. However, a number of these decks also run Karakas, so be ready to play around that either by winning off Ichorids or by boarding in Pithing Needle. If you see Peacekeeper running around, you will want to add Darkblast to your 75.
Against Storm: The only card you can really put in here is Chalice of the Void. Set to 1, you can really hamper all the common Storm strategies. Set to 0 also hurts them tremendously. However, other than that, there are not a lot of options. I have seen some bizarre sideboards, such as 3 Force of Will as an answer or Mindbreak Trap. However, these tend to be unreliable as we do not run anywhere near enough blue cards to consistently cast FoW and Storm players (excluding Belcher, which can still lose if it doesn’t Belch) play around Mindbreak Trap with Silence/Xantid Swarm/Permission. Really there is no good way for this deck to answer Storm, so it becomes a race. Luckily, you are not really hurt by their disruption, since the only cards they can safely make you discard are draw effects.
I should mention right now before we go any further that there is a second strategy which is used when you do not have a discard dork or you are facing a deck with Permission or Tempo generating effects. This the Draw-Discard strategy. It is a very simple strategy that can perform tremendously well in almost all match ups and is perhaps one of the reasons Dredge is such a powerful deck. Your plan is this:
Rather than playing land and casting spells, you simply draw your card and then discard for having a large hand size. Discarding a Dredger in first turn gets you going and then if you hit more Dredgers you can start pitching other cards, such as Bridge from Below, Dread Return, Cabal Therapy or Ichorid to begin your plan. If you don't hit a Dredger, put the one you picked up back in the yard and keep going. You typically will choose to draw first in this situation and you will commonly see that you feel like you chose to play first since you do not waste your first turn.
Since I’ve found myself with nothing to do at work today and it was brought up in recent posts, I’ve decided to start on a guide to playing Draw/Discard/Dredge (DDD) against Merfolk (and most permission decks) in G2/3 and scouted G1s.
In general, Merfolk is a tough matchup because it’s permission/swarm style. Mental Misstep, Force of Will, Daze, Cursecatcher, and Wasteland hit us hard because of 1-CC spells and low land counts. The board position of a Dredge player who’s had his discard outlet countered is usually zero until one can find another outlet, hardcast a creature, or draw to a 8-card hand. In the meantime, Merfolk will build up their board of fishies and beat face.
For this reason, assuring yourself graveyard presence BEFORE committing to a discard outlet can be a very wise. Starting with DDD as your T1 play is fantastic against Merfolk. For G2/3, your opponent’s deck will be obvious, and pushing for DDD will be your go-to. G1, however, (assuming you are on the draw), the opponent leading Island/Wasteland/Mutavault into Cursecatcher/Vial or Island/go usually signals Merfolk, which warns of heavy permission and should not warrant casting spells or even playing lands blindly.
For G2/3, assuming you’ve won the first game, Merfolk will play. If you lost the first game, it can be good to choose to go second to assure DDD. As a Merfolk player myself, I know that when I expect to be on the draw I will side out Daze (severe tempo loss), and since you don’t have to go choose to play or draw until after sideboarding, this can leave them with 3-4 less counterspells. Assuming a decent hand of 7 with a land and matching discard outlet (Cephalid Coliseum with a discard dork is less good) and a dredger, draw your card and discard the dredger. If your hand is contains no dredgers, taking a mulligan to 6 will cost you a turn, but still be far less likely to lose than having your spell countered (essentially going to 4 from the standpoint of DDD) if you draw a dredger from those 6. Even going to 5 can be acceptable if you plan to DDD (though at this point you’re quite disadvantaged).
When you DDD, the opponent will get 2 turns of no-pressure development, but the trade is a virtually assured turn-2 dredge without the loss of card potential in your hand. The second turn is where strategy becomes vitally important. Depending on what you’ve dredged, you will decide if it’s ok to try for a discard dork, a draw spell, or discard. This will be discussed in the next section.
The purpose of DDD is not to win with this strategy alone, but to develop and get to casting a clean Cabal Therapy (no permission/hate in hand) while retaining the potential of powerful draw/discard spells that we have in hand which allow us to win.
Note: If it’s G2/3 and you expect Relic of Progenitus, discarding a lower-numbered dredger such as Thug/Stinky as opposed to Stinky/Troll is good, conservative play when you draw 2 dredgers.
The following scenarios will tell you what to do the first few turns after your DDD. Remember that solid, conservative decision-making in the first 3-4 turns is what will allow you to develop and pressure without getting blown out, and that discarding AGAIN is the default follow-up unless convinced (via Therapy or enemy hand exhaustion) that your spells won’t be countered, or that they are expendable or a greater loss to the opponent. So run through these plays until you are safe:
If the graveyard contains with 2 dredgers, you are almost assured continuous dredging for multiple turns. This means you don’t have to discard a dredger. Playing a draw spell now will force them to counter it (seewhatididthere?) or more-or-less lose, and if you have a second spell in hand for next turn, yanking their counter is great news.
If the graveyard contains 1 dredger and Ichorid, you are in a good position to start applying early pressure, especially if have a Bridge from Below or Cabal Therapy. Discarding Ichorid food, or a Troll/Stinky if the dredger in the yard is black (and therefore food) is a good play to begin pressuring. Remember to eat Thugs before Stinkies. Also, getting Ichorid before you are assured Bridges can seem like a waste, but the potential for dredging into Therapy or at least Bridge is worth it.
If the graveyard contains a dredger and a Cabal Therapy, trying for a discard dork can be a good play, as an resolved dork allows you to selectively discard and then sacrifice to yank counters.
If the graveyard contains 1 dredger and you have a Cabal Therapy and rainbow land in hand, you can either cast it or assure that there will be 2 dredgers in the yard before casting it. Though I prefer casting the Therapy, the danger lies in that if the second dredger does not chain into another, you must draw 2 more cards before you can DDD to continue dredging. If you cast the Therapy and it’s countered, that’s one counter gone and the Therapy will sit in the graveyard waiting for fodder. If not, you’ll see their hand, letting you know what to Therapy (if need be) once you find Ichorid/Narcomoeba or if the coast is clear for discard/draw spells next turn.
If the graveyard contains 1 dredger but no other interactive cards, build the graveyard by discarding Ichorids, Bridges, Dread Returns, or play a land (if you have another in hand or 2 if one is Coliseum) to try to pull Wasteland.
If the graveyard contains Ichorid and Cabal Therapy but no dredger, discard food (if you have it). If not, discard a dredger and search for food. Therapy without Bridge from Below isn’t quite as good, but the earlier you Therapy them, the earlier you can go off without hindrance, making it worth the loss.
If the graveyard contains Narcomoeba and Cabal Therapy, Therapy-ing will either pull a counter or show you their hand (sometimes both), telling you if it’s safe to cast dorks/draw or not. Again, it’s worth it to Therapy early even if you don’t get a zombie.
If the graveyard contains no dredgers, discarding a dredger is the most conservative option, usually the best. The only exceptions are Cabal Therapy plays, listed above. I feel that the information gained from seeing the hand is worth at least the extra turn it will take to potentially discard another dredger.
If you sideboard Ancient Grudge (which I hope you do), playing a rainbow land after dredging it can be quite a good tempo play, as it will force them to break artifact hate at the end of their turn as opposed to on your turn, potentially giving you another turn to develop and reestablish the graveyard.
When to stop DDD:
In my experience, Therapy is the end of DDD. If a Cabal Therapy resolves, you either see counters/hate or don’t. This allows you to go ahead with spells you may have in hand or a large Dread Return. A clean hand means you can start to play Dredge like a gold-fish deck, meaning you’ll probably win.
T1 Relic of Progenitus shuts down DDD, forcing you to gambit in your early spells as well as go off twice. If you can hold onto a draw spell until after the Relic is cracked, this can jumpstart your second bout of dredging.
Against Merfolk, remember that Cursecatchers make Careful Study and Breakthrough (along with other sideboard instants/sorceries) harder to play, but have no effect on discard dorks. For that reason, if you find yourself in the position of playing a bait spell, playing CS/BT first can be more rewarding than baiting with a dork only to see them play a Cursecatcher the following turn.
While Daze is usually sided out after a loss, counting it out isn’t full-proof. This is especially relevant if you try to cast BT X=1 to avoid MM, as running into a Daze while on 2 lands will make you facepalm.
Also, T1 DDD isn’t a cure-all. A smart Merfolk player will wait with hate in hand if he has a counterspell, as they will know you can’t start relevantly dredging before their permission will stop you. A held T2 Relic of Progenitus will continue to eat DDD singletons and force you to go off twice. Not knowing what their hand contains, as well as their side makes G2 risky. But calculated risk is what makes Dredge one of the most fun decks to play (for me at least). The first few turns of G2/3 against Merfolk or Control are some of most intense minutes I’ve ever experienced playing MtG, and are very memorable even when you lose.
Against Merfolk as with all permission decks, Cabal Therapy is your best friend, warning you of impending counters and hate. If you’re unsure about casting but already dredging, try to wait for Therapy to show up with a Narcomoeba, Ichorid or zombie token, then take a peek. If you’ve already Therapy-d them, stripping their hand of counters or creatures can be worth it, even if it costs a zombie token or the potential for more when playing it with only one Bridge.
If you guys have anything to add/change, let me know. I feel as though difficult and complex strategies such as DDD should have their own section in the primer, as they are much harder to learn than the basic interactions of Mana Dredge.
Match up data:
In progress. As we collect data, we will fill this space out. We will also provide more sideboarding information for each match up since it differs for the various match ups.
I can provide some light thoughts on the common types of decks and where we stand:
Aether Vial-based decks: Favorable. These decks rely on winning through number advantage, which is something we also excel at. However, most creatures in these match ups trade with Zombies and have incredible trouble blocking enormous numbers of creatures. We can usually play the waiting game and win by flooding the board with Zombies.
Tempo decks (Team American, Thresh, Junk): Even. You must play against these decks differently. They rely on using Wasteland and Permission/Disruption to punish their opponents while building up their board. Sticking to the Draw-Discard plan actually hurts them since they can't use a majority of their offense, leaving them to attempt to rush out threats to beat with. Junk is probably the best poised of these decks since it can find Karakas, Bojuka Bog and Maze of Ith to slow you down while growing Knight of the Reliquary.
Prison decks: With the exception of Enchantress, Favorable to very Favorable. These decks take a while to get going and we can actually use Ichorid to completely blank their strategy. Countertop and Standstill decks have a horrible time dealing with us since they have incredible trouble interacting with us. They usually have to resort to Engineered Explosives to even see a chance of living; usually Ichorid makes this option unsavory as we rebuild in less than a turn. Moat is really the only big problem and if they manage to land that game 1, you will have to resort to Iona/Sphinx beats to win.
Enchantress: Even to Unfavorable. If they get Elephant Grass, Ground Seal, Moat or Solitary Confinement, you are probably out of the game completely. However, you can assemble a turn 2 Zombie horde to end them and they do not run permission or Wasteland to hamper you, so you can freely explode. Game 2 gets better with the addition of hate and it is pretty easy to attack their mana base with Dread Return targets while hitting their enchantments with Nature's Claim or Chain of Vapor. Aura Thief is a card that, if you expect an Enchantress meta or a player you think you might end up facing, should enter your board so you can completely turn the match around on them.
Combo: Even to Unfavorable. This depends on the specific combo deck but if they fear a sudden death approaching, they may try to go all in and just win on the spot. Unfortunately, we have no good sideboard options to correct these match ups that are not Dread Return targets, which already tend to end the game anyways, with the exception of Chalice of the Void. Chalice for Zero hurts T.E.S., ANT, Belcher and Spanish Inqusition (they can still win through it, just a little more difficult) but has no effect on the two card combo decks, which we have to treat similar to Tempo match ups but with the option of an instant win.
Here is my current list. I haven't been playing Dredge much competitively but I still use it to teach people how to play against the deck and how to generally think better since its a very difficult deck to play against.
For a Bloodghast list, this is the most recent one I could find (since this version is played rarely):
Although the above lists appear very tight, there are some alternatives to the lists above:
1) LED Dredge – This attempts to use Lion's Eye Diamond (LED) to go off faster than traditional Dredge by using the mana to cast Deep Analysis. While this deck can be explosive and potentially win on turn 1 (Deep Analysis and Cephalid Coliseum to get back FKZ for a stupid number of Zombies), it is less stable than normal dredge and, as a result of its primary strategy, is more susceptible to hate. This is actually the original form of the deck which has now become defunct due to its difficulty in fighting hate. It still occasionally shows up (http://sales.starcitygames.com//deckdatabase/displaydeck.php?DeckID=37568) but will disappear when graveyard hate becomes prevalent again.
2) Ichorid and Bloodghast – as was mentioned above, some lists run both Ichorid and Bloodghast. This is doable because it will increase your Dread Return consistency and allows you to sidestep permission and disruption even better.
In particular, he advocates the german "Fearless" Dredge, which runs no maindeck DR targets. This has been discussed thoroughly in this thread and it really becomes up to the pilot to decide if this is appropriate for the list.
Here's a number of top 16s we pulled at recent events that haven't been mentioned above:
Leyline of Sanctity - This card is heavily played in Vintage Dredge since it protects your stratgey. While we don't have access to Serum Powder because we don't have a land as valuable as Bazaar of Baghdad, this is definitely a sideboard option.
Chalice of the Void - A card I mentioned previously against Storm and yet another card that sees playing in Vintage lists. It shuts down Storm and also hampers Affinity, a deck which seems to be rising in popularity.
Fatestitcher - Yet another Vintage staple. This card has some unused potential, but I am unsure whether it is enough to really bring the deck in a new direction. It is immune to permission and functions as another set of Ichorids or Bloodghasts once, which will allow you to go off on the combo turn. It also combos with River Kelpie, providing free draws.
I hope this primer has brought you some information and enlightenment about the nature and goal of one of the most interesting decks available in legacy. Dredge is truly a unique deck that is very underappreciated. It requires discipline and focus to truly master the deck and I believe no one has successfully played it at the level required to prove to the rest of the format that it is not a match you can sweep under the rug.
VI. Further Goals
We would like to fill out the match ups section more. It would be nice to know where we stand and how you should build your board to combat certain decks we have a tough time with. Any data you have can be included in the primer.
It would be good to have FAQ since there is always material I did not cover. This could address questions ranging from "Why not play X DR Target" to "Why is X Match up so hard". New players, come up with questions for us and we will try to answer. Veterans, think of what you wish you had known when you started playing Dredge so that mistakes in deckbuilding, piloting and sideboarding could have been better avoided.
Another option for a dread return target is Sun Titan since I've had instances of dread return 3 things into sun, which brings back a land(I use dryad arbor), which brings back bloodghasts which can be sacced for a second dread return into the RW haster thingy, and then swinging with Sun Titan only brings back the land + ghasts for more fun. Then you can sac them again so aggro decks don't go hitting through you randomly.
Also as a note, Dredge vs Dredge must be interesting.
Also as a note, Dredge vs Dredge must be interesting.
Yeah, that matchup is in our favor about 60-40 preboard and 90-10 post.
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Asking people to remove quotes in their signatures is tyranny! If I can't say something just because someone's feelings are hurt then no one would ever be able to say anything! Political correctness is stupid.
I should mention here that you actually don’t need a discard out either; having either an out or a draw/discard spell will usually do the trick. Cephalid Coliseum gets in on this too because it will allow you to explode without having a discard out if you played a spell like Breakthrough or Careful Study with Dredgers
This is true in some cases since some components act both as a discard outlet and a draw spell (ie Careful Study) but the downside of not having a permanent discard outlet would be not being able to discard the dredger you used on your 2nd turn draw step before you cast your draw spell to win. This becomes relevant when you don't see another dredger in the yard after your draw step. You could also live without a permanent discard outlet in your opening seven if you are on the draw since you could use your end step to discard your dredger but this also has the same drawback if you don't see another dredger in the yard after your draw step since you don't want to waste your draw spell by drawing cards.
Very good work, Zirath. That's a very good and up to date primer.
I also like the idea of a FAQ section. That would be really helpful for new players. And it would of course prevent some questions from coming again and again all 3 pages of the thread.
How do you plan the Matchup section ? Do you want to have percentages for each matchup, like for example Dredge vs Landstill: 80% pre-, 40 % post-board ? Or would you like to have a close description of how to play the matchup in all 3 games?
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"Someday, someone will best me. But it won't be today, and it won't be you."
Can't wait to see the matchup analysis. I need help in the side-boarding area against specific decks.
To be fair, most match ups are known decently. We have a good game 1 against pretty much everything but Enchantress, Quinn, Chalice decks and Combo. This is because those decks run cards that can prevent us from doing anything (Moat, Ground Seal, Trinisphere/Chalice of the Void) or they can race us. My intuition guesses that all of these match ups are 50-50 at worst because you can get turn 2 Iona/FKZ and just win on the spot against many of them.
Game 2 and 3 revolves around knowing what hate they have, which will take some guess work. As we collect match up data, I will make sure to look at common lists for each archetype and note the hate they will board in.
For match ups, I think it would be nice to have a rough percentage but I'll take what we can get at this point.
It seems that our primer post from Zirath has a lot of alternative lists and deck ideas. Given this, I'm going to take the liberty to post a blue Dredge deck that I've had a lot of testing success with, but have yet to attempt to compete at major events, much less do so successfully.
It seems that our primer post from Zirath has a lot of alternative lists and deck ideas. Given this, I'm going to take the liberty to post a blue Dredge deck that I've had a lot of testing success with, but have yet to attempt to compete at major events, much less do so successfully.
Yeah, there's no Magus of the Bazaar to go with him. I've been goldfishing a traditional Dredge build (Ichorid, no Bloodghast, but with 2 Undiscovered Paradises instead of the Tarnished Citadels, just happens to be what I own) and it's insanely fun and generally overkills on turn 3, which the occasional turn 2 kill, the occasional turn 3 exactly 20 or 21 damage, or a turn 4 overkill. I'm happy with any of these results, but it seems that once in a while I either mulligan into oblivion or just fizzle despite having the right pieces. Is this just something that happens sometimes, or do you think it's mostly play or mulligan mistakes causing these problems? Like I said, it's not often, but seems like a little too much to be able to place at a large tournament, which maybe explains why Dredge never dominates a particular tournament but manages to slip in the top 8 once in a while? I don't know; seems like an incredibly powerful deck. And every deck requires luck as well as skill in order to place. Does Dredge require more luck throughout the day than something dumb and easy like Zoo?
My thought is that the pain from your lands isn't a big enough deal to warrant losing access to the other colors (especially since Tireless Tribe can save you a lot of life), and especially not enough of a deal to warrant the price tag of an underground sea.
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Legacy Decks I'm Currently Running:
U Merfolk U UGW NO Bant UGW UGWRB Dredge! UGWRB
Other Legacy Decks I Own:
RGW Zoo! RGW BGW Junk BGW RGWB Aggro Loam RGWB BW Deadguy BW W Death & Taxes (almost!) W GW Green & Taxes GW BGW Junk & Taxes BGW
This ia very interesting list. It seems like it would be harder to get started though since you don't have extra creatures to feed to Dread Return and Ichorid has very little food in this build.
What is Fatestitcher for in this build? Is Tolarian Winds an option?
Definitely a note worthy variation that could probably perform well some attention.
I feel that this deck is designed to be much more interchangeable in its components. Tome Scour, for example, would be similar to a card that says "Discard a card, then draw card" in terms of its impact on the deck. Like Careful Study, this is extremely versatile. It allows the deck to both get started and to accelerate (slightly). Keep in mind that Land, Putrid Imp, 5 cards is a 7-card hand that allows Putrid Imp to see 5 cards for a dredger, and will essentially mill 5 cards on the Turn 2 draw step. Land, Tome Scour, 0 other cards, on the other hand, allows the Tome Scour to see 5 cards for a dredger, and will definitely mill 5-11 cards by the Turn 2 draw step.
The drawback is of course mulligan decisions information, but I don't think Dredge mulligans into the 4-card combo frequently enough to complain about this.
This means that Land, Tome Scour, Breakthrough is a god-hand, while the comparable Land, Putrid Imp, Breakthrough is a game loss.
In one of the very few tournaments I've played with this style of list, I mulliganed to 3 cards against a Goblins opponent and kept Land, Tome Scour, Careful Study. I won on the second turn of the game (on the play). This was with a less efficient list, much closer to those I posted in the now-distant past.
It's also the case that the deck has essentially more acceleration and essentially fewer conditional cards. Putrid Imp enables DDD with both a land and a dredger, or it enables legitimate starts with both of those and a draw spell. Careful Study has this drawback, but if used as a discard outlet it can potentially draw more gas (for example, playing Cephalid Coliseum and then Careful Study can hit any land or any blue sorcery to accelerate; with 2 draws the odds are good).
This also means that we are much more free to keep 7-card hands and play DDD.
The Wasteland resilience is a motivating feature of the mana-base, but I don't think it's so bloated as to make Tolarian Winds the best choice. Tolarian Winds is best when used to turn a hand full of dredgers into a graveyard full of gas. It's pretty rare that I look at my hand and think that I'd be happy if any of my cards were a Winds.
We also sort of run T. Winds already, as Breakthrough with X=1 as a discard outlet (while not optimal) is likely to hit another powerful draw spell, while having a much greater amount of versatility in the deck.
Ichorid actually has about as much food as any other list. Phantasmagorian is a black creature, so this list is at the very most 3 cards lighter than other lists (ignoring Bloodghast, which is underwhelming). The 3 cards shy are Phantas/PImp #3, Phantas/PImp #4, and Golgari Thug #4. As a result, this list is only 1-2 black creatures shy of a typical build. Obviously more would be better, but the truth is that most wins are combo victories pre-board, and Cabal Therapy-heavy victories post-board. This second category needs to feed Ichorid, but not with any great urgency.
Fatestitcher is absolutely bonkers. If I could find space for the second MD I would definitely run it. (In fact, I sometimes debate switching the 2nd Fatestitcher and 3rd Ichorid around). It allows you to tap down artifact-based hate or the mana to use it (threatening to go off), freely create bodies for Dread Return or Cabal Therapy, tap down blockers, tap down Trinisphere (people never remember this!), and bash for 1.
Often, I discard/mill Fatestitcher before my 2nd turn main phase, in which case I often (but far from always) unearth it, untap the land, and cast a big draw spell like Breakthrough or Careful Study. This provides a body for Dread Return, and often if it's wasted there's no recourse, because you simply win without it on the 3rd turn.
I think this list is very close to optimal. Iona, Shield of Emeria has been completely underwhelming for me, although it could be worthwhile if mono-color Spiral Tide becomes the dominant deck. Terastodon and Realm Razer sometimes trade the spot in the SB, but I feel that Child of Alara is the absolute best choice in a list running 6 graveyard-based sacrifice outlets.
The only real change I might consider at this point in tuning would be to cut some basic Islands in favor of more Memory Sluice or Vision Charm. However, I feel that these generally don't make the threshold of quality needed for the deck's non-graveyard spells, while the increased mulligan resiliency provided by a greater number of land is often important.
Shriekhorn is another possible choice here, but the only card I'm comfortable running that's bad in multiples is Breakthrough. The raw power of Breakthrough is always worth the slightly-lower synergy (note that X=1 solves this). On the other hand, Shriekhorn goes from tolerable (as a Turn 1 play) to absolutely abysmal (as a later play).
Finally, another unorthodox choice I've been mulling is Aether Vial in the sideboard. In a deck full of cheap creatures that we can't cast, the Vial could be extremely useful. Unfortunately, this plan is severely harmed by fact that we can't lower the charge counters on the Vial, meaning that recursion is hampered. It's also the case that there's not really enough side-board space for this unless transformation is the main plan.
While I have 8 Graveyard-based creatures to feed Dread Return (Naromoeba and the Ichorid/Fatestitcher split), you're right that I don't have discard dorks to sacrifice. I would counter that with Cabal Therapy and River Kelpie, the odds of my winning the game off of a Dread Return are much higher much earlier than other lists. In particular, running 1 Flame-Kin Zealot 1 Iona, or 1 FKZ 1 Sphinx, means that you will most often have an excess of creatures by the time you cast Dread Return. I trade away this excess for an earlier cast.
It's also the case that I have a generally stronger post-Dread Return game. River Kelpie can generate as many as 8 zombies by itself, so sacrificing all the way down to zero non-Kelpie creatures (to DR Kelpie) is usually the right play.
I goldfished it a little bit and I found it to be inconsistent. Tome Scour can whiff pretty badly and you can not enable easy Dredging on turn 2 without Careful Study or Breakthrough.
I was thinking Hapless Researcher or Drowned Rusalka might be worth playing in this. Rusalka definitely works well in here since playing it on turn 3 or 4 after you've gotten Narcomoebas can just go completely nuts. More Fatestitchers might be a worth while investment as well.
I think with some work, this deck can definitely do the attempt to turn 2-3 FKZ ftw consistently.
i've seen hapless researcher played recently. a few people in edison were running it. it activates bridges, serves as another discard outlet, draw spell, and it serves as fodder for your flashbacks. sticher's are fairly useless in this deck. they don't even activate bridge. with no bazaar to untap they have no place in the deck.
It would be nice if you could also squeeze Wonder in that mono U list. But I agree with Zirath, the consistency of winning on turns 2-4 should be the focus of any dredge list. With the current mana base (10 Lands + 4 Coliseum), 2CMC cards doesn't help with the consistency of the deck. Hapless Researcher would be a better choice in the mono U list since it acts as a Discard/Draw spell and is also an additional creature to help with the flashback cost of Dread Return.
(Keep in mind that with 0 dredgers in hand, and 55 cards in the deck, and 11 dredgers in the deck, the odds of Tome Scour whiffing entirely are less than 1/3).
It sucks even more when you play Dredge in Legacy and lose. It's no secret that Dredge has not done well in Legacy. It's currently in the Proven decks section mostly on sheer numbers - it occasionally top 8's but virtually never wins. Clearly, something needs to change.
As to gold-fishing:
It's possible that you got unlucky hands. In my experience, this list is slightly more consistent than PImp-based Dredge, and much more consistent than LED-based Dredge.
It's also possible that you didn't pilot the deck as effectively as I did in my testing. I designed this build from the ground up to have the best combination of explosiveness and consistency. If it's failing to do that, it might be due to your relative inexperience with this exact list.
Another possibility is that you have speed expectations close to LED-based Dredge and consistency expectations close to PImp-based Dredge. Both of those are a little extreme, especially when you consider that PImp-based lists often keep hands with no draw spell in the name of consistency.
Finally, I find that I get turn 2-3 goldfish wins with a much higher degree of regularity than 5c Dredge. Despite this, it's possible that I've simply had untold amounts of luck with this list and it's actually quite bad. I have a lot of testing/matches to the contrary, but it wouldn't be the first time someone did a lot of Magic testing and came to a wrong answer.
Drowned Rusalka has the potential to be amazing in the mid-game, but is pretty abysmal for getting started. In the very early game, it's 2 mana for a Tome Scour that requires a dredger in your hand. Maaaybe 1 should be run as a DR target, but at that point why not just run River Kelpie and get a better engine that doesn't require mana? (Rusalka can be cast for increased consistency, but this mode of use can be pretty underwhelming.)
I ran Wonder when Sur-Vine was the big thing. Now that it's not, I feel that swarming with a ground army is good enough not to use the slot.
I really cannot recommend Fatestitcher enough in this deck. I find that I take out the 3rd Ichorid for the 2nd Fatestitcher close to half the time. Not creating any zombie tokens is not at all an issue, since the default plan goes like this:
Turn 1: Get started, possibly via DDD. None of the graveyard creatures matter here.
Turn 2: Expend 1-2 gas spells, with a good chance of using Cabal Therapy to squeak a Dread Return off targeting River Kelpie. If so, win this turn; Kelpie and Narcomoebas generally provide overkill here. By providing a body that doesn't have a turn to wait for an upkeep, Fatestitcher helps immensely in this step. Note that unearthing the 'stitcher triggers Kelpie.
Turn 3: Activate Coliseum, Re-animate Ichorids, spend any remaining gas, win this turn. Basically any GY creature is as good as any other.
In general, this plan does not slow down enough to prefer a card like the last Ichorid or Bloodghast over the Fatestitcher. Fatestitcher shines best in Games 2 and 3, where you often play highly interactive magic. There, the Fatestitcher can function as anything from an Ancient Grudge to a Swords to Plowshares to a Wasteland.
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If you're running a mono U list, Hapless Researcher is your best choice as a draw/discard spell with legs since you won't have access to the only discarddorks in dredge. Drowned Rusalka needs mana to be effective.
The challenge with not having a permanent discard outlet happens when you don't dredge into another (or not enough) dredger(s) after dredging during your draw step so that you could explode with a draw spell since your basically stuck with all the dredgers in your opening hand and the one that you used at the draw step. IMHO DDD is only a good plan against blue based control decks.
And the postboard games with mono U become a lot more difficult due to the lack of bettersideboardcards to fight hate.
I think it's hard for dredge to do really well due to it losing to poor dredges and wasteland is all over the place nowadays.
Wasteland is annoying for sure, but is that really an argument any more? People still play duals, right? All decks that run 2 or more colors can be pretty screwed by Wasteland. But that doesn't mean that they aren't viable for tournament play. And poor Dredges happen. They don't happen more often than poor Ad Nauseams, that kill you from 20 life. But, see. TES is still viable. So I think you shouldn't be so overhasty.
Just an example for how viable Dredge still is:
Yesterday, I attended a small local tournament. We played 4 Swiss Rounds with top 4 playouts afterwards.
I brought a pretty standard list with Ichorids, no Ghasts, 1 Iona and Tarnished Citadels.
Round 1: vs UBG.dec
I don't really know what to call that deck but it was pure awesome.
Game 1 I blow him out pretty easily. He Forces my turn 1 Discard outlet, but I had two more of those (which is the reason I didn't think it necessary to DDD). Some Zombies and Ichorids get there.
Game 2 is a pretty close game. I don't remember everything but after he keeps me at bay with Nihil Spellbomb he eventually wins when I go to 2 after I tap Tarnished for mana and he EOT flashes in Vendilion Clique. Yup, Tarnished loses here, but the game would have been his anyway.
Game 3 I open with turn 1 Therapy for Nihil Spellbomb and hit 2 copies. His hand has Force and some stuff that doesn't really threaten me. The problem is that he Wastes my only land and I fail to find any other land for the next 6 or 7 turns. Some Goyfs and Confidants kill me.
Round 2: vs Mono-R Burn
His list has Browbeats and Hellspark Elementals.
Game 1 is pretty standard. I resolve a draw spell, fail to find Iona or DR, but I can kill him with Zombies and Ichorids at turn 3.
Game 2 I expect him to board some Relics or Crypts and keep a hand with Ancient Grudge. Unfortunately, his hand didn't have any hate but contained pure gas. He burned me out before I was able to establish.
Game 3 I had the nuts hand and simply go off before he could do anything. At turn 2 I therapy away half his hand and drop Iona on Red. I also had a second DR and Ancestor's Chosen available.
Round 3: vs Uwgr Supreme Blue
Game 1 I is a really long game that takes like 25 minutes. I made a nice misplay when I drop Iona, but simply forget that he has Jace on the field and can bounce her next turn o.O Nonetheless, his deck can't really do anything but stall and defend against me, so when I attack his Jace for lethal with some Zombies and Ichorid and drop Iona again (on Blue, for his only card in hand was a Sower of Temptation), the game is mine.
Game 2 was pretty much a repetition of game 1, except that I didn't make any misplays and kill him faster. In turn, he makes a mistake when he activates Top's 2nd ability and doesn't remeber that I have a Grudge in my Grave. This way, his Top has to go and he doesn't find the answers he needs. After the match I get to know that he took out the dedicated graveyard hate just before the tourney, because he didn't expect Dredge. Well, blue decks without hate better dodge Dredge in tourneys, or they will be slaughtered pretty hard.
Round 4: vs Rock
His list had Mox Diamonds and a Stoneforge Mystic package.
Game 1: He drops some early Goyfs and Stoneforge Mystics, which tutor for Sword of F&I and Jitte afterwards. I have a pretty fast start, but fail to find a single Therapy in the top 40 cards of my deck, which is why I can't get rid of his equipment. Just before he could kill me, I'm able to establish my board with Iona @ White and a bunch of Zombies. The Flying 7/7 is too much for him to handle, even with 2 equipments around. Note that I could have lost that game had he used his Vindicate (which I saw in his Confidant) on one of his own guys to remove my Bridges (I had 4). Instead, he kept playing threats.
Game 2: He doesn't drop any kind of hate on his first turn and my turn 1 Therapy for Extirpate doesn't see any hate. So I go off the turn after. From there, it was pretty easy. After the match I get to know that he had Extirpates, but didn't find them.
Top 4 Semi Final: vs MUD
I watched him play at some point, so I knew that I would be up against a supposed pretty bad matchup.
Game 1 he mulligans to 5, but has turn 2 Lodestone Golem. That's pretty nice for a 5 card hand, but I don't really care as I keep my 7 and have turn 2 Iona plus 11 Zombies to fight that Golem. He scoops.
Game 2 he keeps his 7 and opens with turn 1 Sphere of Resistance. I DDD at turn 1. My first Dredge finds another Dredger, so I drop a Land at turn 2. My next turn's Dredge finds yet another one, so I drop a second land. His hand didn't seem to have any action beyond that one Sphere, so I Nature's Claim his Sphere EOT and go off the turn after. I generate a ton of Zombies and a 11/11 Troll, which can't be stopped by the Lodestone Golem he has next turn.
Final: vs UBG.dec (same as in Round 1)
Game 1 I blow him out again. Some Therapies tell me that his hand doesn't have any disruption, so I resolve a Breakthrough for the win.
Game 2 I keep a risky hand, which contains all I could wish for, but no lands. I keep it, as I could still go DDD, or simply find the land during the first few turns. He has turn 1 Nihil Spellbomb, so the DDD plan isn't best any more. I try to draw into the land, but can't find it for 5 turns. I scoop to some beaters.
Note that I might have to mulligan that hand. But going down to 6 would mean that the DDD plan isn't as fast and if I just find that one land, the game would have been mine (I had double Grudge, Cabal Therapy, 2 Dredgers, Breakthrough and a discard Dork).
Game 3 I keep a pretty good hand. However, it turns out his hand was a lot better, for he had double Force plus Spellbomb. I manage to fight through those, but when he finds the second Spellbomb in a Brainstorm, the game is over.
In the end, second place and I win an AEther Vial and an Isochron Scepter, both foil from FTV:Relics. First place would have been Mox Diamond and two other cards from FTV:Relics. But those go to the deck that won all 6 matches of the day.
The deck felt awesome, I didn't lose a single game 1. Iona was great, for she won me one or two games on her own, and even if she didn't, she was a 7/7 Flyer which my opponents couldn't stop.
A singleton Darkblast also proved to be good. In the Finals I turn 1 Darkblasted his Noble Hierarch, which already spelled the doom for him. In Round 4 I used Darkblast to split an Ichorid into Zombies at some point, which would let me pay Dread Return. I think it was in the very close first game, so it won me a game there.
In my opinion, players either remove or counter PImp enough of the time that it's silly to count it as a permanent discard outlet. That's the main impetus for developing this list. (If they don't, and can, they should.)
The other benefit is that Tome Scour sees as many cards as Putrid Imp in a hand of 7, and more in a fewer-card-hand.
Drowned Rusalka is pretty clearly superior to Hapless Researcher if you've got a spare mana, and much better as a late/midgame play. That said, getting started is more important.
If the concern is simply the number of ways to get started, cutting 4 land for 4 Hapless Researcher (or another mill spell) is okay. The issue, of course, is how often you take real mulligans because you now have fewer land or virtual mulligans because Cephalid is the only land (opening us up to Waste and turning off the D3D3 option).
The truth is, I've thought and thought about it. I've come very close to switching to a 5c manabase. The problem is, the discard dorks aren't very good. (Namely, with 8 in the deck, the odds of drawing ineffective multiples is pretty high.) As a result, the sideboard is really the only reason to run more colors (okay, hard-casting Cabal is a concern). But the sideboard options just aren't all that big improvements.
Dredge does poorly in Legacy because decks without dedicated GY hate have points of interaction combined with more stable strategies and more deck manipulation. Given the incredibly low amount of graveyard hate in the meta right now, what is more important: denying opponents the ability to interact without hate, or fighting the little graveyard hate there is? I think the answer is clear.