Deck Profile: Manaless Dredge in Legacy
Legacy is a tough format to enter for new players as the top tier demands expensive cards. But now there's a cheap rogue strategy that preys on current top decks revolving around Wrenn and Six and Oko. Learn how to build and pilot Manaless Dredge and what makes it good today!
Legacy Is Expensive
When I started with tournament Magic in 2009, Legacy was my format of choice. I wanted to play with all available cards and I loved the older cards the most. Format veterans told me not to buy into Legacy as prices had become unbearable. For example, Canadian Threshold, also known as Temur Delver, which I wanted to build as my first deck, required a play set of Volcanic Island and Tropical Island, eight cards that cost €400 back then. Today, those eight cards can't be purchased under €1,400 and the same is true for most format staples. Even the budget deck that I bought as a cheap alternative for €100 then, LED Dredge, costs over €1,000 now.
Manaless Dredge is a variant of the LED Dredge deck I wrote about in 2018. But this version doesn't need the luxurious and powerful Lion's Eye Diamond and no other cards from the reserved list either, specifically no dual lands, because it doesn't contain any lands or sources of mana at all! You can still get the deck for under €200 and it is better positioned in the current metagame than it was ever before.
The Deck and How It Works
|John Tollison's Manaless Dredge, 17th at Grand Prix Atlanta|
First of all, forget everything you've learned about Magic when you try to understand this deck and learn its ways. We don't play lands, we don't produce mana, we don't even need to cast or resolve spells to win a game. Also, we never want to take the first turn and we absolutely never take a mulligan, no matter how bad our hand is. There are opponents like fair midrange and control decks that we almost beat every time we play against them, and then there are other strategies we can't hope to beat ever if we face them. I've played my fair share of different Constructed formats and decks, but never did I see a deck that has more extreme matchups than Manaless Dredge.
All those quirks work together, and in order to make you understand what I'm talking about, let me explain what the deck is trying to do. We want to be on the draw in every game we play. Never choose to play first as that simply means our opponent is getting a free Timewalk. The reason for drawing first is we want to end our turn with eight cards in hand. Then we discard a card with the dredge keyword or—even better—Phantasmagorian, which can discard almost our whole hand on the spot without being vulnerable to some means of disruption.
From there on, we use dredge to fill our graveyard further, a process ideally sped up by cycling Street Wraith. Most of the cards put into our graveyard have some ability that works from the grave: some flashback, a lot of triggers that return creatures to the battlefield, produce Zombie tokens, discard our opponents' hand, gain life, or simply end the game out of nowhere. Most of this can't even be stopped by traditional interaction such as counter spells or removal, and our deck doesn't run out of resources as long as we have access to our graveyard.
There are some games where Manaless Dredge produces a limited number of creatures and wins a fair fight through attacking and blocking backed up by Cabal Therapy disruption and direct damage plus life gain from Creeping Chill. However, this deck also features a combo kill that can end the game as early as turn two. All you need is three creatures on the battlefield and Dread Return alongside Balustrade Spy in your graveyard. Returning the Vampire to the battlefield will dump your complete library into the graveyard. This generates another bunch of creatures—all remaining Narcomoebas to begin with, which Bridge from Below turns into multiple Zombie tokens when we flash back Therapy. Then, a second Dread Return returning a lethal Lotleth Giant should seal the deal.
Keep in mind that, if this combo fizzles, because the damage dealt is not enough, or because the Giant isn't able to enter the battlefield, you will probably lose the game as you can't draw or dredge from an empty library. Therefore, always try to make sure the coast is clear with Cabal Therapy before going off.
The combo isn't essential to the deck. In fact, I'm often boarding out large parts of it to make room for important sideboard cards. This mostly applies to matchups where you'll win eventually and where speed isn't as important as consistency and interaction.
Important Tips and Tricks
Phantasmagorian is the best card you can have in your opening hand as it gives you additional speed. Discarding the Horror on the first turn of the game let's you put its ability on the stack during your opponent's end step to discard three cards. If you keep priority with the ability on the stack you can discard another three cards before Phantasmagorian returns to your hand—if you happen to only have one copy, for example. This way, the Nether Shadows and Ichorids from your hand can return to the battlefield on the second turn.
Keep in mind that you're reducing your hand size this way. If your opponent is likely to have an effect like Bojuka Bog, Tormod's Crypt, or Nihil Spellbomb, it's often better to simply discard one card per turn to be able to beat those cards by not losing more turns that necessary against them. Since that comes up in many postboard games, I tend to side out some Phantasmagorians in matchups where those effects are popular and speed isn't as important.
Street Wraith is another card that is pretty good in your opening hand as it gives you an extra dredge. You can even do some nice tricks such as countering a Surgical Extraction that targets your only dredge card: when you move the targeted card to your hand in response, the Extraction won't have a legal target anymore when it tries to resolve, and will fizzle. The same trick works against Scavenging Ooze and Relic of Progenitus—if they happen to be out of mana after activating them to remove a single card; otherwise you're screwed against those cards anyway in most cases.
Another use that comes up often is to cycle Street Wraith in the opponent's main phase to make sure that Prized Amalgam can enter the battlefield before you untap, if it get's milled alongside Narcomoeba. But usually it's better to cycle half a turn cyle earlier because you want to maximize your chances of flashing back Cabal Therapy and Dread Return before your opponent gets another turn.
Chancellor of the Annex
Chancellor of the Annex doesn't do anything from your graveyard besides being a decent target for Dread Return when no Balustrade Spy is around. But its main purpose is to be in your opening hand and to simply Daze our opponent's first spell without costing anything. This is very useful as our deck can't interact with what the opponent is doing on their first three turns of the game in most cases and making them pay 1 additional mana buys precious time.
Keep in mind that you need to reveal the Chancellor as a pregame action before the first turn starts and that its triggered ability needs to be announced again when the first spell is being cast. As the ability counters spells and doesn't make them more expensive like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben does, Veil of Summer can get around our dazing Angel—be aware of this interaction.
Legacy is one of the few formats where the graveyard order is a rule to obey and Nether Shadow is one of the cards responsible for this rule. When you dredge, you put cards into your graveyard at the same time and thus can choose their order. So always look for all Nether Shadows among them. Then, you put the Shadows into your graveyard first to make sure the maximum number of creatures are above them.
It isn't relevant here, but note that, if you were to draw multiple cards with a single effect and replace them with dredging, you only get to rearrange the cards put into the graveyard as part of one dredge process. For example, you replace your two draws from Faithless Looting with dredge 5 and dredge 6 and among the second Dredge is a Nether Shadow, you can only put it into your graveyard after the first five cards but as the first card of the six card pile entering the graveyard.
On another note, when you go to your upkeep, Ichorid and Nether Shadow will trigger simultaneously and as the active player and owner of those you will be able to chose an order to put the abilities onto the stack. If you place your Nether Shadow ability on top of the stack you will be able to return it before the Ichorid leaves the graveyard and eats another black creature, which will give you more creature cards above the Shadow in many situations and helps to bring back both of them.
Why the Deck Is Good Right Now
If you haven't heard of it yet, Legacy is currently being terrorized by Wrenn and Six and Oko, Thief of Crowns. A midrange arms race is taking place and decks focus on card advantage and planeswalkers more than ever. Greedy Arcum's Astrolabe decks try to fit as many different planeswalkers into their line-up and fair blue decks reign supreme. If you have a look at the data of the latest Legacy Grand Prix, a big chunk of the field (10%) was Temur Delver and other fair blue decks shared approximately another 25% of the metagame. Those decks are easy prey for Manaless Dredge: it won 87.5% of its matches against Temur Delver and 100% of its matches against Four-Color Control. It enjoys additional positive matchups across the fair deck spectrum and managed to post one of the best records. Seven players piloted it to a stunning 57.1 % match win ratio as a result of the many easy matchups.
This version of Dredge is also more resilient to common sideboard cards like Bojuka Bog, Tormod's Crypt, Surgical Extraction, Nihil Spellbomb, Faerie Macabre, and Scavenging Ooze as it is full of cards that do something from the graveyard and doesn't need to dump all of its resources into the graveyard on the first turn of the game.
Also, there are many different lists and ways to build this strategy floating around. For example, there are blue versions that use Whirlpool Rider instead of Balustrade Spy, because with enough blue cards you're able to play Force of Will which helps to combat combo decks and sideboard hate. Faster versions with Dryad Arbor and more Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis exist as well. More green cards enable Force of Vigor, and you can even add Reverent Silence for an improved fighting chance against Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace. The deck isn't perfectly tuned yet and offers a lot of options to toy around with. If your metagame skews heavily blue and you look for a cheap way to enter Legacy, this deck really is for you!
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