The Bogeyman is Back: A Legacy Dredge Primer
- Andreas Reling
Deathrite Shaman was considered to be the evil bane of the Legacy Format and many players wanted it to be banned in order to make the format great again. They forgot an ancient beast that terrorized the Legacy format before Deathrite Shaman was printed in 2012. Learn about the rising threat from the grave and how to defeat or join them in Andifeated’s up to date Dredge Primer.
What is Dredge?
The Short Answer: One of the biggest design mistakes in the history of Magic: The Gathering.
The Long Answer will require a complete article, so let's start with what the keyword means:
From the Comprehensive Rules (Guilds of Ravnica (October 5, 2018))
- 51. Dredge
- 51a Dredge is a static ability that functions only while the card with dredge is in a player's graveyard. "Dredge N" means "As long as you have at least N cards in your library, if you would draw a card, you may instead put N cards from the top of your library into your graveyard and return this card from your graveyard to your hand."
- 51b A player with fewer cards in their library than the number required by a dredge ability can't put any of them into their graveyard this way.
The Golgari Guild stands for the circle of life and they reuse their resources, troops, and members – even beyond death. Wizard's R&D wanted to design an ability that expresses the philosophy of the Guild well in gameplay and let you get back cards from your graveyard over the course of a game to play them again.
Cute idea. The keyword plays out totally different in the Legacy version of this deck though.
Instead of recurring your best card for the current situation or a creature that died in combat earlier, this deck tries to abuse the keyword in order to put big parts of its library into the graveyard on the first two turns of the game. It's one of the most broken combo engines the game has seen and without cards that shut down the graveyard, Dredge is very hard to beat for most strategies in Magic.
Since the deck is very complicated and does stretch or even break some fundamental rules of the game, let's look very deeply into a current, very successful decklist and go over choices made and what strategies they enable:
|4Cephalid Coliseum||4Golgari Grave-Troll||4Bridge from Below|
|2City of Brass||4Golgari Thug||3Breakthrough|
|3Gemstone Mine||4Ichorid||4Cabal Therapy|
|4Mana Confluence||4Narcomoeba||2Careful Study|
|2Putrid Imp||4Faithless Looting|
|4Stinkweed Imp||4Lion's Eye Diamond|
|1Ashen Rider||1Dread Return||4Leyline of the Void|
|2Lotus Petal||2Nature's Claim||2Serenity|
This deck doesn't function like most Magic decks you have seen or played before. For example, this deck breaks the following rules of the game:
- This deck doesn't often draw any cards after drawing its starting hand.
- This deck doesn't spend mana on most of its "spells."
- This deck has a lot of cards that don't do anything in most games if you have them in your starting hand.
- This deck doesn't need to spend a single mana or cast a spell in order to win a game of magic.
- This deck doesn't care about commonly played cards in Magic, instead only being vulnerable postboard.
The deck is complex but simple at the same time. Every card is part of a category and I will go over each category and explain how they fit together. All of them are needed to make the strategy work and if you fail to get the right mix of cards in your opener, the deck will fail to function and lose in a very embarrassing way. Therefore, it's important to understand what pieces make the deck tick:
You need less Mana than most magic decks. One land is usually enough to get your cards with dredge into the graveyard and use your cards and effects to draw multiple cards, and restart the process, likely without needing any mana for the rest of the game. Still, the more land cards your starting hand contains, the better, as Legacy is a format full of mana-taxing cards like Wasteland, Daze, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce and others that make you want to have some backup sources of Mana to ensure a fast start. Since the deck wants to cast spells of all colors, you need so-called Rainbow-Lands. With only 12-14 Lands and 4 Lion's Eye Diamond - which are glorified One with Nothings that only help to activate Cephalid Coliseum and flashback Faithless Looting - this deck is very short on mana sources and can be easy prey for Wasteland.
They are necessary to get your cards with the dredge ability into your graveyard. You don't necessarily need one of those since you can just use the cleanup step of your turn to discard a card with dredge if you have eight cards in hand. This is especially useful if you are on the draw, kept seven cards and your opponent has cards in his deck that can disrupt your discard outlets. Make use of this rule of the game to play around counterspells or if your hand has everything you need but lacks a discard outlet. Note that discard outlets often serve double duty but their main purpose is to start the engine. For example, Careful Study and Faithless Looting are better at dredging 8-12 cards than starting the engine. They can also dig for specific cards after sideboarding. Cards like Lion's Eye Diamond and Putrid Imp don't draw cards, but they can produce the mana you need to activate Cephalid Coliseum and are the perfect way to feed your Ichorids respectively.
In a normal Magic deck, card draw effects are there to get ahead in card advantage, find the cards you need to answer your opponent's threats, and get out of situations in where you drew too few lands (and for some other things as well, but these are the main ones). Dredge plays these for another purpose. Ideally, you don't want to draw a single card from the top of the deck with your card draw. You want to replace every single draw effect with dredging a card from your graveyard to put more cards into your graveyard. Most of the card draw effects we're using let us discard the cards afterwards anyway and they usually draw a large number of cards for a small amount of mana. They are the perfect follow-up play to our discard outlets and give the deck it's terrifying speed and explosiveness. Cephalid Coliseum is the most beautiful of them, in my opinion. On the first turn, it produces Mana to cast Careful Study and on the second turn you'll be able to activate it's ability to put an effect on the stack that will put the top 12-18 cards of your library into your graveyard while being immune to popular counterspells like Force of Will and lets us discard the useless cards we're dredging to our hand at the end – you can't ask for more!
Those are the namesake cards of the deck. You essentially need a card like this or you won't do anything. You don't need necessarily need one in your opening hand if you have Faithless Looting or Careful Study, but they are very essential to the game plan. You want to get them into the Graveyard as soon as possible and from there, replace every opportunity to draw a card with putting cards from the top of your library into your graveyard. Afterwards, and often from the card draw spell/effect your using, you discard them again to repeat the process. This way, you will put an excessive amount of cards into the graveyard, which then have various effects that will actually win you the game.
This is the main engine of the deck. You will be able to return Narcomoeba and Ichorid from the graveyard without paying mana and when you sacrifice them in order to flashback Cabal Therapy, you will create an overwhelming horde of Zombies with your Bridge from Belows while discarding your opponent's most important hand cards.
Most Magic Decks – even the powerful strategies of Legacy – are not well equipped to beat this strategy in the first game of a match. General effects like counterspells, discard spells, land-destruction, creatures, and removal spells are not well suited to deal with this abhorrent horde from the graveyard. On top of that, the deck itself can function with few handcards and mulligans very well. It's consistent and has very broken lucky draws. It almost always does the samen thing every game and, therefore, this deck has an absurd high win-rate in game one. That's the main benefit of the deck.
Sounds good and all, but why isn't it the best deck ever then? Well, while the deck is consistent and fast, it's also very fragile to specific effects and those are cards that interact or shut down the graveyard. Since you outsource all of your resources to the graveyard, this is also your Achilles' Heel. Since there are many powerful cards and synergies in Legacy that crush graveyard decks. Cards like Surgical Extraction, Nihil Spellbomb, Faerie Macabre, Scavenging Ooze, Bojuka Bog, Leyline of the Void, Grafdigger's Cage and Rest in Peace are pretty popular in Legacy sideboards. The one-time full graveyard removal spells and single target graveyard removal spells give Dredge a pretty hard time since they give your opponent time to get their strategy online and win the game, but even worse than that are cards like Rest in Peace and the black Leyline, which shut down the dredge deck completely. You simply can't win without access to your Graveyard. Also, the deck sometimes just can't do a thing about very fast strategies like Goblin Charbelcher, Storm Decks that win with Tendrils of Agony on the second turn, and Prison decks that hide under a card that prevents you from attacking like Ensnaring Bridge, Moat, or The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Luckily, those cards are not necessarily good against many other decks and you need to prepare for a lot of different strategies, so most sideboards are pretty low on those cards and you still have a decent chance to play a postboard game where your opponent is unable to draw their answers. Usually, you are no longer a favorite after sideboarding, but since you can bring in some cards to answer the cards I just mentioned, you still have a good chance of winning the match against most decks in the format.
The hardest cards to beat for us are the so-called lock pieces. They are permanents that shut down our access to the graveyard and need to be removed if we want to stand a chance.
Nature's Claim is the cleanest answer to those cards since they are usually either Artifacts or Enchantments and it only costs one Mana which is very important with our low land count. That our opponent is gaining life is not irrelevant but we can deal a lot of damage if we have access to our graveyard again and it won't buy an extra turn against big hordes of Zombies in a lot of cases. Serenity has the upside that it gets rid of multiple permanents for only one card and dodges Chalice of the Void on one charge counter, which is very prominent and good versus Dredge to protect Leyline of the Void. Serenity is hard to cast because two Mana is actually a lot for this deck, therefore you should usually bring it in alongside some additional Mana Sources like Lotus Petal
Against the cards I previously mentioned that hinder us from attacking, we can bring in Dread Return and some creatures that win without combat or destroy those permanents. Prominent creatures to reanimate are Flayer of the Hatebound, who can serve as a fast way to win the game without attacking and Ashen Rider which is my go-to choice since he is very flexible and can get rid of multiple problematic permanents.
Silent Gravestone is a pretty new addition to the deck and helps to protect your business cards against the very popular Surgical Extraction and also against Faerie Macabre. Against decks where you know that this kind of hate is their only way to interact with your graveyard, the card is at a premium.
Note that you can't afford to side out many cards and need all categories to stay at a healthy number of cards – don't oversideboard with this deck! I usually only change 3-4 cards and often, I don't even sideboard because I want to remain as explosive and consistent as possible on the play. You can beat many sideboard cards by being just fast and choosing smart names with Cabal Therapy. If you are not sure what your opponent will bring for the postboard game and don't want to interact, just go for a fast and good maindeck – especially on the play. This is a good plan against many decks.
Why the Deck is Good Right Now
The deck has not been a serious player for a while, mostly because of Deathrite Shaman. The card changed everything for Dredge because so many decks played it and therefore a big chunk of the metagame had already a pretty winnable preboard matchup against Dredge which wasn't the case before. Now that the Shaman is banned, the format has changed significantly and Dredge is better than ever!
The list I showed you earlier has won two Legacy Challenge Events on Magic Online this month and lost another one in the finals. I picked the deck up again because I believe it's the best deck in Legacy right now. Since I started to play it again, I've won 80% of my matches in competitive Magic Online Legacy Leagues and the deck feels otherworldly strong to me. I believe that many players will pick it up in the near future because of that and because it's comparatively cheap to other popular decks. Therefore, the number of sideboard cards that are good against the deck will increase again in the future but if the Metagame adapts slowly, you will have easy games with it at your future Legacy Tournaments.
Feel free to ask me any questions you have regarding the deck or check out my Twitch.tv stream where I've been playing the deck a lot.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.