The Hollow Renaissance of Vintage Dredge
Pietro dives back into Viintage with a deep analysis of a new Vintage Dredge deck. A few recent cards gave the deck new and intriguing twist, Dredge decks have always been a stable deck in Vintage Top 8s. Let's open the history book and look at the new Dredge.
Recently I wrote an article about one of the archetypes mostly hated by the whole Vintage Community of players: MUD. Today, I will discuss the most hated deck of all time in Vintage: Dredge.
The Vintage version of Dredge, often named as "Ichorid", has always had a simple and clear strategy: put a Bazaar of Baghdad into play, throw some dredge spells in the graveyard and activate the dredge ability via the Bazaar and during the Draw phase, and finally, put milled Narcomoebas and Ichorids into play. From here, you can devastate your opponents' hands with multiple Cabal Therapys or quickly finish them off with zombies and Dread Return.
That's in a few words the Dredge archetype, a deck that in the first game is virtually impossible to face for the majority of the field, being able to win systematically and consistently (and very few possibilities to hinder it) within the third or the fourth turn.
A Bit of History
The Ravnica, City of Guilds expansion gave to Vintage an important impact: you are probably thinking to the powerful Dark Confidant, but here I'm talking specifically of the introduction of the Dredge mechanic and of some today famous cards,: Golgari Grave Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and Golgari Thug.
Basically, the dredge mechanic, when combined with the "draw and discard" ability of Bazaar of Baghdad allows a player to have 15 to 20 cards in their graveyard by turn two, which enables the devastating strategies and synergies of the deck.
The deck was so powerful and consistent that its first versions were played with 0 colored mana sources and with only Bazaars as lands (aka "Manaless Ichorid"). That version was brutally powerful and effective, utilizing Serum Powder as a powerful tool for ensuring Bazaar of Baghdad ends up in your starting hand.
At that time, in a Vintage metagame of Gifts.deck, TPS, and MUD, Dredge was a deck capable of easily beating everyone with ease, only facing defeat at the hands of failing to find a Bazaar in your starting hand. Lock elements, counterspells, removal, board control and card advantage proved to be useless against a deck capable to winning games without casting a single spell.
For this reason, all the tier decks had to quickly fix their strategies to face Dredge and sideboards quickly became full of graveyard/bazaar hate. Tormod's Crypt, Pithing Needle, Leyline of the Void and Yixlid Jailer quickly gained slots in most sideboards to give more conventional Vintage strategies the slightest chance against the raw power of Dredge.
Maybe We Need Some More Colored Mana
Having played Dredge myself, I remember that it was quite disappointing and devastating to systematically win the first game and then lose game 2 and game 3 without even playing because of a Pithing Needle or a Leyline of the Void played on opponent's side.
The old versions of Dredge had few proactive responses (aside from discard spells), a feeble manabase, and few or zero backup strategies: if the opponent was able to put graveyard or bazaar hate into play, you were practically dead.
So, Dredge needed a solution to the hate, which came in the form of adding actual mana, allowing for better answers to graveyard hate.
The most common answers were Reverent Silence, Ray of Reveleation, Ancient Grudge, Whispmare, Contagion, and, most of all, Nature's Claim and Emerald Charm, a cc1 spell capable of not only destroying enchantments, but also by untapping a permanent (namely Bazaar of Baghdad) to speed up the deck.
A better, useable sideboard did allow for more Dredge success, even post-sideboard, and also had new mainboard options with the use of Undiscovered Paradise, often combined with the powerful Bloodghast, which has been a mainstay in almost all dredge decks since the cards printing in Zendikar.
In this mana-producing form, the deck regained its strength, but was still fragile and far from perfection. The need to draw graveyard hate in order to start going off significantly slows down the deck and gives the opponent ample opportunity to set up and win before you even get the chance to go off.
Dredge started as an absolute tier 1, but moved to a tier 1,5/2 deck, seeing less play not only because of graveyard hate, but also because of the cultural component: being an auto-play "unfun" deck in the eyes of many players.
Also, Dredge lost a lot of popularity when "Non-spoilered deck" (decks without P9s) prizes were drastically cut, corresponding to the increase in cost for other common cards, like Bazaar, for instance. Dredge was a great deck to pilot, because it functioned just fine without the p9. This increase in cost also made it harder for people to buy into dredge.
The New Dredge
There's an old saying, "If you can't beat em, join em." That's not exactly what I suggest here, but the comparison is apt to some degree.
One thing about me - I LOVE transformational sideboards. They have always appealed to me for some of their major advantages over more conventional sideboards – they're easy to manage and disrupt you're opponents' sideboard plan significantly.
So, playing Dredge with a transformational sideboard is highly appealing. First thing we need to ask though is what kind of deck is Dredge? Is it a combo deck? Because, if it can be classified as a combo deck, then creating a transformational sideboard for it just requires looking at how decks hate on the combo. Put simply, Dredge is more or less a combo deck. It may not win in one turn, but relies on a very specific combination of cards to create an advantageous situation and is, therefore, fragile to hate cards that target that combination of cards.
Assuming this is true, we can expect our opponents to be prepared with a lot of graveyard hate, so to effectively counter this fragility, we can change our sideboard strategy from reactive to proactive, looking for a way to rely less on the graveyard and blank opposing hate.
Previously, dredge just didn't have the necessary cards to change its strategy, especially when considering the tight mana base. There just wasn't a possibility of taking control of the board without dredging.
But recently, a few new cards have been printed, and they change the equation, giving Dredge proactive options that can happen as early as turn one:
These cards have strong bodies, generally cost zero or one mana, have low color requirements. No need to find a response to their Leyline when you can just activate bazaar and put a couple 4/4s into play for free. Gurmag Angler still needs the graveyard but can come down very early and isn't blanked by Grafdigger's Cage and many other hate cards besides Leyline. It's not quite as free from the graveyard as Hollow One, but it still uses the graveyard from new angles, making it an effective, proactive beater than comes down early.
Now that we have our strategy, lets see what it looks like in a deck!
Solid, fast, consistent, and competitive.
These are the adjectives that I would use to define the new Dredge. It's just as devastating game 1, but not has a convincing post-SB strategy.
Let's take a look:
|4Bazaar of Baghdad||4Bloodghast||4Bridge from Below|
|1Dakmor Salvage||1Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite||4Leyline of the Void|
|2Mana Confluence||1Flayer of the Hatebound||4Serum Powder|
|1Riftstone Portal||4Golgari Grave-Troll||4Cabal Therapy|
|4Undiscovered Paradise||1Golgari Thug||2Dread Return|
|3Ichorid||4Mental Misstep||4Narcomoeba||4Prized Amalgam||4Stinkweed Imp|
|3Gurmag Angler||4Hollow One||4Nature's Claim|
- Manabase: aside from the 4 Bazaars, which are mandatory in Vintage dredge, the other eight lands are up for debate - some run City of Brass, some Mana Confluence, some others Undiscovered Paradise. Since Undiscovered Paradise is particularly synergic with Bloodghast, I would go for them with two Dakmor Salvage and 2 Mana Confluence.
- Ichorid: some still run four, others 3, some even run only two. I think that three is the correct number.
- Dread Returns: some run three, some two, some one of them. I think that 2 is the correct number
- Finishers: I think that Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is untouchable. As for the others, I think that Flayer of the Hatebound, Flame-Kin Zealot and Ashen Ghoul are all useful.
- Mental Misstep: incredible card for this deck, both pre-SB against key cards that post-SB to counter Cages and other hosers. Some play three of them, I would stick with four.
- Leyline of the Void: impressive card both as an offensive tool and as a defensive one. It also protects your Bridge from Belows. Obviously the choice here is to run zero or four of them.
- Serum Powder: I've already discussed the power of this card in this deck. You HAVE to see the Bazaar in the opening hand. If you play 4 powders, that will happen a lot more frequently.
- Gurmag Angler and Hollow One: The transformational part of the transformational sideboard.
- Nature's Claim: pretty good card at cc1 against hosers and also strong against artifact combos
- Ingot Chewer: same as nature claim, and also good for activating Bridge
Metagame calls (MD and SB):
- Null Rods: Versatile and effective, a strong answer against Paradoxical Mentor. But the fact that it is CMC 2 can cause problems.
- Mindbreak Trap: some versions play them Main Deck in 3 or 4 copies. Can be a good answer to Paradoxical Mentor.
- Whispmare: Similarly to the chewer, it is a cheap answer to enchantments
- Other Lands in SB: Urborgs, Confluences, or anything else you might need.
- Abrupt Decay, Engineered Explosives, and other answers to hosers. Less efficient than the ones mentioned above IMHO.
I really think that Hollow Ones (and also Prized Amalgam) brought back Dredge as a "real" deck, giving the deck a tatse of its former glory when it was the "Public Enemy" of every Vintage Tournament.
The main difference is the metagame, and, in particular, the version of Storm combo that Dredge has to face today: TPS was a consistent combo, but quite slow, often one turn slower than Dredge.
Paradoxical, however, is capable of devastating starts, thanks to the huge quantity of mana sources it plays; Mental Missteps and Therapy can help, but the transformational sideboard definitely doesn't help against Paradoxical, so if the deck continues to be seriously problematic, maybe cards like Mindbreak Trap and Null Rod, combined with Misstep and Cabal Theapy can provide an out to Dredge's main enemy.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.