What is Dead May Never Die: Modern Dredge After Faithless Looting
When Hogaak Summer concluded with a big Banned and Restricted List announcement, many decks were hurt by the removal of Faithless Looting—especially graveyard strategies like Dredge. Learn how they survive the loss of their most important turn-one play and what direction Modern takes from here.
Faithless Looting Is Finally Banned
Dredge has been one of Modern's most unfair decks for a long time. Traditionally, its most fearsome start included casting Faithless Looting on the first turn of the game to discard cards featuring the dredge mechanic. It let you dig for needed cards and helped to start your deck's game plan. Then, in the midgame, you were able to flash back any copies you cast from your hand or put iinto your graveyard while dredging.
It truly was the perfect card for the archetype and many players expected Dredge to vanish when its best enabler was banned. To be fair, it was considered the most unfair card in the Modern card pool. Many other decks like Vengevine variants, Izzet Pheonix, Red Prowess, and Mardu Pyromancer suffered as well. As I love Dredge and played the deck a lot just before the banning, I watched closely what was happening with one of my favorite strategies. Would it be able to survive without Looting?
Splashing Blue for Tome Scour
A first list tried to incorporate blue into its mana base to cast Tome Scour on the first turn of the game, targeting the Dredge player itself. While this doesn't let you discard cards from your hand, it essentially skips the first and complicated part of Dredge's game plan and directly puts five cards from the top of your library into your graveyard. If there happens to be a card featuring the keyword dredge among them, you can skip your draw step from here on and dredge cards for the rest of the game to fill the graveyard. On a nice side effect, Tome Scour itself also triggers any copies of Narcomoeba and Creeping Chill it hits.
While Tome Scour offers a powerful effect for Dredge strategies, I believe it is too much to ask from the deck's already greedy mana base. You need to find an untapped blue source for turn one; you need to make sure that any two-land hand can cast Life from the Loam; you want all your lands to produce red mana; There are too many notes to hit for a fragile combo deck that doesn't draw any cards from the top of the library except for the opening hand.
|Sodek's Blue Dredge, before Eldraine|
|3City of Brass||4Bloodghast||4Creeping Chill|
|1Gemstone Mine||4Prized Amalgam||2Conflagrate|
|1Copperline Gorge||4Narcomoeba||4Tome Scour|
|2Stomping Ground||2Golgari Thug||4Cathartic Reunion|
|1Blood Crypt||4Life from the Loam|
|3Ancient Grudge||2Alpine Moon||1Blast Zone|
|3Lightning Axe||3Nature's Claim||1Darkblast|
Staying on Color
Soon after the ban announcement, I started to play against Dredge decks that looked exactly like the old versions that had Faithless Looting, but instead of the now-banned card they were running Insolent Neonate and more Forgotten Caves. Jan Stadler won the big Modern PTQ at MagicFest Ghent, and other players were doing great at big events as well. With Throne of Eldraine, Merchant of the Vale // Haggle we then got a card that's even better than Neonate, as it's possible to start the engine at instant speed and get a 2/3 creature later on. What did just happen? The deck took a big hit losing its most important card and it simply kept winning?
The reason is that after Looting was banned, most players reduced the number of main-deck and sideboard cards that can interact with the graveyard. They needed them previously, but now they didn't consider the graveyard an important factor anymore. Turns out what cards your opponents have access to in their sideboards is way more relevant for Dredge's win rate than the quality of your spells. As long as the deck's still functional and can get the dredge train rolling in some way, you're good. Here's my current version:
|1City of Brass||3Merchant of the Vale // Haggle||4Creeping Chill|
|3Copperline Gorge||4Prized Amalgam||4Shriekhorn|
|2Stomping Ground||4Stinkweed Imp||4Life from the Loam|
|2Blood Crypt||3Golgari Thug|
|3Ancient Grudge||2Abrupt Decay||1Blast Zone|
|3Lightning Axe||2Nature's Claim||1Damping Sphere|
You Can't Get Vengevine Dead Either
Experimenting with Tome Scour and blue self-mill cards didn't improve the traditional Dredge deck built around the engine of Life from the Loam and Conflagrate. But it inspired a new version of the dreaded Vengevine deck that had terrorized Modern alongside Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis while that card was legal. Essentially, it's a Dredge deck without any cards featuring the dredge keyword.
There's no discarding cards from your hand and then dredging here. This deck only runs cards that do something from your graveyard and cards that put parts of your library straight where they belong—into the graveyard where they can unleash powerful effects for no mana. It's an elegant design and should be explored in more depths. Many people claim it's the real deal. To prove how much potential lies within this new shell, Andreas Ganz just won the Sunday PTQ at MagicFest Utrecht piloting the following list.
|Andreas Ganz's Crabvine, PTQ Champion at MagicFest Utrecht|
|4Polluted Delta||4Carrion Feeder||4Creeping Chill|
|3Bloodstained Mire||4Gravecrawler||4Glimpse the Unthinkable|
|3Marsh Flats||4Stitcher's Supplier||4Memory Sluice|
|3Verdant Catacomb||4Hedron Crab|
|2Overgrown Tomb||4Prized Amalgam|
|3Fatal Push||2Assassin's Trophy||1Shenanigans|
|4Force of Negation||2Ancient Grudge||1Blood Crypt|
|2Leyline of the Void|
The deck looks like one of those Hogaak decks from before the bannings, though it has more stuff coming from the graveyard, features a cleaner mana base, and looks to be very consistent in what it does. Sure it hurts to lose Hogaak and only having Vengevine as a huge payoff, but Prized Amalgam, Creeping Chill, and Narcomoeba add a lot of redundancy and aggressiveness to the strategy.
Another advantage blue offers is access to the powerful Force of Negation in the sideboard. In a Modern environment where you don't need to be afraid of Leyline of the Void anymore, Force is the perfect answer for the most prominent hate cards. It's a decent tool too to disrupt decks that cast problematic noncreature spells like Paradoxical Outcome, Whir of Invention, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Scapeshift, and a host of others. Traditional Dredge had to hit such cards with Thougtseize and hope the opponent didn't draw spare copies.
The Future of the Archetype
Graveyard decks may have shrugged off the banning of Faithless Looting more easily than the Modern community expected. But their outlook always depends on two factors.
Most importantly, Dredge's level of success rises and falls with the number of cards being played that can interact with the graveyard. If players have reason to use many cards like Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, Scavenging Ooze, Surgical Extraction, or similar for other reasons than Dredge's pure existence, that's pretty bad for Dredge's chances of winning a tournament. Luckily, there are not many graveyard-based strategies around at the moment and that's a reason to play decks such as the two I showed you today.
The second factor is how many decks are floating around that naturally have a decent Dredge matchup. Most Dredge and Vengevine variants are pretty linear: one-sided in their attack with little interaction, albeit very consistent and hard to keep in check while having some explosive draws. But they can be a bit slow against other combo decks. For example, if there is much Tron, Urza, Amulet Titan, and Storm around, Dredge is a pretty poor strategy to run regardless of which sideboard cards those decks bring. Their main strategy is already favored against Dredge. Unfortunately, decks like these are on the rise again to prey on the many midrange options that Stoneforge Mystic's unbanning has popularized again.
However, the tides of the format are ever-changing and Dredge definitely stays one of the best strategies in Modern. Its ability to keep evolving with every new set release and to adapt to all kinds of metagame changes makes it my favorite archetype in all of Magic. Tell me in the comments what you think about the Vengevine deck piloted by Andreas Ganz. Have you been playing other interesting Dredge variants lately?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.