Once the menace of a bygone Extended format, Dredge has existed in some form since the creation of the mechanic in Ravnica: City of Guilds. Responsible for Dread Return and Golgari Grave-Troll taking their place on the Modern Banlist, Dredge is a powerful mechanic that exists in a unique space of competitive Magic. Dredge has allowed for a persistent Vintage archetype and created multiple different Legacy Archetypes. In Modern, our payoffs are not nearly as strong as in other formats, but the consistency provided while dredging still facilitates a potent strategy.
Modern Dredge is at its core, an engine deck utilizing this namesake mechanic to quickly fill its graveyard. In doing so, it uses a combination of payoffs to create resilient board states and early game control. To support this strategy, Dredge uses a combination of dredgers and enablers to start the process. Card draw spells allow for explosive starts and consistency, as they can enable multiple dredges in the same turn while discarding those dredgers.
With a streamlined engine deck like Dredge, mulligans are often rewarded as card quality is more important than card quantity. With a hand of Stinkweed Imp, Faithless Looting, Mountain, and Shriekhorn, it matters little what the remaining three cards in hand are. With this in mind, Dredge boasts a high mulligan win percentage and mulliganing for hands with a good mix of enablers and dredgers is crucial. As a caveat, Dredge is often at the mercy of the cards milled over, as failing to chain Dredgers can quickly lead to a loss. Moreover, Dredge replaces draw steps, leaving the deck exceptionally vulnerable to graveyard hate. This trade-off between finding pieces to rebuild versus progressing its game plan leaves Dredge vulnerable to main deck graveyard hate in ways that few decks are. With this in mind, I’ll be going over the key components to the archetype.
Unable to function without the namesake core of the deck, having a critical mass of dredgers is crucial to consistency. With Golgari Grave-Troll banned, Stinkweed Imp and Life from the Loam do much of the heavy lifting, with Golgari Thug and Darkblast acting as supplements to the core dredgers. Stinkweed Imp is the dredger of choice, as it is the only Dredge 5 card in the format. Dredge plays four copies of Life from the Loam despite having a smaller dredge than Golgari Thug due to the utility that Loam provides. Being able to put itself into the graveyard and hit land drops for Bloodghast give it a higher average impact than Golgari Thug, despite a slightly decreased level of explosiveness. Darkblast is the final dredger and sees play over the third Golgari Thug or first Dakmor Salvage due to the importance of interacting with small creatures. Being an engine deck, Dredge relies on having enough redundancy to find its engine pieces. In this case, cards with Dredge can find more cards with Dredge, creating an engine that eventually snowballs into victory.
As with the number of dredgers, it is important to have an adequate number of early game enablers. The early turns of Dredge are spent developing its engine, and the high number of payoffs ensure this. Faithless Looting and Shriekhorn enable dredging as early as Turn 2, while Cathartic Reunion and Conflagrate allow for explosive midgame turns. Faithless Looting allows Dredge to sculpt its hands to find sideboard cards as well as set up its engine. The ability to flashback Faithless Looting contributes to the consistency. By milling enough cards, Dredge will ensure the ability to find Faithless Looting and thus mill more cards. This powerful piece of the deck is irreplaceable, and while Faithless Looting lacks the immediate explosiveness of Cathartic Reunion, it makes up for it with flexibility.
Dredge benefits greatly from enablers that have late game utility, and Conflagrate is no exception. By utilizing Life from the Loam, Dredge can ensure a hand count of seven to ten cards, allowing for Conflagrate to end many games on the spot. The resource-intensive nature of Conflagrate, as well as poor scaling in multiples, contributes to most lists only playing a couple of copies. Shriekhorn, like Faithless Looting, lets Dredge begin its engine as early as Turn 2, but trades utility in the late game for mana efficiency. Shriekhorn in many ways mills over the same amount of cards that a Faithless Looting would, but is easier to cast and only requires a single mana investment. However, Shriekhorn is worse in the mid and late game, as it does not enable Stinkweed Imp or Golgari Thug, and instead allows for surprise Narcomoeba or Creeping Chill triggers.
Cathartic Reunion threatened to push Dredge to new heights with its printing in Kaladesh. While more mana intensive than either of the primary enablers, Cathartic Reunion importantly discards the cards before the card draw. This subtle change in word order allows Dredge to immediately utilize dredgers in hand, as a discarded Stinkweed Imp sees the card draw from Cathartic Reunion. Turns involving Cathartic can see upwards of twenty cards milled in a single turn, ensuring a dominant board state.
A powerful graveyard engine would be nothing without payoffs, and dredge plays a full sixteen such cards. Bloodghast and Creeping Chill serve as the core of a gameplan rife with inevitability, while Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam provide slower avenues to grinding opponents out. Entering the format with Guilds of Ravnica, Creeping Chill substantially increased the power level of Dredge, shoring up critical weaknesses of the archetype. Providing extra points of damage and crucial life gain, Dredge can use its engine to buy enough time to close out the game in a single big turn. Creeping Chill, Narcomoeba and Conflagrate play a crucial defensive game against other aggressive decks in the format, allowing dredge to win the game simply by stalling for time.
Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam represent an offensive inevitability requiring multiple exile effects to overcome while enabling Dredge to threaten massive power on board in the early turns of the game. These aggressive starts force other decks to interact with the board, allowing Dredge the time necessary to rebuild its board and progressively chip away at opposing life totals. These powerful, consistent payoffs enable the deck to dominate mainboard games and command the respect of multiple sideboard slots.
The core sideboard cards for most Dredge lists, these four options represent the most efficient form of interaction available for the popular decks in the format. Nature’s Claim allows Dredge to overcome conventional forms of attack by destroying Leyline of the Void, Grafdigger’s Cage, Rest in Peace and even a timely Ensnaring Bridge. Maximizing the playset of Nature’s Claim allows Dredge to ensure finding a copy while overloading on interaction for Whir Prison and Hardened Scales.
Ancient Grudge doubles as an extra copy of Nature’s Claim against decks relying on artifacts to power through Dredge’s consistent game plan. Unlike Nature’s Claim, the ability to cast Ancient Grudge from the graveyard lets the deck aggressively dig for interaction against all but Grafdigger’s Cage. Acting as an additional payoff in this artifact heavy metagame contributes to multiple copies in the sideboard.
Leyline of the Void and Lightning Axe are present in most sideboards, though the number of each is largely metagame dependent. Lightning Axe is another enabler in aggressive matchups while answering troublesome aggressive creatures like Thing in the Ice or Arcbound Ravager. Leyline of the Void allows Dredge to interact with the mirror match and other graveyard decks like Arclight Phoenix, without sacrificing consistency. Diverting from the popular rationale of including leylines as four-ofs, Dredge employs one or two copies of Leyline of the Void. The rationale for this is rooted in statistics — if you board into four Leyline, you will have it in your opening hand only 40% of the time. The rest of the time it is a poor topdeck, and running two copies still allows you to have them in your opening hand 22% of the time.
These are often one-ofs in the sideboard and are less efficient or important than the core sideboard. Picking which of these to run often depends on which metagames to attack. Abrupt Decay and Assassin’s Trophy are versatile answers to many problematic sideboard cards, but Assassin’s Trophy can hit Leyline of the Void. The benefit to Abrupt Decay is against decks playing Cryptic Command or Spell Pierce, as these decks can protect their Grafdigger’s Cage or Rest in Peace from ordinary interaction.
Engineered Explosives is an additional way to interact with creatures. Like Assassin’s Trophy, it can double are removal spells for creatures and enchantments. Vengeful Pharaoh and Darkblast double as interaction for Spirits or Humans, while Damping Sphere and Thoughtseize can disrupt Arclight Phoenix and Tron. Tuning the available sideboard slots to best utilize these cards is important to success with Dredge.
As mentioned above, Dredge is vulnerable to main deck graveyard hate, and in many post board situations must sacrifice some level of consistency in order to navigate against graveyard hate. Relic of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbomb can singlehandedly win the game, while Surgical Extraction can buy enough time to capitalize on Dredge’s slow interaction. Dredge is reliant on the life gain from Creeping Chill and the board clearing ability of Conflagrate to overcome aggressive decks and struggles when under quick pressure. Izzet Staticaster, Thing in the Ice, and Anger of the Gods can clear Dredge’s board states, buying enough time to find a more permanent answer to graveyard shenanigans. A timely Blood Moon can protect otherwise vulnerable sideboard cards, as the only land Dredge plays is Mountain.
One of the best ways to overcome Dredge is to ignore what the deck does. Conflagrate and Creeping Chill do not interact with Scapeshift or Amulet of Vigor, and this leads to poor matchups against combo decks. Dredge maintains a high win percentage against decks looking to interact, as the resiliency and inevitability presented by recursive threats invalidated much of Modern’s conventional interaction. Dredge can also threaten explosive early game turns, requiring most decks to leave in at least early game interaction.
A more exploitable weakness that Dredge possesses is the inability to have a transformational sideboard plan. Churning through its deck requires skipping a draw, minimizing the ability of Dredge to adapt to dedicated hate. This understanding of the flaws of the archetype explains the primary focus of the sideboard — interacting with opposing sideboard cards. Slowing Dredge down in the early turns can buy opposing decks multiple attack steps or draw steps to progress their game plan, and Dredge lacks catch-up mechanisms beyond that of Conflagrate. The inability to interact with spells contributes to a poor Storm and Titanshift matchup, and the polarizing nature of sideboard options leaves Dredge vulnerable to overlapping forms of hate.
Dredge is a persistent player in the landscape of Modern, and we only recently began seeing stock decklists. With nearly two decades of Magic cards, many alternatives to currently existing card choices are available. Hedron Crab and Insolent Neonate have both seen play in the archetype, but have ultimately been overshadowed by recent changes to the archetype. I’ll leave you with the most recent Dredge decklist, piloted by well known MTGO grinder Rhianne. This decklist is almost the stock dredge list, deviating only in a single Vengeful Pharaoh in the sideboard.
Thank you for checking out this Dredge deck tech, and if you feel I’ve missed anything let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear what content you want next.
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