In Development – Many Dread Returns

My business this week is the graveyard.

Specifically, I’m trying to see whether or not I’ll be bringing a team of Vengevines with me to this weekend’s PTQ. I did last time and they acquitted themselves well, but nothing is assured from event to event, especially with the Extended metagame shifting in the meantime.

But my business this week is the graveyard – all of it.

…and that mean’s today’s column is not about the angry plant, but instead a return trip to check in on Underground Dredge and how I’ve updated to adapt to the mercurial Legacy metagame.

In case you missed it, I talked about Dredge at great length two months ago, in a three-part series:

My Zombies Rise From Seas and Bayous

Be the Big Bad (Part 1)

Be the Big Bad (Part 2)

It’s not utterly essential that you read all three for this week to make sense, but you might want to skim the first one if you’re unfamiliar with my peculiar take on the Dredge archetype.

Today, I’m going to describe how I’ve updated the list in the past couple months, and then some special notes on new and noteworthy enemies on the Legacy scene.

A black and blue world of Wonders

Here’s the most recent version of my Dredge list, as it has developed over the past few months:

Underground Dredge




I’ll discuss the notable changes below.

Wandering away from the Bayou

The most obvious change in the list is the dropping of the singleton Bayou that the old list had, as well as the sideboard copies of Nature’s Claim that it was there to power out. The reasoning here was twofold.

First, Nature’s Claim itself is not a terribly versatile card. Although it can “force the issue” against Relic of Progenitus or Tormod’s Crypt, or nail a Leyline of the Void that’s stifling your game plan, it does nothing against other potential problem cards such as Yixlid Jailer, Gaddock Teeg, and so forth. Or, as we’ll see when we turn to emerging matchups, an opposing Iona, Shield of Emeria.

Second, it was a bit of a contortion to hit the green mana required for Nature’s Claim. Given my overall goal of clarifying Dredge’s mana needs to make the deck hurt me less and run more smoothly, having to hit one land to use a subsection of my sideboard cards forced me to burn resilience by mulliganing when I might not otherwise need to. Remember, mulliganing is a cost.

Given both factors, it made sense to replace Nature’s Claim with the more generic Chain of Vapor. The theoretical downside here is that “They can just cast it again.” Of course, Dredge is frequently able to ensure that the opponent doesn’t get another chance to re-cast the thing you bounced, as you will Chain it away and then go nuts. Even failing that, you can put yourself into position to be able to deal with the problem in some other way – Dread Returning an Angel of Despair out, for example.

Wondering away from gridlock

One of the other potentially obnoxious hang ups for a Dredge deck that is attempting to off a pesky opponent is a choked board – maybe they’ve vomited Elves all over the place but weren’t quite able to kill you, and now it’s your turn to kill them. Or, more frequently, you can generate a kill, but not with that pair of Tarmogoyfs or Tombstalkers they have taking up real estate on the battlefield. This can be a special pain if you need to kill them this turn and you don’t have access to haste via Flame-Kin Zealot, as I often don’t in post-board situations.

Last time I wrote about this list, several of you mentioned a natural fit in Wonder. Since the majority of our lands are Islands at the end of the day, it would be a weird game where you didn’t “control an Island” – and it’s easy enough to mill or pitch that singleton Wonder into your graveyard in the process of your deck running as it normally does.

What’s scarier than flying zombies and horrors?

Arbor day

Although I ditched the Bayou and the deck doesn’t need any green producers, I’ve nonetheless been enjoying having a single copy of Dryad Arbor in my list. It’s obviously not there as a mana producer, but as a convenient way to trade in extraneous fetch lands for a free Cabal Therapy and Dread Return enabler.

Part of building resilience into a deck is maximizing the utility of your cards, and the Arbor is excellent in that regard. It essentially makes every leftover fetch one-third of a Dread Return, and it adds incremental value to your Dread Returns (where by “value” we really mean “zombies”).

In fact, the Arbor is so good at its job that I had to stick another contender on the bench.

Back to Standard for you, sir

Bloodghast seems like another intuitive way to gain additional value from “leftover” fetches. You could imagine dredging it into your graveyard and then dropping an otherwise useless fetch land, recurring it, sacrificing it to power a Cabal Therapy, cracking the fetch for a dual, and so forth. This mirrors those Dredge decks that run Undiscovered Paradise, where the self-bouncing drawback of Undiscovered Paradise is leveraged into an advantage as it fuels repeated Bloodghast recursion.

…and in decks running Undiscovered Paradise, this is a pretty good call. However, in Underground Dredge, the scope of Bloodghast recursion is significantly more limited. Although the deck runs seven fetches, they’re hunting down a paltry three copies of Underground Sea. As a consequence, a typical mid-dredge game state sees you with one Sea on the battlefield, and either one or two in your graveyard. If you happen to still have a fetch in hand, you may be able to crack it to hunt down a Sea and get two Bloodghast recursions out of it.

Which is neat and all, but also requires that you’ve dredged the Bloodghast itself into your graveyard already.

Sure, you could run Dakmor Salvage, but then you’re accepting a mediocre dredge value in exchange for sometimes recurring a Bloodghast.

With Undiscovered Paradise around, Bloodghast is a solid choice, but in this build, it wasn’t worth it.

Enemies, new and old

It’s pretty cool that we have an actual, ongoing Legacy metagame right now – at least in the United States. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, of course, but the last year has given us changes in Legacy that are driven by the usual forces (bannings, unbannings, new sets) and by the week-to-week shifting of a metagame that tries, as usual, to form itself around a prediction of the future based on the most recent major event.

One upshot of a more vigorously shifting metagame is that we might find ourself facing a new host of enemies. In closing out today’s article, I wanted to check in with some of the new opposition, as well as one bad guy who isn’t at all new, but presents particular problems for my take on Dredge.

Fish and zombies – natural enemies

In reviewing the changes to the deck, I let the presence of Cephalid royalty pass without comment. Why have we invited HRH Llawan to take a seat beside the Shield of Emeria in our sideboard?

As it happens, along with all the benefits of the focused fetch-and-dual mana base, we’ve picked up an annoying downside.

We can be islandwalked.

As a consequence, all it takes is one unanswered Lord of Atlantis to really ruin your day.

Llawan serves to counteract this threat, resolving the majority of your troubles by bouncing your opponent’s entire team and then keeping it off the board. The major caveat to that “keeping it off the board” part is, of course, Aether Vial. Remember that Vial can still feed creatures back onto the board, although we’d have to hope that an active Dredge deck can beat an opponent who can only “cast” one Merfolk per turn at best.

I’ve had Blazing Archon suggested to me as an alternate solution to this problem. Unfortunately, although it has the potential to apply to a broader range of matches Archon can be Sowered or Submerged. Although both fates can eventually befall Llawan, when she goes, your opponent is now allowed to rebuild their board state. In contrast, when Archon goes, all their guys who have been sitting around tapping their feet can now rush in and kill the heck out of you.

Incidentally, check out Merfolk aficionado Alex Bertoncini’s deck from last week in Memphis:

Merfolk (as played by Alex Bertoncini)


Check out that graveyard hate.

As Patrick Chapin has noticed, now may be a good time to be abusing the graveyard, which brings us to another enemy that brings with it special concerns…

Yes, they can play with your toys

The “it” deck two generations ago, before the banning of Mystical Tutor, Reanimator has been showing up in fits and starts of late. Here’s a recent example from the Indianapolis Open:

Reanimator (as played by Kyle Kloster)



Kyle’s deck features most of the usual suspects for Reanimator, with Reanimate and Exhume doing the bulk of the work (albeit backed by Animate Dead in this post-Mystical era). The expected reanimation targets have been joined by Platinum Emperion and Stormtide Leviathan, the latter humorously “pre-solved” by our addition of Wonder in the sideboard (NB – you could always also just Angel the thing out of your way).

As always, the truly problematic reanimation candidates are Iona and Blazing Archon. Iona naming ‘black’ goes a long way toward shutting Dredge down. Your only recourse there is to either have boarded in Chain of Vapor (a solid option) or to kill the opponent with Ichorids before they 7/7 you to death. Blazing Archon is a clear roadblock to the Dredge game plan, and is one of the cards that inspired me to maindeck Angel of Despair in the first place.

That isn’t the real reason you need to be on the lookout for a resurgence in Reanimator, however. Instead, the problems it brings you are twofold.

First, more Reanimator will equal more graveyard hate. So it goes. Dredge is more resilient against graveyard hate than most Reanimator builds (hint for Reanimator players – Show and Tell). You’ll just need to stay on your toes, which is what you should be doing anyway.

Second, go read Reanimate and Animate Dead. We’ll wait.

Right. Those have access to all graveyards, including yours where you just dredged into the Iona that will now lock you out of the game. The answer here is not to board out everything that might be a viable reanimation target for your opponent, but rather to be aware of this. For example, when playing against Reanimator it is sometimes correct to wait one turn for your One Big Turn, if that means you are more likely to achieve a really big OBT, such that any Ionas that you dredge into will be able to be deployed, and won’t be hanging out waiting to betray you.

The corollary to the concern about Reanimate and Animate Dead is the potential vulnerability of Exhume. Take a moment to read that one as well.

In most matchups, Exhume is a magnificently asymmetric card. The Reanimator player gets Iona, and their opponent gets a Wild Nacatl. But you have the opportunity to “seed” your graveyard with something like Angel of Despair that is simultaneously “not quite good enough” for them to blow 8 life Reanimating, but is also plenty good enough to Vindicate an Iona if they cast Exhume.

Seas versus Tides

At the San Jose Open, I ended my Legacy Sunday sitting, somewhat braindead from accumulated fatigue, next to a series of playtest games between Matt Nass and Patrick Chapin. Pat was trying to break (re-break, perhaps) the recently unbanned Time Spiral.

It has, at least to some extent, now been officially re-broken.

High Tide (as played by Gerry Thompson)

It’s possible we’ll see some graveyard hate in High Tide sideboards in the future, if Reanimator manages to make a splash. However, aside from that, High Tide is, at least so far…easy.

I’m hesitant to call things easy, mostly because work in the lab has trained me out of that. If you ever hear me call something “straightforward,” that’s my special replacement word for “easy.” It means, “This really ought to be easy, but things happen.”

So perhaps we should call the High Tide matchup “straightforward.” Either way, High Tide as a combo deck is essentially slower than you are, and the only legitimate resistance it can offer is countermagic, which is on the weak end of things that we care about when we’re piloting Dredge.

There is the risk that you are in one sense an easy mark, since the deck’s kill is milling, and you’re already powering through your deck for them. However, you are equipped with Cabal Therapies and massive card advantage.

This matchup, at least until High Tide players really start leaning into the graveyard hate, is one of the few where I want to keep the overextension in the deck for sideboarded games. Against Gerry’s list, I’d be inclined to sideboard like so:





If I could magically help it, I wouldn’t side out the Breakthrough or Thug, but I want the Unmasks, so something has to go. The dream scenario is to dredge into a few Cabal Therapies, and then Unmask your way into their hand and go to town.

Then kill them with zombies.

At least for the moment, High Tide is a combo that is simultaneously slower than Dredge and not particularly resilient to Dredge’s plan of attack.

Today’s theme ingredients are corpses and water

There are obviously other “new” decks to consider when you’re playtesting and adjusting your Dredge build – Forgemaster Combo and Eldrazi Post, for example. But they’re honestly pretty standard fare for Legacy – Forgemaster and Eldrazi generate unfair amounts of mana, and Forgemaster and the various Show and Tell decks cheat things into play at reduced costs. Nothing much to see here, as long as you remember your Dredge essentials. The decks I have focused on here – which prompted some of the changes I began the article with – represent the type of deck you want to give special consideration to as you assault the ongoing Legacy metagame with your zombie hordes. They either present special challenges, as is the case with Merfolk and Reanimator – or represent a particularly soft spot in the metagame – as we see with High Tide.

So, two tricky matchups and one free roll.

At least, that’s how I see it for now. What do you think?

magic (at) alexandershearer.com
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11 thoughts on “In Development – Many Dread Returns”

  1. It looks like this article should have gone up on Friday. You missed the boat with all the graveyard decks in the Top 16 in LA.

  2. The best part of playing dredge vs. high tide is when they tutor with Merchant Scroll. Why hewro Mr. Cabal Therapy! The card is pretty fantastic against Cunning Wish as well, and can actually just time walk them when they pass to keep Wish up.

  3. Ya, he did have some success with it at the GPT. But after he reached the top 8 everything went downhill from there.

  4. Hey Alexander,

    Thanks for the articles on dredge. I put together a dredge deck as a result and am enjoying it immensely. Maybe you could do a few videos showing dredge in action? That would be really helpful – while the overall goal is fairly straightforward, there are a lot of little nuances that I could use some help with.


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  6. Second the call for a deck tech video! I don’t play older formats but still enjoy reading the articles. I’m not entirely clear on how the Dredge deck works.

  7. Hi
    If you were playing dredge vs. ad nauseam, would you take something out (and if you would, what would it be?) and put something of the sideboard in, like Iona and block black for the ad nauseams, tendrills, rituals…or simply play, without put something of the sideboard in, and try to spoil his and with the therapys and go on dredging?
    Sorry if you or everybody think that this questions are stupid, but i’m portuguese, and here there are few legacy tornaments and I want to play them, and I have this doubts…I allways played with dredge, and I will continue to play with it 😉
    Stay cool

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