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In Development – One Big Stack of Death

We don’t get bonus points in life for never changing our minds.

It’s been a little while since I’ve written about Legacy in general and about Dredge in particular…and since the last time I did so, the environment has changed, some of my ideas about the deck have changed, and as a consequence, I’ve updated my Dredge build.

Today I’m going to touch on the basics, talk about what hasn’t changed, spend more time on what has, and then admit to a tremendous sin of cognitive omission and tell you how I’ve completely changed the mechanic of how I play Dredge.

It’s still the same old game (more or less)

Overall, the fundamentals of playing Dredge have not switched up all that dramatically since the last time I wrote about the archetype. It’s still about unfair card advantage, shocking resiliency, and that OBT.

A mugging and a boxing match

The same G1/G2-3 divide defines Dredge’s role in the Legacy universe. If you missed it the first time around, I spoke in great detail about game one here, and game two here.

The concise refresher is that in game one, Dredge typically wants to punch the combo side of its aggro/combo dance card, most often by generating an explosive One Big Turn (OBT), typically though some combination of dredge cards, draw spells, [card]Dread Return[/card]s, and draw/discard creatures. In days past, I’ve capped off my OBTs with a [card]Flame-Kin Zealot[/card] leading a swarm of Zombies, but that’s all changed in recent months. Sometimes you do just aggro the opponent out instead, killing them with [card]Ichorid[/card]s and [card Golgari Grave-Troll]Grave-Trolls[/card], and that’s fine, too. For sideboarded games, you typically lean much more on the aggro side of the equation, preferring not to suicidally overextend into graveyard hate.

So all the basics remain the same, even if the details of their execution may have changed.

Still don’t like lands that don’t like me

Opinions to the contrary definitely haven’t swayed me on this one.

I don’t like losing to my own mana base. I don’t want to be oned to death, or threed to death, or have my lands dissolve out from under me – I needed those later in the game!

I also really still enjoy being able to cash in a spare [card]Misty Rainforest[/card] for a [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] that I can then use to power up a [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] or [card]Dread Return[/card]. I know the Dryad is my own peculiar affectation among Dredge pilots, but I get so much mileage out of it, I want to keep it in.

Even if I did decide to walk away from fetches and duals, I wouldn’t go for the bad relationship-fest that typical Dredge decks use. They’re just going to hurt you and leave you, you know. Better to find something more reliable, perhaps something like this:

4 [card]Darkslick Shores[/card] 4 [card]Cephalid Coliseum[/card] 4 [card]Underground River[/card] 1 [card]Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[/card] 1 [card]Shizo, Death’s Storehouse[/card] 1 [card]Minamo, School at Water’s Edge[/card]

Yes, [card]Underground River[/card] damages you sometimes, but it can also pay for a [card]Daze[/card] or the colorless in an X=1 [card]Breakthrough[/card] without causing you harm, which is convenient.

And no, the three Legendary Lands aren’t a joke. I figure if I’m ever going to eschew fetches, I might as well benefit from not being Islandwalked by Merfolk. Also, Urborg helps fix your mana and Shizo and Minamo actually interact nicely with your new finisher of choice (see below).

Curiously, other Legendary options include the original Urborg and [card]Tolaria[/card] (not to be confused with the ridiculously useful Academy located in the same area). Both are, well, not so useful…but actually pretty cheap, all things considered.

Fully strapped, always packed

…was the title of this supplement for Mayfair’s bizarre, dystopian “superhero” game Underground, which came to mind just now by dint of my name for the deck. Underground was the pleasingly demented product of Ray Winninger, who is now an executive producer at Microsoft Game Studios.

Just so you know. Here’s the current list:

Underground Dredge

[deck]4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Golgari Thug
4 Bridge from Below
4 Narcomoeba
4 Breakthrough
4 Careful Study
4 Putrid Imp
4 Cabal Therapy
3 Dread Return
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Angel of Despair
2 Hapless Researcher
3 Ichorid
4 Cephalid Coliseum
3 Underground Sea
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Dryad Arbor
Sideboard:
1 Ichorid
1 Ancestor’s Chosen
1 Wonder
1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Realm Razer
4 Faerie Macabre
4 Rotting Rats
1 Progenitus[/deck]

A little different, right? More on that below.

The dead are oddly adaptable

As Legacy continues to be an actual going concern, we’ve all learned that it’s a genuinely dynamic format, changing with each new Magic set and, unsurprisingly, with each new banning. Clearly, there were some reasonably large shifts in the deck, even if the essential core has remained the same. So what happened?

A Dredge deck should dredge

For this one, I have to thank a rereading of Richard Feldman. I’d been noticing, off and on, that I’d end up taking awkward losses when the deck would stumble, ending up in a becalmed due to a lack of dredgers in the right location (that is to say, in my graveyard rather than my hand). Conveniently, Gavin Verhey was there to remind me about Richard Feldman’s last Dredge article, and the article was there to remind me that Dredge is a dredge deck.

I’m not planning on going for the manaless variety anytime soon – I think there’s a lot left wanting in that approach – but I did realize that the “stumble” moments were a product of simply not having enough dredge in the deck.

Thus, going to a full four copies of [card]Golgari Thug[/card]. I’m sure I’d partially been thinking of [card]Golgari Thug[/card] in terms of its other abilities, but that was a mistake. A 1/1 may seem conceptually less exciting than a spell that can actually kill something from time to time, but a free Tidings is way better than a free [card]Ancestral Recall[/card].

Also, conveniently, more Thugs equals more [card]Ichorid[/card] fuel. This also helps keep the deck moving.

I’ve also found that I agree with Richard’s point about Darkblast. I pretty much never, ever want to Darkblast something. It remained in as a “should have this just in case” kind of contingency, which is a terrible reason to run a card.

Slowing down every so slightly

Conversely, even as I boosted my dredge count to keep the deck moving, I pulled back on trying to get the deck to chain together a truly ridiculous OBT.

Or, more simply, I took out that [card]Sphinx of Lost Truths[/card].

The reasoning is twofold.

First, as the count of dredge cards increases, the Sphinx becomes less necessary. The deck is more likely to generate significant dredge turns all on its own.

Second, our enemies in the format are actually a little bit slower and more fragile than they once were. [card]Hive Mind[/card] may have you thinking otherwise, but this does appear to be the case. Perhaps it’s the fault of [card]Mental Misstep[/card]? I don’t know, but I do know that opponents are giving me more turns lately.

Angel trumps Zealot

In addition to being slower, the format also responds a lot better these days to being gut punched by [card]Iona, Shield of Emeria[/card].

And by “responds better” I do mean “loses a lot more.”

The primary motivation for running [card]Flame-Kin Zealot[/card] previously was that there were enough decks in the format that would do something terrible to you even through a resolved Iona and a pile of zombies. Thus, just killing them was a good option.

The problem with the Zealot kill, of course, was that you needed to hit a critical mass of zombie overflow. Miss that mark, and the opponent got another turn to knock you off. Iona, on the other hand, can rise from the dead with a minimal coterie of zombies to defend the ground, then wag her finger disapprovingly at your opponent’s clearly immoral color choice and buy you a whole extra turn to swarm them with Ichorids while your gigantic angel beats them to death.

This ability to deploy an Iona with a minimal zombie suite makes her awesome as long as the format supports you not dying to other causes. That seems to be the case lately, so Iona is back in the main deck rotation.

Changing that boxing match

You probably noticed how different the sideboard is. There’s a reason for that.

In writing about sideboarded games, I made the point that we can afford to dilute our deck’s power and consistency to run countermeasures against their hate specifically because most opposing decks have to screw up their game plan to try and hate us out.

This is actually still true. The thing is, however, that we really want to be careful in situations like this to evaluate our game plan and see if we’re gaining enough resiliency in exchange for the power we lose.

We don’t.

At least that’s what I’ve concluded these days.

As I’ve talked about before, mulliganing is a cost. And having to mulligan to a new game plan (“hit my anti-hate cards”) that is different from our core winning game plan (“be an awesome Dredge deck”) is a significant overall cost. Given that the opponent also has to mulligan into their hate, then our upside is potentially being able to stop their hate if they hit it, and the downside is wrecking our game plan and handing the win to them.

So I’ve tossed most of the dedicated countermeasures in favor of silver bullets and cards that really tilt certain matchups while still playing into the deck’s overall winning game plan.

Hoping to hit a [card]Chain of Vapor[/card] to take out your opponent’s [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] is actually way less powerful than slinging [card Cabal Therapy]Cabal Therapies[/card] into their mutilated game plan and then killing them with Imps, [card]Narcomoeba[/card]s, and single-use [card]Ichorid[/card]s.

New members of the undead legions

As you no doubt noticed, the minor maindeck changes have been mirrored by fairly dramatic alterations to the sideboard.

Also, I apparently mixed my Rats theme deck in there, right?

Let’s take a look at some of the new cards.

[card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card]

Kills [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emrakul[/card].

Kills [card Iona, Shield of Emeria]Iona[/card].

Kills [card]Progenitus[/card].

Also, you can actually cast it more often than you’d expect.

[card]Faerie Macabre[/card]

Reanimator is actually one of the harsher matchups for Dredge. There’s the obvious issue that they can just steal your darn creatures (which is why I side Iona out against Reanimator). There’s also the, well, equally obvious issue that a Reanimator deck can hard lock you out of the game with a [card]Blazing Archon[/card] and an [card Iona, Shield of Emeria]Iona[/card] on black.

(It’s actually not a 100% hard lock, if you can manage to hard cast a [card Phyrexian Metamorph]Metamorph[/card]. But realistically, it’s a lock.)

One approach here, and versus other decks that operate via the graveyard, is to run Leylines of your own. But this still suffers from our standard sideboard card issue – it doesn’t play into our primary game plan. Even worse, you can’t cast it if you end up drawing into it after your opening hand.

[card]Faerie Macabre[/card] is a solid pinpoint assassin against graveyard-dependent strategies. It’s an activated ability, so they can’t [card Force of Will]Force[/card], [card]Daze[/card], or [card Mental Misstep]Misstep[/card] it…and almost no one’s running [card]Stifle[/card] right now. Also, it doesn’t cost you any mana, so you can do it regardless of your board state or need to do other things that turn.

It also can’t be bounced like a Leyline or prematurely destroyed like a Crypt.

…and it’s a black creature, so each [card]Faerie Macabre[/card] that ends up getting dredged into the graveyard serves as additional [card]Ichorid[/card] fuel. Super handy.

[card]Progenitus[/card]

This is another idea straight from Feldman. He used [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card], but I happen to own some copies of [card]Progenitus[/card], and it has prettier art anyway. The whole point here is to have a defense against the [card]Painter’s Servant[/card] kill (and any similar kills that might pop up).

[card]Rotting Rats[/card]

So, it’s a given in almost all cases that [card]Breakthrough[/card] comes out for sideboarded games. The card is amazing when you’re not facing the possibility of hate, but is a tremendous risk otherwise. That said, sometimes you want to be able to push aggressively against the opponent’s game plan – say, when they’re playing certain types of combo decks – even without [card]Breakthrough[/card].

Feldman chose [card]Winds of Change[/card] here. Obviously, the two-color manabase doesn’t support that. Even if it did, Winds is one of those cards I dislike by dint of the fact that you need to have it in your opening hand, and all the copies that get dredged away do nothing.

Enter the Rats. The Rats do a couple things for the deck. They can be hard cast at two mana – which the deck typically does reach, simultaneously letting you pitch a dredger and chip away at the opponent’s game plan.

They can also be [card]Unearth[/card]ed for the same typically reachable price, serving the exact same purpose. Thus, dredging them away is just fine – they can still enable future dredging and eat away at your opponent’s hand from your graveyard.

It’s kind of weird, but the Rats have worked really well so far.

Changing up my Dredge mechanics

I’m so big on testing ideas rather than making assumptions, I’m chagrined to admit that the physical mechanics of my Dredge play were entirely the product of an assumption.

My working memory is not great (although my long-term memory is stellar, which is an interesting pairing). Given that, I’d assumed, with some evidence from my experience with other graveyard-related decks, that I just needed to run Dredge in the “exploded graveyard” style. You can see that in action in the pictures for this article.

The thing is, the situation had changed and I didn’t realize it.

When I’ve played other decks that care about the graveyard, such as [card Gifts Ungiven]Gifts[/card], I kept my graveyard expanded. The idea here was to give me easy access to the cards in it so I could check at a glance, instead of telegraphing “I have an [card]Eternal Witness[/card] in hand” or anything like that. I think that’s likely still something I’d want to do even now, because the identity of the cards in my graveyard won’t be something I can successfully keep in mind at all times.

(Although I am inclined to just write it on my notepad these days.)

But Dredge is different.

In Dredge, your graveyard is your hand. Your hand is really your “backup hand.” You touch your graveyard all the time, multiple times per turn. Paradoxicallly, if you leave it spread out in front of you like a Vegas buffet, you pay less attention to its contents, and are more likely to miss a key card even though it’s right there in front of you.

On the other hand, if you have to rifle through your graveyard every time you access something in it or add cards to it, you are being continually reacquainted with its contents. You’re basically building a graveyard-related OODA loop into your play procedure.

…and, as a bonus, it makes it harder for your opponent to keep track of the cards you have access to in your graveyard, and forces them to tip their hand about their interest in it by having to ask to see it.

Thus, my procedure now is that my graveyard is one big stack of cards. When I add cards to it, I pick it up. When my upkeep starts, I pick it up (to check for Ichorids and pick a dredger). When priority is passed to me, I pick it up.

…and as a consequence, I’m now far less likely to forget that something is in there for me to use and far more facile with my options.

As I said, I’m chagrined that I didn’t test this at least once before deciding I needed to operate the deck the other way. I’d also like to thank Frankie Mach, my last opponent at the San Jose Legacy Open and semifinalist at the Los Angeles Open, for showing me the power of operating a Dredge deck this way.

A series of upgrades

So that’s where I stand on Dredge at the moment. I think it’s worth closing by emphasizing that many of the upgrades to my basic Dredge frame and game plan came from listening to other players. It’s our inclination, maybe even our default, to dig in our heels first, and then maybe come around afterward. But as I said in the opener, you get no bonus points in life for this.

Instead, we level up when we pause, listen, and then adapt what we hear to push our own performance.

***
magic (at) alexandershearer.com
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