Breaking Through – Journey to the Grave

When I look at a new set, I look for sweet cards to build around or combos to explore. Because of how I build decks, there has almost never been a time that I looked for cards that add to an existing deck. Spikes get to do this all the time. What does Journey into Nyx have for Esper or Mono-Black? There is a good chance you already know the answer to that.

And for this set in particular, I get to join!

Theros block has had a running black/green theme centered on the graveyard. You might not have noticed, as it was not the loudest theme, but cards like Nemesis of Mortals, Commune with the Gods, and Pharika’s Mender littered both sets. While Journey is only half spoiled so far, that theme looks to be extremely pronounced. Good graveyard synergies means more toys for Dredge, which I am very excited about.

When Born of the Gods came out, Dredge picked up enough to make it a viable deck with Satyr Wayfinder, but overall, the deck remained very similar. Herald of Torment found its way in and some one-ofs may have moved around, but with Journey, there are already a half-dozen cards that look very exciting for the deck, meaning a larger makeover may be on the horizon.

Rather than thinking about what replaces what, we need to look at the deck as a whole, as it may move in a new direction. We can isolate cards that are weaker in the current shell, as well as cards that are core, because they will likely continue to play an important role in the deck.

There is so much goodness here that I am just going to walk through them in alphabetical order.

Brain Maggot

You may have looked at this and not really pegged it as a Dredge card, but it is. Many decks can and will run Mesmeric Fiend, but it has particularly strong implications for Dredge due to the type line. Thoughtseize is a very important card in the sideboard for the deck and this might be a nice upgrade.

While this can be killed to reclaim the card for your opponent, that is ignoring the fact that the rest of your deck is comprised of threats. If they are going after your Maggot with a Detention Sphere or Hero’s Downfall in order to unlock that Elspeth, they are taking a beating from the adjacent Nighthowler or Pharika. This could be too fragile to outright replace Thoughtseize, but it is certainly worth discussing.

Font of Return

You may have looked at this card as only a Limited card advantage engine that will have you pulling your hair out in long attrition matchups, but it might have a shot in Constructed as well. Returning three creatures is just such a big number that there is potential for abuse here. This can be grabbed with Commune with the Gods or Kruphix’s Insight and also triggers constellation effects which might be very relevant.

Four mana is quite the activation cost, so you would not really want more than one or two of these if you do experiment with it. I am far from sold on the card, but it could be nice in certain matchups. If nothing else, this will be a nice card for budget versions of the deck.

Ritual of the Returned


I wanted to talk about this card specifically because a lot of people have a misunderstanding of power and toughness in the graveyard. Quite a few years back now (during Time Spiral I believe) I remember learning that power and toughness setting abilities always applied. This means that a Tarmogoyf that is a 4/5 while in play will still be a 4/5 in the graveyard. He is not a 0/0 or even a 0/1, meaning that if you were to try to Reveillark it back, you would not be able to.

This little rule seems to be the cause of all the confusion however. While most ‘Goyf-style cards do in fact have power and toughness setting abilities, most of the cards you would think have them in Dredge actually don’t. First, let’s look at the easy one: Jarad.

Jarad is a 2/2 as printed. Sure, he has an ability that gives him +1/+1 for each creature in your ‘yard, but that is a power and toughness altering ability, not one that sets it. His set power and toughness is a 2/2. Think about his line of text in a different way and it might make more sense. What if it was the Sedge Troll text where Jarad gets +1/+1 if you control a Swamp. I think most people would probably assume it didn’t get that in the graveyard but it just so happens that Mortivore text is commonly power and toughness setting, making Jarad stick out.

The even more confusing example of this in Dredge is Nighthowler. It might seem like Nighthowler is just Mortivore, but that pesky Bestow keyword screws things up here. Because Nighthowler needs to explain that it gives the bestowed creature +X/+X, the Nighthowler itself has an actual power and toughness of 0/0. This is because its power and toughness bossting must apply to both it and the potential enchanted creature, meaning a power and toughness setting line of text would not work.

This all means that casting Ritual of the Ruined on Jarad gives you a 2/2 and on Nighthowler gives you a 0/0. There are 5/5s and such in the deck, but without either giant creature a valid target, this probably just isn’t very good.

Kruphix’s Insight

Having more self-mill cards around as options is never a bad thing, so even if this does not make the cut initially, I am glad to see it printed. That said, let’s actually take a look at this card. This mills more than any other single card we have access to right now by digging six cards deep. One extra card is not game-breaking, but it is 20% more mill. In addition, being able to actually generate card advantage is not something this deck is used to. Currently, our seven total enchantment creatures are not enough to justify this, but there are quite a few strong enchantments in Journey that might make drawing 3 off of this a reality.

However, the biggest hurdle is that extra mana. Three mana is so much more than two that it is going to be tough justifying this over Grisly Salvage and Commune with the Gods until rotation. That said, maybe this is intended to be played as a one- or two-of to supplement those cards without replacing them. Being a sorcery matters, but not enough to keep the card from seeing play.

Once we have a good idea of just how many enchantments we are picking up in this set, we should certainly return to this card and give it a second look, because card advantage is sweet.

Strength From the Fallen


This card is one of the more exciting options when we are looking at this deck specifically because it is just a doppelganger of Bestowed Nighthowler, but with much higher potential for abuse with less overall consistency. Two mana turns one of your random mana dorks or maybe even Brain Maggot into a legitimate threat for the turn. This is especially good when paired with Pharika as the God not only produces tokens for this to target, but also produces enchantment tokens to trigger this.

You lose the constant pressure that a Nighthowler puts on the opponent, but you also gain explosive turns that are nearly impossible to play around. When you have 6 mana, you can play this, then bestow a Nighthowler, triggering this again, to turn three of your creatures into giants for the turn. That isn’t even too convoluted of a scenario. Once repeat enchantment-makers enter the mix, this can get very nasty.

All of that said, this is a card that is only used to win the game or apply a lot of pressure, but is not good in many situations. This will not fill your graveyard or draw you a land early like many of the cards in your deck, so it is limited to utility in the mid- to late game. As a result, I don’t think lists will be running four copies of this, but it is a very strong tool going forward.

Nyx Weaver

Yes please! So, at first, I looked at this card and was a little unsure of whether or not it had what it takes. Spending three mana on a 2/3 is not the most exciting thing in the world. The more I thought about it though, the more this seemed like Nightveil Specter for a Dredge deck. Both provide a 2/3 body that blocks fliers, which is pretty nice. Nightveil draws you cards from your opponent’s deck while this nets you card advantage by filling up your ‘yard turn after turn. Nyx Weaver is much more reliable than Specter, even if its advantage is not as tangible.

The Regrowth function is reasonable and will come up many times within a game, but we don’t need to design around it specifically. When we looked into cards like Odunos River Trawler, we wanted to contour our deck around him. Not only does Nyx Weaver not care what he returns, but it is not even his primary purpose within the deck.

As an added bonus, this Spider is an enchantment to trigger constellation and provide additional fodder for stuff like Kruphix’s Insight. Also, being a 2/3 reach is huge for one of this deck’s worst matchups in Mono-Blue Devotion, as their fliers are a big reason they hold so much inevitability.

Pharika, God of Affliction

Well hello there. I was in the market for a new God to worship anyway. Pharika is a very interesting card with a lot of intricacies that have turned some people off. I don’t think that is fair though. First of all, let us approach this from the angle of a 5/5 indestructible creature. Keep in mind that we are getting that for just three mana. Sure, it will not always be on, but this deck fuels devotion quite well. Jarad provides 4 devotion by himself, and most of our cards are double pipped. Nighthowler, Nemesis of Mortals, Herald of Torment, Nyx Weaver, Shadowborn Demon, and Whip of Erebos get you to 7 pretty quick.

As far as the ability goes, yes, it is in fact good. Many people are wondering why your opponent gets the 1/1 when you hit their graveyard or are concerned that shrinking your Nighthowlers and Jarads is too big of a drawback. While all of those things might be true, you are never required to do any of those things when they are not advantageous, and we have not even talked about upside.

This is another enchantment for constellation. Also, the creatures this makes are enchantments, meaning you get repeatable constellation effects when you desire them. If you choose to take the deck a different angle and abuse just constellation in order to draw cards or Doomwake Giant the opposing team, Pharika will be crucial.

Regarding this diminishing your synergies, that is generally not going to be the case. You cannot just go activating Pharika super early as you will be prioritizing casting additional spells from your hand to turn Pharika into a creature. In the mid-game, if you are activating Pharika, it is because you are picking off a big attacker or something certainly worth the -1/-1 to your Nighthowler. And then, in the late game, where this ability is best, your Nighthowlers going from 12/12s down to 9/9s is hardly going to matter. What does matter is that instant speed creature you plopped out on your opponent’s endstep to follow up Supreme Verdict. Because that token is about to pick up a Nighthowler and go to town. Too bad the Nighthowler is slightly smaller though…

Temple of Malady

This is easily the card that Dredge has been looking forward to the most. The mana in Dredge definitely needs some work and this helps with that. While entering play tapped is a big drawback, scry 1 is almost at its most powerful in this deck, as I described in my analysis of Jund Dredge. Each of your draw steps offers the potential of a 20/20 or a dead land, so having some control over that is huge.

Mana Confluence

While we certainly did not see this one coming, we will take it! Dredge is one of the decks that can best take advantage of mana fixing in exchange for life. Not only does it have some nice ways to recoup life loss in Deathrite Shaman and Whip of Erebos, it is also almost always the aggressor, making its life total less relevant. Having a black source that can cast early mana creatures is very nice and having access to dual lands 9-12 should have the mana in this deck running smoothly. It may end up being the case that you only want two or three of these in your list in extremely aggressive metagames, but it will certainly be in the deck in some capacity.

Wrap Up

We still have about half of the set to go and I am looking forward to it all. Born of the Gods was a bit of a downer in terms of exciting cards to brew around but Journey seems to have that covered in spades. Once the whole set is out, look for an article covering new Dredge directions equipped with lists. Thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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