The upcoming Pro Tour 25th Anniversary will feature Standard, Modern, and Legacy. While Standard gets a lot of time in the spotlight as a matter of course, you might not be quite up to speed on Magic’s Eternal formats. While there are specialists much more qualified than me to do this for Legacy, Modern is my favorite Constructed format and the one I spend the most time playing. In the lead up to the PT, I’ll be breaking down the decks that are likely to see play, and explaining the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at Dredge, and you can find previous deck breakdowns here.
What Dredge Does
Dredge is the pre-eminent graveyard deck. Its name is synonymous with the use and exploitation of all-in graveyard based-synergies. The name comes, of course, from the dredge mechanic, featured on cards like Life from the Loam and Golgari Thug. The dredge mechanic enables decks to fill their graveyards at an incredible pace, which is exactly what this list is trying to do.
From there, a host of recursive creatures—many of them “free”—assail the opposing life total and then burn them down from range with Conflagrate. Bloodghast, Narcomoeba, and Prized Amalgam can all be put into play for free, and often times very quickly and in great numbers. Dredge is capable of explosives fast starts, but also grinds into the late game very strongly with an excellent value game.
The enablers of the deck—Faithless Looting, Life from the Loam, Cathartic Reunion—are deceptively powerful. As there’s very little difference between cards being in the hand or graveyard with this deck, Faithless Looting is essentially a 1 mana draw 2 (or better, when discarding things like Bloodghast). For that reason, it’s very difficult to disrupt Dredge without hard exile effects or dedicated graveyard hate.
Matti Kuisma, 1st place at GP Barcelona 2018
Dredge is exceptionally resistant to almost all game 1 disruption. Removal spells perform poorly against recursive creatures (with the obvious exception of Path to Exile), and rebuilding after a sweeper can sometimes be as simple as playing a land to trigger Bloodghast (which then triggers Prized Amalgam). Additionally, discard spells do virtually nothing against this deck, for the same reasons. It generally doesn’t matter if a card is in hand or in the graveyard—Dredge will find a way to use it.
The flexibility of Dredge when it comes to play style also makes it difficult to tangle with effectively. Sometimes they can nut-draw you and spew 10+ power onto the battlefield by turn 2 or 3, and sometimes they can win a drawn-out 15-turn slugfest with Life from the Loam and Conflagrate. It’s quite difficult to pick the right position to take against Dredge, as the deck is capable of playing both offense and defense very effectively.
Finally, Dredge is a very consistent deck indeed that has little trouble finding the cards it needs. It has ridiculous velocity, and will see a huge number of cards every game thanks to Faithless Looting, Cathartic Reunion, and of course all of the dredge cards. This means that its more narrow 1-ofs (Darkblast, Scourge Devil) are in a much better position to find the perfect moment to overperform.
Dredge is what’s known as a “game 1 deck”. It trades an exceptional game 1 win percentage against an open field against a real vulnerability against targeted hate. In this case, obviously, this includes anything that attacks the graveyard. While decks like Mardu Pyromancer and Storm have a light reliance on the graveyard and can still win through something like a Rest in Peace, it’s nigh-impossible for Dredge to function without unrestricted access to its graveyard. Any and all graveyard hate is super-effective against Dredge.
This weakness isn’t just restricted to post-board cards like Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, or Grafdigger’s Cage. There are a few commonly-played cards in Modern that incidentally hose graveyard strategies: Scavenging Ooze, Terminus, and Path to Exile both cause huge headaches for Dredge players. Any card you can include in your starting 60 that can perpetrate some splash damage to the graveyard is going to bolster this matchup enormously.
Finally, Dredge isn’t always the quickest deck out of the blocks. In fact, it’s much slower than most other “combo” decks. Any non-interactive deck that seeks to ignore opposing game plans will be in a good position against Dredge, assuming sufficient speed. Storm, Ad Nauseam, and KCI can all seek to race against Dredge, and fire their glass cannon in time to see off the recursive hordes.
How to Beat Dredge
As you’re probably anticipating, the best piece of advice for anyone looking to beat Dredge is to include plenty of graveyard hate. Rest in Peace is the best in the biz, but things like Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger’s Cage are exceptional as well. Even Relic of Progenitus or Nihil Spellbomb are great options, although an experienced Dredge player will know how to maneuver around them.
Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the interaction you’re playing. Both Path to Exile and Terminus have huge upside against decks like Dredge, while obviously having their respective downsides (giving them an extra land, costing 6 to hard cast), but they’ll pay dividends in matchups like this.
Outside of specific hate cards, here’s a piece of general advice when playing against Dredge—don’t try to outvalue them. Chances are that your value engine isn’t set up to beat the endless recursion of Dredge. Instead, apply pressure and outclass their somewhat anemic threats with bigger and better creatures.
Dredge isn’t really in fashion at the moment, and may not be on people’s radars for Minneapolis. Oddly enough, this means that it’s the perfect time for the deck to strike—when shields are down and graveyard hate is at a low. There may be some players at the next PT who look to take advantage of exactly this fact!