Life on the Dredge

It is possible that I’ve complained and hated on Dredge as a deck, mechanic, and lifestyle choice more than any other MTG writer over the years. I’ve been throwing hate at Dredge for over a decade.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to put in the reps and learn how to pilot Modern Dredge. At first, it was honest curiosity. I wanted to know how the deck worked, what it was capable of, and how to better fight against it. You know, for academic purposes…

It didn’t take long before I was Dredging all the time. I was Dredging at Tuesday Night Modern, FNM, and I even Dredged at an RPTQ. I’m so ashamed. I Dredged and I liked it.

I’d like to go over the card choices of my list and spend some time on how to sideboard with the deck, since it is tricky and I wasn’t able to find enough information on the subject when I was learning the deck.


Brian DeMars

The Mana and the Main Deck

There are two camps when it comes to the Dredge mana base: fetchlands and 5-color. I prefer fetches to the Gemstone Mine and Mana Confluence, but there are pros and cons to each version.

The 5-color deck has more sources of each color, but the fetch version can bring back Bloodghast after a sweeper. Fetches also make Loam a little more robust when it comes to stocking up for a big Conflagrate.

Some fetch lists don’t play Steam Vents. I’ve found there are a lot of games (especially after sideboard when people have graveyard hate) where being able to cast Amalgam and Narcomoeba is important and so I opt for Vents.

The other change I made from the stock Dredge list was to cut Shriekhorn and add Darkblast.

The only thing I liked about Shriekhorn was that it was always the first card I wanted to sideboard out. Darkblast is cheap and easy to get into the graveyard and the upside of having such an effect is pretty high against Noble Hierarch decks (especially Infect).

I don’t want to overload on reactive cards, but Darkblast feels like it provides flexibility and still progresses your goldfish draw.

Sideboarding with Dredge

The hardest part about learning Dredge is how to use the sideboard properly. I was surprised about how little reading was available on the subject and so learning it was a trial by fire.

There are a few cards in the board that do obvious things:

Graveyard hate is for graveyard decks. Gnaw to the Bone is for burn decks. These are straightforward.

Most of the sideboard cards are weird and reactive in not-so-obvious ways, because most of what Dredge is trying to accomplish post-board is to beat opposing hate cards.

These cards are a beating, and since everybody is going to have some form of graveyard hate, you need to adapt our game plan to compensate.

I didn’t light the world on fire at the RPTQ, but to my opponents’ credit they were prepared. In every sideboard game I played, my opponent cast at least 1 Rest In Peace or Ravenous Trap. I won every game where they had one hate card but lost most of the games where they had two or more. I was impressed with how consistently I could beat one and sometimes two serious hate cards.

Your Answers to Their Hate

Most of the best hate cards are artifacts and enchantments:

It is no surprise that a huge percentage of the sideboard is dedicated to blowing up these cards.

The most important cards you need to answer are Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage. If these cards get into play and you are unable to remove them, it is difficult to do much of anything. They must be destroyed.

In addition to destroying resolved Cages and Rest in Peaces, you can also strip them out of your opponent’s hand before he or she ever gets the chance to cast them.

It is worth noting some decks don’t play artifact or enchantment hate and rely on instants to interact with your graveyard:

Thoughtseize is great at stripping these spells away before they ever get the chance to injure you.

Cheap removal rounds out the rest of the sideboard. Darkblast is awesome against Infect and other Noble Hierarch decks, and Lightning Axe is important for killing things like Scavenging Ooze, Anafenza, and Kalitas. Abrupt Decay is also good at killing cheap creatures in a pinch.

So What Do I Take Out?

The reason sideboarding with Dredge is so hard is that there is no uniform way to sideboard—you often board based on what you anticipate your opponent is bringing in.

The first and most important step is to try to figure out which cards and how many copies your opponent is likely to bring in against you. In order to sideboard with Dredge you need to do your homework and know what various decks typically do against Dredge. You need to know Bant Eldrazi has between 4-6 Cages and Rest in Peace, Grixis Delver has 3-4 Surgical and Ravenous Trap but no artifacts or enchantments, and Jund has Cages and Surgicals, and sideboard accordingly.

When in doubt you can often gain information by watching to see how many cards your opponent sideboards in. If they bring in 5+ cards, you know you need to go deep with your anti-hate package.

There are a few cards that tend to be the easiest to cut, and I’d like to go through those first.

If you are not bringing the other Darkblast in, you should board Darkblast out.

Scourge Devil is a better game-1 than post-board card. The games tend to become less about doing whatever you want and more about interacting with hate. Devil comes out in most matchups.

I typically sideboard out several copies of Reunion against decks with a lot of Counterspells. There is nothing worse than setting the opponent up to 3-for-1 you.

These are the easiest cards to take out because they are bad in certain matchups. The rest of the deck is just a pile of synergy and most of the cards feel interchangeable. Since the cards all do similar things I make more room for sideboard cards by shaving where I can.

Against decks where Darkblast is bad, I often shave a copy of Conflagrate.

Sometimes if I’m trying to bring in 7 or 8 cards against a matchup where I know they have a lot of annoying enchantments or artifacts, I’ll cut 1 Stinkweed Imp, Life from the Loam, and/or Prized Amalgam to make room for more substantive spells.

As long as you can keep your graveyard free of hate, you’ll be able to do your thing. The key is to not get locked out of the game by Rest in Peace and the like.

Dredge is a challenging deck to play and can be tricky to sideboard with. I never thought I’d be writing about my experience playing Dredge but I guess there is a first time for everything! The deck is interesting because it affords the pilot a ton of options and lines. I was impressed by the amount of grind the deck has to it. It is worth checking out and jumping in if you are looking for something different and exciting to try out.

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