Maximum Value – Dredging Extended


You can probably expect to play against Dredge at least once this PTQ season. Indeed, Dredge is so powerful that you may play it yourself. Either way, you should certainly be aware of what sideboard configurations are most effective against Dredge, and how Dredge can combat those strategies.

The list:

One With Nothing Is Not Out Of The Question


“draw cards”


my graveyard is my hand




it’s legit to hate on the haters

SB: 4 Ancient Grudge
SB: 4 Echoing Truth
SB: 3 Leyline of the Void
SB: 4 Thoughtseize

Most people use Flame-Kin Zealot as their win condition, using Sphinx of Lost Truths to dig for it so that they can “always kill” their opponent the same turn they flashback Dread Return. Personally, I find that a 7/7 flier who Meddling Mages my opponent’s deck is good enough, particularly when she brings a bunch of Zombies to the party. I have not lost any games when I have resolved Dread Return on Iona, Shield of Emeria. The maindeck Darkblast can go after maindeck Meddling Mages. Overgrown Tomb can be frustrating to draw, but lets you keep Island, fetchland, Glimpse and still be able to recur Loam going long.

The simplest way for most decks to interact with Dredge in game one is by using their removal on their own creatures to burn your Bridges from Below. Playing a Dread Return target that is so completely kold to such a plan is the height of folly. I’ve also had corner case situations occur where I reanimate Sphinx and miss on whatever I am digging for. There are games where you get back Iona and grind out a close game instead of winning in a total blowout with hasty Zombie beats, but I still win all those games. Meanwhile, I am not kold to “Sakura-Tribe Elder, go.” Flame-Kin Zealot used to be a necessary evil to fight combo decks, but Iona locks those decks out regardless. I’ve not yet been in a situation where Cryptic Command was able to open up a window for a Gifts or Scapeshift deck to sneak their combo into play.

Playing game ones with Dredge is relatively basic. In general, mulligan until your hand contains Hedron Crab and a fetchland, Drowned Rusalka and a card with dredge, Glimpse the Unthinkable, or Ideas Unbound and some cards with dredge. Start dredging. Get some Narcomoebas and Bloodghasts. Dread Return something, probably getting some Zombies for value. Win.

Playing against Dredge in game one is also pretty straightforward because there aren’t many ways to profitably interact with Dredge. Hopefully, you will be able to contain their discard outlets with permission or removal and either bludgeon them to death with animals or combo off before they can recover.

More specifically:

When you have Drowned Rusalka and another creature, you are in very good shape; you can usually find a Narcomoeba and a Bridge or a Bloodghast to feed to Rusalka and dredge away your library while creating multiple Zombies. When you don’t have another creature, Rusalka isn’t as impressive, but it’ll still get your engine going.

As a general rule, neither Drowned Rusalka or Hedron Crab should be played on turn one, because it’s very hard to win when either creature is removed before you can use their relevant abilities. Similarly, while using a fetchland to landfall in response to landfall for deckthinning purposes is neat, getting Bolted in response to the fetchland is awkward. It’s usually better to be able to respond to removal or wait to activate Bloodghast landfall multiple times in one turn.

Ideas Unbound on its lonesome is pretty slow, and Dredge will usually struggle in games when it is your only way to discard or draw cards. Dredge can certainly still win those games, but they are much more of a grind. However, Ideas with Glimpse, Crab, Rusalka, or another Ideas is usually a turn three kill.

Those who played Ravnica Limited may recall how frustrating Stinkweed Imp was for aggro decks. It turns out that Imp still clogs up the red zone pretty effectively; I put him to work in most games. Losing a couple Bridges in exchange for their best creature and some Zombies is an excellent trade, particularly since you can dredge Imp and run it back.

Similarly, Golgari Grave-Troll is a very large man. Life from the Loam is very good at giving you fuel for Hedron Crab and Rusalka activations, but it also lets you get up to five and just start slinging 12/12s.


By now, most people are aware that a mix of hate cards is the best way to fight Dredge. Dredge is pretty tight, and can’t afford to board out very many cards. When you diversify your hate cards, the Dredge player might draw Echoing Truth to your [card]Ravenous Trap[/card], or Thoughtseize against your Leyline of the Void. Crucially, the Dredge player will probably be unable to board in four of both cards, so with a two Leyline/two Trap split, they may board in two bounce spells and two discard spells and have the wrong answer to your threat. You also gain a ton of value if you beat them with one threat in game two but come at them from another angle in game three.

Don’t diversify your hate by running a split that is vulnerable to the same answer card, e.g. Crypt/Relic or Trap/Extirpate splits; the answer to artifact hate is Ancient Grudge, and the answer to hateful spells is Thoughtseize. You want to maximize your chances of having your opponent draw a blank sideboard card. Dredge players can combat the diversification plan by relying on bounce to buy turns against artifact hate and Yixlid Jailer while getting rid of Leyline, but that plan remains vulnerable to Trap and Extirpate.

Some people hate playing fewer than four Leylines because “Leyline is only good in your opening hand, so you should play the maximum number.” Wrong. First, the out to Leyline is Echoing Truth; drawing multiples is actually loose. Second, you will make most of your mulligan decisions based on whether or not you drew a hate card anyway; for that purpose, all hate cards are roughly equivalent. It is true that you might keep a fast hand with more traditional disruption and draw Leyline on turn two, but if you kept your hand specifically because it could beat Dredge without a hate card, presumably you are still in good shape.

It is telling that all of the Dredge players at Austin and Worlds chose Leyline to fight the mirror. Trap and Crypt are pretty beatable. Removing Jailer is easier than removing Leyline because of Darkblast and Thoughtseize. Against a Leyline, you have to show a bounce spell or be completely kold.

Relic of Progenitus is generally inferior to Tormod’s Crypt. Relic’s tap ability is only marginally useful because of how quickly Dredge can fill the yard with chaff. Drawing a card is good, but it will rarely be as game-breaking as crushing Dredge’s graveyard, and having to pay a mana to do so can be a problem. I’ve actually beaten Relic by leading with Hedron Crab on the play. After my opponent made Relic and passed, I played a fetchland, Glimpsed into two Narcomoebas, and put Iona into play on turn two along with a bunch of Zombies. My opponent was not pleased. If you are using Trinket Mage to find Relic, the mana problems are only exacerbated. Particularly in game one situations, Trinket Mage for Crypt is probably your main out to Dredge, and tacking on an extra two mana and having to wait until turn four to nuke their yard can be fatal.

The best way to hate out Dredge is to have a Trinket Mage/Tolaria West package that can search up Crypts in game one, supplemented with Leylines and Ravenous Traps coming out of the board.

For Dredge players, the easiest way to fight through hate is to Thoughtseize away your opponent’s hate cards or remove the hate as quickly as possible. Thoughtseize and Echoing Truth are strong because you can usually proceed with your game one plan after you have dealt with your opponent’s sideboard. Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus require a bit more work. Truth still forces your opponent to maul your yard on your terms, which is useful, but I prefer Ancient Grudge for fighting artifacts because you can dredge into it.

Transformation is another strategy, but I have been pretty unsuccessful with most configurations. Tombstalker and Tarmogoyf are still vulnerable to graveyard hate, and people will leave in cards like Mana Leak and Path to Exile. You end up becoming a pretty mediocre beatdown deck that is still a little vulnerable to their sideboard cards.

Sometimes, you don’t draw your outs and have to battle through the hate. Leyline and Jailer are pretty unbeatable if you can’t remove them, but getting hit by Trap or Crypt can be manageable. Grudge forces your opponents to use Crypt before you move all-in on Dread Return; a couple of Bridges in conjunction with Drowned Rusalka and Bloodghast will generate a lot of Zombies pretty quickly, and your opponent will often have to use their Crypt to prevent shenanigans. With Rusalka still in play, you can reload your graveyard very quickly. Alternatively, if you have an extra Glimpse or any other outlet in your hand, you want to force your opponent to Crypt you as soon as possible and use your backup outlet to get your engine going again.

You won’t be able to see Ravenous Trap coming. I usually play as though they have Trap unless I can’t afford to play around it. I often slowroll Dread Return, preferring to use Rusalka stock up on Zombies while slowly dredging instead of just trying to jam Iona into play as quickly as possible. You give your opponent more draw steps to find hate, but you aren’t as vulnerable to the hate, either. In particular, if your opponent snap keeps their seven and isn’t crushing you by turn three, they are most assuredly Up To Something and you should be cautious.

Try to make your Rusalka activations with a fetchland up so you can save your Bloodghasts from graveyard hate. In general, Drowned Rusalka is what gives Dredge the most resilience to hate; prioritize it accordingly. I have tried to fit Golgari Thugs into the maindeck to let you loop Rusalkas and Narcomoebas (which would also let you play Greater Gargadon and have a very robust Zombie plan that wasn’t reliant on Dread Return) but the space isn’t really there.

I grind out a lot of postboard games with a Zombie or two, a Bloodghast, and a couple of one-power fliers. It is not pretty, but it is reasonably effective. As for other plans that require getting your hands dirty, well”¦if your opponent opens on Leyline and you don’t have bounce, your Hedron Crabs have work to do.

Concerning sideboarding: you are heaviest on outlets, and you will usually board out some number of Glimpses or Crabs depending on how vulnerable the Crabs are. Bloodghast is also shavable, as is a [card]Dread Return[/card] and an Iona if you need to make room. Avoid cutting any cards with dredge because of how few you have.

Specific matchups:


Most of Dredge’s decent draws will crush Zoo rather handily. Zoo does best when Dredge has a slow opening or poor dredges and Zoo can kill on turn four through some blockers. Not surprisingly, the one-drop Zoo decks do better than Rubin Zoo. Dredge can use Narcomoebas and Stinkweed Imp to stave off Zoo’s creatures while growing an army of Zombies, or simply go off on turn three and get Iona plus six or nine Zombies. If getting Pathed is a concern, I name White with Iona. Usually I am more concerned with getting burnt out, so Red is the usual choice. In general, if you have a ton of Zombies, Path isn’t a big deal, but if Iona is your main threat, you need to name White.

Dredge is most vulnerable to an aggressive draw featuring Gaddock Teeg to blank Dread Returns. Starting on turn two or three, the Zoo player will seek out any trades that will remove Dredge’s Bridges, and will probably end up burning one of their own creatures in response to a Dread Return. However, having to hold up mana instead of developing the board, and then removing an in-play clock makes it hard to win, even without Zombies to contend with. Dredge can also use Darkblast to rid itself of bothersome Teegs or Meddling Mages.

Obviously, sideboarding makes Zoo’s matchup better. Dredge has a hard time beating a hate card plus a fast clock. Zoo’s best cards are Tormod’s Crypt and Leyline of the Void. Most Dredge players do not expect Leyline out of Zoo, and will probably not have an answer for game two. Tormod’s Crypt is superior to Relic because it costs zero mana, and even if it is Grudged, Dredge will have a significantly slower start. Ravenous Trap is also strong if Zoo does not have Gaddock Teeg. It is, of course, possible that Dredge will simply play a Crab and Grudge away Tormod’s Crypt with landfall on the stack and proceed with its game one plan, but that’s how most sideboard games go; Dredge is a heavy favorite if the opponent draws no hate cards, and if Dredge can answer the hate quickly, Dredge probably wins.

In the dark, I would probably board in Grudge and accept being kold to Trap and Leyline in game two. I board out a Dread Return, a Bloodghast, and two Hedron Crabs for answers. Dread Return is usually blank early. Bloodghast can’t block, which is a problem. Hedron Crab is simply your most vulnerable outlet. I usually use Loam to get up to Stinkweed Imp mana, but it’s another card you can trim. Ancestor’s Chosen is an entertaining sideboard card, but I find if I can cast Dread Return I am winning no matter what my target.

Thopter Foundry Gifts decks:

Dredge is a massive favorite in game one unless Gifts manages to tutor up Tormod’s Crypt by turn three. Even then, Dredge is by no means helpless; if Gifts can’t establish the Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek combo soon afterwards, Dredge can continue merrily on its way. I’ve beaten Academy Ruins + Tormod’s Crypt with Drowned Rusalka. Gifts usually needs to be on the play with Path, Mana Leak, Gifts, and a tutor for Crypt for the game to be close. Iona usually names White for Foundry, Wrath, and Path.

After boarding, most Gifts decks have more artifacts, Meddling Mage, and may also have Ravenous Trap. Personally, I think Leylines should accompany a second Tormod’s Crypt as a tutor target before adding Traps, because Thoughtseize may come in for Trinket Mage in any case. However, I would not expect most people to have Leylines.

Playing Relic or Crypt on turn one can lead to getting blown out by in-hand Ancient Grudges, but playing them later might result in getting Thoughtseized or blown out by an explosive draw. Strongly consider slow-rolling Crypt if you have Mana Leak or Path to withstand a Rusalka or Ideas Unbound.

Similarly, Dredge players who are using Hedron Crab should fetch Watery Grave on turn one, then play Crab and fetch Breeding Pool untapped against turn one artifacts so as to be able to flashback Grudge.

Dredge can board out a fair amount of cards against Gifts; Dread Return is a huge threat whether it resolves or not, so you can board out your Ionas and possibly a Dread Return in addition to any Glimpses you need to cut. Glimpse is at its worst against Gifts because of Spell Snare, but it’s certainly still quite good. I would cut, in order, Iona, Dread Return, Glimpse, Glimpse, Iona, Glimpse, Glimpse depending on what I was bringing in. I’d want three Grudge for sure. Thoughtseize gets Trinket Mage, Trap, and Gifts, so you want at least two of those. You can leave it at five cards or bring in more Grudges/Seizes/Truths at your discretion.


I feel game one is very good for Dredge. Before turn three, Scapeshift can basically only Remand or Magma Jet to disrupt Dredge, and Dredge can have draws where it cares about neither. Scapeshift also has a hard time ramping while simultaneously holding up mana for permission. Most of my games involved Scapeshift having a turn five kill and being dead to angry Zombies and Iona on turn three or four. Usually Iona names Blue, unless Scapeshift has five lands in play and is threatening land, Search for Tomorrow, Scapeshift, in which case Green is obviously superior. Note that Zealot doesn’t make you any less vulnerable to Cryptic Command tapping your team.

An alternative plan is trying to deck Scapeshift, using Hedron Crab and Glimpse to mill away all of their copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, or just getting all of their Mountains. Dredging is superior; you would have to mill Scapeshift for fifteen or so, requiring multiple Glimpses or Crabs, not to mention the possibility of missing.

Sideboarding: -1 Bloodghast -2 Hedron Crab -1 Glimpse +4 Thoughtseize

After boarding, Scapeshift’s game plan is to play two ramp effects and go off on turn five. Usually, this requires some hate cards, but hands with multiple counters can be sufficient if Dredge is not going off with Drowned Rusalka. Because Dredge will want to bring in Thoughtseize against the card Scapeshift, it’s best if Scapeshift doesn’t board in Ravenous Trap or other cards that Dredge wants to fight with Thoughtseize.


Burn goldfishes on turn four or five; Dredge goldfishes on turn three or four, and also generates chump blockers to put in front of Goblin Guide et al. Burn can steal some game ones by killing Crab or Rusalka with [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], but most game ones go to Dredge.

-1 Bloodghast -1 Dread Return -2 Hedron Crab +4 outs; default to Grudge.

Postboard games are interesting. Every hate card Burn draws takes away from its clock, but if Dredge can’t immediately answer the hate, Burn gets more draw steps to put twenty damage together.


Hypergenesis is the only deck in the format faster than Dredge, but Hypergenesis can also “go off” and still lose to Dredge. It depend on the package of fatties Hypergenesis is playing; Iona naming black destroys Dredge, but Progenitus/Bogarden Hellkite/other large animals are occasionally not enough, particularly if Dredge still has Zealot or can race with Ancestor’s Chosen. Sundering Titan can deny Dredge the mana to cast Ideas Unbound or activate Rusalka, but can also be impotent against fetchlands. Hypergenesis, of course, can also just fizzle. Still, Hypergenesis is often too fast for Dredge in game one.

-2 Bloodghast -2 Glimpse +4 Thoughtseize.

After boarding, Hypergenesis is basically forced to bring in Leyline of the Void because cascading into Dredge hate isn’t nearly as good as cascading into Hypergenesis. Ravenous Trap remains an option, but Dredge will have Thoughtseize anyway, so diversification is a superior plan. If Hypergenesis draws a hate card and has a turn three or four goldfish, it’s pretty difficult for Dredge to win.

For all that, despite extensive testing, I didn’t play Dredge in the 2 Jan Seattle PTQ. I played Scapeshift, because I thought more people would use stock Worlds lists featuring five or more hate cards for Dredge. Dredge isn’t quite so powerful as to be able to just shrug off hate like it could in 2007, and isn’t a strong choice against a prepared field. On the other hand, well whenever you have the thought “I’m just going to cut the Dredge hate and shore up other matchups. It isn’t worth the space,” you should give serious thought into just playing Dredge.

Max McCall

max.mccall AT gmail DOT com

27 thoughts on “Maximum Value – Dredging Extended”

  1. Wow. Well-written. Comprehensive. Thoughtful.

    The SB section will be invaluable for many players on both sides of the dredge equation.

    I was testing dredge and arrived at a similar decklist, but I had
    -1 Dark Blast
    -1 Iona
    +1 Flame-Kin (I now agree with your decision to run 2x Iona)
    +1 Bloodghast (I loved the extra reliability)

    Any thoughts on the extra ‘Ghast?

    Thank you for this excellent article.

  2. Awesome article. Your articles are definitely some of the most informative and show a high amount of preparation.

  3. “Similarly, while using a fetchland to landfall in response to landfall for deckthinning purposes is neat”

    Orrrrr…. it’s good to do because you can make sure you fetch out your relevant colored dual without risking it getting milled away. First time you get unlucky and blow yourself out of an easy game, you start doing this.

    Otherwise great article, beats mine in terms of detail. Glad we agree on the ‘don’t play any of your drops turn 1 like all those other idiots’.

  4. On the turn 1 drop thing, i usually still do it if i’m playing against fae since they pack both spellstutter+mana leak. Is this wrong?

  5. I suppose i should point out that i’m on the draw here, but does it even matter? If you are in a match against someone not playing removal that cost one, is there an issue with dropping crab/rusalka on turn 1?

  6. Tombstalker isn’t all that vulnerable to graveyard hate because any “good” player is going to be extremely stingy with their ravenous traps and tormod’s crypts. You can expect them to wait until Dread Return is literally on the stack, so you can usually sneak Tombstalker out there and they feel stupid.

    Also I still love Dakmor Salvage. The best way to win any sort of long game is dredge your third land and start casting Stinkweed Imp every single turn for the rest of the game while they try to deal with your combo and zombies. With only one Life From the Loam you can’t count on it.

  7. if you have a crab and are reasonably sure it’ll survive a turn (against Fae, Hypergenesis, etc), and you have an Ideas in hand, shouldn’t you run it out turn one? You’ll be able to profitably cast Ideas turn 2, after having milled a bunch with your land drop…

    also if you’re holding two crabs, isn’t it best to play one out asap? If they kill it you have a second one, if they don’t you have a second one 😛

  8. 2 crabs are basically the only reason to ever run one out turn one, since obv netting 12 on turn 2 vs. 6 is a pretty big difference when only dealing with 9/10 dredge cards, but even then it depends on the rest of your hand / match. Usually you run it. About the only time really.

  9. Max, you are a workhorse.

    How do you feel about Chrome Mox as a three of or so? There’s a ton of blue cards in the deck, and allows you to make cards like Hedron Crab and Ideas Unbound a little faster. Some of the brits ran it in Austin, and it looked alright from what I saw, although clearly it adds a little more variance to your game.

    Not saying it’s good, but I think it’s one of the few things you didn’t mention.

    The brits also had a Malfegor which is good vs 20/20s, Hypergenesis, and those games against Zoo where they can kill your Bridges and swarm Iona. The discard your hand part is a little added bonus.

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  11. Amazing work put into this article. Almost makes me want to play Dredge this extended season, almost..

  12. great analysis of the archetype, the hate, and matchups.

    This is quality stuff, man. Good show.

  13. I also play 1 Iona and 1 flame kin with 1 sphinx and 0 darkblast mb. IMO the explosiveness of this combination takes it down game 1 almost every time. Of course the package comes out game 2 as the hate just laughs at the attempt. Did you try tombstalker sb? Against decks w/o a ton of removal the turn 1 crab turn 2 stalker can be the clock you need. Since most ppl won’t want to hit a small yard with trap or crypt.

  14. see i’m running
    -1 Iona
    -1 Dark blast
    +2 Flamekin Zealot

    It’s basicly Yuuya’s list from Austin but the other twist is i don’t run the rav duals so i don’t have to worry about blood moon and i don’t have the money for them… the down side to this is that i can’t use the ancient grudge’s in my side board… i end up cleaning house at FMN during most games but this past week I ran into alot of hate and was still able to pull a 3-2 record which landed me 3rd place… so from having faced the haters i can tell you this article is spot on because those two games i lost in splits i kept thinking… if i only had an into the roil… if i only had an into the roil… also i only saw one rav trap used on me and that wasn’t a hard hit… just used dreams unbound to throw Iona, bridge and, dread into the grave yard then dropped a fetch into my crab… boom… game over I won… its layline that sucks as well as relic and crypt… also with the idea of the crabs doing over time to mill out the other player in dredge verse dredge matchs when i side in lay lines i was thinking about bringing in more mill in the form of archive trap…
    so my board would look like this
    4 Archive trap
    3 Layline
    4 Echoing Truth
    4 Thoughtseize
    Anyone want to comment on this?

  15. “I do not know why trap is more appealing to scapeshift players than leyline. Can you elaborate?”

    Ravenous Trap is an instant, and can therefore be grabbed by Peer Through Depths.

  16. “Kold” is another word for cold. =/

    Also, Tombstalker sounds awesome as a back-up plan. I like it.

  17. @Max: You didn’t mention Bant, Doran, Faeries, the mirror, Dark Depths, All-In Red, Aggro Scapeshift, Hive Mind, Affinity, Death Cloud, White Weenie, Dragonstorm, Sliver Zoo, and probably 20 other decks in your matchup analysis. WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO HIDE

    Also, disappointed that you squandered an opportunity to make some sort of “draw step? more like DREDGE STEP” joke in your decklist captions. never gets old!!

    More serious talk: What do you think about Extirpate vs Dredge? It does see a fair amount of play in sideboards as a “solution” to Thopter Foundry, and would certainly be brought in vs a Dredge opponent as well. Best targets/timing for Extirpate? How effective is it against a prepared Dredge player? etc etc

  18. Josh: I haven’t had that happen to me yet, but I can see situations where it comes up, particularly with Steam Vents. Still, I think sometimes you have to risk it in order to not get blown out by Bolt.

    Patrick: Faeries is a deck that can’t kill Crab on one and has multiple two mana counters, so Crab is safe against them, but the Tez lists have more Paths than Mana Leaks. If you have two Crabs, just run them out there.

    Travis: I wasn’t finding enough cuts to bring in Tombstalker plus answers to traditional hate, and going all in on a 5/5 was frequently trumped by Path/Leak/Baneslayer/Thopter Foundry/etc.

    Gerry: I thought about it, but you want to be casting almost all of your blue cards, even Narcomoeba, when you draw them. Most of the time I would be Moxing off Bridge or Bloodghast, and the black mana wouldn’t be too useful. I’m also not sure which lands to cut; the fetchlands all power Crab, the second basic is good against Path, and all of the other duals are basically at the minimum count already.

    Malfegor is fine, but you are okay against Marit Lage with Narcomoeba and Imp anyway. I haven’t tested it, but my guess is that it’s not worth the space? I usually do fine against Zoo when I cast Dread Return, and Ancestor’s Chosen might be a better target against Zoo anyway.

    Zack: :B. Extirpate is certainly good against Dredge, but I wouldn’t lean on it as your only plan. What you should hit varies quite a bit. You are probably being attacked by a combination of Dread Return, Bridge from Below, and Bloodghast. You’d want to hit whatever was most problematic, but the other two are still going to be good against you.

  19. Scapeshift doesn’t run t1 answers to crab/rusalka either

    Depths doesn’t have anything main that is a problem to the T1, and you risk it getting thoughtseized

  20. Damn, thanks for the article. Just adding my voice to the chorus of folks who appreciate your hard work…big ups.

  21. Have you ever thought about sideboarding Nix? It is a 1 mana counterspell for Ravenous Trap and Tormod’s Crypt.

  22. Excellent article. However, you really need to crank up the “kold”. Any less than 10 instances of that word per article and it just isn’t funny enough.

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