The Long & Winding Road - The Undead Survival Guide
Preface: They Have Risen
We are about to mark the third anniversary of Z-day when the dead rose from their graves and began their attacks on the living. It started as unconfirmed rumors silly rumblings easily dismissed as little more than tabloid nonsense and internet chatter. Eventually we could no longer deny it could no longer try to use logic to explain it away. At last we came face to face with the horrible truth: we were no longer the pinnacle of the food chain.
Villages towns cities countries and eventually entire continents were overcome with hordes of the undead attacking everything that lived especially humans. Our technology and the ease with which we moved across a planet we so foolishly believed was “ours” allowed the infection to spread with staggering speed. Despite overwhelming odds we have no intention of giving up – there are those among us that still believe this planet belongs to the living and with God as our witness we will never give up.
This document is your survival guide in a world overrun by the undead – a Bible for those left truly living.
Section A: Understanding the Basics of a Zombie Infection
Zombies are unlike any foe you’ve ever faced – they don’t scare tire weaken or surrender. Their single objective is to eat you and they especially like to go after the brains of their victims. As soon as someone is infected by a zombie due to direct injury by way of a zombie bite it is only a matter of time before they cross the threshold from life into undeath; that said the person you knew dies at the moment of infection and it is in your best interest to act accordingly however painful and horrific the result of those actions may be.
Just as zombies have a simple objective (eat the living) Dredge decks are mechanical and rote as far as how they play and their objective is also simple: discard cards that have the Dredge mechanic into the Graveyard and then draw cards to rapidly move as much of the Library to the Graveyard as possible. The cards that allow the deck to do this are often one and the same. Consider:
Careful Study (Draw 2 Discard 2)
Tolarian Winds (Discard hand draw that many cards)
Cephalid Coliseum (With Threshold U Tap Sac: Draw 3 Discard 3)
Cephalid Sage (With Threshold: Draw 3 Discard 2)
Burning Inquiry (Draw 3 Discard 3 at random – both players)
Goblin Lore (Draw 4 Discard 3 at random)
Breakthrough (Draw 4 Discard all but X)
Merfolk Looter (Draw 1 Discard 1)
Magus of the Bazaar (Draw 2 Discard 3)
Bazaar of Baghdad (Draw 2 Discard 3)
Drowned Rusalka (Sac a creature: Discard 1 Draw 1)
Some builds will run additional discard effects depending on the format such as:
Putrid Imp (Discard a card: Gains flying)
Tireless Tribe (Discard a card: Gains +0/+4)
Firestorm (R Discard X cards: Deal X damage to X targets)
Lion’s Eye Diamond (Tap Sac Discard Hand: Add 3 mana of any one color)
Traditionally these are the cards that make up the “engine’’ of the Dredge mechanic:
Utilizing the combination of discard and draw effects the Dredge deck is then able to bring creatures like Ichorid Narcomoeba and Bloodghast into play. These creatures fuel additional spells from the Graveyard such as the Flashback costs on Cabal Therapy (usually to cripple its opponent or clear out any counterspells) and Dread Return. Dread Return itself can have many potential targets depending on the format in question and specific build:
Some lists run creatures like Cephalid Sage which allow the deck to continue Dredging immediately or River Kelpie which can set up a chain effect of Dredges (as each trigger from Narcomoeba or any spell played via Flashback will result in additional Dredging). Sphinx of Lost Truths is an additional option once Zendikar is released.
All Dredge decks play Golgari Grave-Troll who in addition to having the highest Dredge value is also a competent beater; many decks run another creature such as Sundering Titan Angel of Despair or Woodfall Primus to attack the mana of the opponent and/or to create a fast clock not reliant on Bridge from Below tokens. Angel of Despair (and Primus to a slightly lesser extent) have the benefit of being able to destroy cards that might otherwise cause the Dredge deck to concede the first game such as Platinum Angel or Solitary Confinement.
Other potential targets are creatures like Sadistic Hypnotist which is able to clear an opponent’s hand to prevent resistance or Iona who offers the potential to lock an opponent out of the game combined with the clock of a 7/7 flyer. Some lists may play a Platinum Angel in the sideboard as a way of locking their aggro opponent out of the game.
In addition to reanimating creatures both large and small via triggers and Dread Return Dredge decks also play Bridge from Below. Bridge has synergies all across the board with Dredge decks regardless of format. It triggers when creatures are sacrificed (such as to pay the Flashback cost on Dread Return or Cabal Therapy from the Graveyard or to Drowned Rousalka) and at end of turn when Ichorid leaves the Battlefield. Some versions of Dredge are more reliant on Bridge from Below and these decks can sometimes be held in check by making sure your creatures go to the Graveyard and Exile Bridge from Below; to this end some people advocate Leyline of the Void in the maindeck and/or sideboard of Dredge decks not only for the mirror match but to prevent opponents from ever Exiling Bridges.
Section B: The Laws of the Zombie
Zombies break the rules of the natural world as we understand them. They are dead and yet they move; they seem to have lost the majority of their brain function yet they desire to feast on the brains of the living and are able to act on impulse. Scientists can only speculate whether the undead tirelessly seek brains for sustenance or out of some spark of jealously because of their limited mental capacity (or perhaps some combination thereof).
One reason why Dredge decks are so effective and so hated is that they break most of the fundamental rules of Magic:
They play considerably less mana sources than traditional Magic decks. In Vintage there are even lists that are “manaless” and essentially don’t intend on paying mana to cast any spells at all.
They effectively ignore the normal hand-size limit. By playing a large number of cards that are cast or returned to play from the Graveyard the hand size of a Dredge deck is essentially limited only by how many cards it can get into the Graveyard.
They draw considerably more than one card a turn. Again by exploiting various cards related to the Graveyard if a Dredge deck has put 30 cards into the graveyard by turn 3 it has essentially drawn an extra 20+ cards during that time period a number which almost no deck can match.
The zone of the game around which they revolve the Graveyard is one that traditional Magic decks interact with only minimally. Therefore in most first-game situations a Dredge deck is an enormous favorite to win; similarly an opponent must make a conscious decision to purposefully run specific anti-Graveyard cards in order to defeat Dredge. Because it takes many decks between six and eight sideboard cards to defeat a Dredge deck many people choose not to bother because they would rather have a fully-functional sideboard against the rest of the field.
If you find yourself in an area that shows signs of a zombie infection how can you defend yourself?
Section C: Anti-Zombie Technology
From their secret lab in Washington State key members of Wizards of the Coast have developed powerful anti-Zombie Technology. The following are state-of-the-art weapons and can mean the difference between life… and an eternity of feeding on the living. For those that tire of waging war against hyperbole there is this: our war against the undead.
Cons: Leyline’s four mana double-Black casting cost means it generally needs to be in the opening hand to be effective and is therefore vulnerable to “bounce” effects and obviously it can only be hard-cast by decks invested in Black mana. Almost every Ichorid player is going to automatically bring in 4 Chain of Vapor (in formats where it is legal) along with additional enchantment removal.
Pros: Dredge decks cannot function while this card is in play. It only costs B to play so it can be replayed easily if bounced.
Cons: Planar Void is a symmetrical effect so it shuts off your own Yawgmoth’s Will stops you from reaching Threshold prevents Goyf from growing past 0/1 and so on. It needs to be cast so it is vulnerable to Cabal Therapy and Unmask and is only playable in decks that run Black mana (although it is playable with less investment in the color than Leyline of the Void).
* One of the interesting quirks worth noting with Planar Void is that it is a triggered effect and not a replacement effect like Leyline of the Void so with Planar Void the cards do actually go to the Graveyard before being Exiled. This is a significant difference – it means that you can respond to the trigger from Planar Void with something like the activated ability of Goblin Welder.
Pros: Playable in any deck. In Vintage shuts off Bazaar of Baghdad. Needle isn’t as narrow as specific graveyard hate and is versatile and playable against other decks so it is less of a "wasted" sideboard slot if you never play against a Dredge deck.
Cons: Doesn't actually shut down the deck just Bazaar; this is highly relevant even in Vintage as Needle has only limited effect against Mana Ichorid. Bouncing Needle especially at the end of turn means that Bazaar functions again immediately and sometimes two activations are enough for Ichorid to win.
Pros: Playable in any deck. Usually buys at least 1-2 turns; sometimes seriously damages the Dredge deck's ability to function depending on what is Exiled. Easily tutored and played immediately via cards like Trinket Mage. Crypt can be used in response to cards like Needle / Chewer / Chain of Vapor that are answers from the Dredge deck’s sideboard; only a pre-emptive Needle will stop it.
Cons: Countered by Chalice of the Void set on zero a common play by Vintage Ichorid. Pithing Needle out of Dredge sideboards across formats essentially counters multiple Crypts. Most Dredge decks can with through Tormod's Crypt; breaking Tormod's at the right time takes practice and an understanding of how the Dredge decks function.
Pros: Playable in any deck and ignores Chalice of the Void. Relic can be used in response to answers like Needle / Chewer / Chain of Vapor that are in a Dredge deck’s sideboard. Cantrips when used and easy to tutor up with Trinket Mage. Possible functionality in other match-ups as a one-of such as against Threshold in Legacy.
Cons: Requires a mana left up at all times as Exiling one card usually has minimal effect. Relic can be hit by Unmask and Cabal Therapy preemptively and is answered by Pithing Needle out of Dredge’s sideboard. Not as easy to tutor up and play plus have mana to activate compared to Tormod's Crypt for decks running Trinket Mage; without sufficient fast mana it is a weak first-turn play in formats like Vintage.
Pros: Shuts down the Dredge deck completely while in play (in the sense that Dredging is impossible playing Flashback costs of graveyard cards is impossible and spells like Ichorid and Bloodghast don’t function). Also potentially a beater to help win the game.
Cons: Must be cast and costs two mana; playable only in decks with access to Black. Jailer doesn't stop the Dredge player from activating Bazaar of Baghdad or Magus of the Bazaar and dumping cards into the graveyard so if the Jailer is subsequently bounced or killed the Dredge player can often win immediately. Most Dredge lists in older formats have 6-8 cards to handle Jailer usually some combo of Darkblast Contagion Chain of Vapor and/or Firestorm.
Pros: Can be used proactively to Exile something like all Narcomoebas in response to their trigger going on the stack or reactively in response to a Dread Return activation. Exiling Bridge from Below goes a long way toward eliminating a Dredge deck’s ability to win quickly using the combo kill (or forcing the discard of hand using Hypnotist) and is devastating in decks reliant upon that strategy (such as modern Extended Dredge). Destroying a Bazaar of Baghdad and then Extirpating it does serious damage to Manaless Ichorid and Fatestitcher Ichorid in Vintage. Extirpate cannot be countered by Force of Will which some versions of Ichorid play. It also has potential uses against other decks (such as Oath of Druids in Vintage).
Cons: Sits in the hand and can be counteracted by Cabal Therapy and Unmask. Depending on the target the Dredge deck might still be far enough ahead to win even when a key card is hit by Extirpate. It is only playable in decks that run black and most importantly requires one black mana to be available at all times.
Pros: Dredge decks cannot function when their pilot is enchanted by Wheel of Sun and Moon. Because Wheel targets a player it is not a symmetrical effect and doesn’t prevent the other player from exploiting their own graveyard. There are some decks that can lock out a Dredge deck by protecting the Wheel with something like Sterling Grove such as Legacy Enchantress.
Cons: Green/White hybrid mana cost is difficult for most competitive tournament decks in formats where Dredge decks are viable. At two mana Wheel is also slow and easily disrupted by Unmask or Cabal Therapy.
Pros: Combines two aspects that are useful against Dredge decks: Exiles one specific card (such as a Dread Return target) and simultaneously Exiles Bridge from Below when it goes to the Graveyard due to Evoke.
Cons: Like Extirpate requires one Black mana kept up at all times and can be removed from hand by cards like Unmask and Cabal Therapy. However unlike Extirpate Offalsnout is really only useful against Dredge decks and has almost no value in any other match-up.
Section D: Zombie Killing with Household Items
If you aren’t able to acquire any of the newest anti-Zombie weapons that doesn’t necessarily damn you to infection (although it probably does – sorry about that just keeping it real). There are a few tools out there that we use in every-day life that may also do double-duty against zombies.
In formats where they are legal these cards are potent weapons against Ichorid. In Vintage targeting Bazaar will often slow Ichorid to a crawl. It can also be used to attack Ichorid’s colored mana to keep them from playing their sideboard answer cards. The same is true in Legacy where Wasteland can prevent Ichorid from having access to colored mana or it can preemptively destroy an exposed Cephalid Coliseum.
This card is one of the most flexible bounce spells ever printed and can be used to slow down Dredge decks considerably in every format by bouncing all Zombie tokens bouncing revealed Narcomoebas (this is especially effective when they are revealed through Dredging done during the Upkeep) bouncing Ichorids and Bloodghasts or bouncing a Dread Return target like Angel of Despair Woodfall Primus or Akroma.
These cards can serve several functions against Dredge decks. The main one is to counter the bounce spells (like Chain of Vapor or Echoing Truth) that Dredge decks use to counteract cards like Leyline of the Void. The second use is to counter draw and discard spells such as Breakthrough and Careful Study.
There are a multitude of creatures enchantments and artifacts that can prevent most Ichorid decks from winning if you can live long enough to get them into play. For example Moat prevents zombie tokens Bloodghast and Ichorid from being able to attack; Ensnaring Bridge shuts down all attackers provided its controller has a small enough handsize; and many Dredge decks will scoop to a game 1 Platinum Angel. There are plenty of other examples of similar cards (such as Blazing Archon or Solitary Confinement) which some decks may be able to sideboard or may already have in their sideboard for other match-ups.
Section E: The Weapons of the Zombie
Zombies have lost the mental capacity to use what we would normally consider “weapons” – even the idea of swinging a stick seems to be beyond their capabilities. While they use their teeth hands and legs to bite and strike at victims they also have the ability to coordinate attacks. Loud urgent moans summon more zombies whenever a living victim is located and they use swarming techniques to breach walls climbing up and over each other like insects. The determination of a zombie to reach its prey should not be underestimated.
While we have plenty of sideboard weapons to use against Dredge decks they are not defenseless and have many options of their own to combat us. This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive but does contain many commonly seen answers:
Pithing Needle: Needle is a common choice across formats because it blanks any number of cards (Tormod’s Crypt Relic of Progenitus Wasteland) and it is able to neutralize all numbers of that card at the same time for one colorless mana.
Leyline of the Void: As noted this card prevents aggro decks (especially those with many sacrifice outlets such as Goblins or Affinity) from killing their own creatures to Exile Bridge from Below.
Chain of Vapor: Chain is generally the bounce spell of choice in formats where it is legal as it can answer any sideboard card temporarily and against many decks answers Leyline of the Void permanently. In formats where Chain is not an option more expensive bounce spells such as Echoing Truth are often used.
Wispmare: Wispmare is a cheap answer to Leyline of the Void and Planar Void that has some added benefits. It ignores Thorn of Amethyst and when it dies it can create Bridge from Below tokens. It is also a potential Dread Return target.
Emerald Charm: Charm is versatile in that it can destroy Leyline of the Void but can also serve to untap a Bazaar of Baghdad. Sometimes it is also possible to make a tricky play such as untapping a creature if an opponent has attacked with a Yixlid Jailer or to take Flying away from a Platinum Angel that has foolishly attacked.
Petrified Field: Field sometimes sees play in areas that are heavy with Wasteland decks as a way of blanking that method of attack. Its use may increase in Eternal formats if Bloodghast is widely adopted.
Ancient Grudge: Grudge is another option for destroying artifact hate and in Extended it might see play as an anti-Jitte option.
Unmask: Some Dredge decks will sideboard Unmask for use in the third game of a match as it can clear out any anti-Dredge sideboard card preemptively (save for Leyline of the Void).
Firestorm: Firestorm is a common sideboard choice particularly in Legacy where it can be used to sweep the board of creatures and simultaneously functions as a discard outlet for Dredgers.
Section F: The Habit of the Zombie
Zombies move in predictable patterns their moans and shambling gait a dead giveaway (pun intended). One of our best weapons against the zombie is that our enemy reacts in specific and predictable ways.
One of the keys to correctly playing a Dredge deck is to understand the timing and triggers that are fundamental to the deck. Below I’ve listed some common interactions and timing techniques:
Ichorid triggers stack at the beginning of the Upkeep regardless of whether or not there are any black creatures in the graveyard. The Dredge player may respond to that trigger with effects like activating Bazaar of Baghdad or with instants like Tolarian Winds in order to dredge additional cards into the Graveyard. If a Black creature is found it can be Exiled to resolve the Ichorid trigger.
When Narcomoebas are revealed during repeated Dredging their triggers will go on the stack but they will not come into play until the entire initial action is resolved. In other words if the Dredge player is drawing four cards from Breakthrough he or she will need to draw all four cards (or replace all four draws with Dredging) before they resolve the Narcomoeba triggers and bring them back into play. What this means is that you are able wait to activate Tormod’s Crypt until the entire draw/dredge action is completed with any and all Narcomoeba triggers on the stack.
Bridge from Below is a very finicky card. In order for it to create tokens the Bridge needs to be in the graveyard initially and upon resolution of the trigger it creates. So if your opponent plays Dread Return and sacrifices three non-token creatures with two Bridge from Belows in the graveyard if you respond by killing one of your own creatures or Exiling their library with Tormod’s Crypt they will not got the zombie tokens they’re expecting (which in this case would be six 2/2 zombie tokens). When the Bridge triggers resolve Bridge from Below must still be in the graveyard in order for the tokens to be created.
Leyline of the Void is a replacement effect and therefore if your Dredge opponent has it in play it will prevent your creatures from going to the Graveyard and Exiling your opponent’s Bridge from Below.
Although not specific to Ichorid it is worth knowing how the timing works with Lion’s Eye Diamond. A player is able to cast a spell normally and then while it is on the stack respond by activating Lion’s Eye Diamond. This interaction is the same one that allows you to use LED in response to casting Burning Wish so that you have mana floating when the Wish resolves or in response to casting Infernal Tutor so that you’re Hellbent when the Infernal Tutor resolves. The Dredge player is able to play a spell like Breakthrough and then respond by activating Lion’s Eye Diamond which will allow them to discard first and then Breakthrough (presumably this is done with Dredgers in hand). The mana left floating can then also be used to Flashback Deep Analysis or for activating a Cephalid Coliseum.
Sacrificing creatures is part of the Flashback cost of Dread Return and Cabal Therapy; once the Dredge player moves to their main phase they have priority to cast these spells. You cannot respond to them paying the cost but you can respond to the spell on the stack.
Although you cannot respond to a land being played you can respond to the trigger created by Landfall related to Bloodghast returning to the Battlefield from the Graveyard.
Section G: The Evolution of the Zombie
It is incorrect to surmise that evolution is limited to the living. Indeed we recognize the evolution in our own planet and the other celestial bodies in our galaxy – why should the zombie remain static in a universe of change?
After surprising some pundits to become one of the best-performing decks during the Extended PTQ and Grand Prix season in early 2008 the rotation of Odyssey block seemingly gutted Dredge and it had a minimal impact on the Extended season in 2009 (although it did post some decent results early on at PT: Berlin and Worlds 2008). The most recent version of Dredge in Extended had to rely on the Unearth ability of creatures like Fatestitcher to support Narcomoeba (in the absence of the rotated Ichorid). The loss of Cabal Therapy and Cephalid Coliseum along with the best draw spells in Careful Study and Breakthrough resulted in a deck more vulnerable to both creature removal and counterspells. It looked like Dredge would be relegated to a footnote in Extended.
Although it is still early to prognosticate it looks like Dredge is poised for a comeback in 2009 and 2010. Zendikar has a replacement for Cephalid Sage in Sphinx of Lost Truths as well as a great new Dread Return target in Iona and a powerful replacement for Ichorid in Bloodghast. The new fetchlands should help make the whole thing run smoothly. I have no intention of providing an example list today but I will list the tools that are available to Extended players:
Draw + Discard:
Burning Inquiry (Draw 3 Discard 3 at random – both players)
Goblin Lore (Draw 4 Discard 3 at random)
Merfolk Looter (Draw 1 Discard 1)
Magus of the Bazaar (Draw 2 Discard 3)
Thought Courier (Draw 1 Discard 1)
Bonded Fetch (Haste; Draw 1 Discard 1)
Drowned Rousalka (Sac a creature: Discard 1 Draw 1)
Ideas Unbound (Draw 3; at beginning of next End Step Discard 3)
Discard or “Mill”:
Dread Return Targets – Combo:
River Kelpie (3/3 Persist; Draw a card whenever a spell is cast from the Graveyard or a permanent comes into play from the Graveyard)
Sphinx of Lost Truths (3/5 Kicker U1 when Sphinx comes into play Draw 3; unless the Kicker was paid then Discard 3)
Dread Return Targets – Finishers / Other:
Iona Shield of Emeria (7/7 Flying Name a color; opponents can’t play spells of that color)
Akroma Angel of Wrath (6/6 Flying First Strike Trample Haste Pro Red Pro Black)
Sundering Titan (7/10 destroy one of each basic land type when it enters or leaves the Battlefield)
Woodfall Primus (6/6 Trample Persist destroy a non-creature permanent)
Flame-Kin Zealot (2/2 when FKZ comes into play your creatures get +1/+1 and Haste)
My guess is that updated Dredge will want access to Blue Green and Red mana with possibly a Black splash to allow the casting of Darkblast (and possibly Glimpse the Unthinkable although I am not a fan of that card). This type of build can be geared for faster combo using Fatestitcher to untap creatures like Magus of the Bazaar and Dread Return on Sphinx of Lost Truths. However it can also be geared to battle control decks (such as Faeries) by using Life from the Loam to recur Bloodghasts and ramping up into hard-casting Golgari Grave-Troll. A Loam-centric version might also be able to make use of Raven’s Crime to combat counterspells. Such a deck eliminates the over-reliance on Narcomoeba and Bridge from Below that made last year’s version relatively weak. The difficulty is figuring out how to fit everything together as there are suddenly more tools than there is room in the deck. Instead of turning to previous Extended versions I’d probably start by looking at something like Stuart Wright’s runner-up deck from UK Nationals 2007:
Dredge by Stuart Wright:
2 Life from the Loam
3 Dread Return
4 Bridge from Below
2 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
3 Llanowar Mentor
2 Bonded Fetch
4 Merfolk Looter
2 Horizon Canopy
1 Svogthos the Restless Tomb
4 Drowned Rusalka
4 Magus of the Bazaar
3 Gemstone Mine
4 Breeding Pool
4 Watery Grave
3 Yavimaya Coast
3 Gemstone Caverns
Conclusion: The Embrace of the Zombie
Dredge decks have become a fixture of Eternal Magic a constant threat to the unprepared. Ichorid has survived at the margins for several years in Vintage ebbing and flowing with the metagame. Legacy seems ready to be overrun with Dredge decks as Ichorid just split in the finals of 2009’s Legacy Champs and hate for Dredge is much less prevalent in Legacy than it is in Vintage. Whereas a Goblin-heavy format was more inhospitable to Dredge the current Blue-heavy metagame is perfect for Legacy Ichorid (just as the Tezzeret-dominated metagame of Vintage earlier this year was a breeding ground for zombies). Discussion of Ichorid in Extended thus far has been minimal but we all know the deck is there threatening to overrun an underprepared metagame. Only time will tell if we’ve learned the lessons of the past or are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors...
I dream of a world where my children can sleep safely having never known the nightly cries of the ravenous undead. Together we can beat back these zombie bastards and get on with the thing that separates us from them: life.
Voltron00x on the forums (SCG TMD the Source)