Hi my name is Matt and I play Dredge.
Last Saturday 82 players competed in the Vintage portion of the Philly Open V at the Philadelphia Convention Center making for one of the larger American Vintage tournaments of the past year. I’ve had almost no time to play Magic this month due to professional and personal obligations (and the fact that Philadelphia has received more snow than Buffalo NY this year). My one tournament the NYSE VI in New York was one of my all-time worst results in any Magic tournament ever (although the tournament itself was a blast as always).
I test Vintage Dredge considerably more than I play it in tournaments. In fact until last Saturday I hadn’t played Dredge in a Vintage tournament in over six months. Still because I’m the only one on my team with much experience with the deck I usually get the call when someone wants to test against it. This is just fine by me. Dredge is one of my favorite decks to play. Why?
Dredge is like the dark side.
It’s powerful. It’s so good that it feels evil.
Playing Dredge is like challenging a guy to a pistol duel and then when the morning arrives dropping a nuke on him from the other side of the planet. In my opinion Vintage Dredge is the most powerful deck operating in any format of Magic today. For the tournament last weekend I purposefully built a version that was slower than most of the Dredge decks that have done well recently but was more consistent and disruptive.
On Saturday my game one win percentage was 100%.
Dredge is Magic’s renegade. Most people consider it a “glass cannon” strategy that preys on the unprepared but folds to dedicated sideboard hate. Modern Vintage Dredge is built to prey on this lack of understanding of the true power of Dredge.
Many people will tell you that playing Dredge takes no skill. Others will admit that there is skill involved in playing the deck but that it mostly revolves around mulligan decisions. The truth is that there’s a lot more to playing Dredge successfully.
As with all Magic decks a successful Dredge deck starts with the 75 cards you include in your main and sideboard. One of the downfalls I’ve seen with many Dredge players is that they take a list from the internet and run it 75 for 75. This sometimes works – but often does not. As a format Vintage is highly regional and Dredge decks built for one metagame may fail spectacularly when put in another. Additionally the metagame is shifting rapidly at the moment so a Dredge deck from even six weeks ago may already be outdated.
But what about in-game decisions? Here’s a few of the ways that Dredge actually does test in-game skill:
Cabal Therapy – Proper use of Cabal Therapy is one of the hallmarks of a good Dredge player. Accuracy in blind-calling is a piece of this one which requires knowledge of the format and the ability to read your opponent. However accuracy on blind calls is only part of playing the card correctly – the key test is in knowing the right card to call at the right time regardless of accuracy; whether you’re better off impeding your opponent’s strategy early or holding off to make sure you can resolve a Dread Return. In post-sideboard games Cabal Therapy is even more important as a way to make sure your anti-hate measures can resolve. Therapy can also be an important token-generator regardless of the actual effect of the spell.
Ichorid – Playing with Ichorid takes practice. The other Black creatures in the deck are generally other Ichorids Bloodghast Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Thug. At times the Dredge player will have enough dredgers to remove them comfortably but other times the decision between saving a dredger and racing with an Ichorid can be the difference between victory and defeat. Similarly there are times when it’s worthwhile to race by removing other Ichorids and/or Bloodghasts while at other times the correct play is to pass the Ichorid triggers to utilize Bloodghast instead.
Bloodghast – Using Bloodghast correctly comes down to understanding the interactions in the deck. Generally speaking you always want to maximize your potential dredging before making a land drop to get back a maximum number of Bloodghasts. That said if you already have Bloodghasts in play you often want to sacrifice them to Cabal Therapy or Dread Return before dredging or playing a land drop so that you can get them right back into play. If your aim is to lethal with Flame-Kin Zealot you’d do that first and then attack; otherwise you would want to attack and then sacrifice the Bloodghasts and continue through the turn. If you’re utilizing Undiscovered Paradise (as most Dredge decks with Bloodghast do) remember to tap it for mana during your opponent’s turn so that you can replay for the landfall trigger. Similarly the use of Petrified Field to double-up on Landfall triggers is worth practicing.
Dread Return – One of the common mistakes I see with Dread Return is players waiting to use it until they’ve put one of their “targets” in the graveyard when in reality Dredge plays four of a terrific target: Golgari Grave-Troll. If the dredge deck has Bridge from Below in the graveyard and multiple Dread Returns in the deck there’s nothing wrong with powering a huge Grave-Troll into play if the opportunity is there and the Grave-troll and zombie tokens will already present lethal damage the following turn.
Overextension – Due to the use of Ravenous Trap over-extending is now one of the cardinal sins of playing Dredge. I’ve seen many players seduced by the power of the Dredge deck who go all-in as quickly as possible only to be blown out by a Ravenous Trap. Don’t assume that your opponent doesn’t have it because they didn’t play it when you thought they would. Similarly overextension leaves Dredge players vulnerable to being decked through cards like Ancestral Recall and Memory Jar. Keep these possibilities in mind when you play Dredge and approach the end-game – don’t give your opponent additional outs.
Sideboarding – Having a sideboard plan is one of the keys to playing Dredge successfully. Each type of hate card has different optimal and secondary answers that will overlap in a well-constructed Dredge sideboard. I’ve also always been of the opinion that the best Dredge sideboards have a different plan for game two and game three. Independent of this it is almost always correct to reexamine your sideboard strategy after game two when you have a better idea of what hate cards you’re facing in game 3. Constructing a proper Dredge sideboard is a different skill completely in that you have to understand the sideboard cards you’re actually going to face and what can be done to combat them effectively.
There’s a lot more to Dredge than what I’ve listed above some of which I’ve discussed in past articles (such as understanding the various triggers mulligans and so on). Dredge doesn’t give you as many opportunities to “out-play” your opponents in the traditional sense but it does give you plenty of opportunity to out-position your opponents by way of deck construction and does still reward the development and understanding of specific skills.
The Philly Open V – Zombies invade Philadelphia
Enough with the generic talk let’s take a look at Dredge in action.
Despite not having any chance to test this month I still was able to get a pretty good read on the field. Workshops Dredge and Tezzeret were likely to be the most popular decks with Oath and Fish decks not too far behind. Some also suggested that TPS might be ready for a comeback as the other decks intensified their focus on each other.
With this in mind I built the following version of Dredge. I called it “Turtle Dredge” because it has a simple goal: be slow be steady but win the race.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 2 Golgari Thug
- 2 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Woodfall Primus
The previous two times I’d played Dredge in May and August of last year I played Fatestitcher Dredge which is a sort of cross between traditional mana-less Dredge and mana Dredge. In place of a spell accelerant like Breakthrough Fatestitcher Ichorid uses the Unearth ability of Fatestitcher to untap Bazaar of Baghdad; this acts as a Dredge accelerant as well as another sacrifice outlet for Cabal Therapy and Dread Return. Recently at least in my metagame the more popular Dredge decks are mana versions that don’t play Serum Powder and try to reduce reliance on Bazaar of Baghdad by playing Breakthrough and Careful Study. Mark Hornung and Jake Gans have both had a lot of success using this style of Dredge.
The problem with both Fatestitcher Dredge and the mana versions are a weakness to prepared Wasteland strategies especially Workshop decks. Decks like Noble Fish with prepared sideboards can use Wastelands to take out Bazaar while countering draw spells and using hate cards to clean up. Workshop decks can use hate cards to buy time and protect them with resistors which also make it impossible to play draw spells or cards to fight the hate. Against both of these decks Fatestitchers are suboptimal as without a Bazaar in play they don’t accomplish much of anything.
Instead of aiming for speed I wanted a deck that was as consistent as possible. I included Serum Powders to help find Bazaar of Baghdad and Petrified Field to combat Wastelands and to abuse Bloodghast. Additionally I added Chalice of the Void to slow down the pace of the game and lock out fast mana; although Chalice has fallen somewhat out of favor recently I’d always found the card to be extremely powerful in games one and three. I also included Leyline of the Void as it impairs opponents by taking away Yawgmoth’s Will and would obviously give me a leg-up in the mirror.
I also played two Nature’s Claims in the main; these would give me outs to main-deck Leyline of the Void as well as extra resistance to Oath of Druids and Time Vault strategies. I included two Dread Returns with two targets a Flame-Kin Zealot to lock-in a likely three-turn goldfish in game 1 and Woodfall Primus to give me a Dread Return out to Time Vault or Tezzeret as well as a target that could lock-up games by taking away my opponent’s mana sources.
I included the maximum of four Narcomoeba and Bloodghast along with two Ichorid; these would let me win games even if I couldn’t resolve spells such as when playing against Workshop decks. To support Bloodghast I played four Undiscovered Paradise as well as the already-mentioned Petrified Fields and also included one Dakmor Salvage. I played one Darkblast main as well as it can be useful in random situations and with that many black creatures is only marginally worse (if at all) than a third Golgari Thug.
In the sideboard I included a third Ichorid to increase hate-resistance. The key strategy post-SB of this style of Dredge is to force opponents to use their one-shot hate cards (like Tormod’s Crypt Relic of Progenitus and Ravenous Trap) early by applying pressure without having huge exposure. A single Ichorid Bloodghast Bridge from Below and Undiscovered Paradise can provide a lot of pressure over only a few turns.
I included four Chain of Vapor to combat Leyline of the Void and Yixlid Jailer and two additional Nature’s Claim for Leyline and a variety of miscellaneous hate; Nature’s Claim is also obviously strong against Oath of Druids. The single Darkblast gives extra protection against Jailer and is also useful in case of Goblins (of both the Fanatical and Welding varieties). I played three Unmask to combat combo decks and Ravenous Trap and two Pithing Needle as they are relatively powerful against Workshop decks or people who overload on a single hate card (like Tormod’s Crypt).
The general sideboard plan for game 2 is as follows:
Out: -4 Leyline of the Void -4 Chalice of the Void -2 Dread Return -1 Flame-Kin Zealot -1 Woodfall Primus
In: +2 City of Brass +2 Pithing Needle +2 Nature’s Claim +4 Chain of Vapor +1 Ichorid +1 Darkblast
Versus Tezzeret and Oath
Out: -4 Leyline of the Void -4 Chalice of the Void -2 Dread Return -1 Flame-Kin Zealot -1 Woodfall Primus -2 Petrified Field
In: +2 City of Brass +1 Pithing Needle +2 Nature’s Claim +4 Chain of Vapor +1 Ichorid +1 Darkblast +3 Unmask
Out: -4 Leyline of the Void -4 Chalice of the Void -2 Dread Return -1 Flame-Kin Zealot -1 Woodfall Primus
In: +2 City of Brass +2 Pithing Needle +2 Nature’s Claim +2 Chain of Vapor +1 Ichorid +3 Unmask
Out: -4 Chalice of the Void -2 Petrified Field -1 Darkblast -1 Woodfall Primus
In: +4 Chain of Vapor +2 Nature’s Claim +2 City of Brass
For game 3 against Tezzeret Oath of Druids and Workshops I bring the Chalice of the Voids back into the deck after getting a better read on my opponent’s hate. Chalice is an exceptionally powerful weapon against any deck running a full set of power and I won at least two game threes on the day due to this sideboard maneuver.
Without any chance to test I had to hope that my estimations of the metagame and past experience with Dredge would be enough. I estimated that there might be 70 players but even with the snow 82 players signed up.
I really have no entertaining or insightful stories to tell pre-tournament on this one. I slept 14 hours the night before fighting off illness and I came to the tournament by myself. These are going to be relatively short descriptions especially the game ones.
Round 1 – Win 2-0 versus Kyle with Tezz (1-0)
Kyle if you’re reading this and your name isn’t Kyle – I apologize. I have a “K” in my notes so I’m taking my best guess.
Game 1 I’m on the play and have to mulligan to four before I can locate a Bazaar of Baghdad but the hand has a Grave-Troll as well so nothing atypical of Dredge really. I drop my Bazaar and activate immediately on the off-chance I can find a Chalice of the Void but I don’t. Kyle drops a Mox a land and Dark Confidant into play so I’m reasonably certain he’s on Tezz. My Dredges are decent but I don’t have much action on my second turn and I pass back. Kyle drops another mox and another land but doesn’t have any other action besides attacking for two. On my next turn I hit some action; I dredge back Dakmor Salvage bring back an Ichorid and some Bloodghasts Cabal Therapy to make sure the way is clear and then Dread Return a Woodfall Primus to destroy one land; a second Cabal Therapy clears the threats from Kyle’s hand and blows up his other land. Kyle takes his card from Confidant and his draw and then scoops them up.
Game 2 I have to mulligan to five while Kyle goes all the way to four before giving up on finding any hate. He opens on Black Lotus and an Island and passes while I play a Bazaar. On his second turn Kyle plays a Top and then sacrifices the Black Lotus to play Tinker for Sphinx of the Steel Wind. Sphinx is able to get in there once but I get my dredge on and the board fills up with Narcomoebas Ichorids Bloodghasts and Zombie tokens. Kyle realizes he’s not going to be able to race and I’m through round one.
Round 2 – Win 2-0 versus Brad with Oath (2-0)
Brad and I have had a bit of a rivalry going the last few months. I knocked him out of the top 8 in New York with Fish which he promptly avenged last weekend by getting his Elephant on Terastodon style.
Game 1 I mulligan to five on the play. I have literally no notes from this game so I’m sure it was a typical game-one Dredge game.
Game 2 I keep my opener while Brad goes to six and then stops as his hand has a lot of potential to race but no hate. He gets an Oath into play and gets to activate it once and hits Terastodon. Suddenly there are a lot of elephants in play. Still I’m not overly concerned – I have another Bazaar and continue to get my dredge on along with a Nature’s Claim on the Oath of Druids. That pushes Brad back to 12 life but I’m still on 19 with a ton of creatures in play… and attacking isn’t going to help Brad because I’ll chump-block with a Narcomoeba and pick up three more 2/2 zombies. I win the race – something that happened repeatedly today. Even without Dread Return the combination of Ichorid Bloodghast and Bridge from Below with Cabal Therapy is more than enough to race most other Vintage decks.
Round 3 – Lose 1-2 versus Chris with Noble Fish (2-1)
For game 1 Chris is on the play and we both keep our openers. I win on 20 life with no notes. Dredge’ll do that. I believe he scooped it up after turn two as my board exploded with creatures.
Game 2 Chris takes a mulligan while I keep. My hand has two Bazaars two dredgers a Nature’s Claim and two Chain of Vapors. Chris opens on Needle naming Bazaar. I draw and then discard a Grave-troll. Chris is stuck on mana and can’t actually cast any threats so I try to race by slow-dredging but I can’t find any action at all in those dredges – just more sideboard cards and more dredgers. Eventually Chris draws lands and builds a board presence after hitting me with a Tormod’s Crypt and then playing another. I may have made a mistake here by not just trying to draw into a colored land.
Game 3 we both keep again and have a pretty epic game. Chris plays a Mystical Tutor for Ravenous Trap and I do my best to play around it and force him to use it. From there I drop a Cabal Therapy on him when he has three cards in hand and he uses a Force of Will to counter it. I then do some dredging and pull an Unmask. I use the last two cards in my hand to Unmask him and in response he wipes my graveyard away – his last card is a second Ravenous Trap! Brutal. I can’t race him with the cards I have left in my library and lose with him at 1 life.
Round 4 – Win 2-0 versus Jon with Workshop Aggro (3-1)
Jon wins the die roll and takes a mulligan. He’s able to Wasteland me once and get a Goblin Welder into play but I get some creatures out and Cabal Therapy and blind name Magus of the Moon (and hit). From there I’m easily able to race.
Game 2 Jon snap keeps while I have to mulligan to four. Jon plays Mox Mox Mox Magus of the Moon. Game over.
Game 3 we both keep. I open with Bazaar and Chalice of the Void on zero. Jon plays Workshop Sol Ring Solemn Simulacrum. I use Bazaar at EOT and then again on upkeep and dredge very well including two Cabal Therapies. Again I name Magus of the Moon and hit and also see a Triskelion and Mana Crypt. The Chalice of the Void saved me from a first-turn Triskelion which is brutal against Dredge. With all his threats removed Jon isn’t able to fight back.
Round 5 – Win 2-0 versus Ronald with Tezzeret (4-1)
Ron won an NYSE tournament last August with Ichorid and played the deck for some time afterwards but has recently changed strategies. I wasn’t sure what he was playing today. My opening hand has double Leyline but no Bazaar so I have to decide if he’s on Dredge or not (obviously I should’ve scouted better). Ultimately I decide that he’s probably not on Dredge and mulligan to five to find a Bazaar. The only life change noted is Ron going to 19 probably from a fetch land as he’s on Tezzeret.
Game 2 was pretty epic. I take one mulligan and then keep. Ron opens on a Yixlid Jailer and follows that up with a Tinker into Sphinx of the Steel Wind. I have an end-of-turn Chain of Vapor on the Jailer which Ron counters with Force of Will. I untap and on my upkeep send a second Chain of Vapor at the Jailer to bounce it and then get my dredge on using Cabal Therapy to clear the Jailer from Ron’s hand and seeing a Demonic Tutor. Ron draws Sol Ring on his turn and uses that to play Demonic Tutor into another Yixlid Jailer and attacks with Sphinx. I draw for my turn and hit Chain of Vapor. Ding! I Chain the second Jailer eliciting a groan from Ron. From there I’m able to race his Sphinx as I’ve hit all four Bridge from Below and several Narcomoeba. The turn I win the game I have 32 2/2 Zombie tokens in play.
Round 6 – Win 2-1 versus Jeff with Tezzeret (5-1)
This is awkward for a lot of reasons. I don’t want to play Jeff at all unless it’s in the finals where we have a bit of a habit of splitting a Black Lotus. Taking an ID here is a low-EV play especially for me as my breakers aren’t particularly strong so one of us is getting knocked out of top 8 contention here.
Jeff wins the die roll and we both keep. I have double Leyline on turn zero. His opener is very strong with a ton of fast mana into a Dark Confidant. I play Bazaar and pass back. Jeff plays Merchant Scroll for Gifts Ungiven with a Key in play and passes back to me. I Dredge my little heart out and hit everything I need except for the Cabal Therapy that would win me the game (I had 1 Narcomoeba and 1 Bloodghast in play plus 2 Bridge from Below 2 Dread Return and Woodfall Primus in the yard but needed a third creature or Cabal Therapy to get there). I have to pass back to Jeff. He plays Gifts on his upkeep but his pile isn’t strong enough to win that turn due to the Leylines and I untap and hit the gas I need to wrap it up.
The second game I mulligan all the way down to three. The three-card hand is City of Brass Nature’s Claim and Pithing Needle. Without a Bazaar or dredger this is a pretty weak hand but it’s also one that is highly resistant to a Key/Vault from Jeff so I keep it. Obviously I draw a Bazaar off the top.
Record player queues up…
“When I walk out of my front door I’m livin’ a charmed life. Put my food down in the fast lane huh and I’m livin’ a charmed life…”
Record skips. Jeff has a turn 2 Key/Vault.
DVD player queues up…
“That’s a bummer man!”
Game 3 Chalice of the Void wins me another game. I keep my very strong opener and Jeff mulls to six and keeps. His six-card hand has land Mox Lotus Tezzeret and Force of Will. I play a Bazaar and Chalice on zero. Jeff has no option but to Force the Chalice as his hand is essentially all blanks without it. I use Bazaar immediately to look for another Chalice but whiff. Unfortunately Jeff doesn’t draw any action on his second turn and the board fills up with brain-hungry zombies.
Round 7 – ID versus Jesse with TPS (5-1-1)
After the Swiss rounds there was a nearly-clean break to top 8 with Jeremy Beaver on the outside looking in on tie-breakers due to an early loss. Still I’m glad to see Beaver back playing Vintage again – and very glad that I didn’t have to face him.
I make it in as the #8 seed and promptly have to battle the Brassman himself Andy Probasco. Still I’m happy with the match-up as I’m 8-1 games against Blue control decks on the day and I’m always excited to sling cards against the best.
Quarterfinals – Win 2-0 versus Andy Probasco with Tezz (6-1-1)
Most of the people I talked to said the Brassman was on Tezz but I suspect it might’ve actually been Remora Control based on Mindbreak Trap and sheer number of lands he played game two. I’ll know for sure when I see the TO report but I do know he won a smaller Vintage event on Sunday in Holmes PA.
My opening hand game one has 3 Bazaars and no dredgers. Obviously I keep. Andy takes one mulligan. I play a Bazaar and dig for a Chalice and miss – but hit a dredger thankfully. From there I just throw out Bazaars into Andy’s board of lands and fast mana. When I Cabal Therapy him I see some counterspells but nothing that’s going to stop my on-board creatures from taking over the game. He draws one last time and then scoops to the trip Bazaar.
Game 2 I mulligan three times while Andy keeps. I’m told his hand was something along the line of two lands two Ravenous Trap two Force of Will and a Black Lotus. My hand opens slowly with just one Bazaar and only a few dredgers but I get Andy to play his first Trap when I have around 12 cards in my yard as I’m about to get a Bloodghast into play. He plays another one shortly after to again keep the board clear. He continues to play land after land but nothing resembling any pressure. After the second trap I rebuild my graveyard a third time and start to build a board with Bloodglast an Ichorid and a Bridge from Below. I Cabal Therapy and see a Trapmaker’s Snare Force of Will and Misdirection. I keep my library at five cards to make sure Ancestral Recall isn’t an out and pass the turn back. Andy draws yet another land and that’s it. I’m quite lucky that he was severely flooded and that he apparently only had two Ravenous Trap.
Semi-finals – Lose 1-2 versus Jake with Dredge (6-2-1)
Jake and I are both playing Leylines although I have four to his three along with Serum Powders which he isn’t playing.
For game 1 I’m on the play and mulligan to five while Jake stays on six. I open with double Leyline of the Void and that’s basically all she wrote. In New York Jake ran two Chain of Vapors in his main. He may have had them again on Saturday but never found them before the game was over as I drew a Bazaar after five turns or so.
For game 2 I mulligan and serum powder down to four but can’t find a hand that has a Leyline of the Void and a Bazaar. My seven-card hand has a Leyline but the entire rest of the hand is dredgers or engine cards so if Jake also has a Leyline I have little chance of winning. I would have kept a hand with Bazaar and an answer for Leyline as well but I can’t find that either. Ultimately my four-card hand is Bazaar of Baghdad City of Brass and two dredgers which isn’t terrible. Jake doesn’t open on Leyline – he plays City of Brass and then Pithing Needle on Bazaar.
He then proceeds to play Breakthrough with X=1 to get his graveyard full and then has a second Breakthrough to dredge like a madman. If there was a song called “More Charmed Life” I’d quote the lyrics below.
For game 3 I mulligan all the way to one without seeing Leyline of theVoid or Bazaar of Baghdad or Serum Powder. Unlikely right? And that’s my day.
Is This the End of Zombie Shakespeare?
Jake lost in the finals in three games to Jesse with TPS. TPS is generally a rough match-up for Ichorid but I feel I would’ve had a decent shot as my list includes Chalice of the Void and Unmask.
Despite coming up a little short this was an awesome tournament with a lot of high-caliber Vintage players. I’ve managed to make the top 8 of four Vintage tournaments this year with four different decks so the tour of Vintage has been a success thus far. Vintage is wide-open at the moment with plenty of room for customization and innovation. Most exciting to me: this tournament had a Two Card Monte mirror match and that deck also made the top 8 (going undefeated in the Swiss rounds). I’ve seen versions both with and without Serum Powder and Jerry Yang made a top 4 with a version playing Lodestone Golem and a transform into Oath of Druids sideboard. In a Workshop and Dredge-heavy metagame this deck can be a contender.
As far Turtle Dredge I was really impressed with the way my deck played and I’d strongly recommend it. While I felt very comfortable piloting Oath of Druids and Noble Fish those decks tend to have many even or slightly favorable match-ups you can win on play skill and knowledge of the format. This Dredge deck was the first deck I’ve played in a while that felt like it was flat-out overpowering my opponents. One-shot hate cards like Ravenous Trap are only marginally effective against the sideboard plan I outlined above which makes this list really powerful.
The fact that it’s extremely cheap to build with proxies and less expensive than some Legacy decks at zero-proxy is certainly an added bonus…
Next week: With a little luck I’ll be able to get my hands on the full collection of deck lists from the Philly Open for analysis to help us frame our understanding of the current Vintage meta.