Introduction to Vintage Dredge
For those who may not be familiar with Vintage Dredge, allow me to provide you with a little background.
The origins of the deck can be traced back to Stephen Menendian introducing the deck in March of 2006. Wizards of the Coast had yet to provide a number of the cards that are now staples of the deck. There were no Narcomoebas or Bloodghasts to provide easy creatures.
Back in my day, an Ashen Ghoul had to walk fifteen miles in the snow with three creatures on his back to get the chance to attack, and we liked it.
Steve managed to make a splash with the deck, but it largely stayed on the fringes and never approached tier one.
In January of 2007, Steve refined his list and introduced the first manaless version of Dredge, which was the first list to completely forego playing any spells using mana. The printing of Time Spiral brought in Dread Return, which gave the deck a fast kill mechanism by casting Dread Return targeting a Sutured Ghoul, removing enough creatures from the graveyard to make the Sutured Ghoul lethal and then giving it haste with a Dragon's Breath from the graveyard. The deck was completely reliant upon having a Bazaar of Baghdad in opening hand, and Serum Powder was added to the deck to increase the likelihood of finding a Bazaar of Baghdad before mulliganing to one card. Gigapede was added as a secondary discard outlet and fodder to pump up Sutured Ghoul. Without black mana to bring in Ashen Ghoul, Nether Spirit was chosen as a replacement.
The next big development with Dredge came with the release of Future Sight. Narcomoeba immediately provided a creature that got into play immediately when dredged. Bridge From Below provided an army of Zombie tokens in exchange for the creatures we were happy to sacrifice to Cabal Therapy or Dread Return anyway. Street Wraith seemed a perfect fit for manaless Ichorid as it provided an additional dredge for two life and then could be exiled to bring Ichorid into play. With Bridge from Below, people soon cut out the clunky Sutured Ghoul kill and opted for the cleaner Flame-Kin Zealot, as it took up less maindeck slots.
With these additions, the Dredge archetype became significantly more powerful overnight; however, it still had the important Achilles heel of being too vulnerable to graveyard hate.
The next big development for Dredge came in Zendikar with the printing of Bloodghast. Bloodghast provided another Narcomoeba-like creature to dredge that could be easily brought into play for Dread Return, Cabal Therapy, and attacking. The power level of Bloodghast and the desire for greater resiliency was enough to cause Vintage players to reintroduce land into their Dredge decks. Petrified Field, Undiscovered Paradise and Dakmor Salvage were natural choices for the deck as they allowed for more reliable landfall activations despite a relatively small amount of actual land cards. Nature's Claim also provided a cheap solution to many of the problematic cards for Dredge such as Pithing Needle, Tormod's Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, and Leyline of the Void. Iona, Shield of Emeria provided another solid Dread Return target that had the potential to win the game all by herself.
Matt Elias wrote a fantastic two-part Ultimate Vintage Dredge Primer around this time. This led to most of the decks we've seen recently. In April, I took this list to a tournament in Waterbury Connecticut and placed in the Top 8.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 2 Golgari Thug
- 2 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
Wizards of the Coast has shown quite a bit of attention to the Dredge archetype and has drastically changed the flavor of the deck over the past five years. I think New Phyrexia also has some notable goodies for the Dredge archetype that may take it to even greater heights.
Why should you consider Dredge in Vintage?
1) It's extremely powerful and consistent. It is capable of consistently winning the game by turn 2-3 despite the presence of multiple counters.
2) It's extremely forgiving and easy to learn. When people talk to me about wanting to experiment in the Vintage format, I always push them towards the Dredge archetype. Mulligan decisions are still easy, as the prime objective is still to have Bazaar of Baghdad in the opening hand at all costs. Missing a Narcomoeba or Ichorid trigger is rarely a game changer. These can matter, but often the difference between ten and thirteen Zombie tokens is not important. Often even epic misplays still leave a realistic chance of winning the following turn if the opponent doesn't win.
3) With the proxies that Vintage tournaments allow, it's probably cheaper than your Legacy deck. With fifteen proxies, you can most likely build this deck for less than the cost of one Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
What is the difference between Vintage and Legacy Dredge?
Bazaar of Baghdad. When you look at Legacy Dredge lists, we see cards like Putrid Imp, Tireless Tribe, Breakthrough, Cephalid Coliseum, and Careful Study to make up for the lack of Bazaar of Baghdad; in Vintage we have Bazaar of Baghdad, and a number of the differences in the deck flow naturally from there. Cards like Serum Powder and Petrified Field make far more sense in the context of a Bazaar of Baghdad engine. With this more compact drawing/discarding engine, it opens up more space for reactive cards like Nature's Claim or Chain of Vapor and cards that speed up the deck and provide greater consistency like Bloodghasts. With Bloodghast, cards like Petrified Field and Undiscovered Paradise are more logical inclusions in the deck.
Enter New Phyrexia
The introduction of New Phyrexia has brought some interesting prospects to the Vintage Dredge archetype. Although most current builds of Dredge play multiple mana sources, it is still the most mana light archetype in Vintage. The only artifact mana you'll find here is Serum Powder, and somewhere in the neighborhood of ten mana producing lands is typical. Because of the mana constraints of the archetype, mana is at a premium.
For Dredge decks the Phyrexian mana symbol is exactly what they are looking for—cheap spells that give an excellent value for the mana invested. The only commonly played card in Dredge decks that drains its owner's life points is City of Brass. When this is considered as well as the extremely fast clock the deck provides, the importance of the life loss is even lower than in most Vintage archetypes. When evaluating cards for Dredge, it's important to look at them in the context of game one and post-board games separately. Dredge's game one win percentage is extremely high. Typically if a Dredge deck loses game one, it is to one of three factors:
1) The other deck wins before you do: There are decks that have strategies that are capable of winning as fast or faster than Dredge, most notably Storm combo, the mirror match, or the rare two-land Belcher deck. Control strategies also have Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus and Time Vault/Voltaic Key in order to try and steal game one, although they are less consistent.
2) Maindeck hate: Because of the prevalence of the graveyard in Vintage, it is not unheard of for decks to run some situational graveyard hate, which can be crippling to an unprepared Dredge deck. In the past, Bomberman was a tough matchup for Dredge because Trinket Mage allowed players to get its one copy of Tormod's Crypt. With the rise of Workshop strategies, having a Bazaar of Baghdad hit by a Wasteland is a realistic and substantial setback for Dredge players. Lodestone Golem also provides Workshop players with the clock necessary to outrace a Dredge plan that only has its draw step to rely on for dredging.
3) Epic fail: The deck comes with an inherent flaw in that it is often useless without a Bazaar of Baghdad and very few opening hands can be considered without a Bazaar of Baghdad. Serum Powder is a four-of in the deck to make this as unlikely as possible. Still, the deck carries approximately a seven percent chance of a mulligan to one card without hitting a Bazaar of Baghdad. It is also possible to have Bazaar of Baghdad but hit absolutely no dredgers in a number of turns and lose the game that way. This can be addressed by having more Dredge cards in the maindeck to improve consistency.
Let's take a look at some of the more promising cards from New Phyrexia from the Dredge perspective.
What's the competition? Leyline of the Void; they both intend to attack the graveyard.
Why is it better than Leyline of the Void?
1) It attacks the hand and library, not just the graveyard. Assuming the targeted spell is not a one-of, Surgical Extraction will go grab any additional copies from the library and ideally from the hand. There is also the possibility of shuffling away cards deliberately placed on top of the library. The most common examples are topdeck tutors like Mystical Tutor/Vampiric Tutor/Imperial Seal. A more subtle example would be an opponent casting Brainstorm in response to a Cabal Therapy to hide good cards only to find them shuffled away by Surgical Extraction. Getting back to our conditions for losing game one, these topdeck tutors are often important in setting up quick kills or grabbing that one piece of maindeck graveyard hate.
2) It shows an opponent's hand and library, which gives great value with Cabal Therapy/Iona, Shield of Emeria. Most often the first Cabal Therapy a Dredge deck casts is just an educated guess. You may or may not know which archetype your opponent is playing let alone which cards they have specifically. Surgical Extraction makes that first Cabal Therapy from a random guess to a certainty. A Cabal Therapy can also improve a Surgical Extraction by providing a juicy target for Surgical Extraction. Also, knowing your opponent's deck and hand can help you maximize your Dread Returned Iona, Shield of Emeria by telling you what they have in hand or can topdeck to deal with the situation.
3) It is not vulnerable to removal or bounce spells. A Nature's Claim or a Chain of Vapor is of no consequence to a Surgical Extraction, but they shut off Leyline of the Void quite effectively. It's possible to recast a bounced Leyline of the Void, but given the shortage of mana sources it's highly unlikely.
4) They don't know about it. This is much less common now, but when Flash was unrestricted, this could have disrupted the Reveillark kill or if Worldgorger Dragon made a comeback, playing this in response to the Animate Dead or Necromancy could give a two-for-one that they would not have attempted with Leyline of the Void on the table. Today, Surgical Extraction could certainly still effectively counter a Dread Return. This seems to matter much less in the current environment, but these types of strategies are not unknown in Vintage and may come back at some point.
5) It's castable if it's not in your opening hand. Most of the time, if your deck is functioning properly, you should only draw two additional cards that were not in your opening hand from the first Bazaar of Baghdad activation, and every single subsequent draw should probably be used to Dredge, but if things don't go according to plan or you see a Surgical Extraction from that first Bazaar activation, I would certainly prefer to have that over Leyline of the Void.
Why is it worse than Leyline of the Void?
1) It's uncounterable if it's in your opening hand. The pregame effect of Leyline of the Void puts it into play for free and does not give the opportunity to counter it. If Surgical Extraction is that devastating, they have the option of throwing a counter at it. Surgical Extraction also requires a non-basic land card in the opponent's graveyard to be cast; it does give our opponent the opportunity to cast sphere effects or Chalice of the Void set at one, which would make our Surgical Extraction much harder/impossible to cast.
2) It gets rid of everything. A Yawmoth's Will missing the best card that was in the graveyard is an annoyance; a Yawgmoth's Will with a Leyline of the Void on the table all game is a dead card. A Dredge deck without Bridge from Below, Dread Return, Bloodghast, etc. has been slowed down; a Dredge deck facing a Leyline of the Void is doing nothing until it gets its removal spell, assuming it even has a maindeck removal spell. Returning to the conditions for losing game one, this slows down Storm combo considerably, as it often relies on a Yawgmoth's Will for a quick kill and can be a complete blowout against the mirror.
3) It doesn't cost two life. I know, I know. I said life doesn't matter much, but that is one fewer spell they need for that lethal Tendrils of Agony.
Will Surgical Extraction see play? It's possible that this card may be a better maindeck option than Leyline of the Void, as it has broader and more proactive applications against decks that are less graveyard-dependent. Despite this, I think Dredge's biggest game one fears are better addressed by Leyline of the Void, and as a sideboard option, we often want the more devastating niche card.
Extirpate—Surgical Extraction's split second/costs mana doppelganger—has some advantages over this card and sees no play in Vintage Dredge, but the difference between a zero-mana spell and a one-mana spell in Vintage is quite a gap. Ravenous Trap is also often a free graveyard attack spell in those problematic matchups we mentioned earlier, but it also sees no play in Vintage Dredge.
What's the competition? Street Wraith; they both draw a card for two life points.
1) You get to see your opponent's hand. See point 2) of Surgical Extraction about the synergy between this and Cabal Therapy/Iona, Shield of Emeria. This can also let you know if the coast is clear to invest in a Dread Return.
2) It can be cast for one blue mana. If you have the mana available, you can cast it and save yourself the damage.
3) It's blue and can be pitched to Force of Will. Many people have attempted to fit Force of Will into Dredge with mixed success; this card might help to increase the blue count enough to justify Force of Will.
2) It cycles. No counters, no opportunity to respond, occurs at instant speed, no concern for chalices, spheres, Meddling Mage, Iona, etc.
Will Gitaxian Probe see play? I spent a lot of time trying to explain to myself why Street Wraith doesn't see play in most Dredge decks currently. The conclusion I came to was that Street Wraith's only function was to make the deck “goldfish” more quickly. Typically, the deck will consistently win on turn 2 or 3 if not disrupted. Street Wraith pushes this more commonly into turn 2 and opens up a remote possibility of winning on turn 1. Winning quickly was never Dredge's problem; it was its lack of resilience to hate. I think that with many spheres and chalices running around, the argument in favor of Gitaxian Probe in Dredge over Street Wraith has never been worse, but it still might offer enough additional utility to see play.
What's the competition? Darkblast; they both make creatures smaller for a one-mana investment.
1) It kills bigger creatures than Darkblast can. There aren't many creatures that are of a major concern to a Dredge deck. It can buy you an additional turn by shrinking a Blightsteel Colossus. Tarmogoyf or Lodestone Golem can be problematic situationally. I can imagine a hearty fist pump Dismembering a Lodestone Golem in response to my opponent casting a Sculpting Steel
2) It costs a colorless mana instead of a black. Most of the lands in Dredge produce any color of mana, but Dismember can be cast off of Petrified Field. So that's more mana that can be used to cast it.
3) It gets around Chalice of the Void at one. The fact that the spell is technically three converted mana cost is a nice bonus.
1) Darkblast dredges. It may not provide the same punch as Stinkweed Imp or Golgari-Grave Troll, but when you're short on dredge cards, it will absolutely do. Keep in mind that this also lets you recur the spell as needed and get it without actually having to draw it from the deck. If you're dredging well, you have almost no opportunity to get Dismember if it isn't in your opening hand. Grabbing a Darkblast with your draw step dredge is easy.
2) Darkblast doesn't cost four life. For a guy who says life points are of little consequence, I sure seem to talk about it a lot. Casting a Dismember off of a City of Brass is the equivalent of a Lodestone Golem hit right there. That could speed up their clock by a turn.
Will Dismember see play? I doubt it; the creature that scares Dredge the most is Yixlid Jailer, and Darkblast does the job better. Darkblast makes more sense in the maindeck because of the dredge ability, and in the sideboard, we would probably want cheap artifact removal or bounce spells instead of creature removal.
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
What's the competition? Sphinx of Lost Truths/Iona, Shield of Emeria. They're both second-option Dread Return targets that provide a powerful play when Flame-Kin Zealot is either unavailable or unable to win the game.
The consensus is that the first Dread Return target is the Flame-Kin Zealot, as it often provides the win on that turn. The second creature is a bit more open to debate. Sphinx of Lost Truths provides card drawing to dredge up whatever is missing to provide the win. Iona provided a massive 7/7 flying body and can immediately cut off an opponent's answers to Iona before they have an opportunity to cast the spell. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur does both. He draws the cards to dredge and forces your opponent to discard his hand.
1) They both do their jobs immediately. With Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur we have to wait for our end step to draw the cards it promises; Sphinx of Lost Truths draws us the cards right away and gives us the chance to win that turn. The deck isn't capable of winning on its end step. With Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur we need to wait for our opponent's end step to disrupt them, which is an eternity in Vintage. Iona, Shield of Emeria doesn't even wait to be on the battlefield to cut off our opponent's color.
2) If something goes awry, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur could deck you. You can potentially ride an Iona, Shield of Emeria or Sphinx of Lost Truths to victory with their large bodies and flying. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur has no evasion, and the draw seven is not a “may effect.”
Will Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur see play? Probably not. It does do two things that you'd like your Dread Return target to do, but it does neither of them very well. If Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur's effects occurred immediately, we'd really have something, but the window it gives our opponents and the liability it could be are too much.
2) Get back your anti-hate spells. If you have the Chain of Vapor/Nature's Claim/Darkblast for their Tormod's Crypt/Yixlid Jailer/Relic of Progenitus, and it gets countered, you can Noxious Revival it and either get a chance to replay the spell or force them to pop their Tormod's Crypt or Relic of Progenitus.
3) You can use Noxious Revival on your opponent. You can cast it on your opponent to put a dead card on top of an opponent's library. This doesn't ruin topdeck tutors, but it can be used to potentially set them back a turn. In game one, that one-turn setback can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
4) Crop Rotation costs mana, and you have to sacrifice a land. A countered Crop Rotation is a massive setback; a countered Noxious Revival still leaves options. Noxious Revival is also easier to cast through sphere effects.
5) Petrified Field costs a land drop. If you play a turn 1 Bazaar of Baghdad, and your opponent Wastelands it, you can Noxious Revival it and draw it on your next turn and play it. In the same situation, Petrified Field would require another turn to get Bazaar of Baghdad back into play.
2) Noxious Revival doesn't directly lead to a landfall trigger. Crop Rotation gives the opportunity to have two landfall triggers in one turn. Petrified Field usually ensures multiple landfall triggers with its own trigger and the trigger for the land it puts in your hand. This allows for some strong plays with Bloodghast and Dread Return/Cabal Therapy/Bridge from Below.
3) Noxious Revival costs a dredge. If we use Noxious Revival to get back something we would like to get into our hand, we have to forego a dredge in order to get the card on top. By comparison, Crop Rotation puts the card directly into play, and Petrified Field puts the card in hand, so there is no need to forego the dredge.
5) Crop Rotation gives some additional hands that can be kept without Bazaar. Although I wouldn't recommend keeping a hand that can fall apart to a Force of Will, if you get down to three cards, beggars can't be choosers. At some point, your chances of winning from running out a Crop Rotation and hoping they don't have Force of Will is better than your chances of finding a Bazaar in subsequent mulligans.
6) You can't counter a Petrified Field.
Will Noxious Revival see play? I think this could be the sleeper card of the set; nobody really seems to be talking about it, but I think it could help to make the deck more resilient to one of Dredge's most common game one problems. It helps us answer Wasteland like Crop Rotation does, but it's not as risky and easier to cast through the sphere effects that we are likely to see. It can help us recur our anti-hate cards or force them to use their hate cards before they might want to. The fact that it can also be used proactively to set back an opponent's game plan or get us a Narcomoeba is some excellent additional utility.
What's the competition? No direct comparison.
What do I like about Mental Misstep?
1) When other decks try to assemble the win quickly when they know they are facing Dredge, there can be a number of cheap spells they rely on. There are a very large number of strong one-casting-cost spells commonly seen in Vintage: Ancestral Recall, Voltaic Key, Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, Brainstorm, Ponder, Preordain, Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Sensei's Divining Top, and Dark Ritual just to name a few.
2) It's blue and can pitch to Force of Will.
What don't I like about Mental Misstep?
2) There are a large number of powerful spells in Vintage that don't cost one mana.
Will Mental Misstep see play? More people have been discussing this as a means of protecting their hate cards. All of Dredge's answers are one mana with Darkblast, Pithing Needle, Chain of Vapor, and Nature's Claim. I suppose it's possible if this takes off that Dredge players may play Mental Missteps of their own to attempt to counter this, but I think more time will be needed to judge its strength in Vintage.
Given the analysis of all these cards, allow me to share the updated Dredge build I've been working on. Because many of the cards in the deck are relatively new, this is still a work in progress, but the early results have been promising.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
Non-NPH Card Choices:
Force of Will: People have tried many times to make Force of Will work in Dredge. They have had alternatives like Unmask to pull the most problematic spell out of our opponent's hand, but this is limited by the fact that it is a sorcery. In Vintage, many of the most important plays occur on the first turn, and missing that opportunity to disrupt the opponent is extremely relevant.
Getting back to my earlier points about losing game one, with the right hand it is possible that the Dredge player may never see their first turn. In addition, this allows us to be more resistant to topdecks. You'll notice that the black cards in Dredge are not situational, and you would not want to remove most of them from the game to pay for Unmask.
By comparison, almost all of the blue cards can be exiled without compromising the central strategy of the deck. Lastly, the Dredge decks that play Force of Will are so uncommon right now that it may take opponents completely by surprise. Decks are used to having carte blanche with regards to resolving their spells against Dredge; when they see Bazaar of Baghdad they may assume all their spells will resolve and foolishly walk into your Force of Will. The blue card count is up to seventeen, which I believe should be enough to support Force of Will.
Chain of Vapor: Previously I had run three maindeck copies of Nature's Claim, but with the desire for additional blue cards and the printing of Blightsteel Colossus as the new popular Tinker target, Chain of Vapor is the clear choice for maindeck removal.
Sphinx of Lost Truths: I added this card as I consider it to be the best blue Dread Return target. It's possible that the one additional blue card isn't as good as the added benefit of being able to win strictly on the back of Iona, Shield of Emeria.
Only ten maindeck dredge cards: My previous build of this deck had fifteen dredge cards; I've taken three Darkblast to the sideboard and removed two Golgari Thugs completely. I worry about possibly removing some of the deck's consistency, but given the nine cards we typically see before our first dredge, I think that ten is still a reasonable number to have. Usually after finding a dredger, subsequent dredgers aren't far behind. If I find myself struggling to find dredgers often, I may reconsider this position and add some Darkblasts back to the maindeck.
No Ichorid: When I removed the Golgari Thugs, the only black creatures around for Ichorid to eat were Stinkweed Imp, one of our best dredgers, and the other Ichorid. It struck me as an easy cut. Ichorid does help with the slow dredge game after a Bazaar of Baghdad has been hit by Wasteland, as it comes into play through spheres, attacks, and then hopefully leaves behind some Zombie tokens.
Good luck and happy dredging!
Meddling Mage on TMD/SCG
lydonmh at bc.edu