Insider: Standard Deck Primer – Golgari Dredge

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Over the last few weeks, I have been dredging up old feelings for playing with intricate graveyard based strategies. A handful of years ago, utilizing the graveyard was one of my favorite ways to win games of Magic. Back then, the plethora of powerful tools for graveyard interaction did not exist in every metagame as they seem to these days. Powerful hoses like Rest in Peace lurk in the shadows of Standard waiting to prey on an unsuspecting opponent.


Luckily, the Standard graveyard deck, that has nothing to do with the Dredge mechanic, has not been noticed or taken seriously by the majority of the metagame. The data to support this claim is there in its absence. Count up the number of cards that interact with the graveyard in any given top 16 and you are likely to find a final tally of zero. Players believe that their strategies are so powerful that they need not worry about the graveyard shenanigans you are dredging up on your side of the table.

Their attitude may shift a little when you kill them from twenty in one hit.

Here’s how I’ve been rocking it.

GB Dredge
By Mike Lanigan

There are some adjustments you can make to the deck, but the core cards need to stay intact. Because you are trying to hit a critical threshold of creatures in your graveyard, all of the cards that enable that are essential to your success. Cutting one Commune with the Gods is a possibility, but other than that, the other cards are a necessity. As you may have noted, I squeezed in two copies of Ultimate Price as well as the third Shadowborn Demon into the main deck. These changes have proven disruptive enough to earn their place going forward. In a big tournament atmosphere where playing against Esper Control multiple rounds is likely, these cards may be more suited for the sideboard, but they are strong against the majority of the metagame.

The key component to strength in this metagame is resilience to removal. This deck accomplishes that goal through forcing your opponent to remove unimpressive threats like Elvish Mystic only to face down a second copy of a nearly identical creature. Nighthowler takes this archetype to the next level and wins you games you had no business winning. The majority of your opponent’s removal spells will prove ineffective but there are two that are problematic. Both Detention Sphere and Abrupt Decay can deal with your bestowed Nighthowler while all the rest of the removal spells can only deal with the creature bestowed upon. Even Detention Sphere suffers from being an enchantment though so forcing through damage for the win is still possible.

There are two different lines of play that happen frequently. These two patterns happen often enough that you can identify how the game is likely to play out based on your opening hand. Here are the two common scenarios.

Get Aggressive

In this situation, you are looking to cast a creature on turn two and start attacking. With this hand, Herald of Torment will serve as your initial creature. Once you have made it past turn two, you will be searching for a way to apply more pressure.

In this specific hand, I drew a Grisly Salvage on turn three so I was able to start the digging process with two of my enablers. From there I found Shadowborn Demon and a Nemesis of Mortals.  Games you win like this usually involve a quick 5/5 or two. So, even though this hand started out with four lands which is not ideal, the Act on Impulse-esque cards in this deck found the pieces to win the game.

Set Up for the Win

In this situation,  you usually have Satyr Wayfinder and at least one other enabler. The goal is to use these search effects to position yourself to win the game. With this hand specifically, you are looking to fill your graveyard on turn two and three then follow up with a bestowed Nighthowler on turn four. These types of hands often don’t contain the Nighthowler, but honestly that’s the card you are digging for the majority of the time.

Every game is unique but with hands that involve Sylvan Caryatid, I almost always cast the mana fixer on turn two instead of one of the other two drops. There are a few reasons why you would want to lead with Caryatid. The first of which is so you can cast multiple two cost spells on turn three. This uses your mana in the most efficient way starts the gears of this deck turning as quick as possible. The second reason to sequence in this manner is because if you flip perfectly from an one of your sorceries, you can cast a Nemesis of Mortals that same turn. Once in a while you do actually flip five creatures, one of which is Nemesis. Playing your spells in this order gives you the best chance at your most powerful draws.

All-In Troll

This type of hand can pan out a couple of ways. First of all, you can always draw one of your powerful cards or more enablers that will shape your plays. However, many times with a hand of this structure, you are more likely to be all-in on Lotleth Troll.  Your first couple draws can drastically change your sequence of plays, but almost always you should wait to cast your Lotleth Troll until you have three mana. With so many removal spells floating around in Standard, it’s essential to have regenerate mana available on the turn you cast him.


Many similar hands to this set up have less creatures so your Troll will be smaller. In these situations he is a great defensive tool. Games like this can be grindy, but being able to discard Jarad and then bring him back from the graveyard late in the game is a sweet finishing move. Your opponents are not prepared to play against a recurring threat like Jarad either and most of them don’t understand how much damage his sacrifice ability is capable of dealing. There are many opportunities to combo kill your opponent just by activating Jarad’s ability at the end of their turn, attacking on your turn, and then using his ability again. If the game goes long, this should be the game plan you are trying to set up.

Ship It!

Sometimes you need to take a trip down Mulligan’s Lane. This is a great example of a hand that seems OK but you don’t have the ability to get your Nemesis in play ahead of schedule and you can’t even cast Herald of Torment on turn two. Even if you could cast the efficient flyer on turn two, this deck is not set up like Mono Black Aggro and cannot close games by attacking with aggressive creatures. It is for this reason that hands without one of your search effects are hard to justify keeping.

Once in a while this hand will work out but that’s only because the top of your deck grants you with a Commune with the Gods to make those 5/5’s into Tarmogoyf instead of Craw Wurm. Another situation that can occur with any hand is Thoughtseize ripping it apart. If the opportunity and timing line up right, make sure you cast your Grisly Salvage in response to the discard spell because even though they could remove what you salvage, setting up your graveyard is still priority number one.

Wrapping up

Unless players start packing graveyard hate for this deck, it will continue to be a great choice for any event you are heading to. If there were a big Standard event on my calendar, I would be excited to Dredge up some wins. Sometimes it’s better to play your enablers first while others you’d be better served to get some creatures in play. Sculpt each game according to the array of spells at your disposal. Treating each game as a puzzle to solve is the best way to be successful with this deck or any like it.

Tournament Tips: Learn from your mistakes

For those of you new to my column, one feature I include from time to time is this section called Tournament Tips. I’ve been playing for thirteen years now and I’ve learned many things along the way. This is one way I will help you  grow as players.

One of the most important aspects of your game is how much it’s growing. No matter how skilled you are or what level you are playing on, there is still room for growth. After an event, it is so important to assess your play and reflect on how you could have played better. There have been many events that I top 8’d that I identified multiple areas that needed worked on. In the same vein, there have been events like the recent GP Richmond, where I failed to succeed but was extremely proud of my tight play. Sometimes you get unlucky, but much of the time there are specific causes to your losses floating out there waiting to be identified. If you are striving to discover areas you can improve upon, you will improve.

Unleash the Dredging Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

28 thoughts on “Insider: Standard Deck Primer – Golgari Dredge

  1. I took BG dredge to my very first FNM, and I had a blast….I didn’t win all that much, and it’s clear that the deck is pretty skill-intensive, but man, it’s fun to play.

    The highlight of the night was being behind an entire game only to swing with a 25/26 Shadowborn Demon to seal the deal. My opponent’s face was PRICELESS!

    1. I agree, I’ve been trying to play this deck, and it’s got more of a learning curve then I’m used to. But it is pretty great, and I’m amazed how great Jarad is late game, particularly if you can’t swing through their blockers. Sacking a fat creature with a Nighthowler attached leaves the Nighthowler (and pumps it), and then sacking the Nighthowler usually gets you to a win late game.

  2. Thanks for the writeup, this deck looks fun! It takes a lot to get me to put down RG Monsters, but I think I’ll give this a shot sometime.

    I once played against this deck pre-BNG, but I think Herald of Torment adds a lot to it and gives the deck a lot of reach between that and Jarad.

    Is Whip of Erebos a thing? This deck can gain boatloads with it, and it has plenty of decent one-shots between Demon and Jarad.

    1. The problem I’ve found with whip is, it exiles afterward, so it eats up your graveyard. Same as Scooze. Deathrite does a pretty good job getting you some lifegain.

  3. How is 20 lands working out for you in this deck? I find myself mulliganing because I don’t have more than 1 land in hand very, very often. Also, what would you suggest for the remaining 4 cards in the sideboard? Abrupt decay?

    1. Also I want to add, I played against a home-brew mill deck that pumped up a Wight of Precinct Six to huge proportions. That’s something to watch out for if this deck takes off.

    2. 20 lands is great and I cannot imagine running any more. You have 14 ways to make or find more mana (because you cannot grab a land from Commune) and that plus 20 lands I rarely have trouble with enough mana.

      1. My biggest problem is the opening hand. Too often, I start with either 2 black (can’t cast any of my mana dorks) or with 1 (and no dorks) or even frequently with none.

    1. For quick reference, here’s the current 15.

      3 Mistcutter Hydra

      3 Lifebane Zombie

      3 Golgari Charm

      2 Thoughtseize

      2 Reaper of the Wilds

      2 Pithing Needle

      Needle has been amazing. I dislike whip in this deck so I removed that spot. The artifact is too clunky and difficult to utilize. If anything, the lifegain aspect is the most important aspect. The Reapers are still being tested but against a prepared opponent with graveyard hate, I want more creatures to bring in and Reaper seemed like the best option. I’ve been happy with this current 15 so far because you cannot sideboard too many cards in any matchup otherwise you will lose the critical mass of enablers and creatures.

      What did you think about the article Adam?

    1. So far the mirror has not been a concern what so ever and it’s fairly easy to deal with my opponents Scavenging Oozes, but it would certainly be a decent threat that provides disruption. If you can find room, it certainly would be a reasonable sideboard option.

  4. I’ve been making top 4 at FNM with this deck since January and it’s a blast to play once you know how to plan and sequence your plays.

    I’ve actually had a lot of success with one Whip maindeck and one in the sideboard, mainly for lifegain against Burn and R/Rb aggro which I found myself losing to within a turn or two of stabilizing. It’s also been somewhat useful for overloading Mono-black’s removal and dealing with Pack Rat tokens without really spending cards, although with Herald now those angles are less relevant.

    Since non-Jarad creatures never naturally leave the graveyard the only downside to exiling is that your Nighthowlers are smaller, but if you have any in play then you’re probably well on the way to winning and don’t need to exile. It’s when you have no large creatures, need an extra one to push through, or need copious lifegain that Whip truly shines.

    Mike, have you thought about how many G/B temples you would use after Journey into Nyx? I’ve found this deck capable of losing to itself by not getting a second black source so I’m thinking about cutting one Forest for a temple. On the other hand it seems to me that there aren’t consistently enough opportunities to play an ETB-tapped land in the early game so I’m wary of running more. What do you think?

    1. You are correct that not many temples can be added to this deck. I’ve thought about it quite a bit and my list will start with 2 temples once the new set comes out. Maybe we will even get new cards that will make the deck stronger. What’s more likely is that meta shifts away from a place where this deck is good, but we’ll have to wait and see.

  5. I ran this list at the SuperIQ in Pensacola this weekend and went 3-3 drop. I had some huge play mistakes after I got flustered that cost me two matches. The one match I could not have won was Boros Burn. Game 1 he just overwhelmed me, game 2 he had 20 direct damage in his opening hand and I was dead turn 5.

    I did get to play in a win-a-box standard single elim side event and split the prize in the last round. By then I was more used to the decision tree and had less trouble making choices.

    Esper Control is unforgiving for any mistakes, and that deck was my hardest matchup, one loss one win. I also faced Esper Control in a side event for win a box where I roflstomped it.

    Hexproof was a little rough because I had to begin matching his creatures fast, and when I’m flipping cards to build up my guys at the same time I’m trying to bestow, he’s just casting enchantments, sometimes 2. I finally overpowered him by flinging a 10/10 nighthowler and a 12/11 lotleth+nighthowler at him.

    I felt like shadowborn demon was REALLY underwhelming. Half the time I needed removal and had him in hand, I didn’t have 6 creatures in the grave, or by turn 5/6 when I could cast him I couldn’t tap out to do so without risking a lot (GB Golgari Charm or Lotleth Regen to stop a beast with hex) Almost every matchup, the demon was sided out.

    I found that I was CRAVING abrupt decay a lot. I decided to run 2x Hero’s Downfall instead of Ultimate Price and that paid off huge (except for the one game where I just could not get a second black source). BUG Superfriends put up a hell of a fight and beat me, but not without both Hero’s wreaking Kiora in each of the games. Golgari Charm did great against Dsphere, but there are a lot of three drop creatures that are crucial for aggro decks that the charm can’t deal with.

    Sorry for the wall of text.

    1. I’ve only played a handful of games with this deck, but the way I’ve used the demon when there aren’t enough cards in the GY and my opponent has creatures on the field is: I drop the demon, kill one of their creatures. The demon usually prevents their creatures from attacking, eats a kill spell, or forces them to use a combat trick. Then I sac the demon on upkeep if none of my other creatures are expendable.

      I particularly like him as a sac outlet mid game, when my field is peppered with mystics and satyrs, and I haven’t been getting many creatures into the graveyard. Am I doing it right? Or am I letting my demon go too lightly?

      1. He is ok to use him like that, and that is the worst possible use for him. I’ve been in situations where it was either that, or I flip, or leave mana open for regen. A lot of times that 5 mana point is where I’m either winning or losing… If I’m winning, I don’t normally need Shadowborn.. If I’m losing, It seems like I’m always in a position where if I cast shadowborn, I lose the regen option or the golgari charm option, and then I would have to sac him next turn anyway, and that usually is too risky when it puts me in a situation where I can essentially get get three for one’d when I count sacking the demon even if i lose a lotleth or two.

    2. I’ve won many games with Demon but sometimes you have to sacrifice some of your smaller creatures to keep him around. I’ve found him to be amazing, but in some matches he is one of your worst cards. Don’t underestimate the power of a five power flyer though. He can get in some large chunks of damage.

  6. Mike,

    Any thoughts on incorporating Pharika into this build? Im sure the concept would fit in as a 2-3 of, probably not 4. With Jarad, it’s pretty easy to enable and im sure it adds to resiliency and aggressiveness.

  7. Mike,

    have you considered pharika in the gb dredge build? i imagine its easy to turn it on with double chroma creatures and jarad as well. it adds aggro, value, and resilience to removal.

    1. I’ve briefly thought about adding the new god to the deck yes but the problem is that it does not synergize well with the rest of the deck. I mean I guess you could exile some of your graveyard to make 1/1’s but I don’t think that will get you very far. Additionally, if it’s a creature, I think you would already be winning that game. I will probably still try out two or three copies to see how well it plays though and go from there.

  8. I know it has been a while but I would love an update on this deck. especially since jou had some decent G/B dredge cards like nyx weaver or strength from the fallen. Also now we have llanowar wastes for more mana fixing. Alos a note about this deck after rotation would be cool.

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