Yesterday on QuietSpeculation Insider Mike Lanigan wrote about his experiences playing Golgari Dredge in Standard.
He introduced that article by saying that abusing the graveyard used to be among the most fun ways to win games in all of Magic, and I share the sentiment. Back when the original Ravnica was released it brought a new Extended format with it for the corresponding Pro Tour: Los Angeles. People abused the graveyard a bit, no one more successfully than eventual 2005 Player of the Year Kenji Nakamura with his top 4 finishing “Dregatog” deck.
The World Championships came a few months later, but the full power of Dredge had still yet to be found. The only mention of a Dredge-abusing Ichorid deck was in the coverage blog by BDM, who noticed it had been played by Osyp Lebedowicz in a Grand Prix Trial, and it reportedly reached the finals of a PTQ there. I worked on the deck all week and used it in a PTQ that very weekend, before it was well known. There were three Ichorid decks in the tournament, and I cruised to the finals before beating, you guessed it, a mirror match. The real way to abuse Dredge had appeared, and it dominated Extended from then on.
The Dredge mechanic and decks around it have been around ever since Ravnica, and it plays a role in every format where the mechanic is legal. Dredge decks have been banned into oblivion in Modern, but they are a constant presence in the Vintage and Magic Online Classic formats. It’s an ever-present tier 2 Legacy deck that players like Gerry Thompson would often turn to at SCG events in order to surprise an unprepared format.
The Dredge mechanic proper has been out of Standard for years, but the graveyard was a major theme in Innistrad block, which paved the way for the dominant flashback strategies Unburial Rites and Snapcaster Mage. Those cards left Standard when Theros was printed, but there is still much opportunity to abuse the graveyard.
Mike already introduced the deck, the basics behind its operation, and plenty of strategy and play guidelines. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check that out. Here's the deck list for reference before we get to the visual sideboarding guide:
Pithing Needle stops Pack Rat, and combined with the maindeck Ultimate Price it gives this deck plenty of outs to the rodent. Pithing Needle also stops whatever land their Underworld Connections is enchanting from drawing cards.
Shadowborn Demon comes out because it is too slow to have much impact against the cheaper threats of Monoblack, and our plan is to simply outclass their creatures.
Lotleth Troll does not stand up to their interaction very well, so sinking cards into it is a losing proposition. Nemesis of Mortals is a bit slow, and simply unnecessary because the other creatures can get the job done effectively. Both of these green creatures are terrible against Tidebinder Mage.
Against Esper, Shadowborn Demon does not have any targets beyond possible creatures that come in from the sideboard, and it's clunky as a threat. It comes out for more efficient cards.Ultimate Price typically goes, but opponents may bring in Archangel of Thune so be aware.
The deck becomes much leaner post sideboard. Sylvan Caryatid gets lost in the shuffle here. It does not block anything, and accelerating into threats is not effective against a deck with so many answers. In the end, Sylvan Caryatid will fall to Supreme Verdict. Elvish Mystic shares the same fate.
Nemesis of Mortals is a useful top-of-the-curve bruiser and an equalizer against matchups like Monsters and random aggressive decks, but it is not necessarily fast enough or impactful enough against UW and Esper control. One stays in as potential 2-mana tempo-play in the mid/late game when you are more likely to have a stacked graveyard. Cutting them all or leaving in 2 both seem reasonable depending on the board plan.
Mistcutter Hydra is a large, hasted threat that plays well against their strategy and dodges many of their answer spells. It’s also great for killing planeswalkers.
Reaper of the Wilds comes in as a very powerful threat in its own right. It also helps combat any potential graveyard hate the opponent could be packing.
Thoughtseize is useful for picking apart their strategy, be sure to use it wisely. It is best used to protect whatever plan you are working towards. Taking removal and paving the way for your creatures is a fine route. In grindy games where you have plenty of action, taking a Planeswalker or Sphinx's Revelation will often be best.
Pithing Needle is a proactive answer to planeswalkers that will prevent them from gaining any value, or an answer after-the-fact that will generate tempo.
Shadowborn Demon does not have many targets but is actually pretty useful for shutting down the skies. Herald of Torment is painful and this deck does not have life to spare, but one is useful as an Angelic Blessing that helps end a game quickly.
In this matchup all of the maindeck cards are pretty great, but Lifebane Zombie is too good not to bring in. Sylvan Caryatid is the weakest individual card in the deck. so it comes out for the more powerful Lifebane Zombie. This gives the deck a slightly flatter mana curve and should allow it to consistently produce high-powered draws against Monsters. There is also an argument for simply shaving some graveyard enablers and/or graveyard abusers.
I’d be interested in hearing how others approach sideboarding in any of the matchups!
Here’s to dredging into the nuts,