Scott Fielder has been playing Magic since the original Ravnica block. One of the things that got him interested in competitive Magic was a tournament report by Stephen Menendian. After reading it he was determined to learn Vintage. Menendian's report about playing Storm in a large tournament was captivating and exciting, and he decided he had to experience all these insane plays Stephen described.
I got the opportunity to experience the majesty of the Vintage format in 2010, when I played a Gush list in my first Vintage tournament. I did pretty poorly, but was determined to continue playing the format. I played Dredge in my second tournament, which I won—since then I have played Dredge almost exclusively in Vintage.
Today I'm going to cover the basics of the deck and individual card choices. Next week I'll cover matchup analysis and sideboarding.
Dredge at a Glance
Vintage Dredge is based around the eponymous mechanic from the original Ravnica block, which lets you “draw” the dredge card from your graveyard by milling a certain number of cards and skipping a draw from your library.
The rest of your deck is cards that synergize with the graveyard: flashback spells, creatures that reanimate themselves, etc. These synergies allow you to produce a board presence while disrupting the opponent until you eventually kill them by attacking with creatures and tokens.
The biggest reason to play this deck is that it is heavily favored in game one against most of the format. Your game plan is more degenerate than most, and a majority of the time other decks cannot interact with it. The matchup game one is so one-sided that most decks have to dedicate at least half of their sideboard slots to beat you in games two and three.
A few decks are favored against Dredge in game one, which I’ll cover more in depth next week when I talk about matchups.
Another strength lies in the fact people do not like to test against Dredge. As a result they may not understand the nuances of the matchup after sideboarding—simply mulliganing to a hate card isn’t enough to beat you.
Mulliganing is also very straightforward, as you’re only looking for one specific card in your opening hand. This allows you to focus on other aspects of the game and save valuable mental energy.
Lastly, dredge is one of the more affordable decks in a format with Magic’s most expensive cards. It is fairly easy to build Dredge with just a few proxies.
There are multiple ways to build Dredge. Throughout this article I refer to two main builds, the combo and grindy, or more traditional, versions. Below you can find a few recent examples of each.
Here is a list I played recently to a 2nd place finish at a Vintage tournament in St. Paul for a Mox Jet. This would also fall under the grindy/more consistent version of Dredge.
Regardless of which build you choose to play, certain cards are essential. The following cards should make the cut in all versions of Dredge--don’t leave home without them.
This card is the only reason this deck is viable. It is the card you are looking for in your opening hand and besides some very strange corner cases, you should mulligan any hand without it.
Bazaar is an uncounterable way to power through your deck, putting cards in your graveyard and dredging them as well. It is also great at helping you find sideboard cards in games two and three. Don’t ever think about playing less than four.
These are the cards that have the highest dredge count and help you dig through your deck the fastest. You need a really good reason not to run four of each.
Thug is usually not a four-of, but more commonly a two- or three-of. He helps get you closer to the critical mass of dredgers that you need and is also cheap enough to cast in sideboard games when facing graveyard hate.
Even though the dredge on this card is somewhat low it makes up for it in utility. This helps you fight against creature decks, especially decks with Yixlid Jailer after sideboard.
It also acts as a combat trick, killing a blocked Ichorid before damage to save your Bridge from Belows. It is also easy to put back into your graveyard, as it is the easiest to cast of your dredge cards. And it has always been a good answer for Yixlid Jailer. Usually a two-of.
I have grouped these together because they are both creatures that enter the battlefield for free by simply playing your deck. Narcomeoba enters the battlefield when you dredge and Bloodghast just needs a single land drop to return to the battlefield.
These are core staples and played as four-ofs in both the traditional and combo builds.
Ichorid has great synergy with this deck as a good amount of your dredgers are incidentally black creatures. It's your best way to produce zombie tokens with Bridge from Below without any help from other cards.
Ichorid is played in all versions of Dredge. In versions looking to be more consistent and grindy usually as a three-of, and in more combo-oriented versions as a two-of.
Never play Dredge without this card. It is the source of your board presence and on par with Bazaar in terms of importance. It makes all the cards in your deck better.
When you think to yourself, “Self, I can play just three of these right? Yeah let’s cut one.”--Don't do it. This card is your disruption and gives you value with all of your free creatures and Bridge from Bellows. It does everything you want and getting good at playing with this card will make you a dangerous Dredge player. Just play four every time.
If Bazaar is the card you want to find in your opening hand then playing four of these is a necessity. It helps you avoid having to lose due to multiple mulligans and makes the deck more consistent. Remember that activating Serum Powder does not count as a mulligan.
This is the best five-color land you have access to. It does not deal you damage and has amazing synergy with Bloodghast. I think this is the first land you should be playing after Bazaar and you should play four.
The next set of cards are very playable in dredge, but not in every version. Which ones you include will determine whether a build tends more toward consistency or explosiveness.
Another great five-color land that helps you cast all of your sideboard cards. It is mostly found in the main deck, but from time to time is found in sideboards, usually as a four-of either way. May have been obsoleted by our next entry...
Mana Confluence is a strict upgrade to City of Brass and I expect it to replace it in Vintage altogether. Tangle Wire is a real and widely played card in all the different Workshop archetypes and of course Rishadan Port exists.
Whether or not Dredge moves to more than four of this kind of land in the future remains to be seen. Will be in main decks most of the time.
A great resource to return Bazaar of Baghdads hit by Wasteland or Strip Mine. Also has good synergy with Bloodghast when you have one in your graveyard and one in play. You can sacrifice the one in play to get the one in your graveyard and have landfall for Bloodghast every turn. Usually found as a three- or four-of in different variations, but more often in the grindier versions.
Gives you the option to cast some sideboard cards with Bazaar of Baghdad. Helps to get through taxing effects, such as Lodestone Golem, Sphere of Resistance and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Usually only found as a one-of.
The only land ever printed with the dredge mechanic. It has great synergy with Bloodghast and increases the number of dredge cards in your deck. More commonly found as a two- to three-of in the combo versions that want to be able to return Bloodghasts at a moment’s notice.
This card is strictly played in combo versions of Dredge, usually as a three-of. Unearthing Fatestitcher lets you untap Bazaar and continue to dredge and find your kill condition.
These particular cards are almost exclusively played in combo Dredge. Lotus and Mox help you unearth Fatestitcher and cast both Ancestral Recall and sideboard cards. Lion’s Eye Diamond is one of the few cards that gives Combo Dredge the ability to kill on the first turn and is mostly used to cast flashback spells and unearth Fatestitcher.
These two cards serve similar purposes. They are not very commonly played as you are already likely dredging three times a turn and the fourth dredge is usually irrelevant. These slots these would take up are more commonly used to pre-sideboard against particular decks for game one. You won't see more than two of these in any build, if they're included at all.
This card allows you to sacrifice multiple creatures to reanimate a large creature which could win on the spot or disrupt your opponent's game plan. It has great synergy with Bridge from Below and usually means the end of the game is near when it resolves. This is more commonly played in higher numbers in the combo versions of Dredge (3-4 copies) and in lesser numbers in the grindier versions (0-1).
Dread Return Targets
If you elect to run Dread Return, myriad targets are available. Different targets will be preferable in different metagames and against different decks.
Sun Titan shows up in the combo versions of Dredge. When reanimated it can bring back a Bazaar of Baghdad, which lets you keep dredging while triggering landfall for Bloodghasts at the same time.
These two are almost always found alongside one another. When you successfully Dread Return Griselbrand, it is very easy to put your entire library into your graveyard with the draw-seven ability and then reanimate Laboratory Maniac and trigger it to win the game.
The most common Dread Return target, which allows you to win the same turn it comes into play by giving any new zombie tokens haste and a power boost. Usually found alongside Sun Titan, but also found in many lists as the sole Dread Return target.
Elesh Norn is almost always found in Dredge sideboards. It is strictly for the mirror and creature decks. Elesh Norn shuts off Dread Return and makes sure that your opponent will never have creatures in play in the mirror match.
Now I will talk about popular sideboard options Dredge. One thing to note is that dredge decks usually have around 4-12 slots in the maindeck occupied by cards that would typically appear in sideboards. What fills these maindeck slots depends on your expectation of the metagame.
Because you mill a good portion of your library every turn, Dredge has the luxury of playing situational cards in the maindeck even though they may be dead in certain matchups. Finding them is easy since you're flipping over your entire deck, but they aren't likely to gum up your hand.
This is one of your most versatile sideboard options and every Dredge deck should be running four in the board. This takes care of Grafdigger’s Cage, Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, Pithing Needle and much more. It doesn’t usually show up in the main deck, however, as metagame cards in the maindeck are usually more narrow.
This is your best card against Workshop decks and decks with Grafdigger’s Cage in sideboarded games. If there are lots of shops in your meta this is a great card to play in the maindeck as a four-of.
Chewer gets around Mental Misstep, Thorn of Amethyst, Chalice of the Void at one, Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm. Evoking him also makes zombie tokens off of Bridge. This has become more popular in maindecks as a four-of in most versions of Dredge.
This card shows up quite often in the main deck or sideboard as a four-of. It is your tech for the mirror match, protects your Bridge from Belows, and cuts off Yawgmoth’s Will against combo decks.
This is another card that shows up in both maindecks and sideboards as an anti-combo card. It also helps answer hate cards, either by stripping them from an opponent’s hand or protecting your answer to resolved hate from counter magic. It helps against cards like Surgical Extraction, Ravenous Trap and Extirpate.
Mental Misstep is mostly there to fight Grafdigger’s Cage, Pithing Needle, Relic of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbomb, as well as your opponent’s Missteps that are trying to counter your sideboard answers.
It also stops tutors that find Tinker for Blightsteel or the missing part of the Vault/Key combo. Mostly shows up in sideboards as a four-of.
Wispmare is almost strictly found in sideboards and is there to destroy Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace. Like Ingot Chewer it gets around Misstep, Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm, Chalice and Thorn.
Firestorm is great as an alternate discard outlet and seems more intriguing since the printing of Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze. It has always been a good answer to Yixlid Jailer. You will usually not find more than two of this in a sideboard.
This is your most versatile sideboard option. It bounces all the permanent-based hate cards and protects you against Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus from the blue decks. The only reason not to play this card in your sideboard is if you have a really good read on the metagame or shops are really popular where you play. This is usually found as a three- or four-of in sideboards.
This is most commonly found in the maindeck, but has decreased in popularity. It is best at keeping your opponent from tinkering quickly in game one and buys you time against combo. Chalice should be considered if you have a combo-heavy metagame. Usually found as a four-of in the maindeck.
Serenity is a great catchall answer for many of the popular hate cards Dredge is up against after sideboard. It is almost exclusively found in sideboards as a two- or three-of, but is not terribly popular due to the fact that it costs two mana and there are many great answers at one or zero.
Contagion is not seen as much in Dredge sideboards any more, but was very popular when Vintage dredge decks played less than 12 lands. It’s a great way to kill Yixlid Jailer, Deathrite Shaman, Scavenging Ooze, etc. Usually found as a three- or four-of in sideboards.
Grudge is most commonly seen when Workshops are prevalent in the metagame. This is a great answer to Pithing Needle, but usually not against all the other artifact-based hate. It is usually most helpful in game one to break up the Time Vault/Voltaic Key combo.
Most of the time in sideboarded games you will flash it back to kill a Pithing Needle, Relic of Progentius or Tormod’s Crypt, which your opponent can simply respond to by using them to nuke your graveyard. You cannot cast it under Graffdigger's Cage and Pithing Needle is not a popular sideboard card in general.
Each step of a turn, tactics, triggers and timing. I'll also cover sideboarding strategies and matchup analysis.