Greetings again, Vintage aficionados!
In my last article I wrote about the essential cards that make up it's maindeck and sideboard. If you haven't gotten a chance to read that article, take a moment to do so now.
Today I'm going to delve a little deeper and talk about strategy with the deck.
Sideboarding Strategies and Matchup Analysis
Dredge doesn’t really have matchups against decks, but rather against individual sideboard cards. Many of the hate cards that are used to combat dredge can be played in almost any deck. Very few of them care about color, a lot of them are artifacts and some of them are free. Knowing what all the possibilities are and being able to deduce what decks are more likely to play certain kinds of hate is a good tool to have.
For example if you are facing an Oath of Druids deck they are likely to not have Graffdigger’s Cage as their hate card of choice because it hurts them as well. This is where the advantage of being favored in most game ones is helpful. Sometimes you can use game two as a feeler for what sort of hate you are up against.
I’ll go through the most common sideboard hate cards and maindeck cards in particular archetypes that match up well against Dredge.
Workshops - Workshop does have a few maindeck cards that are good against Dredge. Wasteland and Strip Mine kill your Bazaar, while Steel Hellkite and Wurmcoil Engine can race you by killing your zombie tokens and via lifelink respectively. In terms of sideboarding, the more common cards that they have for the Dredge matchup are graffdiggers cage, relic of progenitus, tormod’s crypt, pithing needle (naming Bazaar of Baghdad), Leyline of the Void and from time to time, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Tabernacle is very good against Dredge as you are not able to pay for more than one creature most of the time and do not play any sideboard answers for it because it is not a common sideboard card.
Cards to consider bringing in after sideboarding are
Blue Decks - These decks include Blue Angels, Suicide/Jace/Vault and U/W Landstill. U/R Landstill, Grixis, BUG Control, and Tezzerator. Most blue decks have the common maindeck weapons of tinker for blightsteel early in the game or assembling Vault/Key.
You can also lose game one by making the error of getting too low on cards in your library. Since Ancestral Recall targets a player they can potentially use it to deck you. This just means you shouldn’t get too greedy because you rarely ever need that much of your library in your graveyard to win game one.
Decks with Trinket Mage usually run one piece of hate in the main to tutor for. This is usually Graffdigger's Cage as it is also good against Oath of Druids. Blue decks with black and white after sideboarding are very dangerous because they have access to Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, which are the two best pieces of hate against Dredge. They of course can also run any of the artifact hate: Needle, Cage or Crypt. They usually don’t run Relic of Progenitus because it does not do enough against Dredge and these decks may have access to Yawgmoth’s Will.
Decks without Trinket Mage have been known to run one Nihil Spellbomb in the main to tutor for, but that is less common these days. Blue decks that have black will have Leyline of the void and possibly Yixlid Jailer.
Cards to consider sideboarding against blue decks are
Creature decks - This includes Hate Bears, Humans, Noble Fish, BUG Fish and Merfolk. These are some of the decks that can actually afford to run some number of hate cards in their maindeck. Some of these decks run Graffdigger's Cage in the maindeck to combat Oath of Druids along with Dredge and can run creatures like Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze alongside Wasteland and Strip Mine for your Bazaars. Also these decks are more likely to run spell-based hate like Ravenous Trap, Surgical Extraction and Extirpate because of their potential access to Snapcaster Mage (this obviously doesn’t apply to Trap).
Cards to consider sideboarding are
Oath of Druids - They won’t be playing Graffdigger’s Cage because it hurts them and they also have nut draws that can beat you like Tinker for Blightsteel and turn one Oath into hasted fatty in game one. In sideboarded games they are likely to have Leyline of the Void, Tormod’s Crypt or Nihil Spellbomb.
Cards to consider siding in are
Combo Decks - This includes Storm, Belcher and Burning Oath. These are the decks that you are an underdog to in game one. You are both non-interactive decks but most of the time they simply goldfish faster than you. These decks usually run 0-4 hate cards in their sideboard as they do not need to lock you out of the game like other decks, but just need to buy an extra turn or two in game two when you are both trying to disrupt the other. A couple of notes about library management when playing against combo decks; these decks have access to multiple draw-7 effects and you should be mindful at all times how many cards you have in your library when deciding how much to dredge. Once you fall below 15 cards in your library you have given them another avenue of victory by chaining draw-7s and decking you.
Cards to consider siding in are
Dredge - The mirror match is slightly dependent on the type of Dredge deck you are running and if you have any hate cards for the mirror match. The combo version can kill as early as turn two and is favored against the grindier version with no Dread Returns. The deck that has Leyline in the maindeck obviously has that advantage, where the other versions with Dread Return have Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite out of the board.
Sideboard cards to consider
Playing Against Hate
Playing against hate is one of the most important skills a Dredge pilot can master. As I explained above, this depends more on the specific card than the deck that’s playing it.
Let’s talk about ways to play when you are facing hate cards and cannot answer them or you have attempted to and were not successful.
This is one of the more popular hate cards against Dredge because it is also an effective hate card against anyone playing Oath of Druids. Cage stops your Bloodghasts, Ichorids and Narcomeobas from coming into play and it stops you from flashing back Cabal Therapy and Dread return. Cage does not stop you from dredging and does not stop your Bridge from Belows from triggering. This means that your evoke creatures are at a premium because Chewer kills cage and either of them can be evoked without a target and trigger your Bridge from Belows. So start casting those Bloodghasts and Narcomeobas and attacking.
These are two of the strongest hate cards against you. They both stop you from having a graveyard at all, which means that you have to start casting creatures if you cannot get rid of them. Hardcasting your creatures is your backup plan if you cannot remove these permanents.
I have grouped these together because these are all one-shot effects that remove your graveyard. The key to playing against these is patience--never commit too much of your library into your graveyard. This means always keeping a dredge card in your hand so that you can continue to dredge after they use their hate card and accomplish your game plan. If you suspect Ravenous Trap from your opponent, simply take your draw step and try to disrupt them with a Cabal Therapy or Unmask to clear the way. You are not forced to use Bazaar every upkeep.
These spells will most likely be targeting your Bridge from Belows to stop you from making tokens. These are more likely to show up in combo decks that are just trying to get another turn, or decks with Snapcaster Mage. There isn’t really much to playing around these cards and they are usually the least effective at stopping you from accomplishing your game plan.
This is the best creature against your deck. Since it is not very popular though, dedicating too many slots can be a drawback if you don’t face them and is not answered by many of your sideboard options. It is also a clock on it’s own whereas other hate cards do not actively win the game for your opponent. Darkblast is your best answer, but remember that if you are not successful you cannot get your Darkblast back from the graveyard. So again start hardcasting creatures, battling in the red zone and digging for answers with Bazaar.
Tabernacle is usually only found in Workshop sideboards and some Landstill sideboards. Ghost Quarter is usually in Workshop and can be found in the sideboards of creature decks like Merfolk or G/W Hatebears. You do not have answers to Tabernacle so hope they don’t draw it or value your color-producing lands highly if you suspect it. Ghost Quarter can be combatted with Petrified Field and that is it.
These particular cards are usually not good enough by themselves as they are mana-intensive or once-a-turn effects. If you have already dredged once before either of these come online they are not much of a problem.
While playing against Deathrite Shaman, remember that you can simply go to your draw step to dredge and if they activate Shaman you can respond with Bazaar.
When your opponent is ahead in the game with a hate card plus one of these two creatures you are most likely locked out of the game if you do not answer them first, as they are both a hate card and a clock that will kill you quite quickly. Start hardcasting creatures and searching for answers with Bazaar.
Remember that ultimately sideboarding strategies are not set in stone. Since many hate cards are colorless or potentially free, i.e. Lelyline of the Void or Ravenous Trap, anyone can play them if they choose. Workshop decks can play these two cards even though they usually can't cast them. This is where the overwhelming advantage you usually have in game one comes into play. Pay attention to what hate you see and correct any sideboarding for game three if you lose game two. This may mean playing out a game longer than you would like to potentially see more cards from your opponent, as information is key.
Let us move forward to actual gameplay with the deck. I will go through each step of a turn and talk about tactics, triggers, timing and strategy.
Opening Hands and Mulligans
When considering mulliganing with Dredge, you only have one thing to consider: does this hand have a Bazaar of Baghdad in it? If it does you keep. If it doesn’t, does it have a Serum Powder? If not you mulligan. Keep going till you find one. In game one I would go all the way down to one card to find it.
In sideboard games stopping at two is okay as you will be facing a hate card and will need to find answers using your draw step. If it does contain Serum Powder then a majority of the time you use Serum Powder. Unless you have a hand with 3-4 Bridge from Below, as that is a card that is unique and no other card in your deck gives you that effect, the rest of your deck is redundant besides Cabal Therapy. I would use Serum Powder to get a new hand otherwise.
Even after sideboarding if a hand has a Bazaar and no hate answers I would keep. You will be drawing more than one card per turn and your chances of finding 1-2 answers is fairly high.
There is definitely some merit to consider keeping hands without Bazaar once you get down to four cards. Since your opponent is compelled to keep hands with a hate card, there is a good chance they might not have a threat to back it up. So keeping a four card hand with a rainbow land and an answer to their hate is quite reasonable and you will have to hope to topdeck better than they do, get enough cards in your hand to discard dredgers or start casting your two-drops and attacking.
Since you have smartly mulliganed to Bazaar, you will lead with it as your first land in game one 99% of the time. There are some corner cases, such as facing a hate card game one, then leading with a 5-color land and an answer is usually the play to make. But assuming you aren’t facing hate in game one you will lead with Bazaar.
In game two it is more than reasonable to lead with a 5-color land to destroy a hate card or to lead with a Cabal Therapy to hit hate cards.
Whether or not you activate Bazaar right away in game one is another question. This depends largely on your decklist. If you are playing cards that you want to play on turn one, such as Unmask, Chalice of the Void or Lion’s Eye Diamond, you should activate it to find them.
If you are not, then waiting to activate Bazaar until your opponent’s end step is usually best. This allows you to assess more accurately what deck you are facing, what cards to discard and which ones to keep.
During your upkeep is when you will be doing the majority of your dredging or looting. This allows you to make sure that you have a dredger in your graveyard for your draw step and gives you the most information with how to further play the rest of your turn.
Your upkeep is when any Ichorids that you have in your graveyard will trigger. Ichorid does not target a creature in the graveyard, which means you should respond to them by activating Bazaar of Baghdad. Then you can remove a black creature after you have the most information and options.
When considering what creatures to remove, Golgari Thug is usually at the top of the list unless it is your only dredger. Bloodghast is the other options and this depends how much access to lands you have at the time and whether or not you have a Bridge from Below in your graveyard. It may not be worth it to bring back Ichorid by removing Bloodghast if you will not get any tokens when it dies at the end of the turn.
While you are dredging using Bazaar you have the potential of putting Narcomeobas into your graveyard and triggering them. The way that Narcomeoba triggers work is that they do not resolve until you are finished resolving your Bazaar activation. So once you decide what cards you are discarding then your Narcomeobas can come into play.
In sideboarded games you will usually not be digging with Bazaar on your upkeep but will be using Bazaar to find answers to hate after you draw.
During your draw you will usually be dredging something and triggering Narcomeobas in game one. In games two and three you are most likely facing some kind of hate card and will usually be using your draw step to find answers.
Against many sideboard hate cards you will not be able to dredge because your graveyard has been shut off as a resource. This is where the ability to dig with Bazaar comes in handy. Obviously you cannot keep drawing with Bazaar every turn because you will eventually have no hand.
You can somewhat break even by activating Bazaar every other turn which will give you a really good shot at finding answers. Remember that the turns when you cast your answers that puts you down a card and you may need to wait an extra turn to start using Bazaar again.
This is where you must assess your graveyard and the board state to consider whether you should attack with the creatures you have or keep them back on defense. When you are assessing your graveyard, take your time because you could easily have 6-8 relevant cards to think about in your graveyard. Playing too quickly with this deck will cause you to miss triggers or flashback spells that could change the course of the game.
If you imagine that in Dredge your graveyard is like your hand then it is obvious that there are many lines of play. Dredge is favored in game ones because of the way it operates and there is some room for error and making this a habit may not cost you too many game ones, but it will cost you plenty of matches.
One of the biggest things to have in mind when considering these decisions is whether you have Bridge from Belows or Cabal Therapies or both in your graveyard. If your opponent has creatures then you must consider whether or not you are willing to lose your Bridges in combat, which might mean casting Therapies first is preferable.
Also remember that when you flashback Therapy with Bridge in your graveyard, the Bridge triggers go above the therapy on the stack. Make sure that you announce those triggers and that you will be getting zombies before naming a card as otherwise it’s a missed trigger.
The other relevant trigger occurrence involving Bridge from Below is when you evoke creatures, specifically Ingot Chewer. If you evoke a Chewer and destroy an artifact creature you get to stack the destroy effect and the sacrifice effect from the evoke mechanic. Make sure that the sacrifice effect resolves first so that you get zombie tokens from your Bridge from Belows.
When considering whether or not to attack, always have in mind how many Bridges you have in your graveyard. What I really want to discuss is when your opponent blocks, for example an Ichorid, and they trade in combat, how the Bridge from Below triggers work.
Both of the creatures will go to the graveyard and since all the triggers from Bridge belong to you, you get to stack them how you want. You want the zombie token trigger to resolve first and the removing of Bridge from Below trigger to resolve last.
With that out of the way it is usually correct to be aggressive in combat because many decks in Vintage do not play creatures and giving them as few turns as possible is usually correct.
Make sure your Ichorids die when they trigger at end of turn and that you get any Bridge tokens. Besides that there is not too much that goes on in this stage of the average turn.
Sideboarding is one of the more difficult aspects of playing dredge. Figuring out the first 6-8 cards to side out is usually pretty straightforward, but the last 3-5 are a little more difficult and not very obvious.
First of all, the following cards should never be cut in any number:
These cards are the core of your deck and you will be at a disadvantage if you side these out. The only card on this list that I would consider in siding out in very rare cases is Serum Powder and I would never side out more than 1 and I would need a REALLY good reason. Multiple mulligans is one of the ways that you can lose sideboarded games before they even start. So you need your deck to be able to find Bazaar with as many cards in hand as possible and powder helps in that respect greatly by essentially giving you free mulligans.
You can consider siding out the following when sideboarding.
Dread Return and its targets
These are usually the first to go in games two and three as the games will go longer and they will most likely be dead if you keep them in and draw them. You want Dread Return for the mirror match, but may need to swap your maindeck target for a different one.
If you know that you will not be facing Yixlid Jailer or other hate creatures with one toughness, i.e., Thalia, Dryad Militant, etc. Siding out all of your Darkblasts is worth considering.
If you find yourself hardcasting creatures in sideboarded games in certain matchups, Ichorid is worth cutting. I usually would not cut all of them, but 1-2 is definitely worth considering.
Always consider your need for lands in whatever matchup you are facing when going to your sideboard. Decks with Wasteland, Strip Mine or Ghost Quarter will be destroying your Bazaars so don’t side out lands against them. Against decks without land destruction side out Petrified Field and Riftstone Portal for answers to hate cards.
If you are looking for a final card to cut, Thug is usually a pretty good choice. Sideboard games will go on longer and it is a slow clock and doesn’t pressure your opponent enough.
Dredge is a powerful deck that can be very dangerous in the hands of a competent pilot. As there are so many situations in Magic, especially Vintage, the best way to become a competent pilot and understand the deck better is through practice. Not only potentially considering what I have written here, but also considering that some situations will come up that will force you to think outside the box and even go against some of the things I have suggested.
It is common that people do not like to playtest against Dredge, which is understandable especially if you are testing game ones because those play out very similarly a lot of the time. It is important to test sideboarded games as those will be the more interactive games that you play.
Testing will also help you get rid of the “fear” that can come with playing a graveyard-based strategy. Even though people dedicate half their sideboard for this matchup it is still a force in the Vintage metagame, has won both of the biggest and most prestigious Vintage tournaments in the last three years (Vintage Champs 2011 and the 2012 Bazaar of Moxen) and you should remind yourself of that when you consider whether or not this deck is viable in a large tournament or any tournament for that matter.
After you win a sideboarded game by attacking with Bloodghasts and Narcomeobas when your opponent has two Graffdigger’s Cage, a Pithing Needle naming Bazaar and has cast Timetwister multiple times shuffling in your graveyard (a true story from my first Vintage tournament with Dredge), you can’t help but become a believer.