If you've been paying much attention to the Modern metagame or spending a reasonable amount of time in the MTGO Leagues, you've almost certainly already run up against Modern's newest boogeyman, Dredge. I recently pulled the trigger and bought into a Modern deck on MTGO (Infect, for those interested) and made the portentous decision to scrimp on the $20 Grafdigger's Cages. That's something I may have to rectify in future, because Dredge is all over the place and I'm getting absolutely destroyed by it.
People have been experimenting with various builds of Dredge ever since Golgari Grave-Troll was unbanned in early 2015, but until recently it barely cracked the Tier 3 watermark. We'll have to wait until Wednesday to see how the June metagame report breaks down (I'm still sifting through the data), but anecdotally at least, it appears Dredge is real and here to stay. Besides its MTGO presence, it's been putting up semi-regular finishes at paper tournaments too---here's a build that Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura used to make Top 8 at the WMCQ in Tokyo.
The most important development that seems to have catapulted Dredge into significant-player status is the printing of Shadows over Innistrad's Prized Amalgam. This seemingly innocuous card gives the deck another Bloodghast/Narcomoeba analog for a critical mass of recurring threats. It fits into the general game plan better than Vengevine or Gravecrawler, two cards Moderners have attempted to build around in the past to middling success. Whereas Vengevine and Gravecrawler demand a specific set of deckbuilding constraints and board states for their recursion abilities, Amalgam simply asks that the Dredge pilot get something (anything) back from the graveyard. At the point that the entire deck's raison d'être is to generate free creatures without casting them, it becomes apparent that Amalgam is a perfect fit.
Less flashy, but no less important, is the addition of Insolent Neonate to the Modern arsenal. Until recently Dredge has lacked the one-drop discard outlets like Putrid Imp and Tireless Tribe that epitomize versions of the deck from Legacy and old Extended. Modern has always had access to Faithless Looting, but for a second copy of the effect they had to stretch to unreliable stuff like Hedron Crab. It's also significant that the new card is red, which allows Dredge to move away from a horrible five-color mana base to approach something like a normal deck. This deck can actually cast its spells without taking billions off of Mana Confluence or risking inadvertent one-sided Armageddon with Gemstone Mine. Besides the one-of fetchable Steam Vents to cast hand-stranded Amalgams, the entire mana base is in Jund colors.
Rounding out the discard outlets we see a few copies of Lightning Axe and the quirky Shriekhorn. When I first heard Dredge was running Shriekhorn I was skeptical to say the least, but it's become an all-but-staple to the archetype and Tsumura's inclusion of it here is a strong endorsement. This card's similarity to Hedron Crab should tell you something about how the archetype has improved---whereas the one-drop self-mill card in the past was a core enabler, here it appears as a supplement to the more reliable outlets of Neonate and Looting. As for Lightning Axe, this is an interesting piece of technology that has been around for a while, but didn't really suit the needs of Dredge decks of yore. Interaction and responding to opponents' threats has not typically been the Dredge pilot's forté, but the new versions are more geared to the mid- and late-game.
Playing the Value Game
Anyone familiar with Dredge from other formats will spot a glaring omission from the new crop of Modern builds: Bridge from Below. The bizarre "enchantment" has long been the single-most important card to the archetype in formats from Extended to Vintage, allowing the pilot a way to generate an entire army while casting free spells like Cabal Therapy and Dread Return. Neither of those cards are legal in Modern (one of them by design) which has been one of the main reasons the archetype never took off. Until now the payoff for binning your entire library just wasn't really there. With no reliable way to trigger Bridges, the deck lacks that explosive punch.
Of course we didn't get any new sacrifice enablers (Neonates will most likely already be in the graveyard by the time you go off), which explains the absence of Bridge. Instead, the deck has taken on a new direction---moving away from the degenerate full-on combo of eternal formats, these Dredge builds are more geared towards playing a value game. The goal is to spit out scads of Narcomoebas, Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams and then attack in the good-old fashioned red zone for the victory. There's no Flame-Kin Zealot for one-shot kills or busted nonsense to reanimate like Griselbrand or Iona, Shield of Emeria. In place of that we see more interactive cards like Conflagrate, Life from the Loam, and Gnaw to the Bone (out of the sideboard). This is a Dredge deck comfortable with going to the late game, and more than capable of generating card advantage in grindier games. In many ways it's like a fairer version of Dredge, and a testament to the mandate of Modern---let us play with our ridiculous synergies but don't violate the turn four rule.
Beating this deck looks to be pretty challenging without dedicated hate. Creature removal like Path to Exile or mass sweepers like Damnation are only going to delay the inevitable, and countermagic is just about as impotent as ever against the mono-triggered ability deck. Anger of the Gods seems like it would go a far way, but the Dredge pilot may be able to ration their dredges to play around such an event.
Of course, the likes of Grafdigger's Cage, Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace are sure to be game-breakers. That explains the full playset of Nature's Claim in the sideboard, and if I had to wager I'd say those four cards are probably the least-negotiable slots. It remains to be seen if this deck is borderline oppressive or just another player in the crazy-diverse metagame that is Modern, but we can rest assured that an uptick in Dredge can minimally be combated by an increased adoption of dedicated graveyard hate. I'll also say it's cool to see the dredge mechanic being used in a different way than it has in the past. These more value-oriented dredge decks look way more fun to play (and play against) than the format-warping nightmare versions the deck is infamous for.
The archetype is still pretty new in its current iteration, and I suspect it's ripe for lots of innovation. Do you have any experience with Modern Dredge? Opinions on its viability, dominance, or flash-in-the-pan status? Let me know in the comments, and I'll see you on Wednesday for the metagame update.