Developing Dredge in Modern
I've never been a good brewer but when Prized Amalgam was spoiled, I knew there were immediate applications to Dredge deck in Modern. Seeing Insolent Neonate spoiled was icing on the cake. I partnered with local brewer/jank player Patrick Lalonde to test and refine the deck with the hopes of having something serviceable ready for the Shadows Over Innistrad release. Since then, we've had reasonable success in our testing and are starting to bring it out to events. I'll talk about the early ideas, how the deck evolved, and where the deck is now.
There is a clear synergy between Narcomoeba, Bloodghast, and Prized Amalgam. The vessel for this synergy is Dredge. With that, our deck's goal will be simple: Dredge a massive board quickly and turn creatures sideways until your opponent concedes. But where do we start for the decklist?
With Legacy Dredge not looking like anything close to something Modern legal, I had to look elsewhere. Searches across forums led me to Modern manaless Dredge decks and weak brews; not what I had in mind. I eventually found Card Kingdom and Randy Buehler's No-Banned-List Dredge deck. From there, I:
- Took out banned cards and the cards supporting them (ex. Dread Return, Flame-Kin Zealot, etc.);
- Added our Prized Amalgams and Insolent Neonates; and
- Topped up Bloodghasts and Simian Spirit Guides since Dredging creatures (and not sacrificing them for a large payout) was now the focus of the deck.
That left me with a rough framework, two slots to play around with, and a lot of testing:
No Banned List Dredge starting point (58/60)
The deck was explosive, but inconsistent. It also felt like it was missing... something. Bridge from Below rotted in my hand more times than I'd prefer. What I was testing with my flex slots wasn't working. I needed help and Patrick was the person for the job. Surely, another set of eyes could help. Here are a few things we considered or tested:
- Sacrifice outlets (ex.: Viscera Seer, Greater Gargadon) with Bridge from Below: Cute in theory, but fairly rocky in practice. Far too many sac outlets ended up rotting in our opening hands. Every slot in the deck is precious.
- Bridge from Below: Bridge seemed to only excel with Dread Return. It was excellent when your opponent didn't pay close attention to your graveyard in combat, but we couldn't afford slots that relied on lazy opponents. These went from the mainboard, to the sideboard (for grindy matches), but then was eventually removed.
- Conflagrate: Gives you some form of removal, small reach, and a way to pitch the handful of Dredgers you slowly accumulate.
- Gravecrawler, Vengevine: Prized Amalgam loves the interaction with these. Unfortunately, these play more of a midrange game than an aggro-combo game.
- Life from the Loam: Slowly muscled out Golgari Thug as our ninth, tenth and/or eleventh Dredgers. This gave you a reliable way to pump up a Conflagrate or find the lands to cast Golgari Grave-Troll (a rare sight, but note-worthy when it happens).
- Rally the Peasants: This gives you the added reach to finish your opponent or helps get rid of their large creatures when they're forced to block. This was likely the most important piece the deck needed.
- Street Wraith, Gitaxian Probe: Taking notes from manaless Dredge decks, these two all-stars significantly increased consistency and explosiveness. Unfortunately, if we ran too many of them, we saw hands with more cantrips than useful cards.
- Unburial Rites: Really isn't what the deck is trying to do. Getting to four mana also takes an eternity.
- Fifteen lands with four Simian Spirit Guide felt adequate.
- Basic lands: We learn from Affinity and throw in a single Mountain to help vs. Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile.
- Fetch lands: A terrible idea when you routinely mill significant portions of your library.
- We could stand to trim our draw/discard and dredgers.
- We were divided on City of Brass, Mana Confluence vs. Copperline Gorge, Blackcleave Cliffs manabases, but that's because we had different approaches to our sideboards.
With those results, this is what my current mainboard looks like (the other Patrick's isn't too far off):
Working the sideboard
Graveyard shenanigans are some of the easiest to shut down. This means our sideboard is mostly spent addressing our opponent's sideboard. Because these hurt our decks so badly and can come down before we even have a chance to do anything about it, we need to address them reactively. Here's a few options that crossed our minds:
- Ancient Grudge and Ray of Revelation: Though there are clear synergies with your deck, you may not even be able to cast them through graveyard hate.
- Darkblast: Obvious inclusion vs. Affinity, Infect, and other decks featuring X/1s.
- Deadly Allure: Occasionally good, occasionally useless. May help take care of a pesky Scavenging Ooze or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. You just have to hope its the only creature on their battlefield and it hasn't been attacking.
- Gemstone Caverns: Does an okay impression of Chrome Mox when on the draw. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is be faster to prevent your opponent from stabilizing.
- Gnaw to the Bone: For everyone's favourite match-up.
- Leyline of the Void, Leyline of Sanctity: Excellent in your opening hand and you never need to worry about drawing it in the late game.
- Lingering Souls: Can help vs. Affinity, Infect, and decks that go wide.
- Natural State: Better than Nature's Claim, but only in a world without Leyline of the Void.
- Nature's Claim: Versatile. Doesn't force you to guess what type of sideboard your opponent is playing. Our opponent's life is important, but finding a way to win is more important.
- Spell Pierce: With limited interaction available, we have to find any way we can to interact with some unfair decks. Also, there are a few spells that set us back significantly (ex.: Anger of the Gods, Daybreak Coronet).
- Thoughtseize: A versatile answer to unfair decks.
That said, here's what my current sideboard looks like:
I expect to continue tuning it, not only as we understand this deck more, but also as we understand what an Eldrazi-less meta looks like.
Where the deck excels
If you're a non-believer, I strongly suggest throwing the deck in an online simulator. I can't suggest this enough. It will surprise you with its strength. More specifically, the deck has:
Consistency in starting hands
Since the first versions, I've found myself going down to six cards less and less. In it's current iteration, the deck's consistency is on par with the likes of most decks I've played in Modern. Any modifications to the Dredge engine, payoff cards, or lands would need to be done carefully.
Your opponent can barely keep up with removal on your average draws, never mind the nut draws. It's very similar to Affinity in that regard.
Even if your opponent throws creatures in front of Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams, they will keep coming back. It can also rebuild quite quickly from non-Anger of the Gods board wipes.
Where the deck needs improvement
There are far too many cards that blowout this deck. They come in all converted mana costs, types, and colours. Beyond artifacts and enchantments, recent sets have been adding hoser creatures good enough to see mainboard play (ex.: Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Anafenza, the Foremost) How can this be addressed? A transformative sideboard? Speeding up the deck? Crossing your fingers and hoping your opponent doesn't draw two or three specific cards in their deck?
Inconsistency in dredges, similar threats
In the hundreds of cards I've dredged in the past few weeks, I've seen some miserable graveyards. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes Dredging your Golgari Grave-Troll leaves you with a pile of lands and Insolent Neonates. Also, our deck relies on three specific creatures. If they start to disappear from spells like Surgical Extraction, we have a tough time. Is it worth exploring other threats that can recur from the graveyard? (ex.: Stitchwing Skaab, Geralf's Masterpiece, Geralf's Masterpiece, Nim Devourer) If we do, what gets cut?
The deck is already strong, but I have no doubt it can get better. This is what we were able to do over a few weeks with two people. With a few more minds contributing and a more experience with each matchup, I don't doubt it will eventually have a power level on par with that of a tier 1 deck.
Bonus: It doesn't cost a lot to build.