Because I was mistreated as a child, the thing that most excites me about Kaladesh is the way it is poised to improve Modern Dredge. We are about to visit a world of wild invention—vehicles, thopters, and Rosie from The Jetsons—but I’m most excited about the way a single card will improve a historically disliked and degenerate deck’s ability to more efficiently return 2/1s from the graveyard to play.
That card is Cathartic Reunion. Ever since the unbanning of Golgari Grave-Troll, Wizards of the Coast has seemed determined to push Dredge into Modern viability. Kaladesh will mark the third straight set to introduce a significant upgrade to the archetype, following Insolent Neonate and Prized Amalgam in Shadows Over Innistrad and Collective Brutality in Eldritch Moon. Today I’d like to take a closer look at Modern Dredge—which I think should be counted among the half-dozen strongest decks in the format—through the prism of these recent additions.
Most people will be at least passingly familiar with Dredge, but a quick summary up top. Virtually every build of the deck plays four copies each of Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, Faithless Looting, Insolent Neonate, Bloodghast, Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam. The deck then tries to put Grave-Troll and Imp into the graveyard through discard effects like Looting and Neonate and then dredge them in lieu of drawing, milling over its other creatures which can be put into play without being cast—dodging both counterspells and mana requirements. The remaining slots in the deck are customizable, with combinations such as Life from the Loam/Conflagrate or Greater Gargadon/Bridge from Below making frequent appearances.
Insolent Neonate and Prized Amalgam
Insolent Neonate has become ubiquitous since its printing in Shadows. The one-drop enabler/Captain Hook-after-a-thorough-chest-waxing made the deck tournament viable, giving it a critical mass of one-mana enablers when paired with Faithless Looting.
The main question Neonate poses is not whether or not to play four (you must), but whether it or Faithless Looting is the better first-turn play. Like everything, that is context dependent. In a hand with Neonate, Looting, a dredger, and several lands, I would lead with Neonate, discarding and dredging at the end of my opponent’s second main phase. With a little luck that first dredge will hit more dredgers, giving you, ideally, three more dredges on your next turn—one for the draw step, and two from Faithless Looting. If you cast Looting first, you would get only the dredge from Neonate and from your natural draw step.
However, Dredge is also a fairly land-light deck, so it’s not uncommon to keep a one-land hand with Faithless Looting. In this case, if you’re deciding between Neonate and Looting, go with the looting first. Modern Dredge is a different beast than some of its Legacy and Vintage cousins and needs to hit its first few land drops. At a minimum, most builds will need to hit at least two-lands to be able to start casting Life from the Loam.
Prized Amalgam, well, that’s just another free creature you can get back off of Narcomoeba or Bloodghast triggers. Be mindful of sometimes dredging on your opponent’s second main phase to get the Amalgam back. Be mindful, too, that its trigger is mandatory which means you may need to do things like decline optional Bloodghast triggers from time to time to play around cards such as Anger of the Gods.
After Neonate’s printing in Shadows Over Innistrad, Collective Brutality came along in Eldritch Moon. The card has become increasingly popular among Dredge players and for good reason. In the Modern MOCS this past weekend, finalist efa2100 played the full four copies. While that may seem a bit rich for a card that isn’t (a) a way to fill the graveyard or (b) a creature that can recur from the graveyard, it’s hard to argue with.
Collective Brutality shines against what would otherwise be (or maybe still are) problematic matches for Dredge.
- Infect: Here, Brutality is a nice, clean two-for-one, usually able to kill an infect creature and strip a pump spell from the opponent’s hand. It’s an ideal response to a second turn Blighted Agent. The worst case scenario is generally a Mutagenic Growth from the Infect player, which will save their Agent, but also leave them down two pump spells and drastically slow down their clock.
- Ad Nauseam: This match-up is still a rough one, I have found, but Brutality is a significant help. Dredge is consistent, unfair, and consistently unfair, but it is not the speediest deck in the world. Turn four or five is the fastest reasonable kill and by that point the Ad Nauseam player is generally able to protect themselves between Phyrexian Unlife buying time and Pact of Negation holding off Conflagrate (in Game 1, at least). But, being able to play four main deck discard effects turns a 32%-68% match-up into a 41%-59% match-up. I will brook no quibbling with my match-up percentages. They are pinpoint accurate.
- Scapeshift: RG Scapeshift is generally no problem for the Dredge player, but Bring to Light or other blue-based builds can be. While Scapeshift is plenty slow, there are games where the Scapeshift-er may be able to repeatedly “Fog” your attacks with Cryptic Command, biding their time until they hit seven lands or find a Scapeshift. Collective Brutality can yank either their Cryptics or Scapeshifts, depending on the situation. The lifegain is especially relevant here since it’s possible (difficult, but possible) to only take a damage or two from fetchlands in the course of establishing your mana, at which point Brutality can restore your life to 19 or more. Since Scapeshift can deal a maximum of 18 damage off of seven lands, this can buy you a crucial extra turn.
- Burn: Here is where Collective Brutality shines brightest. Here it is not a one-for-one, not a two-for-one, but a three-for-one—killing Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear, discarding a burn spell, and gaining two life. I’m not sure I’ve ever lost a game against Burn where I’ve cast Brutality, and playing the full set may just be so strong that Gnaw to the Bone can be trimmed from Dredge sideboards.
So, what does Cathartic Reunion offer? Only the ability to spit a solid third of the library into the graveyard on the second turn. A turn-two Reunion should (ideally) allow the Dredge player to get three dredges off of Imp or Grave-Troll, milling between 15 and 18 cards. The cost of discarding two cards to cast Reunion has the added benefit of allowing the Dredge player to ditch Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams from their opening hand, and put them in the graveyard where they belong.
That’s an incredibly powerful effect. But will it become a four-of?
That, I am less certain of. For one thing, while the additional cost of discarding two cards is certainly less painful than for other decks (and is often just a straight benefit), it can be problematic. Dredge is a deck that mulligans fairly often. It’s not uncommon to make card disadvantageous plays like Looting or Neonate on the first turn or two, which often leave the Dredge player with only a card or two in hand. You still need a minimum of three cards to cast the Reunion and sometimes that just won’t happen.
The card also competes with the aforementioned Collective Brutality. Both are two-drop, non-dredge, non-creature spells. Both also want you to discard additional cards as a cost. You can only play so many copies of this sort of effect before you find yourself with uncastable Reunions or only able to use one mode of Collective Brutality. I’d be inclined to start with a three-three split.
This is where I believe Dredge to be at the moment:
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Prized Amalgam
4 Insolent Neonate
Instants and Sorceries (16):
4 Faithless Looting
3 Life from the Loam
3 Collective Brutality
3 Cathartic Reunion
3 Copperline Gorge
2 Blood Crypt
2 Stomping Ground
1 Steam Vents
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
2 Dakmor Salvage
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Collective Brutality
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Nature’s Claim
2 Lighting Axe
I’ll end with some brief notes about the sideboard. I’m playing the fourth copy of Brutality here instead of Gnaw to the Bone. As explained above, I think playing four copies of Brutality puts the Burn match-up more than enough in Dredge’s favor, and Brutality is useful against combo match-ups in a way Gnaw isn’t. But we’ll see. I’ve always played at least one copy of Gnaw in the past and a few losses to Burn will send me running home to mama (Mama, in this case, being a sun-bleached skull with some wispy green type smoke emanating from it).
Four Leyline of the Void is a bit unconventional. Past builds that played Bridge from Below would often play Leyline in the sideboard because it had the added effect of keeping Bridges around when opponents’ creatures died—since they’d be exiled instead. But it’s less common for non-Bridge builds. This is largely a concession to the online metagame where Dredge and Griselbrand Reanimator strategies seem to be much more common than in paper. In paper, I’d likely try something different, substituting some combination of Darkblasts, Gnaw, maybe an added Nature’s Claim, and some different graveyard hate like Bojuka Bog.
I also want stress the importance of Abrupt Decay. You are probably not dumb, like me, but when I first picked up the deck I was unsure why it played Abrupt Decay instead of more Nature’s Claim, since Claim, after all, could remove opposing Leylines. But I had not realized how important Decay is to remove Scavenging Ooze, which is a much more common card to find on the other side of the battlefield than Leyline.
More prideful Dredge players might tell you that Scavenging Ooze is too slow and inefficient to truly muck up your graveyard shenanigans, but I have not found that to be the case. Having a card that can answer both Rest in Peace and Scavenging Ooze is great. Don’t be prideful. Be humble. Play Abrupt Decay.
I could go on but the painful childhood memories are cropping back up again. So I’ll leave you with that. And with this, a screenshot of my favorite game win from the MOCS this past weekend. Happy dredging.
Follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/spellsnare_
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/spellsnare