Dredge is a unique deck that plays out very differently from many other decks. The deck operates by milling itself, filling its graveyard with a lot of cards. There are several creatures that can be put onto the battlefield from the graveyard for 0 mana. The harder the Dredge deck mills itself, the more such cards will end up in its graveyard, and the faster it can beat down. A good hand can result in 10 or more points of power on the board by the second turn.
If you’ve played old Extended, Legacy, or Vintage, Dredge should be no stranger to you. The history of Dredge in Modern is a little rocky. At the outset, Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return were banned (although Grave-Troll was eventually unbanned....only to be banned again), and no Dredge deck was playable for a while. The next few sets gave rise to a “Dredgevine” deck, with additions like Faithless Looting, Gravecrawler, Lotleth Troll and Satyr Wayfinder. Shadows over Innistrad brought two huge improvements for the archetype: Insolent Neonate and Prized Amalgam. Later, Cathartic Reunion, aka Mom Hug, was printed and that put the deck over the top.
Dredge has seen play in any format that has the keyword available to it... and even some standard seasons without it. Truthfully, there is always a graveyard deck in magic, since the ability to use the grave as an "extended hand" or ways to cheat costs is a very good deal. But how far back does dredges roots go? Well it turns out pretty damned far, as it starts in 2007, right when Future Sight was printed.
At the start, when the key word dredge was printed, it was actually a very fair mechanic. Standard used Darkblast to get rid of mana dorks like birds of paradise, sometimes using something like Nightmare Void as a slow way to disrupt a combo piece. Overall, it was pretty lack luster, even in older formats that had tools you could use from the grave. Yes, even then, legacy would rather be playing with threshold than over committing to the grave. The reason for this was simply risk and reward. The risks out weighed the rewards. Then Future Sight happened, and with it, a dredge land, bridge from Below, and Dread Return. All of these were planned by Wizards of course, to make graveyard decks be a thing in standard, but they've openly admitted to not realizing how efficient dredge the mechanic was.
Soon everyone wanted to use Magus of the Bazaar, Merfolk Looter, Drowned Rusalka and Llanowar Mentor to put out tons of zombies, then win the game with a Dread Returned Flame-Kin Zealot.
It also sometimes Dread Returned a Akroma, Angel of Wrath, because that angel was also stupidly powerful.
This deck was so powerful during its time, that it soon transitioned into legacy with the same basic idea, dredge a bridge, use a sac outlet, make tons of tokens, give them haste via dread return, and win the game. However, it is Vintage that shows how strong dredge is with availability to all of magics graveyard tricks. Further more, because it cheats on mana, and doesn't cast spells, it has been a bane of a blue deck since the start, something very good to be in legacy and vintage.
As you can see this deck barely runs any lands what so ever... In fact, Baazar doesn't even produce mana! That's right, at first glace it might see like the deck runs 7 mana lands, it actually runs 0 ways to get mana. Because who really wants to play magic anyways? It never spends mana, and it will only cast 1-2 spells the whole game... if any. This is dredge in its purest form. While this list comes from 2008, and thus lacks even more broken cards, the idea hasn't changed. Dredge a bridge, sac outlet from the yard, then give haste to all your tokens and win. It's sac outlets and discard enablers are the best they can be for 2008, Cabal Therapy, Ichorid, and Dread Return being your sacrifice package, Land Grant for Bazaar of Baghdad and Lion's Eye Diamond for the discard.
Dredge also made it's presence felt with extended and legacy during this time, which I won't post because the power level falls between vintage and standard, but you can be sure the game plan was very much the same.
Zoom to 2011, many new tools were added to the game for grave decks, but most importantly, and the reason you're here, is Modern was sanctioned as a format! But Dredge didn't become what it is today right away. No, it took 5 years to fill out, but it still existed in the format, as a lower power leveled deck called Dredgevine.
You might think that this list looks a little all over the place... and you'd be right. It lacks pretty much everything we've come to know dredge stands for, the bridge, Dread Return, Bloodghasts (which was printed by now, and quickly added to all dredge lists) and Narcomoeba. Grave-Troll and Dread Return were also banned. Well there was many reasons for this. Until around 2010, all dredge lists were 3 colors, black, green and blue. Discard and draw was color shifted to red, so now the decks needed to be rainbow to have access to all the tools, and it caused a strain on mana bases. Furthermore, there was no good reliable sacrifice engine in modern, especially one in the yard like Dread Return. So your normal dredge was impossible to run. But the deck still does roughly the same job as before. Enable discard, dredge a ton, make a hasty army. But the players have changed. Faithless Looting, mill creatures and Lotleth Troll are you main discards, dredgers are the same, and vengevine replaces the bridge.
Golgari Grave-Troll was unbanned in 2015, and promptly did nothing for the deck. But in 2016, 3 cards were printed that suddenly made dredge able to use old tech, and dredge itself from the depths of modern's tier 5 to tier 1. Those cards were Prized Amalgam, Insolent Neonate, and a little later, Cathartic Reunion.
Vengvine was replaced with amalgam, as it was easier to trigger, and without the need to cast creatures anymore, Narcomoeba and Bloodghast were great cards again. Insolent Neonate was the 1 mana loot the deck needed to pull fully out of blue and make their manabase consistent. Reunion gave the deck a critical mass of discard, draw needed to make the engine pur. The deck shot up like a rocket, and since it didn't use very many cards as other decks did, it was cheap. Both ingredients for an explosion of usage.
This deck is also substantially different than its standard, extended, legacy, and vintage counterparts. There is no bridge. This is because the deck still lacked a good sacrifice engine outside of Greater Gargadon, and no good ones from the grave.
At the beginning of 2017, Golgari Grave-Troll was banned to nerf, but not kill the deck. It had it's intended effect, as the deck lost 2-6 dredge power a turn, as well as having to devote more slots to discard and dredgers to shore up the gaps in the engine. It also lost one of it's built in win conditions, especially since Grave-troll was one of the best counters to the most played graveyard hate; Grafdigger's Cage.
The deck would remain powerful, but not oppressive.
When we returned to Ravanica in Guilds of Ravnica, golgari, the guild who gave us the word dredge, didn't help dredge at all as a deck... But leave it to the sneaky Dimir to give us the tools to win the mondern arms race. Enter Creeping Chill, a card that was briefly talked about,but quickly dismissed as a winmore card. As soon as the card became legal on magic online, results started pouring in. It was the shot in the arm to get dredge back to where it needed to be to compete. It sped the decks clock up a turn, giving it a real chance to race combo decks, and the 12 life gained allowed it to stall the game out longer vs fast aggro decks. This allowed the sideboard to also free up a bit, as a wide swath of the field became either favorable or close to it.
Overall, thanks to this single card, dredge enjoys tier one status during this time, becoming as much as a "sideboard boggy man deck" as affinity.
Dredge is a combo aggro deck. By that I mean, it has a combo feeling to how it plays out its game, but it mostly functions as an aggro deck, pushing out damage fast and hard. If Ad Nauseam was a pure aggro deck, it would feel like a assassin, lining up and prepping for the perfect shot. In that case, aggro might feel like a berserk, charging in wildly, slashing as much damage as he can. Dread would combine the two of these, and feel more like someone shotgunning burst damage, prepping again then bursting again.
Below you can read on which cards actually make the cut in the dredge, as well as cards that aren't quite good enough to.
Understanding the deck in terms of how it functions, rather than just as a set of cards will go a long way into making your deck into a finely tuned engine. It will also help you know where you can cut corners or combine jobs, like Dakmor Salvage being able to help the land count and the dredge count. Play with the numbers and see if you can find the right ones for you!
Sideboarding in dredge is a much more complex process than most decks. Unlike in a deck like Jund or Zoo, its not as simple as "against affinity, you can use Stoney Silence." There are 3 separate things to consider when boarding as a dredge player: What does the archetype board in vs me, What counters the cards they board in vs me, What other cards are good vs them, and do I have room?
In the end, you'll find that its not a one for one sub when boarding, but a balancing act of how to not kill your engine while countering what they are doing. At the end of the day, this deck is a game one deck, and the goal here is to null their strong and narrow hate against you to make game 2 basically game 1.
Step 1: Know what the hate cards are used to beat dredge, and which decks use what.
Step 2: Know what Anti-Hate cards you must board in for the match-up and how many.
Step 3: Make the correct cuts from your flex spot and engine so you don't mess up your combo
Step 4: Fill in the extra sideboard cards if you have the space to do so.
Now you know how to do steps 1-4, you wont need a guide. Which is good, because sideboarding in this deck is one of the most complicated parts of it!
Below is a list of details and tips to help you play dredge. They are very boring, and read like a textbook, but they are key to running the deck correctly as possible. I also want to give a shout out to Izzetmage who wrote these!
Read up on these rules to be the best dredge player you can be!
There are many decks in modern that use the graveyard, but not all of them have overlapping cards. Below here is our sister decks!
Bans are a real concern for this format, and something that needs to be addressed in this primer. Before we go into this, I should remind everyone this is not the correct thread to talk about bans.If you would like to please instead go to this thread.
With that PSA out of the way, lets get into it. Modern is a format that has historically been pretty ban heavy. Decks that are "too consistently good", make the format more of a sideboard lottery, or are flat out unfun, have been banned before, and we have hit all 3 of those. Its also well known that Wizards has deemed the Dredge Mechanic a massive mistake on their end. So I can not say that this deck is safe from bans. I will say however, that in any eternal format a graveyard based deck will always exist, and they always print graveyard eccentric cards, so dredge will continue to exist in one form or any other regardless. Wizards has made it quite clear they want to control power level, not kill decks, so we should fit into this boat.
In most formats, we are a "sideboard lottery" and with the banning of troll we fold to hate quite easily, so this should be our lifeline. However, if you have reservations to the idea that something may be banned, this deck probably isn't a good fit. However, I'd venture to say that modern is currently in a ban mania time, so any well preforming deck could be hit with bans.
And thats Dredge! I hope this primer has been chalk full of information for you. If it has, leave me a like on this post, so I can see! The idea was to make this knowledgeable enough, that after reading you should be comfortable with the deck, and refer to this primer when you hit some tricky spots. If you have any questions, deck review, or match-up reports, feel free to post it on here!