Anti-Dredge Strategy - from a Dredge Expert

Hi folks!

I started incorporating Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap, and Mental Misstep into dredge lists in 2014 and created the Dredge variant we now know as Pitch Dredge.

Here's my initial article introducing the concept:

I think a lot of anti-Dredge strategy that is seeing play these days is misguided, and want to offer some constructive criticism. In no particular order:

  1. Ravenous Trap

Before you put this in your deck, you should know that a Dredge player who is in a winning position has the option to stop dredging, pass the turn, and on the following turn draw rather than dredge and finally use a Cabal Therapy to strip Ravenous Trap from your hand without your being able to pay the alternate cost of {0}. You may not see Dredge players make this play frequently, but I do whenever I am far enough ahead that I feel I can afford it, and when you face skilled Dredge pilots in the late rounds of a large event they will be thinking about cards like Ravenous Trap.

Ravenous Trap is one of the only cards that can be beaten purely with Cabal Therapy, and thus is front-of-mind for a skilled Dredge pilot in thinking about how to use their Therapies. See for example this 2016 article in which I highlight it as one of the most frequent cards I would name with Therapy:

In order for Ravenous Trap to be maximally effective, you should be playing a deck that consistently presents a fast kill like DPS or Paradoxical Outcome, and not merely a deck that can sometimes kill quickly such as Oath. This minimizes the likelihood that the Dredge player can afford to take a turn off to Therapy the Trap. I would recommend blue decks that cannot race Dredge find another option for their hate.

  1. Grafdigger's Cage

Grafdigger's Cage is ubiquitous in the format as an anti-Dredge, anti-Oath, anti-Tinker, and anti-Yawgmoth's Will tactic. However, the Dredge component has some glaring drawbacks. The Dredge player is able to continue filling their graveyard, and some important graveyard effects like Bridge from Below and Vengeful Pharaoh operate just fine through a Cage. It is more vulnerable to countermagic than most hate cards due to the 1-mana casting cost and the fact that it utilizes the stack, unlike Leyline of the Void. Finally Cage does not exile or shuffle graveyard cards, so if the Cage is removed successfully the Dredge player may be set to finish the game immediately.

Beyond the limitations of the graveyard hate effect, another issue is that due to the omnipresence of Grafdigger's Cage, every Dredge variant of the past several years has been designed specifically to beat Cage.

  1. Leyline of the Void

Leyline remains one of the premiere hate options available to you. Because it denies any use of the graveyard until it is removed, it may inhibit strategies intended to circumvent hate, such as Molderhulk. It may also somewhat slow down transformational plans such as Dark Depths by restricting graveyard synergies such as Petrified Field.

You should be hesitant to use Leyline in decks that require a critical mass of cards to operate, such as Paradoxical Outcome, as this will interfere with your ability to mulligan for the card. Additionally, Leyline is more attractive in decks that can protect it with countermagic like Flusterstorm or cost increasers like Sphere of Resistance.

  1. Containment Priest

Like Grafdigger's Cage, Containment Priest interferes with a wide selection of Vintage strategies such as Dredge, Oath, and Tinker. Again, like Grafdigger's Cage, this comes at the cost of less effectiveness against Dredge, primarily due to the 2-mana casting cost. Without a Mox, this cost exposes Priest to Cabal Therapy. There is also the possibility that the Dredge player is able to build a dominant board before the hate becomes active, such as by sacrificing Narcomoebas for a few zombie tokens. 3-4 tokens is not entirely rare on Turn 2, and this is often enough to pose a serious threat and force Containment Priest to eventually block and trade.

I would recommend avoiding Containment Priest unless white is one of your base colors and you are heavy on Moxen.

  1. Rest in Peace

Like Containment Priest, RIP is 2 mana which is 1 too many to reliably combat Dredge. It does have a sweeper effect when it comes into play, which helps to mitigate the slowness of the card, but generally speaking there are more attractive options.

  1. Bojuka Bog

I think this card is somewhat overlooked as a hate option. It can be brought in to serve as additional land against Workshops, which gives a little bit of the multi-matchup impact that draws people to Cage and Priest. It's true that Bojuka Bog only operates at sorcery speed, but on the other hand current Dredge decks have only Leyline of Sanctity (which is rarely run) to interact with the card.

Ideally Bog would be included in a deck that can take win the game in the 1-2 turns bought by the effect, presumably a blue-based deck heavy on restricted cards which would lean on something like Tinker to close out the game. Such decks are not prominent currently, but have been well-represented throughout the history of Vintage.

  1. Scavenger Grounds

I'm much more skeptical of this card, but felt I should mention it as an alternative to Bojuka Bog for Ancient Tomb decks. In particular, Scavenger Grounds can pay for artifacts like Grafdigger's Cage and Relic of Progenitus, which may increase consistency as compared to simply running more hate artifacts in that slot.

  1. Relic of Progenitus

Since I mentioned Relic, I just thought I would point out that even in Ancient Tomb decks there is often 1 turn where the Dredge player has a free hand because the mana for Relic is not available. Additionally, Relic is vulnerable to Misstep and Unmask. For decks with colored mana, Nihil Spellbomb is likely a better choice.

  1. Nihil Spellbomb

This avoids the 1 turn of vulnerability due to mana restriction, but worth noting Spellbomb is also vulnerable to Mental Misstep and Unmask.

  1. Tormod's Crypt

A skilled Dredge pilot will commit just enough to the graveyard to demand a Crypt activation, then go off again after it is used. Crypt is most attractive in decks that can utilize the time it buys to win the game or are capable of recurring the Crypt with effects like Goblin Welder. Crypt should not be relied on to address Dredge for an indefinite number of turns.

  1. Yixlid Jailer

One of the less frequently-seen hate cards, Jailer is fairly powerful. It shuts off all of Dredge's graveyard effects, and drastically reduces the ability of the Dredge player to fill the graveyard further by disabling the Dredge mechanic directly. It doesn't exile or shuffle graveyard cards, so there is a potential weakness if the Jailer is removed.

Jailer is generally seen only in creature-based black decks like BUG, but sometimes sees interesting play as a tech option, for example as an Oath of Druids target.

  1. Strip Mine / Wasteland / Ghost Quarter

In many post-board games the Dredge player is able to use Bazaar as a draw engine to find Nature's Claim or other anti-hate tactics. For this reason, removing the Bazaar not only slows down the graveyard plan, it also reinforces the ability of other hate cards to operate.

  1. Pithing Needle / Sorcerous Spyglass

Needle is vulnerable to removal and countermagic, but it can shut off any number of Bazaars and has value against some supplemental plans such as Dark Depths.

  1. Sentinel Totem / City in a Bottle / Wheel of Sun and Moon / Insert Crazy Card Here

The sky is the limit. Find cards that you think might have an impact, reason through their strengths and weaknesses, and if they seem good playtest them. The pool of potential tech extends well beyond the few cards covered here.

Closing Thoughts

In addition to familiarizing yourself with the hate cards available to you, and choosing ones which best suit your strategy, you should also learn about the mechanics and cards you expect to face. Bridge from Below has built-in interaction. Mindbreak Trap can be largely avoided. Experienced pilots will learn to maximize the drawbacks of the Dredge player's cards in order to win games.

The choices made by Dredge players often leave some avenue of attack vulnerable. For example, the deck Andy Markiton played in the VSL yesterday has only 2 cards capable of dealing with Yixlid Jailer, in the form of 2 Chain of Vapor. Look at what your opponents are playing and try to find hate cards they are not already able to deal with.

Good luck!

last edited by ajfirecracker

Very nice post. Is this one of those rumoured "decks to beat" posts...?

I have played 4 Traps in my board of DPS for a while, and changed to Leylines as pitch dredge became popular. I feel Leylines buys more than enough time (and gets rid of countersmagic, since they often have to aggressively dig with bazaar for an answer) to win the game.
DPS of course is in a special position as a very fast deck, that can get away with only playing 4 hate cards, or sometimes even less (though iam not a fan of the 0 hate cards "I just try to be faster" plan, especially against pitch dredge)

My main problem is, that leylines isn't really the optimal choice against survival, and iam not quite sure what to play that is powerful against both decks. Maybe just crypts?

last edited by Aelien

@aelien Crypt is a common choice, and is reasonable in a combo deck like DPS. One extra synergy is that if you start going off and whiff, you can potentially draw and play multiple Crypts.

However, be aware that relying on a single card can open you up to answers. For example, some Dredge variants now have Null Rod.

Virtually all Dredge variants have the option including the 1 Chalice of the Void, and many of them want to do so in order to deal with Paradoxical Outcome.

I would recommend diversifying among the best hate cards given your archetype. For example if you have 4 slots to devote to Dredge something like 1 Crypt 1 Ravenous Trap 2 Leyline might be the way to go

@ajfirecracker When I play in large events now I usually bring multiple types of hate like 3 tormod's one Containment Priest and some Rest in Peace or 4 Leylines and 2 Traps with 1 Nihil Spellbomb. I find that you need to vary up the hate with enchantment/artifact/creature. That usually works best.

last edited by moorebrother1

I definitely play some Pithing Needles in the board in the moment, as they work quite effectively against Dredge and Survivial. Shutting down Bazaar has become more powerful against Dredge since they play Hollow Ones und Anglers out of the board as well. And the abbility to hit both, Surivival and Bazaar, make them a good choice against Survival as well. I would then combine them with a mix of answers depending on when they can effect the game state (from turn 0 to turn 2).

last edited by Tom Bombadil

That's a good point Tom - 2-mana hate is more acceptable to sprinkle in if you're planning on it being a follow-up rather than your main path to victory

@ajfirecracker said in Anti-Dredge Strategy - from a Dredge Expert:

I would recommend diversifying among the best hate cards given your archetype. For example if you have 4 slots to devote to Dredge something like 1 Crypt 1 Ravenous Trap 2 Leyline might be the way to go

Diversifying is nice, however playing anything between 1 and 3 leylines is horrible in my book. Leyline is a 4 or none business.

Why would you avoid 1-3 Leylines?

Pithing Needle is a great sideboard card in general. Its effect is powerful and versatile. If running lots of fast mana, Sorcerous Spyglass is even better (and maindeck worthy in fitting decks). No need to skimp with all the missteps running around. Being able to see opponent's hand is also very good for feeling out when to combo off.

@ajfirecracker Great job with your superb post!

last edited by Guest

Thanks @ajfirecracker, I think this was really insightful.

An additional thing I would mention to readers who are looking to construct anti-Dredge sideboards is that you should chose hate cards to be complementary.

For instance, I like to play Wasteland, Tormod's Crypt, and Jailer/Priest in Esper or Jeskai Xerox decks. The pieces are complementary in that:

  • I can Wasteland a Bazaar and cast Tormod's Crypt to protect against a second Bazaar on turn 1 (can't do that regularly with Cage unless I have a Mox, which is unlikely).
  • Jailer and Priest have the weakness of leaving cards in the graveyard, as you mentioned. Crypt mitigates that weakness.
  • Wasteland can protect Jailer and Priest from Barbarian Ring and Cabal Pit, as can Crypt if you use it to deprive the opponent of threshold. Not as common as it once was (also a reason to run Pithing Needle along with this package if you have the space)

This isn't meant to be exhaustive, but to illustrate the point that constructing SBs should be more than just picking numbers of cards against certain matchups. I think it's the "next level" once you've identified the weaknesses and strengths of various cards and is an import element of deck design and brewing.

Awesome content and awesome BPK quote to tie it all together.

@ajfirecracker because you want to maximize the chance of having leyline in your opening hand. If you have it in your opening hand, it doesnt really matter if you draw another one, the first one on the field is so powerful a hate piece that it will buy you more than enough time to deal with some bad draws. On the other hand, not having it in your opening hand, and then drawing it later in the game is just incredibly bad. It is ofcourse possible to cast it, but normally by that time, it is either too late, or it might get countered, or you have to spend more resourced (ritual) to cast it.

Leyline is a either maximize the chance of having it in your opening hand, or dont bother at all.

@Aelien Agreed. If you are playing Leyline of the Void, it's for its ability to enter play immediately and uncounterably. If you want 1-3 of the Leyline effect, Rest in Peace is a better alternative as it's more easily castable in the crucial early turns if you dig or tutor into it.

last edited by evouga

@aelien If your strategy is mulligan to leyline, then I agree that you want to maximize the number of leylines available.

If your strategy is to have an opening seven that does something incredibly broken on turn 1-2 OR hit a powerful dredge hate piece, then I disagree. You might be OK with the 32% of hitting a leyline in your 7 and not need the 40% chance as long as you think Leyline is the best hate piece available.

I'll be honest, I've considered running 3 Leylines in PO given how strong it is against Pitch Dredge and how obnoxious the counterspell package can be. I just haven't played much PO recently as I think a lot of twitch viewers are bored of it.

@chubbyrain There are two kinds of hands that i will keep against Dredge game 2: A hand with Leyline in it, or a very powerful and fast hand (turn 1 or 2 win). If i dont have these i will mulligan. Playing 4 leylines just ups the chance of a winnable starting hand.
There is no reason to keep a 'playable' starting hand without a leyline, since it probably wont win fast enough, and if i draw Leyline, its just bad.

If your strategy is to have an opening seven that does something incredibly broken on turn 1-2 OR hit a powerful dredge hate piece, then I disagree. You might be OK with the 32% of hitting a leyline in your 7 and not need the 40% chance as long as you think Leyline is the best hate piece available.

I disagree, espescially if this is your strategy, then 4 leylines are the best option for sure. If this is your strategy, why would you make one of the two possiblities (keeping a hand with a hatepiece) much lower propability, while ony very very slightly upping the probability of your other (broken hand) option by playing only 3 leylines instead of 4?
If the answer is: "well you could just play 2 or 3 leylines and then a couple of other hate pieces, that are not as powerful in your opener, but they are also not dead if you draw them later" Then the strategy of keeping one of those two kinds of hands is just not good anymore, since now you are making the keeping a hand with a hatepiece option worse by making it a much lower powerlevel hatepice (for example crypt).

Against Dredge i go for the two option strategy, and i go hard on both options: Broken hate, or broken starting hand, no diluting, no inbetween. Iam not saying this is the only winning strategy, but if you are following this strategy than 4 leylines are your best option.

To try and put this in intuitive terms, if 4 Leyline is better than 0 Leyline is better than 3 Leyline, what is so magical about the number 4?

Why isn't it the case that 5 Leyline is better than 0 Leyline is better than 4 Leyline?

@ajfirecracker Mostly because your opponent might call a judge if you play 5 leylines

@ajfirecracker iam not sure what you are getting at, are we agreeing or disagreeing? Did i miss something? Iam old and confused...

last edited by Aelien
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