Dredge, The London Mulligan, and the continued use of Serum Powder

Can someone do the math on effective hand size treating Powder as a blank?

If I keep half a card more on average but I also keep a Powder half the time it starts to look like not so much of a benefit

There's a reason normal decks like Workshops don't usually run Serum Powder even though they would also like to keep a larger hand.

Edit: And of course you have to include the odds of drawing Powder in the first few draws.

last edited by ajfirecracker

@blindtherapy yes, but the math is more complicated as you can assemble some pretty unbeatable 3-4 card hands out of the London mulligan. The quality of your powder hands is not improved as you just draw x cards with no selection (though if this is a subsequent powder, then you do have more control over what you exiled). I don’t know how to weigh this, but in my experience control decks still want to preserve the quantity of cards in their hand while aggro and combo decks can mulligan more often into explosive draws that can win with less cards. Dredge variants have similar philosophical differences in my experience and can exploit Powder and London in different ways. The whole point of cutting narcomoeba and other core components was to demonstrate that the evolving metagame and recent printings make such alterations possible. “Oh no, you are going to be weak against fast combo...” Oh, crap, that’s really going to hurt my win rate against...the literal 0 PO and ritual decks in the top 32 of the challenge.

The point is the Dredge archetype has a ton more depth than its ever had before and even the rules are facilitating more freedom in deck design. I plan on exploring it more in a couple of weeks.

@ajfirecracker It isn't actually a blank, as discarding to bazaar and letting you keep force/hollow one/etc is still very relevant, but this is worth adressing.
In hands below 7 that you keep with bazaar powder is pretty much always going to be one of the cards you bottom, but even here we can say that had it been something else we would have had the option to keep it and bottom something else. Hard to quantify this.
You're not going to have a powder half the time; the chance of it being in a given keepable 7(with 1 bazaar) is 35.7%; the chances of having 2 powders in such a hand is 4.8%(45.1/8.5 with bazaar activation on the play, 49.4/10.6 on the draw). mulligans mean that you get to put powders back if you don't need them, so it's not a dead card in hand. You will on average about half a powder in a hand+ top 2/3, even when keeping 7, so just comparing to the increase in average hand size(.59) to the number of 'dead' cards(~.5 when you keep 7 and much less at all other hand sizes) it seems to be worth it.

@chubbyrain not every 4 you keep in a powder list is a 4 you powdered into; by my quick math about 20% are, the rest being hands you chose which 3 to put away. you are always free to throw the hand you powdered into back; it is supplemental to the mulligan. Exiling random cards from your deck in 7s and then somewhat pruned cards in 6s and lower has neutral and minor positive effects on deck quality respectively, if not in the hand the powder draws but in the hand you then mulligan into after if the powder hand doesn't suffice.

While I understand the discussion as to who can exploit powder better, it seems to me like talking about which blue deck best takes advantage of ancestral recall. The value of the card may vary depending on how much a deck is attempting to assemble, say, bazaar+blue card vs bazaar alone, but it is definitely worth it in either case. I admittedly have never played the counterspell lists, so I might be missing something here, but the math seems pretty convincing. Might brush up on python and dive into the simulations.

@blindtherapy I'm assuming you keep every hand with Bazaar in it, which might not continue to be the case. I agree that exiling non-bazaars improves the odds of finding bazaars but is a 6 card hand from Powder with a Bazaar better than 5 of 7 without another mulligan? 4 of 7? 3 of 7? What about at 5 cards from Powder and having to keep Powders that you might find? I don't have a certain answer for that and I'm not sure a simulation would answer qualitative measures like this.

For the record, I agree with you. My take on seeing initial data from @evouga was that dredge would value the greater starting hand size afforded by Powder. The 3 week London trial left a lot of unresolved questions about the format, including this about Powder. There was only one deck that really sought to omit Powder in a more aggressive shell during Week 2 and finished second in the challenge. This isn't anywhere close to a significant enough sample size to draw a conclusion from.

That's an interesting point - probably there's no way to get around really doing the math and comparing the distribution of number of useful cards in the final hands.

@ChubbyRain After watching a few VoDs of the deck, thinking about it, and testing a bit on MTGO with a similar list I have a few questions and comments.

First of all my questions:

  1. How did you come about making the deckbuilding decisions you did? What prompted you? What was your reasoning behind some of the decision?
  2. What changes did you make during testing? What cards were you really impressed with or were unimpressed with?
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this version of Dredge in your opinion?

Now, through my testing, thinking and watching I have found Dakmor Salvage, Creeping Chill, Force of Vigor, Vengeful Pharaoh to be insanely impressive. While I have not had a chance to test Hogaak and Bloodghast I think the Hogaak seems very powerful and Bloodghast seems mediocre.

I think Dakmor Salvage is the card I have been most impressed with and it single handedly won me a game against a G1 T1 Priest when I had no other outs and I came very close to winning games 2/3 because of it. Dakmor allows you to consistently and reliably get to three mana with the help of Riftstone Portal, allowing you to hardcast Stinkweed Imp and Shambling Shell. Hardcasting these cards with a priest out can win you the game since it ignores their hate completely and can still generate insane value from saccing Shell to put a +1 on Imp and generate a few zombies. Combined with Creeping Chill just one Imp with a single +1 counter can be a 3 turn clock not counting the zombies you may have just produced. I have even been able to hardcast Pharaoh because of the amount of lands I had out.

Vengeful Pharaoh has also really impressed because of how it can allow you to really slow down and control the game, allowing you to find what you need while making it really hard for them to put a clock on you.

Creeping Chill is nice because it dodges a lot of the common hate and allows you to win while committing fewer resources. It also makes the hardcast beatdown much more viable. The same can be said for Hogaak except he is just so much better it seems like.

Interestingly/strangely I have lost quite a few post board games to decking and I think adding an anti-decking card like Progenitus or Emrakul could really help combat GY wipes and help you prevent from decking, allowing you to not only reuse certain cards but also give you enough cards to continue the hardcast beatdown plan.

Let me know of your thoughts or comments!

@rat3de said in Dredge, The London Mulligan, and the continued use of Serum Powder:

Interestingly/strangely I have lost quite a few post board games to decking and I think adding an anti-decking card like Progenitus or Emrakul could really help combat GY wipes and help you prevent from decking, allowing you to not only reuse certain cards but also give you enough cards to continue the hardcast beatdown plan.

Perhaps Gaea's Blessing is a better option since you can cast it if you need; e.g. when it got stuck in your hand and you don't mind shuffling Narcomoeba's back into the library.

@Rat3dE

Hardcasting creatures to beat other decks off of salvage is definitely a line that exists, but it isn't the main one. Dakmor Salvage exists to trigger bloodghast most of the time, and the card is amazing, like a narcomoeba you can use turn after turn. Hardcasting pharoah sounds harder than hardcasting Troll, given the color requirments, and troll is bigger. the hardcast plan has always existed(I have cast ichorid, i have cast dread return on ichorid with spell pierce mana up, I have cast ashen rider) but it shouldn't be high on the strategy list. If one is seriously concerned with maindeck priest, then play crippling fatigue, or a loam/pit package. Hardcasting dredgers seems most relevant to then casting Hogaak off them.

I'm interested to hear that pharoah has been good for you; what has it been good against?

Chill dodges priest and cage, falling victim to everything else. Dredge doesn't generally need much help beating priest and cage in my opinion, as the yard is still there once you remove the hate.

progenitus just shuffles itself, so no reuse there. Emrakul/Blessing/Other shuffle everything as soon as they hit the bin; they don't really counteract, for example, crypt effects, unless you are discarding emrakul in response to the crypt. Shuffling your yard into your deck is pretty close to crypting yourself in tempo terms, if not in total resources available over the game. Losing games to decking happens, but it's possible you're bazaaring too aggressively when you could afford to not do so. Usually you should only be losing to decking in games where you fight through multiple crypts and don't have the time to slow roll through them, throwing 15ish cards into each crypt.

This is all fairly off topic from the serum powder discussion i think, but those are my thoughts. Matt has played Chill more than I have, I'm curious as to his take.

last edited by BlindTherapy

@BlindTherapy My point with winning G1 against Priest was more that it was possible whereas with most lists it would not be.

bloodghast most of the time, and the card is amazing, like a narcomoeba you can use turn after turn.

When you put it that way it actually makes it sound much better than I initially thought.

Hardcasting pharoah sounds harder than hardcasting Troll, given the color requirments, and troll is bigger.

It was because I was low on cards in library and I happened to draw a Pharaoh, also black is easier to get than green because of Dakmore.

I'm interested to hear that pharoah has been good for you; what has it been good against?

Against things like Eldrazi it can really slow them down as it essential comes down to a topdeck war of can they draw 20 power worth of castable creatures before you find your anti-hate.

Chill dodges priest and cage, falling victim to everything else. Dredge doesn't generally need much help beating priest and cage in my opinion, as the yard is still there once you remove the hate.

While in general I would agree I think it is a bit more complex than that as the games where they have the resources to maintain their GY nearly continuously it allows you to take advantage of weak points or mistakes much more effectively and efficiently since they are already at a lower life. In the Hogaak version I would imagine this is even more amplified by the inclusion of HO, Bloodghast and Hogaak as these all become much better at crossing the finish life as a one to four turn clock then a three to ten turn clock.

@rat3de said in Dredge, The London Mulligan, and the continued use of Serum Powder:

black is easier to get than green because of Dakmore.

my point was that it is generally easier to get 5 lands(including bazaar) in play with a portal in the bin than to get 5 lands, 3 of which make colored(black) mana. 5 mana is usually portal territory, so troll can be case off stuff like 2 bazaar 1 field 2 dakmor while pharoah can't. but yeah, casting pharoah isnt plan A for sure, though I think i've done it off lotus in the past.

can they draw 20 power worth of castable creatures before you find your anti-hate.

was the eldrazi player not aware of how pharoah works, or did you have multiple pharoahs? it can only hit 1 creature a combat, so they only really need to get to 12ish and swing twice.

It's worth noting that Pharoah can kill a creature that was blocked, so if their guys are different sizes and you throw a Narcomoeba or a zombie token in front of the larger one you can still kill it

@ajfirecracker yes, as well as the first strike trick, where you use the trigger from a first striker hitting you to destroy the other creature before it deals damage

I think this is a good thread and a good question and I like to see all the math here.

I always feel like my thoughts on Serum Powder are completely out of line with the way people talk about it. I think Serum Powder is one of the most powerful raw effects ever printed, uncounterably drawing 7 cards for no mana. Nothing else really comes close to that kind of efficiency, not even Contract from Below.

To me, Dredge has never been the deck that has to run Serum Powder, it's the deck that gets to run Serum Powder. A part of me hears people making the argument to cut Powder, and it sounds to me like saying "Hey they just unrestricted Gush so my deck has a more consistent draw engine, that means Ancestral Recall isn't as important as it was before!" ... it's technically true, but I mean ... don't cut Ancestral.

It's true that the London Mulligan makes Powder less necessary, but it also makes Powder better. Consider that the London Mulligan also makes your 4th Bazaar less necessary, but I wouldn't go cutting it.

You don't want to play magic without any understanding of statistics (and Frank Karsten is my favorite magic writer of all time), but the Bazaar math really only paints part of the picture. Bazaar is the most important card in the deck, but it's not the only card that matters. Powders mean that on average, your opening hands will be bigger and better. Powder makes you more likely to draw all of the best 10-20 cards in your deck, and cutting it for something else makes you more likely to draw the worst 4 (i.e. the last 4 cards you added)

Every deck in the format is capable of running Serum Powder. Why do so few choose to do so?

@ajfirecracker said in Dredge, The London Mulligan, and the continued use of Serum Powder:

Every deck in the format is capable of running Serum Powder. Why do so few choose to do so?

Because it's only useful if a) the exiled cards provide some ancillary value (castable creatures for example) b) your deck relies overwhelmingly on 1 and only 1 card and your deck doesn't rely on 1 or 2 of's to function that you can't afford to powder.

This is because the card Serum Powder itself once mulligans are resolved is a Bone Flute for the most part. If your hand includes Bazaar and Serum Powder it's largely irrelevant. So the reduced over all quality of a hand is marginal because a measure of a great hand and an unkeepable hand is simply whether it contains that ONE card.

Dredge is so far the only competitive deck in Vintage that meets that criteria. There have been Shop decks so bent on having Shop the opener they've played it. In Legacy an example of a deck that can use it is Leylines ... the deck needs 1 card in its opener, Opalescence. The Powder is moderately castable off Sanctum as well.

@brass-man said in Dredge, The London Mulligan, and the continued use of Serum Powder:

You don't want to play magic without any understanding of statistics (and Frank Karsten is my favorite magic writer of all time), but the Bazaar math really only paints part of the picture. Bazaar is the most important card in the deck, but it's not the only card that matters. Powders mean that on average, your opening hands will be bigger and better. Powder makes you more likely to draw all of the best 10-20 cards in your deck, and cutting it for something else makes you more likely to draw the worst 4 (i.e. the last 4 cards you added)

versus

@nedleeds said in Dredge, The London Mulligan, and the continued use of Serum Powder:

Because it's only useful if a) the exiled cards provide some ancillary value (castable creatures for example) b) your deck relies overwhelmingly on 1 and only 1 card and your deck doesn't rely on 1 or 2 of's to function that you can't afford to powder.

This is because the card Serum Powder itself once mulligans are resolved is a Bone Flute for the most part. If your hand includes Bazaar and Serum Powder it's largely irrelevant. So the reduced over all quality of a hand is marginal because a measure of a great hand and an unkeepable hand is simply whether it contains that ONE card.

Dredge is so far the only competitive deck in Vintage that meets that criteria. There have been Shop decks so bent on having Shop the opener they've played it. In Legacy an example of a deck that can use it is Leylines ... the deck needs 1 card in its opener, Opalescence. The Powder is moderately castable off Sanctum as well.

Powder would actually support your ability to find critical 1-of cards, so I don't think that's a very sensible argument against it unless you need a lot of specific 1-ofs in combination with each other.

The "draw your worst cards less and your best cards more often" thing applies to any deck in the format vis-a-vis Serum Powder. I'm aware that some Shops players have experimented with the card, but by and large Shops players don't run it. If it's such a no-brainer it seems like they should generally be running it, and the fact that they are not suggests that there are downsides to the card that Andy is not really accounting for. The card being close to blank after the initial mulligan phase is only one of those downsides.

@ajfirecracker I think you make some fair points.

I think Powder is underrated in vintage. I have run it in non-dredge decks I find it very hard to evaluate how Serum Powder affects a deck... Powder's drawbacks are very visible, but its upsides are hard to measure. I'm still unsure on the card, but I feel like most players haven't seriously considered it in any way.

I do think Dredge is uniquely qualified to ignore the downsides. Bazaar makes the card quality disparity super high, can filter away dead Powders, and Grave-Troll very quickly compensates for the CA disadvantage.

Also I don't think that it's completely incomprehensible for a card to have huge raw power but not be playable in every deck. Mishra's Workshop is a clear example.

But all that isn't to say that Serum Powder has no drawbacks. For sure it does. I'm confident it's still right in Dredge but I admit it's not a clean argument.

@brass-man the fact that bazaar filters cards, ignoring the drawback of having dead cards in the deck, raises an obvious question: why do non-dredge bazaar decks not play the card? currently this means mostly survival, of course. is it survival not needing to mulligan so much, or does not having the dredge mechanic effectively make bazaar a different card?

@blindtherapy

Because survival has other lines of plays. You don't need that bazaar is 100% of times in your starting hand.

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