BG Dredge is an archetype that only lost some of its toys with the release of Khans of Tarkir and yet its presence in tournaments has fallen dramatically. This is partially because the idea of putting cards into your graveyard and using them for value is quite the open-ended goal and finding a shell that actually works can be difficult.
Theoretically, while great cards such as Grisly Salvage and Jarad did leave us, the Sultai mechanic is Delve which offers all sorts of potential gains for a graveyard based strategy. Of course, it is important to balance that correctly though, as removing your graveyard can work counter to filling your graveyard, so we need to be vigilant with our numbers.
I think that in order to start narrowing down what you want to be doing, you have to define your dredge deck by its speed. Previously, cards like Jarad provided so much inevitability that the deck could win in long games most of the time and if you wanted to capture that now, you can certainly do so with cards like Empty the Pits.
But there is also the option to be a little more aggressive. Delve in particular is a mana reducing mechanic which means that the earlier you can take advantage of that, the bigger impact it is going to have. A 4/4 trampler for one mana is not nearly as strong on turn eight as it is on turn three. Once you begin thinking in a slightly more aggressive mindset, some of the cards that seem good or obvious in dredge become nearly unplayable.
One of the big cards to come out of Khans for dredge falls into this category. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant can certainly lead to some aggressive draws, but most of the time she is going to reward you for going longer into the game and triggering her ability as many times as possible. If we have a 4/4 or a 5/5 down on turn three, do we really want to transition back into a slower game come turn four? If Sidisi hits on that, five power is reasonable, but if it misses, your deck begins to move in two different directions.
Focusing on either a grindy strategy with a lot of card advantage and inevitability or going with a more aggressive and explosive version of the deck just seems safer than hoping to dip into both. You are too likely to miss consistency when you split that focus. So today, I wanted to look at a few aggressive dredge options. Strength in Numbers
One of the most aggressive dredge cards one can include in their deck is Strength from the Fallen. For two mana you open up the possibility of an explosive turn that provides a ton of unexpected damage out of nowhere.
Strength is very strong when it is at its best, but it has some awkward requirements that have kept it from really being dominant. Strength is a noncreature card that cares both about creatures and about enchantments. Obviously there is some overlap there with certain cards, but meeting both requirements is tricky and introduces some natural variance to the deck which can be frustrating.
To mitigate this as much as possible, we really want to keep our noncreature, nonenchantment count as low as possible. We do need some enablers still, such as Commune with the Gods, but we cannot afford to be running eight or ten copies unless they also come with legs. Our biggest allies here are Satyr Wayfinder and Nyx Weaver, as both enable the graveyard while boosting the creature count. Nyx Weaver actually just does it all by also triggering Strength from the Fallen.
Now once we get to the delve cards from Khans of Tarkir, we have some interesting things to consider. I think that the most powerful of the bunch is Necropolis Fiend, but his extremely high cost makes it not quite as appealing here. We really value the evasion it brings, but we don't need such a big body if cheaper exists because Strength from the Fallen is going to be our primary damage source alongside Nighthowler, which checks for the same condition.
We can get access to two other creatures with evasion and delve though and they both cost three full mana less than the old Fiend. Hooting Mandrills is a pretty powerful card as we are beginning to see in older formats and dredge can play that card in a more unfair way than any other deck in Standard. Trample is more than reasonable as Nighthowler and Strength will both have this very large. Beyond that, Sultai Scavenger is the sort of more affordable Necropolis Fiend. We lose a few stats and the removal ability, but a 3/3 flyer is more than acceptable for our purposes.
Drawing up a quick list, this is where I landed:
This is a pretty stripped down and basic version of the deck without removal or many ways to interact, but it seemed like a good place to start.
Most of our cards have been discussed or make sense, but there are a few noteworthy interactions to point out. Pharika, for example, makes enchantment tokens in case you haven't played with her in a while. This means she can trigger your constellation multiple times in a turn without needing to have a ton of cards in your hand to set something up. Maybe more important than quantity here is quality as instant speed activations means we can wait until after blocks to maximize damage from Strength.
I have found Kruphix's Insight to be more desirable than the alternatives here just because of the random huge payouts at times and the ability to actually set up a big combo turn. Scout the Borders is really the next best option anyway and while it might be more consistent, it is not doing anything good for us consistently.The Problems
After some initial testing, a few things stuck out that we can probably improve on. I found that every game where I hit six or seven lands in play, I tended to lose. The deck is not set up to go long as we have no way to answer opposing threats or recover from a huge set of card advantage. We are looking to drop our opponent to zero as fast as possible.
This would normally be fine, but we are a reliant strategy, meaning we need to execute a prerequisite before we can deploy our aggression. A deck like Monored is just going to play out threat after threat. We tend to play some nonthreats that enable our threats first. In exchange we get bigger and more cost efficient creatures, but we do have an added level of inconsistency too.
I wanted to help the deck out a little more when it ends up drawing a ton of mana and possibly with consistency issues. The Strength list would need to set up an elaborate turn using multiple enchantments to really capitalize on a lot of mana which just doesn't come up due to you usually emptying your hand relatively fast. I decided to give See the Unwritten a little love, but combining it with Strength did not seem very effective, so we moved away from the enchantment theme a bit.
This ended up being an entirely new deck as opposed to a new version of the above list, but both obviously share some things in common too.
Here the goal is still to rush out an undercosted fattie in the early game but you actually have more of them to choose from. Nemesis of Mortals has lost some of its usefulness without Jarad around, but I think this list can come up with too many threats for the opponent to handle. And if you look, we have a ton of creatures that allow See the Unwritten to go deep for two new dudes.
Remember that See the Unwritten happens to be a pretty big graveyard enabler too. Going eight cards deep is bound to find more creatures than just the ones you drop into play and with at least 7 cards hitting the yard (See the Unwritten plus at least six others), you can easily follow up the sorcery with some delve card that might have been stranded in your hand.
One of the benefits of having a shell like this is that we are not at the mercy of a single card as much as with the Strength version. Here, we can play a broken game a lot better. By that I mean if our plan A does not work, this deck can scrap it out by just casting fatties, even when they are not a huge discount. Four mana Nemesis of Mortals and Hooting Mandrills is not exactly exciting, but it can still be quite threatening. The deck packs enough mana acceleration to make that a real possibility.Sideboarding with Restrictions
When it comes to creating a sideboard for these dredge strategies, you need to be aware of the same restrictions that you had for your main deck. This means we are primarily looking for creatures or enchantments so that once we board into a plan, we don't lose all of the power of our deck. Imagine taking out eight creatures for eight removal spells, for example, and we just would not be able to Threaten people with high creature counts in the yard.
Because of this, finding nice utility creatures that can fill the roles is optimal. A card like Reclamation Sage is just going to be better than any other Naturalize variant you can find because it gives us the attributes that we need most for the core functionality of our deck. Doing a quick search, here are some of the cards that work best in the board:
Brain MaggotAgent of ErebosReclamation SagePharika, God of AfflictionDoomwake GiantEidolon of BlossomsErebos, God of the DeadMistcutter HydraNylea's DiscipleSoul of InnistradWall of Mulch
Beyond that, you can of course rock some spells, but just do so in moderation and make sure no one matchup has like six spells coming in unless at least a few are coming out. Keeping track of your deck balance is easily the trickiest part of working this sideboard.
Personally, I like to keep between two and four copies of Thoughtseize, a few removal spells, and then primarily utility creatures in my board as I have found that to be a nice balance.Wrap Up
The format is in a bit of a stale spot just because midrange seems to be bashing its head against hyper aggro strategies. While dredge is acting like a hyper aggressive strategy at times, it is one that has the ability to transition into a midrange deck. This can be helpful in terms of positioning itself for a particular match up or just as a game progresses and it needs to switch forms. You do not see that same ability out of monored or UW Heroic, although those decks will execute the aggressive game plan a little more often.
If we can figure out how to smooth out the inconsistencies that exist in this list, I think the incentives are worth exploring still. It might be time to examine oddballs like Taigam's Scheming just to see if another two mana enabler is what we needed. I will keep exploring and until next week, thanks for reading!