The fortunes of Dredge, as a deck, have waxed and waned on both the macro- and micro-scale. Cards such as Prized Amalgam and Cathartic Reunion have bolstered the deck significantly, while the re-banning of Golgari Grave-Troll obviously did the opposite. Similarly, on a match-by-match level, the fortunes of Dredge are often determined by Modern's overall hostility to graveyard strategies – and in recent times, with the rise of Hollow One and KCI, graveyard hate has been at a high point.
Why, then, are we seeing a sudden resurgence of the Dredge archetype in Modern – particularly when the format seems to be so ready for it? The answer has hardly crept up on us slowly and it's chilling to realize the pace at which things have changed.
This random piece of draft chaff is single-handedly breathing new life – er, wait, unlife – into Dredge. It's a super weird card, but even a cursory reading of its abilities reveal its effortless synergy with the dredge mechanic. Dredge is all about putting cards from the library into the graveyard, and so any Narcomoeba-esque card is going to get a fair shake of the sauce bottle.
It's obvious Creeping Chill is best in a Dredge deck – that's not the question here. Instead, the question is what this seemingly innocuous four-drop sorcery offers one of the most potentially busted strategies in Modern – and the answer, so far, seems to be a lot.
Already, every Dredge deck putting up the numbers online is playing a playset of Creeping Chill. It has supplanted many of the weird, one-of creature slots – Scourge Devils, Haunted Dead and the like – immediately cementing itself as a staple of the archetype. This is quite significant! Even powerful cards require a lot to overcome the natural inertia of older formats, and here, Creeping Chill has been universally adopted without delay.
This change has critically important consequences for the format and Modern players are now forced to respond to the change. Make no mistake: Dredge is now fundamentally a better deck than it was before, with Creeping Chill only improving its matchups across the board.
I think it's fair to say that playing with or against Dredge isn't really playing a "proper," orthodox game of Magic. Dredge bends or straight-up breaks so many of the normal conventions, practices and even rules of a regular game of Magic that it's almost an entirely different game. Dredge isn't worried about card advantage and most removal spells, and even Dredge's combat steps are a law unto themselves.
None of this is necessarily a bad thing – it's another wrinkle in an incredibly diverse format, which helps to keep things interesting. The problem for non-Dredge decks, however, is that they must make reasonably significant deckbuilding concessions in order to be sure of a positive matchup against Dredge. In other words, Dredge is capable of warping formats around it.
Dredge has suffered for this as a result - its power level was kept in check with the banning of Golgari Grave-Troll, which not only cost the deck its powerful Dredge 6 card but also took away a lot of Dredge's traction and speed. Without the Grave-Trolls around, Dredge needed to contest the board without a massive finisher - but now, Creeping Chill has changed that.
Now, Dredge can lean much more heavily into the non-creature plan. Creeping Chill seems to take one or one-and-a-half turns off the clock, making Dredge's "chump attacks" more effective and lowering the bar for the game-winning Conflagrate. On top of all this, whereas Golgari Grave-Troll might always eat a Path to Exile, it's almost impossible to interact with Creeping Chill.
Is Creeping Chill the new Golgari Grave-Troll? The comparison is a weird one, for sure, given the wild differences between the two cards. But right now, my feeling is that they have something very important in common – they both push Dredge into the top tier of Modern playability.
Like it or not, you need to be ready for this change. Don't give up free percentage points – arm yourself with as much information as you can and construct a plan that will best serve you in the face of this changing landscape. In the coming days and weeks, you will play against more Dredge decks than has been usual, and all of them will – or should, at least – be packing a playset of Creeping Chill. What does this mean for you, and how can you respond?
Rather obviously, any opponents who gets a chunk of free life points while enacting a routine gameplan is going to cause headaches for decks that are looking to get the opponent from 20 to 0 as efficiently as possible.
Against decks like Burn, Creeping Chill is an absolute nightmare. It can give Dredge a huge life buffer and at virtually no cost! Think about how difficult it can be to overcome the six life that control decks gain with Timely Reinforcements – and they have to spend their entire third turn for that luxury! Dredge gets incidental lifegain for free, while playing their "normal" game.
Against creature-based decks with recurring damage sources the picture isn't quite as grim, but it's still not great. Dredge's sticky, resilient creatures can make racing nightmarish for opposing creature decks, and in these contexts both the lifegain and the life loss of Creeping Chill will be very relevant in determining the outcomes of races. Humans, Spirits and decks of that ilk need to play much more conservatively with their life totals, and think twice before going from seven to six, or from four to three.
The impact of Creeping Chill will be a little less strongly-felt by those playing midrange in Modern. Objectively, Creeping Chill is not a powerful card in a vacuum, and while it's not irrelevant, it won't turn the course of a grindy game in and of itself.
Dredge can create very choppy waters for decks like Jund, whose removal is rendered mostly useless against creatures like Prized Amalgam, and so getting a free "card" from Creeping Chill being milled will only aid a deck that already grinds exceptionally well. Even the mighty Jund has trouble out-grinding Dredge, and Creeping Chill is only going to exacerbate that.
Other midrange decks, like Mardu Pyromancer, will need to be particularly judicious when managing their life total. Mardu is a deck that loves to use its life total as a resource – even against cards like Conflagrate – while winning by inches. Creeping Chill messes with both sides of that plan. Mardu will find it harder to stabilize on one life, and will also find it harder to enact its death by a thousand cuts plan when three of those cuts keep healing up for free.
Decks can gain all the life in the world against white-blue-based control decks in Modern. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria means that even infinite life isn't enough to beat Celestial Colonnade decks any more – and a few random Lightning Helices isn't going to change that.
That's what you'd think, at least. You could be forgiven for thinking that control decks won't care a tinker's damn about Creeping Chill, but it's not so. Historically, Dredge is a nightmarish matchup for control as sweepers like Supreme Verdict do next-to-nothing and all not-Path removal is useless. Today, things are a little better with the inclusion of Terminus instead of Verdict or Wrath, but Dredge's ability to Overload the board still puts a lot of pressure on control, Terminus or no.
Often, control decks will take an early beating, stabilize behind a planeswalker and countermagic and coast to victory from there, neutralizing opposing threats as they see fit. Conflagrate is an embarrassing card to be relying upon in the face of a wall of Counterspells, after all. The reason Creeping Chill is a total game-changer here is that it can't be countered. Yep, that's right, check the card again – I'll wait.
See? It's not being cast. Exiling it creates a trigger, and unless you're running Disallow in your Modern control deck you're in a lot of trouble. Ultimately, this means stabilizing at a low life total is much riskier than before, as Dredge can potentially pull together 12 points of uncounterable damage. Rough.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. Fast combo decks are the least affected by Creeping Chill – their biggest concern is the fact that it speeds up Dredge's kill by a full turn (or maybe more). Most of the time, however, it will be the usual glass cannon standoff – whichever deck can "go off" faster will take it out, and decks like Storm are still very capable of occasional turn-three wins and consistent turn-four wins against uninteractive decks.
Graveyard hate is alive and well in Modern, occupying pride of place in sideboards up and down the format. However, virtually all commonly-played graveyard hate doesn't deal with Creeping Chill. Nihil Spellbomb and Relic of Progenitus (or any other one-shot, Tormod's Crypt-like effect) do nothing against it.
The only way to effectively deal with Creeping Chill is with cards that remove the graveyard altogether. Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void are the obvious candidates here, but the symmetrical effect of Rest in Peace nullifies any graveyard strategies you may be playing yourself, and Leyline of the Void is a horrific topdeck.
Ultimately, it's a tough call – my feeling is that it's not worth warping your post-board plans around Creeping Chill given the ineffectiveness of most graveyard hate against it. Instead, bring in all the usual suspects and don't forget that their Plan A is still mightily susceptible to graveyard disruption of any kind.
Creeping Chill is here to shake up Modern in a way we don't often see. Dredge is currently on a blisteringly fast rise to the top of the format, where I expect it to stay until players adapt to the resurgence of a largely-known quantity. White decks with access to Path to Exile, Terminus and Rest in Peace, will be the first line of defense against this new scourge – but very few decks can do nothing to strengthen their position. Now's the time to act; be ready for lots of Dredge players and lots of Creeping Chills at your next Modern event!
- Riley Knight