Last updated on March 27, 2022
Life from the Loam | Illustration by Sung Choi
Creepy crawlies rising from the dead isn’t anything new to MTG. In fact it’s one of the most fun parts of the game! But there was a time when Wizards went too far and unleashed a mechanic that was so powerful it would be locked away forever, ranking next to storm at the top of the Storm Scale.
What is this mythical keyword ability, and why was it so powerful? Will we ever get a little bald kid to bring it back into the world?
Let’s look at dredge and see how powerful it really can be.
Shenanigans | Illustration by Lindsey Look
If you have a card with dredge in your graveyard, you can mill N cards from the top of your decks whenever you draw a card, where N is the number next to the dredge keyword on the card. If you do, put the card with dredge in your hand.
Dredge also can’t be responded to since it’s a replacement ability that doesn’t use the stack.
Dredge was one of the many now-iconic parts of the Ravnica block from 2005. But we don’t have much info on how it was initially revealed thanks to its age. I’m pretty sure dredge was first spoiled on Grave-Shell Scarab in September of that year during the preview of the set’s mechanics, but it was a different time so I can’t be 100% sure.
Dredge was originally called “reclaim” and was basically a regrowth effect. Instead of drawing a card you could just put the reclaim card in your hand. That proved too powerful and was redesigned to its current iteration. But the mechanic still proved to be very powerful despite this change in design and still is to this day.
Outside of the original 12 cards from Ravnica we’ve only seen two other cards printed with the keyword since; once in Time Spiral and another in Modern Horizons.
Why Is Dredge So Powerful?
Being able to mill almost at will disrupts the balance of other cards that weren’t designed with dredge in mind. There’s also no way to interact with the mechanic which is another issue on its own.
But the main reason that dredge is so powerful lies in the ability to recur these cards as often as you need. Sure, casting Stinkweed Imp a couple of times doesn’t win a game. But you get access to an extra 15 cards if you dredge it three times.
The “cost” of using dredge cards (the cards in your library) is only a detriment if your deck isn’t meant to use those cards from your graveyard. Your opponent also can’t normally interact with that cost either since the chances of you running into a mill-based deck are slim to none in most tournaments.
Dredge decks transform your graveyard into an extension of your hand, and it’s much easier to fill up a graveyard than it is to fill your hand. And things can get out of hand quickly when it pairs with cards that just so happen to benefit from being milled or in the graveyard like Narcomoeba and Ichorid.
Is Dredge an Activated Ability?
Golgari Thug | Illustration by Johann Bodin
Dredge is a static ability that introduces a replacement effect. This is similar to Rest in Peace-like effects where activated abilities are templated with “[cost]: [effect],” the colon being the determining factor between activated vs. other abilities.
Yes, you can replace draws other than your draw step! Dredge’s strength is that you can use it whenever you go to draw a card. This means that any instant-speed draw can become an instant dredge, giving you more options overall.
The actual dredge action is a replacement effect that mills cards from your library. Nothing about discarding cards is involved.
Every time you go to draw a card you can instead choose to replace that card with a dredge from one of the cards in your graveyard. If you have multiple dredge cards in your graveyard you have to pick one of them to dredge.
But if you were to draw multiple cards then you could replace each one with a dredge instead.
For example, let’s say I have Stinkweed Imp and Shambling Shell in my graveyard. I go to my draw step and I want to dredge. I can choose the dredge 5 (Imp) or the dredge 3 (Shell), but not both. I choose the Imp’s dredge and mill five cards before returning it to my hand. I could choose the other dredge effect if I drew another card after this.
Stinkweed Imp | Illustration by Nils Hamm
Unfortunately you can’t dredge with no cards in your library. As per rule 702.52b, you can’t mill any cards if you don’t have enough cards in your library for it.
One of the reasons why dredge is so powerful is because you can’t respond to it at all. The ability doesn’t use the stack which means it can’t be responded to.
While you can’t counter dredge, you can remove its resources. Graveyard hate is the easiest way to deal with a dredge deck since they use the graveyard as a secondary resource. Cards that can remove specific cards or even entire graveyards can put a severe damper on dredge decks.
Dredge decks usually want to dredge as fast as possible while playing creatures that return from the graveyard. Cards like Ichorid, Nether Shadow, and Bloodghast can all enter the battlefield from the graveyard for a minimal cost while still applying pressure.
Golgari Grave-Troll | Illustration by Jakub Kasper
You always start the game by going second to draw your 8th card and discard it at the end of your turn. Once you do you can start dredging with Street Wraith, or even during your draw step.
Then you use the creatures that enter the battlefield from your library or graveyard to fuel Cabal Ritual and Dread Return, which require you to sacrifice creatures. If you happen to have Bridge from Below in your graveyard then these sacrifices end up making tons of Zombie tokens to fuel more flashback cards.
Once you hit critical mass, you mill your entire library with Balustrade Spy before Dread Returning either Thassa’s Oracle or Flayer of the Hatebound plus a massive Golgari Grave-Troll to dome your opponent.
This may or may not be the only Legacy deck I can afford, and I may or may not already have it sleeved up.
How Do You Beat Dredge?
The best and most straightforward way to beat dredge is to exile their graveyard. It can’t really do much of anything without a graveyard. Cards like Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void put a huge damper on their plans.
You can also attempt to limit dredge’s card draws, but this is a lot harder to do outside of Narset, Parter of Veils and the like.
- Dakmor Salvage
- Golgari Brownscale
- Golgari Grave-Troll
- Golgari Thug
- Grave-Shell Scarab
- Greater Mossdog
- Life from the Loam
- Moldervine Cloak
- Nightmare Void
- Shambling Shell
- Stinkweed Imp
Life from the Loam is one of the iconic dredge cards. Not only does it fuel itself by milling more potential targets, it can also be cast with no targets just to be put back in the graveyard. LotL has fueled several deck strategies in Legacy and Modern and even sees Commander play.
Dakmor Salvage was slept on until Modern unbanned some key dredge pieces. Then it saw play all over Modern Dredge and sometimes even Vengevine decks. It also pairs well with discard outlets in The Gitrog Monster decks where it can go infinite.
The biggest boy on the block, Golgari Grave-Troll has been one of the key cards in Dredge since it debuted in ‘05. Not only does it have the largest dredge value on any card, it also performs superbly as a beater and combo finisher with Flayer of the Hatebound.
This is an example of Legacy’s “iconic” LED Dredge deck. It puts creatures into play by dredging and keeps fueling its graveyard with powerful draw spells and effects. The key card here is Lion’s Eye Diamond which acts as a Black Lotus since you don’t usually need the cards in your hand, instead opting to flashback cards for extra draws.
Darkblast | Illustration by Randy Gallegos
Dredge is a fantastic mechanic and I love it just as much as I love storm. But it shares a 10 on the Storm Scale with it for a reason. Dredge is nearly impossible to interact with outside of a complete shutout with graveyard-hate effects. Without those it quickly overpowers most decks.
I’d love to see more dredge in the future, but I know it’s something Wizards isn’t keen to return to without some severe balancing, which means it probably won’t happen. What do you think about dredge? Do you miss the days of combo-kills with Dread Return, or do you loathe these undead minions? Let me know in the comments or tell us about it on Twitter.
As for me, I think I might polish off my Manaless Dredge deck and play a few rounds!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: