The Dredge of Glory – An Introduction to Manaless Dredge in Vintage

Dredge is a historical powerhouse in Vintage. Graveyard mages fueled by the unholy alliance of Ichorid, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Golgari Grave-Troll have consistently put up results. The deck has fought Mishra’s Workshop decks for the title of ‘Premiere Colorless Deck’ and occasionally won – including a Vintage Championship. There have been many iterations of the deck, with the non-Dredge maindeck components being the key marker that set one apart from another. In some cases this has consisted of free disruption like Chalice of the Void and Unmask. In others acceleration like Breakthrough and Brainstorm is the norm. In the current environment, it most often consists of anti-hate cards like Nature’s Claim, Ingot Chewer, and Chain of Vapor. Of course, the graveyard portion of the deck is highly modular and virtually anything can be run in the remaining space, provided the mana costs and mana-production align.

Manaless

[Creatures] (24)
Chancellor of the Annex
Narcomoeba
Ichorid
Golgari Thug
Stinkweed Imp
Golgari Grave-Troll

[/Creatures] (0)

[Spells] (27)
Force of Will
Mental Misstep
Mindbreak Trap
Cabal Therapy
Bridge from Below
Serum Powder
Dread Return

[/Spells] (0)
[Lands] (9)
Library of Alexandria
Bazaar of Baghdad
Petrified Field

[/Lands] (0)

[Sideboard] (15)
Dark Depths
Thespian’s Stage
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Vampire Hexmage
Mana Crypt
Riftstone Portal[/Sideboard]

I have chosen to run free counterspells such as Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap, and Mental Misstep. Force of Will provides a very powerful effect, one long sought in Dredge but rarely utilized. With Narcomoeba, I have 16 total blue cards, which is a reasonable minimum to support Force.

This deck is tuned to trump each of the different ways that Dredge can lose matches, and to fully exploit the current environment to harvest free wins.

Mulligan to One

The deck features the full set of Bazaar of Baghdad and Serum Powder, but also runs Library of Alexandria to provide even more hands worth keeping. Against the vast majority of the field Library is fast enough to win most games, especially with free counterspell support. Shy of adding significant spell-based discard like Careful Study, this is the maximum level of consistency possible.

Graveyard Hate

Hate cards like Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger’s Cage are the bane of most Dredge decks. However, the fact that these cards come in during sideboarding creates a tactical weakness – a transformative sideboard can be played to attack the near-helpless opponent. Both decks will frequently contain a plethora of dead cards post-sideboard, but the Dredge player can come prepared with Bazaar of Baghdad and Library of Alexandria to power through the chaff and reliably present the Marit Lage combo.

Wasteland

WastelandWasteland is a powerful threat against Dredge-based decks in Vintage, which rely heavily on specialty lands. With maximum numbers of Petrified Field and Library of Alexandria, this build has very high resilience to land-denial tactics. Only when backed with high amounts of pressure is Wasteland reliable against the Manaless version of this deck. Post-sideboard, it stops the Marit Lage combo but can often be played around or through. If there is minimal graveyard hate, post-board games will instead play out like Game 1 with very good chances for the Dredge player despite Wasteland.

Fast Combo

With arguably 16 free counterspells, a fast clock, and Dread Return bringing back a flying Lodestone Golem (in the form of Chancellor of the Annex), this is perhaps the worst possible matchup for fast combo decks. These decks frequently lack graveyard hate, land disruption, or other key interactive elements. As a result, these matches are often favorable for the Manaless Dredge player.

Free Wins

This deck picks up perhaps the greatest number of free wins of any deck in the current environment. It can do monstrously broken things, while presenting significant disruption along the way. Opening-hand Chancellor of the Annex is often worth a turn and sometimes worth a game against opposing hands that rely too strongly on Tolarian Academy, Mishra’s Workshop, or Black Lotus. Force of Will provides some number of free wins as well – totally halting opposing trumps as well as the occasional graveyard hate card. Mental Misstep can score the occasional easy win as well, invalidating hands that rely too strongly on Ancestral Recall, Ponder, or the top-of-deck tutors. Finally, Dredge as a strategic group invalidates permission and most cost-increasing cards. Turn 1 Trinisphere is a minor annoyance rather than a genuine threat, something few other decks can combat so readily.

A Brief Guide to Sideboarding

Vs. Dredge
-4 Force of Will
-4 Mental Misstep
-4 Mindbreak Trap
-3 Petrified Field
+ Whole Sideboard

The goal is to be maximally consistent and to use Vampire Hexmage to win the Bridge from Below war via instant-speed sacrifice. The counters are dead and the Petrified Field are generally too slow, so they get cut for the second set of combo cards. Chancellor is still strong as an anti-Dread Return tactic, so it stays in for reanimation.

Vs. Blue Control
-4 Golgari Grave-Troll
-4 Ichorid
-3 Dread Return
-4 Bridge from Below
+ Whole Sideboard

The goal is to steal either game 2 or 3, which should be relatively straightforward.

Vs. Workshops
-3 Cabal Therapy
+1 Riftstone Portal
+2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

This is perhaps the matchup which most rewards clever and insightful sideboarding. Unlike Dredge or Blue Control, this guide is not a fixed plan that can be executed over and over but instead a common first step as part of a broader sideboard usage that varies from match to match.

Vs. Aggro-Control
-4 Mindbreak Trap
-4 Force of Will
-4 Chancellor of the Annex
-1 Dread Return
-2 Cabal Therapy
+ Whole Sideboard

This is another match where sideboarding becomes highly reactive and contextual. Often, you will cut most of the counters to double up on combo opportunities. I have presented one way to do that here.

Vs. Fast Combo
(no changes)

As indicated above, this is a great matchup right out of the box. If you believe they have noteworthy hate, you can swap in the Marit Lage package similar to the build against Blue Control.

Results

I have placed 3-1 in a number of Daily Events and accumulated some 4-0 finishes such as this one. Unfortunately it seems that not all Daily Events are published. Given that some influential Vintage authors such as Brian DeMars treat 4-0 in a Daily as a threshold for metagame impact, we can expect to see increased publicity and popularity for some or all elements of my approach to Manaless Dredge. You can expect to face opponents inspired by this approach at some point.

Based on my winnings and the number of events I’ve entered, I estimate my match win percentage to be approximately 65%. I believe this is past the threshold for format dominance, and the metagame will have to adapt if this style of Manaless Dredge becomes popular and succeeds at that level. If you’re interested in a Dredge deck that has matchups ranging from good to great, doesn’t fold to graveyard hate, and packs the mother of all counterspells, then this is the deck you’ve been looking for. Give it a try, and let me know how it performs for you.

Adam Pierce

Adam is an Eternal enthusiast specializing in Dredge and other unfair decks. He considers himself a student of the game, and hopes to learn along with his audience.

  • Matt

    Very interesting, especially the transformational sideboard. I really like it and I can’t wait to test it.

    Isn’t black lotus better than crypt? Since the petrified fields go out, the only real use for the 2 colorless is to activate thespian stage, right? Is the crypt better because it helps with the second thespian stage if the first fails? Black lotus can cast a hexmage though (in the absence of urborg).

  • Yes, Black Lotus is probably an upgrade to Mana Crypt.

    I think it’s defensible not to run Lotus since Urborg and Crypt both tap repeatedly, which can come up when you want to pay 30 mana for your 20/20 (very rare but it does happen) but the main reason I’m not running it is simply budget.

    On the other hand, Lotus and Crypt can be countered, which means that the right balance could theoretically fall towards the current configuration.

    If you have Lotus I would recommend trying it in place of either Mana Crypt or an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. I think the 1x Riftstone Portal is important against Workshops and to allow you to dredge/discard for mana (with Bazaar), and the rest of the sideboard is combo pieces, so Urborg/Crypt are your main options if you want to run Lotus.

  • Matt

    I didn’t think about powering out Merit Lage by removing counters. I’ve done it plenty of times in legacy, but I guess it never occurred to me that it could happen in vintage. Considering that, I guess Black Lotus and mana crypt are about even. I think my personal preference would be for black lotus, but I’ll definitely want to check out mana crypt. What about mox jet? Is that a happy medium, or is it just not even worth considering?

  • Mox Jet is not worth considering, in my opinion. It doesn’t actually ever help to cast Vampire Hexmage (since you need BB and every other black source provides multiple black mana), so (other than Cabal Therapy) it might as well be any random Mox and in that regard I believe it’s simply not worth the space you would have to give up.

    Even basic Swamp (or Island) has some virtue in comparison – acting as a minor deterrent to Ghost Quarter when using multiple lands to get the mana for Thespian’s Stage. As non-mana-producing lands like Bazaar of Baghdad are often Ghost Quarter targets, this can theoretically speed you up by a turn by virtue of being in the deck, rather than Mox Jet which may or may not speed you by a turn even when you draw it.

  • Matt

    Great analysis on the mox/swamp, I agree. I can’t wait to try Merit Drage when I get a chance.

  • Rachel Hunter

    We’ve played before, and I have never respected you.

    You are terrible and literally sit there with an active bazaar yet refuse to use it because you have HALF of your half-assed combo in your hand. You take ALL consistency out of dredge and make it patently worse.

    WITHOUT hate dredge wins about 80% of its game ones, I have seen you lose MANY un-lose-able games because your deck is a monstrosity and refuses to play out like a real dredge deck.

    You should not be giving primers to anyone…

    Nice article!

  • Dan

    I woild like to hear your reasoning for having library in the main and not the board.
    I don’t understand the library being in the main.
    What hand in game 1 would be worth keeping because it has library?
    The nut high is usually having library in your opening 7 on the draw but in this deck (game 1) that’s horrible. Either you have bazaar and it’s meaningless or you should mulligan to find bazaar.
    So I get having it in game 2 because you should be on the draw and are now on the depths plan so it’s good in your opening 7 on the draw.
    So it seems like it should be in the sideboard.
    Maybe throw an Urborg in the main. At least that will give you a reasonable play game 1. (Keep 7, Turn 1 bazaar, dredge, turn 2 upkeep dredge off bazzar, dredge off draw step, play unborg from hand tap it to hard cast cabal therapy) very unlikely but still more of a chance of happening than library being relevant game 1 in my opinion.

    • Greg Kraigher

      Yeah I am trying to figure this out too. I have a different version of dredge and will try out Library just to see if it is acceptable, but my initial thoughts are that it cannot be. When you assume you will be on the draw 50% of game 1s, I still don’t think the math makes sense on it. I already run an ancestral in my main because it can “combo out” and it is amazing in games where you actually need to draw cards, but library really is only on that plan at one point in the entire game whereas ancestral is good at all points. I would never consider keeping a 7 card hand of mana confluence, dredgers, and ancestral (with no bazaar). Library may be OK there, but I have serious doubts.

  • Adam Pierce

    Library in your opening hand of 7 on the draw is perfectly fine, even without Bazaar. Simply play Library, draw up to 8 cards again, discard due to the maximum hand size rule, and dredge from there (with 2 dredges and 2 discards a turn from there on out). It’s also quite good with Bazaar as either a supplemental speed boost or as a Wasteland-resilience tactic (play Library first as I just described, next turn play Bazaar and either you recoup any lost speed or you got to avoid a Wasteland on your Bazaar).

    • Dan

      In the situation you describe by your 3rd main phase you will have dredged 4 times and you may be stuck with bridges icordids or cabal in your hand.
      If you had instead mulliganed that hand to find bazzar you would have dredged 6 times and you would not have any cards stuck in your hand.

      • Adam Pierce

        You’re right – I would run 5 Bazaar of Baghdad and 0 Library of Alexandria if my limiting rule was “5 of Bazaar/Library.” Instead, the rule is “0-4 Bazaar, 0-1 Library” and I run maximum numbers of those. Since Library is good enough against most of the format, and also since successive mulligans become progressively less like to find Bazaar, I think it’s the right call. If you don’t feel that way – don’t run Library.

        • Dan

          If you are going to respond to critisim with sarcasm and strawman arguments you should refrain from writing articles.

  • Greg Kraigher

    Yeah, ok deck looks great. but please don’t call it manaless dredge because that is not what it is. find another name for this deck, and change the title of the article immediately.

    • Greg Kraigher

      Call it “free dredge” or “depths dredge” or “drama 101 dredge” because manaless dredge is already.

    • Adam Pierce

      I was one of the many folks who tuned Legacy Manaless during the Mental. Misstep era. That deck was quite purposefully named after the Vintage Manaless deck (which is at least 4 years older, although people have played around with weird Legacy Dredge builds for ages). The name was chosen to indicate that it was not a spell-based form of Dredge, unlike the dominant spell-based Dredge decks which utilized Lion’s Eye Diamond, Breakthrough, and Faithless Looting such as the “Quadlazer” build which ran 15 different 4-of cards, hence the name.

      Many of the most prominent examples of the Legacy deck do in fact contain mana sources. Most commonly, this is Dryad Arbor for Dread Return as well as the sideboard, or it is Dakmor Salvage to support Bloodghast and other graveyard effects such as Darkblast.

      Nicholas Rausch’s win at SCG Cincinatti (during the Mental Misstep era) ran 3 Dakmor Salvage.

      Mike “Hollywood” Keller’s numerous high finishes in the ‘Northeast Legacy Championship’ series featured Dryad Arbor.