“So does Dredge have a downside? Probably. At least some times. But most often, especially in decks that run graveyard mechanics or Sensei’s Divining Top, Dredge probably works to your benefit more commonly than it hurts you.” —Mike Flores, previewing the Dredge mechanic in “Blinky’s Revenge

“Dredge is probably one of the three most troublesome mechanics of all time. The fact that you can’t fix it by changing the mana cost is a huge developmental red flag.” —Mark Rosewater, May 2nd, 2016

“Dredge probably works to your benefit more commonly than it hurts you” is a significant understatement. Dredge is a broken mechanic in the same way that the AHCA is a broken legislative act—its brokenness is bone-deep and so comprehensive that it counts as malice. It’s broken in such a disastrously ignorant way that it doesn’t just fail as a mechanic, it fails as a statement of purpose. Like the AHCA, Dredge is so broken that it’s not a mistake: it’s a deliberate insult.

It didn’t always come off that way. During preview season for Ravnica—the halcyon days where Magic was targeting [adult swim] shows to preview cards—Dredge hit the scene like a sack of rocks. In the fora of those days—MTG Salvation at the peak of its relevance, Reddit nonexistent—the only Dredge card seen as playable was Grave-Shell Scarab, due to its minuscule Dredge number. I’m not going to pretend like critical theory of Magic was stuck in a nascent period or anything—we knew that card advantage was good, and that predictable/tutorable answers were fundamentally potent—but there were still gaps in our understanding of the hidden operations in Magic. Odyssey block’s graveyard mechanics were the precursor to Dredge, and they tuned us in to the fact that “dead” doesn’t mean “forgotten.”

Still, nothing feels worse to less-abstract-thinking players than watching that Perfect Card hit the grumper, rather than your hand, so Dredge looked, on first glance, like a drawback. It’s worth noting that, per Mark Rosewater, Dredge didn’t have a mill cost when it was in design; presumably, you’d just choose to skip your draw and recycle your Dredge target. Ironically, this would have made Dredge more appealing to the bulk of players while making Dredge less broken. It would have been a Rock-style grind deck, rather than a broken graveyard deck. It also would have led to more boring and predictable games, as though “ditch the top twelve of my library into my graveyard, Loam, pop out two Bloodghasts” isn’t boring. Last time around, we talked about flashback mechanics versus threshold mechanics, and Dredge is the dead center of that Venn diagram—you’re getting multiple uses from your card at the same time as you’re enabling thresholds, both the literal Threshold ability, should that prove relevant, and the metaphysical threshold of having a critical mass of Dredge cards in your graveyard, prepped for the harvest. Dredge, like Delve, is a mechanic that pays for itself as you continue to play the game, making it dangerous.

Dredge’s history is fascinating, from the initial negative impression amongst the hoi polloi to the testing the higher-level players were engaging with the second it became clear that Life from the Loam plus cycling lands gave control decks exceptional late-game reach. Pro Tour LA in late October 2005 brought life to the format with Kenji Tsumura’s Extended Loam engine, a very grindy card advantage/deck-thinning engine, trés 2004 Magic Theory. Dig those Deeds.

2005 and 2006 brought Friggorid, John Rizzo’s labor of love, depicted with painstaking precision and logorrhetic mania in his 10,000-word articles. Essentially, it combined Tolarian Winds and Breakthrough with Dredge cards in order to churn through the deck at maximum speed, bring back four Ichorids from the ‘yard, and swing until opponent’s life approaches zero. Look at this beautiful mess. It was powerful, resilient, and attacked on an entirely different axis than your typical deck. 2007, though, is where the stars misaligned and the deck shifted into something new, thanks to Future Sight. Dread Return and Narcomoeba, combined with Bridge from Below, and some bizarre corner-case frolics like Tireless Tribe, turned Dredge from a speedy combo deck to a game of solitaire. All of a sudden, you weren’t hoping a squadron of 3/1’s would connect: you were flooding the board with 2/2 Zombies, hard-casting 8/8 Grave-Trolls, or Zealoting out your team from the boneyard.

Dredge’s initial heyday was concurrent with the days of Standard Sensei’s Divining Top, an era that was pre-Planeswalkers, just barely post-fetches. We had weathered Mirrodin block and Kamigawa block—which was hated at the time, despite the tepid reappraisal it’s received in the Age of Commander—and were perishing for change. We got change, and we regretted that desire, like too many radicals who wake up one day to realize they’ve been so busy keeping up with the necessities of the new regime that they’ve become the old regime.

Dredge is, to put it simply, conceptually broken. After a certain critical mass of Dredge spells, you’re not drawing a card per turn, but tutoring for the card you need every draw step. Your Dredge cards feed into your other Dredge cards, and you’re in a feedback loop that—like so many feedback loops—becomes toxic and self-limiting. There’s a reason Dredge has been cast as “the bad guy” in so many articles over the last decade; it’s a bad mechanic, but it’s not beyond salvaging. It’s just that the salvaging tends to be more based out of Dakmor than anything else.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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