Breaking into Legacy – How Dredge Works

The familiar Adam Prosak won the SCG Legacy Open: Cincinnati piloting none other than Dredge. An odd choice for Prosak, and for newer players can be one of the most confusing decks to play against. One minute the Dredge player lands a Putrid Imp, then they’re discarding their whole hand? And milling themselves? Wait what, now they’re attacking with 8 2/2s? What on earth just happened here?

This article is a primer on Dredge, of sorts — again if you already know why people were questioning Prosak’s list and his specific card choices, then this article isn’t for you. But if you saw his list and questioned what the deck even did, then here we go. One last note, this is more of just explaining WHAT Dredge does, not HOW to play Dredge; this is more explanation than strategy. I will list some basic techniques with Dredge so you will be familiar with what they’re doing and why, but not detailed strategy to play this deck.

Dredge is a graveyard-based deck that focuses on the synergy between the Dredge mechanic and tons of other cards that do things while in the graveyard. We’ll go over each element of Dredge individually.

The Dredge Mechanic

Here are the relevant comprehensive rules for Dredge:

702.50. Dredge
702.50a Dredge is a static ability that functions only while the card with dredge is in a player’s graveyard. “Dredge N” means “As long as you have at least N cards in your library, if you would draw a card, you may instead put N cards from the top of your library into your graveyard and return this card from your graveyard to your hand.”
702.50b A player with fewer cards in his or her library than the number required by a dredge ability can’t put any of them into his or her graveyard this way. 

Basically, what Dredge means is that “skip drawing a card, mill X cards”. And with Dredge, you want to mill as much cards as you can. This is often achieved with cards that have a large Dredge N, and other cards that allow you to draw cards. Because Dredge only functions in the graveyard, you typically want cards that draw you cards, AND make you discard cards, so you can Dredge them again next turn.

Dredge cards

The cards with the largest Dredge N are:

Some decks will run some other Dredge cards such as Darkblast, but the above 3 are the ones that are seen in every Dredge deck.

Card Drawing

These are typically the card draw cards that Dredge runs:

 Breakthrough is often seen as the most powerful one, as it draws 4 cards and discards the whole hand instead of the 1-for-1 draw/discard that the other draw spells offer, although the recent Faithless Looting has proven itself as a very powerful card.

Drawing for the turn is also the other way that Dredge can mill itself. You don’t get to discard a card typically, but there is a technique called DDD, which stands for Draw, Discard, Dredge. This means that you draw until you have 8 cards in hand (this works best when you go second and keep a 7 card hand), discard a Dredge card at end of turn, then during your own turn, Dredge. Typically this is done against a control deck with a slow clock, as there is no way for the opponent to counter the Dredging. With this technique, Dredge can actually go through a whole game without casting a spell or using mana.

Discard Outlets

The next category are discard outlets; if you don’t see the card draw spells, or you simply don’t want to use them, discard outlets allow you to discard to Dredge during your draw step. These are the following cards:

Putrid Imp is see universally in Dredge; Tireless Tribe on the other hand varies. Lion’s Eye Diamond divides Dredge into two categories: LED Dredge and LED-less Dredge. LED-less Dredge is slower but more consistent, and LED Dredge sacrifices consistency for explosiveness. LED Dredge can kill on turn one; LED-less Dredge cannot.

Why You Are Milling Yourself

OK great, you can get stuff into your graveyard and mill yourself. Now what? Here is what you can do when you mill yourself:
  • Narcomoebas enter the battlefield when they are milled. They can also be hardcast if necessary.
  • Ichorid can enter the battlefield during your upkeep as long as you exile a black creature. Putrid Imps that have been Dredged are good food for Ichorids.
  • Cabal Therapy is used for protection. It gets rid of Force of Will and other problematic cards. Cabal Therapy is often times hardcast turn 1 to push through a draw spell or discard outlet the next turn. Its flashback cost also goes well with the final card on this list. You can also target yourself with Cabal Therapy to discard some Dredge cards.
  • Dread Return is a powerful card in this deck. Many Dredge decks run huge targets such as Iona, Shield of Emeria, or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to Overwhelm their opponent. After you mill enough Narcomoebas and bring back enough Ichorids, you can flash Dread Return back which gives you tons of Zombies because of the next card on this list, and you get a huge beater. Some builds do forego the Dread Return targets because the massive number of Zombies you get are typically enough to take card of your opponent.
  • Bridge from Below is the boogeyman of this deck. It replaces any nontoken creature of yours that dies with a 2/2 Zombie. A flashbacked Cabal Therapy also gives you Zombies. The key here is multiple Bridge from Belows; if you have two Bridge from Belows, a flashbacked Cabal Therapy gives you two 2/2s! Replace that with a Dread Return, and flashing it back with two Bridges in your graveyard gives you 6 2/2s. Do keep in mind that if an opponent’s creature dies (token or nontoken), you lose all Bridge from Belows in your graveyard.
So here is the gist of the deck. It mills cards to get Ichorids and Narcomoebas into play, then it wins through either slowing grinding out 2/2 Zombies by just recurring Ichorids and flashing back Cabal Therapy, or exploding by flashing back Dread Return and getting tons of Zombies at once. In essence, it is a tribal Zombie deck with no actual Zombies in the deck.
Even if you can’t get a Dread Return target into your graveyard, or your Bridge from Belows get removed from an untimely Cursecatcher, you can still win with Narcomoebas and Ichorids. If you saw Prosak’s game 3 in the finals at SCG Legacy Open: Cincinnati, that was exactly what he did after a Tormod’s Crypt blew his graveyard to oblivion.

Dread Return Targets

Dread Return is used to generate a large amount of zombies as well as bring back an often devastating creature. Here are some of the targets often seen in Dredge:

  • Flame-Kin Zealot – An older target that’s been usually replaced nowadays, this sees play to turn Dredge into a combo deck by Dredging nearly the whole deck in a single turn from Breakthrough or Cephalid Coliseum and attacking with a bunch of hasted 3/3 zombie tokens. This is now seeing more play due to Faithless Looting making Dredge a whole bunch more aggressive.
  • Iona, Shield of Emeria – Shutting off your opponent’s color of removal along with getting 3+ zombie tokens often is game breaking and stops your opponent from being able to race.
  • Sphinx of Lost Truths – Used sometimes to fuel extras Dredges.
  • Golgari Grave-Troll – Some Dredge decks opt to not have any Dread Return targets and instead use the Golgari Grave-Troll as a massive beater along with the zombie tokens from Dread Return.
  • Stinkweed Imp – Not very rarely used as a target, but can help fight Emrakul.
  • Angel of Despair / Terastadon – Used to destroy problematic permanents such as Moat, Ghostly Prison / Propaganda, or Karakas.
  • Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – This can and will exile your own Bridges if your opponent’s creatures die, but the ability to turn your Zombies into 4/4s and Ichorids into 5/3s while knocking out your opponent’s board is often worth it.

Hate Cards

This is how the more popular hate cards interact with Dredge. This list is in no particular order.

  • Tormod’s Crypt – most popular graveyard hate card. One-shot effect.
  • Relic of Progenitus –  One-shot effect, also turns Tarmogoyf to a 0/1.
  • Faerie Macabre – One-shot effect. It’s an activated ability so it can’t be countered by normal Counterspells, other than Stifle or similar effects.
  • Leyline of the Void – Ongoing effect. Prevents cards from going into the graveyard at all; cards already in the graveyard at the time are unaffected.
  • Scavenging Ooze – Repeatable effect. One thing to note is that it can exile ANY card, but it gets the +1/+1 and 1 life if the exiled card is a creature card.
  • Grafdigger’s Cage – Ongoing effect. This stops Narcomoebas and Ichorids from coming into play. Stops Cabal Therapy and Dread Return from being flashbacked. Does not stop the pilot from Dredging though. 

Other Notes

Dredge can be a confusing mechanic. I’ll explain some things that may happen when you play Dredge or against it.

  • If a Golgari Grave-Troll is Dread Return-ed, it counts itself for the purposes of +1/+1 counters. The reason why is because the Grave-Troll has to enter the battlefield with the +1/+1 counters, which means the number of counters has to be determined before the Grave-Troll enters the battlefield (otherwise it would die immediately upon entering play). What zone is the Grave-Troll in before it enters the battlefield? You got it, the graveyard.
  • Dredge is a static ability generating a replacement effect. What this means is that once you allow your opponent to draw or dredge, you can’t respond to that choice (for example if your opponent says “I’m going to Dredge my Grave-Troll during my draw step”, you can’t say “In response I’ll crack my Tormod’s Crypt”). You can respond AFTER the Dredge action is completed (or spell, if they cast one), though.
  • If a player casts a draw spell, then Dredges the first draw and puts another Dredge card into the graveyard, the player CAN Dredge the new card for the second draw, and so on.

Bridge from Below Notes

Yes, Bridge from Below has its own little section, mainly because if you don’t know how Bridge from Below works, you will probably lose. Bridge from Below is a very odd card. It has no effect while in play; it only has its effects from the graveyard. And there are some important things you need to know about the card. Notice the “if” clauses in Bridge from Below? This means that the condition of “if Bridge from Below is in your graveyard” must be true at the time the trigger goes on the stack and when the trigger resolves. If the trigger is not true when the trigger resolves, Bridge from Below will do nothing. So, if you flashback a Dread Return, and put the Bridge from Below triggers on the stack, and your opponent responds by cracking a Tormod’s Crypt, you will not get any Zombie tokens, as Bridge from Below was not in your graveyard when its triggers resolve. This should prove to be useful when playing instant speed hate such as Surgical Extraction; casting a Surgical Extraction targeting Bridge from Below when its triggers on the stack will result in no Zombie tokens for the Dredge player.

In addition, if two creatures on opposing sides die simultaneously (such as an Ichorid trading with a Goblin Lackey or board sweepers), the Dredge player chooses the order that the triggered abilities of Bridge from Below go on the stack. As such, he or she can stack the exiling effect first, then the zombie token effect on top, getting a zombie token before the Bridges get exiled.

Fighting Dredge

There are a couple tips for fighting Dredge. After all even if you know how the deck works, you might play against it incorrectly.

For example, the Dredge mechanic is what fuels this whole deck — so you’d probably want to cast that Surgical Extraction on the Golagri Grave-Troll that he just dumped, right? Probably not. It’s actually the Bridge from Belows, Ichorids, and Narcomoebas you probably want to aim for. Of course, this isn’t a blanket statement — there are some situations in which Extracting the Dredge card can be the correct play, but often times situations like these are rare. These three cards are actually what makes Dredge wins. It needs creatures in play, which is accomplished through Ichorids and Narcomoebas. Bridge from Below turns the Narcomoebas and Ichorids into multiple zombies to Overwhelm your opponent. In fact, in LED-less Dredge, some people often use Dread Return as simply a sacrifice outlet to get tons of zombies instead of using it for the reanimation effect. Since board sweepers can often be rare in Legacy, not a lot of decks can deal with the massive amount of zombies that Dredge puts out.


Thanks for reading this week’s Breaking into Legacy article. Hopefully, as a new player to Legacy, you learned how this popular graveyard-based deck works. No doubt in the future you will eventually have to face Dredge, and knowing exactly how it works is a very powerful tool in your arsenal. Next, try playing the deck to see how it actually works and how it interacts with hate.

Jeff and Jason