Pattern Recognition #89 - Digging
8 November 2018
8 November 2018
Hello everyone! My name is berryjon, and this is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.net's resident Old Fogey of an article series. I am your writer for all of these things, in which I endeavor to spread the good word about the ups and downs of Magic, peeking under the hood in order to bring long lost history to light. Or I'm just blowing smoke, and I use the platform afforded to me to prattle on.
So, when I want to talk about one of the most format warping mechanics in the game, what first came to mind? Was it Slivers perhaps? Maybe Licids, if you feel like being cheeky. Or maybe Tribal as a whole concept is warping of the metagame when you can Snapcaster Mage into Wizard's Retort for a Modern Legal Counterspell?
Or maybe you paid attention to my Ravnica spiel of the past few months, and concluded that based on my own preferences, that I consider Radiance to be it.
Look, just because I'm an admitted Boros Fanboy doesn't mean I instantly jump to the defense of every mechanic out there. I sure didn't run Vehicles as a dedicated thing with Kaladesh and Aether Revolt. I've gone on the record as saying that Depala, Pilot Exemplar is a bad card and poorly designed.
No, today, I'm going to talk about Dredge!
Developed as the Golgari mechanic for the original Ravnica, City of Guilds, the intent of the mechanic was quite simple, and tied into the mechanical point were Green and Black agreed. Getting cards out of the graveyard is easy! In fact, it's so easy, that with these cards, you can just mill yourself, putting a variable about of cards from your library straight into your graveyard to put the card back into your hand!
And hey, those cards you put in? They can have Dredge too, letting you keep doing this over and over again! So long as you don't mind not actually drawing a card, as Dredge is a replacement effect for that.
For its time, Dredge was a very solid mechanic, and in Ravnic-standard, it held well between the then (and sometimes now) viewed as lacklustre Kamigawa Block and the unmitigated brilliance of Time Spiral. However, this mechanic, like few things in Magic, far exceeded its designers intentions once it got out of Type II rotation and into Type I and Type 1.5. Or out of Standard and into Modern/Legacy/Vintage for the rest of you non-Old Fogeys in the audience.
Yes. I know you're out there! Stop trying to hide! You know what you did!
And what "you" did was create one of the most degenerate combos in the game, one that could reliably win on Turn 2 with only 3 or four cards in hand, making aggressive Mulligans to get your golden hand a way to increase the chances of getting your Golden Hand.
For those of you not in the know, a "Golden Hand" is a starting hand that is perfect for your deck archetype. For an aggro deck, it would be, for example, three (or four) lands, a Lightning Bolt, and the rest lost-cost creatures with Haste or high power. A Control deck would have solid lands, two counterspells that cost or , and something to get the ball rolling on the actual win.
Dredge's Golden Hand, circa 2006 to 2008, consisted of Watery Grave, Putrid Imp, Golgari Grave-Troll and Breakthrough. That's it. Everything else that matters to the deck is in the library, and soon to be in the graveyard. And of those cards, one was a land to tap for the two necessary colors of mana that your two one-cost cards require (because you're never going to pay on Breakthrough), and a single high-value Dredge card to get the ball rolling.
You see, this entire mechanic busted open one of the small truths of the game, putting it to the forefront of deck archetypes for years on end, and resulting in the banning in Modern of the one triggering card that set this whole ball rolling.
In August 2011, when Modern was sanctioned as a format and given actual support, Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return were both on the Ban list from day 1. In Januauary 2015, Golgari Grave-Troll is unbanned to enhance graveyard strategies. It is hoped that the lack of Dread Return will keep Dredge Decks down. However, such is not to be, as two years later, Golgari Grave-Troll is banned again in Januaury of 2017.
But wait! What as this thing about Magic that made killing Golgari Grave-Troll, with its ability to put six cards into the graveyard at once such a horrific break in the nature of the game?
Well, that's easy.
You see, it's manifestly easier to get a card out of the Graveyard and into your hand or the battlefield than it is to get that same card out of your library. There are more cards that let you get a card out of the graveyard than our of your deck. There's Dread Return (that works out of your graveyard), Stitch Together, Grapple with the Past, and those aren't exactly rare cards we're talking about here.
And this breaks the game wide open when you can treat your graveyard as an extension of your hand. And Golgari Grave-Troll's Dredge 6 is such a huge factor in that extension that the fact that it gets bigger with more creatures in your graveyard when it enters the battlefield (which is the intended use) and can regenerate is completely irrelevant to the deck.
And so we have the crux of the problem that Dredge made easy to manifest. And no, not Manifest itself. That's a different and fun mechanic I've already talked about. Not only does the Graveyard matter, but it also becomes a huge resource ripe for the picking.
So, what to do about this?
Well, the first and most easy solution is to simply blow up the Graveyard. In fact, Wizards has been running damage control on this deck archetype for almost a decade now, with various degrees of success. Notable (to me) cards that try to do this include Rest in Peace, which explicitly calls out the Golgari as a target of this spell. And I don't say this because I'm running Lord Windgrace in the local Slow-Grow Commander league, and got wiped out last night by that card as well as Helm of Obedience.
Anyway! Other anti-graveyard cards include Future Sight's Yixlid Jailer, a personal favorite of mine, and printed in the block following Ravnica. More recently, foreseeing possible horrific interactions with the graveyard recursion in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, Crook of Condemnation allowed for precise removal or just taking everything out at the same time.
However, this really isn't enough. It's sideboard tech against a deck archetype, and not something that players would reasonably be expected to use in their main decks on the chance that their opponent would be playing Dredge. Not when there's Infect, Storm, Humans, and other serious Modern deck types that will laugh at the idea of using their Graveyard to the point that such cards being played against them only help as they're a dead play.
Wizards has also been slowly rolling back the graveyard interaction as the years go by. Well away from the Odyssey highs, that's for sure.
I say this as Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation both just rolled out of Standard a month ago. With their huge "Graveyard Interaction" theme going on with Embalm, Eternalize, God-Pharaoh's Gift and.... you know, I think I can establish a case here that it happened.
Someone at Wizards really likes the idea of working with the Graveyard, and while I don't mind the idea, the cumulative effects of all these graveyard interactions have had poor effects on larger formats like Modern and Legacy. They create situations where one of the fundamentals of the game - that your library is second only to your hand in terms of importance to the game - and throw it aside.
And when you disregard tenements like that, the game shows weaknesses.
This isn't to say that I object to Graveyard interaction. That ship sailed back in Alpha with Resurrection and the like. No, what concerns me is the constant and growing blurring of the line between resources available (your hand), resources yet to come (your library) and resources spent (the Graveyard). Even the codification of the "Removed from play" zone into "Exile" is only a way to make Exile the new Graveyard. And even then, the Eldrazi Processors interact with that regularly.
Dredge isn't the problem. It's a symptom of a greater issue I see in Magic, and that is that while constant expansion is a good thing, there gets to be a point where your expansion isn't helping, it's actually setting you back in a few ways.
And graveyard interaction is one of those ways.
Join me next time when I look through another batch of cards submitted by you, my glorious... fans? Is that what you guys are? Really? Sure surprised me.
Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
November 8, 2018 2:01 p.m.
Not accepting new submissions. That was done over a month ago.
November 8, 2018 2:11 p.m.
I do enjoy the onus on something broken and for once, it was really not WOTC's fault directly. A mechanic to stock the graveyard was never fully explored or surveiled(see what I did there?) by WOTC until dredge. Not at the speed of 6 or more cards per turn.
The problem is dredge enables too much. It is the bane of any card that comes back from the graveyard, any card that stocks the graveyard, any card that cares about how much stuff you have in the graveyard... in just the most recent sets Stitcher's Supplier from M15, Narcomoeba and Creeping Chill from GRN, a lot of cards in Innistrad 2 block... all of them powered up dredge.
Dredge makes anything that interacts with the graveyard more dangerous to print.
November 9, 2018 7:40 a.m.
regarding the "graveyard matters" vs. "what's a graveyard lol" archtypes that show up, the only way to make a card that counteracts latter without being a dead drop to the former would be, effectively, a new hate-bear - something that was aggressive enough to be played without regard to it's passive or secondary abilitys. A strong example of this was Withered Wretch in the onslaught block - a 2/2 zombie AND cleric for 2? sweet! but toss on graveyard hate on top of that, and you have a solid card that would be used in niche decks. granted, it clearly wouldn't be used in all decks, and black had some other options for graveyard hate, but it was still a solid card.
November 9, 2018 10:47 a.m.
The worst thing about Dredge is that as a mechanic it's great: as you say, it really embodies the flavour of Golgari mulching through the graveyard for a known value piece to recycle over the suspicious mystery of the future. As Boza notes the issue is in what it enables, not what it does. If only those pesky players would stop trying to break decent cards! The fact that I have a Gitrog Monster deck has nothing to do with my love of Dakmor Salvage, of course...
Also, as an E-Tron player I feel I have a slightly similar perspective to some Dredge players out there regarding the printing of cards that seem specifically designed to combat our strategies. To my mind, it's a good thing. It makes me far less reliant on certain cards, and forces both my deck and playing style to evolve. In the same way that I'd be disappointed by, say, a Storm playing opponent who scooped because I opened with a Chalice of the Void I'd never forgive myself if I could be undone by a single Blood Moon - a common sideboard card I expect to see. Explosive combos and threats are part of the meta, but as long as there are enough potential answers that people can field I think they remain checked.
November 9, 2018 4:19 p.m.
The part where you talk about the blurring between ressources available, spent and yet to come really resonates with me. I've been playing G/B decks in edh for almost 5 years now and it's by far the most common strategy. Over time it became so boring to play against the same reanimated threat multiple times per game that I quit G/B and started to run crook, agent and RIP in all decks possible.
If a card is used, it should remain used most of the time. In edh you already know it's comin' back.
I hope the same doesn't happen to the exile zone.
November 11, 2018 5:05 a.m.
An afterthought to my previous comment: