The Cutting Room Floor: Manaless Dredge In Legacy
By Michael “Hollywood” Keller
In the lush and adventurous world of Legacy, one can discover so many unorthodox and intriguing deck choices that help create the basis for some incredibly fun, yet potent strategies. As the years pass us by, we are becoming more and more aware of this ideology as more and more cards become printed that light the fuse beneath what at one time could have been considered forgotten or antiquated options – effectively plugging once obsolete technology into war-ready machines. The same is true for Magic’s mechanics, notably one of the most loved and hated mechanics of all time: the Dredge mechanic.
My name is Michael Keller, but most of you in the competitive Magic community know me by my longtime moniker of “Hollywood” – obviously attributed to my love of film (and first given in 1996, for what it’s worth). I first started playing Magic in 1993, and gained a more competitive interest in the game during the fall of 1994 when I first picked up a copy of my favorite card of all time, All Hallow’s Eve, which I still own to this very day. Over the course of twenty years, I’ve had my ups and downs like any competitive player has over the course of their career. Ebbs and tides are part of the game, and it’s always a learning process every tournament and every game you play in.
After all, “it’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit… and keep moving forward; how much you can take… and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” This is one of my favorite lines from Rocky Balboa.
Legacy is my absolute specialty and the one format I have played since its prior inception, entitled “Classic Restricted,” or better known as “1.5” to the masses. Up until my enlistment in the United States Navy four years ago, I was running hot with decks such as Mono Green Chalice Aggro, The Gate and Imperial Painter. Upon my arrival to Northern Virginia during my enlistment, I found an ultra-competitive area for Legacy. I began to pilot a different strategy, the aforementioned Dredge mechanic. For a while I shifted around trying to decide which variation of Dredge to run. For a long time played a stock LED list with some variables switched around. The deck completely dominated the local meta there for weeks and months.
People began taking notice earlier this year when I managed to nail 13th place out of 264 players in the Legacy portion of SCG’s Invitational Weekend in Baltimore. By this point, I had been successfully piloting Dredge for almost a year. It was only up until the Invitational weekend that I was able to play at a Star City Open because of my active duty status. I was, however, concurrently piloting a variation of Manaless Dredge – a unique variation of Dredge that involved less interaction and using the Cleanup in order to discard cards that ultimately accelerate your graveyard into an army of undead attackers.
Manaless Dredge, as opposed to its counterparts, abuses the card Dread Return more specifically to reanimate a specialty creature from your graveyard in order to do something degenerate. Such as flipping your deck (via Griselbrand or Sphinx of Lost Truths) or nullifying problematic scenarios (using Flayer of the Hatebound or Woodfall Primus). Depending on which variation you choose to run, Manaless Dredge has the unique distinction of functioning acutely from the graveyard with little help from land resources.
Upon my return to Syracuse in September from my time in the service, I was dead set on unleashing my army of the undead on an unsuspecting Jupiter meta. Knowing it would almost assuredly be predicated on Islands and cheap counter-magic. Being a veteran of the overall meta there, in addition to already having a strong grasp on the overall meta, I was fairly certain upon my return to Jupiter that decks like RUG, Tribal and BUG would be the predominant choices. I wanted to take the lessons I learned from my experiences in Virginia and the Open Series to my first event back from the Navy and channel it into victory.
These days I feel like a different player having learned more about myself and the unlimited ceiling of play in those four years than I ever thought I could in all the years I played in Syracuse, NY. Playing for several years against old foes and close friends like Dan Signorini, Dave Gearhart, Alix and Jesse Hatfield, a different part of me as a player came out – one that had never surfaced before.
I realized that the potential of my play was being limited by my difficulty in taking constructive criticism. Part of this stemmed from my history as a specialist in rogue decks. Although I managed to succeed with my own variety of decks, I still felt like something was missing. So, I reassessed myself and believed I could change not only my style of play but, by applying these ideas elsewhere, my quality of life outside of magic too. With this new mentality, I felt like I had nothing left restricting me from excelling; a barrier I had finally broken.
I hope you too can identify and break down the barriers affecting your style of play. Remember: as a player you have an unlimited ceiling and capability for improvement. Assessing choices within a game and understanding clearly what it takes to win involves critical thinking and a step by step analysis of each potential line of play. Dredge in all honesty, is more of a microcosm of the entire game of Magic. More than people give it credit for. It is full of complex situations, endless decisions, important triggers, and everything crucial to good play. By listening to feedback, identifying critical decisions at key moments and tightening your play at all times, you can improve the quality of your game. These same concepts apply to everyday life too.
With these lessons learned, having sculpted and sharpened my ability to play Dredge with complete confidence over the course of several years, I was ready to bring the house to Jupiter Games for the NELC in September. Up for grabs was a set of dual lands, a very nice prize, with associated bragging rights.
I prepared my list after some slight tweaks. For those that don’t already know, I wrote and revamped the primer on The Source for Dredge. However, Manaless Dredge is the current inception of Dredge that I find most attractive, as it works quite well given the state of the overall meta.
I was able to take a solid 6th place at September’s NELC, and with more confidence, I was able to nail down an even better 3rd place finish the following month in October. I also managed to pick up a big Top Eight with the deck in another area of New York, registering big wins through a highly competitive field. With back to back finishes, it became apparent that whoever didn’t respect Manaless’ ability to fight and win through hate was clearly mistaken.
Just this past week at the November NELC, I was also able to pull in the money after a prize finish, too. Manaless Dredge right now is very well positioned to be a true contender in the format, yet more and more people still opt to play LED Dredge. While that is always perfectly fine, right now I still think Manaless is the absolute best way to go – and I’ll explain why.
First, here’s the current list I run for reference:
The main sixty has been fairly consistent through the last few months, and I project no changes in the immediate future. A lot of folks like to try different options, and that is fine. For me, this is what I’ve tested to the point I feel like it can win high-level events on a regular basis. Few decks in Legacy right now can handle Manaless Dredge, and even fewer players understand how to play against it properly. Given these variables and how much raw power the deck possesses, it’s no wonder people like to refer to it as an anomaly or bastardization of Magic, which I agree with on a fundamental level.
This is also the reason I choose to play the deck, because it really is that good right now. Let’s take a look at a few cards that require a bit of explanation for precisely what they’re used for and how good they are. You can also reference The Source for further information on basic Dredge staples, in addition to my tournament reports from September through November’s NELC events.
Back in July of 2011 when Nick Rausch won the Open in Cincinnati, I noticed something particular in his sideboard that people dismissed and overlooked completely. He was running a full set of Contagion – a card from Alliances “free” spells cycle. At the meager cost of one life and a black card it distributes two (-2/-1) counters divided any way choose on any number of target creatures, including your own. This incredibly multifaceted card not only allows you to kill up to two of your opponents’ creatures, but it also gives you what was probably considered a corner-case utility to kill your own threats. This could potentially make enough creatures off multiple Bridge From Below, to enable you to Dread Return a massive threat or combo piece.
Remember, Bridges are exiled only in the event your opponents’ creatures die. So in the event you distribute two counters on one creature controlled by you and the other your opponent you can stack both Bridge triggers. Thus enabling you to get one or more tokens and offing their threats before Bridge is exiled. This can be helpful in the event you want to bring back Griselbrand or another target. In most cases this trumps the exiling of a Bridge or two. Flipping your deck is the right play in most circumstances and is really the basis for why Manaless is more combo in nature than anything else.
Aside from that, Contagion is obviously useful at shoring up the deck against fast aggro or annoying creatures with only a single toughness. Against decks like Elves and Goblins, an early discard by you into a Contagion can just be a blowout. The opponents’ clock has in most cases been seriously disrupted to the point where the disruption wins games on its own. It also kills problematic cards like Deathrite Shaman and to a lesser extent Scavenging Ooze.
Contagion is a card that requires a great deal of skill to master. Its diverse options makes it much more appealing than one might think, which is why you need to assess a situation and ensure you play the card properly to gain maximum value. There are currently three spots reserved for it in the main. I see that number potentially climbing to four if aggro begins to pick up again.
This card serves a similar purpose to Contagion. It is meant to kill a generally larger creature that can pose a threat to the deck at a given point during the game. At most, it can give a creature -8/-8, by pitching Griselbrand. It also has the potential to give -7/-7 with Phantasmagorian. That is generally enough to knock out cards like Elesh Norn and Platinum Emperion, which can be problematic if the deck cannot find a solution in time.
Thankfully, Flayer of the Hatebound eliminates cards like Emperion and bypasses a lot of hate like Propaganda, Elephant Grass and Moat. Making Flayer probably the most important utility creature in the deck. However, having answers to an idle Knight of the Reliquary is fairly important, which is why I run a few more in my sideboard to deal with cards like that or other annoyances in Reanimator.
Most people have no clue what in the hell Phantasmagorian even does. It’s basically the ultimate accelerator. By holding priority it cannot be responded to realistically and functions as an apex discard outlet. Using this card on turn one generally wins you games flat out if an opponent taps out for something irrelevant.
One thing to note is that the card’s first ability is moot in this deck and that its secondary ability is the one we care about – functioning from the graveyard and not the battlefield. Chaining multiples can be fun to get the exact number of cards on top of something like Nether Shadow, which is really kind of creepy when you consider this feels like Phantasmagorian was almost made for a card printed over fifteen years before it even existed. Remember my opening paragraph about new cards lifting old spirits? When held back against one use hate such as Tormod’s Crypt, it also gives you a measure of explosion shortly thereafter.
- It gives you the ability to access Dread Return faster in the event you only have two creatures on your turn two.
- It gives you the ability to access Cabal Therapy faster.
- It gives you a source of mana that is critical for post-board games.
- It enables tokens off of Bridge from Below.
- It attacks.
- It blocks.
- It fools opponents into activating Wasteland with Bridge(s) in your graveyard.
- It pays for “Daze” effects.’
- It stacks as a creature on top of Nether Shadow, thus enabling its return.
There are probably a few other uses for the card, but I honestly can’t say enough about it. I love this card in this deck and to play any less than a full set is just not right. It does so much for so little investment, and even in the event you don’t open with one, you can still stack them on top of Nether Shadow to bring it back into play.
A true all-star if there ever was one, Noxious Revival is the newest inclusion in my list. I have been testing it with confidence over the course of the last few weeks and have noticed just how good it is recently. Noxious Revival is multifaceted in a way much like Dryad Arbor is, with the exception that it can fool with your opponents’ lines of play.
Here are a few reasons why I like Noxious Revival as a powerful sideboard option:
- Restacks Narcomoebas.
- Counters Tutor-based strategies.
- Retrieves anti-hate.
- Retrieves dredged Dryad Arbors to cast anti-hate from your hand.
- Protect against Surgical Extraction or targeted exile effects (Scavenging Ooze).
- Screws with Miracles.
- Counters reanimation targets.
I’m sure there are other uses for Noxious Revival, but it is a card that I feel is incredibly useful and shines in the right match ups. My favorite aspect of it is its ability to recur anti-hate (used or dredged), which can be incredibly useful in some circumstances.
Additionally, don’t forget that countering Enlightened Tutor-based strategies is very important and it gives you an extra turn to either combo out or establish board presence – potentially setting an opponent back a turn in the process and leaving them searching for answers while you’ve built threats.
I really appreciated everyone’s interest in my expertise on Manaless Dredge and Dredge as an archetype. I’ve put years of uninterrupted testing into the entire archetype. It’s incredibly important to understand the specifics as far as how the deck functions and the subtle interactions that mean the difference between winning games and losing games. It’s also equally, if not more important, to know how to sideboard against hate effectively using a fifteen tailored to do so. There is so much to go into with Dredge as an archetype. I hope after reading this you at least have a better understanding of who the guy behind the “Hollywood” moniker is, and that you too can have success if you believe in yourself and maintain an optimistic look at your play and decisions.
Magic might only be a game, but for some of us it’s a microcosm of our entire lives. I know I’m a better person because of it.