Black Dredge by the Numbers

With the ban of Faithless Looting in Modern, Dredge player have been forced to retool. Folks are testing Tome Scour, Memory Sluice, and Insolent Neonate to replace Looting in the early game, and cycling lands to replace it in the late game. Most people are keeping Shriekhorn as their second enabler.

My build uses Sticher’s Supplier, Memory Sluice, and Darkblast for the early game enablers, with Forgotten Cave for the late game. This allows me to switch to a black-oriented mana base, but still be able to cast Cathartic Reunion, Conflagrate, and Loam when I need to. How does it work? Let’s do a little math.

Mulligan Decisions

The average opening 7 has:

  • 7 * (18 / 60) = 2.1 lands. Note that we do not count Forgotten Cave as a land, as we very seldom want to play it (and hence the reason we are running 20 lands). We are guaranteed access to black even if we only have one land, and when we have two lands we are very likely to have access to all three colors (the only way this can go wrong is to get two of the same shock land).
  • 7 * (16 / 60) = 1.86 enablers. In this calculation I count Cathartic Reunion as two (so 4 Supplier, 4 Sluice, 2 * 4 for the Cathartic Reunions).
  • 7 * (11 / 60) = 1.28 dredgers. The expected “amount of dredge” you get is (7 / 60) * (7 * 3 + 4 * 5) = 4.78.
  • 7 * (15 / 60) = 1.75 cards that you really wish weren’t in your hand, because you would rather mill them over.

This is pretty close to what we are looking for. We always want exactly two lands with all of our colors. In addition we want either:

  • Two one-mana enablers.
  • Stitcher’s Supplier + Darkblast (which takes us at least 9 deep by turn two).
  • Cathartic Reunion and either Stinkweed Imp or two of the other dredgers. The goal is to not waste any of the draws from Cathartic Reunion, so we need to mill over a dredger. A single dredge 3 doesn’t feel good enough, but any other combination of dredgers seems good. The chance of success is:
    • One dredge 3: 48%
    • One dredge 5: 67%
    • Two dredge 3: 70%
    • 3 + 5: 81%
    • 5 + 5: 88%
  • I sometimes keep a one lander if I have 3 1-mana enablers, figuring I expect to draw one land over my first there draws. This may be incorrect, though, as it means you can’t dredge.

This also means that we are generally perfectly happy to mulligan to 5. Our “average” hand is actually better as a mull to 5 than as a 7 because we get to put back the cards that we don’t want in hand any way. The London mulligan is great for this deck. I usually mulligan a 7, 6, or 5 if the hand is not at least as good as the “average” hand. I sometimes have to go to 4, but often a good 4 (two lands Cathartic and a dredger, or two lands Supplier and Darkblast) is good enough.

Mana base

I’m not confident that the mana base is optimal yet. One challenge is that you don’t want to have to mulligan a good Cathartic Reunion hand due having the wrong lands. This is the reason for the things that look odd in the mana base:

  • High count of rainbow lands despite being a 3 color deck (we don’t want to be casting the blue spells).
  • Only two Overgrown Tomb, to minimize the likelihood of getting no red in the opening hand.
  • Forgotten Cave instead of Barren Moor. I was playing Barren Moor, but I found that I never wanted to play my cycle lands as lands, except in the rare case that it would let me keep a good Cathartic Reunion hand that has nothing to do on turn 1.


The sideboard is essentially Sodek’s, but modified for my local meta. If you are serious about learning dredge you should check out his patreon and YouTube channel.

I was trying Shenanigans, but it is probably wrong, it should probably be Ancient Grudge. Instant speed is often important for that effect.

Results (update, 2019-10-20)

I played this list for a month, but I’ve decided it isn’t as good as the Merchant of the Vale builds. What went wrong with Black Dredge?

  • The mana base was just too hard.
    • There were times when you had a fetch land and you really wanted both red and green. Might have been correct to add one Stomping Ground to fetch for. But, at the same time, you really always wanted black in your opening hand.
    • Having no basics is obviously bad when there are so many spells and affects the opponent can play that would give you a basic.
    • The mana caused a lot more pain than in the red-based build. In the red-based build you can get away with playing Copperline Gorge, and that saves about 2-3 points of life per game.
  • Too much self mill, not enough card draw. It should be obvious, but dredge is really a payoff for drawing cards. While Stitcher’s Supplier and Memory Sluice get you a lot of cards, then don’t synergize with your dredge cards. Given that you really wanted a dredger in your opening hand even in the black-based dredge, Haggle is almost as good as the black enablers. And having Merchant of the Vale on the board is much better than having Stitcher’s Supplier.

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