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Budget Magic: $93 (23 tix) Standard Evolutionary Dredge


Алло, Budget Magic lovers! It's that time again. This week, we are heading to Standard to play a deck that is easily my favorite budget build of Eldritch Moon Standard thus far, and one of my favorite Budget Magic decks of all time: Evolutionary Dredge! For me, one of the ways I judge a Budget Magic deck is by just how many matches I actually play with the deck. Sometimes, I record the matches for the video and the deck sits on the shelf for months before I play another game with it. Other times, I just can't put down the deck because I'm having so much fun playing it. Well, Evolutionary Dredge is one of the latter, the deck is an absolute blast to play, not to mention quite competitive!

Let's get to the videos; then, we'll break down Evolutionary Dredge. A quick reminder: if you enjoy the Budget Magic series and the other video content on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish YouTube Channel to keep up on all the latest and greatest.

Evolutionary Dredge: Deck Tech

Evolutionary Dredge vs. UR Thermo-Thing

Evolutionary Dredge vs. Esper Control

Evolutionary Dredge vs. Temur Emerge

Evolutionary Dredge vs. WB Control

Evolutionary Dredge vs. GR Assault Formation

The Deck

Evolutionary Dredge is close to a combo deck or, at the very least, a synergy deck. The basic idea is that we stock up our graveyard and then generate a nearly insurmountable advantage by getting our creatures out of the graveyard, sacrificing them for value, and then doing it all over again the next turn. As such, probably the easiest way to break down the deck is in three parts: graveyard fillers, the dredge engine, and finishers. 

Graveyard Fillers

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The number-one goal of Evolutionary Dredge is to get as much of our deck into our graveyard as possible, as quickly as possible, and Vessel of Nascency, Gather the Pack, and Grapple with the Past are simply the best ways to stock the graveyard in Standard. All of our best draws start with at least one of these cards in our opening hand, and as long as we have at least a couple of lands, we want as many of these cards as possible in our opening seven. At the same time, all of these cards are fairly interchangeable. Vessel of Nascency and Grapple with the Past are better in the early game because they let us dig for a land, but Gather the Pack is often better in the mid and late game because it digs a card deeper and allows us to grab two creatures (actually generating card advantage), while Vessel of Nascency and Grapple with the Past are always card neutral. All in all, these cards are pretty straightforward, with the exception of one trick: sometimes, we don't want to put a card into our hand (for example, we reveal four non-creatures and a Haunted Dead to Gather the Pack on Turn 2), and it's perfectly legal to just dump everything into our graveyard. So, if you pick up this deck, keep in mind that there are some situations where it's best to just use Gather the Pack and friends as "mill X cards." 

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Sometimes, we naturally draw cards that we'd rather have in the graveyard, so playing a copy of Noose Constrictor and Sinister Concoction gives us a couple of additional ways to start discarding cards as early as Turn 2. There really isn't much to say about Noose Constrictor; it's a solid two-drop, and being able to block fliers is fairly relevant in Spell Queller matchups. On the other hand, Sinister Concoction feels like one of the most underrated cards in Standard at the moment. While the cost seems fairly high, if you're playing a deck that wants to stock the graveyard, the discarding and mill-one part of the activation cost can actually be a benefit rather than a cost. Most importantly, Sinister Concoction is one of the best ways to answer an Emrakul, the Promised End before the opponent gets to control your turn. Also, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is super annoying for our deck, and Sinister Concoction gives us at least one clean, main deck answer to the Mythic Vampire. 

The Dredge Engine

Normally, in Budget Magic articles, I just break down the cards one by one and talk about their place in the deck, but there's actually a lot of complexity and weird overlap between the engine cards in Evolutionary Dredge. So, instead of just listing off the cards, we are going to talk about the various card packages and how they interact with each other. This means you'll see some cards more than once on the list, because they interact with different pieces in different ways. 

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Let's start with an easy one, since you've probably already seen Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam in action in decks like Four-Color Emerge or UB Zombies. Haunted Dead is the single card we want in our graveyard the most, since it works as both a discard outlet and a combo piece with Prized Amalgam. Basically, once we get a Haunted Dead in the graveyard, we can discard two cards and get back not only the Haunted Dead (which comes along with a 1/1 flying Spirit token) but also any number of Prized Amalgams that happen to be in our graveyard as well. A neat trick here is that if we have a Haunted Dead in our graveyard and a Prized Amalgam in hand, we can discard the Prized Amalgam to help pay the "discard two cards" part of Haunted Dead's "return to the battlefield" cost, and by the time Haunted Dead enters the battlefield, the Prized Amalgam will be in the graveyard and trigger, returning to the battlefield at the next end step. 

Also, one important note here. Most of the time, we want to get our Prized Amalgams back at the end of our opponent's turn to dodge sorcery-speed removal like Declaration in Stone and Incendiary Flow, and also allow them to untap right away on our turn. To actually make this happen, we need to activate Haunted Dead on our opponent's main phase. If we wait until our opponent's end step, it will be too late. Even though the Prized Amalgams will trigger, they won't come back until the following end step (at the end of our turn). 

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One of the things that makes our deck unique is that we are all in on the dredge plan, to the point that we are playing four copies of Deathmist Raptor as Prized Amalgams five through eight and then Den Protectors to trigger the Deathmist Raptors. One of the sweet things about this plan is that getting back Deathmist Raptor while flipping a Den Protector also triggers all of our Prized Amalgams, so we have situations where we go from having an empty board to having 27 power on the battlefield by casting and flipping a single Den Protector.

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Evolutionary Leap is the engine that makes Evolutionary Dredge run. When I first built the deck, I included a copy of Evolutionary Leap mostly as protection against exile-based removal like Declaration in Stone and Incendiary Flow (so we could sacrifice whatever creature our opponent targeted in response). Then, I actually drew Evolutionary Leap one game and was blown away by how amazing it was in the deck. Not only does it protect against removal, but it also combos with pretty much every creature we have. 

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One of the biggest combos in the deck is Evolutionary Leap and Haunted Dead. Once we get up to four mana, we can sacrifice the Haunted Dead and the Spirit token to Evolutionary Leap, which gets us two random creatures from our deck; then, we can immediately discard those creatures (hopefully Prized Amalgams and Deathmist Raptors) to get back the Haunted Dead. Once we get more mana, it gets even crazier because we can start sacrificing Prized Amalgams as well, and since Prized Amalgam comes back from the graveyard for free when we activate Haunted Dead, we generate an insane amount of card advantage. Plus, repeating this process eventually gets all of the Prized Amalgams and Deathmist Raptors from our deck, so we are guaranteed to be attacking with 30+ power every single turn in the late game. 

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Since Evolutionary Leap pulls every creature from our deck, before long we'll have multiple copies of Den Protector, which means that every turn, we can sacrifice one to Evolutionary Leap and then play and flip a second copy, getting back the one we just sacrificed along with all of our Prized Amalgams and Deathmist Raptors. This loop is another way we can make sure we have all of our creatures every turn, even if our opponent has removal or wraths. Plus, since we know we will be getting all of our creatures back, we are free to make very aggressive attacks, even if some of our creatures will die, since they will all be reanimating for free anyway. 

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One last Evolutionary Leap trick. With two copies of Prized Amalgam in the graveyard, we can sort of go infinite with Evolutionary Leap activations if we can trigger the Prized Amalgams just one time. Here's how it works. We trigger our Prized Amalgams, and when the first one enters the battlefield, we immediately sacrifice it to Evolutionary Leap (with the trigger for the second one on the stack). This puts the first copy of Prized Amalgam back in the graveyard, so when the second copy enters the battlefield, the first one will trigger and return at the next end step. Then, sometime before the first one returns, we simply sacrifice the second Prized Amalgam to Evolutionary Leap, so when the first one enters the battlefield, it triggers the second one again. Basically, this loop gives us at least one free Evolutionary Leap trigger every turn and sometimes much, much more, if we have more than two copies of Prized Amalgam

Finishers

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Our finishers take advantage of the fact that our deck has a ton of creatures we can sacrifice for free every turn. Voldaren Pariah is amazing in our deck. While we can sometimes madness it with the help of Haunted Dead, most of the time we just cast it; sacrifice our Prized Amalgams, Haunted Deads, and Deathmist Raptors to wrath away our opponent's board; and then immediately get back all of our things with the help of Haunted Dead. While this play is great against most decks, it is especially amazing against Emrakul, the Promised End decks, giving us an easy, main deck answer to Emrakul, the Promised End before our opponent gets to take our turn. Plus, our deck is just naturally good against Emrakul, the Promised End, since the things that make the "steal a turn" trigger good in most matchups (being able to get rid of all / most of your opponent's board) don't really work against our deck—we'll just get everything back anyway. Westvale Abbey works mostly like Voldaren Pariah, but instead of wrathing away our opponent's board, we end up with a huge lifelinking threat to close out the game. 

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Decimator of the Provinces was a late addition to the deck. Originally, I was counting on just Voldaren Pariah and Westvale Abbey to close out the game, but I was running into some situations when the board would get clogged down, to the point that it took a really long time to win. Since our deck is so efficient at finding creatures thanks to the Evolutionary Leap loops, running a single copy of Decimator of the Provinces ended up being our way to close out the game quickly. Sooner or later, we'll hit it with Evolutionary Leap, emerge it off of a Haunted Dead for five mana, and win with a bunch of Prized Amalgams and Deathmist Raptors. Deathmist Raptor, specifically, steals a lot of games with Decimator of the Provinces thanks to the combination of deathtouch and trample, which means that no matter how much toughness an opposing blocker might have, Deathmist Raptor can assign it one damage and then assign the rest to our opponent. 

The Sideboard

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There are really only two cards that scare us: most important is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, which locks down our "sacrifice and get everything back from the graveyard" plan with his exile replacement effect. As a result, we have a ton of cards in the sideboard designed to deal specifically with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet like Murder, Sinister Concoction, and Infinite Obliteration (which also has value against decks relying primarily on Elder Deep-Fiend or Emrakul, the Promised End to win the game). 

The second card we want to fight against is Infinite Obliteration, which is showing up in a lot of sideboards as an answer to Emrakul, the Promised End. Most of the time, opponents will name Prized Amalgam, and while we can win even without our Prized Amalgams thanks to Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, it takes a lot longer and is significantly more difficult. As such, against black decks, we can bring in Duress, Transgress the Mind, and Negate as answers. Another solution is to keep our Prized Amalgams on the battlefield as much as possible, since the battlefield is the one zone where Infinite Obliteration has no effect. 

One last thing on the sideboard. In my experience, it is really hard to sideboard more than three or four cards with this deck. We are so reliant on synergy that we can't really just take out any one card without our deck suffering immensely. As such, when we do sideboard, it's usually trimming a card here and there to bring in answers to Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and / or Infinite Obliteration

Ultra-Budget Evolutionary Dredge

The big problem with making an ultra-budget version of Evolutionary Dredge is that pretty much all of the non-land cards in the main deck are set in stone. We simply can't cut them and have the deck still function as intended. While most of these cards are relatively inexpensive, we have about $50 invested the playsets of Prized Amalgam, Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector, and Voldaren Pariah. As such, the only realistic way to get the deck cheaper is by cutting back on the mana base, which not only means less consistency (although it might not be that bad, since Grapple with the Past and Vessel of Nascency help find lands) but also the loss of Westvale Abbey as a finisher, meaning we are relying on just Voldaren Pariah and the one copy of Decimator of the Provinces to close out the game. Further complicating matters is the fact that our finishers are our most mana-intensive cards—we really want quadruple black on turn five to madness Voldaren Pariah and triple green for Decimator of the Provinces—and that simply isn't possible without playing some number of dual lands. If you decide to start with this build, my advice would be to upgrade the mana base as quickly as possible with any dual lands you have available. It's also worth nothing that the deck is already super cheap on Magic Online, so if you are playing digitally, there's pretty much no reason to play the ultra-budget build. 

Non-Budget Evolutionary Dredge

Pretty much the opposite of the ultra-budget build, the non-budget version of Evolutionary Dredge keeps the main deck intact, apart from upgrading the mana base a bit, with the help of Hissing Quagmire, and adding a single copy of Liliana, the Last Hope in the Noose Constrictor slot. On the other hand, we get some huge improvements in the sideboard with copies of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as another roadblock against aggro and a way to slow down opposing graveyard decks, more Liliana, the Last Hope for control matchups, an Emrakul, the Promised End as a general trump card, and Languishes as one-sided wraths (since we can get all of our creatures back so easily). While I think these changes improve the deck a bit, and if you have the cards lying around, you might as well thrown them in, I wouldn't run out and start buying copies of Liliana, the Last Hope just for this deck—it works perfectly fine and is quite competitive even without the upgrades. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. We went 4-1 in our matches, losing only to WB Control, which is probably one of our harder matchups, thanks to it being one of the few decks playing Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in the main deck. The deck feels quite competitive and, most importantly, is amazingly fun to play. While the matches are sometimes long and drawn out, there are a lot of decisions, and when the deck is working optimally, it really feels unfair (like a Dredge deck should). So, many of the cards that other decks are playing as trumps, like Kozilek's Return, Elder Deep-Fiend, and Languish, are just horrible against our deck, and watching our opponent cast Grasp of Darkness or Lightning Axe to Fog a Prized Amalgam attack for a turn is just too much fun!

As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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