This week we continue my last article‘s exploration of how to play out of the graveyard before Innistrad brings too many [card Faerie Macabre]hosers[/card] to bear. We’ve already covered the hate that people should be packing and the most effective methods of filling the ‘yard, so now we finally get to look for some cards to bin!
While there are a lot of options for filling your graveyard, the more difficult task is making use of it afterward. Magic has a couple of mechanics that let you make good use of your ‘yard, and a number of strange cards that operate from the grave, but the vast majority of cards will need to be played the old fashioned way despite growing stronger as the death toll swells. Let’s take a brief glance at some mechanics that can be used from the grave.
Odyssey‘s Flashback mechanic is a great fit for the grave-loving mage. When you bin Chainer’s Edict or Fervent Denial, it’s the same as drawing a nice piece of disruption. Sure, they’re a bit on the expensive side, but beggars can’t be choosers. Even better, these cards are okay to draw because they’ll still give you the same useful effect.
Next up is Shard of Alara‘s Unearth, or ‘Flashback for creatures.’ Unfortunately many of the Unearth cards are pretty unexciting, but Extractor Demon, Rotting Rats, and Kederekt Leviathan are all great additions to the team.
Bringing in Boats
You always want a couple of Ravnica‘s Dredgers in the cemetery because, let’s face it, drawing cards is so 2004. Besides, in addition to replacing your draw step and looting activities with something more functional, you get to cast Life from the Loam every turn!
Using the same card over and over again seemed fun, I wonder if we could recover that capability somehow? There aren’t many options, but don’t controvert me when I say our prospects are far from [card Grim Harvest]grim[/card].
Our final keyword mechanic is Shadowmoor‘s Retrace. Giving your lands extra utility is a great way to avoid mana flood, and with enough retrace spells your lands start asking Who? // What? // When?// Where? // Why? pretty quickly. The choice of [card Spitting Image]copying a creature[/card], making [card Worm Harvest]a million tokens[/card], or [card Waves of Aggression]attacking a lot[/card] seems good to me.
Can’t Touch This
“But wait,” you cry triumphantly, “what about Unhinged? I Gotcha!” In a word: don’t. I know I talked last week about somebody not noticing Vengeful Pharaoh as a positive, but if you run [card Creature Guy]Gotcha cards[/card], the correct play becomes not to speak, and that’s just not fun, Goblin Mime be damned.
Magic has a long history of cards that come back after they die, and even though only a fraction of these will rturn if you never played them in the first place, they still make for an extensive list relative to which this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Cards that themselves work out of the graveyard are likely ideal if we’re planning to bin a lot of them, but there are an inordinate number of cards that interact favorably with a full ‘yard without necessarily popping out of it. There are options for recursion like Mnemonic Wall or Entomber Exarch, graveyard ‘casting’ like Zombify or Yawgmoth’s Will, counting like Ancestor’s Chosen or Lord of Extinction, and even mass reanimation in the vein of Living Death or Twilight’s Call. All in all, these cards are best used either to fill a role that you can’t find in cards that work out of the ‘yard or as knobs with which to adjust a deck’s power level. Of course, to take full benefit of these cards, you’d need to run all five colors, and the format offers some compelling reasons against doing so.
Who deserves to lead our shambling army forth from the cemetery? To get the best combination of cards, we’d want a five colored commander. Our best choice is probably Horde of Notions, though Scion of the Ur-Dragon certainly makes some compelling arguments. One of his most eloquent came at his own eulogy:
Though I have met a Sudden Death, I know that I shall not be forgotten, no matter how costly it may become to remember me. I know this because I have been many things to many Dragons. At school I was a [card Dragon Mage]mage[/card]. Working only towards magical perfection, I was a [card Yosei, the Morning Star]bright star[/card] for the [card Dragon Whelp]whelps[/card] to follow. Then, one fateful night, I was bitten by a [card Vampiric Dragon]Vampire[/card]. Since that time, I have been known as a [card Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund]glorious leader[/card] by some, and as a [card Dragon Tyrant]tyrant[/card] by others. My choices were my own, but I must admit that I was indeed part of a conspiracy. Never did I diverge from doing the Patriarch’s bidding. Love me or hate me, but know that I had focus. Never was I merely a horde of notions, I always had a plan. Now I’m gone, and you may have to pay two much to make any use of me; nonetheless I beg you to reminisce about my exploits so that they shall never seem [card Mistveil Plains]plain[/card]. I must work towards my kind’s [card Pyrrhic Revival]revival[/card], so for now I shall merely wish you luck as you face the [card Crucible of Fire]crucible[/card] that is nothing less than a matter of [card Life // Death]life and death[/card].
Really though, either way you go the decks look fairly similar. You get your choice of the cards we’ve discussed thus far with a few of the tribe’s best thrown into the mix, and Scion would run slightly fewer enablers and more cards to abuse the yard while Horde wouldn’t need as many win conditions, but rather more ways to dump Elementals. Still, there are better options for graveyard interaction than either of these two. It boils down to a question of what’s worth giving up colors for.
As is most likely obvious, black is the strongest in pretty much every department in which the graveyard is concerned, but the other colors have varying strengths and weaknesses:
- White has strong recursion with Resurrection effects and Replenishes, but very little to offer in the enabler department
- Blue can fill your ‘yard about as well as black through a combination of mill and looting, but is inept as far as actually making use of those cards goes.
- Red has some looting (though it’s not really on par with blue’s), and it does have some recursion via [card Magma Phoenix]Phoenixes[/card] and a few Trash for Treasure effects. It’s sort of the most mediocre of both worlds.
- Green has few really fantastic enablers plus a bunch of Dredgers, and the color has a lot of Regrowths putting it firmly in third as both an enabler and abuser of graveyards.
With that in mind, we’d really like to build a deck with black, green, and either blue or white. Luckily, these combinations offer us some great commanders!
The Mimeoplasm has a lot of potential power. More than a month ago, I showed you a build that focused on beating face, and a version I’ve been running with no library searching at all has been doing well consistently. Here we’d be looking to abuse him a lot more. If you can mill a significant portion of your library via Traumatize, everyone’s favorite Ooze is going to have a lot to do, but if you [card Shared Trauma]Share Trauma[/card] with the whole table, you’ll probably be able to kill someone with Triskelion and a Mortivore, and don’t get me started on Lord of Extinction. Moreover, even if you draw one of your ‘combo’ pieces, you shouldn’t have any trouble [card Looter il-Kor]looting[/card] it away.
The other option is our other new on-color commander: Damia, Sage of Stone. With Damia the deck takes on two distinct phases of game play. With the Gorgon online, looting loses it’s upside when compared to straight discard, so we’ll want to take advantage of Zombie Infestation and friends. But why even bother with the graveyard? It’s not like we need more card advantage with Damia out.
Unfortunately she’s not going to stay out long, and so building to abuse the graveyard ensures that we’re far ahead even after she dies. It doesn’t even have to be all or nothing: Damia’s ability has an intervening if clause, which means that it won’t trigger at all unless you have fewer than seven cards when your upkeep starts, and won’t do anything unless you have less than seven cards when it resolves. The upshot here is that you can use Putrid Imp or whatever to get down to six cards at somebody’s end step. If [card Damia, Sage of Stone]the Sage of Stone[/card] gets killed, you’re down a card, but if she triggers, the ability will resolve independent of her survival and you can safely drop the rest of your hand to get a fresh seven. Both of these commanders are worthy leaders, but let’s see what other colors have to offer.
This color combination’s relevant commanders are Teneb, the Harvester and Karador, Ghost Chieftain. While Teneb is better in a vacuum because she hits harder and recurs guys cheaper, she’s also much, much softer to removal. With Tenebyou often won’t get anything back and her cost will skyrocket, but Karador will almost always cost just three, leaving you plenty of mana to cast a critter from the ‘yard before you pass priority and he can be killed.
The main question here is whether or not to drop blue for white, and while the white commanders are good, they’re hampered by their limitation to one creature per turn (or occasionally two with Karador if you sacrifice him and recast him). Filling you yard doesn’t lead to unstoppable power, just a lot of options. Of course, there is a Legend who allows you to recur as many creatures as you want and much more cheaply than Horde of Notions:
Sedris suffers from a lack of green mana, but is nonetheless an alluring option. He obviates the need for strong recursive elements and make exquisite use of every type of enabler, making even sacrifice seem like a worthy option. On top of that, he’s very strong against disruption because not only can he be used right after you cast him, but he pushes you to run a lot of very mana intensive and powerful creatures. You shouldn’t have trouble making relevant plays even if your army gets exiled. Finally, despite how restrictive Unearth looks, you can abuse it. Unearth only replaces a zone change with exiling if the creature wasn’t already going into exile, so using something like Voyager Staff or Wormfang Drake can turn Unearthing a creature into a Torrent of Souls. Even better, Tawnos’s Coffin can bring the creatures back ad infinitum, and cards like Sengir Nosferatu or Shifty Doppelganger make prime Unearthing candidates
Of course there are more commanders that can support a graveyard strategy: Chainer, Dementia Master, Wort, Boggart Auntie, Dralnu, Lich Lord, Glissa, the Traitor, but these will generally be weaker due either to their lack of coloration or lackluster abilities. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t run them. After all, the point is to have a good time, they just might not make the message as clear to your playgroup that they ought to be a little bit more hateful.