And From The Grave, They Rise… (Contains Spoilers)

We’re gathered here today to talk about some of the new graveyard interactions brought to us by Dark Ascension. This is part one of my two-part look into the Dark Ascension spoilers so far.

As he carefully tread through eroded, nameless tombstones long made faceless by the effacing hands of the wind, the timid adventurer held his blazing torch high with all the strength his terrified body could muster. The soft rustle of wind through the trees on an otherwise silent night startles our young explorer, his sudden about-face to confront the sound belying the underlying fear gripping his very soul.

In that moment of anxious reaction, the explorer trips over an overturned tombstone jutting from the ground like a ghastly growth from decrepit soil. As he falls, he reaches into the darkness for the ground he knew was fast approaching; in doing so, he loses his one connection to the world of light, his one barrier between him and the surrounding darkness: his blazing torch.

As his tensed body lands, the explorer’s head slams into another faceless grave marker, leaving his head spinning and blurring the remnants of vision previously granted by the extinguished torch. As he sat on the moss-covered grave mound, darkness filling his sight and consciousness slowly escaping his tortured mind, the explorer could almost hear the faint rustling of moist soil being pushed aside.

The last thing the adventurer saw before his consciousness completely left him was what seemed to be fingers coming up from the very grave mound he’d fallen onto…

Welcome to our first talks about Dark Ascension! This set, like Innistrad, is absolutely packed to the gills with flavor, which makes discussing the set an absolute blast. I mean, come on, Zombie Apocalypse!? Have you seen that card? The flavor there…simply a thing of beauty!

We’re gathered here today to talk about some of the new graveyard interactions brought to us by Dark Ascension. This is part one of my two-part look into the Dark Ascension spoilers so far. Monday I’ll go into more of the set and some of the interactions/decks/strategies I see when looking at the spoiler.

Mainly, I want to explore what some cards are going to do to Standard after the release of Dark Ascension, as the first event where the set is legal is going to be the StarCityGames.com Standard Open: Richmond, which I’ll be attending. So now is as good a time as any to start game planning, even without complete information.

So let’s get started!

Am I the only one who thinks Thought Scour has some sick potential? (I doubt it, but as of now all I’ve heard about Dark Ascension is “Sorin! Sorin!”) Gerry Thompson first wrote about playing Mental Note in Legacy Snapcaster Mage decks as a way to fuel the graveyard while cantripping. Now, while there are no Tombstalkers to fuel with Mental Note, it does place three cards in your graveyard (or two in theirs, if that’s your thing). You know what likes having cards in your graveyard?

There are more, for sure (Thought Scour seems like a slightly better Mulch for any sort of “Dredge” deck in Standard, though you probably play both. I actually don’t know which is better… Don’t worry, we’ll cover this in a bit.), but here are the ones I’m looking at.

Now, the applications with Snapcaster are obvious. Put spells in graveyard, flash them back with Snapcaster. In a deck like U/B Control, this gives you a way of drawing virtually 1.5 cards for one mana. By that I mean you get the initial card, but you’re also placing spells that interact with Snapcaster into the graveyard or even just putting a Think Twice into the bin, giving you that extra card.

With Grim Lavamancer, you’re getting a bit more value than that. Obviously if you’re running blue, you’re probably already running Snapcaster Mage and flashback spells, but with Lavamancer you essentially get a full Sword of Fire and Ice activation off of one card and two mana. Plus, since Thought Scour gets put into the yard along with the two spells, if you so happen to hit, say, a Think Twice, Desperate Ravings, or Faithless Looting and a land, you can still keep your business flashback spell while still getting the Lavamancer activation. Talk about value!

With all of this Snapcastering and Lavamancing, what’s a cardslinger to do?

Putting Burning Vengeance on the backburner for a minute, here’s a rough shell for a U/R Delver deck; we lose Moorland Haunt and Geist of Saint Traft from the U/W Delver shell, but we gain plenty of ways to keep a Grim Lavamancer active while also being able to out-tempo our opponents and burn them out, so we’ll have to see how that plays out once Dark Ascension is released.

There are obvious issues here; first, the manabase is still bad (though I’m interested to see if there’s an enemy-colored “value land” cycle like the Moorland Haunt/Nephalia Drownyard cycle in Innistrad), though I have no issues using Ghost Quarter here as a shoddy mana fixer in a pinch. The deck is designed to run on low mana anyway, so hitting any more than 3-4 lands in a given game is already on the verge of mana flooding. Second, this deck can’t ever hope to beat a resolved Curse of Death’s Hold if it’s not able to burn the opponent out almost immediately. This can be solved post board, though, so I think there may be something to this deck.

The lack of Ponders is due to the fact that we have so much filtering going on that Ponder seems unnecessary. The spell density in the deck is such that flipping a Delver shouldn’t be overly difficult, though obviously this is where Ponder is missed the most.

Grim Lavamancer is what I really think fuels this deck. All of your “card draw” fuels the graveyard, which in turn fuels Lavamancer. While Snapcaster is awesome here too, I think that if the format gets to a point where Lavamancer is a horrible card when active, then obviously we should look elsewhere.

Now, there are other shells we can put those cards into. This isn’t the only shell that can make use of this “engine,” though we can’t be sure of the format yet, so it’s hard to say right now what would be a good fit.

However, there’s another deck that doesn’t care about having an active Grim Lavamancer, as there’s an enchantment that does just as good of a job Shocking things.

With Burning Vengeance, the only thing we really care about is resolving our namesake card and not dying beforehand. Once the card is on the table, it’s game on!

However, we get a new friend to help. While Secrets of the Dead isn’t straight up killing our opponent like Burning Vengeance can/does, it is another enchantment that plays on the same level as Burning Vengeance while providing a ton of card advantage just by flashing back spells you wanted to be casting anyway.

I can easily see how games can get out of hand with a Secrets of the Dead in play, even without a Vengeance. This new enchantment gives the deck an amount of redundancy that it didn’t have before, not to mention if your opponent was one of those snarky “Surgical Extraction” type of guys (or gals, mind you) and got your Vengeance into the graveyard.

Additionally, we also get much better digging for the deck with Dark Ascension. Thought Scour is a great cantrip/enabler while Faithless Looting is just ridiculous for this deck.

With a mind to what Standard looks like now with all of the Delver decks running around, here’s a sketch of a Burning Vengeance deck:

The random-looking lands are for sideboarded Tribute to Hunger and Ancient Grudges.

This deck looks spicy honestly, and it’s one I’m seriously considering for SCG Open: Richmond. The only issue I see is a serious weakness to hexproof creatures like Invisible Stalker and Geist of Saint Traft. Tribute to Hunger helps, as does Whipflare or maybe even Rolling Temblor, though the second doesn’t answer flying creatures. Maybe a mix of the two. Phantasmal Image out of the board helps with Geist but not Stalker.

With the new dig spells, you should have no trouble finding your Vengeances. Both Faithless Looting and Desperate Ravings dig you two cards into your library, and Alchemy digs you four cards. You should see so many cards with this deck that winning is simply a matter of ordering your spells correctly and not punting away your games, so long as you hit land drops.

With this deck, it’s very simple to have a transformational sideboard in which you board into a completely different plan altogether. Adding four Delver of Secrets and four Grim Lavamancers will give you plenty of game against slower decks that you feel are boarding out removal against you. Obviously, as always with transformational sideboards, the trick here is to make your opponent believe that you’re not doing anything crazy, then if you make it a game three, tricking him again. Smart opponents probably won’t fall for the same trick twice, but there are easy wins to be had!

I have a hard time evaluating this. I wanted to put it in the Burning Vengeance deck, but as it costs so much mana and is a sorcery, I have a hard time buying into it. It can end the game very quickly in the late game if you’re looking to mill your opponent out; but honestly I don’t think that’s where you want to be at right now, as a pure mill deck. Why go through all of those hoops if you can just do the same thing with Nephalia Drownyard without costing you a spell slot?

However, if milling just tickles your fancy I could definitely see this card with some number of Grindclocks, Thought Scours, and Jace, Memory Adepts!

I’ll be honest: I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about a Zombie. Seriously, I tried thinking of a Zombie card that I liked more than Gravecrawler, and I can’t think of one. (Have fun in the comments reminding me of one I missed. I think Chameleon Colossus was my favorite!)

This guy is pretty good. Obviously the comparison here is to other “comes back when you want it to” creatures like Bloodghast and Nether Spirit. These are cards that, if you build with them in mind, you can reap immense benefits. Bloodghast, you generally wanted fetchlands in your deck, as they afforded you multiple copies of Bloodghast (allowing you to mitigate flooding in your aggressive deck). Spirits allowed you to only dedicate 3-4 slots to creatures while knowing you’d always have what you need in a controlling deck.

Where does Gravecrawler fit? I’m not completely sure, though the stats lead me to believe there is some sort of aggressive black-based deck that wants him. Between Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul, you have the makings of a pretty intense black-based (and Zombie themed) aggro deck. The only issue is, keeping it purely Zombies leaves us bereft of good cheap creatures while remaining on theme. Perhaps there are more Zombies to come in Dark Ascension, but the shell is starting to emerge.

However, that’s not the only application for this little “living-dead that could.” Let’s explore what a Zombie tribal deck would look like.

This is a bit of a stretch for truly competitive events but should be a fun deck for your local Friday Night Magic. There is a ton of value to be gained in this deck, making me want to try it out the Friday before Richmond.

Gravecrawler allows us to basically keep recurring our threats from the graveyard as long as we’re able to control a Zombie. Since we’re milling ourselves, there should end up being plenty of Gravecrawlers in the graveyard for pure value. Snapcaster gives us plenty of action here, and Snapcaster on a Ghoulcaller’s Chant gives us a veritable double-Demonic Tutor late game (which is why we play the one-of Skinrender, allowing us to ‘Chant for it late game as a way to remove pesky blockers).

If you play a deck like this, the thing to watch for is making sure you remove only specific creatures from the graveyard with your Skaabs/Drakes and Cemetery Reapers, as you want to be able to tutor late game with Chant and also you probably never want to remove Gravecrawlers, obviously.

This deck is obviously on the “grind ‘em out, midrange” level of the Aggro-Control scale. Can we go more aggressive?

Do I recommend this deck? No, not at all. The problem here is that you need to run Zombies to make Crawler effective, which leads you to more black cards, which takes you away from Shrine of Burning Rage.

Which would you rather have? A recurring 2/1 that requires you to run Cemetery Reaper in your aggressive deck or Shrine of “I win the game?”

This list is just to demonstrate the constraints of trying to run a more aggressive build using Gravecrawler. If you want to splash black for a two-power creature, just run Diregraf Ghoul, as the stats are better, and you don’t have to build around it.

How about that “Dredge” deck? Feeling like you need a home for that Ghoultree?

Once again, I don’t see this list winning any Pro Tours (it seems a tad slow, and Birds are very difficult to hit on turn one with this deck, as you don’t get a Scars dual land that produces green like Copperline Gorge to run), but this is another fun deck for FNM. As you can tell, if I’m running Zombies, I’m running Ghoulcaller’s Chant, as that card is a one-mana “Draw two” spell in the right deck. I know these types of spells are often overlooked, but if we’re going all-in on Zombies, it gives us some great value.

Here we only see one Ghoultree, but until you have filled you graveyard quite a bit, it’s not really that good to have. Once you’ve milled yourself quite a bit, you can use Ghoulcaller’s Chant to bring back your one-mana 10/10 (along with any other Zombie you want!) or even Snapcaster Mage, flashing back Chant, then getting your big ol’ tree back.

Nothing really to say here other than repeating the fact that this card absolutely drips with flavor and the naming/abilities are spot-on. Great job on this, Wizards! (Even if the card itself will probably never see real competitive play… Still, I could actually see one in the U/B Zombie deck, but this is obviously a casual/Commander card.)

That’s all for now. See you guys again on Monday when I go over some more of the spoiler list from Dark Ascension (don’t worry, I know they spoiled that one card “Sorin, Lord of Innistrad”; we’ll get to it soon enough!)

Thanks for reading! If you’re going to be at the StarCityGames.com Open: Washington DC this weekend, come and find me. I’ll be slinging spells all weekend looking for that elusive trophy!

Michael Martin

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter

Shoctologist on MTGO