Building a Better Cemetery: The Best G/B Deck You’ve Never Seen Part I

Okay, enough is enough. I am sick and tired of these watered-down G/B Cemetery decklists popping up all over the internet. Not because I’m sick of hearing about it, but because they’re all wrong.

Okay, enough is enough. I am sick and tired of these watered-down G/B Cemetery decklists popping up all over the Internet. Not because I’m sick of hearing about it, but because they’re all wrong.

If you’re thinking about running G/B at Regionals, you need to read this article. If you’re thinking about running something other than G/B at Regionals, then the only G/B players you need to worry about beating are the ones who have read this article. Because all the lists I’ve seen so far aren’t even close.

Sorry if I seem angry, but this is pathetic. It seems like nobody is even on the right track to the optimal build. Allow me to illustrate:

I’m going to ask you a simple question, and I want you to answer it as quickly as you can. Ready?

Here it is:

As a G/B player, what is your deck’s overall strategy: A) aggro, B) combo, C) control, or D) some combination of two of these?

I’d expect you answered”some combination of two of these,” so think for a minute about which two strategies B/G combines.

Actually, let me save you the time: whatever two you chose, you’re wrong. Because”some combination of two of these” was the wrong answer.

You heard me.

The correct answer was Control. You’re building a Control deck. If you aren’t, or think you aren’t, then I have two suggestions for you. Either run something else at Regionals, or take a good, hard look at the Flores classic,”Who’s the Beatdown?” In that article, the author outlines the following principles for determining which deck should take the role of the Control deck in a given matchup:

1. Who has more damage? Usually he has to be the beatdown deck.

2. Who has more removal? Usually he has to be the control deck.

3. Who has more permission and card drawing? Almost always he has to be the control deck.

Now, then. The general consensus seems to be that the two most powerful decks at Regionals will be Goblin Bidding and Ravager Affinity. Since every deck has to have the prerequisite of”doesn’t scoop to Affinity or Bidding,” let’s do a quick”who’s the beatdown” analysis, shall we?

G/B Cemetery vs. Ravager Affinity:

1. Who has more damage? Affinity. Duh.

2. Who has more removal? Cemetery usually has about as much artifact removal (Shaman and/or Zealot) as Affinity does creature removal (Pyrite Spellbomb and/or Shrapnel Blast), but Death Cloud pushes Cemetery over the top in this category. By the way, I’m going to assume that for all intents and purposes we’re building a Death Cloud Cemetery deck, since building a non-Death Cloud Cemetery deck is a lot like building a non-Piledriver Goblins deck.

3. Who has more permission and card drawing? Neither has permission, but Cemetery has more card drawing since it runs both Skullclamp and Oversold Cemetery compared to just Clamp and maybe Thoughtcast.

According to #1, Affinity should be the beatdown deck, and according to #2 and #3 Cemetery should be the control deck.

Verdict: Cemetery should clearly play the control deck against Ravager Affinity.

G/B Cemetery vs. Goblin Bidding:

1. Who has more damage? Goblins, by a considerable margin.

2. Who has more removal? Varies pretty drastically by build (Goblin Sharpshooter and Gempalm Incinerator plus some number of Sparksmiths vs. Death Cloud and some number of Banes of the Living and Nekrataal), so we’ll leave this one as a tie for now.

3. Who has more permission and card drawing? Just like in the last matchup, G/B has more card drawing since it runs both Clamp and Cemetery. (Goblins can generate a ton of card advantage all at once by casting Bidding, but the question specifically asks about card drawing. Otherwise we’d conclude that Bidding should play control against MWC because it gets more card advantage when it casts a Bidding than MWC does when it casts a Wrath of God.)

In summary, Goblins should be the beatdown deck by rule #1, the decks are tied for #2, and Cemetery should be the control deck by rule #3. Since none of the three rules list Cemetery as the beatdown deck, or Goblins as the control deck, it’s pretty obvious which deck takes on which role.

Verdict: Cemetery should clearly play the control deck against Goblin Bidding.

So basically, against the two decks that you have to be competitive against, G/B is a control deck. Since you’re going to end up playing the control deck against both the number one and the number two decks in the metagame, I’m thinking it would be to your advantage to make your deck actually good at playing control.

As a matter of fact, it’s this lack of focus that drops G/B from Tier One to Tier Two in the first place. The Tier Two builds think they can get away with running a lot of really, really bad creatures on the grounds that”They R So Brauken If U Hav Cematary!!!111.” Your game plan with these decks boils down to playing some C-grade creatures that turn into A-grade creatures when you recur them with Cemetery, and/or turn into card advantage when you Skullclamp them.

This plan sucks because in the early game you’re trying to fend off an assault with C-grade creatures, and hinging your entire late game on getting Cemetery and/or Skullclamp going in order to turn them into A-grade creatures. If you don’t draw Skullclamp or Cemetery, however, or if they are somehow destroyed, you’re now playing with C-grade creatures in the late game as well…so both your early and late games have become weak.

My plan is better.

I play with A-grade (or at worst B-grade) creatures all the time. I don’t need them to have perfect synergy with Cemetery, because just putting another A-grade threat back on the table is a strong enough plan to win me the late game.

This isn’t the only lack of focus that G/B has a problem with. In fact, G/B has another, even more serious lack of focus that hamstrings the rest of the deck right off the bat – its mana base. [author name="Mike Flores"]Mike Flores[/author] just got done explaining why he would never play G/B at Regionals:”why burden yourself with a deck that has to assemble GG early and BBB in its secondary color in order to function on a basic level?”

If you keep losing because you’re manascrewed in the early game, because you had to Swampcycle Twisted Abomination when you needed to Smother something, or because City of Brass dealt you four freakin’ points of damage by the end of the game, something is wrong! It doesn’t matter how good your cards are if your deck is knocking you out before your opponent lays his first land.

People, I have the solution for you.

Make Some Cuts.

Pick a primary color, and splash for the other one. If you pick Green, don’t include any Black cards with more than one Black mana symbol in their casting cost. If you pick Black, don’t run any cards with GG in the cost. I don’t care how good the GG and BBB cards look, if running both of them will get you killed, they simply aren’t worth the investment.

So which one do we cut then? The GG or the BBB? Well, let’s have a look.

In the Black Corner: Death Cloud

In the Green Corner: Ravenous Baloth, Viridian Zealot

Ah, not so easy after all. The problem, of course, is that these are arguably the top three cards in the deck as a whole. Ignore that fact; put it out of your mind. If you swap one or two of your better cards out for slightly weaker ones and it makes the rest of your deck 20% more consistent, you made a good choice.

Let’s get right into it, then. We’ll start with Death Cloud.

Death Cloud is an absolutely critical element of the deck. Its symmetry is inherently broken against aggro decks, because aggro decks tend to play out creatures quickly. If you kill off some of those creatures (via blocking and spot removal), your opponent is left with a small number of creatures in play, a small number of cards in hand, and an average- to below-average number of lands in play.

Since your deck is slower, you will have less creatures in play and more cards in hand, meaning you can Death Cloud away your opponent’s entire hand (including the cards he was planning on finishing you with, like Siege-Gang Commander, Patriarch’s Bidding, and Shrapnel Blast) while discarding only the least useful cards in your own hand. Likewise, Death Cloud will usually kill off every creature on the board – but since your opponent deployed his creatures faster, that means he had more in play when Death Cloud cleared the board.

Against Bidding, this is the single most important card in your deck. I would sideboard out any other card in the deck (Cemetery included), before I would take these out. In fact, without Death Cloud, Bidding would almost be an auto-loss for this deck.

Against Affinity, Death Cloud takes advantage of Affinity’s efficient use of its lands. A Ravager on its own is just a 1/1 – it’s the sacrificing of spare Artifact Lands that makes it large. But for Affinity, a”spare” land might mean everything after the second or third land on the board. In fact, Death Clouds have been known at times to leave Affinity players with no permanents in play and no cards in hand.

The really broken part about Death Cloud, though, is that it still manages to remain strong against other control decks. Since most control decks tend to play a small number of very large creatures, you can simply use a Death Cloud for one to get them out of the way of your attackers while sacrificing only the single weakest of your own threats.

And that’s not all. Because of Skullclamp, G/B is capable of drawing more cards than any other control deck in the format, bar none. This means that you will frequently find yourself in a position where you can Death Cloud your opponent’s entire hand away (as well as killing off many of their lands, which are less important to you than they are to other control decks), while still leaving your most important cards untouched in your own hand.

Death Cloud is simply amazing. It is too good not to run. No other card in your deck will generate as many wins as Death Cloud does – not even Oversold Cemetery.

It must be in your deck.

Now comes the tricky part. This is the part where I argue that Ravenous Baloth and Viridian Zealot are not worth the detrimental effect that their double-Green mana cost has on your deck. Before I can explain that, one thing has to be clear.

This is a dedicated control deck you’re running. You need to have a control game plan from start to finish, or you’re just running a beatdown deck forced to take the role of a control deck for matchup reasons. In general, a dedicated control deck wants to do the following:

Generate card advantage so that if you make it to the late game, you will be able to win simply by removing all of your opponent’s threats and having enough cards left over to create unanswered threats of your own. (Card advantage in G/B is accomplished by Oversold Cemetery and Skullclamp, and by removing opposing card advantage generators like Skullclamp and Lightning Rift.)

Have a way to survive until the late game, so that your card advantage can take over and lead you to victory. (Accomplished by Black’s plethora of creature removal, supplemented by Green’s artifact removal against Skullclamp and for Affinity’s creatures.)

Have answers for a variety of threats, since not all decks will have a plan of attack that can be solved by achieving goals #1 and #2. (Between Black and Green, you can destroy any type of permanent in the game. Game-breaking Instants and Sorceries can also be dealt with for the most part by using Black’s discard to remove them from the opponent’s hand before they can be played effectively.)

These are the criteria by which every slot in your deck must be evaluated. In my build, for example, I have access to creatures – creatures, mind you, not just spells – that give me answers to all of the following cards: Skullclamp, Patriarch’s Bidding, Lightning Rift, Eternal Dragon, Siege-Gang Commander, and even Decree of Justice. As a matter of fact, I maindeck at least three creature-based answers to each of these cards, so chances are excellent that if I can survive to the long game, I will have answers to each of these cards as they are topdecked, especially with Oversold Cemetery recursion.

Once your opponent’s major threats have been dealt with, control of the game will usually follow. Soon the opponent’s only option becomes swarming past your defenders by playing more small threats than you have answers to. However, since you have been steadily generating card advantage all this time, you will have a bigger team on the table than they will, and swarming will be out of the question.

Having said all this, let’s talk about the Baloth and the Zealot.

Compared to Viridian Shaman, the Zealot does two things better and two things worse. He’s worse at attacking and blocking while Skullclamped (since he’s incapable of doing either when his toughness becomes zero), and he’s worse at giving you card advantage… since he doesn’t generate any at all. He is, however, better at blowing up enchantments, and better at being recurred by Cemetery, since he is capable of sacrificing himself.

I’ve never really found myself absolutely desperate to send my Viridian Shaman to the ‘yard so that I could re-play him, so I don’t consider the self-sacrificing aspect of the Zealot’s ability all that strong. Yes, it’s a cool play to blow up all of your opponent’s artifacts one by one, but once you’re at that point in the game you might as well just recur a beater and finish them off. Otherwise they might topdeck a Shrapnel Blast while you’re having fun with their Great Furnaces, and then where will you be?

The reason most players run both Shaman and Zealot, then, has got to be the enchantment removal part. In this environment, the important enchantments that you’re going to need to remove are Lightning Rift, Astral Slide, and Oversold Cemetery. This isn’t much, considering the current Cemetery decks are Tier Two, and a many people are starting to argue that Slide has dropped down to Tier Two as well. In short, enchantment removal is not really high on your list of priorities.

However, since you’re running Wirewood Herald (or at least you should be, in a control build of Cemetery), you have the alternative of running a singleton copy of Elf Replica for your enchantment removal. This is usually just fine against other Cemetery decks, but against Slide, you’ll usually need to remove more than one enchantment in short order. Luckily Slide is slow enough that you’ll at least have time to find a Cemetery to get the Replica back for a repeat performance before they’ve got you too low on life from a second Rift (though a Slide-protected Angel is a different story). Of course, if you’re really that worried about the Slide matchup (which you shouldn’t be – it’s a great one for the Cemetery deck), you can always add in a second Replica.

As a side note, Elf Replica also lets you make the very strong play of Clamping him up, sacrificing him to destroy an enchantment, and then drawing two cards.

In summary, as long as you play with both Viridian Shaman and Elf Replica, you have the same answering power and potentially more card advantage than Viridian Zealot, at the expense of an extra slot in your deck.

And now for the Baloth. The big one. The biggest point of contention in the deck – after all, who runs Cemetery without Baloth?

Let’s take a look, for argument’s sake. What, exactly, is Ravenous Baloth good for in a control deck?

In the early game he’s a nice, big blocker that will probably require multiple cards from beatdown opponents to remove.

When he dies, you gain life, giving you a greater chance of reaching the late game.

He attacks for four in the late game, which is a five-turn clock by itself.

Wow! Sounds good to me! Just to make sure, let’s take a closer look. Instead of thinking in general terms for a second, let’s break down these attributes with respect to the specific matchups you expect to be facing.

In the early game he’s a nice, big blocker that will probably require multiple cards from beatdown opponents to remove.

Against Goblins, he’s probably going to block something and then get finished off by Gempalm Incinerator, Sparksmith, a toss from Siege-Gang Commander, or even Goblin Sharpshooter (if another creature or two bit the dust in the rest of the combat). In any case, you usually end up with a net card advantage of +0 anyway, though you do get four life out of the trade.

Against Affinity, he’s really not that big. Myr Enforcer trades with him, Ravager can turn him into a chump blocker, and flyers like Ornithopter and Blinkmoth Nexus don’t have to deal with him at all

And of course, against White-based control decks, he’s never a blocker. Well, I guess if they cycle Decree of Justice you could block one of the tokens with him. But whatever.

The point is, in not one of these situations did he reliably fill the role we said he would. The closest he came was against Goblins, where I conceded that if they don’t have any Sparksmiths, Sharpshooters, Incinerators, Siege-Gang Commanders, or a Piledriver with a power greater than three, then you’re probably looking at a two-for-one. That’s hardly exciting for four mana, considering White-based control decks use the same four mana to clear the entire board of creatures.

Let’s look at his second attribute:

When he dies, you gain life, giving you a greater chance of reaching the late game.

This is true. We all know life gain is generally weak on its own (unless it’s recursive like Pulse of the Fields or has an alternate use like Renewed Faith), but Baloth provides a 4/4 body and can be recurred via Cemetery if necessary to bring you up to a stable life total. This used to be a good argument against Red decks that planned on dealing you exactly twenty points of damage, but Bidding will almost always either run you over by a huge margin or will fail to kill you at all.

In fact, the only matchup where you really find yourself wishing you had more than twenty life to work with is against Affinity, and then only because Shrapnel Blast can steal otherwise certain victories away from you. But if beating Affinity is your only goal, your best solution is artifact removal, not a four-mana creature. It’s also worth noting that outside of Cemetery recursion, the one-use”Shrapnel Blast save” that four extra life points provides you with will only end up making a difference once every dozen games or so.

So basically, the life gain isn’t really game-breaking (as opposed to just helpful) in any matchups except for Affinity, where it can and will save you from Death by Shrapnel Blast. Let me repeat that:

Baloth is only helpful against most decks, except for Affinity.

Sideboard card, then? Not even. As useful as it is to have life gain to keep the Blasts away, it is much, much better to board in more Artifact removal and keep yourself out of Blast range in the first place.

Finally, we come to Baloth’s last ability:

He attacks for four in the late game, which is a five-turn clock by itself.

Yes, he does. I can’t really argue with this point, since it’s clearly true. I can, however, make an argument for a replacement in Bane of the Living – a creature which shares this property while being a better fit for a proactive control strategy.

Against Affinity, Ravenous Baloth’s life-gain will make up for four points of Disciple of the Vault damage, while Bane of the Living will just kill the offending 1/1, and while he’s at it, he’ll mop up any Frogmites and Ornithopters that are waiting in line for Modular counters as well. In the late game, Baloth will put you out of Shrapnel Blast range, but a recurring Bane can kill every single creature that Affinity could possibly topdeck, while beating in every turn and putting your opponent closer to death rather than just sending himself to the graveyard every turn in exchange for life.

He’s much better after a large Death Cloud. If you tap all of your lands to play Death Cloud (which is usually the case), then the X in the XBBB casting cost becomes equal to the number of lands you have minus three (because of the BBB). That means you can discard all of the cards in your hand but Bane (or all of the cards in your hand but a Cemetery with which to recur Bane) and still be able to morph him into play with your three mana. Bane will then immediately put your opponent on a clock, whereas Baloth will be stuck in your hand until you topdeck a fourth land. Which could be as soon as the very next turn, or as late as too-late-to-save-you. You might think this is a minor distinction – why not just cast Death Cloud for one less? Well, that one less means your opponent has an extra creature, land, and card in hand. Not really an option.

Why am I arguing so adamantly against running Ravenous Baloth in G/B Cemetery? Because it’s so hard to let go. Baloth has been a staple of the deck since its inception, but that’s only because nobody has ever tried to build Cemetery without it.

Remember Onslaught Block? For the longest time, Slide/Rift was the strongest thing you could do with Red and White cards in OnBC. That is, until a fellow by the name of Brian Kowal came to the conclusion that the deck was better off without its namesake card, Astral Slide. He built a Slideless version and gave it to a friend of his to play at a Grand Prix. And how did it do?

Yeah, it won.

Look, the fact of the matter is that the current Cemetery decks are not winning. They’re trying real hard and are pulling out minor victories here and there (usually due to Death Cloud), but they aren’t Tier One and they aren’t going to be unless something changes.

I’m not trying to argue that Ravenous Baloth is a bad card. It’s actually quite the opposite, as anyone who has played it in Cemetery will tell you. What I am trying to do is argue that it is not essential to the deck’s ability to function, and that taking it out will not cripple the deck like taking out Cemetery Death Cloud would.

Well, now that we’ve been over the individual card choices, let’s see which ones we can most easily replace.

Ravenous Baloth

Bane of Living can replace a few of his roles, though not all of them. However, Bane also possesses a few key attributes that Baloth does not (The board sweeping effect as well as the simple ability to Morph itself.) Baloth is a strong addition to the deck, but is not critical to its success.

Viridian Zealot

Can be easily replaced by additional Shamans and one Elf Replica. A handy card, but hardly a cornerstone of the deck.

Death Cloud

No replacements in all of Standard. As crucial to the deck’s success as the Cemetery itself.

There’s your answer. Black will be the primary color, and Green will be the splash.

Having said all that, I’ve come up with a few additional rules for building a Black-heavy, control-minded Cemetery deck. These rules are actually quite different from the rules that govern the building of a typical Cemetery deck, so pay close attention.

Rule #1) Don’t run City of Brass.

This is actually common sense once you’ve come to grips with the fact that you’re running a control deck. Control decks use a lot of mana each turn (meaning a lot of City of Brass taps), they usually only win when the game goes on for an extended period of time (meaning even more City of Brass taps), and they need to stay alive for the duration of this extended period. (Meaning each of the aforementioned City of Brass taps helps bring the beatdown deck one step closer to killing you.)

A lot of G/B players will recall with fond memories games where Ravenous Baloth saved them from a game-winning Shrapnel Blast. Few will stop and take the time to realize that the Blast wouldn’t have cut it in the first place had they not taken three points from City of Brass in the early game.

Furthermore, with City of Brass in your deck, you’re not only mulliganing hands that contain Mana Screw, but also hands that contain City of Brass screw – that is, two or more Cities as your primary sources of mana. In games where you’re forced to keep those hands, you’ll deal yourself so much damage that the opposing player will usually just roll you, no matter what you play. Even worse, what happens when you mulligan out of the City Screw hand and then draw into it?

This is also a deck that runs, and in a very real sense revolves around, Death Cloud. Those few points of City damage can be the difference between casting an effective Death Cloud and an underpowered one because casting it for the full amount would put you in Shrapnel Blast/Pyrite Spellbomb range – or even kill you outright.

Don’t run City of Brass. Either run something less painful, like Grand Coliseum or Mirrodin’s Core, or don’t run any nonbasics at all.

Rule #2) Don’t put any creatures in your arsenal that won’t help you control the game.

This is a big one. You’re running four Skullclamps and three to four Oversold Cemeteries – card advantage is clearly not the aspect of the deck that needs to be supplemented. A major flaw in most Cemetery builds is that they saturate their creature base with card advantage rather than just incorporating it. Nekrataal and Viridian Shaman are a good deal because they provide card advantage while promoting your control over what stays on the board. Ravenous Rats is only abstractly card advantage, unless when you play them your opponent has one card left in hand and it turns out to be a Patriarch’s Bidding or something. If he has two cards in hand and all the Rats hit is a Mountain, then what did your two-mana investment get you? A Misguided Rage and a 1/1.

The cool play everyone cites when speaking of G/B Cemetery is returning Ravenous Rats with Cemetery, then Clamping them up to get even more card advantage. It’s a cool play, of course, but is it necessary? If it’s late enough in the game that you’re able to spend your turns doing that, why don’t you quit beating around the bush and just play something to kill them with?

In fact, since they make me angry, let me talk about why Ravenous Rats is one of the worst card choices possible for this deck. (If you already agree with me, just skip this next section.)

When is Ravenous Rats the best card to have? If your opponent has only one card left in hand, and it’s a bomb like Siege-Gang Commander or Patriarch’s Bidding, the Rats are a great deal. If not, you’ve paid two mana to knock out Skirk Prospector, Pyrite Spellbomb, Gilded Light, or maybe even just an excess land… whatever card happens to have the lowest chance of making you lose later on. So you’re presented with a few options:

Play the Rats early (between turns two and four), and make your opponent discard a really bad card that probably won’t dramatically alter the outcome of the game anyway. Your 1/1 beater is pretty useless at this stage in the game, except maybe for chump-blocking an incoming Piledriver or Ravager. Maybe with another 1/1 you can double up on a Piledriver and kill it, but then you’ve erased the card advantage gained by the Rats’s discard ability, and lost a ton of tempo in the process. Against a control player, you can attack with it for one every turn, which is a pretty atrocious clock.

Hold the Rats in hopes of hitting something juicier with them. Against Aggro decks this means you’re holding a dead card for a few turns, so you’d better have some other low-casting cost creature or spell to play in the early turns of the game, else your Rats’ ability to take out your opponent’s finisher won’t matter – you’ll already be dead from the early damage. It’s also entirely possible that in waiting your opponent will empty out his/her hand entirely and you won’t get any card advantage. Against control, you’re going to be waiting until you’re old and gray – and possibly even dead – for them to get down to one or two cards in hand, so there’s really no reason to choose this option there. Oh, and the 1/1 body still sucks.

Play the Rats early, then Skullclamp them away for more card advantage. Against Aggro, this is even worse than #2, because you can’t even chump block a Piledriver or Ravager – they’re going to come through for the full amount of damage.”But Richard,” you might say,”What if Clamping the Rats draws me into a Smother or Dark Banishing that allows me to answer the offending threat?” Yeah, and what if you don’t draw into it? Play some more Rats and chump block again? Here’s an idea – just run more Smothers and Dark Banishings instead of the stupid Rats so you’ll have them when you need them, rather than trying to combo into them a turn too late.

Don’t run Ravenous Rats, and pat yourself on the back for being such a smart player.

In summary, you should not be playing with any non-proactive creatures. Such creatures include the following:

Nantuko Husk

Troll Ascetic

Ravenous Rats

Chittering Rats

Twisted Abomination

Don’t play these guys. None of them. As tough as Troll Ascetic is to remove, he’s not going to save you from Disciple of the Vault or Blinkmoth Nexus. Neither is Twisted Abomination. Just don’t play them – you don’t have room.

By the way, you might notice the conspicuous absence of Birds of Paradise and Wirewood Herald from this list. Obviously the Birds don’t control your opponent’s board – they’re part of your mana base, not your arsenal, and should never be evaluated as such. Wirewood Herald fetches proactive solutions in Viridian Shaman and Elf Replica, so he’s essentially proactive unless somehow he stays on the board for the duration of the entire game.

Rule #3) Instead of running a lot of one-toughness creatures in order to abuse Skullclamp, run a lot of two-toughness creatures… in order to abuse Skullclamp more.

Two-toughness guys have better synergy with Skullclamp, plain and simple. Against other Control decks, it’s fairly obvious that two-toughness guys have better synergy since you can attack with them and force your opponent to spend a spell removing them, netting you even more card advantage than just playing and Super-Cycling a one-toughness creature with the Clamp. Against beatdown, two-toughness creatures are still better. Consider the following situation (which comes up very frequently with this deck, and is far from hypothetical):

Since you’re running a lot of creature removal, you have made it to the mid-game by removing your opponent’s biggest threat creatures (Arcbound Ravager and Myr Enforcers in Affinity; Goblin Sharpshooters and Goblin Warchiefs in Bidding). At this point only lesser threats like Frogmite and Goblin Piledriver (yes, he’s a lesser threat than both Warchief and Sharpshooter) remain on the table. You have two 2/2 creatures on the board and a Skullclamp. Even after removal, your opponent (who is playing Aggro) has three creatures out, all of which are relatively small guys like yours (that is, a toughness of three or less).

You Clamp up one of your 2/2s and attack. Your opponent now has the option of blocking an attacking 3/1 (costing him one of his creatures and letting you draw two cards) or simply letting the three damage through. If he blocks, chances are decent that you will draw another creature off the Clamp (since at least 1/3 of your deck is creatures) or some form of creature removal (since about 1/6 of your deck is creature removal). If you do, you can play the creature removal spell or additional creature in your second main phase, meaning you now have exactly as many creatures as your opponent does, instead of being down by one like you were before the attack. Even if you don’t draw another creature or removal spell, since you traded creatures with you’re opponent, you’re still down only one creature (just as you were before the attack), but you have gained card advantage in the trade. Even if you just draw lands off the Clamp, you will have dug closer to the creatures and removal spells you desire – otherwise you would have had to spend two turns drawing those lands off the top before you could get to the good stuff.

If your opponent lets the 3/1 through, you have lowered his life total by three, and continuing to attack like this will eventually bring that life total to zero. After the attack, you will of course move the Clamp to a defender. This will present your opponent with a new, equally unappealing situation: he can attack into the 3/1 defender and lose his best attacking creature – again, getting you two cards out of the deal – or he can sit back and do nothing, hoping he’ll draw an answer to Skullclamp. And by sitting back he will ultimately lead you to the long game – which is exactly what you, the control player, want.

With one-toughness creatures, you simply cannot make this play. One-toughness creatures cannot be Skullclamped into offensive/defensive powerhouses like 2/2s can, and these are much more game-breaking than Super-Cantrips like Ravenous Rats. If you don’t have a Skullclamp to begin with, the one-toughness guys are even worse. Goblin Sharpshooter will destroy all of them instantly, and the actual 1/1s like Ravenous Rats (as opposed to 2/1s like Viridian Zealot) can’t even trade with attacking threats like Frogmite and Piledriver. Of the one-toughness guys, Wirewood Herald and Nekrataal are the best – in the above situation, they can be the defensive guys that sit back while your 3/1 attacks, since you can block with them without losing any card advantage. (Herald replaces himself, and Nekrataal has first strike.)

In fact, I only run three one-toughness creatures in my build of the deck: Nekrataal, Wirewood Herald, and Birds of Paradise.

#4) Only run as many creatures as you have to.

True enough, Oversold Cemetery and Skullclamp are not inherently broken – they require creatures to be good. However, there are only so many creatures out there that are useful to a control deck. Beyond a certain point you start being forced to run silly little cantrip guys because you have run out of good utility creatures to run.

I’ve seen Cemetery builds use as many as twenty-eight creatures, many of which are simply pathetic. I have found twenty creatures to be just enough to abuse both Clamp and Cemetery, while still giving me access to the powerful Instants and Sorceries that make a good control deck function.

Finally, a few more notes about choices I don’t like for this deck.

Aether Vial

This is a fine card for aggro decks, but this is a control deck we’re building. Your cards need to proactively control things. The only cards in the deck that can get away with not providing proactive control abilities are Lands and Birds – because they generate the mana necessary for you to cast your proactive control spells. If you could afford to cut lands to run Aether Vials, they’d be perfectly acceptable as part of your mana base – but Aether Vial won’t help you cast Death Cloud, Smother, Dark Banishing, Skullclamp, Oversold Cemetery, and so forth.

Vine Trellis

I do not think it wise to make both Birds of Paradise and Vine Trellis a significant part of your mana base, because of the prevalence of board sweepers (including your own Death Cloud) in the format. That being said, the Birds provide acceleration a turn faster, they produce Black mana, and they can be Skullclamped away to draw cards if I need an answer or if I know a board sweeper is coming.

Grand Coliseum

I know I said this is one of your options to help out your mana base, but I’d like to go on record as saying I’m not a fan. It’s certainly no City of Brass, but Grand Coliseum will still deal you a bit of damage over the course of the game – which frankly sucks in any amount – and more importantly it comes into play tapped. Most control decks don’t have to care about this downside as much, since their early turns are generally spent doing various”tasks” like cycling Eternal Dragon, casting Thirst For Knowledge, and so forth. Nothing they do will really impact the board too much until turn 4 and the Wrath. For them, the comes-into-play-tapped downside is annoying, but not lethal, since losing one mana will, at worst, keep you from performing one of these”tasks.” While these are important to your development, you will rarely end up losing a game because you cycled Renewed Faith on turn five instead of on turn two.

Cemetery, on the other hand, has an incredibly important early game. If the only Green source in your opening draw is a Coliseum (or a Mirrodin’s Core, for that matter), you have a zero percent chance of playing first-turn Birds – thus setting you back an entire turn in mana development. A comes-into-play-tapped land can also mean the difference between playing a Viridian Shaman and being able to play him and suit him up for blocking with Skullclamp. (Note that blocking with a Clamped Shaman is twice as much card advantage as blocking with a regular one.) If you find yourself badly in need of a topdecked Black source to play that Death Cloud in your hand, you’d better hope it’s not a Coliseum or Mirrodin’s Core you draw.

I’ve found the mana base works fine with no nonbasic lands at all. I know a lot of players will have a problem with this on principle, but as it stands now I have found the deck works as smoothly as any other without them.

Okay, time for a decklist. Because”G/B Cemetery” is a boring name for a deck (just like”G/B Control” would be a boring name for The Rock) I’ve given my list its own name.

Pest Control

Mana Producers (27):

14 Swamp

9 Forest

4 Birds of Paradise

Game-Breakers (11):

4 Death Cloud

4 Skullclamp

3 Oversold Cemetery

Creature Removal (12):

4 Bane of the Living

3 Dark Banishing

3 Smother

2 Nekrataal

Utility (10):

2 Withered Wretch

4 Wirewood Herald

3 Viridian Shaman

1 Elf Replica

Sideboard (15):

(There are some really abnormal card choices in here, so rather than putting them out there for potential ridicule from the uninformed, I’ll just discuss them later like I’m about to do with the maindeck.)

[This article is continued in Part II.]