Do Zombie Chickens Taste Like Brains?

I have to admit I haven’t exactly treated graves with the respect they deserve. I remember being three or four years old and trying to dig into a relative’s grave with a tiny plastic shovel because I wanted to sit in her lap one last time. I am pleased to announce, however, that these days my abuses are confined to graveyards in the game of Magic. I am more pleased to announce that I have developed yet another deck that abuses the graveyard in an incredibly efficient manner: Tombstoned!

I just don’t get this whole thing about “graveyards." Exactly when did mankind decide that a festering corpse was better off six feet under than just laying around – back in the caveman days? Heck, if I had been around then and Aunt Thelma kicked it from plague or something, I probably would have used her corpse as bait and killed all the animals that tried to eat her in order to feed myself. Maybe even I’d let ‘em fatten up first. Later, I’d make arrowheads out of her bones and a cup out of her skull. I figure this would honor the person as well as anything else, being a daily reminder and all. I mean, why let stuff go to waste?

There must have been some seminal event way back when that caused people to freak out and make sure that whoever died remained so…so they buried them deep just to make sure. (Or maybe the smell got to ‘em. Wimps.)

Me? I bet this started way back in ancient Egypt after some Pharaoh who got his kicks out of brutalizing the populace kissed off. While they were kicking his corpse around, they witnessed one of those rare spectacular after-death muscle spasms that shocked everyone so severely that they simultaneously emptied their bowels into the Nile, subsequently resulting in massive death due to dysentery and other water-borne diseases. After that debacle they decided to pick the corpse’s brains out their noses, remove their organs, soak ‘em in toxic poisons, wrap ‘em up tighter than a straitjacket, and bury them under a million tons of stone just to make sure that when they died, they stayed dead…

Hence, the tradition of burying the dead was initiated.

(Why didn’t they just burn ‘em then, you ask? Actually, they did – once. Did you know that the Sahara Desert was once lush rolling grassland? It became a desert due to a confluence of events involving the death of a 500-lb. monarch, a long drought, severe winds out of the East, excessive use of “starter fluids," and a bunch of grease monkeys sick of flinging excrement. Overgrazing by nomads, my ass.)

I have to admit I haven’t exactly treated graves with the respect they deserve. I remember being three or four years old and trying to dig into a relative’s grave with a tiny plastic shovel because I wanted to sit in her lap one last time. When I was a little older, I used an old graveyard for a Wiffle ball field, with a few flat headstones serving as bases and a mausoleum as a backstop. During my early college years, I remember walking through a graveyard and finding a full six-pack of cold, fresh Anchor Steam beer adorning a headstone, just starting to form those beautiful small beads of condensation sweat, each bottleneck wearing a red welcoming ribbon – with a bottle opener in my pocket and while feeling a thirst deeper than the depths of the Grand Canyon…

Could anyone have resisted?

There was also an empty beer bottle serving as a vase for a lily. After a few hours there were seven vases holding plastic flowers and whatever else I could find in the area, and a few plots on the edges of the sprinkler’s range got noticeably greener. And yes – I slept with the lights on for several evenings afterward.

(Hey, I know a guy who once woke up in Greece after a bender to take a whiz and slowly realized that he was urinating on the Parthenon. Now that is sacrilegious, folks.)

So there it is: I am both fascinated by and have abused graveyards. I am pleased to announce, however, that these days my abuses are confined to graveyards in the game of Magic.

I am more pleased to announce that I have developed yet another deck that abuses the graveyard in an incredibly efficient manner:

4 Krosan Tusker
4 Elvish Aberration
4 Wirewood Guardian
4 Twisted Abomination
4 Gempalm Polluter
4 Zombie Barbarian (Gempalm Strider okay)
2 Revenant (or Lhurgoyf)
1 Mortal Combat
3 Tombstone Stairwell
3 Decree of Pain
4 Expunge
2 Break Asunder
3 Oath of Ghouls (or Oversold Cemetery)
3 Soulshriek (or Ghoul’s Feast)
1 Fluctuator
12 Forest
12 Swamp

This is one of the most synergistic multiplayer decks I have ever played. In fact, it is so powerful that it feels…dirty. Six feet of dirty. So dirty that I didn’t feel right playing it with more than one copy of Fluctuator – a card that I am now certain needs to be restricted in multiplayer Magic. With two entire blocks worth of cycling creatures (especially landcyclers!) and powerful graveyard-manipulating cards like Tombstone Stairwell and Oath of Ghouls, Fluctuator has become an abomination that must be buried under tons of stone or serve as a vase.

(Note: It doesn’t become greener if you whiz on it…unless you bury it six feet under.)

What you want to do early on is cycle your creatures into the ‘yard and build up your land base. With sixteen landcyclers in the deck that’s no problem, as you will rarely miss a land drop even if you start with only one land in your opening hand (I’ve been blessed, at least!). While thinning your deck and building your mana base, you are also stocking your graveyard and digging for your Oaths (or Cemeteries) and Tombstone Stairwells. Along the way, you can take care of problem creatures with the Expunges or by cycling Decrees of Pain.

Use Zombie Barbarians as emergency road bumps as needed, being mindful of the fact that you can recur them without losing much by ditching the extra lands you will be pulling out of your deck. (Gempalm Strider are decent substitutes, as they have a low casting cost and having them in your deck gives you twelve elves to benefit from their pumping ability.)

By the time you reach six or seven mana, you should have more creatures than anyone else in the graveyard; have an Oath (or Cemetery) in play; and be able to actually hard-cast your landcycling creatures. Most of these creatures are pretty beefy and can end games by themselves, and though that isn’t their primary purpose, I do find myself serving with them often – especially since I can get them back and I profit from their presence in the graveyard in the event they do die. All of the extra land you grab via the landcyclers also goes a long way towards paying the cumulative upkeep on Tombstone Stairwell.

Obviously, abusing the graveyard is where it’s at with this deck. The more creatures you have in the ‘yard, the more you will be recycling creatures via the Oaths (or Cemeteries), the more tokens you will generate through the Stairwells, and the more damage you will sneak through via Soulshrieks (or Ghoul’s Feasts) and massive Revenants (or Lhurgoyf). And I must tell you, pulling a landcycler out of your graveyard during your upkeep for free and cycling it for zero mana (with Fluctuator in play) to grab yet another land – and still draw your card for the turn (or two, if you cycle the Tusker for G!) is enough to warn those allergic to latex to just please, I beg you: STAY AWAY!!!

(NOTE: If you use Oath of Ghouls, don’t forget that opponents can target graveyards other than yours during their upkeep to get creatures back (even if only one person has fewer creatures in the ‘yard than anyone else), so you might not be the only one benefiting from the Oath. Oversold Cemetery is probably the better option in the long run, but the Oath does allow you to pull a creature out of the graveyard if you have fewer than four total as long as any opponent has fewer than you do.)

There is a combo that causes me to forgo the latex, however: having Tombstone Stairwell in play and Gempalm Polluter darkening my hand. If I pull that when everyone’s ‘yards are full of bones and zombies are crawling out, no amount of Vaseline will make it stop hurting.

Scenario: I have ten creatures in my graveyard (one of them a Polluter) and a Cemetery (and Stairwell) in play. During my upkeep, I let the Tombstone resolve to create ten tokens, then I resolve the Cemetery effect to grab the Polluter. I cycle the Polluter to drop someone’s life total by ten, then I draw two cards – one for the cycling effect and one for my draw – and I still have ten 2/2 zombies to attack with! If I draw another Polluter or a Soulshriek, it’s game over for someone!

Don’t forget, though, that everyone will get a number of zombie tokens equal to their graveyard population during every upkeep, so most people will have some blockers to meet your force. As long as you have more “deaders” than your opponents, however, you should see those zombie forces deployed to attack the less fortunate among you; as you will not only have the most attacking zombies, but also the most zombies available for blocking duty.

There is a possible difficulty that sometimes arises when you drop the Stairwell, and that is that some cunning opponents may be able to swing things so that they get more tokens into play than you. If this happens, you have the ready “out” of cycling a Decree of Pain to clear the table of tokens and even a couple of Break Asunders to nerf your own Tombstone before his/her turn, if necessary. At worst you can take the beats for a turn — and if you survive, you can just choose to not pay the upkeep on the Stairwell

I also included a couple other roads to victory in the main deck. Massive flying Revenants are pretty effective hammers with a stocked plague bin, and as a last-ditch grasp when you’re running low on cards, Mortal Combat can potentially pull out a victory for you if the Tombstones can’t. I’ve already mentioned the Soulshriek combo with an excess of attacking zombies, but it’s also pretty good without a Tombstone if you can sneak through one of your big beaters – and particularly the Twisted Abominations, as you can regenerate them to use again.

One potential road to spectacular defeat, however, is hard-casting Decree of Pain with an active Tombstone out and lots of tokens running around (and half your deck in your ‘yard). You can try drawing from your friend’s decks when yours runs dry, but if they cry “foul” then you didn’t hear it from me…

One last note on this deck: I originally had a bunch of cycling lands in this deck to start with, but quickly realized that with so many landcyclers that I can potentially abuse with Oath/Cemetery, I was actually running out of lands to grab! In fact, the “comes into play tapped” ability of the cycling lands was a detriment, as was the fact that this deck hates ditching lands that could fuel the Tombstones. I far prefer being able to completely strip my deck of lands and increase my chances of drawing into my business spells.

Final thought: for those who like life-gain in their decks, a couple copies of Invigorating Falls would be a good addition.

In a previous article, I presented a few “budget multiplayer decks” and hinted I had a bunch more to write about. Well, I’ve got another deck that abuses Soulshriek to good effect and does well in multiplayer Magic without the use of rares:

Dying To Meat You
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Ghitu Slinger
4 Shock Troops
4 Ghitu Fire-Eater
4 Cinder Shade
2 Crypt Rats
4 Ashen Ghoul
4 Soulshriek
2 Ghoul’s Feast
4 Terminate
4 Death Spark
4 Tainted Peak (or Urborg Volcano, or Lantern-Lit Graveyard)
10 Swamp
10 Mountain

You’ll notice every creature in the deck (save the Ashen Ghoul) can sacrifice itself to do damage to creatures or players. The Cinder Shades and Fire-Eaters have the bonus of sacrificing themselves to inflict their power in damage (though the Shades can only target creatures). The Soulshrieks and Ghoul’s Feasts get more potent with each additional deader in the ‘yard. Also, the Death Sparks and Ashen Ghouls just love it when bodies start hitting the floor. Every creature in this deck wants to die — and if it takes out a creature or a person in the process, then that’s just blood pudding!

Look at your graveyard as an investment: every mounting body provides more returns for your increasing numbers of Death Sparks; lays a foundation for increasing the annuities on your Soulshrieks; and results in more surprise visits from the accountant of death (a.k.a. Ashen Ghoul).

It’s a very simple deck to play. Just remember these tips: always stack your damage before sacrificing your creatures; always cast Death Spark in response to your creature dying (so it can go in under your creature and you can get it back); and get in the habit of looking at your graveyard every upkeep to see if there are any Death Sparks or Ghouls you’ve overlooked (and clandestinely count the number of creatures in your ‘yard for Soulshriek purposes…doing so during combat is a good way to tip off what you have in your hand). I’ve got to tell you, killing people with a double-Soulshrieked Ghitu Fire-Eater is a pretty good idea of a fun time!

Other cards I’ve used in this deck that you might want to experiment with are Bonesplitter, Twisted Abomination, Bone Harvest, Reaping the Graves, and Flame Elemental; and among rares Pyre Zombies, Mortivores, and Krovikan Horrors are a good fit.

That’s it for now, so get out there and dig something up! If you don’t, it’s gonna come lookin’ for you sooner or later anyway!

Tony Costa
[email protected]