Flow of Ideas – Finding the Broken Graveyard Deck: Introducing Pyrrhic Revival

Monday, January 10th – Lately, no one’s been playing graveyard hate in Extended, and Gavin has not failed to notice! He has built a deck that abuses Crypt of Agadeem and Pyrrhic Revival to give you the graveyard deck for Extended.

There has

been a graveyard deck in Extended. Dredge, Living End, Friggorid, Reanimator – you can pick your favorite. Those graveyard decks are

broken, only kept in check by the amount of sideboard hate people are packing.

For the first time in years, this Extended format seems different.

There’s no obvious graveyard deck to port over from last season; no reason to pack Leyline of the Void in your 75. Sure, you might run into a Necrotic Ooze deck here or a Vengevine there, but there are other, often better angles to fight those decks than graveyard hate. Nobody is attacking the graveyard in Extended because there isn’t a need to do so.

That only means one thing – it’s time to pounce.

If you can break the mold and find the graveyard deck – if you can manage to look where others have failed – PTQ victory will be within your reach. If unprepared for, graveyard decks can dominate an event.

Of course, shooting a proton torpedo down an exhaust port is no easy task.

I was sure somebody would have a graveyard combo deck at Worlds, and when none materialized, I was astonished. Sure, you had the Necrotic Ooze combo deck, but that only used the graveyard for part of its game plan. I knew there had to be something out there.

I went into my brewing chambers and began work on every graveyard strategy I could think of. Over the past two weeks, several graveyard decks have proved enticing, and I’d love to show you all of them – and I will next week. However, while working on the article I was originally going to write, I stumbled across

deck. It deserves an article all on its own.

I’m going to be busy doing
awesome SCGLive coverage in San Jose

this weekend and won’t be able to put this powerful brew to good use – but perhaps you can.

Introducing: Pyrrhic Revival.

How does this deck work? Where did this deck even come from?

Let me start from the beginning.

The first thing I did when looking at graveyard strategies was to look at every kind that had been used in Standard the past four years. The second deck I came to (after Dredgevine) was
Michael Jacob 2009 Worlds deck.

Mike eloquently explains his deck well in the video I just linked to, but the general idea is that you cycle black creatures for one or two mana, mill cards from your library, and then use Crypt of Agadeem to generate a ton of mana. Often, the combo would take two turns to “win.” The first turn, you’d get about seven to nine mana, unearth an Extractor Demon and two or three other guys, attack, and then mill yourself for several cards, and then win the next turn.

While the deck was promising, the problem is that it was a little too slow. Against many of the beatdown decks, you could get to the first turn of your combo but would die before the second turn. I shelved the deck, deciding I’d come back to it if I found a way to speed it up.

Forty-eight hours later, I’d gone through a long list of graveyard decks and had turned to searching through every card in Extended for inspiration. Nothing too exciting caught my eye until I hit the “P” section. There it was: Pyrrhic Revival.

My first three thoughts, in order:

  1. This card

  2. Why has nobody broken this card yet?

  3. This card is worth testing in the Crypt deck.

Worth testing, indeed.

It turns out that Pyrrhic Revival is absurd.

I began working on the Crypt deck, using Revival as a plan B. Slowly, the deck morphed into a Revival deck with a unearth plan B – that’s how good the card is.

There are a ton of games you have absolutely no business winning. You’ll be at under five life, your opponent will have four creatures on the battlefield and a removal spell in hand, and you’ll have no creatures and no cards in hand.

Then you draw Pyrrhic Revival.
Oops, I win.

Now, Revival has a position in a lot of different decks. It’s a completely undiscovered gem in the format. For example, in a Necrotic Ooze deck, it both sets up your combo perfectly and resets all of your land destruction – but that’s for another article.

However, while good elsewhere, Revival is at its prime here. First off, you don’t interact with opposing permanents very much, so Revival seldom brings back any of their creatures. Second of all, you’re milling and cycling so much that your graveyard is going to be full of an army to bring back. Third of all, in the event your opponent manages to deal with several of your creatures after a Revival, you can just unearth them next turn – along with whatever your Extractor Demons milled away.

In case you’re not clear on how this deck works, let me walk through the game plan.

The Core Strategy

There are a lot of cards in this deck that absolutely cannot move. I tried fewer numbers, and the deck ceased to function smoothly. Four Monstrous Carabids and Architects of Will are entirely necessary. First of all, the deck has a number of cards you must find. If you want to win on the unearth route, you have to find a Crypt of Agadeem, and if you want to win with Pyrrhic Revival, you have to – well, yeah, that should be obvious. Ideally you’ll find both, but either way, digging to them is important.

Moreover, these guys have added effects other than just cycling. They’re black creatures for your Crypt and come back as a legitimate offense with Pyrrhic Revival. And on top of all that, you can cast them too. Many of my Faeries opponents haven’t known true fear until they’ve stared down double Monstrous Carabid and are desperately digging for outs.

Viscera Dragger is important for similar reasons. However, while it costs more to cycle, the Dragger’s unearth is also crucial. This build lacks Rotting Rats and no longer has the full amount of maindeck Specters, so having a guy you can bring back alongside Extractor Demon and hits for three when you need to Crypt kill them is crucial.

There are two Sedraxis Specters maindeck for just that reason: you have to kill them by unearth sometimes. I started with four and then at one point ended up at zero – but found myself lacking in an extra unearth card. The biggest issue is that if you mill away your Mountain, often they end up stuck in your hand, and some games I’d end up stranded with two – but with only two maindeck, that doesn’t happen anymore. Plus, he gives you another reasonable creature to add to your core offense.

Your other primary ways to get creatures into the graveyard are Hedron Crab and Tome Scour.

All of the deck’s most explosive hands involve a Crab. Crab easily lets you have fourteen cards in your graveyard by turn 3, if not more thanks to cycling, Tome Scour, and additional Crabs. If your opponent doesn’t kill Crab immediately, they’re going to quickly fall behind.

Sometimes you won’t draw a Crab, or your Crab will die, and you need to dump cards into your graveyard another way. That’s what Tome Scour is for. While the deck is mostly self-sufficient with getting black creatures into the graveyard, Tome Scour helps dump Crypts and Crabs right where Grim Discovery can find them. You don’t want too many, so you can avoid ending up with the mill-myself-and-do-nothing hand, but it’s good to have some. Four is definitely the wrong number, and I had three for a while but ended up on two because I really wanted a 23rd land.    

Speaking of Grim Discovery, it’s everything this deck wants. It makes sure you hit your land drops, helps to find Crypt, can assist you in sifting through your deck by returning a cycler, and so on. It also plays well with Fulminator Mage – which I’ll get to in a second.

Finally, Extractor Demon is an important key to this deck. It unearths and swings for five, helps mill you further, and can often just be cast as a threatening 5/5 flier. While you don’t have Rotting Rats to discard them into your graveyard, it only really becomes a problem when you’re clogged on three of them. Otherwise, if you don’t have a Revival or need to bait countermagic, you can just start casting them on turn 6.

The Support

In addition to the core of the deck, there are a few other pieces that help support the core and give you other plans.

When things start going awry, you can cast your creatures and just beat down a lot of the time. But in addition to that plan, you also have one Worm Harvest. Occasionally, you’ll get hands that mill a bunch of cards, but then you don’t hit many unearthers, get mana flooded from your cyclers, and don’t really go anywhere.

Worm Harvest fixes that.

A lot of decks can’t beat the attrition of an army of Worms every turn, and they can close the game out surprisingly fast. You can’t really play two, but you’re milling enough cards that you’ll often find it when you need it.

Finally, you have the Fulminator Mages.

Now, on the surface, they may look a little out of place. Other than being a black creature and self-sacrificing to trigger Extractor Demon, it doesn’t seem like they really do a lot with the rest of the deck.

However, what’s crucial to keep in mind is that this deck essentially aims to stall until it can go off. Against a lot of decks, setting them back a land can put them off their game entirely. That one turn can be huge.

Moreover, this deck can really abuse Fulminator Mage. You can Grim Discovery them back, and Pyrrhic Revival also returns them to help lock the game up afterward. I tried cutting the Mages for more cards that were “in theme,” and the deck really missed them in several matchups. They do get boarded out against certain decks, but I’d rather start them and then board them out than vice versa.

The Mana Base

The mana base is shakier for this deck than I’d like, but I cut some of the fetchlands to fit in some Darkslick Shores which have been a major help so far.

The mana base here is all about deckbuilding questions. The four Crypts are obvious, but after that, what are the right numbers? What lands do you need? How many basics do you need? How many fetchlands do you need for Hedron Crab? Can you play a Murmuring Bosk? Can you afford to remove the Mountain?

After a lot of testing, this is the mana base I’m happiest with. You have enough fetchlands to consistently trigger Crab and you don’t run out of basics that often. I tried Murmuring Bosk, and it was okay, but it was very frustrating whenever you drew it and, once I added the Darkslick Shores, I found the mana was good enough to remove them.   

You can play 22 lands; one of the last changes I made was bumping it up to 23. In a lot of games, you want to be able to hit six lands to cast Extractor Demon or Pyrrhic Revival naturally, as well as have enough lands to consistently retrace Worm Harvest. If you go down to 22, I’d add a Tome Scour back in.

The Sideboard

I’ll detail the matchups below, but here’s an overview of what the sideboard cards are for.

Shriekmaw is an all-star against Mythic, Elves, or any Zoo-like beatdown decks. While unfortunately not good against Jund or Tempered Steel, in the matchups where it shines, it’s insane. He’s a black creature, he goes to your graveyard after being evoked, you can Grim Discovery him back to keep up your removal, and then when you Pyrrhic Revival, he deals with whatever major threats you killed in the first place.

Thoughtseize is there to help your Faeries, control, and combo matchups by stripping key cards.

Ratchet Bomb is very good against Tempered Steel and Elves, two decks it’s worth having some added ammo against.

Deathmarks are there so you have a little bit of extra removal for Jund and to serve as additional removal against Mythic and Zoo decks.

The Sedraxis Specters are there to help your unearth plan against control, and so you have additional discard against control and combo.



+2 Deathmark

-2 Sedraxis Specter

I’m happy to report Jund is probably your best matchup. I’ve only lost one full match to it online and only a handful of games on top of that. Blightning and Anathemancer don’t do much against you, and they have no good answer for a Pyrrhic Revival. The unearth strategy isn’t that effective against them, so I feel safe boarding out the Specters. One of the few ways you lose is the double or triple Putrid Leech draw, so having access to a couple Deathmarks is nice.

Overall, you just want to race to Pyrrhic Revival. Cycle, mill yourself, Fulminator Mage them, chump block, then unload the Revival, and they’re going to find themselves staring down an army of creatures they can’t deal with.

Five-Color Control

+4 Thoughtseize, +2 Sedraxis Specter

-2 Tome Scour, -2 Viscera Dragger, -1 Pyrrhic Revival, -1 Grim Discovery

If Jund is your best matchup, 5CC isn’t far behind. Not only do you have a strategy that can circumvent their countermagic, strip their hand, and blow up their lands, but if they ever tap out for anything – say, Wurmcoil Engine or Cruel Ultimatum – you can just cast Pyrrhic Revival and win the game.

The only card to fret about is Identity Crisis if you think they have it in their sideboard. If they resolve it, that likely means they win, so Thoughtseize it at pretty much every opportunity. 

Tempered Steel

+3 Ratchet Bomb, +2 Deathmark

-4 Fulminator Mage, -1 Sedraxis Specter

Tempered Steel is such a ridiculously high-variance deck that it’s difficult to know how any given game is going to proceed. Game one, the matchup is a coin flip depending on the kind of draw they get. If they Sculler and/or Thoughtseize your milling cards and Pyrrhic Revivals, you’re probably going to lose. If they don’t disrupt you, you’re probably going to win. Just like every other beatdown matchup, it’s a race to Pyrrhic Revival. Cast it, and you win.

After sideboarding, the matchup swings way in your favor. They have very little to bring in, while you bring in Deathmark – which kills Tidehollow Sculler, among other things – and Ratchet Bomb, which can singlehandedly turn off their entire offense.  


On the play:

+4 Thoughtseize, -2 Tome Scour

-4 Pyrrhic Revival, +2 Sedraxis Specter

On the draw:

+4 Thoughtseize, +3 Ratchet Bomb, +2 Sedraxis Specter

-4 Pyrrhic Revival, -4 Fulminator Mage, -1 Grim Discovery

While you have one half of the boogeyman squad down with your great Jund matchup, Faeries is unfortunately not the same story. While winnable, Faeries is a difficult matchup. I’ve played a lot of sideboarded games trying to turn the matchup around, and this is the best configuration I’ve come up with. This is obviously a problem, since Faeries is currently the deck to beat, but I also know it’s only a matter of weeks until another deck takes that reign. Let me know of any suggestions for the matchup you have in the forums.

To beat them with this deck, you just want to disrupt them as much as possible and win by hard-casting Extractor Demon and unearthing other guys or using Worm Harvest. The biggest problem, as usual, is Bitterblossom because it gives them a stream of flying blockers for your creatures. I tried a plan of banking on Pyrrhic Revival, but it’s incredibly unreliable. First, they have to not make you discard them or Vendilion Clique them away, and then you have to resolve it. Mistbind Clique is also a huge issue. You have no good way to stop its effect, so it will always resolve, present a clock, and set you back a turn. It’s a difficult proposition to deal with.

On the play, you can mise some games with Fulminator Mage and Grim Discovery, but on the draw, the Mages aren’t good and should be boarded out. Ratchet Bomb gives you an immediate answer to token blockers and can deal with a Bitterblossom if you let it charge up enough.


+4 Thoughtseize, +2 Sedraxis Specter

-4 Fulminator Mage, -1 Worm Harvest, -1 Pyrrhic Revival

In game one, I’ve found the Wargate matchup to be slightly unfavorable, but it really depends what kind of draws you both have. You need to set up a quick batch of threats, and you have no real way to interact with their combo save for Fulminator Mage on Valakut. Without Rotting Rats, you have minimal discard.

However, after sideboarding, the matchup becomes a lot better. You can pluck away their cards with Thoughtseize, and you have the full set of Specters to disrupt their hand. It may seem counterintuitive to cut Fulminator Mage, but they don’t really have that many nonbasics, and it didn’t feel like you set up the situation where Mage sets them back very often. You can save it for Valakut, but most of the time I’m more concerned about a resolved Scapeshift. Plus, many lists may be transforming into Sun Titans after sideboard anyway. I’d rather cast a Sedraxis Specter on turn 3 and then try to disrupt them on the way to setting up my combo.


+4 Shriekmaw, +2 Deathmark, +1 Ratchet Bomb

-4 Fulminator Mage, -2 Sedraxis Specter, -1 Worm Harvest

Game one is horrendous. Unless they have a pretty bad draw and/or you have a very good draw, you’re probably not going to win. The good news is that the matchup becomes way better after sideboarding. They have very little to bring in against you, and you bring in some great removal spells that buy you just the time you need.

Keep in mind that Revival will kill any Cobras or Birds that are brought back when you cast it, so you can often set up some tricky plays with Shriekmaw. For example, you can evoke Shriekmaw, kill Cobra, then cast Revival, return Shriekmaw, and kill a Knight of the Reliquary. That play doesn’t feel intuitive, and you might not see it right away, but it’s good to have tucked away in your mental list of options.

Additional cards to consider:

Preordain: I tried maindeck Preordains for a while, and they’re good at doing what you want them to do. They add some consistency and are essentially nonblack Carabids that dig you deeper but don’t count as a black creature. The major issue with Preordain is that you only have so many cards to play, and you need to play a critical mass of black creatures to make the deck work. While I’m all for Preordains in combo decks, in this deck, you end up removing crucial spells and black creatures, and it oddly weakens the deck as a whole.

Thorn of Amethyst: I mentioned this card in my article on Shamans, and I’ll bring it up again here. Thorn is very underplayed right now. On turn 2, it can really, really slow down Five-Color Control and Wargate. I didn’t have the necessity for it in my sideboard, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Faerie Macabre: Necrotic Ooze is your nightmare matchup. It’s near unwinnable. They have land destruction for your Crypts, Pyrrhic Revival just sets up their combo for them, and Primal Command can shuffle your graveyard away. I had Faerie Macabres in my sideboard for a while in an attempt to salvage the matchup, but it was just a waste of sideboard slots because I wasn’t winning that matchup anyway.   

Rotting Rats: This is one of the cards I miss the most from the original Crypt build. It helps move cards like Extractor Demon from your hand to the graveyard while simultaneously limiting their options and buying time by blocking on the ground. Besides not having room, I found two major problems with him here. First off, sometimes you just want to accelerate into an Extractor Demon, so you don’t actually want to discard them that often. Secondly, when your plan is to hit six mana, you often can’t afford to discard excess lands. I considered sideboarding them for a while to complement the Thoughtseizes, but when I cut down on maindeck Specters, I decided I’d rather sideboard more Specters for disruption than Rats.

Kederekt Leviathan: In the original Crypt deck, this guy was pretty good: he cleared the board and helped you win on the turn you needed to go off. The problem was that this deck no longer needed that capacity, and also the Leviathan is actually a liability. If you Pyrrhic Revival and the Leviathan returns, you end up with all of your creatures back in your hand. If you’re lucky, that’s enough Extractor Demon triggers to mill your opponent. More often, it’s just going to blank your Revivals.

Fatestitcher: Good in the original Crypt deck when all you wanted was a lot of mana and speed, but here you only have to hit six mana. Additionally, there are far better cards I’d play if you had room for more cards that weren’t black creatures.

Demigod of Revenge: On paper, it seems like Demigod should be excellent in this kind of deck. He gives you another plan if you start playing against hate, counts as a black creature, and can cause explosive starts. In practice, he never actually played out that way. It’s very difficult for me to put my finger on what the problem was with him, but the best way I can describe it is that he wasn’t functional in the graveyard and didn’t impact the early game like Fulminator Mage did. In a deck craved for spots, he didn’t make it further.

Memory Sluice: Despite being able to cast it for black mana, I found Sluice to just be worse than Tome Scour. In this deck, you’ll pretty much never conspire with it. In the original port of Jacob’s Crypt deck, I was using these to supplement Tome Scour, and they were fine, but if you’re not maxed out on Tome Scour, I wouldn’t look here.   

River Kelpie: It looks interesting, but the fact is if you’re casting Revival, you probably don’t need to draw a bunch of cards to win. If your plan is to cast Kelpie on turn 5 and eke out value over several turns, that’s also not good enough. Cute, but ultimately not functionally strong.

Soul Manipulation: I wanted to try sideboarding this card against Faeries for an awesome answer for Mistbind Clique, but I felt like it would be Thoughtseized often, and if they knew I had it, they could just play around it. Additionally, I didn’t want to board in several highly reactive cards against Faeries. With that said, it’s worth listing as an option.

Beseech the Queen: I tried this to help with consistency in finding Crypt, but it’s just too slow. If you cast this on turn 3, it’s going to be turn 5 before you have an active Crypt. I’d rather use other cards to this end.

Archive Trap: For a while, I transformed into a mill deck against Wargate, and it was perfect. I had a near-spotless win ratio after sideboarding, as I just quickly tore their deck apart, and they ran out of lands. However, the newer lists are running Gerry Thompson-inspired Leylines of Sanctity, and even if I got them with this plan for one game, there’s no way it would work if we had to play a game three. Ultimately, I dismissed it. However, if they ever stop running Leylines, then keep this in mind!


Pyrrhic Revival is one of the hardest decks I’ve played in a while. There are so many subtle decisions starting on turn 1 that can make or break your entire game. Do I play Hedron Crab on turn 1 in case he has Thoughtseize or hold it in case they have Bolt/Disfigure? In what order should I be cycling my cards? Should I cycle or cast Tome Scour on turn 1? Should I fetch my Mountain here and risk not having a blue source later, or do I fetch an Island and risk milling my Mountain away? Do I unearth for a few extra points of damage now or wait? Should I go for Revival here or cast Extractor Demon here and wait a turn?

There are a ton of important, skill-intensive decisions you have to make in single game, and unfortunately, I can’t make some kind of list of what to do in which situations because there are so many variables depending on your opening hand. My best advice is to test this deck a lot and learn how to play it well if you’re going to bring it to an event. Good luck to all who test this deck for the PTQs and upcoming Grand Prix!

If you have any comments on the deck, please either post them in the forums, send me a tweet @GavinVerhey, or e-mail me at Gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. Otherwise, make sure to tune in this weekend as I broadcast live for SCGLive at the StarCityGames.com Open Series in San Jose! It should be an awesome time, and I’m looking forward to it.

See you then!

Gavin Verhey
Rabon on Magic Online,

on Twitter, Lesurgo everywhere else