Graveyard Decks For SCG Dallas

Graveyard decks may be down after Modern’s latest double banning, but they’re not out! Tom Ross shows how graveyard-exploiting strategies could exploit a new lack of sideboard hate to win SCG Dallas!

Monday’s Banned and Restricted announcement brought changes across multiple formats. Modern is the focus for SCG Dallas this weekend and the bannings of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Faithless Looting along with the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic has everyone brewing up decks in the new Modern landscape.

There are many other content creators writing about new Stoneforge Mystic decks, so I’m not going to speak on that card. What I’m looking at is how will graveyard decks move forward without Hogaak or Faithless Looting.

The banning of Bridge from Below was supposed to hurt the Hogaak decks but didn’t stop them at all, and arguably only led to a better version of Hogaak surfacing. This banning announcement is definitely a stronger hit to graveyard decks… but how much? Historically the graveyard decks tend to excel through the attacks from Wizards of the Coast.

Let’s look at some options now that the best enabler for graveyard decks has been taken away.

Discard Options to Replace Faithless Looting

With Stoneforge Mystic unbanned, I can imagine more fair creature decks entering the format. Hogaak also pushed many fair creature decks out of the previous Modern format by simply being a bigger, better version of other creature decks. I can see Lightning Axe as a great interactive spell that sets up your graveyard shenanigans.

Tormenting Voice saw play in Dredge before Cathartic Reunion came along. It also fueled the Standard Arclight Phoenix decks and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a transition to a slower build with Tormenting Voice.

Insolent Neonate loses some value when there’s not Bridge from Below in the format to immediately make a 2/2 Zombie. Currently the best uses for Insolent Neonate are to dredge 5 at instant speed with a Stinkweed Imp or as part of a Vengevine package. There’s a lot to be desired to rework previous Vengevine decks and will take time for a build to be discovered.

The Modern Horizons mythic rare has been steadily seeing more play as a value creature in Jund and an all-around solid creature in Mardu Pyromancer decks. You won’t get an explosive draw from Seasoned Pyromancer, but you will get the card filtering and likely card advantage you need. If your deck has useful ways to use the graveyard, like Lingering Souls or Bloodghast, it’s just a bonus.

Collective Brutality is a nice way to blend interaction with progressing your graveyard plan. It’s also just great against decks like Infect and Burn. Entering a new Modern world, I expect linear aggressive decks to be what many people convert back into to punish players trying to brew new decks. I know I’m interested in Infect again and don’t want to play against a Collective Brutality.

Bomat Courier has seen some play in Mono-Red builds and previously in some versions of Hollow One. You deck needs to have consistent ways to clear blockers and a low enough curve to not worry about dumping your hand for a few cards when the time comes.

Cards That Improve with Hogaak Gone

Relic of Progenitus has better utility than Leyline of the Void and is always castable. The problem before was that Hogaak decks were too fast to wait around for two mana to spend for a one-shot graveyard removal effect. Now that you can expect to play against more Snapcaster Mages and Tarmogoyfs, we’ll see stock in Relic of Progenitus rise, probably to the level that we’ve seen Nihil Spellbomb in the black decks.

Much like Relic of Progenitus, Rest in Peace was too slow against Hogaak and against decks trying to use their graveyard on Turn 2 after a Faithless Looting. Rest in Peace is better when you draw it later in the game, since you cast it and it exiles graveyards when it enters the battlefield. If I’m playing white, I’ll be playing Rest in Peace over Leyline of the Void.

Anger of the Gods was decent against some of the creatures in Hogaak, but not Carrion Feeder and Hogaak itself. It was often too slow or didn’t really kill what you needed it to. If graveyard decks move into slower builds of Dredge and Mardu Pyromancer, I can see Anger of the Gods being really effective against them. It should also be good against the creature decks that emerge from Stoneforge Mystic getting unbanned.

Gurmag Angler was the best way to convert a stocked graveyard into a big creature for cheap. A 5/5 for one mana is great, but not quite an 8/8 trample for zero mana. We should see Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang return as payoffs for cantrip effects, fetchlands, and otherwise typical Magic play, converting the graveyard into a sizeable threat.

Post-Banning Graveyard Decks

Living End benefits greatly from Hogaak leaving the format. The prevalence of graveyard decks made casting Living End not one-sided at all, especially when Carrion Feeder or Altar of Dementia could sacrifice the Hogaak player’s entire battlefield. Living End didn’t play Faithless Looting in the first place, so there’s no love lost from that card getting the axe. With a decline in graveyard decks, it’s looking like a great time to cast Living End.

Grishoalbrand excels when there’s little graveyard hate running around. Losing Faithless Looting stings a lot, but worse cards like Insolent Neonate, Lightning Axe, and Tormenting Voice come in to pick up the slack. Grishoalbrand is the most “glass cannon” of graveyard builds, but also benefits the most when people’s shields are down from slacking on graveyard hate in their sideboard.

This version of Mardu Pyromancer comes from the Brothers Who Bash on Team Modern Super League this week. Stoneforge Mystic is another nice target for Unearth to chain off some Batterskulls. Lingering Souls is typically a mainstay in these decks but loses potency without Faithless Looting, so I’m not surprised to see it dropped. Your third turn is pretty full with Seasoned Pyromancer, Kolaghan’s Command, or a Stoneforge Mystic activation. I imagine there’s another build that doesn’t play Stoneforge Mystic or Unearth and goes more into Lingering Souls and Liliana of the Veil.

Electrodominance and As Foretold allow you to cast spells that don’t have a casting cost for free. This is another Living End build that never wanted Faithless Looting in the first place. This time it’s from the Chalice of the Voids in the sideboard. When the creatures you want to put into your graveyard cycle for zero or one mana, there’s not much of a point in playing a card like Faithless Looting to do the work for you. Izzet Charm serves as a Faithless Looting effect while being more versatile.

Mono-Red Prowess isn’t exactly a graveyard deck, but it did use Faithless Looting for value. It’s one of the fairer decks to use Looting, especially after it cut Arclight Phoenix from the deck. A couple of Bomat Couriers come in to provide late-game action along with Bedlam Reveler. Mono-Red Prowess is an option to Burn that probably won’t show up very much in the early weeks of this new Modern, since it may seem that the loss of Faithless Looting would kill the deck, which I don’t believe to be true.

Burning Inquiry carries a lot of weight here as an opening spell to enable Hollow One that’s often better than Faithless Looting would be. Goblin Lore has similar properties as your Turn 2 play. Both cards discard three, which makes Flameblade Adept hit hard and gets it to the key four power to turn on Flamewake Phoenix from the graveyard. Insolent Neonate and Lightning Axe show up as additional one-cost cards that can enable an Unearth on Lightning Skelemental on Turn 2.

Dredge looks to live on with Shriekhorn, Cathartic Reunion, and Insolent Neonate as good opening cards to start the dredge flow going. If the format becomes very fair with pinpoint removal like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, Dredge is an excellent option that provides relentless recursive threats to give the opponent fits. It’s possible to adapt Hedron Crab into the list, which would skew the manabase more towards blue, but for now I like having accessible mana for Conflagrate when needed and an early Life from the Loam.

Final Thoughts

Going into SCG Dallas, and even the next upcoming weeks, it’s possible that players may play a touch too much graveyard hate as an aftershock from Hogaak Summer. Graveyard decks are best when people focus their attention towards other things like degenerate combo decks, artifact decks, Burn, or creature decks.

I think a graveyard deck is a fine choice for SCG Dallas that likely benefits most in the later rounds of the tournament once matchups have normalized and opponents are packing the appropriate amount of sideboard cards for the pre-existing linear decks like Burn, Gifts Storm, Mono-Green Tron, Humans, and other decks unaffected by the bannings. I also predict there to be more Stoneforge Mystic decks than there ought to be, as people have been itching to play with the card for years in Modern. Graveyard decks should do well against Stoneforge Mystic decks even if they’re packing Rest in Peace, but Force of Vigor gets better too now that Stoneforge Mystic offers up more targets.

Week 1 of a new format tends to favor a proactive deck that preys on people brewing. A properly built graveyard deck can fit the bill, but can also be underdeveloped to where it’s sluggish or too fancy. If someone figures out the proper way to attack SCG Dallas from the graveyard, I think they have a great shot to win the tournament.