My Road to Regionals: The Graveborn Identity

Compared to old Necro decks, which needed to get Necropotence into play as fast as humanly possible and had little chance of winning without the power of the skull, this is a considerable upgrade. Graveborn Identity leans heavily on Graveborn Muse, but it’s not a crutch.

Busy, busy, busy be I, what with working the long hours and helping to move Gambit Games, the game store I co-own, into newer and better digs. The good news, it’s twice the space, and now we have this big, big, big gaming area. The bad news…oh, you don’t want to know what the rent payments are.

And to top it off, I was getting ready to launch my latest "Road to Regionals" articles, only to discover that Star City has appropriated that titling for their forums. Oh, bother. Imitation, though, is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery.

This does leave me in a bit of a quandary. What am I going to call these articles now? Among the rejected possibilities were:

  • Regionals, Ho!

  • The Road to Ruin

  • Road to Rome (this got an angry letter from Electronics Arts lawyers, though)

  • Road to Nowhere

  • Road to Bali

  • What I’ll Be Scrubbing Out With At Regionals With, And You Can Too!

In the end, I went with "My Road to Regionals," and I hope you’ll enjoy my diary of deck choices as I continue testing.

Starting off, I think it says something about a set when Star City has a forum category called "Has Legions Impacted Standard At All?" Right now, the answer seems to be "minimally at best." Legions impact can so far be summarized as follows upon existing archetypes:

U/G Squirrel-Opposition: Seedborn Muse, maybe. Tri-color Squirrel-Oppo is too tight to fit this in.

Wise Beasts: Canopy Crawler?

Psychatog: Dr. Teeth laughs at this expansion. Laughs, I say!

U/G Madness: Nantuko Vigilante? No, it laughs with Dr. Teeth.

R/G Beats: Clickslither?

Mono-black Control: Bane of the Living. Maybe.

Sligh: There’s actually a number of cards that could go into the deck; Goblin Goon, Clickslither, Warbreak Trumpeter, Skirk Marauder. However,”could” does not mean”should,” as nothing here is superior to anything else already in Sligh.

Astroglide: Hey, finally something! Stoic Champion is a nice addition.

White Weenie: There are possibilities here, with Stoic Champion, Gempalm Avenger, and Cloudreach Cavalry. Still a Tier II archetype, however.

Angry Ghoul II: Scion of Darkness and Akroma, Angel of Wrath could find homes here.

With so little going into current archetypes, you’d think there’d be some new archetypes – but as I predicted, there isn’t much. The Skirk Alarmist/Dermoplasm combo is getting little if any attention, however, there is one deck that seems to have set the community to talking, and that’s the B/W Zombie deck built around Graveborn Muse ("Necropotence on legs"), christened "The Graveborn Identity."

(On an unrelated note, I’d like to thank whomever came up with that for finally coming up with a catchy and original name for a deck. Pro players just don’t seem to have that panache, that élan, that, as the French say, a certain "I don’t know what" when it comes to names for decks. Then again, they’re making thousands of dollars while I’m relegated to thinking up silly names. Go figure.)

For those who have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, Graveborn Identity uses Graveborn Muse in combination with other Zombies to draw lots of cards, which get fed to Zombie Infestation, which lets you draw more cards, et cetera, et cetera, repeat until opponent is dead. White is added for Words of Worship, which turns the Graveborn Muse’s drawback into a plus, and Exalted Angel, in addition to giving the deck access to valuable enchantment removal.

My version of the deck looks like this:

Graveborn Identity: The Meddish Conspiracy

2x Oversold Cemetery

4x Nantuko Shade

4x Withered Wretch

4x Graveborn Muse

4x Gempalm Polluter

4x Smother

4x Chainer’s Edict

4x Duress

3x Zombie Infestation

3x Words of Worship

11x Swamp

4x Tainted Field

3x Plains

3x City of Brass

2x Unholy Grotto


3x Engineered Plague

4x Cabal Therapy

4x Ray of Revelation

2x Infest

2x Solitary Confinement

A few notes and comments on the build:

Withered Wretch:

I suspect we’ll soon be calling this card "Flores," the same way that Shadowmage Infiltrator is shorted to "Finkel" and Meddling Mage to "Pikula." Mike Flores has been championing this card for some time and this is the deck to put it in.

When you have free mana, and you aren’t running Haunting Echoes, use this card constantly! The Wretch gets rid of Wonder, Roar of the Wurm, Chainer’s Edict, Ray of Revelation, Firebolt, Call of the Herd, destroys threshold-dependent decks, destroys Psychatog’s ability to go for the Upheaval-alpha strike kill and makes Oversold Cemetery, Skeletal Scrying, and Grim Lavamancer useless. Use it on your own graveyard to protect yourself from Haunting Echoes. When you have a Wretch in play, your opponent should never have a graveyard – and neither should you, save for key spells and creatures you may want to recurse from the graveyard.

Nantuko Shade:

It’s not a Zombie. That can be a good or a bad thing. It is a pumpable 2/1, however, and in an aggro-black deck, he’ll always have a home.

Gempalm Polluter:

Sweet Jeebus, why aren’t people realizing how powerful this card is? For two black mana, you’re not only getting a card but dealing anywhere from two to six (or more!) damage to an opponent! And you can bring him back to the top of your library with Unholy Grotto (or back to hand with Oversold Cemetery) and repeat the process with no loss of card advantage. If worse comes to worse, he is an expensive 4/3 body.

Exalted Angel:

I don’t run it. Why not? Because you are wasting two valuable turns to get it out when you could be spending two turns casting other spells, and it’s extremely vulnerable when you first cast it as a morph (unless you have six or seven mana available – but by the time you have six or seven mana available, you should have the game well in hand by then. I’d much rather spend turn 3 casting Words of Worship, then turn 4 Graveborn Muse. Not to mention the fact that you need two white mana to unmorph the Angel, and in a deck where white is intended to be a splash, there’s no guarantee you’ll get double white early. No, if I was going to run a card that unmorphed for four, I’d go with the highly underrated Silent Specter.

Hollow Specter:

Another card I don’t run, because of its fragility and the fact it takes mana to properly use its ability, mana that would be better spent on other spells. Again, Silent Specter is the better card.

Festering Goblin and Corrupt:

They’d have more of a home in a mono-black version, but definitely not to be scoffed at.

Oversold Cemetery:

Perhaps a little unnecessary with Unholy Grotto, but it does bring cards back to your hand, not top of library (hence no loss of a draw), and can bring back Nantuko Shades and anything else who choose to play. This slot was originally held by Boneknitter to protect Graveborn Muse – but this, in a way, accomplishes the same task in a different, slower and more versatile form.

No Tutors: Vampiric Tutor cost one mana and one draw. Demonic Consultation cost you six cards, maybe more, but at instant speed. The closest we have to that is a four casting cost sorcery in Diabolic Tutor, or Tainted Pact. The deck’s tight as it is, there’s really no place to shoehorn in a tutor.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the deck. Such as:

1) Can the deck win without drawing a Graveborn Muse?

Yes, it can. With Graveborn Identity, if you don’t draw a Muse, you still have a solid if unspectacular black weenie deck with plenty of removal that can muscle a Nantuko Shade through for lots of damage, and three dead cards in the form of Words of Worship.

Compared to old Necro decks, which needed to get Necropotence into play as fast as humanly possible and had little chance of winning without the power of the skull, this is a considerable upgrade. Graveborn Identity leans heavily on Graveborn Muse, but it’s not a crutch. It still has enough power without the card drawing to remain competitive. The mono-black version can definitely stomp you just as well and probably a bit faster.

2) Can you lose to Graveborn Muse’s ability?

It is possible to lose to your own Muse, either through loss of life or, more unlikely, decking yourself. The deck, as it stands, can only get rid of a Muse via Chainer’s Edict (targeting yourself; a valid if wasteful technique) or through combat. Cabal Therapy, brought in from the sideboard, can accomplish the same task.

Words of Worship is there to negate this, to gain life to counteract the Muse’s downside. Instead of drawing four cards and losing four life, I’ll draw three and gain one. Or draw two and gain six.

Killing your own Muse shouldn’t be a problem if it comes to it, and it seldom should. This could lead to the interesting interaction of your opponent countering a Chainer’s Edict that targets yourself, though. (Now that would make for an interesting tournament report.) The only time you should ever lose to your own muse would be in the mirror match when there are fifty Zombies on the table. If you lose to your own Muse at any other time, I recommend getting back into Pokemon.

3) Does the deck need the life gain element of Words of Worship?

What about the life gain? Bennie Smith has pointed out that every Words of Worship you draw beyond the first is a dead card. Not necessarily, I say, since you may want to cast an extra one in case of a Disenchant or Naturalize (not likely, though), or more likely it will end up being Zombie Infestation food, in which case, it’s not a dead card, just an unremarkable one. Many decks run multiples of cards that often become redundant in the mid to late game (such as Duress), but that doesn’t make them bad.

But does the deck need the lifegain? Old-school Necro decks needed life gain cards to fuel the engine, but they used spells like Drain Life and Corrupt not only were life gainers but could also be used as direct damage to an opponent and/or creature removal. Words of Worship is a one-way card, gaining you life and costing you a draw step. Without a Muse in play, it’s very limited, as you have no other extra card drawing aside from cycling a Polluter. Gerrard’s Wisdom might be an alternate possibility, but that card is more at home in a U/W control deck, not an aggro-black deck. Still, it’s worth at least considering.

Graveborn Identity probably doesn’t need Words of Worship; however, in my opinion, it needs white, specifically, what white offers.

Mono-black has no answer for Compost or Circle of Protection: Black. The Circle will see little play – but with all the U/G and R/G decks that will be played, you know there’s going to be four Composts in a lot of sideboards. White gives you a way to get rid of these otherwise game-altering enchantments; Disenchant, Demystify, and the superior Ray of Revelation – as well as Exalted Angel (if you choose to run it, which I don’t), Circles of Protection and Solitary Confinement.

A possible variant on Graveborn Identity as it stands now would be to take out the Words of Worship for other beatdown-oriented fare, like Festering Goblin, a fourth Zombie Infestation or Tainted Pact, but leave Tainted Field and City of Brass in the deck as sources of white mana so you could have access to white in the sideboard. This configuration may prove to have the most merit.

Green could also be a valid splash color for Naturalize, Call of the Herd and Words of Wilding, harkening back to the mildly-popular "Martha Stewart’s House" B/G deck from last year’s Regionals. Pity we don’t have Pernicious Deed anymore, but that doesn’t work well with Zombie and Bear tokens, either. If you wanted to go super-aggro, splash red for Words of War (again, as suggested by Bennie), but then you trade versatility for a pedal-to-the-medal approach.

Whether it’s mono-black, B/W, or any other color combination, I suspect this is an archetype that is going to have to be watched as it evolves over the next few weeks and may prove that Legions isn’t quite that bad after all.