“It’s a Dead Man’s Party. Who could ask for more? Everybody’s coming, leave your body at the door. Leave your body and soul at the door.” — Dead Man’s Party, Oingo Boingo
The Ferrett was complaining about the lack of good strategy articles lately, so I thought I’d help a brother out. (Thank you, Bennie – The Ferrett, sounding oddly like Hannibal Lecter) Whether it’s good or not I’ll let you decide, but I’d like to delve into a strategy of Magic that’s a particular favorite of mine: It’s utilizing that special zone of play where your cards go after they’ve been used and abused. Also affectionately known as The Graveyard.
From the Rules:
217.4a A graveyard is a discard pile. Any card that’s countered, discarded, destroyed, or sacrificed is put on top of its owner’s graveyard. Each player’s graveyard starts out empty.
217.4b Each graveyard is kept in a single face-up pile. A player can examine the cards in any graveyard at any time but can’t change their order.
217.4c If an effect puts two or more cards into the same graveyard at the same time, the owner of those cards may arrange them in any order.
Sometime around the development of Tempest, Wizards’ R&D wanted to develop an under-utilized play zone. While there has been plenty of board control cards and loads of library manipulation over the years, graveyard manipulation was pretty much relegated to mostly unremarkable spins on Regrowth and Animate Dead. Some of them were quite creative, mind you — Necromancy is still a fun group game card — but nothing held a candle to the excitement generated from spells that swept the board or drew more cards.
Then Tempest was released and Living Death hit the scene. Whoa, Nelly! When that spell resolved, all kinds of spectacular things happened.”Death” decks started popping up, and many strategies centered on filling up the graveyard, using cards like Buried Alive. Two sets later, Exodus brought more graveyard manipulation with the amazing Recurring Nightmare and, to a lesser extent, Oath of Ghouls. The same set also brought Survival of the Fittest, which quickly muscled Buried Alive out as a graveyard filler. Rec/Sur quickly caught on as a powerful archetype, and it was all about graveyard recursion.
Urza’s Saga introduced a rare card that was initially eclipsed by the ultrapowerful Time Spiral, Tolarian Academy, and Stroke of Genius… But Yawgmoth’s Will soon proved its worth as a potent card capable of exploiting the graveyard in amazing ways, especially when reusing Dark Rituals and Tutors a la Flores Black (which is what Finkel used to win Nationals last year).
These strategies and cards proved to be so powerful that Wizards’ R&D team’s hair turned white and they went running and screaming in the other direction. There’s nothing out there now that compares to these cards — and in the wake of their departure, graveyard manipulation strategies have fallen off the radar. However, there are some tools currently out there that might enable us to better utilize this zone. I’m going to list them by color below, but I’m not going to include the current batch of Raise Dead and Regrowth clones because by and large they are unspectacular.
Crypt Angel, Endbringer’s Revel, Gravedigger, Haunted Crossroads, Phyrexian Delver, Strands of Night, Twilight’s Call, Yawgmoth’s Agenda.
Black is the color players generally turn to for graveyard manipulation. The Angel, Gravedigger, and Delver are one-shot deals and so don’t really inspire ideas of zone abuse. Strands of Night, while theoretically good, has enough drawbacks — including the not irrelevant misfortune of being an enchantment in an enchantment-hating environment — to not be exciting. Crossroads and Revel both have significant drawbacks, too. Agenda has been creeping up in lots of decks, especially block, but Wizards has done such a good job in balancing the card that it’s only showing up in a support role in decks. That leaves Twilight’s Call: A solid card in its own right with the drawback of being expensive, especially as an instant. It has some possibilities, especially in the age of Duress.
Death or Glory, Reya Dawnbringer, Breath of Life
White comes in second place, and it definitely has some interesting possibilities. Death or Glory can truly shake up a game by bringing in several creatures from your graveyard. However, the involvement of your opponent in choosing and the fact that one pile gets removed from the game makes building a deck focusing on Death or Glory rather clunky. Reya, Dawnbringer is as close to a graveyard engine as we have right now; her drawback is simply a prohibitive casting cost, so all we need is an alternate way of getting her into play. 7th edition brings us a way to do so — and, of all the luck, it’s the same color too. Breath of Life, from Portal of all things, is like Resurrection from the good ol’ days, but it’s easier to cast. Who could ask for anything better?
Green has several Regrowth variants available that I won’t mention, but Restock is worth pointing out as a solid card-advantage spell. The fact that it removes itself from the game prevents it from being used as a recursive engine, but with the coming Apocalypse and some really good black/green cards, I expect this card to see some play.
Expensive but impressive. I have visions of using Scrivener in Extended to reuse this card over and over, hopefully along with some huge evasion beast like Draco or Spirit of the Night. In Type 2, though, there’s no way to really reuse the Dance, so its role is more of a combo card. So you’d better win (or come darn close) after the spell resolves.
White’s Reya, Dawnbringer is the only graveyard engine we have that comes close to rivaling Recurring Nightmare. While she hasn’t seen any play in Type 2, just look at Full English Breakfast from last Extended season to see her potential if you can find a way to get her into play. With Breath of Life we can do that, but we’ve got to get her into the graveyard first.
So how do we get Reya in the graveyard? First thought is Probe. Heck, going U/W gives us Reviving Vapors, which can put her there too. How good would an end of turn Vapors be, turning over Breath of Life and Reya? Heh, I’ll gain four life, get Breath, and put Reya in the graveyard. Now during my turn, I cast Breath and… So between Probes and Vapors, we have some pretty good library and graveyard manipulation all in one card. Not exactly Survival of the Fittest… But beggars can’t be choosers, now can they?
And I don’t care what Gary Wise thinks in his review of the Flagbearers for the Sideboard, I think they’d be perfect in a Reya deck; they protect her, and in return she brings them back to life — a beautiful symbiotic relationship. This lets you save your few counterspells for important nuisances like Wrath of God.
But I don’t necessarily think we should completely give up on black altogether; there’s too much good stuff there. With Go-Mar already proving that U/W/B decks can be viable, and the upcoming opposite color painlands showing up to help out mana concerns, why not? Here’s something quick and dirty off the top of my head (uhh… that doesn’t sound too good, does it?)
SLEEPING BEAUTY (Reya’s waiting for the Breath of Life, right?)
3 Reviving Vapors
4 Breath of Life
4 Meddling Mage
3 Devout Witness
2 Fallen Angel
2 Phyrexian Delver
2 Staunch Defenders
4 Reya Dawnbringer
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Adarkar Wastes
1 Coastal Tower
2 Salt Marsh
3 Dromar’s Cavern
I’m sure the mana’s not perfect, and the deck surely needs some tweaking, but I think it would playtest all right. It’s a starting point.
You know, this deck reminds me a lot of Secret Force back in the early days; it’s all about getting a huge, creature-generating critter on the board and wrecking house with it.
Looking over this decklist, I really like it a lot! Tons and tons of little synergies.
- Ways to get Reya in the graveyard—Probe + Vapors + Foil + Witness = 14
- Ways to get Reya from the graveyard into play – Breath + Delver = 6
- Ways to protect Reya once she’s out there – Foil + Standard Bearers + Meddling Mage = 12
- Ways to gain life to offset pain from lands and Delver – Vapors + Staunch Defenders = 5
And don’t get me started on the fun recursive potentials of Fallen Angel + Reya!
The one true problem I see with this strategy is the fact that, with Nether Spirits so popular, Cremate is showing up with distressing regularity in sideboards and even gets maindecked sometimes. Meddling Mage and Foil can help with that problem, but that’s why I figure four Reyas is a must. Sure, it’s expensive, but they ran four Verdant Forces in the old Secret Force deck, didn’t they?
On a sidenote, a gentleman writing in for my Deck Aid column in Scrye magazine hit upon an interesting”combo” of sorts — Fallen Angel and Twilight’s Call. We added in a mercenary chain and, while it plays like a black weenie beatdown, it has a great finisher with Fallen Angel. Sacrifice your critters to the Angel, cast Twilight’s Call, and then sacrifice them again and attack with a huge Angel. That’s a lot of damage!
Ah, graveyard recursion! I feel like I’m home again!