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Commander Deep Dive: Yedora, Grave Gardener

Bennie is back with another Commander deep-dive, this time featuring Yedora, Grave Gardener!

Yedora, Grave Gardener, illustrated by Svetlin Velinov

With the firehose of new legendary creatures released in Strixhaven and Commander 2021, it’s easy to overlook some of them, especially the mono-colored ones!  

I have to admit upon initial glance, Yedora, Grave Gardener didn’t grab my attention. A 5/5 for five mana with no keyword abilities and just a text box that says “something, something, dies, something, something, Forest.” The fact that it comes in the Witherbloom Witchcraft preconstructed deck and doesn’t really synergize with the rest of the deck camouflages its power to some degree. Just imagine it came in Quantum Quandrix, which has a good number of X-spells, along with Quandrix cards from Strixhaven that care about the number of lands you have on the battlefield.  I think people might have been better clued into its potential from the get-go.

Eventually though, something clicked about just how good this card can be.  Not just as a commander you can build around, but just as a value creature in the 99 that can do a lot of things for a creature-heavy deck.  Back on April 30th I tweeted this out:

Yep, that’s eight copies of Yedora I picked up between pre-orders and a copy of the Witherbloom Witchcraft.  I’m not just writing about how cool I think this card is: I’m buying copies and putting them in my Commander decks!

So why am I so hyped?  Let’s dive in.

Yedora, Grave Gardener

First up, let’s take a look at the mana cost.  It’s just one green mana, which means it can go into just about any deck with green in it. Next up, it’s both a Treefolk and a Druid – two creature types that often care about lands and/or Forests.  As a 5/5 it’s not terrifying the battlefield but it’s also not an insignificant presence and can easily carry a vital piece of equipment into the fray.

But really, it’s that text box that really sells Yedora:

Whenever another nontoken creature you control dies, you may return it to the battlefield face down under its owner’s control. It’s a Forest land. (It has no other types or abilities.)

Commander is a game where battlefields often get reset by sweepers that destroy everyone’s creatures and other resources, and rebuilding often takes time, especially if constrained by mana. If Yedora is on the battlefield with a sweeper resolves, any number of your non-token creatures that die can come back to the battlefield face down as a Forest land – untapped and ready to give you mana. Let’s assume for a minute you’ve got three creatures on the battlefield when you cast Yedora.  The next turn someone casts Wrath of God to reset the battlefield. You’ve got some decisions to make: do you want those other three creatures to stay in the graveyard for future graveyard shenanigans, or do you want them to come back as three untapped Forests you can spend that mana for any instant speed stuff, and once it comes back around to your turn, you’ll have a whopping eight mana available to you!

Let’s take a look at three of the most powerful cards printed in the past couple of years:

Dockside Extortionist Smothering Tithe Hullbreacher

These cards are powerhouses in Commander because of the mana advantage they give you. While card draw is raw power, extra mana allows you to cast bigger or more spells ahead of schedule. It is why mana ramp is such a fundamental part of what drives the format. But here’s the thing: these three cards give you temporary mana in Treasures that you have to burn off to take advantage of it.  Yedora’s triggered ability gives you extra mana resources more or less permanently because almost nobody runs mass land destruction in Commander.

I’m not saying Yedora is as powerful as these three cards; obviously it is not in that same tier. But my argument is it’s a lot better than people are giving it credit for being; even at its floor, it can help you ramp two or three lands, but if you’re playing other cards that synergize with it, it can quickly become a key part of a game winning line.

Okay, let’s knock a few things out of the way first.

The Obvious Choice #1: Morph Decks

Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer

Yes, Yedora’s ability does synergize with creatures that have the morph or megamorph ability.

Den Protector Stratus Dancer Willbender Nantuko Vigilante

I know that reminder text at the end of Yedora’s ability has caused some confusion here:  It has no other types or abilities. But the Commander 2021 release notes for Yedora makes it clear:

If the face-down card has morph, you can pay its morph cost to turn it face up.

So, if any of your creatures with morph die, regardless of whether they’re face up or face down, you can bring them back to the battlefield as Forests from Yedora’s ability, and you’ll be able to later turn them back face-up by paying the morph cost.

This rule also makes Primordial Mist quite good too:

Primordial Mist

If any of the 2/2 creatures you’ve created with the manifest ability die with Yedora on the battlefield, you can bring them back as Forests. Since it’s a face-down permanent, you can use Primordial Mists’s other ability to play that card.

So yeah, if your deck is messing around with morph or manifest, Yedora belongs in there somewhere.

The Obvious Choice #2: C-C-C-Combo!

Some folks have already sussed out that you can set up game-ending combos with Yedora so if that’s your jam check it out!

Take a card from column A:

Life and Limb Ambush Commander Living Lands

Add a card from column B:

Blasting Station Goblin Bombardment Phyrexian Altar

And voila! Sacrifice a creature, Yedora triggers and it comes back as a Forest that’s also a creature. Sacrifice the creature and Yedora triggers, it comes back as a Forest that’s also a creature, and so forth, until you’ve got however much damage you want to throw about the table, or as much mana as you need to cast a big game-ending spell.

Note that besides Goblin Bombardment, all of these are green or colorless so you could use Yedora as your commander and always have access to that piece of the puzzle from the command zone.

Landfall Strategies

Outside of morph or combo decks, I feel that Yedora offers solid value for lots of decks that run a lot of creature cards that get deployed to the battlefield. Yedora’s ability in particular plays great in landfall strategies or other abilities that key off a land entering the battlefield.

Adventuring Gear Brushfire Elemental Cosima, God of the Voyage Retreat to Kazandu Tireless Tracker Felidar Retreat Tatyova, Benthic Druid Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait

If you’ve got Yedora and several creature cards on the battlefield and someone destroys them all, when the other creatures return as Forests, Felidar Retreat can instantly rebuild your presence with 2/2 Cat Beast tokens. What I love about Yedora here is that it lets you fearlessly deploy creature cards without being concerned about something like Wrath of God destroying all your resources.

Bounce Your Lands

One thing I love about Yedora is that when your creatures die, they give you resources (mana) as lands, but there are various ways you can bring lands back to your hand if you want to recast those creatures later.  If you think about it, hiding out as lands is a much safer place in a game of Commander than hanging out in the graveyard, which can get exiled without warning by any number of cards in the format.  These two cards in particular seem like great inclusions alongside Yedora:

Quirion Ranger Scryb Ranger

Quirion Ranger and Scryb Ranger are high quality creatures for all sorts of strategies and can even generate an extra mana if you don’t have a land drop this turn but returning a tapped Forest to your hand to play as your land for the turn. In the case of a face down creature that’s also a Forest, you can return one each turn, including your opponents’ turns.

There are all sorts of other cards that let you return lands to your hand for fun and profit, and if you’re running any of these in your Commander decks consider adding Yedora to the lineup:

Trade Routes Cloudstone Curio Kefnet the Mindful Living Twister Mina and Denn, Wildborn Meloku the Clouded Mirror Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar Pearl Lake Ancient Trench Behemoth

Forests Matter

Speaking of Quirion Ranger and Scryb Ranger, there are a good number of cards that care about Forests particularly, so you can get some extra mileage out of them with Yedora:

Knight of the Reliquary Thelonite Druid Staff of the Wild Magus Nissa, Who Shakes the World Beacon of Creation Dauntless Dourbark Timber Protector Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

There’s a lot of overlap between cards that work great in an Ashaya deck and cards that work great with Yedora, so if either are your commander consider adding the other to the list.

Fallen Empires all-star Thelonite Druid… okay, it’s not exactly an all-star, but in a Yedora deck this 1/1 for three mana might be worth a slot.  Consider this: with Yedora on the battlefield, activate Thelonite Druid by sacrificing a creature (which comes back as an untapped Forest). Now all your lands are 2/3 creatures that can attack if you want them to (other than the original sacrificed creature, which now has summoning sickness). Any of them that are killed in combat will come back as untapped Forests. With a sacrifice outlet you could actually generate a bunch of mana this way.

Leaving the Graveyard

Yedora’s honorarium is literally “Grave Gardener” so if your deck cares about cards leaving the graveyard you might consider adding Yedora to the mix.

Desecrated Tomb Stonebound Mentor Fuming Effigy Tormod, the Desecrator Quintorius, Field Historian Syr Konrad, the Grim

The Lorehold school from Strixhaven has a few cards that care about cards leaving the graveyard, so if you add green to the color scheme Yedora can give you some added bonus.

I’m particularly stoked at the idea of running a Golgari deck with Desecrated Tomb, Tormod, and Syr Konrad alongside Yedora; with a sacrifice outlet, you could generate a bunch of Bats, Zombies, and Syr Konrad pings.

Number of Lands

Last up I’d like to point out strategies that care about the number of lands on the battlefield.  If you’re running a fair number of creature cards and Yedora is out there, if a handful of those creatures die you can quickly hit your threshold of lands.

The World Tree Dragonmaster Outcast Scute Swarm Blackblade Reforged Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy Nissa, Vastwood Seer Radha, Heart of Keld Wayward Swordtooth Crash of Rhino Beetles Ulvenwald Hydra Waking the Trolls

I have a Radha, Heart of Keld deck that I’m particularly excited about testing Yedora in since Radha’s activated ability can make her quite large and in charge if a few dying creatures end up as Forests thanks to Yedora. I already have Mina and Denn, Wildborn in there, and I’m also going to try Living Twister too.

What do you think?  Are there any other cards you think would play great alongside Yedora, Grave Gardener?

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl, and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.