One thing I am known for in my playgroup is the ability to create interesting formats for strange tournaments, and it’s been a long time since I’ve done so. The last interesting format we did was The Gold Standard, quite some time ago, and so I thought it was high time we did another cool tourney again.
This time, our format is going to be called The Ultimate Graveyard Block. And what a format it will be! I took a quick look at the format here, and now it’s time to present to you the sample decklists that Darby and I tested with.
Let’s take a look!
First, to recap, these were the sets legal in this challenge:
-Odyssey block: Odyssey, Torment, Judgment
-from Time Spiral block: Time Spiral, Time Spiral timeshifted cards
-from Innistrad block: Innistrad, Dark Ascension
-Shadows block: Shadows Over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon
-Amonkhet block: Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation
These are the graveyard-based sets from throughout Magic’s history that were, quite simply, the best sets for producing high quality and fun graveyard-related cards. From flashback to threshold, delirium to embalm, and retrace to eternalize, these sets had great recursion mechanics and let you play with your graveyard as an entirely new sort of resource.
And how the deckbuilding worked:
We had to choose:
-One base set (so either Odyssey, Time Spiral, Innistrad, Shadows Over Innistrad, or Amonkhet)
-One small set, which cannot be from the same block as your large set
-A second small set, not from the same blocks as your other two sets
I thought going in that this was a very interesting deckbuilding challenge, and should lead to a lot of innovation. Here were the decks that Darby and I settled on as a testing gauntlet early on:
Mono-Red Aggro - Shadows Over Innistrad/Torment/Hour of Devastation:
4 Fiery Temper
4 Violent Eruption
3 Lightning Axe
3 Senseless Rage
4 Village Messenger
4 Falkenrath Gorger
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Ravenous Bloodseeker
3 Burning-Fist Minotaur
3 Earthshaker Khenra
Our first deck was the fastest deck I could come up with, and was built to test the speed of the format. This is a classic mono-red aggro list, otherwise known as “Red Deck Wins”, and was built with a minimum of land, lots of burn spells, and scads of early creatures to beat face with.
I liked the look of the madness burn spells in action so much, that I built a second red deck with different sets:
Mono-Red Aggro 2 - Amonkhet/Torment/Eldritch Moon:
4 Fiery Temper
4 Violent Eruption
4 Incindiary Flow
3 Collective Defiance
4 Soul-Scar Mage
4 Bloodlust Inciter
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Furyblade Vampire
3 Bloodrage Brawler
2 Ahn-Crop Crasher
3 Hazoret the Fervent
Just like the first deck, this deck is trying to be as fast as humanly possible, to kill the opponent as quick as you can. The madness spells are likewise excellent in this deck when you build around them with discard outlets, and I particularly liked how well Hazoret played with self-discard, giving you a huge payoff creature in return for discarding your hand.
This deck was an excellent aggro deck, but it had big issues with the various green midrange decks we tried. Speaking of which…
W/G Midrange Living Wish Aggro - Shadows Over Innistrad/Judgment/Timeshifted:
The G/W Wishboard:
1 Spike Feeder
1 Soltari Priest
1 Phantom Centaur
1 Phantom Nishoba
1 Commander Eesha
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1 Tireless Tracker
1 Krosan Verge
1 Nantuko Monastery
4 other cards
One of many decks that I brainstormed with a Wish board, G/W midrange was a powerful mix of large, beefy creatures, pump spells, and removal. Living Wish gives the deck a huge amount of flexibility, letting me grab anything from Genesis (to fight control decks), to Spike Feeder (to gain life against aggro decks), to Akroma as a huge finisher, to extra lands if needs be.
This deck was deceptively good. It had a very simple gameplan (play giant dudes that are bigger than your opponents, and punch them to death), but when backed up by Wishes, this turned the deck into a strong contender.
Side note: It did amuse me that the only thing I needed a third set for was the sideboard (that’s the only place I used Timeshifted cards, and this set really could have been anything).
This was not the only deck that I experimented with Timeshifted cards, however…
R/G Midrange Aggro - Odyssey/Timeshifted/Eldritch Moon:
4 Assault // Battery
4 Fiery Temper
4 Incindiary Flow
3 Reckless Charge
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Noose Constrictor
4 Eternal Scourge
4 Call of the Herd
4 Roar of the Wurm
2 Barbarian Ring
3 Mossfire Valley
Just like the W/G midrange deck, this is also an aggressive deck, but it’s looking to get an edge on other aggro decks by discarding and casting Roar of the Wurm, one of the biggest early roadblocks in the format.
I liked this deck less than the W/G deck, as it lacked the versatility of Living Wish. It was, however, quite good against the aggressive red decks that it was built to beat.
Speaking of aggressive decks…
Tribal Zombies - Amonkhet/Timeshifted/Dark Ascension:
4 Dread Wanderer
4 Withered Wretch
3 Miasmic Mummy
4 Lord of the Accursed
4 Undead Warchief
4 Never // Return
4 Trial of Ambition
4 Bad Moon
2 Liliana’s Mastery
We’d also looked at tribal Humans, but the Zombie deck has several key things that make it very powerful.
Between Gravecrawler and Dread Wanderer, you get to play two highly aggressive one-drops that recur themselves, and in a format with any sort of control, this is quite strong. The deck was able to play multiple Zombie Lords in Lord of the Accursed, Undead Warchief, and Liliana’s Mastery — this made every Zombie into a huge threat, and made the deck very scary. Adding Timeshifted to the deck lets it run Bad Moon, a pseudo-Lord effect that is hard to remove and makes all the Zombies into huge threats. Finally, Liliana’s Mastery is a big payoff card, giving your Zombies a boost and making Zombies; we found in testing that this card was amazing, and very hard for opponents to beat.
Zombies was quite strong, but we found that it had many issues with the W/G decks (and Phantom Centaur in particular). So we moved on to an even stranger aggressive deck…
W/B Token swarm - Shadows Over Innistrad/Judgment/Dark Ascension:
This was one of several white weenie-esque token swarm builds that I experimented with. I thought going into this event that Lingering Souls and Battle Screech could be a powerful engine to build into a token-based deck, and I was right.
So that’s a quick look at the aggressive decks we tested. What did we do for control decks?
2 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Laquatus’s Champion
4 Nantuko Shade
3 Shambling Swarm
2 Liliana, Death’s Majesty
3 Mind Sludge
4 Collective Brutality
4 Chainer’s Edict
3 Never // Return
3 Dark Salvation
4 Cabal Coffers
As soon as I knew we’d be playing this format, I knew that my old buddy Joel would want to play Mono-Black Control. He had qualified for our Nationals waaaay back in the day with Cabal Coffers, so I knew he’d jump at the chance to port it into this format now.
As would be expected, the deck is hell for any creature-based aggressive deck to fight. There is scads of removal spells, a Wrath effect in Mutilate, and some powerful discard to back it all up with. The deck even gets to play Emrakul, the Promised End, the biggest threat in the entire format (which can be powered out of this deck by Coffers!)
This was a strong deck, and I thought it was an excellent contender. There were, however, other control decks to try out…
Dralnu du Louvre - Time Spiral/Eldritch Moon/Hour of Devastation:
Based off an old Time Spiral-era control deck named Dralnu du Louvre, this is a deck built to abuse the power of Mystical Teachings. Teachings lets the deck run a number of powerful silver bullet spells to fight different strategies (like Haunting Hymn to fight control, Hour of Glory to fight opposing Gods, etc), while the deck already operates as a potent U/B control deck.
I found that this deck’s performance would hinge greatly on what decks everyone ran. The two red decks above would run it over in the first few turns, so if everyone ran aggro decks, this was a bad choice. If everyone ran a midrange deck, however, this deck crushed those ones.
From control, I moved on to combo decks. And there certainly were some interesting lists to work with in this format…
Reanimator - Odyssey/Eldritch Moon/Timeshifted:
One of the cards in this format that I initially thought would need to be banned was the Legacy Reanimator card, Entomb. After looking at the format, however, I decided to let it stay, as there are very few ways to abuse it. Having said that, there is definitely a Reanimator build to be played (here’s one above), so that’s not to say this isn’t a strong card.
This deck’s gameplan is super simple: Put a fat creature in the graveyard. Bring it back to life with one of ten reanimation spells. Bash your opponent to death.
The issue with the deck, of course, was that your reanimation spells (Resurrection, Zombify, Rise from the Grave) all cost four and five mana, so the deck is prone to just getting beat to death by the aggro decks before it does anything. Any amount of counterspells also tend to stop the deck cold in its tracks.
Having said that, this can be a strong deck, and I’m quite sure there’s a place for Reanimator in the format.
There were other decks that Darby and I looked at, but these were the main ones in our testing gauntlet. Stay tuned, I’ll be looking at some of the wackier builds that I brainstormed next!