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 Challenge, quite some time ago, and so I felt it was high time that we did another cool tourney again.
This time, our format was called The Ultimate Graveyard Block. And what a format it was! We finally sat down to play this format over the weekend, and had a blast doing so. Today, we’ll be going over each person’s deck, and tomorrow, I’ll go over the event itself.
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
We all thought this was a really interesting format going in, and with a very creative group of people, I was really looking forward to seeing what each person came up with and which sets they would use. Let’s take a look at what everyone came up with!
Going into this event, I was quite set on playing some sort of mono-white token swarm deck, using cards like Battle Screech and Lingering Souls to overwhelm my foes. However, in testing we’d found that the deck below held up very well against the expected mono-red aggro and Zombies decks, and so I went with this instead:
W/G Midrange Living Wish Aggro - Shadows Over Innistrad/Judgment/Timeshifted:
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
1 Archangel Avacyn
1 Descend Upon the Sinful
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.
I liked the fact that against the other aggressive decks in the format, I was playing much bigger creatures than they were (and I had Avacyn to blow them out of combat), while against control, my two-drop creatures were still highly aggressive in their own right.
While we playtested early on, Darby and I discovered almost by accident that the mono-black Zombie tribal list I’d come up with was actually quite strong. It had early aggression, lots of pump effects, and creatures that would recur themselves, even in the face of multiple Wraths. Darby knew going into the event that he’d be trying to eat some brains.
Here is what Darby went with:
Tribal Zombies - Amonkhet/Timeshifted/Dark Ascension:
4 Dread Wanderer
4 Withered Wretch
3 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Lord of the Accursed
4 Undead Warchief
4 Never // Return
4 Trial of Ambition
4 Bad Moon
2 Liliana’s Mastery
4 Lay Bare the Heart
1 Geralf’s Messenger
3 Scarab Feast
2 Tragic Slip
2 Liliana, Death’s Majesty
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.
One card that I wished we’d found room for was Cartouche of Ambition in his sideboard… that slot was taken by 3 Scarab Feast, which we wanted as a catch-all answer against a graveyard-based format. I really liked the idea of using the Cartouche in combination with the Trials in the maindeck to grind out other creature decks, however.
Zombies was quite strong, but we found that it had many issues with the W/G decks (and Phantom Centaur in particular — this may have been one of the reasons for my own deck choice, heh).
I thought Darby had an excellent chance of winning it all with this deck given the right pairings, and looked forward to seeing how he did.
Joel is an old-school player, and much like me, he’s been playing since the very dawn of Magic, so he’s seen a lot of deck archetypes come and go. One deck that he always enjoyed playing was Odyssey block’s Mono-Black Control (MBC), and he had qualified for Canadian Nationals with that deck.
Hence, I built him a version of that deck:
2 Emrakul, the Promised End
3 Shambling Swarm
2 Liliana, Death’s Majesty
2 Oracle’s Vault
3 Mind Sludge
4 Collective Brutality
4 Chainer’s Edict
2 Sickening Dreams
4 Dark Salvation
4 Cabal Coffers
4 Nantuko Shade
4 Eternal Scourge
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
4 Lay Bare the Heart
1 Oracle’s Vault
1 Sickening Dreams
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 (though I knew from testing that Joel would struggle if matched up against Darby and his recurring Zombies). Still, I felt Joel also had a great shot at winning the whole thing.
Going into this event, Anthony was one of my wild cards, in that I had no idea just what he’d be playing. Like me, I knew that he was the type of person to brainstorm a ton of different decks for a wide open format… in the end, he ended up going with something that was near and dear to my heart:
Burning Wake - Shadows Over Innistrad/Judgment/Hour of Devastation:
3 Anurid Brushhopper
3 Ray of Revelation
1 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
1 Burn from Within
1 Crush of Wurms
1 Hour of Revelation
1 Oketra’s Last Mercy
1 Pore Over the Pages
1 Traverse the Ulvenwald
1 Root Out
1 Kefnet’s Last Word
Burning Wake is a deck near and dear to my heart, and one that I’d actually qualified for Canadian Nationals with waaaaaay back in the day. The idea is to play a super greedy manabase, ramp up to Mirari’s Wake as early as possible, then start casting giant win conditions like Crush of Wurms.
As a sentimental favorite, I was quite tempted to run this deck myself (and I was quite excited to see someone doing so), as I always have had a soft spot for the original. I particularly liked the versatility that a Wish board would give you, since Burning Wish could fetch anything from a Wrath effect, to a Disenchant, to lifegain, to a big X spell to kill the opponent with, and everything in between.
Of all of us, Anthony was also running by far the greediest manabase. I did, however, like his chances and expect him to do well.
We knew going in that Jay would be running some sort of wacky combo deck (that’s basically what he’s known for, is playing wacky combo decks). Ironically, I thought he’d be playing Burning Wake, not his brother.
Here’s what Jay played:
New Perspectives combo - Amonkhet/Torment/Weatherlight:
4 Magma Spray
3 Faith of the Devoted
Jay has a crazy combo deck here, with nearly the entire deck coming entirely from Amonkhet. The goal is to cycle through your cards with cycling, recur them with Shadow of the Grave, and eventually win with Approach of the Second Sun. This was a wacky deck, all right; I wasn’t sure just how well it’d do with all the aggressive decks in the room, but I knew he’d be up to the challenge.
Our final competitor this time was Brad, the finalist from The Gold Standard, who was also playing the Zombie tribe.
U/B Zombies - Shadows Over Innistrad/Timeshifted/Dark Ascension:
1 Withered Wretch
4 Undead Warchief
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Diregraf Captain
4 Diregraf Colossus
4 Relentless Dead
4 Bad Moon
4 Psionic Blast
2 Gemstone Mine
4 Choked Estuary
4 Evolving Wilds
3 Withered Wretch
4 Dead Weight
4 Invasive Surgery
4 Compelling Deterrence
Basically, everything I’d said about Darby’s deck applied here as well (though Brad had some interesting sideboard options, thanks to the flexibility that adding blue to the deck gave him).
So those were everyone’s decks. Stay tuned, I’ll be going over how the tournament went, and who ended up our champion!