Graveborn Musings—INN to Decks

Now that the complete Innistrad spoiler is up, it’s time for the best part of a new set: thinking of all the ways I can put these cards into decks. At the moment, my first priority is updating my Commander decks, then I’m going to look at some deck ideas for 60s—excluding the cards I’ve already reviewed here, here and here.

As much as I’d love to build a deck around around 4xLiliana, I just don’t have that kind of cash. Don’t worry though, there are a ton of great cards for us in this set, and I’ll be giving you some ideas for bargain basement pickups, either online or at your local game store. Please excuse the stream-of-consciousness flavor of the article—Magic is my drug, and I’m still high on new cards. Here are some of the ones that started my synapses firing.


First and foremost, the lands! Oh, how I love the lands!

Unless your playgroup has high levels of non-basic land hate, or you play a lot of basic land search effects, you can replace basics with these freely without any concern at all. If you have painlands in your deck, then these are strictly better. For my money, the best land cycles in the game for producing more than one color of mana are, in descending order of awesome:

Original duals

Fetch lands

Shock lands

Innistrad/M10 lands

Worldwake man-lands

Alara tri-lands

Ravnica bounce-lands

Torment taint lands

Mirage fetches

Alara panoramas

After that, I think I’d rather have basics, which is why painlands aren’t on the list. Also, these are my (wholly subjective) rankings for Commander only; for 60s, I would actually rank the Innistrad/M10 lands above the shock lands. That’s right; they’re really that good! As long as most of your lands are one or the other relevant basic land types, the drawback on Woodland Cemetery and friends is virtually irrelevant for most casual decks. At the prerelease, I was able to trade my three prize packs for three of the new multilands (by shamelessly harassing any opponent who played one against me), which I think is a good long-term investment

Also, Kessig Wolf Run is insane!!! Put it in all of your RGx decks, and then make another RG deck just because of how jaw-droppingly off the hook this card is! Do it now!!

Charmbreaker Devils literally took my breath away. This card is ridiculous, especially in Commander, and demands to go into every red deck that ever got made. Sometimes I’ve been excited about a card, but when I went through my decks I couldn’t find any way to make room for it. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE CARDS. I defy you to show me a red or even RXX deck that wouldn’t be improved by adding this.

Red has had an affinity for sorceries for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that cards like Magnivore or Anarchist are staples; some decks just don’t pack enough sorceries. But unlike Magnivore, the devils are really happy to see only one sorcery in your graveyard, because it means you know exactly what you’re getting back. Let me see, what kind of sorceries would you play in the early game that are still relevant in the mid-game? How about tutors, mana fixing, burn, spot removal, burn and X spells that you didn’t want to use early but you were under pressure, so you used it early, knowing that you would get it back on turn seven? Even if your deck is 30 dragons, 30 Earthquake variants and 40 mountains, you would still want this card, just because of the card advantage of getting back one or more of your sweepers. I even have a 60-card Pyromancer Ascension deck that wants to leave sorceries in the graveyard, and I still want at least two Charmbreakers in that. BUY.

Sturmgeist is a card made for Commander. We’ve already seen a blue Maro before (and it saw tournament play, so get these before the price goes up!), but this one has evasion and a hugely beneficial saboteur ability.

Especially in Commander, where you have a lot more damage to do, but you get to play with the real heavyweight spells, this is going to be awesome. Blue Sun’s Zenith as a combat trick, Recurring Insight, Overwhelming Intellect; any blue deck that wants to—like my Arcanis the Omnipotent deck, for example—can draw an embarrassing amount of cards, but of course drawing cards on its own is not a win condition, which is why any deck with a full grip will want a Sturmgeist as a nice cheap finisher.

Grimoire of the Dead scares and excites me. It was originally concepted as the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, made most famous by horror author extraordinaire and full-time crazy person, H.P. Lovecraft. It will definitely go in my Wrexial-based Cthulhu theme deck, but I’d like to get more than one and I’m hoping it won’t be too expensive.

At first glance, it looks like a black card, but black has other ways to do this (this is actually the same as Liliana Vess’s ultimate, although you can play it any time you like, including right before your turn, so you’re less vulnerable to sweepers). The Grimoire is a late-came wincon for any deck that draws a lot, proliferates, or doesn’t mind playing with a small hand. As such, I’ll be putting one copy into Arcanis, one into Sheoldred, and probably another one into Rakroma (a deck that otherwise gets very little interaction with the graveyard). Also, if Molimo wasn’t guided by flavor quite a bit, I’d put one in there too; discarding a late-game Cultivate or surplus land is no problem, and cards like Soul’s Majesty and Momentous Fall mean that my hand is often full anyway. In that sense, Grimoire occupies a similar space to our preview card, Creeping Renaissance, as it gives your deck a late power boost that will usually be sufficient to take out an exhausted board.

Stitcher’s Apprentice will probably end up in my monoblue deck, which has a good number of theft effects. If you have someone’s creature under a Helm of Possession or Vedalken Shackles and then a better creature comes along, you don’t want to return the first creature you ‘borrowed,’ and Stitcher’s Apprentice says you don’t have to. Sac their creature, get a homunculus yourself, and then steal the best creature they have left.

Disciple of Griselbrand is a common that may be overlooked, but is a fantastic sac outlet in a format where sac outlets are indispensable. Also, I tend to think that any black deck worth its salt should be able to bring back a Disciple that gets snuffed out, which makes up for its increased vulnerability compared to such favorites as High Market or Claws of Gix.

The equipment in Innistrad is interesting. Unfortunately, most of it goes too far in pushing the human theme—I’ve always been confused by the fact that wild animals, ghosts and hulking, world-devouring titans all get the same benefit from a sword, a shield or even a fork, but I don’t think making equipment better for humans is the best way to iron out the inconsistencies.[1] I’m sure the Commander crowd is most likely to go crazy for Mask of Avacyn, but I’m a little bit disillusioned with effects like that, which reduce the level of interaction in the game and often privilege broken commanders. I’m actually much more interested in Inquisitor’s Flail, and not just because it wrecked me at the prerelease! Doubling damage can make small creatures much more relevant (especially when they only need to deal 21 damage—hello horsemanship!) and can make huge commanders huger. Do you think Kresh cares if blockers deal double damage? The old trample rules would have made it better, but any trampler is still going to trample over for twice as much, and creatures that like dealing damage to blockers are going to demand more blocking. I will leave it the possible effects of pairing this with Phyrexian Obliterator to your imagination.

Green did really well in this set. Not only did they get, Creeping Renaissance, the successful introduction of one of the most flavorful fantasy tropes of all time (and judging by their effectiveness at the prerelease, they are not to be underestimated), and a less-broken-but-let’s-not-kid-ourselves Doubling Season. Green mages (and especially recursion fans—is that tautology?) also get to enjoy the potentially amazing Moldgraf Monstrosity.

This is an 8/8 trample for seven mana, which is decent but hardly ahead of the curve—Plated Slagwurm is a favorite of mine—but instead of the usual “dies to removal” pseudo-argument, you actually really want this insect to get stepped on. The magic words here are “TO THE BATTLEFIELD.” This isn’t regrowing, this is reloading, baby! That arrogant control mage with their endless supply of board sweepers is going to have to kill it, and when they do, you’ll have two attackers ready to go for the start of your next turn. In 60s, this is abusable, but I think that green commander decks are likely to get plenty out of this by just plugging it in instead of another fatty. After all, Commander games tend to be defined by big swingy spells and plentiful removal, which is a perfect environment for the Monstrosity to shine. Obviously there’s the potential downside where you might have lost your graveyard, and get back nothing, or you might only get back a pair of weenies, but as usual, the cynics miss the big picture.

Firstly, the fact that someone is sweating your graveyard while you’re spanking them with an 8/8 means you are doing something very right indeed; the creature is a threat, but by also threatening to bring back two (potentially more dangerous) critters when it dies, the Monstrosity invalidates a lot of the more common answers your opponents might have. Secondly, Commander decks usually get away with quite a small percentage of low end creatures; whatever the proportion of fatties in your deck is, that’s eventually what the proportion of fatties in your graveyard is going to look like, so the odds will usually be in your favor. Thirdly, how many of your weenies are things that you wouldn’t like to see again? I’ll admit that a late-game Sylvan Ranger isn’t very exciting, but there’s never a bad time to put a Yavimaya Elder, Eternal Witness or Acidic Slime into play, and even the worst case scenario looks pretty good when you add in force multipliers like equipment, enchantments (Rancor FTW, even in 40 life formats) and Kessig Wolf Run. Remember, however small the creatures may be, they are probably hitting the board after a sweeper, which means that half of your opponents should be wide open. Finally, cards like Night Soil and Morbid Bloom, or Greater Good (“the greater good”), actually give you a very high degree of control over what you get back, as does casting Creeping Renaissance for critters and discarding your biggest fatties at the end of turn. I dare you to kill it!

The last word on green is related to Tree of Redemption. Much has been written about lifegain shenanigans in conjunction with Boon Reflection (although as a black mage I think Wound Reflection and Sanguine Bond are more interesting), but I haven’t heard anyone tell you the one thing that will make it really sing: Rings of Brighthearth. This way, you’ll switch twice, meaning switch and immediately switch back, so there is virtually no window of vulnerability. Spending a round on 13 life is pretty damn dangerous in my playgroup, but now you don’t have to—you can just proceed right to the abuse of your virtual lifegain/loss. Enjoy!


For me, when a new set comes out I usually want to put two types of 60-card decks together: mechanical/theme decks and build-around-a-rare decks (the worst part of playing non-stop Commander is that I don’t get as much time with either type of deck). When Alara came out, I built one deck of each Shard out of whatever cards I had from the pre-release; when Scars came out I built two infect decks, a metalcraft deck and a proliferate deck, and so on. None of them were any good, perhaps, but exploring the new possibilities of a set is part of the fun. For Innistrad, I want to build on the following mechanics, themes and cards.

White tokensGeist-Honored Monk, Unruly Mob and Intangible Virtue would be a strong core, and don’t be afraid to include cards from Scars Block and earlier. Nomads’ Assembly, Master’s Call and Master Splicer are all strong contributors to this type of deck that you might have lying around.

And if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a few copies of Mentor of the Meek, try to add Mausoleum Guard. Without the Mentor it is a highly underpowered version of Deathcoil Wurm, but with it, it becomes an incredible source of card advantage. ‘Humans matter’ is also an interesting idea that we haven’t had much chance to explore before, but cards like Hamlet Captain can get out of control pretty quickly.

Werewolves—I don’t care how good they are, I just want to stick 20 werewolves in a deck and start howling. Getting four copies of the pre-release card would be helpful, but we’ll see how it goes. The elephant in the room, of course, is what happened to the RG Mythic werewolf legend? If we have to wait for Dark Ascension, they’d better make it worth our while.

Zombies—I already have a zombie deck built around cycling zombies, Oath of Ghouls and Tombstone Stairwell (I gave a basic list here), but once Innistrad hits the shelves, that won’t be enough. My second zombie deck will begin with four copies of Endless Ranks of the Dead: it’s a cockroach that sits there and churns out zombie after zombie, giving you a potentially insurmountable source of card advantage—especially if your playgroup hasn’t embraced sweepers and enchantment removal. The biggest problem is that you need to have at least two zombies in play to get anything out of it,[2] so I recommend stocking up on the newly-reprinted Zombie Infestation. Post-sweeper, you can discard four cards, have two zombies in play at the start of your turn, and start cashing in on the Endless supply of brain-eaters.

Discarding cards is (almost) never fun, but it might be less agonizing if you unload things like Moan of the Unhallowed, Army of the Dead, or, if you’re rocking the Corpse Dance, a Grave Titan! GT is not a zombie himself, remember,[3] but slapping him into play gives you enough zombies to make use of the Endless,[4] plus a 6/6 hasty deathtouching beater who makes two more zombies, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Skaab.dec—I also am intrigued by the graveyard-exiling blue zombies. It’s kind of antithetical to a black mage, but you have to admit that they are still using the graveyard as a resource. Start with self-milling cards like Armored Skaab and the tasty Forbidden Alchemy, add cards like Makeshift Mauler, Skaab Goliath and Skaab Ruinator that offer a power premium for messing with your own graveyard, and Robert’s your father’s brother. Back from the Brink definitely has a place in this kind of deck, and if you have trouble filling out the rest of the list, check out Odyssey block for cards that facilitated or abused the flashback and threshold mechanics—start with the keyword ‘cephalid’ and go from there.

Blue is looking particularly strong in this block, actually, because there’s so much draw/filtering. If you’ve never dabbled in blue I recommend giving it a try now. You don’t even need to include counterspells; and deck with four each of Murder of Crows, Forbidden Alchemy and Think Twice (and perhaps River Kelpie) is going to have a very good chance to go all the way, no matter what other stuff you chuck in.

Don’t look now, but Ghoulcaller’s Bell is almost a strictly better Millstone!

I hate it when a milling deck doesn’t have enough mana to interact with the board (read: stay alive!) and mill. Perhaps that’s why my most successful multiplayer milling deck was a merfolk deck built around Drowner of Secrets; I could keep my mana open for other things and still mill the whole table out in few turns. I tried making a more traditional milling deck around Millstone, Grindstone and Capsize, but I was always short of mana, so I think the Bell is actually going to be a major addition to any mana-hungry millstone deck.

Splinterfright is an amazing card. I’m looking forward to building a deck around Splinterfright, Boneyard Wurm, Mulch and whatever other graveyard-related awesomeness I can find. This is especially tasty in 60s because those decks are usually build around redundancy rather than the kitchen sink approach that is the default setting in Commander. Anyone caught without graveyard removal is in for some savage beats, but don’t forget to include Travel Preparations so that your critters don’t die in response to a Bojuka Bog or similar.



And that is the end—or rather it’s only the tip of the iceberg, but I can’t in fairness ask you to read 20,000 words and a 100 decklists. The greatest thing about Magic to me is that it is like language. You only know a few thousand words, but the number of different sentences you can make is as close to infinity as makes no difference; you only have 12,000 cards to choose from, and a mere 269 (dude) in Innistrad, but the number of decks you can make is limitless. Let us hear about your contributions to infinity in the comments, and happy deckbuilding!

[1] Also, does Butcher’s Cleaver gain lifelink because you’re eating whatever bits you hack off of your opponent’s creature? That seems downright unhygienic—and if we were to be consistent, then all creatures that use their teeth as a primary weapon should have lifelink built right in.

[2] A friend of mine was lucky enough to get an Endless Ranks in his sealed pool at the prerelease, but only one other zombie creature.

[3] If you use Call to the Grave, add a few Reassembling Skeletons to your deck to keep GT on the battlefield a little bit longer. The skeletons will also combine well with Zombie Infestation and Smallpox.

[4] If you make a Sandman-related zombie deck, I want to know about it!


About Graveborn Muse

Daryl Bockett has been an avid Magic addict since Legends/Revised. He lives and breathes deckbuilding and casual play. "The more the merrier" is his creed! In those brief moments when he isn't playing, reading or thinking about Magic, he teaches at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. He has a Ph.D. in International Relations, which is basically only useful for helping him to understand the strategic interactions at a multiplayer table.
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6 Responses to Graveborn Musings—INN to Decks

  1. Matthew Banister says:

    I asked the same question about the RG Werewolf Mythic on the main boards and apparently the reason we didnt get it in Innistrad is because there was onle one mythic double faced card and that got allotted to Garruk in this set.

  2. shmebula says:

    Maro said the reason the cleaver gains life is because of necro-cannabilism. Yikes.

    Love these articles – first thing I always do is update my EDH decks. Balefire dragon is going in Mayael, tons of vamps in the Garza Zol (?) Vamp deck (never remember her name), green ooze enchantment in Kresh, flashbacking fireball in Ashling and Kazuul. The list doesn’t end.

  3. Graveborn Muse says:

    If it’s red and has haste it is getting a Balefire, i couldn’t agree more. Urabrask, Akroma and perhaps Kresh too.
    Isn*t there an Ooze Garden in Alara that works better with Kresh? My understanding is that, if Gutter Grime gets killed, all the tokens become 0/0. Of course, it’s still a very nice card to have when someone casts Wrath 😉

    • shmebula says:

      Ah. I misread Gutter grime. I thought they had a set p/t. I do have ooze garden in Kresh and won’t be adding GG afterall. Thx.

  4. Pingback: Friday Flashback – September 30th « CommanderCast

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