Rather Exhumed: Coming Down from the Grave
"Graveyard matters" cards are a key element in the Modern metagame. With Dredge on the rise due to Creeping Chill, we need to re-evaluate maindeck hate and how certain strategies rely on this part of the game. In today's article, Rodrigo ranks the format's tier decks based on their graveyard dependency.
Howdy folks! MKM Series Zaragoza, the tournament I have been preparing for last month, is finally here. So today, I want to focus on the Modern tier decks that we are expecting to see at the main event.
Looking for the best deck to play at the event, it's become undeniable that the graveyard plays a major role in the format with a ton of mechanics using or abusing it: dredge, flashback, delve, persist, delirium, and more recently, jump-start and undergrowth just to name a few.
Since graveyard strategies are becoming more and more popular, I will be ranking decks depending on how many "graveyard matters" cards they have. Afterwards, I will be considering which maindeck hate card could be added if we are expecting a lot of matchups against Dredge, Bridgevines, Hollow Ones, etc.
When we think of decks that heavily rely on graveyard strategies, Dredge is the first one to pop in mind. However, it was "nerfed" not too long ago with the Golgari Grave-Troll banning, and the deck went from being a tier 1 competitor to being completely overshadowed by new contenders that still used the graveyard, but were less vulnerable to hosers, like Hollow One.
Nevertheless, the Modern format is constantly evolving, and every competitive deck can be one new card away from being the top contender, just like Creeping Chill in Dredge, which basically brought the archetype back from the grave (no pun intended).
But enough with the bad jokes. Here is my ranked list of Modern tier decks based on their "graveyard matters" cards:
Minimum Graveyard Interaction (0-9%)
This group includes those few Modern representatives that barely use the graveyard (if even at all). I have also included some maindeck answers that can increase the decks' win rate against graveyard strategies.
Humans and Bant Spirits
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 0%|
|Graveyard Hate: Grafdigger's Cage; Anafenza, the Foremost; Rest in Peace; Remorseful Cleric|
The two best tribal decks in the current meta have zero answers to graveyards in the maindeck. So, when facing the newer popular graveyard strategies, these decks have to race or deny their key cards with Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter in Humans and Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller in Bant Spirits.
With regard to sideboard hate, these decks can bring in artifacts and enchantments like Grafdigger's Cage, Tormod's Crypt, or Rest in Peace. Previous versions of Humans used to pack Anafenza, the Foremost, a card that could once again see maindeck play if you want to exile all those opposing creature shenanigans, such as Narcomoeba, Bloodghast, Vengevine, and dredge enablers. Bant Spirits can also have Remorseful Cleric as flying body that when added to the maindeck can exile an entire graveyard.
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 3.3%|
|Graveyard Hate: Rest in Peace|
Burn has a pretty straightforward strategy. Its main plan is to deal 20 damage as fast as possible with cheap creatures and direct damage spells. Grim Lavamancer is the only maindeck spell that interacts with the graveyard, so you can exile cards to shock your opponent's face or clear the board of their small creatures by mid-late game.
It is unlikely that a deck so linear needs a maindeck answer to graveyard-based strategies. Historically, you could fight Dredge by ignoring the battlefield while aiming all your firepower to their face. But nowadays with Creeping Chill, you lose the race the moment your opponent exiles these cards and gains up to 6 life.
I would never recommend packing up maindeck hate. You can, however, include more Skullcrack effects to avoid the life gain and add two or three copies of Rest in Peace in your sideboard, which is the best card Burn can add so far.
Mono Green Tron
Mono Green Tron is yet another of Modern's tier decks that is consistently getting good results despite the incredible number of cards printed that can nullify its strategy. (Damping Sphere and Alpine Moon are the most recent ones.) This deck is all about setting up Tron lands as early as possible in order to ramp into their payoff cards, like Karn Liberated, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and Wurmcoil Engine. As a colorless deck with a few green spells that lets you search for the Tron pieces, it is quite typical to include two or three copies of Relic of Progenitus, alongside Scavenger Grounds. Both can be fetched with Ancient Stirrings, and the land can be tutored with Sylvan Scrying or Expedition Map.
There are a couple of "graveyard matters" cards in the deck. A singleton copy of World Breaker can get rid of annoying non-creature permanents, such as Blood Moon, Ensnaring Bridge, or manlands and when this Eldrazi creature is in the graveyard, you can retrieve it by sacrificing a land. Emrakul, the Promised End has also been seeing play lately, and her delirium clause becomes handy when it comes to reducing her enormous cost.
Other than those two cards, Mono Green Tron can fully function while ignoring the graveyard. Even the sideboard has only one card that can interact with the graveyard – Crucible of Worlds. It's pretty safe to add more hate in the shape of artifacts that can be tutored or via Surgical Extraction. However, it still might not be enough to deal against the graveyard-heavy decks of the moment.
Medium Graveyard Interaction (10-15%)
The following archetypes use the graveyard because they either have flashback spells or their strategy simply takes advantage of cards in the graveyard zone with cards like Tarmogoyf. Either way, the graveyard plays an important role without necessarily being the decks' primary game plan.
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 10%|
|Graveyard Hate: none|
In spite of what you might think, R/U Storm only has a couple of graveyard-dependent cards, but they are crucial to their maindeck plan: Two copies of Past in Flames, a Gifts Ungiven playset, and some versions also run a singleton Noxious Revival. On the second and third games, this deck can easily remove the Gifts package and bring in a few Pieces of the Puzzle alongside Empty the Warrens, so be aware when you're sideboarding against this matchup.
I didn't realize before (since I am not a Storm player) that most versions don't have sideboard cards that can fight graveyard strategies. This is mainly because they will lose consistency on their Storm count towards winning if they do. However, this might change in the near future if Dredge becomes the top contender in the Modern metagame moving forward.
W/U and Jeskai Control
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 13%|
|Graveyard Hate: Rest in Peace; Surgical Extraction|
Either the straightforward W/U or the version with a splash of red, both decks have some graveyard interaction and are the best examples of control shells in Modern.
Both W/U and Jeskai Control utilize Snapcaster Mage, which has proven to be the catch-all answer especially when paired with the cheap spells the decks run. Logic Knot is another staple that has established itself as a two-of in almost every deck, working as a Counterspell most of the time. Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin is one of the recent additions from last year. As a card-filtering enchantment, Search of Azcanta smooths out your draws and later in the game transforms into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin to enable card selection that can close the match. It also works excellently with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Normally, it is not particularly wise to board in graveyard hate against W/U decks because they can still use most of their cards even if the grave is exiled. Therefore, they themselves run powerful hate like Rest in Peace. Finally, Surgical Extractions is the other piece of disruption that combos with the flashy blue Mage, when Rest in Peace is too slow.
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 15%|
|Graveyard Hate: Leyline of the Void; Nihil Spellbomb; Surgical Extraction|
Jund also falls into the category of decks that can work without any graveyard interaction, but some of the cards take advantage of it eventually. Firstly, Tarmogoyf is the most efficient, cheap threat that can easily turn into a 4/5 or even a 5/6 without having to rely on your opponent's grave. It becomes useless when Rest in Peace is played, but aside from that, it generally adds a huge body to the battlefield. Secondly, Scavenging Ooze is our only graveyard hoser for game 1, able to exile recurring creatures like Bloodghast, Vengevine, and Prized Amalgam – all the while gaining life in the process. Finally, Kolaghan's Command and Liliana, the Last Hope can bring creatures back from the graveyard if needed. But you can also just ignore that part completely and use their other modes or planeswalker abilities.
Moving on to graveyard hate cards for sideboard purposes, you might want to exile the opposing grave only. Black cards are the best choice for this mission: Nihil Spellbomb cycles itself plus buffs your Tarmogoyfs with its artifact type; Surgical Extraction is perfect for discarding packages; and Leyline of the Void is the best answer to a lot of fast graveyard-dedicated decks.
Heavy Graveyard Interaction (16-39%)
The next two decks are a step away from graveyard dependency. They have powerful cards that revolve around the graveyard in order to be played for a cheaper casting cost, like delve creatures (e.g. Gurmag Angler) and Bedlam Reveler, a key piece for Mardu Pyromancer decks.
Grixis Death's Shadow
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 18%|
|Graveyard Hate: Nihil Spellbomb; Surgical Extraction; Leyline of the Void|
Shadow variants might not be as popular as they once were, but there are still a lot of fans supporting the deck.
Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang can only be played during the early stages of the game via fetch lands, Street Wraiths, cantrips hitting the graveyard, and most importantly, by resolving Thought Scour. Snapcaster Mage is also present in this deck, recasting cheap spells (like in W/U) and paired with discard effects. Finally, Kolaghan's Command is one of the few card advantage spells that can return creatures from your graveyard back to your hand. Faithless Looting has also been seeing play in recent versions, so you can ditch a few lands for new spells, also moving Kolaghan's Command to the sideboard.
Grixis Death's Shadow's sideboard options to fighting graveyard decks is basically the same as Jund. However, based on the current state of the format, I recommend you bring in a full playset of Leyline of the Void due to the deck's bad matchup against Dredge and Hollow One.
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 25%|
|Graveyard Hate: Surgical Extraction; Leyline of the Void|
Mardu Pyromancer takes advantage of flashback spells combined with cheap discard and removal spells to generate tokens with Young Pyromancer. Later in the game, this archetype fuels your hand when resolving Bedlam Reveler for only two mana.
One of the key cards of this strategy is Faithless Looting. (This card will typically be mentioned in all graveyard-dedicated decks.) When looking at it as an individual card, Faithless Looting doesn't seem very impressive – it generates card disadvantage despite drawing two new cards. But once you combine it with Lingering Souls, you start gaining value. The good news arrives mid-game when you resolve Bedlam Reveler to act as an Ancestral Recall with a 3/4 prowess body, despite your reduced hand size.
Others cards in line with Mardu Pyromancer's strategy are Liliana, the Last Hope and Kolaghan's Command, which have already been mentioned in previous decks. The sideboard choices are no different from Grixis Death's Shadow and Jund. Surgical Extraction, however, combos well with the youngest of the pyromancers.
Dealing with the opposing graveyard hate might be tough, since our Bedlam costs 8 mana and Lootings can get very clunky even with Lingering Souls. Try to play around these weaknesses or pack some Wear // Tear action to destroy Relics, Cages, Rips, and Leylines.
Graveyard Dedicated Decks (40-65%)
At last, we reach the top three most successful decks that are considered to be graveyard-centered. Sure, there are a bunch of other choices like B/R Reanimator and Jeskai Ascendancy or even Sword of the Meek combo lists, but I will be listing the top three contenders:
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 40%|
|Graveyard Hate: Leyline of the Void|
The Hollow One deck's reliance on the graveyard is kind of tricky. When asked to name its "graveyard matters" cards, you will obviously mention Bloodghast, Flamewake Phoenix, and Faithless Looting as the recurring spells that synergize with the random discard effects. You can also play Hollow One or boost your Flameblade Adept when facing Leyline of the Void on the other side of the table. These are great strengths for a deck where nearly half of its cards interact with the grave one way or another.
However, one of the deck's main weaknesses against other dedicated graveyard archetypes and its mirror is running a playset of Burning Inquiry. This card that usually favors its player rather than the opponent could easily turn into a nightmare when discarding Dredge enablers, Vengevines, and even their own Bloodghasts or Flamewake Phoenixes. You are usually not in a favorable position on game 1 unless you know which deck you will be paired against beforehand. Therefore, you should board out all your copies in the subsequent games.
When it comes to the sideboard, don't overthink. A playset of Leyline of the Void is your best choice because you can always discard the extra copies with looting effects.
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 45%|
|Graveyard Hate: Leyline of the Void|
Bridgevine decks became very popular last Summer 2018, but they never really won any big tournaments to be considered as a tier staple. In my humble opinion, however, Bridgevine has come out with a definitive list, but right now, the last Dredge version has outclassed the Vengevine deck almost completely.
As matches usually go, the game 1 win rate is pretty in our favor, since only a few decks are capable of recovering from 8 or 10 power on turn 2 with a couple of hasty 4/3 elementals from out of nowhere. Sideboard games are a different story though, since any piece of hate will severely injure our game plan. Any of the aforementioned grave hate, including Tormod's Crypt and other board sweepers, especially Terminus or Anger of the Gods can completely wreck our board presence. Luckily, to dodge any creature-exiling effect, Bridgevine counts on Viscera Seer to sacrifice your army, so they can come back on later turns.
Whether you are playing Hollow One, Bridgevine, or Dredge, the best graveyard hate is Leyline of the Void. It can be easily discarded if you draw it later in the game and it doesn't hurt your game plan.
|Graveyard Matters Cards: 63%|
|Graveyard Hate: Leyline of the Void|
What happened with Dredge? Well a month or two ago, the format was riddled with tier 2 decks that could win tournaments from time to time. Then Guilds of Ravnica came and Creeping Chill happened.
When I was writing my article for the top GRN cards in Modern, I was about to say that Creeping Chill could have a small impact on the archetype. Then I had the chance to play a match against it. I, myself, suffered from the chills and oh boy, this card is bonkers!
Creeping Chill does more things than what it looks like at first glance. It allows the deck to run faster in aggro matchups, and its life swing makes it impossible for opponents to kill you before you kill them. Furthermore, exiling it results in a replacement effect, so it can't be avoided with the usual counterspells. Its 4-mana cost also makes it pretty easy to cast.
In summary, Dredge is back again. It is currently the most played deck in Magic Online and is putting on impressive performances in actual tournaments. In spite of its relative weakness against any graveyard hoser, unless your opponent finds one early in the game, Dredge will still win.
To sum it all up, these are my tier deck rankings based on their "graveyard matters" cards. I hope you enjoyed this piece and as usual, please let me know what your thoughts and opinions are in the Comments section below.
I expect graveyard-based decks to be an important piece in the metagame puzzle in the upcoming months. So, you might as well be prepared to fight against them either at your local games store or this weekend at the MKM Series in Zaragoza where I hope to have a lot of fun.
Have a nice Magic week!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.