The final resting place.
Except in Magic, where the graveyard is anything but the final resting place. Virtually every Commander meta in the world abuses the graveyard. This was something that regularly happened in Magic right from the start, but Commander has turned the graveyard into an extension of your hand. Every deck seems to have some way to get cards back from the graveyard. Some get them back in your hand, while some put them directly on the battlefield. Some cards just let you use them from the graveyard, while others just come back when the timing is right.
Guilds of Ravnica does nothing to slow this down. In fact, three of the five keywords heavily involve the graveyard. Surveil may not get cards from your graveyard, but it sure helps to get them into the graveyard. You can be sure that anyone using Surveil isn’t just going to pile those cards into the graveyard and not have a plan to use them! Jump-start says you can cast that card from the graveyard, so long as you put another card in the graveyard. This lets you get a second use of a card and helps you load the graveyard with the cards you’re looking for later on. Finally, Undergrowth bumps your spell based on the number of creatures in your graveyard.
When three of the five keywords in a set all involve the graveyard, you can be certain you are going to see even more graveyard shenanigans in your playgroup than you were seeing. Players want to build with the latest legends and cards, and that means Izoni, Thousand-Eyed and Lazav, the Multifarious, looking to load up graveyards for all sorts of misadventures.
Thankfully, Magic has offered us plenty of options to stop this madness! I’m going to take a look at a few options available to limit creatures from returning from the dead. Not an exhaustive list by any means, but I’ll be looking at cards that look to help you deal with the value players who just can’t let an opportunity for value pass them by.
This fellow is an all-star for picking off particular cards in graveyards. While most highly competitive decks make sure their graveyards offer everything the Shaman needs, I prefer to use it as a way to keep my opponents’ graveyards empty. With all the options it offers, the Shaman can make things interesting. The downside is that it must be tapped to exile a single card. It also ends up exiling cards based on what you need, rather than what the threatening cards are. While I run this in my deck because it can give me early mana and attack an opponent’s graveyard, if that is what you want, there are better cards to make that happen.
When you want pinpoint graveyard removal, the Wretch does a great job! For mana it gets rid of the offending card! Unlike Deathrite Shaman, you don’t get anything for it, but the Wretch also doesn’t have a tap in the activation cost, so it can eliminate a wide swath of cards with ease. Are there combo pieces in a graveyard? All gone. Are you expecting a Living Death? You can get rid of all their creature cards to discourage that play. The real issue with this card isn’t what it can do, but that it is a creature card. Creatures with 2 toughness don’t last in a Commander game, so the Wretch and Shaman are great when they are on the battlefield, but don’t expect that they will be long-term solutions if you are hoping to shut the cemetery doors for the game.
These are very similar cards. Pay mana and you get to remove creature cards from the graveyard. While more limited than Withered Wretch, these are enchantments, so they stay on the battlefield longer. Since most of the time the graveyard shenanigans revolve around a creature coming back onto the battlefield again and again, this can often be enough. Of the two I prefer Night Soil. I know that it isn’t as good a deal for Saproling tokens as Necrogenesis but let’s keep our eyes on the prize. We want to keep that graveyard empty and with Night Soil, it costs half as much to do that. The saprolings are a nice side benefit,
If you are looking for a way to target particular cards out of graveyards, you don’t need to look any further! Most players simply target opponents’ creatures, looking to make the Ooze into a massive threatening monster while gaining a bit of life. While that is certainly one way to use the card, it can do so much more! As a mana sink, you can simply empty their graveyard with extra mana. While you don’t get a bigger Ooze or a bigger life total, you do stop your opponents from looping their favorite spells. The Ooze is a creature, so that is a danger, but at least you tend to be able to dodge direct damage spells just by making the Ooze a little bigger!
These are the workhorses when it comes to graveyard removal. The pinpoint cards tend to sit on the table and whisk away single cards when they can. These cards are the wrecking crew. They show up and just empty opposing graveyards. Bojuka Bog is generally understood to be the best of the bunch, mostly because it is a bonus ability. As a land, you are going to get that Black mana every turn after it enters the battlefield. Something many players don’t consider when building is to not count this as a land. There will be plenty of games when the best play is to wait before putting it onto the battlefield. Players often don’t wait and simply play it as their land drop for the turn, failing to optimize it. By not counting this as one of the lands in your deck, you can more easily hold it and wait for the right moment!
I put these separate from Bojuka Bog because despite doing the same thing, they work completely differently. With the Crypt and Spellbomb, you want to get them out quickly, and ideally not use them. You want the threat of using them to deter your opponents from even starting to mess with their graveyard. These cards can keep multiple players from acting while they wait to see who is going to get hit. When an artifact that costs nothing can mess up multiple players’ plans, you have a wonderful thing!
The Charm has the surprise factor of a Bojuka Bog, with some extra. Obviously you can play it on an opponent’s turn, stepping in right as they are about to make things miserable for you. The other benefit of the Charm that makes it one of my favorites, are the options it offers. I like my cards to do multiple things, and sometimes a single wipe of one person’s graveyard just isn’t what I need. The flexibility of the Charm makes it a popular addition in most of my decks that can run it.
These two White creatures also offer the graveyard wipe option. The Cleric acts much like Tormod's Crypt, sitting as a warning, while Angel of Finality does her thing like a Bojuka Bog. Both offer a body in addition to the wipe, so you are definitely paying a little more. Both of these are great, but you’ll want to include them in a deck that makes sense. If you are abusing your graveyard, the Cleric is best. If you are bouncing or flickering your creatures, Angel of Finality defies her name and does the job again and again!
I know this one needs a carefully constructed deck, but while it is on the battlefield, you are wiping opponents’ graveyards repeatedly! This card must be dealt with or the graveyard portion of their plan is simply gone.
We are playing multiplayer, so hitting all graveyards is often the best option. The downside here is that it hits your own graveyard too. You are likely running at least minimal graveyard recursion, so a lot of players tend to avoid cards that wipe every graveyard. Just keep in mind, you know exactly when it is coming, so you can set it up to minimize the hit on you while your opponents are left unaware until impact.
The Relic is probably the most popular option in this category, but the Crook does much the same thing. They are cheap artifacts that sit on the battlefield much like Tormod's Crypt. I like that they can do pinpoint removal, so you don’t have to lose it early just to get rid of one or two cards.
This is a more recent option that can shut the graveyard off without actually emptying it. If you need the cards gone, it can do that, but for 4 mana, it gets a little pricey. I think this is particularly good with some decks that want to measure the volume of the graveyard without actually targeting cards. This niche might be small, but this card is a perfect fit.
I love this card! For only 2 mana all graveyards are empty, and nothing gets added. If you build your deck to never use the graveyard, Rest in Peace will give you a huge advantage over a lot of your opponents. This is a complete lockdown on graveyard strategies, leaving plenty opponents’ hands looking like graveyards.
These are just a few of the cards that you can use to shut down your opponent’s graveyard shenanigans. I hope you get a chance to enjoy a peaceful walk through a cemetery during your coming games!
Bruce Richard @manaburned