Coldsnap: Beyond the Grave Review (Part 1 of 2)
Everything is scarce during an ice age except snow and death- which makes it a great time to be a necromancer!
That little blurb from the back of the deck’s box tells you exactly what you need to know about Beyond the Grave, Coldsnap’s tri-colour recursion/combo offering.
Unlike previous decks reviewed thus far, Beyond the Grave abandons the block’s cumulative upkeep mechanic and focuses entirely on recover. As you might expect, this deck has a vested interest in the goings-on in its graveyard in a number of ways, and contains a large number of activated abilities. Indeed, it’s one of the few decks we’ve seen that comes with a warning of sorts: This deck can be complex to play, since there are so many triggers and options. You have to be extra careful…
Triggers and options? Sign us up!
The main focus of this deck is to set up combo loops and interactions between cards so that you’re getting multiple uses for each card, a solid form of card advantage (and there’s even a little of the conventional kind in here, too). This allows you to be much more fearless in battle, because casualties aren’t the setback for you that they typically are for your opponent. Your minions are disposable and expendable, and the time they buy you to set up your recursive engine will be handsomely rewarded later in the game. Ordinarily in reviewing a deck we’ll separate the creatures from the noncreature support. In a deck of this nature, though, it’s much clearer to draw the distinction between “engine” and “fuel.”
Blood Calls to Blood: The Fuel
In order for this deck to run at optimal efficiency, things need to die. Lots of things, but especially your things. Forget protecting your creatures- that’s a tactic for the weak. In many ways, your recruits are of greater worth to you dead rather than alive, and the sooner you get comfortable with the killing, the better this deck will run.
To ‘help things along,’ the deck is loaded with sacrifice outlets, letting you have a corpse-on-demand. This is especially useful in response to removal or a chump block, because your critter was going to die anyway. A Skull Catapult sends your ill-fated minion on a skyward vault, transforming it in the process from a useless nobody into a very useful Shock. No Catapult? No problem! Call up one of your two Orcish Bloodpainters and let them do the deed. Sure your return on your investment is only half as good, but remember- those dead bodies you’re stockpiling are just another resource.
If slinging some damage isn’t really what’s needed at the moment, you could always go for a little life bump with a Gutless Ghoul (the deck packs three) or pop a Disciple of Tevesh Szat to take down a particularly nasty foe. You’ll also need to offer something up to the Kjeldoran Dead, a very solid and aggressively-costed 3/1 regenerator. The deck’s Ashen Ghoul makes great sacrifice fodder given that it can actually recur itself- after a few more deaths, at least.
Of course, fun shared is fun squared, so why not let your opponent enjoy the opportunity to see some of their creatures die too? If you’re in the giving spirit, there are plenty of ways to extend your murderous touch across the table. With two each of Krovikan Rot and Dark Banishing, a Deepfire Elemental, two Death Sparks, and a Soul Burn, this deck is loaded with removal. And if you use one of the deck’s two Insidious Bookworms to fuel a sacrifice, you can spread the joy right into the cards they hold in their hand (just make sure you have the mana open for them).
So setting levity aside for a moment, Beyond the Grave is absolutely bristling with ways to get bodies into graveyards, which are the raw materials the rest of the deck will be relying upon. Indeed, being a tree-colour deck with limited mana fixing and no nonbasic lands, you’re frequently going to want to stall out the early game while you assemble the deck’s components. Once you do, though, you’ve got a formidable repurposing machine.
The first thing of note here is the presence of cards that care about when things die. Once upon a time, graveyards were static things where the order of the cards was fixed when they went in, and certain effects were enabled by what was in there. Amongst the best-known of this class of card is Death Spark, a cheap little ping that could recur itself to your hand if the card directly above it happened to be a creature. This was, of course, a relic of the old Ice Age/Alliances rules, and ‘graveyard order’ was subsequently dropped by Wizards (as mana burn and other relics of the past have been as the game evolves).
Still, the mechanic carried a certain flavour that R&D wanted to preserve, and recover is a direct descendant. It still preserves the limited window at recursion while not being dependant upon graveyard ordering. In Beyond the Grave, you have five such spells, and they must be played carefully lest they be lost for good. As mentioned above, there’s some recoverable removal in the form of a pair of Krovikan Rots. Although limited in killpower by the creature’s power level, they’ll have no shortage of targets in all but the more creatureless decks.
The trio of Grim Harvests are your other recoverable option, pulling one of your dead creatures back to hand. With enough mana, you’ve got a readymade recursive loop here: sacrifice a creature to power one of your activated abilities, recover it with Grim Harvest, recast it, sac it again and get Grim Harvest back. Again, the Insidious Bookworms are a brutal and merciless choice (if you have the extra mana to feed them), but anything will do.
Moving on, you have other cogs in this cadavrous engine that will move you along the path to victory. Two Gristle Grinners each get +2/+2 whenever a creature dies. Balduvian Dead will gladly transform any of your corpses into 3/1 hasty Graveborn, and the caveat that they are sacrificed at the end of turn isn’t much of an impediment given the number of ways you have to put them to good use. If you’d prefer Graveborn that stick around awhile, Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper is just the Orc for the job.
The rest of the deck rounds out some of the rough edges. Two Barbed Sextants and a Coldsteel Heart offer you some mana fixing, with an odd Dark Ritual thrown in for some extra bit of octane in the tank. Two Casting of Bones offers you some card drawing, albeit with the usual vulnerability of creature auras (it can fizzle if your opponent responds with instant-speed removal). Finally there’s an Orcish Healer to nullify opposing regeneration creatures or regenerate some of your own, and the deck’s other Rare- the mightly Void Maw. The Void Maw is a win condition all by itself, though not one that can be used with reckless abandon. Because it prevents your creature from reaching the graveyard until you cash them in, it can stop your engine from running while it charges itself up.
Overall, there’s truth in advertising in the deck’s liner notes- this can be a very complicated deck with a startling number of interactions. Those predisposed to forgetting triggers or not able to string together sequences of effects might want to steer clear, but for those who thrive on complexity this deck is a dream- on paper, at least. We’ll be taking this engine for a spin around the block, and return in two days with a report on how it performed.
See you then!