Coldsnap: Beyond the Grave Review (Part 2 of 2)
Time to take our giveaway deck into battle! When we broke it apart, Beyond the Grave looked to have a lot of complicated and intricate machinery under the hood. Of course, what good is any of it if it doesn’t actually perform once you get it on the road, so I challenged Sam to the usual trio of games to try it on for size.
In the adversary’s role, Sam took the Blue/White Kjeldoran Cunning, a quasi-swarm deck featuring the ripple mechanic. WHat happens when two decks vie for board control? Here are our match notes to find out…
Sam’s on the play, and she leads with a Portent for some early improvement in her draws. Next turn, she adds a Kjeldoran Outrider, then swings with it on turn 3 and follows up with a Brainstorm which nets her a third land drop. For my part, my first play is a Gutless Ghoul on turn 3, but I’ve a few options still in hand.
A turn-4 Kjeldoran Elite Guard follows Sam’s second attack, leaving me at 16. Back to me, I swing back for 2 of my own with the Ghoul, then kill off her Kjeldoran Outrider with a Krovikan Rot. Playing instant kill at sorcery speed isn’t something I often try to do, but I want to avoid any power-pumping shenanigans in response to my kill spell as it’s power-dependent. Next turn, Sam sends the Outrider into the red zone for 2 more, then casts a Surging Sentinels. Resolving the ripple, she mises another Sentinels on the fourth reveal, allowing her to ripple again for another four. Luckily, this time it’s a whiff. At the end of her turn, I knock off her free Sentinels with a Death Spark. Back to mine, I then kill off her other Sentinels with a second Death Spark, confident that I’ll be able to return them to hand later. With Sam’s defenses clear, I attack again with the Ghoul, and she’s at 16.
Now turn 6, Sam trots out a heavy with the Jötun Grunt. Fearing during her next upkeep she’ll pay its cumulative upkeep by flushing my Death Sparks to the bottom of my library, I unthinkingly snap off a Dark Banishing on the Grunt and end up doing Sam’s work for her (the Banishing, sitting idly atop the Sparks in the graveyard, means they won’t be coming back- lesson learned). Robbed of my plan, my turn 6 is a blank. Next turn, Sam continues the attack with the Elite Guard, and this time having held the Ghoul back I go ahead and accept the trade. The loss of the Ghoul allows me to recover the Krovikan Rot, and this mollifies me somewhat from the loss of the Sparks. Sam ends her turn, and once I hit my main phase I Dark Ritual out a Void Maw. I hate to use the Ritual here, but I’m a bit land-stuck and hoping the Maw will turn the tide.
Entering turn 8 with no end in sight, Sam reinforces her side with a Kjeldoran Outrider. Back to me, I swing for 4 with the Void Maw, but Sam answers it with a Swords to Plowshares. The lifegain (taking me back to 16) is little consolation for the loss of one of the deck’s two rares. I summon an Orcish Bloodpainter and pass. Sam’s turn-9 play is another Surging Sentinels, but this time the ripple comes up gratifyingly empty. At the end of turn, I blast Sam’s Outrider with the Krovikan Rot- one less threat on the board. Over to me, I manage to add an Insidious Bookworm to my field, but have no other play.
A Field Marshal shows up on turn 10, and Sam’s remaining Surging Sentinels gets augmented with a Wings of Aesthir. Sam sends the now-flying Sentinels in on the attack, and they carve me up for 4. I’m now on a rather short clock. I attack with my Bloodpainter for 2, dropping Sam to 14, and pass turn. What’s much more important is the card I’ve drawn- a Dark Banishing- and it picks off that enchanted Sentinels when Sam sends it in to attack next turn. With nothing to play after the attack, Sam passes back, and I orchestrate an attack of my own. I send in the Bookworms for 1, then once the attack is over I pop the Bookworms to the Orcish Bloodpainter for another point of damage to Sam. This allows me to recover the Krovikan Rot that’s been loitering about my graveyard, but sadly I don’t have the mana to do all that and trigger the Bookworms’ forced discard abaility, so it goes unused.
Now turn 12, Sam plays a Boreal Shelf and attacks for 2 with the Field Marshal. I finally get the extra Swamp I’ve been hoping for to enable some truly devious looping. I recall the Bookworms with a Grim Harvest and recast them. Trouble arrives next round when Sam lands a Kjeldoran Gargoyle, whose lifelink threatens to undo all the good work I’ve done up to this point. Back to me, I again sac the Bookworms to the Bloodpainter, pinging Sam for 1, then pay its extra cost for for the bonus random discard. A solid hit here, as Sam throws away a perfectly good Surging Sentinels! I also pay the recover cost to return the Grim Harvest, then cast it to get my beautiful Bookworms back. Although it takes some mana to get there, the possibilities this deck offers are delicious.
Still, I’m not out of the woods yet. Sam’s turn-14 attack for 5 cuts me in half (and gains her 3 more life). She then Brainstorms, and follows it up with a Zuran Spellcaster. Still, I’m treading water at least, and my prospects improve when I topdeck a Skull Catapult. I play it and the Bookworms, then sac the ‘Worms to the Bloodpainter to ping the Gargoyle. I then am forced to sac the Bloodpainter to the Skull Catapult to finish the Gargoyle off. Expensive, but so very worth it as I’ve kept myself alive for another turn (though I must exile my Grim Harvest, as I’m without the mana to recover it). As expected, next turn Sam keeps the pressure on and roughs me up for 3, leaving me virtually on death’s door. But as I learned from playing against this deck before, Beyond the Grave is rather like a cockroach in its difficulty to kill, and I’m not giving up hope. I have another Grim Harvest in hand, and use it to bring back the ‘Worms to hand. I then smoke her Zuran Spellcaster with a Krovikan Rot, and recast the ‘Worms.
Sam’s turn 16 is a blank, giving me a moment to catch my breath. She’s visibly frustrated as she can’t quite seem to finish me off, which is exactly what this deck does. Over to me, I Skull Catapult the ‘Worms to kill off the Field Marshal. Sam responds with Surging Aether to save it, but whiffs on the ripple. My Catapult resolves, and I pay the extra on the ‘Worms to force a discard (amazingly, a Disenchant) as well as recover the Krovikan Rot. The added value these cards have is ridiculous, and it’s not far from feeling like my graveyard is just an extension of my hand. Passing back to Sam, she replays her rescued Field Marshal and passes. I enchant it with Casting of Bones, then kill it with the Krovikan Rot. This lets me draw three cards, then I finish by discarding a Mountain to satisfy the spell.
Sam does a little card drawing of her own on turn 18 with a Lat-Nam’s Legacy, desperately looking for the answer for my last 2 points of life. Back to me, I slap down a Gutless Ghoul and a Gristle Grinner, fresh from my library. Sam’s turn 19 is a blank, and I begin whittling her down once my attack phase comes around. She’s down to 9 life from 14, and I follow it up with a Disciple of Tevesh Szat.
Sam’s turn-20 Darien, King of Kjeldor could be a game-changer, especially after she goes for broke and enchants it with Wings of Aesthir. One my turn arrives, I go ahead and kill him off with the Disciple (losing the Disciple in the process, alas). The expense of the Disciple’s triggered kill means I’m forced to exile the Krovikan Rot, sadly, but it’s well worth it. With the coast clear, I swing again for 4. With two creatures and a Skull Catapult, I sac one now and one on my next turn to finish off Sam’s last 4 life from a distance. Her freshly-cast turn-21 Jötun Owl Keeper never has a chance. An epic match of two very evenly-balanced decks, this one was far more entertaining than some of the longer games we’ve played!
Once again Sam starts off with an early Brainstorm to set up her board progression, while I land a first-turn Barbed Sextant. After Sam’s second-turn blank (playing only a second Island), I drop an Orcish Healer and things are underway.
Sam’s stuck on two land, though- and both of them Islands. She Brainstorms on turn 3 to try and hit land, and comes up heartbreakingly empty. She follows up with a Portent, and this time hits paydirt- a Plains! Back to me, I land a Gutless Ghoul after attacking with the Healer (o sweet irony!). Sam drops her first ripple on turn 4 with a Surging Sentinels, but comes up empty. I tap out for a Skull Catapult, running one mana through the Barbed Sextant to cash it in for the free card (drawn on Sam’s upkeep, it’s a Gutless Ghoul).
Now turn 5, Sam casts Kjeldoran Pride on the Surging Sentinels, then swings in with them for 3 for her first damage against me. She then Brainstorms once more, and ends her turn. For my part, I deploy an Ashen Ghoul and send in the team for 6. Sam’s now down to 13 life. Next turn, she swings back for 3 of her own with the Sentinels, then follows up with a pair (!) of Kjeldoran Outriders. Going aggressive, I send in both Ghouls for 5, and Sam declines to block. I then place a Casting of Bones on one of the Outriders and end the turn.
Sam’s attack picks up steam on turn 7, as she swings in with everything for 7. Not yet ready to start chumping, I take it all and am cut in half. She follows up with a Zuran Spellcaster and passes. I attack back for 6, forcing her to take the trade of the Spellcaster for the Ashen Ghoul (which the Spellcaster would have killed next turn anyway). I follow up with a Gutless Ghoul and that’s it for my turn. Sam attacks again for 7 on turn 8, and while chump out the Gutless Ghoul, she follows up with a Surging Sentinels which gets another of its fellows off the ripple. It’s too much for me to handle, and Sam’s able to close it out next turn.
We both lead with one-drops in this final match- my Barbed Sextant and her Brainstorm, but neither of us have another play until turn 3 when I land an Orcish Bloodpainter. Sam gets the better here when her Surging Sentinels ripple into a second one.
I play a second Barbed Sextant on turn 4, then cast Dark Ritual. I pass two of the mana through the Sextants to pop them for the free draws, spending three mana to place Casting of Bones on my Bloodpainter. I then use my last mana to cast Kjeldoran Dead, sacrificing the Bloodpainter which triggers the Casting of Bones. I draw land (not unwelcome), play a Swamp (which now allows me to regenerate the Dead) and pitch a Mountain. Busy turn! Sam attacks with both her Sentinels, and I push my Dead in front of one of them to reduce the incoming damage. Taking 2, I’m down to 18, and Sam follows up with a Zuran Spellcaster. That’s going to be trouble for my regenerator.
Luckily, I hit my fifth land drop on turn 5 and trot out the trusty Skull Catapult. Passing to Sam, she pings the Kjeldoran Dead with her Spellcaster, and I respond by offering the Dead up to the Catapult and killing off her pinger before it has a chance to be too nuisome. She then attacks with both Sentinels for 4 and ends with another of her Brainstorms which lands her a Jötun Grunt. She plays the Grunt and passes.
Now turn 6, I play Casting of Bones on one of the Sentinels, intending to cash in on it later. Sadly, I have no other play. Back to Sam, she sends in the side for 8. I pick off the enchanted Sentinels with a Krovikan Rot (the draw lands me a Dark Banishing, and I pitch a Mountain), but still take 6, leaving me at 8. My next turn is a tragic blank, while Sam goes all in again with the Grunt and remaining Sentinels. The Dark Banishing solves the Grunt, but I’m still taking 2 from the Sentinels. Down to 6!
Better late than never, I land a turn-8 Disciple of Tevesh Szat, which is at least something. Back to Sam, she attacks again for 2 with the Sentinels, then plays a Kjeldoran Home Guard. Back to me, I Grim Harvest back the Orcish Bloodpainter and recast him. Sam attacks for 3, but picked off by the Disciple the Sentinels never make it across the red zone. Still, the Home Guard does, and that’s me at 3 life. She then more or less clinches it when she casts Reinforcements, placing the Jötun Grunt and two Surging Sentinels back atop her library. In a nasty turn, she follows that up with a Surging Sentinels from her hand, and just like that she’s landed a three-for-one as the two fellows from the top of her library take their place on the battlefield.
I try stalling, desperate for an answer. Once it’s my turn, I sac the Bloodpainter to himself to kill off one of the Sentinels, recovering Grim Harvest in the process. I cast it, and return the Bloodpainter back to hand which I then recast. But all I’m doing is delaying the inevitable. After reviewing the board, I concede.
Thoughts & Analysis
Playing Beyond the Grave was a very humbling experience. I’ll admit I chortled a little when I read in the accompanying insert that the deck was not for those who had trouble with triggers, as I consider myself a solid player who delights in complexity. Surely that must be a warning for the novice, I thought. Such arrogance has a way of being brought low.
As it happens, although I adapted over time, I missed a number of triggers when I had the opportunity to recover a spell. It’s exacting and unforgiving that way, and it doesn’t let you play on autopilot. There will be many who see that as something of a drawback- including the game’s designers, who seem to have lamentably dialed back some of the complexity over time (a minority opinion, I’m certain).
The verdict? Beyond the Grave is one of the most fun preconstructed decks I’ve ever played. Once you’re able to set up your loops, your only limit is the amount of mana you’ve managed to play. It stays firmly on this side of the abusive line by being so exacting- miss a chance to recover something, and it’s forever gone. Although I ended up losing two of the three, even in the final match I always felt like I had a chance- the deck is ridiculously resilient, and prone to clawing back even when you’re at low-single-digit life.
Hits: Superlative deck synergy between cards- almost everything has a purpose that meshes with the other cards in the deck (Orcish Healer being something of an excepetion, and even it has its uses); recursive loops an absolute blast to set up, but not so easy that the deck becomes abusive or unfun
Misses: Intricacy and complexity of interactions are not for the absentminded or faint of heart
FINAL SCORE: 4.90/5.00