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April 13, 2011

20

Coldsnap: Beyond the Grave Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

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…

Game One

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!

Game Two

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.

Game Three

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

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. web8970
    Apr 13 2011

    Wow, thanks for that thrilling match report and much respect for the Ertai’s crew who’s passion for magic clearly won over illness. (By the way – I hope and wish you are getting better.)

    As was to be foreseen, the deck reads to play in a pretty complex way. But rather than being frustrating, I got the impressoin that every miss of a trigger incited to do better next time. Now that’s really some motivation!

    Unfortunately, the Void Maw was not able to play out it’s full potential. You don’t happen to have played some match off the record where this creature had a better time on the board, do you?

    Reply
  2. Jon S
    Apr 13 2011

    The beyond the grave deck definitely sounds like an exciting Deck to play, although I caught my self rooting for Sam in the end(sorry!)

    Reply
  3. Jon David
    Apr 13 2011

    Wow… some cool games…

    I myself have problems with triggers, but I do have to say, that, like you, I laughed a little when I saw the description…

    Still, tons of triggers or not, I’m still trying to win this deck, lol

    Reply
    • Stric9
      Apr 14 2011

      I’m a fan of the US national team. The biggest underdog at all. Could their games have been any more dramatic last summer in South Africa? They literally had to come back from the grave themselves over and over again. It was like they had buyback.

      Reply
  4. mart
    Apr 13 2011

    just ordered mine up today. i love complicated underdogs. this is, incidentally, why i am an arsenal supporter.

    Reply
    • Apr 13 2011

      I wonder what deck would correspond to the fact that we’re absolutely mad for Celtic.

      Even if Green and White are my two least-favourite colours. 😀

      Reply
      • Apr 13 2011

        let’s see…

        one of two or three good decks in a distinctly second tier set. slow format. previously competitive cards still look pretty good in this setting. deck’s controller does well in a casual environment with it, but gets dumped out in the first round of any real tournaments… hmm. what deck COULD that be?

        😉

        Reply
        • mart
          Apr 18 2011

          oh c’mon… i thought that was pretty clever.

          also: beyond the grave arrived today. gonna give it a whirl tonight!

          Reply
  5. Ben
    Apr 13 2011

    I had no idea how you were going to pull out that first one, but when you did, it was great.

    I think I was right about the From the Grave deck. Hella complicated at times and definitely mana hungry, but if you can play it right, it can wield some serious power.

    Reply
  6. MiniLuv
    Apr 13 2011

    Wow very nice. It this the highest final score you’ve given a pre con so far?

    I actually have 2 of these decks, still sealed, sitting in the closet right now. I might break one of them out so that I can get get a friend to pilot my already opened Kjeldoran Cunning and hopefully replay a similar game to your first one!

    Great notes and please keep this up=]

    Reply
    • Prophylaxis
      Apr 13 2011

      I think so… Placed higher than The Adventurers and Ear of the Elves, that’s what I’m surprised of.

      Reply
  7. Stric9
    Apr 14 2011

    Holy smokes! That’s the best I’ve ever seen a deck do on this site. Speaking of seeming underdogs in terms of decks, I played in a sealed deck M11 tournament tonight in Dallas. My prize rares were a Fauna Shaman, a Reverberate, a Hellkite something and a Phylactery Lich. My opponent managed to pull both a Grave Titan and a Primeval Titan and a Hellkite as well. I managed to win the first game by Reverberating a Sign in Blood onto him when he was at exactly 4 life. I won the other game with good old removal. Earlier in the night I also managed to set up a set combo with Reassembling Skeleton and Viscera Seer that let me continually scry as long as I had the mana. I also responded to an attempt to Doom Blade my Hellkite by Flinging at my opponents face then bringing it back with Rise from rhe Grave. I admit, I’m not much of a fan of shenanigans, but they worked tonight. I actually won the little tourney!

    Reply
    • web8970
      Apr 14 2011

      Congratulations!

      Seems like graveyard shenanigans almost always send a signal to the opponent that this zone will play a major role in the current game 🙂

      Reply
  8. troacctid
    Apr 14 2011

    Really enjoyed this one, huh? 4.9/5, that’s pretty high.

    Reply
  9. Koga305
    Apr 14 2011

    Wow, sounds like this deck was pretty amazing. The triggers sound tough to manage, but I’m sure they help make the deck’s owner a better Magic player. After playing a deck like that for a while, you’ll probably never look the same way at triggers again!

    Reply
  10. Aaro
    Apr 19 2011

    This definitely does sound like a fun deck… But the biggest surprise for me was how often Sam got Hits with Ripple. Excluding the last one she set up, it actually worked a decent portion of the time. I was rather disappointed when reading about it and mentally crunching some numbers – it seemed a clear case of irrational optimism or “best-case-scenario”-ism (?).

    Maybe I was a bit hasty in my judgment…

    Reply
  11. mart
    Apr 25 2011

    okay, i finally got to sit down and play with this this weekend. i piloted it against the new “into the breach” event deck and got hammered. elspeth’s duel deck also crushed it. so did a RG Eldrazi Ramp deck.

    i found myself STARVED for mana in all the games. on the rare occasion that i could play something before turn 3 or 4, it wasn’t nearly enough to stop the bleeding or to set up the graveyard for any kind of recursion. in fact, the recover cost is so high i had to choose between it and playing another creature just to give it a target.

    my kid thinks i’m nuts for buying this deck. i’m beginning to wonder myself. i’d love to hear from anyone who’s played it if their experience is similar.

    or is this really only good when played against another intro deck from the same block?

    Reply
    • Apr 25 2011

      That’s a good question- when are decks good, and when is their quality more ‘in a bubble?’ A few thoughts-

      For the most part, we look at decks within their own sets, but that’s not in any way to say you can’t have success with a lot of them. In this case, though, you’ve got a few things working against you. First, Ice Age/Alliances- of which this deck draws some of its cards- is far below the contemporary power curve that it’s hardly a fair fight. These days you get a lot more for your mana, so when you compare old and new you’ll want to keep that in the back of your head.

      Secondly, it’s hard to imagine any outcome other than a total wipeout against “Into the Breach.” Unlike Beyond the Grave, Breach is designed at a competitive level. That’s like an amateur going up against a professional prizefighter- you just close your eyes and wait for the beating to stop.

      Since you’re taking it up against contemporary targets, start looking at ways to keep the core of the deck alive thematically, but with modern and more powerful cards. Ashen Ghoul seems like it’d be more than happy to step aside for Bloodghast, for instance. Look for other critters that are cheap to cast with nifty sac effects, like a Fume Spitter instead of those Insidious Bookworms perhaps. The discard loop is nice, but too slow. Keep the recover cards, add in a modern set of critters that let you time when they die (via sac outlets), and salt in a healthy dose of modern removal or sweepers and voila! An updated Beyond the Grave that will better hang with what you’re putting it up against.

      Reply
  12. ilikehwy40
    Nov 5 2013

    I got this deck and play with it every week almost. I get some wins, but most of my games are 2 headed giant or 3-4 player FFA.
    The deck gets beat bad by enemy graveyard removal like the one card in Kjeldoran Cunning (the upkeep of remove creatures from graveyards).

    With enough mana I can get a loop of damage/removal/3-1 haste tokens/life-gain/draw going.
    I realized I needed to take out the Gristle Grinners and the Deepfire elemental even tho they are great cards, I needed free mana all the time for activating abilities and recovering the grim harvests and rots.

    I replaced them with a 2nd skull catapult and a Lyzolda, the blood witch.
    When I have the Sekkuar death-keeper and the blood witch out its go time! Sac a creature to do 2 damage to target creature, draw a card, get a 3/1, and then sac that for another 2 damage and card draw.

    I replaced the bookworms, due to NEVER having the mana to use them, with 3 Ashen-skin Zuberas who cost 2, but are 1/2 and auto-discard. They also stack, so bringing them back and sacing them again makes them discard 3 cards, while also giving me 3/1 haste tokens and giving me 2 life each (the gutless ghouls are great sac engines).

    I took out the sextants for a Gruul Cluestone and a Rakdos Cluestone and swapped out 2 mountains for a Golgari rot farm and a Gruul Turf for more mana per land and more green mana fixing. More green let me put in 2 mulchs and a Grisly Salvage that work very well, as they fetch more lands, and what isnt a land goes to my graveyard which is great!

    I also put in a reassembling skeleton and replaced the orcish bloodpainters with Hissing Iguanas so I can trigger the damage instead of tap for it. That means each sac to gutless ghoul or catapult or blood witch means bonus point to them.

    I took out the Balduvian dead, as they were ok, but ruined my graveyard plans often.

    I took out the two Disciples of Tevesh Szat so I wouldnt be running over 65 cards, but they helped so I might find a way to work them back in.

    I also put in a Grim Backwoods (colorless land but can also sac to draw) and a Kazandu Refuge. I think I am running 2 more lands then it came with, and have the deck at 65 cards right now, but I can hold my own in 2 headed and even in 1v1 if they dont have a overly aggro deck.

    The void maws not letting things go to the graveyard is great, not bad, as you can send them there anytime you need, and the opponents creatures also go to the “purgatory” zone.
    This lets me control my triggers and lets me stack 2 turns of mana worth of sacs and casting into one turn of triggers. This has let me swing with 5 3/1 haste tokens from deathkeeper and the voidmaw (10/11 trample after having 5 of mine and 1 of their critters in his purgatory) and still having all untapped mana to sac the tokens after combat (or if they are blocked) to a catapult and a gutless ghoul for +8 life and 2 direct damage.
    Oh, and I had a hissing iguana out, so my 40+ life opponants (2 headed one had a extort deck) took 11 damage just from all the stuff going to the graveyard (and I had a deathspark not with a creature over it and I got my grim harvest back).

    What didnt look like much for a turn 10+ 2 headed giant (I had 4 creatures out and the catapult) turned into a attack and direct damage of 48 damage and gaining +8 life.
    I didnt even attack with 3 of my creatures.

    My buddy got the new commander decks and we all picked one at random, guess what, mine had a large pring (and matching normal card size) Sekkuar Deathkeeper for the commander and my friends knew it was trouble. 1/3 of that deck is cards I have in my grave from beyond deck or cards I used to have in it (like the Fecundity and sprouting Thrinax in my sideboard).

    Reply

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