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November 19, 2011


Premium Deck Series: Graveborn Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

It isn’t often an opposition deck gets to make an encore appearance. Last tear when we reviewed Slivers and Fire & Lightning together, each got their turn in the sun. Today it’s Graveborn’s turn, and so like Captain Freedom in The Running Man Fire & Lightning is coming down off the shelf for battle once more.

Game One

I’m on the play for our match opener, and lead with a turn-1 Putrid Imp. Sam starts with a Mogg Fanatic. Next turn I drop an Ebon Stronghold, then pitch a Sphinx of the Steel Wind to the graveyard to give my Imp flying. I send it in for 1 in the air, then set my life counter to 12 as I Reanimate the Sphinx. Sam wordlessly trots out a Jackal Pup and Mogg Fanatic- truly paling by comparison- and ends her turn.

Now turn 3, I discard an Inkwell Leviathan to give the Imp evasion again, sending both in for 7. The Sphinx’s lifelink puts me back up to 18, while Sam is now at 13. Sam’s had enough and pops her Fanatic to pick off the Imp. Fine with me, for it’s done it’s job as I cast Diabolic Servitude to return the Leviathan to play. 13 power on the board, and this is turn 3. Sam plays a Mountain and passes.

Next turn I swing with both beaters, with Sam chumping her remaining Fanatic to stay alive at 1. She draws, then scoops.

Game Two

Somewhat shellshocked, Sam begins the second game with a Mogg Fanatic. I play Cabal Therapy, targeting myself and naming “Blazing Archon.” What luck, I have one in hand- what are the odds- and off it goes to the graveyard. Next turn Sam gets in some early damage with a Spark Elemental, sending it in alongside her Fanatic for 4 after playing a Barbarian Ring. Back to me, I bring the Archon back with an Animate Dead.

Dread Return

In the absence of removal, that’s more or less game in five turns- Sam lacks flyers, but fortunately for her she does have recourse to burn. On turn 5, she makes her move, frying the Archon with a pair of Lightning Bolts and attacking for 6 thanks to a freshly-played Teetering Peaks. Now at 10 life, I play another Animate Dead and bring back the Archon. Next turn Sam adds a Boggart Ram-Gang, but can’t do anything with her beaters. I chunk in for another 4, leaving her at 7 (she’d used her Barbarian Ring last turn, nicking her for one).

Now turn 7, Sam plays a Cinder Pyromancer. I bring out the trusty Putrid Imp, pitching a Crosis, the Purger, then bringing the Dragon back from the grave with a Diabolic Servitude. Back to Sam, she pings me with the Pyromancer for 1, pops her Mogg Fanatic for another, plays Keldon Marauders to nick me for a third which allows her to untap and retrigger her Pyromancer for a fourth point of damage, then having managed to bring me down to 6 life she concedes the game.

Game Three

An opening Spark Elemental gets Sam off to the right start, attacking for 3 before I’ve even drawn my first card. As it happens, the first card I draw is an Entomb, and off I go to the library. Every target is tempting, but while I feel some pity for Sam’s predicament I’ve got a game to win, and that means that protection from Red Sphinx of the Steel Wind. Next turn Sam plays the Keldon Marauders, pinging me for 1. Back to me, I cast Exhume, which allows both Sam and I to take the sole creature in each of our graveyards and put it into play. Of course, unlike the Sphix, Sam’s Elemental has an end-step death trigger, so she ends up gaining nothing from the spell.

Now turn 3, Sam resigns herself to a Jackal Pup before passing. I play an Ebon Stronghold, then swing for 6 to put Sam at 14 and me at 22. Next turn sees Sam’s Marauders vanish, pinging me for another. I follow that up with a Buried Alive, pitching Crosis, a Verdant Force, and the Inkwell Leviathan to the graveyard before attacking again.

While Sam’s turn 5 is a blank, I swing with the Sphinx for 6 leaving Sam on the verge of death at 2 life. Meanwhile, I’m up to 34. I then finish her off with a 2-point Sickening Dreams, pitching a Terastodon and Blazing Archon to pay for it.

“You only had to Dream me for 1,” Sam says as she begins to scoop up her cards.”


“The Jackal Pup would have killed me.” I kick myself for not catching this cruelly clever death sentence, but perhaps Graveborn has twisted the knife enough.

Thoughts & Analysis


When Graveborn was first announced, I didn’t have the highest of hopes. Sure, reanimation can be a powerful strategy, but going on the power level of Slivers or Fire & Lightning I expected the deck to have a somewhat measured take on the strategy with mediocre cards mixed in with some solid ones. I certainly was not expecting games set on the winning path as early as turn 2.

To be fair, the Sphinx was an absolute house against Sam’s mono-Red deck, but then again nearly any one of the fatties packed into Graveborn was up to the task. Even when Sam managed to burn one out (one-for-two’ing herself in the process), my next recursion spell was already well in hand. Indeed, I always seemed to have the recursion- what felt a little less reliable was the ability to get cards into my graveyard.


As you might note from the fact that I started on the play in Game One, I did lose our pre-match friendly when I kept a hand that had bombs and recursion, but never found a way to get them into the graveyard. It says something about the deck’s strength that I concluded that starting on the draw and skipping a land drop to force a discard was a viable tactic, though by that point in the friendly we were already well underway. Unable to cheat out a beater, I fell in just a few turns after some early attacks and 10 points’ worth of burn to the face in a single turn. Fire & Lightning is no slouch, however it may appear so next to Graveborn.

Overall, the deck works and works well, and it gives me some enthusiasm about the product line as each release has exceeded the one before it. Although we’re well accustomed to preconstructed decks that have a loose support for its strategy, the tight focus of Graveborn exceeds that of some of the Event Decks, which are themselves at the top of the preconstructed class. As noted in the deck analysis, there’s little wasted space here. When looking to blunt your opponent’s creature-based assault, for instance, you’re not just playing a removal card. You’re either getting a body along with it (Faceless Butcher) or dropping some of your bombs into the graveyard where they belong (Sickening Dreams). It’s not perfect- Zombie Infestation doesn’t feel quite in the same league as the other discard options presented here, and is contingent upon cards in hand, but it’s as tightly coiled a preconstructed deck as we’ve seen.

Still, technical ability is but one part of the equation- is the deck fun? The answer here is a resounding yes! Even players (like myself) who tend to dislike creature combat will take sadistic glee in seeing the look on opponents’ faces when they see their doom land on the battlefield on turn 2. There was certainly the sense in the match above that Graveborn was a cut above, and the minigame of throw-things-out-then-bring-them-back was a blast to play.

Then there’s the actual appearance of the deck. We’re not typically ones who have much interest in foils, but the cards of Graveborn are gorgeous. They feel slightly thicker and heavier than ordinary Magic cards, somehow more solid, and the foiling process makes a lot of these pop- especially ones with a lot of ‘white space’ like Buried Alive, Hidden Horror, and- most especially- Reanimate. The Ebon Stronghold is gorgeous. The box and die are nice for those who appreciate such things, and as mentioned in Part 1 of the review it was nice to see a nonstandard “Spindown” life counter colour. Overall, we have little reservation about recommending Graveborn, even at the MSRP of $34.99.

Hits: Superlative focus on the deck’s recursion engine gives you reliable delivery of outsize beaters well before you’d be able to hardcast them (if even you could); foil cards here are visually stunning

Misses: A few cards seem less ‘choice’ than others (Twisted Abomination seems to pale beside of its higher-commonality bretheren); like any strategy that devotes so much of its energy towards a single creature, can be vulnerable to removal (though ability to bring creatures back from the graveyard mitigates this somewhat)

OVERALL SCORE: 4.85/5.00

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 19 2011

    I’m calling Graveborn as the next Precon Deck Champ. ‘Nuff said. It is absolutely bonkers.

    • Nov 19 2011

      I thought the exact same thing as I was writing the deck up. It’s definitely going to be the odds-on favourite, and its hard to imagine it losing. It’ll take some deck with bounces, Bonds of Faiths, or the like- and a lot of them.

      • i wonder how it would fair against a deck like the newest mono white event deck. Cards like O-ring and Fiend Hunter could remove the major threats without dumping them back into the graveyard, and unless i am mistaken this deck wouldn’t have any easy answers to that form of removal.

        • Nov 21 2011

          That would definitely have an impact. The race then would be to see whether or not Graveborn could find its Inkwell Leviathan…

  2. Varo
    Nov 19 2011

    Played against it yesterday. Trampled over ALL my decks ( U Control, Red deck wins, U/B Infect/Control, G/B Elves, Dredge and White Weenie/Living weapon ).

    I thought monoblue and Infect/control were the ones who could beat it since they had counterspells and control magic, but my decks couldn’t find answers or keep the pace that deck has. It pitches fatties and reanimates them so easily and so many times that you are put in a very bad position in the first turns every match.

    This deck is easily the most powerful of any preconstructed decks i’ve seen before, and there’s enough variety among the bombs to lock down a wide range of decks (inkwell leviathan, blazing archon, sphinx…) It even brings along some copies of duress to destroy opponents’ hands right from the start!

    • Nov 19 2011

      To be certain, the Sphinx was falt-out unfair for Fire & Lightning, but it made me also think that there’s enough of a toolbox aspect that you can float a whole fleet of prot-critters, and fetch up the right one as needed, like Akroma against Black, etc. Brutal.

  3. Nov 19 2011

    Again, I don’t think you could actually use a spell that states “Target” on the shrouded Inkwell so most likely game one would have been slightly longer…slightly. Please correct me if I didn’t see the overriding rule somewhere.

    • Nov 19 2011

      Thanks for the question! Creature keywords aren’t active unless the creature is on the battlefield. For example, let’s say you’re casting the Leviathan. I am able to Cancel it despite it having shroud. Another way to look at it is this- let’s say you have a 1/1 creatue on the board and four dead Aven Squires in your graveyard. When you attack, is your creature a 1/1 or a 5/5 (thanks to the Squire’s exalted ability). It’s a 1/1- exalted’s dont trigger off of creatures in the graveyard. So the Leviathan- which is uncastable by the deck as it is- must be able to be returned to play another way, and that’s through reanimation.

  4. Icehawk
    Nov 19 2011

    All I can say is: wow. Can’t wait for mine to come in.

    • Icehawk
      Nov 19 2011

      I’m real curious to see how this handles Slivers.

  5. Nov 19 2011

    Mine’s already in the mail. I’m excited.

  6. Nov 19 2011

    + It has a high power curve to it.

    + Consistent at what it does.

    – As fun as solitaire. You mechanically go through the motions after figuring them out (bury and resurrect). You stomp on it and watch it rockslide out of control unless you hit a wall (e.g., Reanimator often can’t deal with Graveyard hate). And you realize it is a single-player game (what your opponent plays is often irrelevant to you).

  7. steve
    Nov 21 2011

    dont mean to bash this deck, but im not getting it ima stick to my w/b and uff that bitch to victory

  8. Robin
    Sep 8 2012

    I just played Graveborn against ‘the sparkler’ pre con and sparkler completely obliterated it. It took at least 20 turns, but Graveborn never got sparkler below 14 life or even got a creature out beyond a 1/1. It was countered, mana denied, frozen, and shamed with buyback spells. I didn’t expect this. What is more amazing is that the sparkler is made up entirely of commons from 1997 and one rare, ‘Intruder alarm’.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Premium Deck Series: Graveborn vs. Slivers | Ertai's Lament
  2. 2011-12 Precon Championships: Round 3 and the Leaderboard | Ertai's Lament

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