Premium Deck Series: Graveborn vs. Slivers
Given the attention that the heavy artillery of Graveborn has been getting after it all but dismantled Fire & Lightning, one question we’ve been hearing is how it might fare against the Slivers deck. On a lark, we decided to find out.
For this “bonus match,” Sam took the reins of Graveborn while I agreed to pilot Slivers. We opened as is customary with a pre-match ‘friendly,’ which we use to give ourselves a bit of familiarity with the decks as well as to determine who gets to choose whether to play or draw for our opener. Although I expected to get stomped, I gave Graveborn a run for its money when it faltered out of the gate and couldn’t find a reanimation spell. When it finally did, the Blazing Archon seemed to trumpet the doom of my valiant underdog Slivers, for what good is an aggressive creature deck that can’t attack?
Luckily, I had a Homing Sliver in play, and pitched a Fungus Sliver to grab a Necrotic one. Unable to cast it immediately, Sam had the Cabal Therapy to thwart my rally, and continued to whittle away my life total. The race was on, but thanks to the Homing Sliver and a Gemhide Sliver, I was able to find and play the Sliver Overlord and Amoeboid Changeling, and I was a turn away from dying when I used the Changeling to turn her Archon into a Sliver and steal it with the Overlord. An improbable victory, to be certain, but sweet victory all the same. I expected to be given a very swift payback.
With Sam having lost the friendly, she opts to be on the play and opens with a Swamp. I play a Terramorphic Expanse, cracking it to tutor up a much-needed Forest. Next turn Sam turns the Cabal Therapy on herself, naming “Sphinx of the Steel Wind” to discard the one in her hand. Back to me, I play a Virulent Sliver followed by a Metallic one and end my turn.
Now turn 3, Sam brings back the Sphinx with an Animate Dead, putting me on a four-turn clock. I play a Muscle Sliver, but can’t profitably attack. I’m also constrained by Sliver’s dreadful manabase as well as mana screw, so I’m not doing much. On turns 4 and 5, Sam attacks with the Sphinx, cutting me by quarters and rapidly inflating her life total. Sadly, my turns are blanks. On turn 6 she then adds a Hidden Horror, discarding an Avatar of Woe. Me? I play a Quick Sliver. Then scoop.
A weak start for the both of us sees Sam mulligan to 5 and me mull to 6. I lead with a Vivid Creek while she starts things off with a Polluted Mire. Next turn I add a Spined Sliver to the board, while Sam casts Zombie Infestation, pitching a pair of Swamps to it to get a 2/2 Zombie token.
Now turn 3, I attack for 2 with my Sliver before adding a Victual one- just like that, both of the Creek’s charge counters are depleted. For her part, Sam fires back for 2 with her Zombie. Next turn I keep the pressure on while I can, attacking with both Slivers for 4. Sam draws, then takes advantage of the discard outlet that the Infestation affords her by pitching another Swamp and a Blazing Archon before attacking in for 2 more with the active Zombie token.
I come in again on turn 5, leaving Sam at 10 life, and I catch a lucky break when her turn is a complete blank. Next turn I attack in again, and she gang-blocks the Spined Sliver to force a trade. Still, that leaves her at 8 life, and I feel I at least have a shot. I repalce my loss with a Crystalline Sliver and pass. Sam, who seems to be a victim of mana flood this go-round, has nothing to add on.
A 2-point attack on turn 7 drops Sam to 6, then she Last Rites for 2 (pitching a pair of Swamps) to pluck the Sliver Overlord and Necrotic Sliver from my hand. Undaunted, I add a Brood Sliver which gives me a pair of 1/1 Sliver tokens after I attack in with both the Victual and Crystalline Slivers. At 2 life, Sam draws nothing and scoops.
Sam opens with a Cabal Therapy to see off her Terastodon to the graveyard, while my first play is a turn-2 Spined Sliver off of a Rootbound Crag. Sam does nothing for her third turn while I add an Armor Sliver.
Graveborn kicks into full gear on turn 4 when Sam Dread Returns the Terastodon. She goes into the tank for awhile, weighing the options before her. I’m on three land- two basics and the Crag, and she could hit me with a one-sided Armageddon– though I’d surely trade my trio of 3/3 Elephants for her Terastodon when she attacked with it. She could nuke two of my lands to cripple me, but then I could still work a favourable gang-block with my Slivers. In the end, she picks off my Crag, then blows up two of her Swamps for the extra firepower. All I can do is play a Metallic Sliver and pass.
15-power’s worth of pachyderm rumbles through the red zone on turn 5 as Sam swings with everything. I trade my 3/3 Elephant for one of hers, and take the remaining 12. I return fire for 4 with the Spined and Armor Slivers, leaving the Metallic behind to chump the Terastodon. Then I add a Gemhide Siver and pass, leaving Sam at 14 life. Next turn as expected she swings for 12. The Metallic Sliver explodes as its pushed in front of the Terastodon, but the remaining 3 drop me to 5 life. I follow her attack by playing a Necrotic Sliver.
Now turn 7, I still have three mana open thanks to the Gemhide Sliver, and when Sam attacks with the Terastodon I’m able to pop my Armor Sliver to kill it. Still, her remaining creature- the Elephant token- is unopposed, and I drop to 2. Topdecking a fifth land when I need it, I’m able to deploy my Might Sliver. This not only lets me attack in with my Slivers for 8 (taking Sam to 6), but it also gives me a ready blocker to keep me alive. On a one-turn clock, Sam draws nothing and concedes.
Thoughts & Analysis
This was an interesting match, particularly in light of the absolute dominance Graveborn showed to Fire & Lightning. There are three components you look for when drawing an opening seven with this deck. First, you want to see a fattie in-hand. Then you want a way to get it to the graveyard, then if you’re lucky enough to hit the trifecta you’ll also have a way to get it back. Of course, if you draw an Entomb that essentially handles the first two components, but you get the general concept. When I piloted the deck yesterday, I had little difficulty in getting the right cards as needed, and often even had a reanimation spell in hand in case my beatstick was dealt with the first time. Let’s take a second look at the deck’s fundamental composition.
Massive beaters: There are eight creatures in the deck which fall within this definition- these are your reanimate targets. We’re not counting things like the Faceless Butcher or Hidden Horror. That’s 13.33% overall, which gives you just over a 93% chance to see one in your opener.
Graveyard stockers: Thirteen of the deck’s sixty cards help you get fat things dropped into the graveyard. That’s almost 22%, and you should expect to see one when you draw your opening seven.
Reanimators: Eleven cards fit into this category, ranging from Exhume to Animate Dead. That’s 18.33% of the deck, and another statistical certainty to see early.
That said, Magic as we all know is a game of variance, and you will have a run of “bad luck” from time to time, so we’re taking little away from the deck based on today’s lack of result. Still, it gives a good indication of what sort of stumbles the deck can have. Sam seemed to be missing one part of the three in her losses- in one case, she easily managed to discard a Blazing Archon, but never found a way to bring it back. In another she had the the creatures in-hand with reanimation on standby, but couldn’t find a way to get them into her graveyard. Of course, Game One showed us what the deck is quite capable of, ending the game with me at 0 and her at 40. I don’t want to take too much away from the Slivers deck, which can build up a full head of steam out of nowhere, but the field clearly belongs to Graveborn.
One of our readers, Prophylaxis, quite rightly commented, “I’m calling Graveborn as the next Precon Deck Champ.” We had the same thought as we reviewed it. Still, after three seasons of the Championships, if we’ve learned anything it’s that anything can happen, and today’s results show how even the mightiest of decks can stumble out of the gate. Indeed, it’s a large part of what makes Magic well… Magic! We hope you’ve enjoyed this bonus redux today, and we’ll be returning to our Conflux reviews tomorrow with a look at Bant on the March. After that we’re off to Jund for the conclusion of the set, and then we’ll be visiting the land of… Well, we don’t want to spoil the surprise just yet, but we’re about as excited as we’ve ever been for this particular set. As always, thanks for reading!