Greetings, Mana Pool listeners and fellow Magic enthusiasts! I’m Brian, lead rambler of the Mana Pool, and I’m here to have a quick discussion about one of the new cards from the upcoming Dark Ascension expansion set. Preview weeks tend to be one of the busiest times around here and in the Magic world in general, so check here at the Mana Pool website for additional content to get your fill. Today’s article is hopefully going to whet your appetite for the possibilities that Dark Ascension brings to the (card) table, but the fun doesn’t end here.
Dark Ascension (here on out “DA”, just to make my life easier) is the follow-up to the Innistrad set, a personal favorite of mine from all angles – limited, constructed, casual, and especially flavor. You’re going to see more werewolves, vampires, zombies, spirits, and hapless victims humans. You’re going to see more Double-Faced Cards, more morbid effects, more curses, and more flashback. If all that DA was going to be was more Innistrad, that would be a pretty great thing, but just like any good TV infomercial host will tell you, wait, there’s more! In addition to new takes on all of the Innistrad mechanics, DA brings two new faces to the party with “undying” and “fateful hour.”
I’m not going to talk about a card with fateful hour today, so here’s just the bare-bones on it. Cards with fateful hour will have some extra effect, stated on the specific card, when its controller’s life total is 5 or less. To see how this works, look at Thraben Doomsayer. These have to be some pretty impressive effects, because 5 life really can be knocking on death’s door.
Surprise! The card I’m going to talk to you about today doesn’t have undying either (although it feels really close thematically). When a creature with undying dies, if it didn’t have any +1/+1 counters on it, it returns to the battlefield under its owner’s control with a +1/+1 counter. Players who remember Shadowmoor will no doubt think of this as “reverse persist,” which does the same thing but with -1/-1 counters.
No, the card I’m going to talk to you about today is Gravecrawler.
Shall we go ahead and get the obvious out of the way? This is going to remind a lot of people of a little card named Bloodghast. Both are cheap black 2/1s that can’t block, fit well into their tribe, and keep coming back from the dead. Bloodghast is free to return, but costs more initially to play and you need land drops to resurrect. Gravecrawler does not have haste, no matter how weak the opponent is, but can come out on turn one. Finally, Bloodghast can come back to a creatureless battlefield, but Gravecrawler needs a little help digging out of the ground. Is Gravecrawler better than Bloodghast? Probably not, but despite their similarities they can actually act quite differently.
One of the main appeals to Gravecrawler is that you can bring him back as many times as you have black mana, assuming you have a Zombie Pal ™ around. This begs for sacrifice outlets. Since I’m mostly a casual player and my group largely doesn’t care about formats, a plethora of options from across Magic’s history pop into my mind. To keep things structured, I’ll stick to the current Standard format when discussing cards, since it’s the one most likely to be familiar to newer players. Let’s break down what sacrificing creatures can get you these days.
Card draw – Altar’s Reap, Vivisection, and Culling Dais all allow you to trade in creatures for extra cards off the top. Culling Dais is the slowest, but allows for the most over the long-term. I personally like Altar’s Reap because it’s cheap, it’s instant speed, and it’s in-color. It’s important to note that a deck that wants to get the most out of Gravecrawler needs to be able to really put out the black mana.
Damage – Skirsdag Cultist and Mortarpod both allow you to sacrifice creatures to smack players or creatures in the face. Grimgrin, Devouring Swarm, and Flesh-Eater Imp both like to eat other creatures and will really put a dent in the opponent after eating a few fresh zombies. With the Flesh-Eater Imp in particular, it won’t take long for the Imp to get the job done. Grimgrin gets bonus points for being just the extra zombie your little 2/1 needs. Just don’t expect a tip after dinner.
More Creatures – Garruk, the Veil-Cursed (moon side of Garruk Relentless) and Birthing Pod let you ditch a creature to tutor up a new one. The Pod is more restrictive about what you can get, but it goes right onto the battlefield as a bonus. Stitcher’s Apprentice is a little weird (and blue), but now you can just let the 2/2s keep coming. I’m not counting on the Apprentice catching on, but this could be the category that will make the Gravecrawler most interesting to serious constructed players.
Other – Disciple of Griselbrand trades creatures for life, and for the cost of 1B, you can get 1 life as many times as you like. Plaguemaw Beast can proliferate, and we all know how useful that can be. Just let your imagination go crazy.
So those are the ways to get the most out of having your Gravecrawler keep popping back to life. He’s also obviously good for an aggressive deck that wants to keep applying pressure regardless of the opponent’s removal, but I’m sure that you guys figured that one out already. As for myself, I’d really be curious to try it out alongside Call to the Grave (recently reprinted in M12!) and other gravedigger-effect zombies to create an undying un-killable army of reassembled corpses to overrun your cowardly, oxygen-dependant opponents. Here’s just a sample list:
As you can see, this is a pretty straight-forward deck. The power of the deck is that its creatures aren’t slowed down by anything, including the temporary inconvenience of death. Meanwhile, your opponent’s creatures should be feeling the pain from either having to trade with members of your horde or being eliminated by Call to the Grave or newcomer Zombie Apocalypse. Those foolish enough to attack you will die from a Pharaoh’s curse. Grow your undead ranks and crush your enemies! Mwahahaha.
I hope you enjoyed this look at a card that I feel has a lot to present to gamers of all stripes, interests, and play levels. Keep checking back for more, and keep listening to the Mana Pool!