Cemetery Gates

Posted in From the Lab on November 24, 2011

By Noel deCordova

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States, so Wizards offices are closed Thursday and Friday. In the meantime, for those who missed it, here's last week's From the Lab, a narrative romp featuring a particularly silly infinite combo based on Moldgraf Monstrosity.

Happy Thanksgiving if you're celebrating, and have a great weekend if you're not. We'll be back with new articles as usual on Monday November 28.

This article originally ran Thursday, November 17.

The world is but one giant graveyard, housing the ever-rotting flesh of its denizens, alive or dead, until the end of time," reads the engraved stone slab that hovers over the cemetery entrance. That's unsettling. I only came here to get a little inspired for Graveyard Week. Funny... It was a bright morning just ten minutes earlier, driving up the winding, overgrown path. Now the sky is a rich purple, with a gooey blackness seeping through. I half expect a howling lightning storm at this point.

But I must persevere. All this week I've been studying the world's cemeteries in the Lab. According to my meticulous research, small areas filled with the dead (bodies formerly among the living) are ripe for zones of interdimensional blurring. (Read that on the Internet somewhere and assumed it to be completely true.) After consulting my astral atlas of the Blind Eternities and working out the various wormhole mathematics (Okay, Garl, my Deranged Assistant, did that. I'm not a math person), I deduced that this particular graveyard is a portal to the plane of Innistrad. I don't mean to actually go there, as I don't really fancy becoming trapped in the scariest plane ever. Instead, I'm hoping some crazy Innistrad things show up here. Tonight.

I step through the twisted iron gates and make my way across the graveyard. Tufts of uprooted grass splash outwards from every tombstone, as though they erupted from the earth. The air is crisp and sickeningly warm. I suspect the trans-dimensional particles are swirling all around me, convalescing into an interplanar vortex. Better find a safe place to hide.

I crouch behind a particularly large tombstone and scan my surroundings. Sure enough, a couple yards away, a spectral black mass begins to form in thin air. The shadows of the stones flicker and are then sucked into the revolving emptiness like water down a drain. The air is thicker than ever.

With a rumble, something steps through: a massive, gnarled entity, garbed in a tattered green cloak. Its wooden limbs crackle with life, powered by death. It roars and stalks off, thankfully not towards me. I cower by my stone refuge, breathing heavily.

"So, that was a Splinterfright," I mumble. "Guess I can stop this narrative for a bit and do my actual job."

    Fright Night

Splinterfright was a rare that caught my eye straight away upon viewing a list of Innistrad cards, for many reasons. The first was its delicious power and toughness, which clocked in at the remarkable Asterisk Slash Asterisk. Nostalgia strikes upon reading this particular bottom right corner, at least for me. Some of my favorite creatures bear this power and toughness, including Nightmare, the finisher of my first physical deck ever, composed of all the cards I owned. I may have only had six Swamps, but it won many a game for me.

Like Nightmare, Splinterfright has a suave one-word portmanteau of a name, and the ability to end games with some sort of evasion. (Where dark horses fly, cloaked masses of splinters trample, apparently.) Unlike Nightmare, Splinterfright can hit the battlefield on turn three and grow steadily from there, thanks to its upkeep ability. It seems essential to load this deck with creatures, so Splinterfright can be game ending. Another thematic tide that rushed into the deck was based on the big guy being an Elemental. Smokebraider and its evoking company are the cornerstones of the "Elemental deck."

I went with a three-color spread of Elementals. Green offers Briarhorn as a nice pumper and Vengevine as an excellent beater that meshes well with the self-milling aspect of the deck. Other than Smokebraider, red provides many useful Elementals. Spitebellows and Sunflare Shaman act as nice removal. Incandescent Soulstoke boosts all my creatures and can even keep Splinterfright alive despite an empty graveyard. Plus, its second ability allows for some versatile tricks in a deck loaded with Elementals. Flamekin Harbinger finds anything, including the singleton Glarewielder (in case trample isn't enough.)

My third color was blue at first (Mulldrifter is quite charming) but I finally settled on black, for the murderous Shriekmaw and Lord of Extinction, which slides right into this deck. To get back any fallen creatures (or self-milled) I used Doomed Necromancer, a blast from the past. Although not an Elemental, the Necromancer there to basically get back huge Splinterfrights or evoked Elementals.

Add a bed of lands and some Swiftfoot Boots, and the deck is complete.

Splinterfright | Art by Eric Deschamps


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    More Monsters

The Splinterfright tromps off, desecrating tombs left and right. I stay in my crouch, listening to the wind, and to the beads of panic rolling around my skull. The black hole remains floating in midair, radiating a pulpy dark mass. I check my notes on the portal. After another half an hour, the connection between worlds would be severed, and the portal would dissolve. The question was: Would its spawn dissolve along with it? I didn't like the thought of a Splinterfright roaming the countryside like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park 2.

An inhuman shriek sears through my mental ramblings. I look up at the portal, and am startled to see a pair of feelers poke out, following by way too many legs. A lurching body comes next, topped with a revolting insect head. The gargantuan fully exits the wormhole and drops into the graveyard.

Moldgraf Monstrosity | Art by Tomasz Jedruszek

"A Moldgraf Monstrosity..." I mumble. I lean up against the stone to get a better view. Of course, a loose chunk of stone crumbles at the corner and falls with a dense thunk.

The Monstrosity turns and stares at me. With all its eyes. Meaning, more than two. Its tongue flicks in and out. Interpreting its body language isn't tough: I'm about to meet my end.

I quickly glance around and see the Splinterfright from a distance, shambling around a roped off area, containing eight gravestones. Eight. As an idea sparks within, a terrifying shriek sounds from behind me. Time to run.

...Actually, time to build a Moldgraf Monstrosity deck. I'll press pause on my story for a bit and go infinite with this fatty. Possible? Of course! I found this 8/8 fascinating, mainly because of its ability to recur two dead creatures in one go. Upon doing so, the Insect exiles itself, seemingly to prevent shenanigans. However, in my hands, shenanigans are always possible.

It all starts with Pull from Eternity. This little wick of elegance is one of the only ways to mess around with your exiled cards. Pulling back an exiled Moldgraf Monstrosity to the graveyard gives me the spark for a potential combination fire. To complete the combo, we'll need stalwart Phyrexian Altar (never gets old, right?), a second Monstrosity (to loop evermore) and Eternal Witness (a generally great card who here returns the key Pull from Eternity to my hand).

To recap my thought process: Eternal Witness and Monstrosity #1 as the only creatures in my graveyard. Sacrifice Monstrosity #2 to Phyrexian Altar for one white mana. MM #2 triggers and returns the aforementioned two creatures to the battlefield. Cast Pull from Eternity with that white mana and return MM #2 to my graveyard. Sacrifice the Witness first, than MM #1. In this way infinite mana is achieved, by returning the Pull each time.

Of course, that's only half the fun. Fashioning a sturdy supporting cast that complements the maximum potential moment is the other half. One of the better cards to add to an infinite mana deck is Martial Coup. Not only does it double as a board sweeper, it can generate infinite 1/1 Solider tokens. Otherwise, Ant Queen is a nice mana sink, and a creature I'd be happy to return randomly with Moldgraf.

I was looking for a fitting form of removal, and landed on Fiend Hunter, for its synergy with Pull from Eternity. If you Pull the exiled creature, it won't return when the Hunter dies. Fauna Shaman tutors for any creature you need while representing the vital way to discard a Monstrosity (since it'll exile itself upon its death). I was worried about having too many creatures in my graveyard (because of the random return) so I added a silver bullet: Scavenging Ooze. It can cleanse your opponent's troubling graveyard cards as well, growing bigger and gaining life all the while.

Eternal Insects

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    Pike Check

With the Moldgraf Monstrosity hot on my heels, I run pell-mell toward the Splinterfright, currently sitting at an 8/8 physique. The two behemoths notice each other instantly, and begin to circle. Gladly forgotten, I scramble out of their combat space and behind another tombstone, lamenting my reference to every Jurassic Park movie but the first and best one.

The two 8/8s destroy each other, as I suspected. While the Splinterfright bursts into grimy wooden shrapnel, the Insect's remains glow over with a white light. "It's being exiled," I mutter. As the entrails dissipate, two nearby tombs begin to quiver. Of course—the death trigger. I can only watch as the earth stirs, and two humanoid forms emerge. They seem chipper, under the circumstances. I am spurred to hail them.

One of them introduces himself as Ian B., and asks me, "Two things. One: Can you do Runechanter's Pike? Two: I know it's not your bag, but I'd like some Standard decks every now and then."

The other, who goes by Robert H., shakes my hand and speaks rapidly. Something about how Blighted Agent is unloved, and how he likes to attach both Angelic Destiny and Inquisitor's Flail to it, to attack for ten poison counters in one shot.

I decided to combine these emailed ideas into one deck, fitted for Standard. The supreme combo is, of course, Blighted Agent + Runechanter's Pike. I'll need lots of instants and sorceries, and some that even help me fill up my graveyard with them. Forbidden Alchemy gets all the hype lately, but Mulch is fun as well.

I figured Carrion Call was a must-add, for instant speed infectors. Many slots went to generally helpful things like acceleration (Rampant Growth), draw (Ponder, Tezzeret's Gambit), and removal (Doom Blade, Go for the Throat). Two fun singletons are Noxious Revival (a versatile way to return fallen Pikes/Agents) and Caress of Phyrexia.

Poison Pike

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Well, that's the end of this story. Until next time.

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