Sometimes They Come Back Again

Posted in Learning Curve on March 5, 2003

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Like the undead, some of my favorite Magic cards come back from the graveyard. One of my all time faves is a card most people have never even heard of: Whiteout from Ice Age. While I have actually used its primary ability to ground a creature with flying in combat, I was originally attracted to this card's ability to return to your hand from your graveyard if you sacrificed a snow-covered land. I tried it in every possible deck that had an ability that required discard. I tried it with Mesmeric Trance, which would essentially allow you to sacrifice a land to draw a card, but I never found a deck in which that engine felt right. Shortly after the emergence of a deck known as Bugbind, I finally found a home for the unassuming green instant.


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I remember one game where I had no cards in my hand, a Stormbind in play, and eight lands on the board. My opponent had not seen the synergy of Whiteout and Stormbind before and assumed I could not deal 12 damage to him before his next turn, when he would assuredly defeat me. I tapped all of my mana and then proceeded to sac a land, returned Whiteout from my graveyard, used two mana to activate Stormbind discarding Whiteout, sac'd another land to return Whiteout. . . I sacrificed four lands and did 8 damage at the end of my turn. I finished him off during my upkeep with my remaining four mana.

Shard Phoenix is another card that I loved to bring back from my graveyard. I had a monored Pyromancy deck that used artifact mana and the underused red enchantment to deal five damage a turn to my opponents. Squee, Goblin Nabob would later return from your graveyard to your hand for free. Survival of the Fittest, Masticore, Zombie Infestation, Meteor Storm. There was no end to the ways in which Squee was -- and continues to be -- abused.

Today's Lesson:
Abusing cards that come back from the graveyard.

While there have always been cards that come back -- as we have seen above -- and there have always been Zombies -- as we have seen all week -- it seems like it is only with the advent of the "tribal" theme that recursive cards have been members of the undead tribe. While everyone has been all a titter about Graveborn Muse, I wanted to talk about two other Zombies and how you can take advantage of their ability to come back from the dead.

Undead Gladiator turns every card in your deck into a cycling card -- albeit for a total of four mana. While it does not draw you extra cards -- also known as card advantage -- it does allow you to speed through your deck to find the best cards to suit your game situation -- also known as card selection. In the early game, Undead Gladiator helps you dig for the cards you need, and in the late game, it turns extra lands into cards. Every once in a while, it even gets in the game to swing for 3 damage. Undead Gladiator interacts best with cards that exploit the cycling mechanic. Lightning Rift, Astral Slide, and Invigorating Boon all combo nicely with the Zombie Barbarian.

A card that nobody seems to be talking about at all is Ghastly Remains. While I have a hard time imagining anyone using its amplify mechanic to make it very big (although I have seen some interesting interactions with Infernal Caretaker in Limited formats!), I can see it being used and abused in Standard with many of the cards that have been exploited with Squee in the Extended format.

With Compulsion, you can draw an extra card a turn for . In terms of the generic mana cost it is actually one mana cheaper than Whispers of the Muse with buyback. Sure the colored mana cost is pretty intensive. But if you play it in a mostly black deck, it should not be that difficult. You could play with swamps, Tainted Isles, and Underground Rivers. Every land in your deck would produce black, which would allow you to always be able to return Ghastly Remains to your hand while still giving you the blue mana needed to cast Compulsion and other blue spells.

Zombie Infestation would be a handy outlet for those extra cards and would also combo nicely with Ghastly Remains without a Compulsion on the board. Once you have and a Zombie Infestation in play you could turn each draw step into a 2/2 Zombie token. I attempted to build a deck with these concepts in mind and came up with the following (as you can see I could not resist the call of the Graveborn Muse in a Zombie deck):

Remains of the Day (of the Dead)

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Sorcery (6)
4 Chainer's Edict 2 Upheaval
Instant (8)
4 Circular Logic 4 Smother
Enchantment (8)
4 Compulsion 4 Zombie Infestation
Other (4)
4 Aether Burst
60 Cards

The deck has not been field-tested much yet, and a number of the cards should probably not max out at four copies. Three may be the right number for Compulsion, Ghastly Remains, and possibly Smother. This would allow you to play with three copies of Cunning Wish and all sorts of good stuff in your sideboard.

I received more mail last week than for any two previous columns combined. Next week's column will pit man against machine and address a topic that came up more than a few times in my correspondence with readers.

Brian may be reached at

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