his is the final week for Return to Ravnica previews.
Izzet Charm | Art by Zoltan Boros
We started with a Wurm to end all Wurms. We moved forward to a battlefield-breaking overload. This week is the coup de grace of the series: A natural progression to what I can only describe as the meanest card I've ever had the pleasure to preview.
You can quote me on that later. Of course, an introduction is in order.
Do you know Rise from the Grave? It's my favorite half of its current partner in crime, Murder. Bringing back one of my creatures is sweet, but killing an opponent's awesome guy then stealing it right out from under him or her is sweeter. But Rise from the Grave wasn't the first to win over my heart.
Several years ago, I discovered Beacon of Unrest. It's a supercharged predecessor to Rise from the Grave, hitting either a creature or an artifact in any graveyard while recirculating into your deck. You could cast it again! It was awesome to shuffle in a flourish only to have an opponent cut right to it. It wasn't until miracles in Avacyn Restored that I felt that feeling again.
This is all old hat. Bringing back the dead for another go-around, even if we do it an extra time or two, isn't anything unusual. It's common in Commander. It's a build-around-me idea for multiplayer in general. It's an uncommon printed in three of the last four Core Set releases, with cameo appearances in Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana and Magic: The Gathering Commander decks.
Return to Ravnica is changing the game. It's epic enchantment time:
Are you ready to be enemy number one?
Recycle, Reduce, Reuse
Grave Betrayal is not a friendly thing to play. It's obviously, and monstrously, powerful. The closest card I could find to it is from our last trip to Ravnica, Debtors' Knell. Debtors' Knell returns to the battlefield from any graveyard a creature of your choice, on your upkeep.
Grave Betrayal won't do anything automatically on your upkeep, but it will return any creature of your opponents you kill, at the end of the turn, with no extra effort. You kill it, it's yours. And whatever necromantic pact you make also adds some fancy stuff in the details: it makes the creature black, a Zombie, and adds a +1/+1 counter in addition to all the regular features of reanimation. (It also costs seven mana, but that's a paltry sum in Commander.)
Grave Betrayal | Art by Lucas Graciano
What this does it completely unhinge the current game. Every creature your opponents could cast get a second look: They could be turned in an instant. More pressing will be any creatures currently in play. When you play Grave Betrayal after a fantastic fatty from a foe, things change. Whether you're in a position to do anything or not, you will become the big bad guy. Everyone, for better or worse (Admittedly, "for better" most often!), will come after you.
Even if your opponents miss just how strong Grave Betrayal really is:
Murder, Doom Blade, and other scalpels for creatures become your creatures in a flash.
- When you block and trade (or just kill) an opponent's creature, you get them before your next turn.
- When one opponent kills another opponent's creatures, through spells or combat, you get creatures too. In fact, the idea of one opponent crashing straight into another, with plenty of bodies going down for the count, should be the most exciting thing you can encounter.
Old chestnuts like Soul Collector require you, the controller, to do the dirty work of killing. It takes some effort, planning, and luck. This is a one-time fee for phenomenal power. Phylactery Lich understands how this bargain works.
Since there isn't much we can do about being on top, let's looks at a few ways to make the most of it.
Day of Judgment, Phyrexian Rebirth, Wrath of God, Damnation, and the rest of the family might empty out the battlefield, but it also reloads it for you.
- If we're hitting seven mana, bigger blasters like Martial Coup, Dregs of Sorrow, Dread Cacodemon, and Plague Wind make the devastation even more one-sided.
Enlightened Tutor, Academy Rector, and Idyllic Tutor can each seek out Grave Betrayal. Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed and Faith's Reward can get it back after it's destroyed.
Fleshbag Marauder, Nekrataal, and Shriekmaw (among others) each end up giving up two creatures for the price of one cheap one.
Visara the Dreadful, Avatar of Woe, Intrepid Hero, and Attrition all provide ways to repeatedly kill awesome things.
Why am I only looking at cards that qualify as Orzhov, a guild that isn't even featured in Return to Ravnica? There's one black and white legendary Vampire that works pretty well with Grave Betrayal: Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter.
Vish Kal Commander
Commander – Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter kills things as fast as you can sacrifice your own, which seems like a sharp thing when everything we kills gives us something bigger upon death. The Golgari would be proud. Here's what else is lurking in the deck:
- While Grave Betrayal will be doing some work, having a few other ways to recur baddies (ours or theirs) is nice: Animate Dead, Necromancy, Ashen Powder, Rise from the Grave, and Beacon of Unrest make a nice curve. White options like Adarkar Valkyrie, Marshal's Anthem, and Karmic Guide play along too.
- Drawing a few extra cards is something I always want in Commander. Phyrexian Arena, Graveborn Muse, and Greed are handy, but the newer Bloodgift Demon and newest coming attraction Underworld Connections are other ways to keep up with the neighbors.
- Protecting our stolen goods is easy with Darksteel Plate and Shield of Kaldra, but I can rarely resist more traditional Equipment with Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Light and Shadow (now with bonus, on-theme recursion).
- If we're going to re-buy our own guys too, having a few like Wurmcoil Engine, Grave Titan, and Cloudgoat Ranger seem handy, particularly if Attrition shows up. In fact, since I like tokens and they happen to work well with Vish Kal, I added several ways to make multiple guys from one creature.
- I usually avoid tools like these, but looking to be the bad guy makes them feel justified: Saltblast, Necrotic Sliver, Pentarch Paladin, and Mortify all qualify as mean. Any chance you have of convincing your opponents that "I'm not the bad guy!" goes out the window when you bring back and use Necrotic Sliver a few times.
Underworld Connections | Art by Yeong-Hao Han
Just because the Orzhov aren't here (Yet!) doesn't mean there aren't tools that work well with them. In fact, if you look across the Return to Ravnica Card Image Gallery you'll find plenty of treasure for an enterprising member of a non-Return to Ravnica guild.
As a proud member of the Boros, I can assure you the awesome is in there.
The Young and the Restless
If your guild is in Return to Ravnica then you might already be overwhelmed with awesome. That's why last week I asked about two of the brightest stars revealed:
Which new Planeswalker do you want to use more?
|Vraska the Unseen
|Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace is Jace, and obviously awesome, but it looks like his time in the spotlight had taken a toll. As tempted as I was to name the "I love blue best!" phenomenon, it looks like my fears were overstated. And if you want to love some colors, I'd humbly suggest a little red-white action.
That said, it really is Vraska the Unseen who I wanted to see. Can you think of a recently previewed card that creates some additional tension with her, say a certain black and seven-mana enchantment? (Pro Tip: Read the above article.)
Vraska the Unseen | Art by Aleksi Briclot
Vraska can "protect" herself by destroying anyone who touches her. While I won't disagree that killing Planeswalkers on sight is an acceptable plan for multiplayer games (because it is, and I do it too), making that choice much harder is fair game. Laying down Grave Betrayal and following it up with Vraska and +1s will quickly let us move to her ultimate ability and some new friends on our side of the battlefield, or her demise and a pile of new friends on our side of the battlefield.
This is certainly a Planeswalker I can sit behind.
Since we're looking for some Vraska the Unseen action, and I know I'm going to want to build some Commander decks with the newest multicolor goodies, I have a poll that's very familiar to readers who have been around the block:
Which legendary creature do you want to see a Commander deck for?
It's been a long time since I've picked up my first premium foil Commander, Kresh the Bloodbraided. I never stopped caring for him, even if I didn't have a deck around him. Sometimes, old flames can be a blazing fire again.
The other options are all Commanders I've never built a deck for before. If you don't want Kresh I'd at least like to try something new, and with any option you pick there's a 100% guarantee of Vraska the Unseen making an important appearance. I hope you don't mind!
Join us next week when I look at what he haven't seen yet! See you then!