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Rogue Report – My Love of the Grave

Jonathon Loucks

Rogue Report – My Love of the Grave

The graveyard is probably my favorite place to play around. It all started at my first regionals when I played BG Cemetery. Using the card [card]Oversold Cemetery[/card] you would recur awesome cards like [card]Ravenous Baloth[/card], and [card]Caller of the Claw[/card], or any creature you could sacrifice to [card]Braids, Cabal Minion[/card], [card]Stronghold Assassin[/card], or [card]Nantuko Husk[/card]. Just fill up your graveyard, and away you go!

Eventually I just started putting things directly into play via [card]Makeshift Mannequin[/card]. (Ok, so maybe I was using [card]Dread Return[/card] at first, but Gavin's crew eventually filled me in.) [card]Grim Harvest[/card] and [card]Makeshift Mannequin[/card] kept my [card]Mulldrifter[/card]s, [card]Shriekmaw[/card]s, and [card]Riftwing Cloudskate[/card]s coming into play again and again and again. There's nothing I like more than casting amazing creatures over and over.

Then I fell a little in love with [card]Reveillark[/card]. I played five-color Reveillark at Regionals, and man, that elemental sure knows how to dance with the dead. He doesn't mess around. Two creatures, from the graveyard, into play, (almost) no matter what. This is how I eventually won my PTQ – on the back of some graveyard fun.

Even the deck I played at the beginning of that Extended season relied on the graveyard – BWr Martyr-Proc. Forecasting [card]Proclamation of Rebirth[/card] every turn, while certainly not as flashy as Oversold Cemetery, still got the job done. Who needs expensive creatures? Throw in some [card]Mistveil Plains[/card] recursion, and you've got yourself inevitability.

Can I count the single [card]Footbottom Feast[/card] I played at Nationals? I'm counting it.

I think what I like so much about graveyard recursion is that you get to bring back the best creature for the job at that moment. Playing against Kithkin you just keep recurring Shriekmaw, or against Goblins you get Ravenous Baloth, or against mono-green you get [card]Kami of False Hope[/card]. You just have to draw one copy of your spell, and then you've got access to it for the rest of the game. You just keep playing the spell they want to see least, and eventually you win, right?

The reason I bring all of this up is because one particular card from Zendikar has caught my eye:

[card]Soul Stair Expedition[/card]

Sure, it isn't as flashy as Oversold Cemetery, Makeshift Mannequin, Reveillark, or Proclamation of Rebirth, but Soul Stair Expedition has one big advantage over all these cards: it's really cheap. It's so cheap, in fact, you even get to invest in its single-mana requirement beforehand, making all your mana available the turn you "pop" it. The three-counter restriction doesn't seem as steep as it can be in Limited when you've got a deck full of sac lands. I mean, can you imagine getting back two [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]s? Or what about two [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]s? It's like you're getting back four spells!

Gather, My Minions
Gatherer, fire up! Card Format: Standard, Card Type: Creature, Sort By: Converted Mana cost – Go! Let's see what juicy corpses the world has to offer. Mwahahahaha!

[card Angels Herald]Angel's Herald[/card] and friends? Maybe next time.

[card]Bloodhall Ooze[/card]? Now that's interesting, I never thought of Soul Stair Expedition as a black permanent before. We're already learning things! Still, I'm looking for a little more pizzaz.

[card]Deathgreeter[/card] is kind of on theme, I guess. I was really hoping there would be a good one-drop, because I want a whole curve of creatures that works well from the grave. I mean, anybody can reanimate [card]Putrid Leech[/card], but he's nothing special.

[card]Goblin Bushwhacker[/card] is kind of interesting when he comes back. Heck, that deck can run [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] in the style of that Boros aggro deck running around. That's something I'll have to think on.

[card]Hedron Crab[/card]? Also noted. It's not like it works any better from the grave, though I guess you could mill yourself. I'm just thinking, if there was ever a creature you relied on staying in play to win and also wanted in multiples, Hedron Crab is your crab-man. And my oh my, I just realized you can grab two of these fellas with Ranger of Eos! Ok maybe I'm on to something. (This might even be a different deck altogether.)

Moving on to two-drops I see [card]Elvish Visionary[/card], but he's never really impressed me.

[card]Gatekeeper of Malakir[/card], now that's what I'm talking about! Triple black is a hefty price to pay, but that's certainly something you don't mind recurring. I'll also have to remember [card]Fleshbag Marauder[/card]. Depending on how many [card]Sprouting Thrinax[/card] there are, this could be the way to go.

[card]Knight of the White Orchid[/card] is kind of on theme, getting you a land for your Soul Stair Expedition, but I've never found the ability easy to trigger.

I also didn't think of Soul Stair Expedition as a landfall card, but [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] kind of makes me want to. While it's not the most exciting card to bring back later in the game, it's got to be really good in a deck full of sac lands. ([card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], I'm looking at you.)

[card]Meddling Mage[/card], check. Just keep making them deal. [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card] is another interesting one in the same vein, but I'm not as excited about it.

Oh, what about allies? [card]Oran-Rief Survivalist[/card], I presume? I can think of a certain five casting-cost ally and his wolf friend I wouldn't mind playing again and again. The more I think about it the more I'm certain I have to build the ally deck.

[card]Quasali Pridemage[/card], good ol' fashioned reusability. I wonder how good this cat is in the current environment. Same thing for [card]Vampire Hexmage[/card].

The first three drop is pretty exciting – [card]Anathemancer[/card], yikes! He's a lot less scary now that people are using sac lands to get basics, but in a way they've already taken their damage, right?

I never would have thought about bringing [card]Ball Lightning[/card] back. That seems rather distressing.

I love [card]Borderland Ranger[/card]. Now I've just got to find a reason to use extra lands.

[card]Dauntless Escort[/card], welcome to the team. Without [card]Hallowed Burial[/card] around I have a feeling this Rhino is a force to be reckoned with.

Ooo, what about cycling? Now I'm remembering Mike Flores's love affair with [card]Architects of Will[/card] and [card]Soul Manipulation[/card]. Maybe I should be manipulating some souls.

Time to reveal my secret weapon: [card]Goblin Ruinblaster[/card]! I'm salivating thinking about bringing two of these back to my hand. Plus, he even works well with Bloodbraid Elf if you leave R open. (Same with Gatekeeper of Malakir, now that I think about it.)

I've got it: 24 swamp, 4 Soul Stair Expedition, 32 [card]Relentless Rats[/card]! Game, set, rats.

Sprouting Thrinax makes me think that maybe the normal jund decks could just play Soul Stair Expedition and it would be good for them. I could also see them getting a little upset cascading into an Expedition, but I don't mind that.

[card]Tidehollow Strix[/card] got me thinking about deathtouch in Constructed, but now we've got [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card]? That's certainly a creature I want to make them deal with multiple times. Maybe it's the new [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]?

[card]Wall of Denial[/card] brings me back to the Hedron Crab deck. The walls don't often die, but if they ever do I'll be there to pick them up.

There are four creatures with cascade and they are each going in their own directions: Bloodbraid Elf and [card]Enlisted Wurm[/card] have treated me well in the past, and Kathari Remnant seems great in the control version of this deck. Enigma Sphinx is also interesting, but it doesn't really hit your graveyard very often.

I wasn't too impressed with [card]Clone[/card] until I thought about it in the Ally deck. I'll talk more about allies in a bit, but I'm so there.

[card]Guardian Seraph[/card] got a bit of attention early on after the M10 release, but it seems to be overshadowed by big sister Baneslayer. I haven't given up on you Guardian Seraph! (But Baneslayer, I still want you, too.)

Well if we're going to go the landfall route I want to try [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card]. Has anybody been using that in Constructed yet? Seems great to me.

If there were more cheap artifacts I liked I might try [card]Sanctum Gargoyle[/card] and [card]Sharuum the Hegemon[/card]. I just don't see exciting artifact creatures in the early turns.

[card]Wall of Reverence[/card], meet my control deck.

One of my biggest regrets is not bringing two [card]Acidic Slime[/card]s back with Reveillark. This could be my last chance to abuse that card.

[card]Caldera Hellion[/card] is our Bane [card]of the Living[/card], one of the reasons BG Cemetery could beat elves. Now if only we had Shriekmaw again.

Has anybody had any success with [card]Knight-Captain of Eos[/card]? I'm certainly willing to try.

What I'm not seeing here is a good way to gain life. [card]Malakir Bloodwitch[/card] seems to be the best I can find. Ok, and maybe Baneslayer Angel, but I hate bringing her up all the time. Still, I've never missed Kitchen Finks so much.

Now we're getting into big creatures that are just kind of good, like [card]Ob Nixilis, the Fallen[/card]. How good do these guys have to be before we start playing them? Baneslayer certainly got there, and I could see [card]Broodmate Dragon[/card] making an appearance as well.

[card]Nemesis of Reason[/card], meet Hedron Crab. Now if only we had a way to give you haste. Maybe [card]Bloodrock Cyclops[/card]? Naw, that would never work.

[card]Sen Triplets[/card] was my favorite card when the new set came out, but actual playtest results crushed my spirit. Somehow the card was just never working – maybe I've just got to force it into play six times, but it dying to [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] kind of sucks.

Why [card]Siege-Gang Commander[/card], how nice to see you! Maybe a goblin deck I shall make.

[card]Sphinx of Lost Truths[/card] seem to be working for those Grixis Control decks, and while I still miss Mulldrifter, I'm willing to try something new.

[card]Turntimber Ranger[/card] has to be the best, but when I look at the rest of the tribe I don't see enough to support a full deck. [card]Umara Raptor[/card] doesn't excite me as a Constructed card, and that's pretty much where this deck would have to go.

I'm surprised I wasn't more excited about [card]World Queller[/card] when I first saw it. I loved [card]Braids, Cabal Minion[/card], so why shouldn't I love the more selective version that's also a 4/4? I'm going to have to try this card out.

Six or more mana really is just a bunch of big guys that are pretty good anyway, so if we need something that costs six we'll just grab one.

Step 3: Profit!
Unfortunately my list doesn't seem to have a lot of black cards to go with Soul Stair Expedition. I think a mono-black vampire deck could get some good mileage out of the spell, but that's not where I want to go today. The deck that got me excited was Hedron Crab and Ranger of Eos. I think Soul Stair Expedition still has a place in that deck, so let's see what shakes out.

It looks like we're going to be Esper colors, so let's browse through the list and take the cards that make sense here.

[cardlist]Hedron Crab
Fleshbag Marauders
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Knight of the White Orchid
Meddling Mage
Tidehollow Sculler
Vampire Nighthawk
Ranger of Eos
Wall of Denial
Kathari Remnant
Enigma Sphinx
Guardian Seraph
Clone
Wall of Reverence
Knight-Captain of Eos
Baneslayer Angel
Nemesis of Reason
Sphinx of Lost Truths
Worldqueller[/cardlist]

And Soul Stair Expedition, of Course.

There seem to be two decks there: one that wins by beating down with Vampire Nighthawk, and one that mills them out with Hedron Crab. I think Hedron Crab might be going in a different direction than Soul Stair Expedition, so let's see what the beatdown looks like.

[deck]4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Guardian Seraph
4 Baneslayer Angel
2 Worldqueller
4 Soul Stair Expedition
4 Path to Exile
2 Mind Shatter
4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Marsh Flats
2 Arid Mesa
2 Verdant Catacombs
6 Plains
6 Swamp[/deck]

The mana seems a little sketchy with Gatekeeper of Malakir and Knight of the White Orchid in the same deck, but I'm willing to try it out and see what sticks.

More to Come
It's funny, this article makes me want to build the Hedron Crab mill deck now, and that probably won't even run Soul Stair Expedition. There's also a Flores Barn 3.0 build I want to try that uses the Expedition to bring back creatures with cascade. Soul Stair Expedition, may we meet again.

Thanks for Reading,

Jonathon Loucks
Loucksj at gmail
JonLoucks on twitter

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