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Graveyard-based strategies are common in casual and tournament MTG. The graveyard offers players easy ways to cheat on costs (e.g. Reanimator), grind out incremental advantage (e.g., Sun Titan decks, Zombies with Gravecrawler), set up infinite combos (e.g. Melira Pod in Modern, Sharuum EDH), or short-circuit most of "normal" Magic altogether (Manaless Dredge).

However, Wizards of the Coast also prints powerful hate cards to hold graveyard decks in check, including Leyline of the Void, Relic of Progenitus, Tormod's Crypt, Nihil Spellbomb, Grafdigger's Cage, Jund Charm, and Scavenging Ooze.

Part of running a fun and powerful deck is making sure you don't just fold to hate immediately.

What are the most common and successful strategies for playing around graveyard hate, especially for decks with a graveyard-based combo element? I am interested in both deckbuilding solutions (including sideboarding, of course) and in-play tactics.

  • 1
    (It may be useful to distinguish between playing around lasting effects like Leyline of the Void and one-shot graveyard hate like Nihil Spellbomb in your answer, if the techniques involved are significantly different.) – Alex P May 20 '12 at 21:36
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Best is of course to go off before your opponent manages to get their hate cards into play.

You can use all-round disruption (Force of Will, Thoughtseize), answers for their hate (spot removal, Mental Misstep) or specific answers for their win con to delay them.

The big problem comes when they have different types of graveyard hate against you so you can't bring in that perfect card against it. Mental Misstep, Daze, FoW and Snuff Out are examples of "free" spells that might be useful. Krosan Grip can be good against Relics and Crypts, though it's quite expensive.

If you're up against a "one shot hate" you can try to set yourself up to be able to do two shots, first forcing your opponent to use the hate card and then going off. Some people (me back in the day) sideboard wrong and slow down their own deck quite a bit, which gives you extra time to set up.

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Depending on the format, you can

a) be faster than the hater (except against Leyline of course, only white control helps against that): The fastest combo is Swamp, Dark Ritual, Putrid Imp/Entomb, discard, Exhume.

b) control your opponent's solutions. Black is notoriously bad at dealing with artifacts and enchantments, so you probably need white (Disenchant) and/or blue (countering) as well. Google "reanimator control" for deck lists.

Unfortunately, control typically conflicts with Reanimator's strategy of bringing a fat guy on the table as soon as possible. You either need to spend a turn removing a hate card, or you need to keep enough mana open to counter one. Trying to be faster loses against Leyline of the Void, and possibly against cheap permanent or instant-speed graveyard removal.

Either way, you should always try to discard your fat guy and reanimate it in one go if possible. Give the opponent as little an opening as possible. But if you go against a dedicated graveyard hate sideboard, you're going to have a tough time either way, because as you already pointed out with your list of hate cards, all those cards are cheap and have either a static or an instant-speed activated hate ability.

On the positive side: when going the counter route, the hoser spells' low costs and specific type can be to your advantage. Cards like Spell Snare, Mental Misstep and Annul protect your graveyard for minimal costs.

  • I'd expect a deck packed with graveyard hate cards (from a side deck) to be pretty slow to deal damage to you, so having an alternative way to deal damage (besides graveyard) should be enough for you, even considering that you would have a side deck as well... Persoanlly, i found that side decks that allow you to "change the face" of your deck (in this case, from graveyard to aggro or aggro-control) are often more effective than a side deck selected only to protect you from particular focussed decks (land-shatter, discard, etc.): this way you can "attack" and run the show...;-) – Yaztromo May 24 '12 at 20:31
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    Actually, the most common answer to Leyline isn't White, it's Blue: Chain of Vapor. – Steven Stadnicki Jun 2 '12 at 22:14
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Check out cards that allow you to prevent specific cards from being played, such as Nevermore, Phyrexian Revoker, and Memoricide.

There are a lot of different ways, besides just counters, to control what cards a deck can play. These are all good sideboard cards to have if you're playing something weak to cards like Nihil Spellbomb or Ratchet Bomb, etc.

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There're a few main ways about this.

First: Sideboard in anti-graveyard hate. For example if you're expecting the opponent to have Leyline of the Void, bring in something that can kill enchantments. The most common of these cards is Nature's Claim, because the most powerful graveyard hate cards are enchantments & artifacts (note how many of the hate cards you mention fall into this category).

Second: Against one-shot effects such as Surgical Extraction and Faerie Macabre, you play around graveyard hate by not using all your graveyard pieces at once. Try to get your graveyard to the point where the opponent needs to use their hate cards, but you haven't committed all of yours. For example, suppose you're playing Dredge and the most explosive play you have is to Cathartic Reunion to discard Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Thug. However if the opponent might have Faerie Macabre, that would result in a blowout. You play around this by not discarding both your dredgers, only one. If the opponent doesn't have Faerie Macabre, you expect to be able to generate enough value to overpower him anyway. If the opponent does have Faerie Macabre, you still have one dredger in hand.

This works because you should have more graveyard pieces than the opponent has hate cards.

Third: the last option you have is to transform. You switch from being a graveyard-based deck to one that isn't based on the graveyard much, if at all. This is the hardest thing to do because your maindeck is built around the graveyard, and you only have so many sideboard slots; however it has been done before.

Here are two examples.

This is a Modern dredge deck. Note the 4x Nature's Claim, 1x Abrupt Decay and 3x Ancient Grudge in the sideboard. These kill so many of the hate cards you mention, and in fact killing these hate cards are the main reason they're there.

This is a Vintage dredge deck with a transformational sideboard. Note the 3x Gurmag Angler and 4x Hollow One. Again, look at the hate cards you mention and see how effective they are against these cards. Hollow One can be cast for free with each Bazaar activation, and literally doesn't care about the graveyard. Gurmag Angler is impacted, but your opponent needs to stop the cards from going into the graveyard in the first place, which isn't trivial. They might have to use their graveyard hate simply because you are threatening to cast Angler even if you don't have it in hand. Cards like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace are still very effective, but Tormod's Crypt, Nihil Spellbomb etc are not, and Grafdigger's Cage doesn't do anything.

A final note: the two example decks above are completely focused on the graveyard; they pretty much cannot win if the opponent has e.g. Rest in Peace. Other decks you mention, such as Melira Pod and those based on Sun Titan, are impacted by graveyard hate but not by much. If you're playing one of those decks, consider just ignoring the graveyard hate and winning with the rest of your deck, or sideboarding out the graveyard components for generically good cards.

Edit: Former US Champion Oliver Tomajko wrote a primer on Modern Dredge that includes a section on how to play around graveyard hate; it's available here.

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