Graveyard strategies are some of the most prevalent strategies in Magic. Whether you’re trying to dredge into Vengevine or use Past in Flames to storm off by casting things from your graveyard, it’s a powerful resource. But these strategies often focus on dumping things into your graveyard to produce some powerful effect. Our gem today, Desecrated Tomb, is a long-term value engine for being less ridiculous about your graveyard shenanigans.
When you pair Desecrated Tomb with something like Vengevine, the result isn’t very impressive. A 4/3 with haste that gets a 1/1 with flying that doesn’t even have haste won’t leave your opponents quivering in their boots (well, unless they’re scared of bats I suppose). That combination could be improved upon by adding in Impact Tremors for some residual damage, but I think I’d rather explore different cards since you most likely groaned when I mentioned Impact Tremors.
Synergies like this are cute, and probably feel nice to pull off in a game, but we can do better. The most popular graveyard strategies don’t need Desecrated Tomb or might feel it’s simply underwhelming, and I won’t argue for its inclusion. What you will find me advocating for is utilizing it in decks that use the graveyard, but aren’t necessarily aware of their use of it.
They Just Keep Coming Back
In a typical Gemstone Mining article we wait until the end of the article to determine how we can go infinite, but Desecrated Tomb is a special case. The abilities it plays well with go infinite rather easily. In fact, there are quite a few infinite combos that Desecrated Tomb can be a part of.
Persist is a fun, breakable mechanic. If you have a creature with persist and it dies, it will return to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter on it (assuming it didn’t already have a -1/-1 counter on it). Desecrated Tomb plays extremely well with persist. Persist specifically states that the creature is returned from your graveyard to the battlefield. This will create a 1/1 black bat for each persist creature that dies while the Tomb is on the battlefield! That makes Cauldron of Souls a lot of fun; you can give all of your creatures persist and send them to the graveyard to retrieve some new bat friends!
Melira, Sylvok Outcast also plays very well with persist, as she prevents -1/-1 counters from being placed on your creatures. This means your creatures die and then return to the battlefield with no counters at all, just like they were before. Since Cauldron of Souls‘s ability taps it, we’d only get to return our creatures once (unless we can find a way to untap our cauldron). If our creatures inherently have persist, we can use some sort of sacrifice outlet like Ashnod’s Altar and viola! We have ourselves infinite tokens (and in this case, infinite colorless mana).
This is how Birthing Pod decks (and their little sister, Collected Company) were able to win games in Modern: Melira, Sylvok Outcast with Murderous Redcap and Viscera Seer for infinite damage. You absolutely could run that combination in your deck for infinite damage alongside the infinite tokens, but if you don’t have the support for those three colors (those colors being Jund), then we’ll have to find some other way.
On the flip side of persist is undying. Instead of coming back with a -1/-1 counter, the creature comes back with a +1/+1 counter (again, assuming it didn’t already have a +1/+1 counter on it). Talk about an upgrade! Mikaeus, the Unhallowed decks often abuse this mechanic (and even pair undying with persist so that they cancel each other out) and thus infinite loops can be established. Desecrated Tomb can be added for infinite tokens to any of these.
An infinite loop we could build that isn’t using Mikaeus could look like this: Ashnod’s Altar, Strangleroot Geist, and Korozda Gorgon. The Altar and Gorgon are a good pairing for this strategy due to feeding into each other’s ability. Sacrificing an undying creature to the altar creates two colorless mana and the creature returns with a +1/+1 counter on it. We activate the Gorgon’s ability and remove that +1/+1 counter to give a creature -1/-1 and repeat this process. This gives us infinite “target creature gets -1/-1” activations, infinite bat tokens with Desecrated Tomb, and infinite enter the battlefield triggers (often the case with persist and undying loops). If you run out of creatures to kill on your opponents’ side, you can just target your undying creature! It wants to die anyway (and you have to target something with the gorgon)…
While all of that is really fun, Desecrated Tomb serves as basically an enhancement to an existing infinite loop. Note how it just added infinite bats into a strategy that didn’t need them. While that’s fun and all, I still think we can do better. In order to do this, I want to explain something very specific about Desecrated Tomb that you might not have noticed.
One or More
The wording of Desecrated Tomb needs to be examined in order to make sure we’re on the same page. While it isn’t anything crazy to explain, it’s something crucial you should understand when building with it.
Let’s say I have a graveyard with seven creature cards in it and I control Desecrated Tomb. My opponent plays Bojuka Bog, targeting me. When I exile my graveyard due to the bog, how many 1/1 bats will I make? If you said seven, you’re incorrect. The answer is one.
Similar to the curses we often see printed in Commander, “one or more” is a phrase on the rise in Magic. This most likely is due to the fact that it will typically accompany an ability that is either abusable or that would be crazy if done in mass quantities. For instance, imagine if you had twenty 1/1 bats and attacked a player enchanted with Curse of Chaos and it didn’t say “one or more creatures” and instead said “a creature.” Pretty chaotic, wouldn’t you say?
Desecrated Tomb has the exact same type of wording as Curse of Chaos, probably intended to mitigate the potential abuse of its ability. Our previous examples worked because each creature creates its own event in which it is brought back from the graveyard to the battlefield, thus triggering the Tomb. With Bojuka Bog, the Bog itself caused a singular event to exile our graveyard, taking seven creatures with it. It may seem mostly arbitrary, but it’s still important. Don’t go casting Living End with twenty creatures in your graveyard hoping to see twenty 1/1 bats alongside all those creatures. It isn’t going to happen.
Like I said earlier, we always have to ask the question of whether our gem can go infinite or not. The previous examples don’t count because Desecrated Tomb was simply an extension of an infinite combo. While you could argue the Strangleroot Geist example was only good if you controlled Desecrated Tomb, I think this example is better.
For this loop to work, you need Desecrated Tomb and some sort of sacrifice outlet. For sake of ease, we’ll continue to use Ashnod’s Altar. You simply sacrifice Saffi Eriksdotter and target Renegade Rallier. Then sacrifice Renegade Rallier to the altar, causing Saffi’s ability to put him back on the battlefield. He triggers his revolt ability, and you use it to target Saffi. She comes back and we’re back where we started, but with an additional two bats and an additional two colorless mana. Repeat until you’re satisfied.
If we hadn’t covered Blasting Station, Desecrated Tomb would probably be the most popular card we’ve covered on Gemstone Mining. While it might feel nice to make a 1/1 bat after casting Animate Dead or Reclaim, the real value comes in the ability to loop creatures from the battlefield to your graveyard and back to the battlefield until you’re satisfied. Whether it’s slapping it into an existing combo for the added value of bats or building your own loop, I absolutely believe the tomb is highly underrated. Join me next time when I try and figure out how to break Dauthi Horror.