Last updated on December 7, 2023

Vizier of Many Faces - Illustration by Ryan Yee

Vizier of Many Faces | Illustration by Ryan Yee

When Amonkhet was announced as a set, I was immediately interested in what kind of mummy mechanic they’d have. Cyclopean Mummy from Legends was always an annoying card. It exiles itself when it hits the graveyard. How is that at all like a mummy?

The embalm mechanic, which is basically the mummy mechanic from the ancient Egypt-themed set, does the idea of the mummy justice, at least from a pop culture perspective. How does it work and what are the best cards? Let's take a look!

How Does Embalm Work?

Sacred Cat - Illustration by Zezhou Chen

Sacred Cat | Illustration by Zezhou Chen

Embalm is a keyword ability that works a bit like flashback or disturb. If the card is in your graveyard you can pay the cost indicated by the embalm text on the card at sorcery speed to exile the card and create a token that’s a copy of it on the battlefield. The two differences between these and the original are that, one, the embalmed copy has no mana cost, and, two, the copy has the color and creature type “white zombie” added to its previously existing creature types on the card.

Each card with embalm has its own individual printed token, like this one for Angel of Sanctions. I highly recommend picking up the token when you get the card if you’re considering any of these for your Commander decks. I have seen some mistakes with these cards in EDH which really had an impact on the game state. These are not simple resurrections, and the change in mana value is hard to remember if you just use the original card as a proxy for the token. Having no mana value means, for example, that a token like the Angel is susceptible to a Fatal Push in a way that the original is not. It also means the token doesn’t trigger high mana value triggers. For example, the embalmed Honored Hydra token doesn’t trigger a Dragon Fangs in the graveyard.

The History of Embalm in MTG

Embalm was introduced on 15 cards in 2017’s Amonkhet, and although three of the cards have since been reprinted in Commander products and Double Masters, the mechanic has not reappeared. In the Amonkhet Bolas storyline, the cosmology of Amonkhet is upended by Bolas’ tricks, and this mechanic was replaced by eternalize in the following set. which is a similar mechanic that raises the creatures as 4/4 black zombies, like they’ve all been raised as drone-like servants of the dragon.

Is Embalm an Activated Ability?

Yes. Abilities with “keyword x” as a formula are usually activated abilities.

Is Embalm an Alternative Cost?

No. Pitch spells introduce alternative costs into MTG. A card like Force of Will has a “normal” casting cost of 5 mana, but there’s also an alternative way to cast it with a different set of costs.

So alternative costs exist as two options you can choose between when the card is in a castable state. But the embalm ability can only be activated when the card is in the graveyard. You’re not casting the card, and you can’t embalm the card from your hand as an alternative way to cast it.

Does Embalm Count as Casting?

No. Like scavenge, flashback, or other keyword abilities that can only be activated when the card is in the graveyard, embalm is an activated ability. It can be copied with the first ability on Lithoform Engine, for example.

Can You Counter Embalm?

No. Because it’s an activated ability that doesn’t require casting anything, you’d have to Stifle it, not Counterspell it.

Embalm vs. Eternalize

They’re very similar by design, since they’re both playing around in the space of the Egyptian afterlife. Embalm makes white creatures both mechanically and artistically, since they’re mummies, but also fits the “life and order” philosophy of white’s part of the color pie.

Although the embalm cost of a creature tends to be higher than the card’s casting cost, except for Sacred Cat, eternalize costs tend to be even higher. And usually the 4/4 is a step up on power and toughness, which feels more like the black end of the color pie. Resurrection as a power upgrade.

Gallery and List of Embalm Cards

Best Embalm Cards

Embalm is not super strong, but there are a few decent cards here. As with any graveyard mechanic, the ability to mill these or sacrifice them for value can matter, especially if the creature types fit the plan of your deck.

#4. Aven Wind Guide

Aven Wind Guide

Aven Wind Guide is an odd duck, because it’s one of the only cards that grants vigilance and flying, which is super powerful in spite of its uninspiring mana cost. But you don’t need it in a bird deck, since they already fly. It’s in the wrong colors for Commander tokens decks which are often in green or black, and it’s a warrior. If it was a soldier it would have an immediate home.

So this card seems to work best in tokens decks that can use the extra buff, like the Zellix, Sanity Flayer plus Inspiring Leader decks.

This card is always in the last pile to be cut as I build token decks that work in these colors. It’s very close.

#3. Angel of Sanctions

Angel of Sanctions

So how good is an expensive Banisher Priest clone that you can embalm? It’s fine. These kinds of effects are always wayyyy weaker in Commander than in Standard, but Angel of Sanctions is likely reasonable in an angel typal deck.

#2. Sacred Cat

Sacred Cat

Sacred Cat just has a look on its face, right? Like it’s daring you to cast it, human. These kinds of creatures that come back easily are always fine in sac decks. And this is a helpful enabler if you’re running a cat typal deck, especially as many good cats builds rely on ETBs. Think Arahbo, Roar of the World.

#1. Vizier of Many Faces

Vizier of Many Faces

A cloning deck, like any version of Sakashima of a Thousand Faces, would be happy enough with this card. The ability to clone from the graveyard is not insignificant. It’s no Clever Impersonator copying anything, but few cards are!

Wrap Up

Angel of Sanctions - Illustration by Min Yum

Angel of Sanctions | Illustration by Min Yum

Wrap up? The dad jokes just write themselves!

I think embalm is a pretty cool mechanic that suffered from a lack of card density and a bit of overly conservative costing. But it is flavorful and fun. It’s always interesting to see white graveyard support, as well.

I’d like to see it again. Even though it feels clearly tied to Amonkhet, I can definitely see this working in the kind of Dr. Frankenstein blue zombie space carved out thus far on Innistrad. There’a a kind of science fiction element to the notion of preserving a body with fluids, and I for one would like to see embalm rise again from the dead!

What about you? Do you like to see specific mechanics like this morph and find their way to other planes, or is that a boomerish conceit? Let us know in the comments or on Discord!

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