Last updated on March 15, 2023
Sheoldred, Whispering One | Illustration by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss
Magic players who love black and green have learned to love the graveyard as much as the game itself. Sacrificing creatures and muddling around where things go to die is a great way to pull ahead with a strategy many new players don’t expect.
But sometimes you need to get a creature you sacrificed, or that just plain died, back from death. Gravediggers are a great way to do that. This is a type of ability you need to be familiar with to counter these sorts of decks.
Just what are gravediggers in Magic? Let’s find out!
What Are Gravediggers in MTG?
Grave Sifter | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
Gravediggers, named after the creature Gravedigger, are creatures that return creatures from the graveyard to your hand.
Since power creep is becoming more and more prevalent and reanimation less and less rare, I’ll be including creatures that return creatures from the graveyard directly into play as well. Let’s get to it!
#30. Angel of Flight Alabaster
First up is, interestingly, a mono-white card: Angel of Flight Alabaster! This 4/4 angel returns a spirit from your graveyard to your hand on your upkeep. This is a pretty fantastic ability, but spirits just don’t have the same kind of tribal power that others do, especially not in this day and age.
I see this being more powerful in some kind of shapeshifter deck that can have more and better targets to be dug up. I’m just not impressed with spirits overall.
#29. Atzocan Seer
Following up is Atzocan Seer. This is a 3-mana druid that can tap for mana and eventually be sacrificed to return a dinosaur to your hand. This card is a one-time use, which is significantly worse than the previous card’s effect that triggered each turn, but dinosaurs are a much more prevalent and powerful tribe.
You’re going to have an easier time getting value out of this card in basically any green deck, and I like that a whole lot.
#28. Warren Pilferers
Warren Pilferers is a 5-mana goblin that digs up a creature when it enters the battlefield, and it gains haste if that creature was a goblin. This is more than you’d like to be paying for a Gravedigger effect, but the haste and goblin subtype is a great tradeoff.
#27. Wort, Boggart Auntie
Speaking of goblins, Wort, Boggart Auntie is up next. This 4-mana goblin with fear digs up a goblin on your upkeep.
This card has decent stats, good ability, and doesn’t cost too much. It’s a great all-in-one package for goblins that want to ensure their premiere creatures don’t really die forever, and that’s why it deserves a higher ranking.
#26. Restoration Gearsmith
Restoration Gearsmith is a great all-around gravedigger that hits both creatures and artifacts when it enters the battlefield. You get good enough stats for the mana cost, and the added ability being able to target artifacts makes it a great choice, especially given Orzhov () colors.
#25. Loyal Retainers
Loyal Retainers is a 3-mana 1/1 that can be sacrificed to return a legendary creature from the graveyard directly onto the battlefield during your first main phase. This can be a great way to reanimate your commander in white, just make sure you don’t get this countered with your commander stuck in the graveyard!
#24. Corpse Hauler
Next up is Corpse Hauler, a 2/1 for two that allows you to pay and sacrifice it to dig up another creature in your graveyard. This has a total required payment of five mana as opposed to four, but it comes in cheap and early. It’s easier to set up and take advantage of.
#23. Adun Oakenshield
Even Jund () has a gravedigger creature of its own, and its name is Adun Oakenshield. It’s a 3-mana 1/2 that can repeatedly dig up creatures for . This gives some nice consistent gravedigging for the color combination, but I wish it had better stats.
#22. Eternal Taskmaster
Eternal Taskmaster gives reoccurring gravedigger effects whenever it attacks and you’re able to pay the fee. It can bring back any creature and even comes in at just two mana, which makes for great value and a real step up on this ranking.
#21. Crypt Angel
Next is Crypt Angel, a 3/3 for five that digs up a red or blue creature when it enters the battlefield. But it’s more generic than some of the previous cards, but the higher mana cost sort of holds it back. It’s in the right colors and would work well in lower-power black-based decks.
#20. Driver of the Dead
Driver of the Dead comes in at four mana like many gravediggers, but it only digs up creatures with mana value two or less.
The upside here is that you get decent stats as opposed to the worse 1/1 or 2/1 statline we’ve seen so far.
Woebearer costs a hefty five mana, but it digs up a creature every time it connects to a player in combat, meaning you can theoretically get this ability to trigger at least once per turn. It’s made easier by the fact that it has fear, which allows it to attack unblocked almost every single time.
#18. Woodland Sleuth
Up next is Woodland Sleuth, a 2/3 for four mana with morbid. This ability allows it to return a creature from the graveyard to your hand when it enters the battlefield under the condition that it died this turn. This is just so close to being good, but not quite there yet.
Gravedigger is the middle ground here and the namesake of the type of creature we’re looking at! It’s the classic 4-mana 2/2 that brings something back to your hand, and my ranks so far have been based around this card.
It’s just okay overall. Nothing too special, but good enough to warrant a middle-of-the-road ranking.
Graveshifter is a nearly identical card with the key difference being that it’s a changeling, meaning it counts as every creature type.
This is a great card for shapeshifter or any tribal deck that needs a gravedigger ability but doesn’t want to actually include Gravedigger since it isn’t in a specific tribe. Even the art looks like Gravedigger’s!
#15. Sylvan Hierophant
Sylvan Hierophant is up next as yet another green creature. This 1/2 for two allows you to dig up a creature when it dies under the condition that you exile it from play when it dies. It’s a one-time-use ability, but you get it for so darn cheap that it’s great anyway.
#14. Athreos, God of Passage
Athreos, God of Passage isn’t always a creature, but I’m counting it as one for the sake of including it in this list.
It only costs three mana to come in despite being a 5/4 with indestructible if you have the devotion to turn it online. You get an indestructible enchantment that lets you tax opponents for three life at worst, and another creature back from death at best.
#13. Cadaver Imp
Cadaver Imp is a 3-mana 1/1 flier that returns a creature to the graveyard when it enters. I like this because it gives a generic gravedigger effect on a flier for less than the standard four mana. It’s not too great in terms of a body, but the effect on a cheaper card goes a long way.
#12. Ravos, Soultender
Ravos, Soultender is a more costly card, but you get a +1/+1 to all of your other creatures on top of the gravedigger effect triggering each upkeep like clockwork.
This just has so much going on, and it would even make a great commander for certain sacrifice or graveyard-themed Commander decks. You’ve also got the partner ability to make use of (and possibly throw in) a third or fourth color.
#11. Pit Keeper
Pit Keeper brings a gravedigger effect for just two mana as long as you have four or more creatures in your graveyard. That’s a really, really easy condition to meet in certain black or graveyard-themed decks, which makes this one of the best value gravediggers we’ve looked at so far.
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Genesis. This 4/4 for five mana bounces a creature from the graveyard to your hand on your upkeep as long as it’s in the graveyard and you can pay . This is a really consistent way to get this sort of effect since you just need to dodge any piece of graveyard-hate and you’ll be able to do this turn after turn.
#9. Phyrexian Delver
Next up is Phyrexian Delver, a 5-mana 3/2 that reanimates a creature when it enters the battlefield and taxes your life equal to its mana value. I’ll always prefer reanimation to just putting the creature in your hand, and you should too.
Don’t get too wrapped up in losing life for this card’s ability. Life is a resource, so use it!
#8. Grave Sifter
Next is Grave Sifter, a tribal gravedigger creature that goes so far as to dig up every single creature of a chosen type in your graveyard and put them directly into your hand. It’s a catch-all that comes in at a whopping six mana, but I don’t think that’s too much to pay when you look at what the ability has the potential to do.
#7. The Scarab God
I’m including The Scarab God on the biggest of technicalities. It doesn’t actually put the creature onto the battlefield, but it comes as close as possible by translating the abilities onto a 4/4 zombie. Half the time you’re getting a stat upgrade with this, and this is usually great unless you need a specifically named creature or some kind of specific tribe.
Reveillark is a spectacular combo piece and white gravedigger creature. It hits things with power two or less when it enters the battlefield and grabs two creatures when it does. I like this a lot, and the 5-mana value puts it at an optimal spot for tutoring with a lot of Birthing Pod combo lines.
#5. Tergrid, God of Fright
Next up is Tergrid, God of Fright. Whenever an opponent sacrifices a nontoken permanent or discards a card you get to put that card onto the battlefield under your control!
Tergrid is a great commander and a spectacular creature on its own. Black can easily force discards or creature sacrifices, and that means you can take full advantage of this pseudo-gravedigger effect.
#4. Meren of Clan Nel Toth
Meren of Clan Nel Toth has been a premiere Golgari () commander for just about as long as I can remember. It racks up experience counters whenever another creature you control dies and then uses those to reanimate creatures in your graveyard if it has a mana value less than or equal to the number of experience counters.
Golgari can sacrifice creatures like it’s its job (because it is), and that allows players to rack up those experience counters on Meren like it’s nothing. You can quickly start reanimating massive creatures with this commander and I can’t recommend it enough.
#3. Artisan of Kozilek
Artisan of Kozilek is a heft card, but the reanimation on-cast helps protect the ability from counterspells and you even get a whopping 10/9 with annihilator 2 on top of it!
It’s a lot of mana to pay, but you get an excellent return on investment if you have even a mediocre creature to reanimate.
#2. Sun Titan
Sun Titan doesn’t just stop at bringing creatures back to your hand from death, it puts them directly onto the battlefield! Sure, you’re limited to the cheaper creatures in Magic, but that probably doesn’t matter since most of white’s best creatures are that cheap anyway.
This card has been a staple and Commander classic since before I started playing the game, and I’m happy to still see it floating around with such popularity and power.
#1. Sheoldred, Whispering One
The old Sheoldred, Sheoldred, Whispering One, reanimates any creature in your graveyard on your upkeep and has the bonus effect of forcing your opponents to sacrifice a creature on their upkeep as well. It’s one of the most expensive cards on this list in terms of mana value, but It’s absolutely the most powerful.
Best Gravedigger Payoffs
In order to even use a creature that gravedigs you need to have creatures in the graveyard first. The best way to do this efficiently and with some kind of added benefit is to sacrifice them. In a way, gravedigger effects aren’t the first ability in the value chain, they’re the payoff itself.
There are millions of sacrifice outlets in the game, but having things like Blood Artist as a massive payoff for creature deaths paired with sacrifice outlets like Phyrexian Altar makes for an easy and efficient chain of abilities that revolve around your creatures repeatedly dying and coming back. It’s a time-tested and proven strategy, and I can’t recommend it enough. Give it a try!
Tergrid, God of Fright | Illustration by Yongjae Choi
That wraps up my gravedigger explanation, ranking, and payoffs! I love sacrificing things in Magic and having reanimation or gravedigger effects are one of the best ways to keep the cycle of life and death going.
What did you think of my list? Are there any changes you’d make, or cards I didn’t include that you’d like to see ranked? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or come chat about it in the official Draftsim Discord.
Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: