Last updated on May 6, 2022
Back for More | Illustration by Daarken
Experienced Magic players know that the graveyard is rarely the end for your cards. Recurring cards from your grave to the field or cheating out expensive spells by casting them from the graveyard is a tried-and-true strategy. Loading up the graveyard and reanimating creatures is a strong strategy featured in archetypes across every format.
But graveyards are especially susceptible to removal these days. Bojuka Bogs litter the field, and Leyline of the Voids and Rest in Peaces hit the field early and often. And that’s just a few of the threats you’ll face. Targeted removal can pull single cards out from under you as you try to Reanimate that Desolation Twin.
So let’s dive right into the best ways to protect your graveyard in each color!
Elixir of Immortality | Illustration by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
I’m going to define “graveyard protection” as anything that saves a card (or cards) from being removed from your graveyard by an opponent’s effect and ensures you can access it later on. There are a few broad categories these cards fit into: cards that stop you or the cards in your graveyard from being targeted, instant-speed effects to counter or quickly return a card from your graveyard, and cards that return spells from exile.
The best way to protect your graveyard in white is preventing your opponents from targeting you with removal.
Aegis of the Gods is the quickest but also the most vulnerable way to give yourself hexproof. A 2/1 body with both the creature and enchantment types means it’s susceptible to a large swath of removal in the game.
Consider the humble Mana Tithe. I’ve found that a lot of opponents won’t expect a response to their graveyard removal. It’s seen as a fun and safe zone to use and remove (unlike, say, lands). A sneaky Mana Tithe on their afterthought Cremate is a low-stakes exchange for what could be a key card in your reanimator deck.
Pull From Eternity is your go-to if you just need that one card back from exile. This extra bit of insurance helps protect fragile combos.
Leyline of Sanctity is nature’s way of saying “do not interact.” It’s still a fair choice to protect yourself at four mana, even if you don’t get to drop it from your opening hand.
Blue’s graveyard protection mainly takes the form of instant-speed responses and reshuffle effects.
Blue’s biggest advantage is its easy access to counterspells. Besides the eponymous Counterspell, some other graveyard-themed counters are also useful. Consider Countervailing Winds and Circular Logic to stop an opponent’s Ashiok, Dream Render before it can hit the field.
A lot of cards exile graveyards with activated or triggered abilities. The best response blue has access to is Stifle.
Similar to Clear the Mind, Psychic Spiral shuffles your graveyard back into your library. It also mills target player for the same number of cards for two extra mana. There are a few instances where this is useful.
You can mill yourself and have a pretty good chance of exchanging them for unneeded cards if you only need to save the specific set of cards in your graveyard. You can also mill an opponent quite aggressively as retribution for losing access to your graveyard.
Read the Runes is one of the few blue cards for graveyard protection that doesn’t need to be played right away. While it’s limited to returning instants and sorceries with flashback, most mill decks run a plethora of flashback spells to recast from the graveyard anyway.
An instant-speed response to that Bojuka Bog, Clear the Mind returns that valuable graveyard to your library and draws you a card to boot. While this still results in an empty graveyard you’ll have the opportunity to draw into or tutor up those cards later on.
The best way black protects its graveyard is by removing those cards itself. Remember, it’s best to wait as long as possible before filling up your ‘yard with vulnerable creatures.
Torment’s Gravegouger is a weird one. For three mana you can effectively Oblivion Ring two cards from your graveyard until this card leaves play. Exile some key cards from your graveyard and then sacrifice it when you’re ready to use them.
It even gets bonus points for being a nightmare, getting +1/+1 from Chainer, Dementia Master. But you won’t be able to respond quickly with this card since it doesn’t have flash. It’s a mixed bag with weird outcomes.
Death Denied is an instant speed X-spell that returns just the right number of creatures from your graveyard to your hand. It’s obviously most effective when you have a ton of mana available since Reaping the Graves will outclass it in most instances until you spend five or more.
Whip of Erebos is another instant-speed reanimation ability, but it exiles the creature at the end of turn. Its uses in response during your opponents’ turns are limited even if four mana is fair value for a creature that won’t stick around.
Reaping the Graves is an instant-speed Disentomb with storm. Used in response to an opponent’s graveyard hate you’ll return at least two creatures from your graveyard to your hand. Use it at the end of a busy turn and you’re looking at four or more creatures back into your hand!
Chainer, Dementia Master has one of the strongest reanimation abilities in Magic. You can grab a creature from any graveyard at instant speed and put it onto the battlefield under your control for three black mana and three life. Chainer can also be your commander as a legendary creature, giving you easily repeatable access to this ability.
Red’s graveyard protection revolves around redirecting targeted graveyard hate back at your opponents.
Bolt Bend changes the target of a single spell or ability and can be cast for very cheap if you control a creature with power 4 or greater. It’s good and is only beat by…
The best of the best when it comes to protecting anything in red. Deflecting Swat redirects a spell or ability and usually costs no mana in your Commander deck! It’s one of the all-around best cards in red as well, so expect to see hundreds of other uses for it in-game.
Green isn’t known for its graveyard protection mechanics but there are a few uncommon effects it can use.
Riftsweeper’s unique ability allows you to shuffle a single exiled card back into your library. Chances are you’ll run back into that card while milling yourself. Combine it with Conjurer’s Closet and you could feasibly return quite a few of your favorite cards from exile.
Ground Seal is another interesting one. This card saves your graveyard from targeted removal in reanimator decks but might also shut down your own recursion abilities. It’s a swingy card that requires interaction of some kind to work properly. That’s why I also recommend…
#1. Nature’s Claim
Interestingly, the best graveyard protection spells fall mostly in mono-color spells. But a few of those basic strategies can show up in multicolor ‘vards and make good choices for doubling down on different protection strategies
#3. Wear // Tear
#2. Back For More
Best Colorless Graveyard Protection
Colorless has access to the best static graveyard protection, and they can be included in any color identity!
Silent Gravestone is graveyard protection and graveyard hate all in one. It suffers from the same disadvantage as Ground Seal, and its built-in way to remove itself unfortunately takes your whole graveyard with it.
Orbs of Warding is a slower Leyline of Sanctity with a bit of damage prevention to boot. It’s a good card if you don’t have access to another way to give yourself hexproof, but the extra ability isn’t as universally useful.
Did they just tutor something to the top of their deck? Maybe they just Brainstorm’d and set up a miracle? Or you can deny them access to their graveyard by shuffling it back in the graveyard deck mirror match!
#2. Feldon’s Cane
Feldon’s Cane is the simplest iteration of a reshuffle effect in Magic. It’s no-cost ability is the quickest and cheapest way to put your graveyard back into your library.
The absolute best protection piece you can run alongside your graveyard deck is Perpetual Timepiece. Besides letting you choose exactly the cards you want to shuffle back into your library, you can also use it to dig through your library until you need to respond.
Also known as the best graveyard payoffs since the typical “reward” for protecting your graveyard is using your graveyard.
Similar to Syr Konrad, the Grim, Tormod, the Desecrator rewards you when cards leave your graveyard. Surprise your opponents with an army of Zombie tokens after they remove your graveyard from the game.
A lot of graveyard-focused decks already run a copy of Syr Konrad, the Grim, but I wanted to examine some graveyard protection scenarios where it’s useful. First it dumps a ton of damage on your opponents when they Bojuka Bog your graveyard. If they’re too disincentivized to wipe your graveyard, do it yourself with Clear the Mind or do double damage by targeting yourself with Psychic Spiral.
One of my favorite strategies is milling a ton of creatures into my graveyard and then reanimating everything at once with Rise of the Dark Realms. It’s a no-brainer win condition for mill decks and synergizes great with the aforementioned Syr Konrad, the Grim and Tormod, the Desecrator.
Finally, I have to mention the best self-mill commander in Magic, Muldrotha, the Gravetide. Muldrotha’s great because it doesn’t need to target to take advantage of your graveyard so it can be used alongside Ground Seal and similar effects.
Clear the Mind | Illustration by David Palumbo
Graveyard disruption spells have become auto-includes in most Commander decks. Bojuka Bog and Silent Gravestone claim the same popularity as Sol Ring and Arcane Signet. With so many hosers available in the format, protecting your graveyard is essential to the success of any self-mill deck.
Did I miss any graveyard protection strategies? Are there any graveyard hate cards these spells won’t protect you from? Let me know in the comments or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
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