Exhume and Crush: A Primer

by David Shaffer (Shaffawaffa5)

Editor’s Note: David wrote this some time ago for MTGOStrat but it was never published. Since David is such an excellent deck-builder, author, and Magic player, once we got permission to do so we jumped at the chance to publish it. Keep in mind that some parts of the article may be out of date.

[d title=”Exhume Control (Pauper)”]

Lands

3 Bojuka Bog

4 Dimir Aqueduct

9 Island

2 Swamp

4 Terramorphic Expanse

Creatures

4 Mulldrifter

3 Ulamog’s Crusher

Spells

2 Agony Warp

4 Compulsive Research

2 Counterspell

2 Diabolic Edict

1 Doom Blade

4 Exhume

2 Innocent Blood

1 Nihil Spellbomb

4 Preordain

2 Probe

4 Prohibit

2 Serrated Arrows

1 Tragic Slip

Sideboard

2 Doom Blade

2 Duress

2 Evincar’s Justice

3 Hydroblast

2 Piracy Charm

1 Probe

1 Ulamog’s Crusher

1 Wail of the Nim

1 Walker of the Grove

[/d]

This deck originated as a whacky idea I had to transform the historically all-in Reanimator deck into a more controllish list. That’s right we usually cast [c]Ulamog’s Crusher[/c] to win the game. About once every other game, however, we are Exhuming at least one [c]Ulamog’s Crusher[/c] into play. But [c]Exhume[/c] does more in this list than in your traditional Reanimator deck. You’re also able to exhume back a [c]Mulldrifter[/c].

Historically, the all-in Reanimator decks try to win before the opponent can establish a board presence. The all-in Reanimator pilot avoids Exhume’s symmetrical nature by winning before their opponent can get a creature in the graveyard. But this plan is inconsistent and easily disruptable. In Exhume Control we approach the problem in a different way. We bypass Exhume’s symmetrical nature in one of three ways.

First we can avoid removing our opponent’s creatures and Exhume as quickly as possible. This is akin to the traditional reanimator route. Second, we use [c]Bojuka Bog[/c] or [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c] to remove our opponent’s graveyard. Third, we Exhume back a [c]Mulldrifter[/c]. A resolved Mulldrifter is a three for one. So if we cast [c]Exhume[/c] and our opponent returns a creature like [c]Myr Enforcer[/c] or [c]Nettle Sentinel[/c] then we’re actually up a card in the exchange. This is the least preferred route of bypassing Exhume’s symmetrical nature, but sometimes the small bit of card advantage or the 2/2 flier is all you need to lock up the game.

The rest of the deck is a pretty standard control shell. But I’ll highlight a few cards.

[c]Probe[/c] has been good in any match-up you’re not getting steamrolled in, but it has been an absolute all-star in any control match-up. The ability to pitch your unwanted Crushers for more valuable cards, and make your opponent discard their last few cards is very powerful.

[c]Tragic Slip[/c], a recommendation by KimS has been a great addition. You’re able to trigger morbid off [c]Mulldrifter[/c] Evokes, and your other removal. Having an early answer to [c]Delver of Secrets[/c] and a cheap answer that allows you to play around [c]Spellstutter Sprite[/c] is very nice. The card’s flexibility has had me thinking that I might add more.

[c]Innocent Blood[/c] has been right on the edge for me. Sometimes you need the cheap removal. Taking out a turn one Delver is really important, and having a removal spell with counter backup on turn three is also pretty nice. Plus it has been beneficial that it is a sorcery so it can get around [c]Dispel[/c] in the Delver-Fiend match-up. At the same time [c]Innocent Blood[/c] has been a little awkward. Sometimes you’ve got a Crusher or Drifter out, but you need some removal to take out potentially lethal attackers. [c]Innocent Blood[/c] is miserable here. If you wanted to cut it, I would respect your decision.

The last card I want to highlight is [c]Prohibit[/c]. I think it is also just good enough. It has some relevant target in every deck. Even against MonoB, who casts infinite three drops, [c]Prohibit[/c] allows you to [c]Exhume[/c] a Crusher and keep up countermagic against their 2-mana removal. Or you can counter an early [c]Sign in Blood[/c]. The other deck that you sort of lack targets against is Tron. Tron is already a great match-up, so I tend to just fire off [c]Prohibit[/c]s on their mana fixing. In all other match-ups, I’ve found [c]Prohibit[/c] is about as good as a [c]Counterspell[/c].

Positives and Negatives of the Deck

Positives

This deck plays out as the control deck of control decks. With recent rises in UR Control, Teachings, Tron, and MonoU control, this deck out controls them all. We’re seldom the beat down because we have more card advantage and a very powerful end game that makes it difficult for our opponents to interact with us.

Most aggressive decks that don’t have the ability to interact with our game play will fall victim to our removal suite. We have a lot of one for one removal spells. But we also have [c]Evincar’s Justice[/c] and [c]Serrated Arrows[/c] to mow down strategies that build outward quickly.

Lastly, we always have the combo kill. A lot of control decks in the current meta have some match-ups that they just can’t win. From my understanding, UR control basically can’t beat green decks, Tron has a hard time with Familiars, etc. These decks aren’t great for us either. We are even more controllish than them. But against all these problem decks Exhume Control can miss a turn 3-4 Crusher and hope that gets there. While this option is not always ideal, at least an option to go combo exists.

Negatives

Exhume Control can be tempoed out by decks that can hinder our game plan. Delver of course is the staple tempo-er and is a challenging opponent. MonoB control can win games off the back of a steady stream of 2/2s for 3, hand/creature disruption and a well-timed Gray Merchant. U/R control or MonoU control can tempo us out as well with a counter magic backed Delver.

The deck also can get unlucky and draw the wrong parts of its deck. Because it is a combo oriented control deck, it has awkward draws slightly more often than your traditional control deck. In addition to times when you can get mana screwed or draw no draw spells, sometimes with Exhume Control you get all your Exhumes but no creatures or no way to remove your opponent’s threat laden graveyard. Sometimes you get all the creatures and no Exhumes. This additional element of variance doesn’t happen all that often, but it is certainly a knock against the deck because it forces you to play even better to mitigate the additional variance.

Match-Ups

Delver

Sideboard: -4 [c]Exhume[/c], -1 [c]Crusher[/c], -1 [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c], -1 [c]Probe[/c]: + 2 [c]Dispel[/c], +2 [c]Piracy Charm[/c], +1 [c]Wail of Nim[/c], +2 [c]Doomblade[/c]

The match-up everyone cares the most about is also slightly unfavorable. [c]Exhume[/c] is pretty bad here since if they Spellstutter it, and if you counter the Stutter or kill a faerie in response the Exhume, the [c]Exhume[/c]’s resolution will give them their guy back. [c]Ninja of the Deep Hours[/c] is the biggest issue they bring main deck, as he can get them more threats than you can deal with. Post-board you need to counter every Stormbound Geist you see, as he makes your edicts and arrows terrible. If they can reset him via Ninja or [c]Snap[/c], then you’ve probably lost.

Having said all of that, the match-up is not unwinnable. I feel tweaks exist to make this match-up better. I’ve been content with my build because lately I feel like Delver is down in popularity. When it ticks up you’ll see more Delver hate out of me.

Affinity

Sideboard: -2 [c]Agony Warp[/c], -1 [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c], -2 [c]Serrated Arrows[/c], -1 [c]Prohibit[/c]: +2 [c]Doomblade[/c] +3 [c]Hydroblast[/c] +1 Crusher

The analysis here is kind of tricky. In my opinion the match-up depends on the caliber of the Affinity player. If they are good, you’re going to be closer to 50/50 against them – in fact, it’s probably die roll + variance dependent. But if they are your average run of the mill Affinity player, then I like my chances. The goal is to Crush quickly. They have a hard time dealing with an early Crusher. Use your Prohibits on Atogs and Carapace Forgers if you can.

U/R Control

Sideboard: -1 [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c], -2 [c]Innocent Blood[/c], -2 [c]Island[/c], -1 [c]Dimir Aquaduct[/c], -1 [c]Prohibit[/c]: +3 [c]Hydroblast[/c], +1 [c]Crusher[/c], +2 [c]Dispel[/c], +1 [c]Probe[/c]

Exhume Control was built to take advantage of decks playing [c]Exclude[/c]. Exhume allows you to circumvent that particular counter spell and fight your battles solely against [c]Counterspell[/c]. If Crusher enters the battlefield their only real answer is to double [c]Flameslash[/c] it. While I’ve only played this match-up a handful of times, I like my odds. It has felt good every time, except when I played against the guy who invented the U/R deck. He just outplayed me.

The U/R pilot needs to be the aggressor so try to keep hands that has access to a way to kill a turn one Delver. If you stay above 16, and out of Firebolt range, your life is a lot better.

Tron

Sideboard: -2 [c]Agony Warp[/c], -2 [c]Prohibit[/c], -2 [c]Serrated Arrows[/c]: +2 [c]Doomblade[/c], +2 [c]Hydroblast[/c], +1 [c]Probe[/c], +1 Crusher

Tron is a very good match-up. I’ve been turn three troned multiple times and I don’t really care. Use [c]Counterspell[/c] on their [c]Mulldrifter[/c]s and removal on [c]Fangren Maurader[/c]s. Once you get out a Crusher, the game usually ends in short order. This is the match-up I am most happy to see.

[c]Bojuka Bog[/c] does pretty good work in this match-up. Allowing you to control [c]Haunted Fengraf[/c] targets and to remove [c]Firebolt[/c]s and [c]Deep Analysis[/c] is a lot of value out of a land.

MonoB

Sideboard: -1 [c]Doomblade[/c], -1 Crusher, -2 [c]Prohibit[/c]: +1 [c]Probe[/c], +1 [c]Walker of the Grove[/c], +2 [c]Evincar’s Justice[/c]

MonoB is a weird match-up, and it is slightly unfavorable. If they can start chaining 2/2s into each other you have a tough time. They usually win via a tempo game. Try to keep them off their guys, and try to Probe their hand away. The match-up isn’t unwinnable by any stretch. In fact it always feels like I barely lose. If they don’t get their normal draw you probably win, because they won’t be able to eek out the last few points. It feels like if they don’t play a turn 3 dude you’re over 50% to win.

Again I think this match-up is tuneable. If you feel like you’re going to see a lot of monoB then maybe you want to switch counterspell packages. Go with [c]Exclude[/c]s and some X counter spell like [c]Powersink[/c] or [c]Condescend[/c]. A lot of the problem is that [c]Prohibit[/c] and [c]Doomblade[/c] are bad main deck inclusions here.

MonoU Control

Sideboard: -1 [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c], -1 [c]Island[/c], -1 [c]Dimir Aqueduct[/c], -2 [c]Prohibit[/c]: +2 [c]Doomblade[/c], +1 [c]Probe[/c], +2 [c]Dispel[/c]

This is another good match-up. It is possibly just as good as Tron. Here, [c]Bojuka Bog[/c] is a silent all-star. It takes out their draw engine in [c]Think Twice[/c], [c]Accumulated Knowledge[/c], and [c]Oona’s Grace[/c]. You have so many must counters that eventually they run out of them. Then you [c]Probe[/c] them and the game is over.

Their best line is to tempo you out. They are the aggressor. So try to keep a hand that doesn’t get blown out by Delver + counter magic. If they give you time, remember you’re in no rush to Crush. They are playing into our hands.

Burn

Sideboard: -2 [c]Serrated Arrows[/c], -1 [c]Tragic Slip[/c], -1 [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c], -1 [c]Doomblade[/c], -2 [c]Innocent Blood[/c]: +2 [c]Dispel[/c], +1 [c]Probe[/c], +1 [c]Crusher[/c], +3 [c]Hydroblast[/c]

This is actually a harder match-up than you’d think, but I think it is 50/50. You are trying to crush quickly, because you cut them off of mana. Since most of their spells do about the same amount of damage counter them whenever you can. Spend your turns where you don’t have counter magic drawing into more counter magic or combo pieces. You often don’t want to counter [c]Keldon Mauraders[/c], because it is usually the only card you can get some value out of with your removal.

Stompy

Sideboard: -1 [c]Exhume[/c], -1 [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c], -1 [c]Probe[/c], -1 [c]Crusher[/c]: +2 [c]Evincar’s Justice[/c], +2 [c]Doomblade[/c]

The resilient threats are annoying, but I’ve won most of my matches against them. I don’t feel I’ve played them enough to say whether the match-up is good or not. My advice is to try to one for one them as much as possible and keep rancor off of their guys. Try to crush as soon as possible. Bringing in the sweepers post board usually puts game 2 and 3 in our favor. Don’t be surprised if you lose game one.

Hexproof Auras

Sideboard: -2 [c]Serrated Arrows[/c], -1 [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c], -2 [c]Agony Warp[/c]: +1 [c]Ulamog’s Crusher[/c], +2 [c]Evincar’s Justice[/c], +1 [c]Wail of Nim[/c]

I’ve won both of my competitive matches against Hexproof Auras, but I’ve done a bit of testing since. I think this match-up is pretty poor with the current build. We only really have 4 edicts, and Prohibit is a bit weak to a turn 3-4 Armadillo Cloak or Mask. They can also just build up guys so big that Crusher looks like chump change. If you find yourself going against them frequently, look to add more edicts to the 75. I think this match-up can be made good if it is something you’re concerned about.

Familiars

Sideboard: -2 [c]Innocent Blood[/c], -2 [c]Diabolic Edict[/c], -1 [c]Compulsive Research[/c]: +2 [c]Doomblade[/c], +2 [c]Piracy Charm[/c], +1 [c]Probe[/c], +1 [c]Ulamog’s Crusher[/c].

This one is a battle, but it’s a fun fight. Currently, I’ve only played against them a few times and I’m roughly 50/50. Most of my matches have been extremely close, going to epic game 3s where either I, or my opponent, made a costly mistake. Their only real way for them to handle Crusher is to [c]Snap[/c] or [c]Capsize[/c] it. Our goal is to Crush ASAP, but we also need some counter magic up to prevent bouncing. We should win if we can keep them off familiars early and turn 4 or 5 a Crusher with counter backup.

[c]Bojuka Bog[/c] and [c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c] are also good in this match-up since they hinder [c]Mnemonic Wall[/c] and makes [c]Reap the Graves[/c] a dead card. Reap is usually the card they use to beat control decks and our land makes it awful. Ding!

Teachings Control

This fringe deck has made a few appearances lately, mostly at the hands of someoldguy. The deck uses a lot of graveyard shenanigans to reach its goal. Fortunately we come main deck equipped to deal with strategies like these. [c]Bojuka Bog[/c] knocks out unspent [c]Mystical Teachings[/c], [c]Grim Harvest[/c], any lingering [c]Ghostly Flicker[/c]s, and removes any extra creatures that Harvest or [c]Soul Manipulation[/c] could target.

We also are Exhuming instead of casting creatures, so we shut off Manipulation and [c]Exclude[/c] targets. As such, we are really the deck with more counter magic available so when we cast a kicked Probe we’ll usually win the counter battle over its resolution. And once we win that, they’ll usually scoop.

Delver-Fiend

This match-up is in our favor. They are quick, but we have tons of removal. We also have ways to back up our removal with countermagic so they can’t resolve [c]Apostle’s Blessing[/c]. The goal is to kill their guys as quickly as possible. If you do this, then later you can [c]Probe[/c] them out of the game. In game 1 try to kill their Delvers and [c]Kiln Fiends[/c] with your [c]Agony Warp[/c]s and save your Edicts and [c]Doomblade[/c] for [c]Nivix Cyclops[/c]. If you don’t use your removal on the right guy, then you’ll end up unable to kill the guy you need to.

Elves

The last match-up I’ll talk about is Elves, since I’m seeing an uptick in the little green men. Game one can be hard. Try to focus on taking out [c]Timberwatch[/c] and [c]Lys Alana Huntmaster[/c] with removal. Try to counter [c]Distant Melody[/c] or kill their blue producing creatures and you should be able to win once you resolve a [c]Serrated Arrows[/c]. Games 2 and 3 are pretty easy because [c]Evincar’s Justice[/c] is [c]Damnation[/c] against them.