Intellectual Offering — Ghoulcaller Gisa

After a close encounter with Queen Marchesa’s thugs last week I decided to travel somewhere a little less politically charged. As dropping in unannounced is always considered rude I wrote ahead to a friend I’d met on a plane known as Innistrad.

My Dearest Gisa,

How long has it been since we last connected? It feels like the last time we saw each other was years ago. I hope this finds you well. I’ve heard rumors through the grapevine that there was some trouble in town in the past couple months. Something about mindless masses engulfing the populus? No doubt you felt right at home during whatever it was and things have gone back to normal. Is your dearest brother, Geralf, well? Does he still insist on your adherence to his “code”? I still share the story of the time you raised your mother, may she un-rest in peace, to tell him off. His indignation was priceless!

Having been on my usual travels to parts unknown I have much to tell you about my studies in the world of necromancy, especially as it pertains to ghoulcalling. So let me get right into it and start by discussing a trend I’ve noticed in foreign ghoulcallers that you may wish to adopt yourself. A certain variety of ghoul creatively known as a Risen Executioner has fallen out of favor as of late. I noticed (from notes I collected during my last visit) that you summon this ghoul to battle 52% of the time. I believe the reason this particular ghoul has fallen from un-grace is that while it requires no additional necromancy to raise it from death over and over, the investment of mana is far too high. The meager boon that its presence provides your other ghouls still doesn’t offset the lack of defense, and high mana investment, the executioner represents.

While you may persist in summoning Risen Executioners, despite my misgivings, I hope I can convince you of this next suggestion. During our last meeting I made a note in my journal lamenting the way you over-focus on maximizing the size of your ghouls before sacrificing them to create more. I know that some passive investment on ghouls such as the Lord of the Undead or Cemetery Reaper is fantastic as they are low-cost investments with multiple powerful abilities. My concern comes from the fact that in 52% of your battles you employ the use of the Lashwrithe. I get what you’re going for here: power up one ghoul to sacrifice for an army. I’ll detail more below, but I think there are more ways to get more out of your ghouls. Expending mana, and even sometimes life, on such an artifact which serves otherwise no purpose, is reckless and a waste of your potential powers. Let’s be honest, the number times that you’ll be giving this whip to a ghoul and sending it alone to combat a foe is nominal, and almost any other powerful spell would serve in that instance. Similarly there is no story you can tell in which you convince me that you’d put your valuable self at risk and fight the enemy yourself in armed combat.

Finally, I seek an understanding. In 41% of your battles I observed you prepared a spell of Sudden Spoiling in your library before the start of the battle. Maybe there’s something I don’t understand, but I feel that this spell is almost worthless to you. One hypothesis I have is you reserve it to save your ghouls from the defending forces of your foes. But we both know how expendable you view your ghouls, regularly sacrificing them by the dozen at the altar to fuel your greater necromancy. You are best at winning a war of attrition, you should have ghouls to spare. My next thought was you planned to use it to save yourself, but again, is that not something a few spare ghouls could do? Certainly any magics your foes had prepared to overwhelm you would still be in effect, so if that were the case, all you do is reduce the base potency of their creatures. If you’re to be overwhelmed yourself, this seems more like a failure to effectively raise ghouls than a potency of foe that you’re unable to defend against. Finally I thought it may be used as a strategic tool to weaken the creatures of your foes, thus allowing your ghouls to defeat them in combat. But that too makes little sense. You are a necromancer, you wield the mana of death. Your ability to call on spells to wipe out opponents’ armies should be nearly unparalleled. This Sudden Spoiling, while potentially versatile, still relies on too many moving parts for that versatility to outweigh its relative lack of power when compared against other spells.

Not all is critique and complaint though! I promise, these suggestions are to make room for some very exciting new additions. The first of which is from my most recent travels, an artifact known as the Throne of the God-Pharaoh. It’s surprisingly easy to construct and once built, has a devastating impact on your foes. While its power only counts the number of tapped ghouls, it doesn’t at all care for what purpose you’ve tapped them. The fact that this artifact harms ALL of your opponents equally, for doing things you’d already be doing, is incredible. The fact that it’s such a small investment makes it a no-brainer (sorry, couldn’t help myself) to begin including in your battles. What’s most surprising to me is that, while I see some of the latest ghouls to be invented by necromancers in your most recent battles, I don’t believe that this artifact has made it into a single one.

My next discovery is something I’ve seen you employ, though only in a rare 16% of instances. The artifact known as the Phyrexian Altar (a foreboding name, isn’t it?) is incredibly powerful, and, in fact, represents an infinite loop with the Gravecrawler variety of ghoul (assuming you of course have even a single other ghoul, which, of course, you will). While I don’t advocate too much nonsense like this, as I believe such loops make the sport of combat too easy and prefer the challenge inherent in winning a battle without them, I see the necessity of having at least some option to deploy this infinite type of strategy. Having access to such a combination allows you to pull yourself out of desperate situations, and adds a little more dramatic tension to otherwise untenable situations. I think that, as this is the only such combination I can see you reasonably including anyway, it makes sense to include it. Especially when you’re already planning to sacrifice ghouls for mana to your Ashnod’s Altar. This is more powerful, and you use it 11% less frequently.

wait not that dance…

…now that’s more like it

Finally I offer you a personal favorite of mine from when I used to dabble in necromancy, a spell known as the Corpse Dance. While I realize that this spell is not entirely unknown to you, I’ve only ever observed you preparing it for 6 out of the over 800 battles you’ve partaken in. Maybe you are unaware, but this spell is no sorcery, it is instantaneous. You can use this to reanimate ghouls at any time. Additionally, and, again, perhaps you were unaware (through lack of diligent observation, perhaps), but if the ghoul somehow ends up dead again before the delayed effects of the spell take place, its body is not dispersed into the aether. It remains in your graveyard, ready to be reanimated over and over again. While there is a drawback in that this spell only affects the freshest of corpses, that is something which you can clearly manipulate. Additionally the ability to reuse the spell’s incantation with the addition of only a few mana is spectacularly advantageous in helping you win a protracted battle of attrition against foes with large resource pools. I think this spell is worth taking a longer look at, who knows, it may become one of your favorites as well.

In closing I leave you a list, ready for battle, of my ideal composition for your army in your next fight. This includes all the changes I’ve suggested above, and as many of the winningest strategies I’ve seen you employ in the past.

The Action

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Sam Alpert is an EDH filthy casual who's enjoyed magic for the past 14 years. He prefers games that last 25-40 minutes and don't involve Grip of Chaos. In his non-magic life he studies meteorites to descry the history of our solar system.