The Underdrafted Undead: Rise of the Dread Marn

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I fell in love with Magic as a kid, left the game for a while, then returned to it as an adult. When I returned to casting cardboard in 2016, Draft replaced Mahamoti Djinn as the pinnacle of my Magic affection. Oath of the Gatewatch was the draft set, Limited Resources became my primary source of information, and I’ve loved drafting 40 card decks ever since.

As a student of the fundamental approach to draft, I tend to undervalue cards that don’t immediately impact the board. While writing about another game, I advocate for following fundamentals during the draft, deckbuilding, and gameplay. That being the case, I’m more than a little stunned that my first article for the Magic community is about a conditional card that might actually make your deck worse according the 17lands data: Rise of the Dread Marn.

Rise of the Dread Marn found its way into several of my draft decks simply because people kept passing it to me and I wanted to try the rare “for science.” My initial impression of the card was low, the community consensus is that it can be serviceable but nothing special, it doesn’t fit with the approach I usually take to deckbuilding… but I just keep winning with this card. As an LR advocate, I’m aware of small sample sizes and that my personal experience might not match the experience of others, so let’s see if we can find concrete reasons why this underdrafted rare might be better than it looks.

This is the opposite of my normal approach. Typically, I spend a lot of time thinking about and theorycrafting Magic, then I play the games and update my opinion from there. Today we’ll be working backwards. Rise of the Dread Marn has been unexpectedly great in my draft deck and I’d like to figure out why. Let’s see if Kaldheim’s cards support my great-in-a-small-sample-size experience with Rise of the Dread Marn or if it’s closer to the playable-but-replaceable rare I expected it to be. Let’s create the best card in either players’ deck with a rare that you scooped up 3rd or 4th pick. Let’s make an absurd number of hasty zombies. Let’s Talk Limited!

The Cost

We all have our biases (in Magic and life) and my initial reading of Rise of the Dread Marn didn’t exactly give me warm fuzzy feelings. It has a setup cost, the potential to be an absolutely dead card, and the payoff of some zombies doesn’t seem worth the risk of such a questionable card. Again, I didn’t intend to draft this card but people kept passing it to me so, ya know, science.

I failed to adjust. Rise of the Dread Marn has a setup cost, is a potentially dead card, needs help from other cards to be great. That’s all true… but it costs one. One. At instant speed. One. It’s usually so hard to make cards like this great because the cost restricts what else you’re able to do on a particular turn but that’s not the case with Rise. Leaving up 2-3 mana per turn is exponentially more difficult than holding up a single black.

The card evaluation tools (e.g. The Vanilla Test, Quadrant Theory) I learned from LR are incredibly helpful in general but don’t seem to be a great fit for evaluating Rise. Instead, I’ve been evaluating it with a question Marshall and Luis often ask: “What has to happen for me to be happy with the mana I spent on this card?” Two zombies. In a game of limited, I would be happy to spend 3 mana and get two 2/2 creatures in return. That’s a fine rate. That’s the benchmark. Ignore the rarity, ignore the zombie hordes you envisioned when you drafted it, just view it as a card that needs to make two zombies in order to be worth taking up a card slot in your 40-card deck. Three mana, two zombies is good. Three mana for one 2/2 zombie won’t help you win many games but it’s not the end of the world. Two mana to foretell a card you never cast is a disaster.

So how hard is it to make at least two zombies? Let’s take a look.

Commons

To determine if Rise can be good consistently, let’s take a look at Black’s other cards to see if they help make rise great.

Priest of the Haunted Edge can make two berserker zombies on its own if you have the snow lands. Koma’s Faithful encourages your opponent to block it and likely trade it off in combat. Deathknell Berserker is a quality two-drop that replaces itself with just a little bit of help so can be easily traded off as an attacker or blocker.

Jarl of the Forsaken and Elderfang Disciple is quickly becoming one of my favorite two-card combinations. I groan when my opponent plays Elderfang Disciple – that’s how I know it’s a good card and I should play it more. You’re already up a card when the 1/1 enters the battlefield, then use it as a blocker and finish the attacker off with Jarl of the Forsaken. As a nice little bonus, you can get both clerics back with Raise the Draugr to do it all over again. The scenario described above (block, cast Jarl, cast Rise of the Dread Marn), costs 3 mana, kills your opponent’s creature, and leaves you with 7 hasty power on the battlefield for next turn.

Even cards I don’t particularly want to play like Withercrown and Demonic Gifts involve creatures dying.

These days, I’m making room for 1-2 Village Rites in my Rakdos decks. I’d probably play them in my Orzhov decks too if I ever drafted them.

Black’s commons, predictably, involve and encourage creatures dying. With very little work, you can make Rise a decent card in your deck using only commons.

Uncommons

Let’s just get this beast out of the way first.

The top-end in a lot of Rakdos decks, Kardur can make combat a nightmare for your opponent. This is where Rise of the Dread Marn costing One is such a big deal. Playing Kardur with one extra mana open is just so much easier than playing it with two extra mana. Cast Kardur, pass turn, wait with a single black mana open.

One advantage of planning to use Rise on your opponent’s turn is that you have much more agency over combat. You can only block your opponent’s non-tokens with your non-tokens to maximize its effectiveness. You can make seemingly disadvantageous double blocks to kill your opponent’s bigger units. The other day my opponent attacked me with two 4/4s, I blocked with four creatures, they all traded, then I made six 2/2’s on their end-step. “Come on, Schaab, that’s anecdotal” I kept telling myself as I watched these scenarios happen repeatedly. What I keep coming back to is that these aren’t corner cases, these are just typical turns in games of limited. Creatures battling and dying is the most typical aspect of a draft game. And what is your opponent playing around when you have a single black mana available? Village Rites. As far as your opponent is concerned, they have nearly perfect information to make their decisions. Then you just have a normal combat step and make a horde of zombies on end-step.

Tergrid’s Shadow isn’t my favorite card, and it seems like community as a whole doesn’t have a very high opinion of it based on where it goes in drafts. Honestly, this is theory-crafted. I haven’t cast Tergrid’s Shadow and Rise of the Dread Marn in the same game (probably because I don’t have Tergrid’s Shadow in my deck very often) but if you’re planning to play Elderfang Disciples anyway, there are certainly worse ways to make a bunch of 2/2 zombies.

Poison the Cup is phenomenal on its own. No help needed.

Rares

Drafting and building your deck around playing two rares sure is a great way to lose more games of limited. Consequently, talking about what rares Rise of the Dread Marn pairs well with feels a little absurd. But Rise isn’t a rare that you have to first-pick. You can get it pick 3 or 4 after you’ve already started your draft with a more powerful rare. Rise pairs very nicely with a lot of cards I already want to play and am happy to start my draft with. To give you a sense of who I am as a player, Blood on the Snow and Doomskar were among the first cards I drafted playsets of and you can sign me up for Rise of the Dread Marn in any deck with these cards. Ya know what helps cast Rise of the Dread Marn on the same turn as these sweepers? It costs one.

Consider yourself lucky if you haven’t played against Immersturm Predator yet. It’s incredibly hard to beat and fuels Rise of the Dread Marn, which fuels Immersturm Predator….

Anti-Synergies

I’m an educator, not a salesman, so we’re going to talk about some of Rise’s flaws as well.

Rise doesn’t work well with some of Black’s most powerful cards, including its best common in Feed the Serpent. If you start your draft with Blood on the Snow or Immerstrum Predator, you’re on your way to having an excellent Rise of the Dread Marn deck. That’s not the case if you start with Draugr Necromancer or Sarulf, Realm Eater.

The “non-token” clause is quite relevant in Kaldheim and should be considered during deckbuilding. Dwarven Reinforcements keeps moving up in my estimation, but it’s not the kind of card you want to pair with Rise. This is part of the reason I prefer to engineer scenarios where I’m the blocker. That way I can ensure that more of my and my opponent’s non-token creatures leave the battlefield.

In terms of gameplay, Rise doesn’t fit very well in aggressive decks that want to be adding to the board on turn 2 instead of foretelling. That being said, I’ve found Rakdos midrange to be a perfectly viable deck given how good the removal is in those colors and Rise fits in there nicely (though it gets worse with more Feed the Serpents).

The Floor

It’s a dead card that stays in exile forever after you’ve cast it. This is possible and has happened to me in one game. My opponent played Bind the Monster on both of my creatures, I drew lands for the rest of the game, then that game ended. So there are definitely downsides and I don’t want to pretend that this card automatically makes two 2/2s when it’s cast because it doesn’t. It’s definitely possible for you to spend two mana and get nothing out of this card. But my experience with Rise of the Dread Marn has been the inverse. It’s been a dead card once – but every other game it has ranged from acceptable (three mana, two 2/2 zombies) to downright absurd (Adding 12 power and toughness to the board for one mana on your opponent’s end-step).

For Science

Being a good scientist is an excuse I often make for taking the rare out of a pack (I’m new to Arena, gimme those gems) and that’s certainly how this Rise of the Dread Marn experiment began.

Hypothesis: Rise of the Dread Marn is ok but mostly pretty bad.

Results: Rise of the Dream Marn is mostly pretty great but can be bad sometimes.

My results have surprised me. I started putting Rise of the Dread Marn in my deck because people kept passing it to me and still do. Believe me – I understand why people don’t like this card. I didn’t either. But it’s possible the negativity has shifted too far and players are passing Rise of the Dread Marn even when it would be excellent in their deck. As a casual player who only drafts a few times a week, I don’t have time to replicate my results by drafting Rise of the Dread Marn over and over again. Small sample sizes and theory crafting both tell me Rise of the Dread Marn is better than it looks, but I know better than to trust small samples. So here I am reporting my qualitative data – Rise of the Dread Marn is deece. Now I’m counting on you, fellow Magic players. Be good scientists, draft Rise of the Dread Marn, replicate my results if possible, and report back to your new friend, Schaab, with the results.

Happy Sunday and Happy Drafting!

-Schaab, Draft Enthusiast

Author’s Note

Writing about draft is a hobby of mine that started last summer while I was preparing for the 2020 Eternal Draft Championship. If you’re not familiar with it, Eternal is fantastic game with an even better community. The draft format is excellent and I’ll be publishing an article in the near future telling you, Magic player, why you should check out Eternal. I’m not affiliated with Eternal or its parent company in any way.

You can find all of my work at LetsTalkLimited.com. This is my first Magic-specific article but I’m sure there will be more in the future and many of the articles I’ve written about drafting and gameplay are applicable to both Magic and Eternal.

A few card evaluation/gameplay articles of mine you might enjoy:

Quadrant Theory Part 1: Evaluating Cards

Quadrant Theory Part 2: Deckbuilding and Planning

Be Boring: Drafting and Building Better Decks

Learning From Elites: Shouta

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Learning From Losses

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4 thoughts on “The Underdrafted Undead: Rise of the Dread Marn

  1. I don’t have experience with it, but I wouldn’t have assumed it would be bad exactly. It reads like a card that usually performs like a common or uncommon (Call the Calvary, say), but sometimes way outperforms that so had to be made rare.

    Liked by 1 person

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