Too-Specific Top 10 - Unearthing Rebirth
(Cormela, Glamour Thief | Art by Samy Halim)
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Betrayal of Flesh is the only spell that can both destroy a target creature and return another target creature from your graveyard to the battlefield without a mana value restriction?)
Fresh off the spoiler cycle, it's Cormela, Glamour Thief! And at first glance, she's kind of... okay?
What if I were to tell you that you could easily loop her for infinite (or just a lot) of mana with just a few recursion spells? We just might need to redefine what we mean by "recursion".
Top 10 Death-Based Creature Recursion Spells
Well, that is not my catchiest click-bait to date. Let's boil it down to what I actually mean, shall we?
Criteria: Instants or sorceries without a mana value restriction that either return a dying creature to the battlefield or sacrifice a creature to then return a creature to the battlefield from your graveyard. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.
Now, to be frank, things are not as clear-cut as they may first appear with all of these effects. Demonic Gifts is specific enough that it more or less does exactly what you want it to: take a dying Cormela, Glamour Thief and return her to the battlefield. Given that it's cast ahead of time, you can even directly return the Demonic Gifts to your hand with Cormela's death trigger, although you still need to have a sacrifice outlet to actually kill her. Then, after you've gone through all that, you still can't use the mana she makes to activate her own mana ability, meaning you're still going to have to pay for each instance of tapping her with actual, hard-earned mana.
In other words, we don't want to go infinite with Cormela. We just want to go a lot, in the clunkiest, most complex fashion you can imagine.
As for other contenders for clunkiest complex nonsense, Danse Macabre is not only too expensive to go infinite in the first place, you also need another recursion spell in your graveyard to return, as Danse Macabre will not be a legal target in the graveyard at the time Cormela's death trigger goes on the stack. Similarly, recursion spells that sacrifice a creature as part of their cost, like Blood for Bones, will happily get you another creature (or two) back from the graveyard, but will not, themselves, be able to recur Cormela, nor will they be in the graveyard when she dies to be targeted by her death trigger.
At the end of the day, if you're able to recur a creature and a spell that will recur Cormela, who will then give you two more mana to keep on doing similar things, are you really that unhappy? I know the sheer thought of it has my inner Jenny and Johnny doing cartwheels, personally.
10. Abnormal Endurance
(1,884 Inclusions, 0% of 544,634 Decks)
Unlike Demonic Gifts, Abnormal Endurance doesn't allow you to keep bringing Cormela back over and over again for (almost) free, as it would return her to the battlefield tapped and unable to use her mana ability. That really makes me wonder, why does this card have 70 more inclusions than Demonic Gifts? Is +2/+0 really that much more valuable than returning the creature ready to block on the crackback?
9. Infernal Offering
(2,673 Inclusions, 0% of 544,634 Decks)
Despite being a bit expensive for Cormela, Infernal Offering is a powerhouse with our newly-spoiled commander. Even if you end up paying five mana for the effect, Cormela herself provides two of that. Combine that with the fact that, unlike many sacrifice and return effects, Infernal Offering is worded in such a way that you can both sacrifice and return Cormela herself, and the net mana cost is three, not five, not to mention the extra two cards, a creature, and a spell you get out of the deal.
In other words, no matter what build of Cormela you're putting together or playing against, this is a card you'll be seeing a lot of. (Just keep in mind that you won't be able to recur it with Cormela's trigger while it's still on the stack!)
8. Undying Malice
(3,071 Inclusions, 1% of 236,175 Decks)
So, let's start with an unfortunate truth: while at first glance it would appear that you could get a ton of mana with Cormela, and any "dies, then returns" effect that costs a single mana, all but one of them returns the creature to battlefield tapped, meaning you wouldn't be able to use Cormela's mana ability without a third piece like Intruder Alarm. And in case you're wondering if there're a lot of those effects, no, there aren't.
Intruder Alarm and Chakram Retriever are the whole list, as far as I can tell. So, once again, we have to be happy with just synergy instead of a full combo, which can be the more popular way to go with things anyhow.
7. Undying Evil
(4,988 Inclusions, 1% of 544,634 Decks)
If I got your hopes up that there was a one-mana "dies and returns" effect that might go infinite with Cormela, then I'm sorry. The single one-mana version of the effect that doesn't return the creature tapped is indeed Undying Evil, and it has its own limiter in the form of the Undying mechanic.
6. Feign Death
(5,672 Inclusions, 2% of 355,196 Decks)
Everything I said about Undying Malice applies to Feign Death as well, given that they're mechanically identical. What's the good news there? Well, that's two of this exact effect you can put in your deck, furthering your synergies around it!
5. Blood for Bones
(7,029 Inclusions, 1% of 544,634 Decks)
As we went over in the intro, you can't return Blood for Bones with Cormela, Glamour Thief if you sacrifice her to it, nor can you return Cormela with Blood for Bones if you sacrifice her to it. In other words, you'll have to be happy with your four mana netting you two creatures and another spell (that will probably get Cormela back), with Cormela providing half of the mana for the spell in the first place.
I guess what I'm trying to say is...
4. Supernatural Stamina
(8,764 Inclusions, 2% of 539,461 Decks)
As much as I was questioning whether +2/+0 really made Abnormal Endurance more playable than Demonic Gifts in the average deck, I do understand how good a combat trick card like Supernatural Stamina can be. With that said, it's unfortunately little more than just another one-mana return effect for Cormela that returns her tapped.
I don't want anyone dismissing how decent it could be to loop a tapped Cormela over and over again for a single mana, though. First off, sacrifice outlets net you an effect.
In the case of Phyrexian Altar specifically, you can simply loop Cormela, Glamour Thief infinitely for any triggers you may have. While it won't be the correct mana, you can actually net mana with each loop when it comes to Ashnod's Altar. A Thermopod might be simply trading black mana for red mana and triggers, but that's not exactly terrible, either. What about the really impactful sacrifice effects?
Being able to draw a card and kill a creature for each black mana you have is a pretty great deal, as is dealing a damage to anything on the table with every loop. Emptying every one of your opponent's hands every turn, though? That's true
Grixis Maestros, right there.
3. Dread Return
(25,796 Inclusions, 5% of 544,634 Decks)
Dread Return is stretching our criteria more than a bit here, as it doesn't actually sacrifice a creature at all on the first cast, and then requires a whopping three to do it for Flashback, at which point you won't be able to reclaim it with Cormela's death trigger anyhow because it will be exiled.
So why not use this space to talk about whether regular recursion spells are worth it at all with Cormela? Is getting a Persist, a Stitch Together, and an Archaeomancer together to just keep cycling things in and out of the graveyard over and over again worth it?
I'm absolutely certain that we'll see decks that try to do just that, and I'm also fairly certain that they'll more or less be wheel-spinners constantly stuck in the mud of doing a whole lot that may not actually accomplish that much, which is probably true of the rest of the cards on this list in regard to Cormela as well. Cheaper mana costs go a long way, however. The average recur-to-the-battlefield effect costs four mana, not one. In other words, unless you're actually getting ahead with your Reanimate effect, I would recommend caution.
Luckily, there's no shortage of recursion spells that could get you ahead out there, from Blood on the Snow to Incarnation Technique to Living Death, all of which are worth considering.
2. Malakir Rebirth
(42,336 Inclusions, 9% of 478,150 Decks)
Being a bit too-specific, as I am, I should probably mention that this weird build of Cormela, Glamour Thief I've been publicly brewing is just that: a weird build that will probably be nowhere near the popular build of the commander (that one will probably be much more centered around either Casualty, extra turn spells, or both).
With that said, whatever version of Cormela you end up building, you'd be hard-pressed to not include Malakir Rebirth in it. While the Modal Double-Faced Lands aren't exactly "free" slots in a deck, they're about as close as you can get, and there will absolutely be times that you'll take a free return of Cormela to the battlefield, even if you go and get a more impactful spell with her death trigger.
(54,197 Inclusions, 10% of 544,634 Decks)
You'll note right off the bat with Victimize that it is very much not phrased in a way where you can return Cormela with it if you also use her as the sacrificed creature. Still, we're looking to sacrifice her anyhow, and getting back two creatures and a spell as part of the deal is nothing to scoff at.
The real question is this: will you have enough creatures and spells in the graveyard to have three legal targets when you try to resolve all of this?
Which is a long way of saying that this version of a Cormela, Glamour Thief deck is very unfocused. Needing to have a focus on spells, creatures, triggers, and sacrifice effects is just a ton of slots to find room for.
Nonetheless, I was intrigued enough by the idea that I had to give it a try:
Guess Who's Back?
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First off, I'd just like to say that this deck was an absolute blast to brew, but after goldfishing, I would never play in paper. If you feel differently upon reading it, then by all means, I suggest that you also attempt to goldfish with it and see if you're up to the mental task of even trying to figure out what is possible on a given turn. I've played some complex decks before, but keeping track of copies on copies while also attempting to figure out if you've gone infinite or if you don't have enough regular mana in addition to your only instants and sorceries mana, all while keeping track of triggers at every step, is a real beast.
In short, I have no doubt that this deck could win a lot of games where my opponents all entertained themselves by either trying to help me and themselves understand what was going on, or simply looked down at their phones as I moved things from pile to pile to hypothetical pile. What's really disappointing is that this feels like a combination of my two favorite decks I have in paper right now: a Will & Rowan planeswalker-infused spellslinger build, and my classic Sapling of Colfenor Aristocrats build. However, it turns out there is such a thing as too much chocolate.
By which, of course, I mean that I will of course be accepting your feedback on how to make this a playable pile that is fun to play for both opponents and yourself, as opposed to scathing criticisms about how I should "git gud, scrub".
As for the rest of the list, there aren't many cards to go, so let's see them!
While Danse Macabre and Return to Action are nothing to write home about, they do round out the rest of the list of cards that meet our criteria. More importantly, however, it should once again be noted that if you are interested in doing ridiculous things with Cormela, then the card to do it is Demonic Gifts. Any sac outlet that grants you a mana makes you have infinite enters/leaves/dies/cast triggers, which is just too many triggers to not be able to take advantage of!
Nuts and Bolts
There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.
What Do You Think?
The more I did the work and the brewing for this article, the more it made me think that Cormela might be the most complex uncommon we've ever seen in the history of the game, and in my opinion, the only reason we're seeing such complexity at uncommon is the existence of Brawl. So, with that in mind...
Finally, what do you think of combining spellslinger and aristocrats? Do you think that a deck caring about this many things can ever work without serious fluctuations? Did Cormela interest you, despite being so complex to actually dig into?
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the 3D Chess table in Ten Forward.