The face of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG's changed more than a few times over the years, but the concept of named archetypes has stayed pretty consistent. There were some "kind-of" archetypes in the beginning of the game's run, like the Blue-Eyes White Dragon and Dark Magician cards, but they didn't have much in the way of binding support at the time. A few sets later, Pharaonic Guardian gave us the first real and supported archetypes in the game: Gravekeepers and Dark Scorpions.

For anyone who wasn't around for it, Gravekeepers were basically absurd at the time of their release, since Gravekeeper's Spy was one of the bulkiest walls around, had an efficient +1 ability at a time when that was rare, and they just made a lot of sense. Even if the only monsters that saw a lot of play were Gravekeeper's Guard, Gravekeeper's Assailant and Gravekeeper's Spy, they had Necrovalley and Rite of Spirit to keep those monsters strong and ensure that your field wasn't empty.

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The game's evolved in a lot of ways since then, and the Gravekeepers have picked up new support here and there, across five sets. Now that Legacy of the Valiant's legal for use in the TCG that number's been upped to six, and we get to see them evolve one more time, with a host of new support that's a lot stronger than anything they've received before. While they're mostly quite good, one needs to be discussed in particular: Necrovalley' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley.

Empirical Imperial Law
Named archetypes receiving their own stylized counter traps isn't anything new; Infernity, Six Samurai, Gladiator Beasts and several others already have them. What's new is that Necrovalley' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley isn't specifically playable only in the one deck it was designed around. It may not look like it, but it's actually completely generic and absolutely any deck can play it against Gravekeepers.

Musakani Magatama, Gladiator Beast War Chariot and Infernity Barrier all reward you for playing the deck that they're built for, and only operate within those parameters. Imperial Tombs requires Necrovalley and a Gravekeeper monster to be on the field, but not necessarily under your control. As a Side Deck card, Imperial Tombs can be used against any Gravekeeper monster that activates "when Necrovalley is on the field," because those effects can only activate when both of Imperial Tombs' conditions are met anyways. Since it's both an excellent tech card against Gravekeepers and a great tool in the deck itself, it makes Retort a viable Side Deck card for the matchup too. That's pretty gimmicky to say the least, but it has to at least be mentioned. Imagine negating something for free with Imperial Tombs, then negating something else as a +1 with Retort, and then having your Imperial Tombs Reloaded for your trouble. Gimmick or not, that's amazing.

Other than that point, Imperial Tombs and Infernity Barrier are essentially the same card by their effects alone. When Infernity Barrier came out, Infernities were popular because they could search out and spam Barriers three at a time, behind a field of monsters with huge ATK. They weren't very consistent though, and people found success in dealing with them by going all-in right from the start. Since a monster-filled hand basically put the brakes on the strategy, you could rush them down before they got going.

The separation point there is that the deck Imperial Tombs is designed for already has a solid spectrum of plays without it. While Infernities without Infernity Barrier are pretty mediocre, Gravekeepers still have one of the most powerful field spells in the game, an excellent line of searching and Special Summoning effects, active monster destruction, and Royal Tribute. Despite those factors, one of the biggest problems the strategy faces is that they're somewhat slow, and that makes them a target for any deck that can dismantle fields quickly, like Mermails and Fire Fists. Imperial Tombs fixes that weakness.

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Just about every time the format changes, Gravekeepers come up in discussion because they're so fundamentally consistent that they can function any time things slow down a little, or any time the popular decks focus heavily on the graveyard. What keeps them from pushing through to higher finishes later on in established formats is that they don't have answers to those decks that would rip apart their big field of defensive traps and out-resource them. Fire Fists have Fire Formation - Tenki and Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear, plus Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Tiger King. Add Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Spirit and that whole line of 3-Axis tricks, and it's dauntingly hard to contain them. Then there's Mermails with the ability to snipe cards away through the Atlanteans while they drop big beaters. Those kinds of problems are never in short supply, and that's devastating to Gravekeepers.

Gravekeeping Things In Order
Legacy of the Valiant essentially handed Gravekeepers everything they needed to deal with those problems, and Necrovalley' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley is the best all those tools.

As far as this format's developed, Fire Fists are pretty agreeably the deck to beat, having taken the biggest chunk of Top 8 spots over the course of all the 2014 Regionals so far. Looking at the way Fire Fists operate, Imperial Tombs is exactly what Gravekeepers were missing in that match-up. Since the big pushes from Fire Fists usually involve an Xyz or Synchro play, disrupting those Summons is the first step to shutting them down. Previously, everything you had to handle Tiger King and Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Horse Prince didn't cover all of the bases. Tiger King would still get to search for a Fire Formation card even if you Bottomless Trap Hole or Torrential Tribute, and Horse Prince would still get to Special Summon a monster. On that same note, if you negate your opponent's effects with Fiendish Chain or Effect Veiler, they get to keep their monster and they wind up a card ahead anyway. Either they get a +1 of card economy, or you take -1. Arguably Fiendish Chain is a 1-for-1, but you don't get anything else out of it once it's face-up and your opponent gets to keep a meat-shield, so that's a factor.

On the other hand, Imperial Tombs prevents your opponent from using the effects of Tiger King and Horse Prince and takes those monsters off the field. Even before that point, you can smack away Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Spirit and put a stop to that noise right off the bat. Beating Fire Fists is largely about keeping them from gaining momentum and making sure you're not squandering resources – Imperial Tombs does both.

Playing against Mermails got easier with Legacy of the Valiant too. The concern that Atlanteans might blast away your is still be relevant, but Gravekeepers got a new toy that takes care of that – Gravekeeper's Shaman . While Shaman's on the field Atlantean effects can't activate, Necrovalley can't be destroyed, and other Field Spells can't be played. Not only does your opponent lose all of their Atlantean Heavy Infantry against Necrovalley, they can't do much outside of the Battle Phase. Beyond that, Imperial Tombs can negate whichever Mermail was attempting to discard an Atlantean, and that's the end of that. It's way more likely that you'll put your opponent in a spot where they have to figure out something else and they won't even attempt to drop Mermail Abyssmegalo or Mermail Abyssteus. Setting Necrovalley' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley Checkmates your opponent into either wasting their cards or eating free damage while you draw into more backrow. It may seem like Shaman's the star player there, but Imperial Tombs is the MVP for making sure Shaman stays alive as long as possible. Royal Tribute's pretty strong against Mermails as well, but that's a totally separate discussion.

Even though Bujin got a bit stronger with Legacy of the Valiant, they still represent a playstyle that doesn't hold up very well against Gravekeepers. Until Primal Origins comes out later this year, they're still pigeonholed into the basic strategy of playing 'protect Bujin Yamato' for the entire game, and a lot of that involves Battle Phase hand traps. Between Bujingi Crane and Honest, the odds of making a safe attack are pretty low, but Gravekeepers can waltz their way through that minefield with Royal Tribute.

Regardless of Royal Tribute, Necrovalley' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley's the real nail in the coffin, giving every single trap you have set the power of suppressing Yamato's search effect. Knowing that they could lose Yamato to an unstoppable counter trap like Imperial Tombs can push your opponent into a corner where they choose not to search without some kind of backup. That's insane. Seven Tools of the Bandit's starting to creep up in this matchup, but slowing Bujin to a pace where they have to wait for their one-off Seven Tools is too strong. Your opponent taking the chance and losing Yamato is crippling, and if they choose to wait, they're not really in any better of a situation.

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Spellbooks don't even seem worth discussing, since Necrovalley' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley can Intercept both World of Prophecy and Spellbook of Fate, and that's about the extent of that strategy. It's a strong deck that can secure games very efficiently, but thanks to Necovalley and Imperial Tombs you've got every imaginable factor on lock.

Anything running battle-stopping hand traps like Swift Scarecrow, Gorz the Emissary of Darkness, Tragoedia, Blackwing - Kalut the Moonshadow, Battle Fader, Shien's Squire and the like are less of a hassle since you can make pushes without much concern. If you have game on the board and you're ready to end it, Imperial Tombs takes away any hesitation to launch everything right at your opponent, then and there. Decks that focus on playing the resource game have the weakness of losing their main source of card economy, like Geargiarmor. Ripping away your opponent's ability to gather resources is almost as good as taking away the resources they already have, especially when you're doing it as a 1-for-1.

Unearthly Good
Cards like Necrovalley' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley that look specific and restrictive, but actually play out to be generic and useful across the board are always exciting. With Heavy Storm still Forbidden and Dragon Rulers out of the way, the format looks right for Gravekeepers to make an impact, and the extra power boost from Legacy of the Valiant couldn't have come at a better time.

Useful both for and against Gravekeepers, Imperial Tombs is really interesting card design, lending itself to pretty strong counter-play. It has a lot of duality to it, and you can use it to negate copies of itself, so it generates answers to its own theme. If you're competitive, that basically means you'll need to consider picking up a playset whether you're playing Gravekeepers yourself or not. I know I'm looking for a couple, and it seems like it would be a grave Mistake not to mess around with it, no matter which side of the valley you're on.

-Beau