He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

When I saw the card Risen Reef I wasn't terribly impressed, but then again, I didn't actually read it. The age old adage of "Read the ****ing card" applies, as always. I didn't realize that it actually triggered off of all Elementals, not just itself. Even then, it took playing a few games with the card to see how out of control it can get. Risen Reef is the reincarnation of Rogue Refiner, but the card isn't truly a Rogue Refiner. Rogue Refiner offered pressure, card advantage and extra value rolled into one.

Nah, Risen Reef isn't Rogue Refiner. It's different. Oh, and it's potentially even better.

The floor on Risen Reef is quite a bit worse than Rogue Refiner, which had bigger stats and generated energy, but the upside is actually significantly higher to the point where I think the two cards are on pretty comparable footing. I'm even willing to entertain arguments that Risen Reef is just straight up better, although that remains to be seen. Risen Reef is stronger than Rogue Refiner as the game goes longer, since every Risen Reef that sits around in play represents the chance to go off drawing cards by chaining elementals. An early Risen Reef can also be better, because if it hits land, it can ramp you directly to Nissa, Who Shakes the World. It's higher variance than the always good Rogue Refiner, but the upside is still higher.

Risen Reef comes into play, generates an advantage, and then still demands a removal spell because if you just let it sit around, it threatens to eventually bury you. For a value creature, you can't ask for much more. I've been diligently working toward trying to find the best shell for it. I think this is the best card from M20.

I will go so far as to say that I think this card was a mistake. Rogue Refiner was eventually banned. I don't think that they will ban Risen Reef, but attaching card advantage to green creatures, especially in a format where Llanowar Elves is legal is still dangerous. Brad Nelson has been arguing for years that green midrange is the best deck in every format where they give us green card advantage, he hasn't been exactly wrong. Tireless Tracker and Rogue Refiner made it hard to argue against him.

It's time to stress test that assumption a third time. It will be interesting to see what happens once we crack the code and find the best Risen Reef deck. It just might Shake the World.

It can sometimes be hard to understand how good the card is without seeing it in action. This might look like turn 12, but it was actually turn six. I had 14 cards left in my library, had to discard heavily to hand size, and I couldn't even reasonably cast Command the Dreadhorde or I might risk drawing too many cards to mill myself out. Risen Reef, in multiples, is an engine that fuels itself both ways by putting into play the lands necessary to unload your hand, while also filling your hand with more gas.

I think there are a number of ways to approach building decks around Risen Reef, and I want to explore (often literally) the options.

Bant Reef

I want to start by saying that I am not a great deckbuilder. I think I am good at identifying good decks, identifying what makes a deck good or bad, and identifying which cards in decks underperform or over perform when it comes to tuning them.

However, I am not great at figuring out how to design a deck to function optimally from the get-go and I don't know how to improve my skills in that area.

This Bant Ramp strategy is a prime example of that. I think Risen Reef is a phenomenal way to bridge the gap between the early- and late-game in a Bant Ramp strategy, similarly to how Teferi, Time Raveler did it before. Risen Reef also allows you to play Leafkin Druid, which dodges Shock as an 0/3, draws cards when played into a Risen Reef, and can occasionally provide extra mana for big payoffs like Hydroid Krasis or Finale of Glory.

The problem is that I don't know how to build the deck to best maximize this. One option is to play 14+ ramp creatures and four copies of Leyline of Abundance, which serves as pretty insane acceleration—did you know that Nissa lands tap for extra mana with a Leyline of Abundance in play?—and the activation can be a late-game mana sink as well with all the extra mana. The problem with these decks is that they are extremely vulnerable to early removal on your mana creatures and can often run out of gas if you don't draw a payoff card. These versions of the deck are high-variance and prone to heavy mulliganing.

Another option is to build the deck like my versions, which offer reasonable acceleration, reasonable interaction, and reasonable over-the-top options in Finale of Glory, Hydroid Krasis, Shalai, Voice of Plenty and friends. The problem is that my versions hedge a lot and sometimes hedging is bad. Sometimes drawing the middling cards like Shalai, Cavalier of Thorns, Risen Reef and Prison Realm dilute your game too much. It can be too slow to compete with other decks that go over the top, or too ineffective against decks trying to go under you. Sometimes you have hands that desperately want a Leyline of Abundance and there are only two copies in the deck. Sometimes you draw those Leylines and they do nothing or aren't worth the four mana investment.

The last way to build the deck is to cut out the middle stuff like Cavalier of Thorns and Shalai, Voice of Plenty and just go heavier on both ramp and top-end payoff cards like Finale of Glory or Mass Manipulation. The problem with this plan is that you often need the middle cards to bridge the gap in games where your mana creatures die or you get otherwise disrupted.

Bant Ramp was a solid deck from last format, and it got a ton of new tools that offer potential improvements in Risen Reef, Leafkin Druid, Leyline of Abundance and Cavalier of Thorns. I'm pretty confident that the right mixture exists somewhere to make this one of the better decks in the format, and I think that will get hammered out over time.

One thing I want to note is that Risen Reef is an incredibly powerful card, and I think if you want to beat other Risen Reef decks with a Risen Reef deck you have to either be able to kill their Risen Reefs or go so far over the top of them that it doesn't matter that they drew a few extra cards. This Bant deck is looking to just go over the top of other Risen Reef decks, although I don't know how good it is at doing that.

Sultai Reef

This is another deck which I'm not entirely sure how to build to capitalize properly on Risen Reef. Command the Dreadhorde seems pretty great with both Cavalier of Thorns and Risen Reef, but I also wasn't sure how to build a deck around that, because you have to cut planeswalkers to make space for these cards. Without the 'walkers to play in the midgame, Command the Dreadhorde is less impactful if it can only return creatures. There just isn't room to play everything, and concessions must be made to cut cards somewhere.

One option is not playing Nissa, Who Shakes the World or Hydroid Krasis and relying on Risen Reef and the explore package to provide value. Wildgrowth Walker, after all, is an Elemental and thus functions with Risen Reef. The problem with this is that it puts a lot of pressure on Risen Reef to stay in play to provide lasting value, and the deck can reduce you to topdecking and hoping to draw something good a bit too often in the late-game.

Going the Nissa, Who Shakes the World/Hydroid Krasis route gives you a bit more punch later on, but you do lose out on the early/mid-game domination that Risen Reef plus all the Elementals can provide.

Ravenous Chupacabra seems really great again in the format, because I think it's imperative to kill opposing copies of Risen Reef against decks playing it, and Chupacabra is one of the few ways to not lose value on the exchange.

I like that a Command the Dreadhorde strategy can capitalize on your opponent's need to kill Risen Reef. If they don't kill it, you can bury them with advantage, but if they do kill it then that cost them time and resources, and you can just get it back with a Command later on.

I'm not sure about Yarok, the Desecrated. It's great when it gets going, clearly, but it does effectively nothing by itself and I don't know if it's worth paying five mana for. With that said, it is nice to cast a Yarok into a board that already contains a Risen Reef.

Temur Reef

I have not worked on this archetype so I personally do not have a decklist for this deck, although a number versions of it exist on the internet beyond the version above, which is William Jensen's version that he was playing on his stream. Temur has the best Elementals, with access to Omnath, Locus of the Roil, Creeping Trailblazer, Lightning Stormkin, Runaway Steam-Kin and the three new versions of Chandra.

Chandra, Novice Pyromancer, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, and Chandra, Awakened Inferno all have Elemental-related text boxes. The world is your oyster when it comes to how you want to build a Temur Elementals deck.

You can build Temur Aggro Elementals, Midrange Elementals, and probably even Control Elementals. This color combination simply has the strongest options when it comes to Elementals. However, I don't think Temur itself is a very powerful combination in the current Standard when it comes to raw card quality, so I am skeptical about how good a synergy-driven Temur deck will ultimately be.

My philosophy on Magic is to play powerful cards and powerful decks instead of just playing synergy decks. The best decks are both powerful and synergistic decks, like Esper Hero. Esper Hero has a ton of natural synergies, but if you break it down, each of the cards in the deck are also just totally powerful enough to see play on their own. Those are the kinds of decks that are usually good, and I fear that this Temur deck is not that, because it relies heavily on the Elemental synergies.

One nice thing about Temur is that it has cheap interaction in Shock, Lightning Strike and Domri, Anarch of Bolas that allow it to play well early in the game, and Omnath, Locus of the Roil is really good at killing opposing Risen Reefs, making it a strong choice in a griefer metagame. It takes advantage of Risen Reef and it easily disrupts opposing Reef-oriented decks. Good Greef.

One flaw is that a lot of the traditionally powerful cards, like Nissa, Who Shakes the World, are less powerful in a shell like this. This deck doesn't make great use of the extra mana Nissa provides, nor does it have a lot of ways to make use of the 3/3s beyond occasional interactions with Domri, Anarch of Bolas or Omnath, Locus of the Roil. Chandra, Awakened Inferno, another card that promised to be a powerhouse in Standard has likewise been relatively unimpressive so far.

Ultimately, I'm not sure which of these shells will be the best home for Risen Reef, or if it will be a different shell entirely. I'm also unsure exactly what the build will look like for the final iteration of these decks, but what I do know is that the card Risen Reef is insanely powerful and that a deck will exist eventually that abuses that card properly.

We'll piece together the best shells eventually, and I'm excited to be on the front lines when that happens. When will we figure it out? Good question.

In the immortal words of Rage Against the Machine: "How long? Not long. 'Cause what you Reef is what you sow."


Brian Braun-Duin

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