I'm sure many of you have been following the #mtgstories hashtag that has been trending on Facebook this week. I have been enjoying reading about all of the crazy stories and plays that have happened in the Magic Community over the years. I have way too many #mtgstories to share in an article here but this whole thing has got me thinking about decks that I've liked playing in the past. One of those decks was Reanimator.
I've played Reanimator decks since they've been in Extended when Entomb and Reanimate were legal, but my favorite Reanimator deck was Junk Reanimator from Innistrad/Return to Ravnica Standard. As soon as I saw the card Grisly Salvage when Return to Ravnica was released, I started putting together Reanimator decks. I was one of the first players to play Junk Reanimator back then and my deck even had full playsets of both Craterhoof Behemoth and Griselbrand. The deck evolved quite a bit over the course of that year but it lost a lot of power when Theros rotated in. We lost Mulch, Unburial Rites and Craterhoof Behemoth and with pieces as important as those Reanimator wasn't really even worth looking at.
Theros gave us a few sweet cards that fit into the Reanimator deck nicely, Commune with the Gods and Whip of Erebos, as well as some cards that rewarded us for milling creatures into our graveyard, Nighthowler and Nemesis of Mortals. People tried brewing decks with those cards but they weren't quite powerful enough. Finally Born of the Gods came out and one card in the set changed everything. Who would have thought that a little 1/1 Satyr would make all the difference. Satyr Wayfinder was a huge addition to the Reanimator deck. The deck needed more ways to mill itself and this guy fit in perfectly.
I saw this deck in the coverage of GP Cincinnati and it looked so fun that I threw it together on Magic Online and began testing it. Ari wasn't the first person who started playing a BG graveyard based deck such as this one; Conley Woods has been writing about it in his weekly articles and it's been popping up in Magic Online Dailies and Premier Events for weeks now. It had some minor success online but I'm pretty sure that Ari was the first player to perform well with it on the Grand Prix circuit. (The deck also Top 16ed Grand Prix Buenos Aires. - Frank)
Calling this deck "Reanimator" might not make much sense because we aren't really reanimating anything unless we are using our Whip of Erebos out of the sideboard. This deck basically just dumps cards in its graveyard in order to make cards like Nighthowler, Nemesis of Mortals, Jarad, Lich Lord, and Shadowborn Demon more powerful. I call it Reanimator because it plays out exactly like the Junk Reanimator decks of last year's Standard, but instead of casting Unburial Rites, we are bestowing a Nighthowler. It's similar to Affinity in Modern. We call it "Affinity" but it doesn't actually contain cards that have affinity for artifacts. It just plays out exactly the same as Affinity decks from years ago.
Some people are calling this deck "Dredge," and we aren't dredging anything either, so I'm sticking with calling it Reanimator here.Setting Up
This deck won't work unless you keep a hand that has one or more of these:
4 Grisly Salvage 4 Commune with the Gods 4 Satyr Wayfinder
You use these spells to dump cards into your graveyard in order to power out your Nighthowler or play Nemesis of Mortals for GG. If we don't draw these spells, our deck simply won't work. 5/5 creatures for six mana are unplayable in constructed Nighthowler is terrible unless our graveyard is filled up. These are the cards that give the deck its explosive draws and without them you are at a severe disadvantage against any other competitive Standard deck.
Grisly Salvage and Satyr Wayfinder have an added bonus of finding you the lands you need. In a twenty land deck we're going to need some help finding the right land and these spells do a great job of that. Commune with the Gods is actually worse than the aforementioned spells because you can't actually choose a land with it. On the plus side, unlike Grisly Salvage, you don't have to put a card into your hand. If you need all of your creatures in your graveyard, you can choose not to take anything. One neat thing about Commune that comes up quite frequently is that you can take a Whip of Erebos with it, something that I've definitely forgotten about a few times when playing this card.
4 Elvish Mystic 4 Sylvan Caryatid 2 Deathrite Shaman
This deck can only afford to play twenty lands which is really low for a constructed deck, especially one that plays four and five-drops. The reason for the low land count is that we need as many creatures in our graveyard as we can get. Playing a total of ten mana creatures gives us the creature count we need and also lets us get away with playing a low land count. Sylvan Caryatid is quickly becoming one of my favorite cards in Standard. It's a great mana fixer and blocks two power guys all day. Most removal can't kill it so unlike with Elvish Mystic, you can keep a land light hand without any fear of your mana dork dying to removal. The Midgame
Once you've filled up your graveyard with creatures your next step is to cast a cheap Nemesis of Mortals or bestow a Nighthowler. Nemesis of Mortals will usually cost you only four mana to make a 10/10 (two to cast, two to monstrous), and will likely have to be chump blocked every turn. The downside is that it dies to pretty much every spot removal spell in Standard so we can't really rely on him to take down a game. Nighthowler however is a different story. While it does die to Ultimate Price and Hero's Downfall, when you bestow Nighthowler on one of your little dudes, your opponent will usually need two removal spells to deal with him, one for the creature you bestow onto, and one for the Nighthowler itself. If you bestow Nighthowler on to a Lotleth Troll, there isn't really much that can stop it. Lotleth Troll dodges both Doom Blade and Ultimate Price, and Regeneration will stop most other removal spells. The trample will also make it really hard to block effectively.
BG Reanimator also plays some great evasive creatures in Shadowborn Demon and Herald of Torment. Herald can be bestowed onto a giant creature to push it past blockers but its fine to cast it as a 3/3 as well. It does a great job of blocking some of the format's more annoying creatures like Nightveil Specter. Shadowborn Demon is quickly becoming my favorite card in the deck and I am always siding in the third and fourth copies. Shadowborn Demon is practically a Shriekmaw or a Flametongue Kavu. The tempo gained from killing a creature is huge and the drawback rarely even comes up because we usually have six creatures in our graveyard. Keep in mind that Shadowborn Demon must destroy something when it hits the battlefield so if you're the only one with creatures, you're going to have to target your own guy.The End Game
If for some reason you are having a hard time winning the game through attacking, there is a really good alternate win condition in the form of Jarad, Lich Lord. His life drain ability is very powerful and there will be times when you actually can't attack your opponent. He may have an army of Elspeth tokens, a regenerator, or maybe tons of removal. In situations like that you can just finish off your opponent with Jarad. Usually you will be able to sacrifice the creature that has been bestowed with Nighthowler and then sacrifice the Nighthowler itself. That should be plenty of damage especially if the game has gone long. Even if Jarad is dealt with, he just comes right back (as long as he went to the graveyard). Often enough, he will be in your graveyard already because it had been milled with Grisly Salvage or one of your other mill spells, and you will just be able to return it, cast it, and win.The Sideboard
The sideboard has four Thoughtseize, a necessity for a deck like this. We are essentially playing a combo deck and a key Counterspell could just ruin us. Thoughtseizes are super important and I'm even tempted to add a few Duresses as well just to be sure the coast is clear before going off.
Whip of Erebos is another card I really like. It's great against decks with lots of answers to creatures such as counters and removal. It gives all of your creatures "buyback" and when you are returning something like Nighthowler, it will be lethal more often than not. Returning Shadowborn Demon is also pretty awesome and a great way to remove a blocker from play.
Golgari Charm is another card that is essential in this deck. It does so many things that are awesome for us. It can kill enchantments like Chained to the Rocks or Detention Sphere, kill an army of little creatures (Master of Waves and Elspeth tokens comes to mind), but more importantly it saves our creatures from removal. Playing a Golgari Charm in response to a Supreme Verdict can be devastating for a control opponent and I'm not sure why there is only one copy in the sideboard.
The card I'm not sold is Mistcutter Hydra. Of course it's great against Monoblue Devotion but that deck can get around it very easily by attacking with flying creatures or making their guys unblockable with Thassa. Your clock usually isn't fast enough where you can afford to tap out for a Mistcutter Hydra and win a turn or two later. Mistcutter is fine against control but most control decks have evolved back to Esper and are packing removal spells like Ultimate Price and Doom Blade, and the last thing I want to do is tap out for a Hydra only to have it killed.
As I've already stated, I love Shadowborn Demon. It's one of my favorite cards in the deck and I always side in the third and fourth against any deck that plays creatures. I don't think I'd want to move them to the main deck because there just isn't enough room but I like this card a lot and I'm happy with four of them in the 75.
The sideboard is rounded out with one Scavenging Ooze. I have been liking the Ooze a lot although it is kind of a "non-bo" in our deck. We don't really want to remove our own creatures and removing our opponent's creatures will Shrink our Nighthowler. However Scavenging Ooze can get huge very quickly and can be a huge threat against some decks. It's also great in the Reanimator mirror if that matchup ever becomes relevant.
The final sideboard card is Devour Flesh and honestly I'm not even sure why it's in there as a one of. I don't really see the point of a spell that makes an opponent sacrifice a creature in our deck that plays no other removal outside of Shadowborn Demon. I would think that a targeted removal spell such as Hero's Downfall would be strictly better. It's possible that it's in there as a large lifegain spell. You can target yourself and sacrifice your creature bestowed with Nighthowler and still be left with the Nighthowler itself. I suppose Devour Flesh is a fine way to survive against Boros Burn decks as long as you play around Skullcrack.Wrapping Up
This deck is really fun to play and can do some very powerful things. It was no fluke that Ari Lax piloted this deck to a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Cincinnati. While this BG Reanimator deck isn't actually reanimating, it can do some powerful things. I like this deck a lot and it's definitely worth trying out for your next big Standard event. There are two TCGplayer MaxPoint Diamond events taking place this weekend, one in Hartford, CT, and one in Waco, TX.
If you're looking to play something different this weekend, take a look at this:
It's Junk Reanimator, very similar to the Junk decks from Innistrad/Return to Ravnica Standard. It has lots of utility creatures and can Reanimate something like an Angel of Serenity or a Sylvan Primordial as early as turn four. My problem with the deck is that if it doesn't get the perfect reanimator draw, the deck is really slow. There's not a whole lot of ramp, and all of the lands either come into play tapped or deal you damage. If you can't Reanimate anything, all of your threats cost seven mana which is just way too slow for Standard. I think the deck definitely has potential and it's something I'm going to be working on in the weeks to come.
That's all I have for this week. I'll most likely be streaming with Frank this week and if you like watching cube drafts and interesting Standard and Modern decks be sure to check it out at twitch.tv/franklepore.
Melissa DeTorahttp://twitter.com/MelissaDeTora on twitterwww.facebook.com/melissa.detora on Facebook