This past weekend the green/black based strategies really shined, and it is clear there are multiple strong archetypes that are based around similar interactions. For example what are the differences between Abzan Reanimator and Green/Black Constellation? How about between Abzan Midrange and Abzan Reanimator? Well there certainly are differences but they can be subtle.
While Abzan Reanimator had been seeing some play, it was this past weekend where the deck really took off. In the World Magic Cup, the World Championship, and SCG Portland Abzan Reanimator was one of the best performing decks. There certainly were a couple of different versions which saw play, but it is clear that the archetype has been developed into a much more legitimate competitor in the current metagame. Let's take a look at some of the different versions of Abzan Reanimator, to illustrate how much the archetype has changed.
Here is the deck which Samuel Valentine piloted to win SCG Indianapolis a couple of months ago: DECKID=1215924
We see that in Samuel's list there are some cards that may stand out, as they are not traditionally seen in current versions of Abzan Reanimator. For example there are three copies of Nyx Weaver in Samuel's list. Nyx Weaver is certainly a controversial card, and I can understand why. This is one of the best engines for fueling the graveyard continuously. Being able to regrow something from the graveyard means you can play one-ofs like Empty the Pits and just get it back with a Nyx Weaver when it gets milled away. The issue with Nyx Weaver is that it can be a very vulnerable play on the third turn of the game with all of the Lightning Strikes running around.
Alongside the three Hornet Queens there are also a couple of Necropolis Fiends and an Ashen Rider. These big creatures signal that the deck is more combo oriented, as without graveyard synergies and reanimation these large flyers are not as good. The current trend seems to be moving away from these sorts of creatures to make room for additional midrange guys like Doomwake Giant and Courser of Kruphix, which aren't present here.
Samuel's list was one of the earliest versions of Abzan Reanimator, and has helped provide the core of the deck moving forward. The base maindeck spells for the deck are:
Sylvan CaryatidSatyr WayfinderSiege RhinoHornet QueenCommune with the GodsMurderous CutWhip of Erebos
These are the cards that just about every Abzan Reanimator deck seems to be running, though not necessarily four copies. It's easy to forget that Abzan Reanimator won a Grand Prix, but it did in the hands of Eduardo dos Santos Vieira in Santiago. Here is his list:
Eduardo is making use of the constellation theme of the deck, with not only the typical copies of Courser of Kruphix, Whip of Erebos, and Doomwake Giant, but there are also two Banishing Lights and an Eidolon of Blossoms. This allows the deck to have an even better lategame without adding super expensive cards like Ashen Rider. Banishing Light makes a lot of sense because it is in many ways a more versatile piece of removal than a card like Hero's Downfall, so I like running Banishing Light, but be aware of the possibility of it getting killed at instant speed with something like Utter End. The one-of Eidolon of Blossoms is a value card, and while it is difficult to say if one is actually the right number, finding the correct balance between value cards and disruptive elements is very important.
Perhaps the card that stands out the most here though is Soul of Theros. Eduardo is playing three copies! While that is a lot of Soul of Theros, the activation from the graveyard is something many players will not anticipate. In the finals of the World Cup the Abzan Reanimator pilot from Denmark single handedly won the second game by exiling Soul of Theros from his graveyard for exactly lethal damage, by attacking with Insect Tokens. In fact the other player had the option to cast a Doomwake Giant and did not do so, because he wasn't thinking about the Soul in the graveyard. Oftentimes players will be focused on what is in play so much, and the Reanimator player has an advantage by knowing all the cards and interactions in their graveyard. While the lifelink gained from Soul of Theros isn't relevant with Whip of Erebos in play, it is nice to have an additional way of accessing the effect.
Let's move onto the sole list present at the World Championships, piloted by Yuuki Ichikawa. Ichikawa is also playing Soul of Theros though there is one less copy than in Eduardo's list. This deck has a much heavier emphasis on white mana symbols than many other builds. The reason is that in addition to Soul of Theros there are four copies of Wingmate Roc. While Wingmate Roc is often thought of as a card that fits best in a more typical midrange strategy, this is a great Whip of Erebos target. Sometimes it will be correct to attack first and activate afterwards, in order to get the raid trigger. In other spots it will be right to activate Whip of Erebos before combat just to get in the immediate damage. This is a deck that generally has random creatures which you don't mind dying like say Satyr Wayfinder. This makes it much easier to consistently turn on the raid, unlike in other archetypes.
Noticeably Ichikawa has decided to go ahead and play three copies of both Hero's Downfall and Murderous Cut. The trend has been moving towards playing the full playset of Murderous Cuts before adding additional removal spells, but Ichikawa is moving in a different direction. It is true that these types of strategies can have a difficult time dealing with planeswalkers, and with a card like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver gaining popularity it may be that Abzan Reanimator is forced to play some maindeck answers to planeswalkers.
The sideboard of Ichikawa's deck is also quite interesting. He isn't playing any Doomwakes main, but does have them in the board. I expect moving forward, that he may go ahead and move them to the maindeck, because of how good Doomwake Giant is at the moment. Being able to deal with tokens is a big deal, with all of the Hordeling Outbursts, and now Raise the Alarms seeing play. In addition, Doomwake Giant is great against any aggressive red deck, so having Doomwake Giant in the board may have been a metagame call specifically for the World Championship more than anything. There are also a full four copies of Nissa Worldwaker in the sideboard. Nissa Worldwaker is one of the best cards to have versus Blue/Black Control, as well as being very good in any midrange fight. It does seem a bit much though, to have so many five-drops in the sideboard.
Okay, let's move onto the list that I expect to be the most popular version of Abzan Midrange moving forward. Here is what Gerry Thompson played to a Top 4 finish this past weekend in Portland:
This deck is different compared to the other Abzan Midrange lists which have already been discussed. This version is almost a cross between Abzan Midrange and Abzan Reanimator. After all there are Abzan Midrange decks which play Whip of Erebos, though not three copies. What remains the distinguishing factor though is that Gerry's deck is Abzan Reanimator because of the presence of Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods. This deck is base green/black with a few extra white creatures added in.
The four Siege Rhinos are to be expected but the two Fleecemane Lions are a bit unusual. Fleecemane Lion is one of those utility creatures which may fit well into an archetype it wouldn't normally be in, because of how good of a card it is. Sometimes adding Fleecemane Lion to a deck can make the early game a bit smoother, and this is a deck that can monstrous it quite easily. However, I'm not sold on whether Fleecemane Lion is necessary as there are already eight two-drops in addition to the Fleecemane Lions. This is one of the situations where I would definitely recommend trying the deck with and without the Fleecemane Lions to get a feel for whether they are necessary. If it were me I wouldn't play them as Fleecemane Lion is the only creature in the deck just dies to Lightning Strike without getting any value first.
The creature base is a bit unusual, but there is one addition that I am a big fan of in Gerry's deck: the maindeck singleton Reclamation Sage seems great. Right now Standard is full of juicy enchantments to target, and even some artifacts like Perilous Vault. Even an archetype like Mardu Midrange has Chained to the Rocks as a nice target for Reclamation Sage. The main reason to play the Reclamation Sage is of course its ability to destroy Whip of Erebos. Against decks which aim to win with Whip of Erebos the games tend to be long and grindy, so it is likely that you will go through a good portion of your deck. This means that it is very possible to find even a singleton like Reclamation Sage, which could be the difference in the game.
As mentioned earlier some lists play Soul of Theros, but here Gerry has opted to go with Soul of Innistrad. In decks that don't have access to white mana like Sultai Reanimator or Green/Black Constellation they can't play Soul of Theros, so of course we see Soul of Innistrad. In Abzan Reanimator there is a choice to be made, and there are pros and cons to both options. In general Soul of Innistrad is best against decks with lots of removal, because getting back three creatures can be very important, as a way to win the late game. Soul of Theros on the other hand allows you to actually win the game out nowhere in one attack step, so it is hard to say that one is straight up better than the other.
Some of the numbers like the singleton Thoughtseize may seem a bit out of place, but it is obvious there was a lot of thought put into the list. Abzan Reanimator is a deck that has been flying under the radar a bit, but I expect that people will now be ready for it. I am glad to see that Gerry has some answers to Pharika, God of Affliction in the board because that is one of the toughest cards to beat for this deck. It seems that Abzan Reanimator has gone from a more combo oriented deck, possibly playing cards like Nyx Weaver, See the Unwritten, Rescue from the Underworld, Ashen Rider, Necropolis Fiend, and others, which are cads that can be very synergistic but are not necessarily good without that synergy, to now playing cards that are mostly good on their own. It seems the deck is attempting to lower the mana curve by adding cards like Siege Rhino, and so the deck becomes more similar to Abzan Midrange with a recursion element via Whip of Erebos. In any case I don't know that there is one list that is definitively the best, but lately the deck certainly seems to be putting up more and more results.
Thanks for reading,