New Phyrexia has been spoiled and it's the most exciting set in recent memory. The next set features two cycles of giant creatures a powerhouse planeswalker several of the best Equipment ever printed and plenty of other game-changing rares and mythics. Even in a set chock-full of ridiculously powerful cards one creature caught my eye:
Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur
I never thought I'd live to see the day—I never even thought that my grandkids or my great-grandkids would live to see the day—that those two lines of text were printed on a Magic card. Yes you can kill Jin-Gitaxias with most removal spells but there's a very narrow window in which to do so. Yes ten mana is prohibitive for ordinary decks but since when do we pay mana to cast big creatures anyway?
Magic's most powerful creatures—Emrakul the Aeons Torn Progenitus Phage the Untouchable—come with little catches that make them impossible to play from the graveyard. There's nothing like that on New Phyrexia's blue Praetor. I see potential for Jin-Gitaxias to breathe new life into the dead Reanimator deck in Legacy which will in turn be breathing new life into its dead Jin-Gitaxias on turn two or three every game.
Last month Patrick Chapin wrote an excellent article about Legacy Reanimator before New Phyrexia. I used his decklist as a starting point but my own experiences with Reanimator as well as my excitement about the new cards inspired me to make some changes.
While Mystical Tutor was still legal Reanimator was the best deck in Legacy. Being able to search up either Reanimate or Entomb on the first turn made having a creature on the board by turn 2 very easy. It won with a simple two-card combo where both pieces only cost one mana. The deck could be built with plenty of redundancy and more disruption than just about any other deck in the format.
The banning of Mystical Tutor didn't have to be the end of turn 2 Ionas. As Mr. Chapin pointed out it's still quite easy to discard a big creature and Reanimate it on the second or third turn even when you don't draw Entomb. The problem that I've never been able to overcome is that without the ability to tutor for Entomb you often have to settle for a creature that's not the right tool for the job. Iona can't save you from a swarm of Merfolk or Goblins. Sphinx of the Steel Wind and Blazing Archon are easily answered if the opponent has Swords to Plowshares. Inkwell Leviathan doesn't provide a fast enough clock against combo decks. When you have to work with only what you can discard to Careful Study you'll often find yourself losing even after you assemble your combo.
Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur seems powerful enough to be the go-to guy. Drawing seven cards in a deck with twelve free permission spells ought to be the end of the story especially if it happens in the early turns of the game.
There are two obvious criticisms of Praetor Jin as a Reanimate target. Problem number one is that his combat stats aren't very impressive and he doesn't do a great job of holding off an opposing army on his own. Problem number two is that he's vulnerable to removal.
Iona Shield of Emeria and Inkwell Leviathan the other frontrunner reanimation targets suffer from problem number one even more than Jin-Gitaxias does. In all three cases you're only able to block one creature the turn after you Reanimate. However if Jin-Gitaxias lives until the end of your turn he'll refill your hand with free permission spells which will help save you from being burned to death or finished off by haste creatures.
More importantly Iona and Inkwell Leviathan not only have to defend you but they have to kill the opponent as well. Often racing even a single Tarmogoyf can be a struggle after losing half your life to a Reanimate. On the other hand the Core Augur doesn't even need to attack once to win the game. After drawing seven cards it should be a breeze to Reanimate Platinum Emperion the following turn. There's no risk of the Emperion ever dying at this point because you'll have a hand full of permission and the opponent will be playing off the top of his or her deck. Also remember that the Reanimate that targets the Emperion won't cause you to lose life.
We only need to scroll down one card from Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur in the alphabetical spoiler to find our solution to problem number two—Mental Misstep. Last week Drew Levin wrote about this new Legacy powerhouse and I highly recommend the article to anyone interested in Legacy. Much of the article and its fantastic forum discussion explore which decks are likely to benefit most from Mental Misstep's printing. Curiously absent however is any talk of Reanimator.
Mental Misstep counters Spell Pierce Spell Snare opposing Mental Missteps and the Three Amigos—Duress Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. These along with Force of Will are the only cards that routinely show up in time to disrupt Reanimator. Naturally Misstep also counters the opponent's first proactive play which may be the only play they're able to make before you go off in their face. Most importantly however it counters one mana removal spells free of charge opening up a whole world of new possibilities for Reanimator.
For anyone not familiar with Legacy far and away the most popular removal spells (other than burn) are Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. Mental Misstep counters both of those and also protects your Jin-Gitaxias if you face some jokester who thinks it's funny to play Flame Slash in Legacy. Some non-white decks play Go for the Throat or other unpredictable removal spells but those are much more likely to be countered by Daze and there's always Force of Will when all else fails.
What I mean by a whole new world of possibilities is that the Reanimator deck no longer needs to play it safe. You can go for the most powerful creature you can think of and protect it with permission rather than always choosing Iona or a shroud creature. The claim I'm making today is that Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur is the best overall Reanimate target ever printed.
Even if you don't buy into that there may be another matchup where Mental Misstep allows you to go for a powerful but fragile creature. Sphinx of the Steel Wind against Zoo comes to mind because they'll typically have four or fewer Path to Exile as their only answer. I put four copies in my suggested sideboard as a swap for Jin-Gitaxias in matchups where you absolutely need to stabilize the turn you cast Reanimate.
The final allure of both Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur and Mental Misstep for Reanimator is less obvious at a glance but Legacy blue players will recognize that it's not to be ignored. Both of New Phyrexia's additions are blue cards that can be pitched to Force of Will! Old Reanimator sometimes struggled to cast Force of Will due to of its abundance of black discard spells and non-blue Reanimate targets. The decklist I suggested above has twenty-seven blue cards. Additionally extra fatty creatures and disruption spells are exactly the type of cards you want to be able to pitch to Force of Will. Entomb and Reanimate are both crucial cards that you'd rarely voluntarily throw away even if you could. A second copy of Jin-Gitaxias or even a first copy that you can't discard can have its moment in the sun if it helps to counter an opposing Ad Nauseam.
Reanimator's biggest flaw is its lack of card advantage—although not so much if Jin-Gitaxias sticks—and I have vivid memories of having to Force of Will a spell using my last Brainstorm and being stuck with two lands and a Blazing Archon in my hand. Never again!
Legacy isn't the only format where drawing seven cards is good. How about this little number?
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Time Vault
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 4 Oath of Druids
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Gifts Ungiven
- 2 Mental Misstep
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 4 Spell Pierce
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Imperial Seal
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Ponder
- 4 Preordain
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
It seems like there's a new recipe for success in Eternal formats. Step one is to cheat Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur into play. Step two is to add a generous helping of free permission. Step three is to bake for one to three turns or until the opponent is cooked thoroughly. Finally enjoy winning at your convenience.