Out of all the zones in Magic, I'd argue that the graveyard is my favorite one. This isn't news, but I love using it as a second hand, chockfull of spells and critters I can utilize alongside my grip. As such, I'm a huge fan of flashback spells and lauded their return when they were reintroduced in 2011, and I've been slinging them happily ever since. I think some of them probably don't get their due, but the spell I'm focused on today is one of the most played and built-around ones of them all.
Without dedicated hate, this card is a bit of a challenge to beat. It's great in Limited, allowing you to rebuy your bomb twice on the back of one card, and it has seen play at Constructed tables since its advent about eighteen months ago. It's the main reason the Reanimator strategy is viable in Standard. Before this, Reanimator was often relegated to niche Eternal format applications or casual combo decks; my only real interaction with this style of deck was a friend of mine who plays a Legacy that routinely resurrects Iona, Shield of Emeria on turn 2, resulting in a phenomenon that leading researchers at Harvard have coined "insta-scoop."
Truly, though, Unburial Rites is Zombify on crack, but you don't need me to tell you how good the card is. Moreover, Reanimator has enjoyed a resurgence since SCG Open Series: Atlanta two weeks ago with Brian Braun-Duin and Brad Nelson's clever Human-based builds. I have a Human Reanimator list too, but we'll get to that later. Now with Gatecrash upon us in force, we have some fun new toys to meddle with in traditional Reanimator lists. Reanimator decks usually like big, rumbling, splashy targets, so I lined up two for my own stab at a Reanimator deck.
Two guild leaders, each with very different abilities and very high abstract power levels. Seems like a good place to start! They were spoiled early, so I've had a while to spin my wheels on them. Both are super cards on the top end, but how do we utilize them?
Although I considered a variety of cards, I came to the realization that stock Reanimator staples are already quite synergetic with both leaders! Let's take a gander.
- 3 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Somberwald Sage
- 4 Thragtusk
- 3 Aurelia, the Warleader
- 2 Borborygmos Enraged
- 1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
First, let's start with the mana dorks.
The first two sets of mana dweebs have seen tons of play in myriad applications across Standard, so no need to tarry there. Somberwald Sage saw a bit of play in old Reanimator lists, and I think the ramp she provides is invaluable for two reasons. First, if they have dedicated graveyard hate, you might just have to hard cast your big brute, and second, it provides exceptional speed, basically giving you three-quarters the mana of a flashed back Unburial Rites. Basically. Either way, I liked the single inclusion, and it's awesome to have in the opener, especially with a mana dork to accelerate. I liked a playset of Avacyn's Pilgrim because they can more reliably produce mana than Elves, though not as colorfully to be sure.
Big Sexy comes rumbling in here; a lot of Junk lists played him in Reanimator, and his immense value and midrange-ness make him an auto-four. Although the sun may be setting on his replete usage, this deck still wants all his swag. Easy enough to hard cast while also being a respectable Reanimation target puts him firmly in the center of this strategy.
Aurelia is a beast. A flying, shrieking banshee of righteous anger, more accurately. Resolving her from your hand is fairly simple (though mana intensive,) and she offers the biggest surprise when that's how you make her. Even with just one-half of a Lingering Souls, she and your Spirits are crashing in for ten evasive damage a turn. That's twenty to dead in a hustle!
Her stats are a great balance, allowing her to stop Restoration Angels, Hellriders, most three-drops short of a Loxodon Smiter, and she can attack and kill sturdy flyers herself. Bear in mind she also untaps your dudes, namely mana dudes, allowing for a relevant second/third main phase play. With Thragtusk you're battling for sixteen per turn, and any power boosts from Kessig Wolf Run or Gavony Township apply twice over that turn. I love me some Aurelia!
Her older sister, Gisela, was once a relevant Reanimation lady, and I'd like to bring her back here. Back to back, Aurelia and Gisela are unstoppable. Gisela makes the cards in this deck twice as powerful; Thragtusk effectively gains you ten life, hits twice as hard, and your Borborygmos Bolts hit for six. Bam!
Speaking of which, this guy! A big eight-mana monster, Borborygmos Enraged will need to be animated more times than not, but we can support that! The eight mana-producing creatures and the Reanimating nature of this deck offer Borborygmos Enraged a more subtle benefit: more lands in hand! The hope is that when Borborygmos Enraged enters, you can have a couple lands in hand to smash some stuff right away. If you can complete a combat with him, you will probably win. Drawing into more land and milling the dig spells and other Reanimation targets is a huge bonus, but I feel like the Cyclops will still have a ton of value most of the time. He really is like Zeus, flinging Lightning Bolts hither and thither.
The spell suite is pretty standard, but I do want to point out Mulch here and its synergy with Borborygmos Enraged. It's not just giving you land, it's giving you ammo. Although I wish I could squeeze more land into this list to give it a bit more chance of grabbing more, a whiffed Mulch is usually fine for most Reanimator decks, and I have enough mana dorks to offset the land-for-land's-purpose need. Lingering Souls has gone missing from a lot of Reanimator decks if they're not playing Craterhoof Behemoth (an intentionally omitted member of this party,) but here it provides great blockers and nice companions for Aurelia. I kept slimming Grisly Salvages until I was left with just one; I found it was too hard to reliably cast with this land base.
The land base was one of the larger challenges this deck presented. You want to have the depth and breadth to cast all of your spells, but resolving turn 1 dorks is very helpful in putting you ahead when time is of the essence. As such, I included all possible turn 1 green sources with enough divvied up color support to hopefully go the distance for the rest of the spells in this deck. Mana bases for decks like these can get awkward; you need to have all your mana, but you don't want to effectively start at fourteen or sixteen against an aggro deck. I've noticed that in playtesting, I will often play the wrong land on a given turn, so be mindful of your land placement and remember that Borby's on his way.
This has been a highly malleable sideboard thus far, but Deathrite Shamans have been in there since the beginning. I've even considered replacing the Arbor Elves maindeck; it would let me even out the mana base, and the Shaman could reliably use his land ability. Either way, we all know that Deathrite Shaman is an invaluable tool in the mirror and can give you something to do when you're otherwise out of cards and creatures. Love this fella.
Ray of Revelation is a nice go-to answer for Ground Seal, Rest in Peace, Detention Sphere, or even an errant Rancor. You can cast it in response to Rest in Peace's ETB trigger; even though you'll lose your yard, you won't continue to lose it. Centaur Healer is a nice inclusion against aggressive decks; it's fallen a bit out of favor lately (at least at places I play), but he's still a 3/3 for three with an advantageous ETB. Pithing Needle is in here to deal with all manners of nuisance: opposing Deathrite Shamans, planeswalkers, you know the drill.
An Angel of Serenity made the list as a bit of a throwback to early RTR Reanimator lists. It's great in midrange matchups and can give you a bunch of reach late in the game. A reasonable inclusion against Mono-Red Aggro, it can stop Thundermaw Hellkite and is very difficult to burn out. Burning Oil is a spell I've longed to use since its introduction, and this deck will often mill away any Pillar of Flame it could otherwise cast, so Burning Oil is a millable removal spell. Cheap, effective, and just powerful enough to thwart both sides of a Thragtusk; your opponent won't expect it, and even after it's binned, it will make attacking much less profitable for them.
A single Ancient Grudge is pretty much meant to deal with Grafdigger's Cages (albeit awkwardly if you've milled it) and relevant artifacts. It can two-for-one Keyrunes, and it does smash up opposing Pithing Needles, Doors to Nothingness (giggle), and you can even troll their Chromatic Lantern. Be "that guy" and side it in!
I've playtested this one a fair amount, though mostly against pre-Gatecrash decks. I've found its best matchups are (surprisingly) against aggro. The deck is reliable and speedy enough that resolving a Thragtusk and digging for a real threat is often enough to get there. I had the most success against non-red aggro (G/B and G/W, namely); often their sideboarded graveyard hate just meant I could hard cast my big guns.
Midrange was reasonable, though it varied wildly depending on the color choice. It does better against Naya than against Jund, for instance. Where I struggled most was U/W/X Control; Esper, Bant, and U/W/R proved to be my toughest opponents. They had enough sweepers to keep my creature-reliant deck at bay, and Sphinx's Revelation was often unbeatable. Planeswalkers also proved problematic, but I was grateful for those Pithing Needles.
This deck still needs a good amount of work, namely some control hate, but it's quite reliable and boasts a fairly high power level. Maybe it can get there some day, but for now it'll need to wait in the wings. I'd recommend it in an aggro and midrange-heavy metagame.
Today, I want to bring you an extra deck while we're on the subject of Reanimation. As I mentioned earlier, Human Reanimator made a big splash in Atlanta two weekends ago based on infinite Fiend Hunter triggers. Even before that, Human Reanimator lists based on Nightshade Peddler and Angel of Glory's Rise (often in congress) had been floating around, too. I started brewing this one shortly after Gatecrash was fully spoiled, but unlike the other lists, it's hinged on another Reanimator...
I've always loved cards that say "Return all..." on them. Creeping Renaissance, Living Death, Patriarch's Bidding, Open the Vaults; each has made it into some brew tucked away in my backpack at one time or another, and Immortal Servitude is all about the all's. Returning everything based on CMC just begs to be built around, so let's find us some targets. I like the Human plan, and we can still play Angel of Glory's Rise to act as additional Reanimation. Let's find some synergetic Humans!
… All the ones I want seem to be in different colors. Oh well.
- 2 Angel of Glory's Rise
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 2 Cartel Aristocrat
- 2 High Priest of Penance
- 4 Izzet Staticaster
- 2 Kessig Malcontents
- 3 Mayor of Avabruck
- 1 Nephalia Smuggler
- 3 Nightshade Peddler
- 2 Selhoff Occultist
Oh, what a mess. Let's roll up our sleeves!
One CMC: Avacyn's Pilgrim, Nephalia Smuggler
Avacyn's Pilgrim does what he does; not much else to say there. The Smuggler, in my opinion, is much more interesting. Repeatable Blink effects are great in a deck full of ETB abilities, namely the Angel and most of the sideboard Humans. He protects the team from spot removal and although he's easily killed, he's easily Reanimated. And hey, Blink that Howlpack Alpha back into a Mayor at instant speed! Sure, a bit of a stretch.
There's a lot here, and they're all exciting picks. Nightshade Peddler obviously combos with Izzet Staticaster, and the Mayor pumps all your Humans. He's the main reason I have green in this deck at all; my team is very soft, but he can give them a nice boost to help make them more combat ready. This deck, being a more "fair" Human Reanimator list, does eventually want to win with combat. High Priest of Penance also combos with Izzet Staticaster. Ping the Priest, kill the Beast! That's my anti-Thragtusk slogan motto. Mayor of Avabruck works to keep the Priest alive so you can ping it again if needed. Reanimated removal is pretty sweet!
Three CMC: Kessig Malcontents, Selhoff Occultist, Izzet Staticaster
Kessig Malcontents is a bit of an antiquated win condition for Humanimator, but I like a couple copies here in case we get a big Reanimation. It combos with everything else, so why not? Selhoff Occultist might be the deepest choice in the whole deck. However, if a Wrath is imminent (even a self-inflicted one), you can mill a large chunk of their library or, perhaps more importantly, you can target yourself and get a lot more Reanimation targets. As a 2/3 for three, he's not too shabby in combat, either. Izzet Staticaster has been mentioned as a huge part of this deck; it interacts very well with my creatures and yours, so a full playset is necessary to achieve a critical mass of ping.
Ramp and/or ten0mana Immortal Servitude target. Get there.
Spells: Tracker's Instincts, Immortal Servitude, and Mulch
Choosing the dig spells for this deck was a bit of a challenge. Mulch is the nice go-to one, and being prismatic means I need the right colors of land to make the magic happen. Tracker's Instincts is effectively the reverse of Mulch and can be cast from the yard; it digs deeper than Faithless Looting, so I decided to choose it over the red sorcery.
Like any five-color deck, this is perhaps the sloppiest part of the deck. Four Caverns ensure you can cast any of your Humans on time, and you can save one on Angel to make sure you land your main lady. I have one Forest simply to keep Ghost Quarters from being Wastelands.
Instead of picking relevant spells, I wanted to stick with the Human plan and added some to the sideboard. War Priest of Thune is there to deal with a Rest in Peace, and Fiend Hunter deals with singular threats while also allowing you to combo off (note that this was not my original intention when building the list). Cathedral Sanctifiers adds to the one CMC team while providing a nice life boost against aggro decks.
Frontline Medic serves a wide variety of purposes; however, I believe his battalion will prove the most useful. The problem with attacking with a bunch of 1/1s and 2/2s is that they die a lot. This removes that issue, and his very relevant size ensures you'll take a nice chunk of life out of your opponent. His Syncopate ability is secondary but could be relevant; Sphinx's Revelation is a thing. Huntmaster of the Fells doesn't directly synergize (it's the only four-drop), but he is very good and is a nice choice against hyperaggro and midrange decks alike. Finally, two Nevermore ensure you can deal with whatever problem card your opponent can use to wreck you; Slaughter Games, Supreme Verdict, Bonfire of the Damned...you'll know what's right!
This list is a lot looser than the first one, and I haven't had a chance to playtest it, so more than anything it's just some food for thought on uses of Immortal Servitude in Standard. It has the potential to diverge Reanimation strategies a bit. It feels like Zombie Apocalypse to me, and any card that feels like that is a winner for me.
Thanks for reading! As a side note, I will be attending the SCG Open Series in Cincinnati this weekend to compete in the Standard Open. I'm not sure what I'm going to play yet (I still have some other brews...brewing), but I'll be giving you a bit of a tournament report as a member of the rank and file of Open competitors next week. Have a great week, and don't forget to untap!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online