I'm a big chicken.
I let Junk Aristocrats scare me away from the loving arms of ol' Slimeball and into the unstable relationship that is Thundermaw Hellkite and Bonfire of the Damned, but no more! These two took the fun out of dysfunctional, and I'm done with it.
Baby, I'm back!
I think that we've come full circle in the Standard metagame and that Junk Reanimator is still the powerhouse it's always been. I was blinded by the synergy of the Junk Aristocrats deck. I still think the matchup is less than favorable; however, Junk Aristocrats didn't end up being the wildly popular and extremely dominating force that I anticipated. With Standard being so wide open, I think that the best strategy is to play something that you're familiar with that isn't a huge dog against the majority of the format and has a flexible and efficient sideboard.
Now that we're back on Junk Reanimator, we have some analyzing to do and a bunch of awesome card choices to sort through to build our deck. Let's take a look at what I feel are the "core" slots for the Junk Reanimator deck. These are cards that we are going to play for the most part no matter what the expected metagame is.
These are the cards that I'm not leaving home without. Within these, there are a few choices that may fall under some scrutiny; however, I have reasons for each and every choice.
I'm still a huge advocate for playing the full eight mana dorks (Avacyn's Pilgrim and Arbor Elf), but you do have options. I feel like it would be reasonable to play seven and play a 24th land. Some people have also dropped the full four in lieu of playing Farseek, something which I am generally opposed to. I feel like Garruk Relentless / Garruk, the Veil-Cursed is still such a huge part of this deck, and I really want to have the extra creatures to sacrifice to his -1 ability. The damage that you can get in with a random 1/1 adds up as well, doing a surprising amount of work over the course of a tournament.
I have neglected to put Mulch on this list because I feel that while it is probably going to be in every Junk Reanimator deck, it's the main card that I would be intrigued and not surprised if someone left it out of their list. I think that Mulch is unnecessary but is the only card that we can play to fill that role when we need it: digging for an Angel of Serenity or Craterhoof Behemoth.
Thragtusk's numbers in Junk Reanimator have fluxuated over the last few months, but I still feel like it's necessary. Depending on what decks we feel we will be seeing, we may only want two (lots of midrange decks) or the full four (lots of Burning-Tree Emissary aggro decks). Thragtusk isn't flashy, but it gains life and is a resilient speed bump for the aggro decks. Thragtusk can be a resilient threat against the control/midrange decks, but we have a better five-drop for that in Obzedat, Ghost Council.
In any given Standard tournament there is a pretty wide range of decks that you can expect to go up against. Here is a list of the decks that I would expect to see and how I would rate them as a matchup historically for Junk Reanimator (with Acidic Slime still in the maindeck since that's probably where I'm going to be).
Jund - Even
R/g Aggro (Burning-Tree Emissary) - Slightly Unfavorable
G/r Aggro (Bonfire of the Damned / Thundermaw Hellkite / Gyre Sage) - Even
Bant Hexproof - Unfavorable
Esper Control - Favorable
Bant Control - Favorable
U/W/R Control - Favorable
Naya Humans - Even
Naya Blitz - Slightly Unfavorable
Naya Aggro (Dryad Militant / Strangleroot Geist) - Even
Naya Midrange/Dark Naya - Favorable
Junk Aristocrats - Slightly Unfavorable
The Aristocrats: Act 2 - Even
Junk Reanimator - Even (gaining edges in the mirror is simple if you have the correct read on the previous week)
Four-Color Reanimator (Boros Reckoner / Blasphemous Act / Harvest Pyre) - Even
As you can see, there are a lot of decks in Standard, and this doesn't even cover everything. There are still a few fringe decks that I'm not able to recall, and there are always people who crush their local FNM three weeks in a row with an awesome deck that's off the radar and show up to kick your teeth in at an Open. It's difficult to prepare for every single deck that you think you'll run into, so employing my four steps to build an effective sideboard will help quite a bit. Now that we have an expected metagame in mind, we can start to look at all of the cards that we have available and what roles they will play for us.
Fiend Hunter / Centaur Healer – Both of these have the primary role of acting like a speed bump for the Burning-Tree Emissary decks in addition to playing well with Restoration Angel. Fiend Hunter has the added benefit of being a pseudo-answer for Olivia Voldaren.
Angel of Serenity – Perfect "sweeper" effect against the aggressive decks when we are able to cheat it into play for four mana with our Unburial Rites. Also able to "loop" each other as a resilient threat against the control decks. Angel of Serenity is a dominating force against the midrange decks since we are attacking their mana with Acidic Slime and then setting them back many turns with a single Angel of Serenity.
Thragtusk – As said above, great speed bump and life gain tool against the aggressive decks and a moderate threat against the control decks.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa – Hot new Dragon's Maze card that is a powerhouse against both flavors of The Aristocrats (Junk and Act 2) and also serves as a life-gaining tool against the aggressive decks.
Voice of Resurgence – Another hot Dragon's Maze card that plays double duty by being a great blocker and providing a relevant threat against our control opponents. Think Twice isn't nearly as awesome when they're casting it on their turn.
Cavern of Souls – Very good at allowing us to resolve our Oozes, Angels, Beasts, and Spirit Advisors.
That's a lot of cards with maindeck potential. Let's get to work building! We know that we already have some cards that are going to be in no matter what, so let's start there.
I know I want to play at least two Thragtusks, so we can slot that in for now. I know there are a lot of Thragtusk advocates, and while I don't think that the card is stone awful, I definitely don't have the undying allegiance some mages feel for the old reliable 5/3.
This configuration leaves us with thirteen cards to play around with, which isn't much, so let's see what cards are going to give us the biggest impact.
I definitely want at least one Craterhoof Behemoth in the deck since it's good against every deck game 1 while still being good against the Lingering Soul decks after sideboard.
Since we are going to be on a Craterhoof Behemoth plan against some decks, we still want to be playing some number of Mulch. Mulch is also a good card in matchups where we want to find whatever utility land we are playing (Cavern of Souls, Gavony Township, Vault of the Archangel) and against any deck that will reliably be burning the crud out of our Avacyn's Pilgrim and Arbor Elfs.
Garruk is awesome against the majority of the field and is the best card you can possibly play in the mirror match, which is still popular. He has four relevant abilities, and we know how well the last four-ability planeswalker worked out. I've used every part of the Garruk buffalo and can't get enough of it.
I want to play a Blood Baron of Vizkopa in the maindeck because I think that it is very well positioned right now and we are able to tutor it up with our Garruk Relentless. Both Junk Aristocrats and The Aristocrats: Act 2 have a tough time racing it, and it is a very good threat against Jund and forces U/W/R to have to Supreme Verdict.
I still like Fiend Hunter over Centaur Healer even though Fiend Hunter is absolutely terrible against control. Being able to buy time against an Olivia Voldaren is huge, and it's a great early tool to reduce the amount of damage that you take from the aggressive decks.
Good ol' Slimeball does it all. You can press your mana advantage against control, midrange, and in the mirror. In game 1s against the aggressive decks, Acidic Slime can help claw you back into games by trading with attackers and restricting the resources of your aggressive opponents. Acidic Slime even attacks for two, oftentimes unimpeded because everyone is afraid of an Unburial Rites as another way to push your mana advantage.
Recently, people have been restricting Acidic Slime to just the sideboard; however, I think that the format will be shifting again, with more people heading back towards Jund and the Supreme Verdict decks, which are two of the matchups where Acidic Slime really shines. Also, in the mirror if one side has Acidic Slime and the other doesn't, the Slime-less party is at quite the disadvantage.
This leaves us with one remaining slot in the maindeck, which I think still goes to Sever the Bloodline. Sever the Bloodline has been awesome ever since we started to play it in the maindeck, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. Lingering Souls, Burning-Tree Emissary, Olivia Voldaren, Falkenrath Aristocrat, and a host of other creatures that can be thrown at you just keep coming, which continues to justify Sever the Bloodline. Standard is all about creatures, and a lot of them are freakin' powerful.
I want to go back to Cavern of Souls due to the rise in popularity of the U/W/R Control decks. With Cavern of Souls falling to the wayside with the surge of non-tribal aggressive decks, counterspells have started to pop back up in decent numbers. U/W/R and Esper Control are both hard-pressed to beat a Cavern of Souls on any relevant creature type.
This brings us to this maindeck:
4 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
2 Fiend Hunter
3 Restoration Angel
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
3 Acidic Slime
3 Angel of Serenity
1 Craterhoof Behemoth
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Sever the Bloodline
4 Grisly Salvage
4 Unburial Rites
4 Temple Garden
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Isolated Chapel
2 Sunpetal Grove
2 Woodland Cemetery
2 Godless Shrine
2 Cavern of Souls
For our sideboard, we've got some thinking to do! Since the metagame is so huge, I think it'll be a better use of our time if we focus on the matchups that are even to unfavorable and go from there. First, here is a list of cards that could potentially be in our sideboard and what decks they are good against.
Sin Collector – Both flavors of The Aristocrats, Esper Control, U/W/R Control, Bant Control, Jund (potentially)
Abrupt Decay – Naya (every form), both flavors of The Aristocrats, Four-Color Reanimator (potential answer to Boros Reckoner), Bant Hexproof, mirror
Deathrite Shaman – Mirror, U/W/R Control, Esper Control, both flavors of The Aristocrats, Four-Color Reanimator
Voice of Resurgence – Naya (every form), both flavors of The Aristocrats, every control deck
Trostani, Selesnya's Voice – Naya (every form), both flavors of The Aristocrats, R/G Aggro, G/R Aggro
Obzedat, Ghost Council – U/W/R Control, Esper Control, Jund, mirror (potentially)
Slayer of the Wicked – Jund, Zombies (B/R, B/G, B/W, Jund), Dark Naya
Ray of Revelation – Bant Hexproof, Jund (potentially)
Curse of Death's Hold – Both flavors of The Aristocrats
Thragtusk – Naya (every form), both flavors of The Aristocrats, Jund
Acidic Slime – Mirror, every control deck, Jund, Four-Color Reanimator
Garruk Relentless – Every single deck except Burning-Tree Emissary decks
Since we only have fifteen spots to utilize in our sideboard, we have to get as much mileage as possible out of our cards. There are a couple cards that we already have in the maindeck that we will want an extra copy of in the sideboard; Acidic Slime, Garruk Relentless, and Thragtusk all come to mind. The card with the most impact in the highest number of matchups (many of which are even to unfavorable) is Abrupt Decay.
Voice of Resurgence is still a powerhouse against all of the aggressive decks, and I really like how Trostani, Selesnya's Voice combos with the Elemental token in addition to Garruk Relentless. Curse of Death's Hold and Ray of Revelation both seem a little too narrow for us, and every deck that Deathrite Shaman is effective against is prepared for it.
Slayer of the Wicked is still very good, giving you a great answer to just about everything in the Jund deck, and Obzedat, Ghost Council is borderline unbeatable for a handful of decks. Previously, I liked playing two copies of Obzedat in my sideboard, but this time I think we can only fit one. Here is where I'm at currently:
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 3 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 2 Thragtusk
I like how this deck is positioned against the field; anyone who has previous experience with any of the Junk Reanimator builds will have a blast playing this. Acidic Slime is still awesome, and Junk Aristocrats isn't as bad of a matchup as I originally thought now that we have Craterhoof Behemoth and Blood Baron of Vizkopa in our maindeck.
I'm going to be in Philadelphia this weekend for the StarCityGames.com Open Series, and this is where I'm currently at for my list. I'll be working on it the rest of the week. Please leave any suggestions or feedback in the comments, and I will take everything into consideration. There's a good chance the sideboard and numbers will change a bit as I test more as we get closer to the weekend, but this is a great place to start.
I'm going to be tweeting a lot more at events (bars willing), so feel free to follow me on Twitter and say hello!
Until next time!