"The reports of Junk Reanimator's death are greatly exaggerated."
Last week I wrote an article about Junk Reanimator. The recurring theme of that article was the idea that Junk Reanimator isn't dead, that Scavenging Ooze hasn't destroyed the deck, and that it can still compete with the top decks in a field awash with Jund.
I was completely serious, yet I figured that people wouldn't really believe me. I've been championing the deck for a long time, and I was certain that many people dismissed my words last week as the tired ramblings of a fanatic. I was that old guy who didn't realize the Cold War was over and wouldn't stop ranting about how we needed to defend ourselves against the Russians. People would just smile and nod as they dismissed me as someone who was out of touch with reality.
"BBD loves Junk Reanimator. Poor guy. The deck isn't good, but he just can't give it up. Maybe eventually he'll be emotionally strong enough to move on."
Many other articles have noted that Junk Reanimator is dead. Not only have they stated that, but it's basically become assumed knowledge that Junk Reanimator is dead. Nobody is even saying "Junk Reanimator is probably dead." They are simply proclaiming it as such, as though it's fact.
As I was testing the deck for the Invitational, I could sense that even some of my testing partners felt like I was wasting time on a dead archetype. In fact, I ended up being the only person from our group to play Reanimator.
At the Invitational in Somerset, New Jersey, I set out to prove everyone wrong.
I knew the Invitational field was going to be full of Jund Midrange and U/W/R Flash decks. Jund is simply the most prevalent deck in the format right now, and rightfully so. It has a well-rounded strategy, and a lot of decks struggle to keep pace with its plethora of removal and two for ones.
U/W/R Flash is the kind of deck Invitational players love playing regardless of whether or not it's well positioned. I knew that some of the best players in the tournament would be playing the deck purely based on their play style. Furthermore, William Jensen recently put up a strong performance en route to a Top 8 finish the week before at the Open in Richmond, so I figured anyone on the fence about U/W/R Flash would take that as an indicator to play it.
I built my list for Junk Reanimator with the idea of beating those two decks in mind.
"I love it when you call him Big Poppa."
–Notorius B.I.G., as he returned an Obzedat to play
Step number one in the quest to defeat Jund Midrange and U/W/R Flash was to include two copies of Obzedat, Ghost Council in the maindeck. This card happens to excel against both archetypes. In fact, it's so good against both decks that I would go as far as to say it's the single best card in both matchups. Obzedat can be weak against other decks, such as all the R/G aggressive lists, but the ability of him to steal game 1 against these two popular archetypes made him an easy maindeck inclusion.
Both U/W/R Flash and Jund Midrange are certainly capable of killing him. U/W/R Flash has Turn/Burn as well as Azorius Charm or Warleader's Helix (along with a block) if Obzedat decides to get frisky and tangle in the red zone. Jund has Putrefy and Tragic Slip to knock him out, and they can also just block him with Thragtusk or Huntmaster of the Fells if needed.
Can they do it again after you Unburial Rites him back into play? That's the magic question, and the answer is typically no. The first Obzedat isn't always enough to get them, but the second and third definitely are.
The fourth Obzedat usually isn't too shabby either. Nobody expects the fourth Obzedat. Mess them up with the fourth Obzedat.
Obzedat is also just randomly good a lot of the time against a variety of decks. If you ever cast him on a relatively empty board in any matchup at any time, the game ends shortly thereafter. One of the main attractions to playing Jund Midrange is that it typically beats the crap out of random decks, and Obzedat fills much of that same role.
"Give em the Demon."
Shadowborn Demon is really the only card from M14 that ended up making an impact on my deck for the Invitational. I ended up playing just a single copy, as I knew I wanted two copies of Obzedat maindeck and there was no way I was playing fewer than four Thragtusks. There is only so much room for five-drops in the deck. With that being said, it was a very powerful effect, and I won numerous games by recurring and reusing Shadowborn Demon until they couldn't take any more.
"Two Rites don't make a wrong."
When it was all said and done, I arrived at the following list:
- 2 Angel of Serenity
- 3 Arbor Elf
- 3 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 1 Shadowborn Demon
- 4 Thragtusk
- 2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
Chris VanMeter was surprised when I told him that I wasn't going to be playing Trostani, Selesnya's Voice in my sideboard for the Invitational. I found that too often I was losing before I had a chance to really make use of Trostani, and frequently I was placed in an awkward spot where I had to make a tough decision of whether or not to block with Trostani. If I block, then I open myself up to get blown out by a Ghor-Clan Rampager, but if I don't block, then I open myself up to be at too low of a life for Trostani to make a real difference.
The day before the tournament, CVM suggested Tree of Redemption. I immediately knew that was exactly the card I wanted.
Tree fixes the problem Trostani has by allowing me to profitably block any creature, even Boros Reckoner, without opening myself up to a blowout from Ghor-Clan Rampager. Tree is also very good at combating Burning Earth. You can cast a few spells to let your life total get low and then use Tree of Redemption to put it back at thirteen. With Restoration Angel, you can then reset the Tree to a 0/13 and offer yourself another couple of spells before you need to reset again.
Tree is also pretty resilient to cards like Act of Treeson.
Golgari Charm and Profit // Loss double up as powerful spells to fight both the W/B Human deck and Junk Aristocrats. Profit // Loss is more devastating in those matchups since I have a number of creatures that die to my own Golgari Charms. Charm makes up for that by being cheaper to cast and having other applications. Against decks like Esper Control and U/W/R Flash, you can use it to kill a Rest in Peace or counter a Supreme Verdict. Against decks like Bant Hexproof, you can use it to kill an Invisible Stalker and an Avacyn's Pilgrim or blow up a Spectral Flight.
The Invitational: Standard
The Invitational began with Standard. For the first time in a long time, I was disappointed that my byes came in Standard and not in Legacy. I was very happy with my Standard deck and figured it was good for at least a 6-2 finish if not better. On the other hand, I was nervous about my Legacy deck and felt like the success of my tournament was going to hinge entirely on how well it performed.
After my byes, I was walking toward the pairing board for round 3 when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker:
"Feature matches for this round . . . at Sorin, Brad Nelson versus Brian Braun-Duin."
I feel like this would be the proper point in the article to note how lucky it was for me to get three byes in the Invitational.
In all seriousness, though, this round was anything but a bye. Not only was Brad playing Junk Aristocrats, a very close but slightly unfavorable matchup, but he is also a master at playing the deck and a master at playing the deck against Junk Reanimator especially.
I would have rather have faced anyone else in the tournament playing that deck.
Our match was covered live. Game 1 was an interesting game that really showcased the power of both of our decks. Brad was stuck on three lands, stranding the Garruk Relentless in his hand, but despite that a Cartel Aristocrat, a few Doomed Travelers and a bunch of Lingering Souls was enough by itself to keep me playing defensively and holding out for the long game.
Eventually, I was able to grind down all of his Spirits with the help of two copies of Unburial Rites along with a Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Shadowborn Demon. I had a lot of different lines of play I could take, including sitting on Gavony Township with my own Lingering Souls tokens to outclass his, but I figured the only way I was going to lose was if he played a Blood Artist or two, so I traded as often as I could and kept my life total padded to prepare for the worst.
In game 2, Brad mulled to six and kept a land-heavy hand. He ended up losing in the traditional way that deck loses: by flooding out and running out of threats.
I felt lucky to escape round 3 with a victory. Things could only get easier from here, I felt.
I thought things were supposed to get easier? Did nobody pay attention to what I just said?
Gerry and I have a history of meeting in almost every major tournament we've played in together. I have a history of never beating him. These two things don't mix particularly well for my own personal tournament success.
Gerry was on U/W/R Flash, a matchup I consider to be very favorable for prepared Junk Reanimator players. I had three Sin Collectors and two Acidic Slimes in my sideboard to complement the two Obzedats in the maindeck. I felt if there was ever a time for me to break the curse, this was it.
With that being said, Gerry is also a master of U/W/R Flash, and much like Brad Nelson with Junk Aristocrats, Gerry was the person I least wanted to face playing that deck.
I promptly lost game 1 despite resolving an Obzedat.
Promptly likely isn't the right word since Gerry had to go through about 57 cards before he finally finished me off, but it definitely felt bad to resolve my trump card in the matchup and still lose anyway. I had to convince myself not to fall into the mental trap that I was going to lose yet again to Gerry. The matchup is very favorable post-board. I could easily win both sideboard games.
Game 2 was a similarly lopsided affair in my favor. Just like that, we were off to game 3.
I had about the best draw my deck can muster in the matchup, and Gerry missed his fourth land drop. When he passed on turn 4 without a land, I basically knew this was it. Slimes and Obzedat did the rest.
While I hated that I had to play two good friends early in the tournament, I certainly felt good knowing that I was 4-0 after the Standard portion and had already played against two of the best players in the room.
The Invitational: Legacy
"I haven't failed; I've just lost 10,000 sanctioned matches of Magic."
–Thomas Edison, as he checked off the drop box on the match slip
Up until the day before the tournament, I was settled on playing Punishing Fire Jund. I expected a lot of players in this event to play decks like Esper Deathblade and Shardless BUG, and I wanted to play a deck that preys on those two decks. Punishing Fire seemed like the best way to beat them.
I also spent a decent amount of time testing Storm. It was an archetype I figured no one would ever put me on playing, yet I felt like it's a very good deck. Even when playing Esper Deathblade with Force of Will, Meddling Mage, and Thoughtseize, I still struggled to beat Storm. I had a lot of hate. It just didn't feel like enough.
The issue was that I wasn't skilled enough yet with Storm to really trust myself playing it in a tournament. I needed more time to master the deck and ensure that I wouldn't just be throwing away matches I could win.
The day before the tournament, I switched from Jund to Esper Deathblade. I wasn't beating the deck nearly as consistently as I wanted to with Jund, and if I couldn't even beat Esper Deathblade consistently with Jund, then why was I playing Jund at all? Jund has an even worse combo matchup than Esper Deathblade does.
When all else failed, I decided to stick with what I knew. I didn't feel comfortable enough with Storm yet to trust the fate of my Invitational in its hands.
As fate would have it, my Invitational would still rest partially in Storm's hands.
There are no easy rounds.
Adam Prosak was playing, you guessed it, Storm. We split the first two games. In the third game, he began with a Ponder, keeping the three cards. My turn 1 Thoughtseize revealed a hand full of rituals and a Tendrils of Agony. I felt that making him discard the Tendrils of Agony would be a mistake if he had access to Infernal Tutor since it would let him go hellbent. Instead I took a ritual and passed it back to him.
He untapped and cast two Dark Rituals and the Ad Nauseam he'd hidden on top of his deck. Roughly twenty cards later, he played a bunch of Lion's Eye's Diamonds and Lotus Petals, and counting to ten was pretty academic afterwards. I was dead regardless of what card I took with Thoughtseize.
I was stuck looking at the Force of Will I was holding without a blue card to pitch to it. So close.
Storm. A degenerate combo deck. I lose game 1, win game 2, and lose game 3.
Round 6: I get paired against Carrie Oliver playing Dredge. A degenerate combo deck. I lose game 1, win game 2, and lose game 3.
Round 7: Belcher. A degenerate combo deck. I lose game 1, win game 2, and lose game 3.
Just like that, I'm sitting at 4-3 and fighting for my tournament life in the last round.
Round 8: Punishing Fire Jund.
In a delicious twist of fate, I lose the final round to Punishing Fire Jund, the deck I was planning on playing all along. I picked a bad deck for Legacy, and I got Punished for my choice over and over again. Literally.
4-4. Failure to day 2.
The Standard Open
Over 950 players played in the Standard Open on Saturday, making it by far the largest Open ever. It was an eleven-round marathon, much closer to a Grand Prix than a typical Open. I played the exact same list I played in the Invitational. My Standard deck was not to blame for my failure to day two, and I felt pretty happy with most of my card choices. I saw no reason to change anything.
In the Mythic Madness packs each player was given at the event, I opened a Dark Confidant. Greatness at the cost of my entire Saturday.
After that, I told a friend of mine that I was going to Top 8 this tournament. We still had about six tournaments' worth of rounds left to play, but I knew it was going to happen. Things were going my way. I felt confident, I had opened a Confidant, and I knew I was playing one of the best decks in the room. It was the right mix of variables needed for success, and it was one of those situations where you simply knew you were going to succeed.
In the third game of round 7, my opponent had a Hellrider and two Mutavaults in play. I was at four life. He untapped, drew a card, and cast Ash Zealot, leaving him with one card in hand. If that other card is a land, he can activate both Mutavaults and kill me with Hellrider triggers. If it's a burn spell, I'm dead. If it's any creature, I'm dead the following turn after he chump blocks my lethal Thragtusk.
Instead, he drew one of his two copies of Burning Earth, the only card in his deck that doesn't kill me. I go on to win the nailbiter match and advance to 7-0. Even the top of my opponent's deck was cooperating with me.
In round 10 at 8-1, I intentionally drew with friend and fellow writer Justin Parnell. We decided that if we drew with each other this round, we would both have a chance to Top 8 the event by winning the last round. Playing it out ensured that only one of us could Top 8.
We both won round 11. Unfortunately, Justin's tiebreakers didn't pan out, and he ended up finishing in ninth place for the ultimate dagger. As happy as I was to Top 8, it was disappointing to know that Justin and I both were able to win our match, making our decision to draw work out, and yet he didn't Top 8 anyway.
I ended up in fifth place, which meant that I was paired in the quarterfinals against William "Huey" Jensen's G/W Elves deck with him on the play. Not only was this a very bad matchup for me, but it was piloted by a Hall of Fame-caliber player in Huey. I knew it would be an uphill battle.
Having played a lot of games against this deck since a number of Roanoke players were considering playing a similar deck for the Invitational, I knew that game 1 was basically unwinnable outside of an early Angel of Serenity. In game 1 against Huey, my opening hand had a mana dork, a Mulch, a Grisly Salvage, and an Unburial Rites. I basically had every tool I needed to win the game; I just needed to hit an Angel of Serenity off of one of my dig spells. Unfortunately, I bricked and lost pretty quickly to a Kalonian Hydra that went Roast Beef.
Suddenly I was feeling fairly deHydrated.
For game 2, I sided out my Thragtusks, Obzedats, and Lingering Souls. Trying to grind through Hydras and Craterhoofs didn't strike me as the optimal strategy. I brought in Acidic Slimes and every removal spell in my repertoire. My plan in post-board games was to kill everything he played and then try to stifle his mana with Garruk Relentless and Acidic Slime. It seemed like a flimsy plan, but I felt like it was the only shot I had. Acidic Slime also has the benefit of trading with a Hydra or a Wolfir Silverheart, something Thragtusk cannot boast.
In game 2, I had another good opening hand. It had a few mana accelerants and an early removal spell to keep him from a super-explosive start. Sadly, a Grisly Salvage failed to yield anything exciting to go with the two Unburial Rites in my hand, and I was left to a fate worse than death. I became one of the lakes of tomorrow as I flooded out and got pancaked by a Craterhoof Behemoth.
Being squashed under a Craterhoof is fairly . . . depressing.
Despite that, fifth place isn't too bad for a deck that's dead. I had Scavenging Ooze cast against me in game 1 five or six times in the eleven rounds. I played Jund Midrange four times. I went 4-0 against it and only dropped a single game. Is Scavenging Ooze really the death sentence for Junk Reanimator, or is just another bump in the road? I think you know where I stand.
The Legacy Open
The Legacy Open may not have been nearly 1,000 players, but it was no slouch in the size department either. It was also the largest Legacy Open ever and happened to be bigger than many Standard Opens at over 500 players.
There was no way I was going to play Esper Deathblade again for this event unless I couldn't acquire the cards to play anything else.
Esper Deathblade is a deck past its prime. It's dead, at least for now. I'm sure as Legacy ebbs and flows Esper Deathblade will rise back to prominence at some point, but for now everyone is prepared to beat it. If my result from the Invitational is any indicator, not only are they prepared to beat it, but they are beating it.
Thankfully, Gerry let me borrow his Shardless BUG deck. He wouldn't be needing it, as he would be battling in the Top 8 of yet another Invitational.
I have to say that Shardless BUG was awesome. It felt good to be battling with Force of Will in the maindeck again. I played against combo decks in five of the first six rounds and went 4-1 against them, including winning two game 1s against Dredge thanks in large part to being able to counter their important spells.
I had a pretty interesting scenario come up in a round against Omni-Tell. I won game 1 and was involved in a long game 2 that I was clearly ahead in. I had an active Liliana, and I knew every card in his hand except two. He tapped out to cast a Show and Tell that I knew about. He also had a known Omniscience in hand that he would assuredly put into play. I had a Force of Will, but I decided to let the Show and Tell resolve anyway.
My plan was to put in a lethal Tarmogoyf and then use Golgari Charm to destroy his Omniscience in response to whatever spell he cast, likely an Enter the Infinite. Then I can use my Force of Will to counter his Enter the Infinite and leave him with no resources and dead on board. Even if he has a Force of Will to counter my Force on his Enter the Infinite, then he's still tapped out with no Omniscience in play and will still lose the following turn.
That line seemed stronger to me than countering the Show and Tell and leaving myself dead to him drawing another copy of the card the next turn.
There was one catch though. I forgot about one minor detail. Omni-Tell also plays a lone copy of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. One of my opponent's last two draw steps happened to be that Emrakul. He put in Omniscience and then cast that Emrakul. Uh oh.
He took that moment to Pact of Negation my Golgari Charm. He only had three lands in play. My opponent's comment when casting the card basically summed it up. "I think I just lost the game." I hadn't seen that much back-to-back punting since the Cleveland Browns last played the Kansas City Chiefs.
Pact of Negation resolves. Emrakul's "take an extra turn" trigger resolves. I believe you may have upkeep effects?
I ended up losing my win-and-in round to Justin Uppal in the Shardless BUG mirror on camera. This was an exciting yet ultimately very frustrating match. Going into the round, Justin informed me that he had beaten the mirror twice already. He noted that whenever he needed to draw a specific card he would find it on top of his deck waiting for him.
That basically sums up how our match played out. He crushed me game 1, having the perfect answer to everything I played.
Game 2 started out alright but began to slip away from me. In a play that neither of us initially noticed, he Maelstrom Pulsed my Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which resulted in his own Jace also dying. It was an interaction that neither of us had ever seen before since dueling Jaces is a new thing. Despite mentioning it in my article about Legacy a few weeks ago, I completely missed it.
It was a pretty giant mistake, but it was one that I could easily see myself or anyone else making until we become accustomed to the new rules. The fact that I didn't immediately notice just goes to show that I probably would have done the same thing in his shoes.
CVM thankfully pointed it out to the table judge. That resulted in me receiving a warning for failing to remember that my opponent's Jace should have been dead, and the game continued on. While I understand the point of this ruling, it still seems a bit absurd and backward that I get a warning because my opponent didn't properly resolve his spell, leaving him with a planeswalker in play that I can't beat. "If you keep missing game actions that result in your opponent's advantage, then you'll get a game loss, buddy!"
That accidental mistake gave me a chance in the game that I otherwise didn't have since there was no way I could ever beat the Jace he had in play.
Justin then proved his earlier statement to be true, as he drew his third and final Jace the following turn to twist the knife in my hopes for a back-to-back Top 8 appearance.
I ended up drawing the last round to finish in the Top 32.
While this was the worst finish I've had in an Invitational in a long time, I felt pretty happy about my weekend as a whole. I was able to Top 8 the Standard Open and prove that Junk Reanimator is no fluke. I was able to find a deck in Legacy that is both good and that I enjoy playing.
I also played an absurd amount of Magic on the weekend. Six matches on Friday, eleven on Saturday, and eleven on Sunday means that I played a full 28 total matches. That's about as much as two full Grand Prix compacted into half the time.
It left me drained. It also left me hungry for more. Magic is like a Hydra. You play in one event, and it leaves you wanting to play in two more. And as my Top 8 against Huey proved, I am still working on the solution to beating Hydras.
Thanks for reading.
I want to congratulate Erik Smith for winning the Invitational with an interesting take on the U/W/R Delver archetype in Legacy. I also want to congratulate Gerry for making Top 8 of yet another Invitational, proving he truly is the end boss of the Open Series, and congrats to Huey for making Top 8 of three straight Opens, including two that were the largest of all time.