Young Pyromancer Reanimator.
The deranged product of Todd Anderson's half-lucid imagination?
Call it what you want, this is one of the sweeter aggro-control decks I've come across in a long time.
As someone with quite the love for Legacy's best red two-drop, it would be hard for me to hate this deck.
So what does Todd's deck look like?
From his deck tech at the Invitational this past weekend:
This is recognizable as a bare-bones Reanimator deck with a “Young Pyromancer plus spells” game-plan. After all, there is a good amount of setup required to assemble BB + Entomb + Reanimate, so why not get paid for casting all of your Ponders and Gitaxian Probes?
Our first paradigm is “Reanimator, but cutting all of the extra creatures and Careful Studies for Probes, Pyromancers, and Bolts.”
I don't like that paradigm. I want to go about this the other way.
It grew up a little, claiming its first trophy a few weeks later:
That Bonfire of the Damned is still adorable.
Grixis Delver doesn't have to be a tempo deck.
Consider Todd's deck again:
It's a Grixis deck with cantrips, efficient spells, and a reanimation plan where my Grixis list had a tempo plan. Card choices shift accordingly, but we want to play Magic in very similar ways.
What value are we gaining from this paradigm shift? Who cares if my Grixis Delver deck from three months ago looks anything like Todd's Pyromancer Reanimator deck from this weekend?
The answer, as always, is that the cards don't matter.
The plan matters.
I'll come back to this in a second.
I exchanged a few emails with a reader a week or two ago about how to properly build and sideboard with Grixis Delver. He suggested cutting down on removal and maindecking Cabal Therapies and some other discard spells.
The problem is that he wanted to play the deck as a tempo deck.
Tempo decks, by and large, don't play discard spells.
My response to him was an attempt to delineate the two ways that Grixis Delver can function.
The deck can either be a UR tempo deck with more removal, seeking to suppress the number of options available to an opponent by reducing the number of permanents they control through removal spells and cards like Stifle, or...
...the deck can be a UB anti-combo deck with less removal and more discard, seeking to suppress the number of options available to an opponent by shredding their hand with discard spells.
Trying to do both will lead to huge inefficiencies. To wit: if you cast Stone Rain and then Duress, you have traded two cards for two cards, but you aren't likely to have manascrewed them or taken all of their good spells. If you cast two Duresses or two Stone Rains, you have a better game plan.
So you have a deck that's half Pyromancer plus spells, half Entomb plus Reanimate. Given our ability to construct our sixty as either an anti-combo deck or a board-controlling tempo deck, which configuration gains the most from the Reanimator side plan?
If you believe that the redder, removal-rich aspect has more to offer, it is because you envision casting Lightning Bolts targeting Deathrite Shamans. You envision yourself as a Young Pyromancer deck with reach, ultimately making a crucial deckbuilding concession to Deathrite Shaman's prevalence.
If you believe that the blacker, discard-heavy aspect has more to offer, it is because you envision playing against combo decks every other round. You see yourself as a true hybrid strategy – if Young Pyromancer shows up, destroy and disable everything else and let the tokens take over. If you open a hand with rolled-up Entomb over Reanimate, you can clear the path with Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy before Reanimating a Griselbrand and defending yourself with Force of Will and Daze.
In the redder version, Delver of Secrets is likely to show up as a secondary threat to ensure a stronger early game, and the Reanimator package is trimmed down to a mere ten cards – four Entombs and Reanimates, two creatures.
In the blacker version, the Bolts get cut, replaced by Cabal Therapies. Exhume likely makes an appearance, as does a maindeck Crippling Fatigue to Entomb for as an answer to Deathrite Shaman. If Lightning Bolt never targets their face, it's far worse.
As you might expect, the two variations will have drastically different sideboards. More on that in just a second.
Here are my two takes on how to modify Todd Anderson's innovative deck:
These two very similar-looking decks share exactly one sideboard card. If that isn't a tipoff that they're aiming to do something very different from one other, I don't know what more to tell you.
Allow me to walk you through the nuances of each deck's sideboard plan.
With each deck, there needs to be a way to emphasize and a way to deemphasize the Reanimator game plan. If an opponent is maindecking Deathrite Shaman and sideboarding Surgical Extractions (the most versatile anti-graveyard, anti-combo card in the format, and certainly one that can exist in any sideboard), it's important to be able to beat both.
Beating Deathrite Shaman and Surgical Extraction can mean either having cards to kill one and counter/discard the other, or it can mean altering your gam- plan in such a way that removes contextual value from both cards.
It is also important to know your opponent's thoughts on the matter. If you caved in their skull with a fast Griselbrand in the first game, you have to expect them to put you on being a graveyard combo deck.
On the other hand, if you beat them up with Young Pyromancer and friends without showing them a single Entomb or Reanimate, you will likely be able to surprise them with an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – after all, why would you board in Surgical Extractions against a tempo deck?
The first deck wants to sidestep Deathrite Shaman and Surgical Extraction. It has a good amount of board interaction before sideboarding, and it can sideboard into more threats, more counters, and some discard. The ideal game after sideboarding involves playing a few creatures, Therapying away their threat, and leaving them with an anemic board position and a dead Surgical Extraction in hand. The bewildered opponent is left wondering whether to keep their graveyard hate in against a deck with Delver of Secrets and Dark Confidant, or if they can afford the risk of boarding it out and getting killed by a Griselbrand again.
Your sideboarding mechanics are very important to completing the hard sell. In between games, you must shuffle your entire sideboard into your deck. If you thoughtfully and carefully remove ten cards from your deck, stack them in a pile, pick up your sideboard, set five cards aside, and shuffle the rest into your deck, you're making life too easy for your opponent.
Similarly, if you don't sideboard at all after a game where you buried them with Dark Confidant advantage, they can safely cut their Surgical Extractions, warily eyeing you the whole time to see if you touch your sideboard.
You have to sell people their own phobias. People see what they want to see in some situations, and they look for signs of the apocalypse in other circumstances. If you Entomb for Griselbrand in Game One and lose, beat your opponent senseless with Delver of Secrets and Dark Confidant in the second game, then immediately grab your sideboard and riffle it into your deck, where does your opponent's mind go?
“Here come the Reanimates again.”
Your three minutes of sideboarding can be a theater performance, a carefully-managed hand of poker, and a game of chicken all in one.
Or you could chew your cud, drop into a thousand-yard stare, and ponderously shuffle your game-two deck for two minutes before presenting. The level of complexity that you choose to bring to the game is your decision alone.
The specific choices can be broken down as follows:
4 Dark Confidant: The next best creature (after Young Pyromancer) that, if left alone, will provide the resources to win you the game on its own. You want this early. Multiple copies aren't a huge problem because, as noted, the first copy should win you the game.
2 Flusterstorm: Your best additional counterspell. You don't want too many of these, as there are diminishing returns on counterspells that cost mana in tempo decks.
2 Animate Dead: I prefer Animate Dead to Exhume, although both have drawbacks. Animate Dead is worse than Exhume against RUG Delver, as the trigger can be Stifled. Animate Dead outperforms Exhume against other unfair decks though. If you want to unlock an achievement with the deck, you can Cabal Therapy away Sneak and Show's Griselbrand, then Animate Dead it. Alternatively, if you play against Oops, All Spells, you can Animate Dead their Balustrade Spy, target them, and pass the turn. Nice card!
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria: Your knockout punch against various combo and control decks. If you name white against Miracles, their only outs are copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor but they can dig with Brainstorm, while if you name blue they can have either Terminus or Swords to Plowshares.
1 Bloodghast: Your answer to Liliana of the Veil – just Entomb in response to Liliana's -2, activate a fetchland, and voila! You get to keep your Griselbrand. Also notable for its insane synergy with Cabal Therapy.
1 Crippling Fatigue: A tutorable answer to Deathrite Shaman. Although it costs three mana and three life to kill a single Shaman with an Entomb, your second Entomb has a lot less value than the first. Being able to protect one Entomb with the other is a medium-sized game, but worthy of a sideboard slot.
If you want a rough sideboard guide for the first deck, here are a few combinations. You may note that the matchup is missing. This is intentional.
Have fun discussing these in the comments. Now, for the other deck. A refresher:
Our maindeck plan, if you will recall, is to be a more Reanimator-oriented deck from the get-go. This means giving up our ability to transform into a more tempo-style deck. As a result, we have to be able to protect our primary game-plan. Ideally, we'll be able to sideboard a non-Pyromancer, non-Griselbrand win condition that both isn't vulnerable to removal and isn't vulnerable to graveyard hate. Let's go down the list!
The maindeck looks a bit different from the first list. Gone are the Delvers, gone are the Bolts, and in their places we have more reanimation spells and a third fatty: Blazing Archon. With the rise of Sneak and Show as the combo deck to beat, we have to play a card that absolutely beats them. Fortunately, Blazing Archon completely ices their game plan. If we get Archon into play, they can't win in Game One and are drawing to a very small number of Echoing Truths or Jaces in sideboard games.
Since we don't have Lightning Bolt in the deck, Crippling Fatigue makes a maindeck appearance as a way to kill an overly-vigilant Deathrite Shaman. Fatigue is preferable to Bolt because, as mentioned earlier, Entomb can't tutor for Lightning Bolt.
Let's talk sideboard specifics for a bit:
4 Disfigure: Todd Anderson played Deathmark in his sideboard. Deathmark is cute – it kills any number of Elves (including Deathrite Shaman), it kills Tarmogoyf, it kills Ethersworn Canonist, and it kills the rare Scavenging Ooze. Disfigure kills Shaman, but it also kills Delver of Secrets, Dark Confidant, and all of the small white creatures that Deathmark kills. As an added bonus, it's an instant, letting us maximize our mana efficiency in a deck that wants to cast Reanimate as soon as possible.
3 Pyroblast: Since this deck is so much more focused on reanimating a creature, it has to be similarly focused on defending that creature. One of the major threats to a non-retail creature is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Flusterstorm, while an otherwise excellent card, does not interact with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. For this reason and because of the occasional Counterbalance, Pyroblast gets the nod over Flusterstorm. Pyroblast is also meaningfully better than Red Elemental Blast because it can legally target any permanent, although doing so will have no effect. This added flexibility is relevant in a deck with Young Pyromancer.
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor: This deck's “transform.” Where the first deck has a dozen creatures that it can rely on to blank an opponent's hate cards, this deck can't achieve the same density. Since eight creatures aren't a great game-plan on their own, it's better to fight over a Jace against a control deck with both counterspells and hate cards.
2 Perish: Since you don't have a way to go toe-to-toe with RUG Delver's creatures, you have to be a more-controlling deck against them. Perish kills Mongoose and Tarmogoyf, buying you the time you need to raise Griselbrand or Elesh Norn from the dead. Also, you know, it crushes any deck with Green Sun's Zenith.
This leaves us at a bit of a crossroads – I can only record videos with one of these decks. I would have a blast playing either, but which deck do you want to see in action next Tuesday? Let me know in the comments!
Until next week,
@drewlevin on Twitter