Reanimate

ReanimateThis week I’m going to talk Legacy, but first I’m going to tell a story about my early days playing Magic. If you’re more interested in a deck, feel free to skip down a bit. Those of you still with me, let’s take a trip, shall we, to the early ’00s, a time of Madness and Psychatogs, Scourge had just come out, and I made weekly trips to my local game shop.

The LGS was more like the wild west then than it is now. I would usually avoid tournament play, but on the rare occasion when I would enter, I would insist on playing Type 1 (that’d be the equivalent of Vintage at the time.) This was not because I had a particularly good collection, or because I thought I could compete with actual top tier decks, I didn’t on either count. Rather, it was because my best deck, a mono black Zombies deck featuring Putrid Raptor, had Dark Rituals in it, which allowed me to power out the Raptor on turn one, and other power plays like Grinning Demon ahead of curve. Along with efficient removal in the form of Chainer’s Edict and Terror, and sweepers like Thrashing Wumpus and Pestilence to clear out the Goblins and Elves of the day meant that I felt confident about beating nearly anyone who showed up.

Keep in mind of course, there were no players sporting Power Nine, no broken Necropotence decks, and the counter-control players I knew were lucky if they had a single Force of Will in their collection. Sadly, I am not Reid Duke or Patrick Chapin or John Finkel; I’ve been playing nearly as long as them, but my greatest claim to tournament fame is that I played my first prerelease in 2003.

Still, the black Zombies deck was my first “good” deck, and when I wanted to win games of magic, that’s the one I pulled out of the box. But there was always one opponent at the LGS I didn’t always manage the win against, even with my broken Dark Ritual interactions. Unfortunately, the guy’s name is lost to the mists of time and a faulty memory, but he always brought in a Reanimator deck that could drop a turn one Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Keep in mind this was before creatures got good, so Akroma was about as good a reanimation target as you could get, along with Verdeloth the Ancient and Reya Dawnbringer.

Sometimes I would find the correct removal to address the dreaded Dark Ritual + Entomb + Exhume = attack for 6 with Akroma opening, sometimes not. Sometimes his draws could address the turn one Putrid Raptor and Grinning Demon beats. I want to say that he and I were evenly matched, and while the memory can distort such things, I”m certain the games were interesting, because the lessons I took away from them stick with me even now. Stuff like adjusting my deck to address a matchup: the first time we played, I could not deal with Akroma. Afterward, someone showed me Chainer’s Edict, and the match became winnable.

What I especially learned was that Reanimator was powerful. The archetype has changed significantly in recent years, since the creatures are way better now, but so has the rest of the Vintage/Legacy metagame. Akroma, Angel of Wrath is simply not playable anymore, not with Griselbrand, Elesh Norn and Iona available. There are also more flavors, with Goryo’s Vengeance being an absolute powerhouse in Modern, if not the older Eternal formats. So, there are a number of flavors to choose from.

Before going further, I’ll point out that I’m no expert on the Legacy format, and as has been mentioned on the podcast, there is not much Legacy actually played locally. So take it as a given that I’m no expert on the format, and if you’re looking to get into it, you’ll probably do better to play on MTGO. I’m a paper Magic player, so that isn’t my path. I’m still interested in putting together a Legacy deck because the power level appeals to me. Unlike my more youthful self, however, I care a bit more about playing something that actually lives up to the potential of the format. So, a year or two ago, when Worldgorger Dragon was unbanned, I decided to quietly started trading for pieces. This is what I’ve managed so far.

Reanimator.dec

Creatures

4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Worldgorger Dragon
1 Hornet Queen
2 Rune-Scarred Demon
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Simic Sky Swallower
1 Reya Dawnbringer

Spells

4 Thoughtseize
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Entomb
4 Exhume
4 Animate Dead
1 Drain Life
1 Funeral Charm
4 Daze
4 Lotus Petal

Lands

4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Underground Sea
2 Swamp
2 Island

 

So, for starters, I will admit to a basic misunderstanding I had about Worldgorger Dragon, which has since been cleared up for me. Worldgorger Dragon, as it is typically played, does not actually win the game. The combo of Animate Dead targeting Worldgorger Dragon in the graveyard creates an infinite loop that typically ends the game in a draw. I have adjusted slightly to account for this, such that if I also have a Rune-Scarred Demon in the graveyard, (or another creature in the yard with a Drain Life in hand,) I can break the infinite loop and end the game with a Drain Life. It’s not exactly reliable, but until someone either trades me their Griselbrands or I break down and buy them, it’s a cute combo that fills those slots.

The rest of the deck is either there to enable a broken reanimation or protect from opposing interaction. Thoughtseize, interestingly, does both. It’s rare that it’s worth it, but you can target yourself with Thoughtseize to put a reanimation target in the graveyard. Fortunately, whatever you end up discarding will probably be easily worth a few cards and life points once it hits the battlefield. Daze is a less powerful option than Force of Will, which I’ll touch on again in a moment, and of course Brainstorm plus fetchlands is a big reason to even play Legacy to begin with.

I was also pleased when I discovered that Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy fits right in, both as a way to dig for combo pieces and enabling a discard to put reanimation targets into the graveyard. The inclusion of blue enables the aforementioned Brainstorm, and I’m hoping to wind up with a set of Force of Wills once Eternal Masters is released. Jace also brings with him an interesting conundrum. You see, I used to run Dark Ritual, my old time favorite mana accelerant. The difference is that while Dark Rituals enabled a turn one reanimation via Exhume or Animate Dead, Lotus Petal enables tune one Jace. My conclusion was that the extra card draw would put me closer to just ending the game, and if my opponent did have interaction, Jace is important enough to fight over, so there will be that much less gas for my opponent to fight over the real game winner. The other part of the argument is that if I ever pick up some regular old Reanimates, I’ll still be able to Entomb into Reanimate turn one with only one Lotus Petal.

So, Lotus Petal beat out Dark Ritual, and in fact, a few weeks ago when I ran into Blades and Travis at my LGS, Travis traded the last few copies of Lotus Petal to me. They may have thought it strange that I would trade a Jace, Unraveler of Secrets for 3 Petals, but I felt good about it. That Jace may appreciate during its time in Standard, but the Tempest Lotus Petals aren’t getting reprinted. Now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably end up with egg on my face when they get reprinted in Eternal Masters.

Coming back around to Eternal Masters, I’ll mention that while most of the cards in the above list are legit copies, there are still a few proxies, specifically, the Underground Seas and Entombs. I’m already looking to pick up Force of Wills, and it’s fair to speculate that other reanimator pieces I might need could be reprinted as well, so despite the Underground Seas having no chance, Eternal Masters has lots of potential to help this deck. Griselbrand, Elesh Norn, Reanimate, Show and Tell, even Grave Titan would be helpful pickups and are all eligible for reprints.

My target list should look something like this, keeping in mind that Watery Grave may be a more realistic option than actual Underground Seas:

Good Reanimator.dec

Creatures

4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Griselbrand
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Worldgorger Dragon
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria

Spells

4 Thoughtseize
4 Brainstorm
4 Entomb
4 Reanimate
4 Animate Dead
4 Force of Will
2 Show and Tell
4 careful Study
1 Ponder
4 Lotus Petal

Lands

4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Underground Sea
2 Swamp
2 Island

Sideboard

2 Massacre
3 Daze
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
2 Pithing Needle
1 Show and Tell
2 Coffin Purge
1 Tidespout Tyrant
1 Toxic Deluge
2 Ancient Tomb

 

Even substituting out the Underground Seas for Watery Graves, this is an objectively better list. Instead of bending over backwards to make Worldgorger Dragon actually work to win the game, a focus on Griselbrand means we have a much more reliable and arguable more powerful gameplan, and we can still force a draw with Worldgorger if the situation is dire enough.
I certainly don’t have any prior knowledge of the cards that will be in Eternal Masters, and I can’t imagine my entire wishlist just getting printed, but I for one am looking forward to some of the harder to find staples of Legacy becoming easier to track down.

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