Reanimating Black-Red Reanimator in Legacy
Next week I am going to travel to Toronto to play in the Team Trios GP. As per usual, I will be playing Legacy, but it has been a few months since I have played in a tournament. This happens to me every now and then as I get caught up in life, and it’s part of the reason Legacy is a good format for me. When I was getting back into testing it turned out that not much has changed in the state of Legacy. While a few metagame shifts happened, like a rise in popularity of Miracles and Turbo Depths, largely there haven’t been any serious changes. While this might normally lead me to default to Grixis as I always do, I noticed that BR Reanimator players have been developing an excellent looking decklist and sideboard plan. While I usually exclusively play fair decks in Legacy, and have written about that before, I am not inherently opposed to playing combo decks. This looked good enough to me that I had to give it a shot and see if it would work for me.
First of all, here’s the list:
Proprietor of the deck on Magic Online Eric Landon wrote about this version here. Essentially, while the plan is always to Reanimate a creature as fast as possible game 1, this might be a pipe dream in the postboard games. This is especially true against decks like Grixis Delver that have Surgical Extraction, Force of Will, and Deathrite Shaman to take over the game when it goes too long. With this sideboard plan, the emphasis on reanimating creatures is removed, and Grim Lavamancer and Magus of the Moon give you alternate means to win the game. This is what drew me to this archetype, and I had to try it out for myself. Of course, I am not an expert with the archetype, and don’t even have that much experience playing these type of unfair decks. Due to this, my opinions should definitely be taken with a grain of salt, but as always, these are just my opinions, so that should be the case every time.
As is likely abundantly clear, this deck can be explosively powerful. Reanimating a huge creature on turn 1 or 2 is almost trivially easy, and frequently this would happen with discard spells or Chancellor to back it up. Since the plan is so linear and there are so many ways to push it through and enable it, getting a Griselbrand into play is not a challenging task at all. Playing through Force of Will and soft permission wasn’t that difficult with discard spells and playing against non-blue decks felt like easy mode.
Pre-board, the first thing that surprised me was how effective Exhume was at playing through Deathrite Shaman. While this is probably still the most problematic card to play against from the fair decks, especially when backed up with blue disruption, Exhume gives this deck the ability to get on board even in the face of the 1-mana Planeswalker (with an Exhume on the stack, after they eat your creature, you can Entomb to get back another creature of your choice). The second surprise was how difficult I found it to beat UW decks with this main deck configuration. Not having access to counter magic or a creature to lock out their removal spells in the main deck, like Iona, often left them with the ability to answer my creatures and get a Jace on board. I’m sure there are options to play through that without changing the deck configuration, but this is definitely something I would want to look into.
Outside of UW decks, though, nothing else really presented any serious issues before sideboarding, which is as expected. The post-board games are when I could really see how this deck would play out, and see if I liked the plan in practice as much as I did on paper.
To start, nothing really changed when playing against the unfair decks. Sometimes they had some disruption, sometimes they didn’t, but BR is designed to be faster than just about every other combo deck, so those games were very straightforward. This sideboard plan wasn’t designed for this circumstance, though, so how did it fair against the various Deathrite Shaman decks?
In some games, the game played out exactly as planned. Turn 1 Grim Lavamancer puts their Deathrite Shamans in a bind, I use reanimation spells on their creatures after they die, and I get to play a bizarre control role never having to expose my creatures to Surgical Extraction. In others, a fast Magus of the Moon would end the game relatively early. During these times, the plan seemed excellent, but the more I played with it the more issues that kept coming up against fair decks.
The first was in choosing what hands to keep. If my 7-card hand didn’t have a Grim Lavamancer or fast Magus against Delver or 4-Color, it felt like I had to mulligan. As I would do that, the hands wouldn’t get much prettier going down, and then there would be greatly disjoined hands on the way down to 5 or 4 cards. Even if I found a hand with a red source and a Grim Lavamancer, I didn’t always have the privilege of having a second red source, and Wasteland would give them an easy way to slow me down long enough for them to develop. Magus of the Moon had a similar issue, when I felt like a turn 3 Magus was far too slow, so I always had to have fast mana to get it out there, but that led to more mulligans then I was comfortable with. If I could set it up on a 7-card hand with discard, it did seem incredibly powerful, but that didn’t happen nearly often enough.
To make the mulligan issue worse, sometimes I would find a hand with the ability to reanimate a creature on turn 1 or 2 and feel obliged to keep it. However, this ended up just feeling like a trap, and actually beating the sheer volume of disruption opponents had felt incredibly difficult. A few times I had the ability to reanimate a creature on turns 1 and 2 on the play with Chancellor backup and had to face down Surgical x2 and Force of Will. Any hand that wasn’t that fast and could set up on turn 1 and get going on turn 2 almost seemed unplayable in the face of opponents that were trying to stop me.
This feeds into my biggest issue with Reanimator which is the amount of hate that everyone brings to the table. Everyone has graveyard hate for you, and so much of it is amazing. Surgical Extraction, Leyline of the Void, Scavenging Ooze, Rest in Peace, and Containment Priest all completely change the dynamic of the game. This makes actually reanimating creatures very difficult post board, and trying to metagame around that doesn’t seem worth it to me. BR tries to get around that by going faster than other versions, like UB, but at this point, people have fully adapted to that and start playing Surgical Extraction in large numbers. Even with discard to push through these spells, it still seemed like an uphill battle.
Often times speed would have to be sacrificed in order to have hands that could consistently get a creature back through disruption. At that point, though, they have had enough time to set up and rebuild their disruptive package. Even with a sideboard plan like this, which aims to sidestep graveyard hate, too many things seemed like it had to go right for it to work. All of this seemed like too much to work through, and I couldn’t justify playing the deck in a larger environment.
So after all of this, my final verdict is that I won’t be playing this at the GP. I think it’s a good deck, and maybe someone better than me who understands how to play through all of the incredible hate will take down the whole event, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The most unfortunate part about this is that this is another article where I have to concede to just playing Delver of Secrets. Maybe i’m not trying hard enough to work around that, or i’m not testing the right decks, but as always, Grixis Delver calls out to me. Maybe next time i’ll find out what i’m missing, or get good enough to play something else!
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