Halloween has come and gone, and I’m sure you, your family, and your friends are still munching on this year’s bounty, even if it’s just the leftover candy you weren’t able to hand out to Iron Man, Rainbow Dash, or foxes apparently. No matter how you celebrated this year’s Halloween, I’m sure you’ve certainly added a bit more sugar to your diet this week. When I was a kid, my sister and I would pour our pillowcases into an old stoneware jar, and it’d last us til the next Halloween; yeah, we were sippers. Halloween is a favorite holiday for tons of us, and the scary aspects are just as appealing as the youth-oriented festivities. I figure there’s no better time than now to address the disappearance of a certain archetype.
Essentially, what was once a powerful format-defining archetype has gone the way of the dodo. But I disagree. Sure, we lost one of the best reanimation spells Standard has seen in years. We also lost some of the best targets for reanimation spells, like Thragtusk, Craterhoof Behemoth, and Griselbrand. True, we also lost a lot of our enablers, like Mulch and Faithless Looting . . . Oh.
Maybe it’s true that Reanimator is extinct in its more familiar form, but I’m not convinced the idea of reanimating bruisers is dead and buried yet. It definitely will take a different approach. Currently, three reanimation spells lend themselves to conjuring the dead, and I believe two are good enough to see serious play. Which one doesn’t cut it?
Even though I love the flavor and possibilities of this little spell, I couldn’t see using it as a primary reanimation spell. Really, I hades to say anything bad about this card. The potential upside is vast; getting two enters-the-battlefield abilities at instant speed is awesome, and it lets you respond to a sweeper like a pro. I just have one problem—you have to control a creature. In a world of powerful black removal and sweeping Verdicts, this can be pretty tricky. I know that you get priority and sacrifice your creature even if you target, but it still remains (in many cases) a fairly lousy topdeck when you’re behind. The ability to react with it is great, but you’re not getting ahead on tempo since the creatures will be a turn behind on offense without haste. Rescue from the Underworld has a lot of potential, but I’d prefer to shelve it for the two splashier options. First, we have the splashiest of splashy.
My old friend Living Death has come back! It looks a little different, but in the world of wanting as many permanents as possible out at once, what’s to hate? First of all, we need to tackle this spells obscene mana cost. Nine mana might as well be 46 mana for as likely as you are to get it in many games. We need to make sure we get there reliably, and once we do we need to make sure we have the creatures to support it. This brings me to one of the cutest swarming enablers we have:
Brian Braun-Duin introduced Pack Rat as a viable Standard card in style several months ago, and Mono-Black Devotion decks modeled similarly to his have seen wild success in tournaments around the country. Pack Rat offers two important things to the deck: relevant blockers and a discard outlet. True, it’s not free, but you do get something out of it. Brian’s Devotion deck also bases itself on the reliable mana produced by Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and a steady stream of heavy black permanents. If we combine the ramping ability of Cabal Coffers and the discard ability of Pack Rat, can we make a deck out of it?
- 4 Pack Rat
- 4 Drainpipe Vermin
- 4 Crypt Ghast
- 3 Lifebane Zombie
- 2 Abhorrent Overlord
- 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 2 Hythonia the Cruel
- 3 Disciple of Phenax
Erebos would be proud! Well, maybe. The deck is stuffed with creatures and black-intensive permanents to capitalize on Nykthos, and every permanent is able to in some way or another contribute to this.
Rats, huh? Drainpipe Vermin is admittedly
bad weak unique. It’s just a cute little 1/1. But I foresee a lot of open mana, and it does pump your Pack Rats. It’s admittedly a bit of a reach, but I’m already way out on a limb. When reanimated, the Rat provides another opportunity to make your opponents discard. In the midgame, your opponent may have to throw gas away! Hmm, I’m not really making my case. But it is a one-mana devotion addition, and I think that’s fine. Pack Rat appears next, and Crypt Ghast with its doubling ability can get you to Rising territory in a hustle. At that point, you can also play most any threat in the deck without a problem. Crypt Ghast has not seen much play for many reasons, not the least of which is its soft underbelly. Nearly anything can kill it, and it’s got a target on its shadowy face the moment it appears. Untapping with the Ghats is a one-way ticket to Awesomeville.
Racing against your opponent’s aggro is tough, but the rest of the devotion crew is here to keep you in the game. Disciple of Phenax is a card that has seen zero play, but I’m always happy to Coercion my opponent and get a devotion-friendly creature in here. Most
good decks play Desecration Demon here, but not this one! Gray Merchant of Asphodel is the most played Theros common I’d argue, and the real joy arises here when you reanimate everything. Every creature you recover counts towards devotion, meaning a reanimation of the Merchant is almost always a game over. Abhorrent Overlord is a great ramp target and frankly can be hilarious overkill after reanimation. Even when cast from your hand the Demon offers a surprising level of power even on an empty board. Lifebane Zombie is very challenging for a variety of decks to handle, and it’s a perfectly fine soldier even when you’re not fighting G/x or W/x. Hythonia the Cruel has been resigned to casual and Commander play, but her sweeper ability can be used right after she comes out if need be, and the following turn reanimation can summon every creature that just died. It’s worth something anyway.
Everywhere I go Underworld Connections is the draw spell of choice for black-hued lists—and for good reason. The optional card draw is crucial when you need it is a great untargetable devotion source. Dark Prophecy offers an additional point of devotion and has the potential to draw you a lot more cards, stocking your hand with creatures which you can discard to the Pack Rat or due to a cleanup step. There’s no doubt that Dark Prophecy is a best-case scenario card that is literally worse than a land on the backpedal, but for a deck that relies on devotion, the extra point and added card draw might be enough to make it. Underworld Connection fills in two other slots, and Whip of Erebos comes cracking in as another choice to reanimate a target, albeit only temporarily. The black legendary artifact enchantment is arguably the best of the cycle; its ability to utilize ETBs and grant your large team lifelink puts it way over the top for me. Rise of the Dark Realms is very expensive, and a variety of draw spells allow the pilot to find the one copy they need to steal the game.
More and more Swamps followed by a suite of Shrines. Mutavault, Temple of Deceit, and Temple of Silence need not apply; the Swamp requirements for the main and sideboard limit the number of nonbasics I can support.
Etching out a sideboard that complemented the fairly narrow game plan of the deck and covering the possibility of blowouts is a very tall order, especially in black, which is good at killing creatures and not much else. Thoughtseize is unbelievable. If you’re not playing it, you’re doing it wrong. I was there when Thoughtseize came around the first time, and even though I got a pair when they were cheap, I still saw the two life lost as a major hindrance to the quality of the card. Even now I thought Duress would pass against control decks, but I was wrong about that too. In a world of Aetherlings, Supreme Verdicts, planeswalkers, and Blood Baron of Vizkopa, this is often black’s only option. Two life is nothing. In the intensely aggressive matchups, Thrill-Kill Assassin gums up the ground. If you prefer to be on the beatdown plan, it’s a great option for two mana, and the ability to cast it off a Swamp and a colorless-only Nykthos isn’t too bad. 22Swamp lend themselves to Swamp-matters cards, and Corrupt is a pretty fun one when you’re unable to stick much to the board. After taking four Corrupts to the face back-to-back in a game I had won, I’ve changed my mind about this Spire Barrage. Give it a shot and see how it goes. Ratchet Bomb has become a frequent choice for monocolored decks for excising problem permanents they couldn’t normally handle. Here, I don’t even care that much if I hit a few creatures of my own. They’ll be back. Finally, Erebos is here as a very large and reliable beater. His card drawing ability might occasionally come in handy, but he’s excellent in a Whip of Erebos mirror and will nearly always be a creature thanks to the intimidating level of black mana symbols found within this 75.
My second card of choice requires a slightly different game plan. Enticing as resolving Rise of the Dark Realms is, black isn’t alone. White has something special to offer too, and its offering has also gone unnoticed by even the most hardened Solar Flare fanatics.
Before I dig into this list, let’s just look at the quality of this card. Anything from your yard? Back. Planeswalkers, enchantments, and creatures—nothing is spared. As I browsed for interesting permanents to reanimate, I discovered that the best choice is still a creature. Let’s charge into the list and see what we found.
- 4 Pack Rat
- 4 Thrill-Kill Assassin
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 3 Sin Collector
- 3 Xathrid Necromancer
- 3 Ashen Rider
- 2 Hythonia the Cruel
Easy mana bases are for wimps; going two colors truly changes the way this deck plays and feels. Pack Rat comes back, as does a whole suite of Humans ready for death, zombification (?), and reanimation. The crown jewel of this deck is undead Archon Ashen Rider. Perhaps the best creature to reanimate in the format, this flying hell-creature lets you destroy your opponent’s God, Nykthos, planeswalker, or anything at all that’s bugging you. According to a friend of mine who has his finger on the pulse of Legacy, it’s even creeping into that venue as an anti Show and Tell target. The spell list seems familiar I’m sure, and the sideboard offers a bit more flexibility in dealing with aggressive decks and control decks alike. Wring Flesh is still a great choice to pick off mana dorks or create unfavorable combats, and Debt to the Deathless packs a wallop when you pull the trigger.
Right before the Friday Night tournament began where I was planning to test both of these puppies, I wasn’t able to find the cards I needed to sleeve up and throw down. Although I feel like these roads are viable, I am certain they will need extensive testing before wading into battle with them. If nothing else, they are a fun exercise to keep your brain stretched and the juices flowing. I must admit that brewing with Theros is trickier than I anticipated, but I know there are still exciting combos and resonating synergies left to be found.
Today’s article is special; I have been brewing and tweaking decks for you folks for a whole year! 52 weeks without missing a single week sure is tough, but nothing gives me greater joy then to delve into the world of Magic and come out the other side with something different for you all. I hope that you’ve enjoyed your experience reading Untapped, and I’d like to thank you all for taking time out of your day to browse my lists and leave comments. Thank you for being part of the greater Magic community, and thanks for continuing to innovate and keep us strong as players and as human beings. Your ideas and input are invaluable to each of our experiences, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and schemes with you.
Have a wonderful Tuesday, and don’t forget to untap!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online