Legacy’s Allure – Entomb, Exhume, and You

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Wednesday, March 10th – Your opponent, on their first turn, casts a Dark Ritual, followed by a Thoughtseize, Entomb for Iona, Shield of Emeria, and then Reanimate. Welcome to the New Legacy, with the scariest deck of the moment being Reanimator. This week, Doug looks at how Reanimator works and the most effective lines of play for stopping the deck. Find out why you need to combine hate cards and how to get the most out of your limited sideboard space in this week’s Legacy’s Allure!

All sorts of big creatures are showing up in Legacy, and they’re hitting the battlefield a lot sooner than we might like. Thanks to cards like Reanimate and Entomb, big beasts like Blazing Archon are seeing the light of day. It’s a powerful strategy, demonstrated by several high-placing finishes for Reanimator lately, and it’s got Legacy players scrambling for ways to even the score against a deck that can drop an Iona, Shield of Emeria into play on the first turn.

How Reanimator Works

A Reanimator deck typically has several branches of cards in it: the beasts and reanimation spells, certainly, but also spells that get those monsters into the graveyard and disruption aplenty. Reanimator decks, since the printing of Buried Alive and Entomb, have been able to play a toolbox of creatures to fish out. The most common creatures right now include:

Iona, Shield of Emeria: Able to finish the game in three turns and shut down removal spells from the opponent, Iona is the banner Reanimator card right now. She’s great for times when you don’t have to race other creatures on the board, and is obviously a killer play on the first or second turn.

Sphinx of the Steel Wind: The key words here are “lifelink” and “vigilance.” Reanimator can lose a lot of life, due to Reanimate, and the Sphinx buys all that back against a deck like Zoo. While it doesn’t have Haste, it can both attack and block, potentially gaining back twelve life every go. Unfortunately, if Zoo has been sandbagging a Path to Exile, it may not be enough!

Blazing Archon: Against a deck that cannot remove a creature from the battlefield, then The Blazer is a game-over. Think of decks like Merfolk or Dredge, which have to contort to take out the Archon. It’s a narrower card because it doesn’t have a wall of special abilities or remove permanents. However, it also says, essentially, “find your Swords to Plowshares or die.”

Inkwell Leviathan: Inkwell is a go-to pounder, since it avoids so much removal and has a truly monumental behind. The Islandwalk is relevant at times, too.

Empyrial Archangel: Like Sphinx, this Angel can make up for a lot of lost life, since it’s really hard to remove her without a lot of resources. She attacks and stays untapped to deal with rampaging Nacatls and it’s impossible to “surprise kill” her with spot removal, thanks to the Shroud.

By no means should Reanimator decks run all of these creatures, but most run between three and seven of them. There’s a delicate balance between running enough to discard with Careful Study and bin with Entomb and running so many that you end up drawing them when you would rather have drawn, well, something that did something on its own. You can also branch out from these; I’ve been thinking about Terastodon lately. If you aren’t blowing up a bunch of problem permanents, you can always eat your three permanents to drop eighteen-power worth of dudes on the table.

Reanimator also runs its namesake reanimation cards: Exhume and Reanimate. Both have a disadvantage tagged on, but they are cheap to play and can put out a card that ameliorates the disadvantages built into the cards. Reanimate will usually eat half of your life total, so it’s a tricky card to play with; note that it can also jack cards from an opponent’s graveyard, though! Exhume is costlier, but it does not target a creature in the graveyard. This means that if you cast Exhume and the opponent wipes away the creature you were going to pull out, you can do tricks like cast Entomb with the sorcery still on the stack and bin another guy. Reanimator decks need ways to get rid of those monsters in hand, and often do this with either Careful Study or Putrid Imp. It also has a devastating side strategy involving Mystical Tutor and Show and Tell. If it has a monster in hand or cannot beat a graveyard-hate card, Reanimator decks can tutor for their one-of Show and Tell and just put that bad guy directly into play. It makes fighting the deck based only on their graveyard into a dicier strategy.

Finally, Reanimator hosts some disruption to resolve and protect its creatures. This is almost always going to be Daze, Force of Will and Thoughtseize. The latter, combined with Reanimate, can really put the hurt on you, but ideally, it clears the way for that game-ending monster. Be very cognizant of whether you want to be using these spells offensively or defensively; if an opponent is likely to counter one of your spells, you certainly sandbag disruption until you need it. However, if you’ve got a slower hand and open up with that Thoughtseize, think about whether it’s worth it to take that Wild Nacatl or Tarmogoyf instead to save a lot of life in the future.

How To Fight Reanimator

A big factor of Reanimator’s recent success is that people are unprepared for it. I don’t think Entomb is ban-worthy by any stretch, even though the deck can cook up some devilish first few turns. More effective than clamoring for its exit from the format is effectively managing Reanimator’s strategies. This can be accomplished one of three ways: fighting the creatures, the graveyard, or the spells themselves.

Fighting Reanimator’s Creatures

Spot removal like Swords to Plowshares is much less effective against Reanimator because the deck can shut down those cards with Iona or dodge them with Shroud creatures. Instead, we’ve got to look at non-targeted removal that’s cheap, versatile and splashable. Here’s a list of my top contenders, along with some wackier or weirder choices, for defeating the monsters that Reanimator is going to summon:

Ensnaring Bridge, Noetic Scales: Both of these cards can prevent Reanimator from ever profitably attacking you. The Scales are more expensive, but will Unsummon any opposing creatures and send them back to the place the opponent least wants them: her hand. They have the advantage of being colorless, but they can be played around by simply holding onto more cards.

Meekstone, Portcullis, Arena of the Ancients: All are more colorless answers to Reanimator’s creatures. The Arena and Meekstone shut down several of the cards after one attack, but they, too, can be bounced or destroyed. Portcullis is fine for a creature-heavy deck, but doesn’t answer anything that’s already on the board.

Aether Spellbomb, Seal of Removal: Both of these cards come out cheaply and act like a rattlesnake on the board, slowing down an opponent intent on killing you. They force the Reanimator player to snag something with Shroud like Inkwell Leviathan or Empyrial Archangel, both of which are a bit slower and can be outraced sometimes. If your chief worry is Iona stopping your Damnations or Innocent Bloods, then they’re good options. Aether Spellbomb, being colorless, is an especially good answer.

Tariff, Retribution Of The Meek: Untargeted White removal that can kill one of those big monsters, both of these are fine and playable cards. They’ve both seen use in Vintage in Beats decks because they are generally ineffective against your own creatures. A savvy opponent will see that you are playing White, however, and might nail your spells with Iona.

Karakas: Singularly interesting because there’s nothing Reanimator can do to stop it from bouncing Iona, Karakas is playable in every deck around. It’s likely going to be the next target of speculation, especially leading up to GP: Columbus, so I suggest you get your set early. They’ve already become hard to find. I would combine Karakas with other anti-graveyard hate cards, since it cannot touch most of the other creatures in the deck.

Reanimate: Yes, you can target their creatures with your Reanimates! It’s a sorcery, so it’s kind of hard to play if an opponent Entombs at the end of your turn and fires their Reanimate during their turn, but it’s a cute trick. If you don’t like the lifeloss, you can run Ashen Powder.

Defeating Reanimator’s Graveyard

Another target to attack Reanimator is through their graveyard. Like I mentioned earlier, the presence of Show and Tell makes this a somewhat-flawed strategy, but something like Tormod’s Crypt on the first turn can force the Reanimator deck to totally change what they were planning to do. Here are the top cards for such an attack:

Tormod’s Crypt, Leyline of the Void: Both are very solid anti-graveyard cards that have a good application against other decks. Crypt only works once and Leyline requires you to be playing Black unless you want to mulligan into it, so neither are cards that you can totally rely on, but they’re good at what they do.

Faerie Macabre: Free graveyard hate that you can use before your turn, this gang of pixies can also be found with Survival of the Fittest and can go on the offensive if you really need them to. It can be Thoughtseized away, which is uncomfortable,

Coffin Purge: While it requires black mana to work and it’s really narrow, Coffin Purge can laugh at counterspells and discard. You can Entomb or Intuition for it yourself if you run those cards. If you absolutely have got to hate on Reanimator’s creatures, then give this a try.

Stopping Reanimator’s Spells

The most versatile strategy, but also the one most likely to come up short, is attacking Reanimator’s capacity to cast their reanimation spells. You can use Duress and Thoughtseize to clear out harmful cards, and since many Reanimator decks don’t run Brainstorm, you can be sure you’ll hit something juicy. For cheap counterspells, you can make good use of Spell Pierce to stop those early cards. I suggest countering the first available good targets, be it an Entomb or a Careful Study, if required. If you want to fight a little closer to the edge, then Disrupt is both more powerful when it works and dramatically weaker when it fails.

Pulling Together Anti-Reanimator Cards

The best way to deal with Reanimator is a combination of both spell-hate and graveyard-hate. It also opens up other avenues of attack; consider that, while Extirpate alone is not that potent against them, an Extirpate after you counter a Reanimate can slow the deck down dramatically when you take their reanimation spell. A Phyrexian Furnace with a Spell Pierce in hand is both inexpensive to play and good protection. The danger is overloading your sideboard with spells that aren’t going to be good against another deck, so it’s wise to select a range of cards that will give you good game against Reanimator and also let you use your graveyard hate effectively against other decks like Dredge and Aggro Loam. Reanimator is a challenging deck to play against, but it’s very beatable. It may temporarily kill off decks we’re used to seeing if it shows up in big numbers, but I suspect that the StarCityGames.com Indianapolis Open tournament this weekend will be a preliminary showcase of how the format will respond to Reanimator.

Until next week…

Doug Linn

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