First, a clarification and apology on my last article about the Top 101 Cards in Multiplayer. Lifegain sucks when it’s in minute amounts, such as Sacred Nectar, and it sucks when it costs way too much mana to use – such as Stream of Life and Vitalizing Cascade – and it sucks when the effect is marginal, such as in Venerable Monk. It’s a horrendous setback for opponents, but hardly insurmountable, when used efficiently (such as Heroes Reunion) or flexibly (such as Renewed Faith) or when it’s attached to a beatstick like Exalted Angel. In large quantities, it’s better – but hardly the best – such as when used as Congregate. Lifegain has its place, but I stand by my contention that lifegain is not a powerful mechanic and should not be relied on for anything but delaying the inevitable – except when combined with things like Test of Endurance and Serra Avatar, which can convert that life into a win condition.
The apology comes in Niche Cards. Ferrett and Tim Ward caught me flat-footed on several”niche” cards, including a few I caught myself, such as Replenish, Pandemonium, and Oath of Druids, among others. My apologies for lumping niche cards like this with some of the other crap niche cards out there such as Mana Breach. Thanks for keeping me honest. On to bigger things:
So I’ve been on a grumpy streak for the last few weeks… But that’s all been changing since I built a non-traditional Reanimator deck to mess with, and I’m getting over the fact that some bastard stole some cards from me, including a 5th Edition Birds of Paradise. If you play in the Berkeley area, be careful: There’s a thief out there.
When Torment came out, Hypnox was the card that caught my eye as something to try to make usable. Then the ruling came that Clone, when cast copying a Hypnox, would indeed take away an opponent’s hand. That was just begging for someone to put it all together.
Now, Reanimator decks in multiplayer have to be as speedy as possible to contend with the greater number of threats. Unlike a duel, decks in multiplayer need to last longer and have a long-term plan. It’s cheaper and easier to get, but not as reliable… It’s almost as good as the original but not quite… It’s the knock-off brand of Hypnox… It’s…
Clo-nox! (patent pending)
2 Vesuvan Doppelganger
2 Scion of Darkness
1 Visara the Dreadful
4 Animate Dead
4 Dark Ritual
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Time Spiral
4 Tainted Isle
4 Underground River
2 Salt Marsh
4 Underground Sea
Hmm. Could it be… To Reanimate?
If you’re playing one-on-one, this is one of a few decks that actually wants to go second. The ideal turn 1 is Swamp, Dark Ritual, Entomb, Exhume. If not, skip your first land drop, discard a creature – next turn land, Ritual, Exhume/Animate. In a nutshell, going second gives you a quick, easy discard method at the expense of major tempo. But if you can get it on the second turn, then go for it! It’s a risk worth taking. Actually, the same is true in multiplayer, where the rule is that everyone draws.
What makes this different from traditional tourney Reanimator is that Hypnox is hardly the ideal reanimation target. Granted, the potential for a turn 2 7/8 or 8/8 flier is pretty good on its own – but it doesn’t trample or have any other evasion, nor does it provide protection against Chainer’s Edict or Diabolic Edict like Verdant Force does. That said, a Hypnox is still a Hypnox – and when you copy it with Clone or Vesuvan Doppelganger means that you get to remove a hand, so long as the Clone or Doppelganger aren’t reanimated. Remember, they count as being played from your hand – and as a result, you get to remove someone’s hand. Better yet, if you use a Doppelganger to copy a ‘Nox, then change it to a different creature, the cards are gone. Forever. Well, except for Wishes and the occasional Ring of Ma’Ruf.
Let’s start with land. You’ll notice a low basic land count, because where I play, there isn’t a whole bunch of land destruction, much less non-basic land destruction. The most important thing to have is mana stability, eh? Black is the primary color here, with blue being only two sources behind. If you don’t have four duals, swap them out for more Salt Marshes at your own risk – I would go for Gemstone Mine, City of Brass, or anything else that could produce any mana that doesn’t come into play tapped, or have dependencies like Meteor Crater.
Animation spells should be limited to the best you can get – that is, Exhume and Animate Dead. Chances are good that Exhume will be a one-sided affair, and Animate Dead’s -1/-0 drawback won’t mean much when it brings back a fat Hypnox – it will still be a three-turn clock. Dance of the Dead ties up mana, which is precious in a twenty-two land deck. Necromancy, at three mana, is noticeably slower than Animate. Recurring Nightmare and Victimize require a creature in play. Zombify is four mana. Reanimate will cost me eleven life to reanimate a Hypnox, and Death is a poorer version of Reanimate.
The requisite Tutor is here – any deck that runs black and has ’em runs a Demonic Tutor. Fact or Fiction is here as not only a great card drawer, but also to put creatures in the graveyard. How would you split a Fact that revealed a reanimator spell and the reanimation target? Entomb does two of what Reanimator needs – puts what you need in the Graveyard now, all for just one mana at instant speed.
Compulsion improves your card quality and gives you a discard outlet. ‘Nuff said.
Creatures… Well, the creatures will be discussed shortly.
Reanimator shares the same weaknesses in casual and multiplayer as it does in duels – that is, bounce and strong creature removal like Swords to Plowshares, and with the recent impact of Odyssey, any sort of graveyard screwage such as Withered Wretch. The former becomes a bigger risk in multiplay; the latter less, because despite the surge of Odyssey, graveyard hate doesn’t do much most of the time in multiplayer. Good old my-creature-army-is-bigger-than-yours plans work, too. Also, if you don’t get a way to pitch cards, or get your reanimation spells get countered, you’re almost screwed. I say”almost” because if worst comes to worst, you can hard-cast your creatures. (Not terribly likely with twenty-two land, though – The Ferrett)
Reanimation has a singular, primary goal – that is, to have a large, powerful creature much sooner than one should because of the implied”worth” of the creature. Part of the reason that powerful creatures have a large cost is to deter people from being able to play them early, and that’s precisely what reanimation strategies get around. You get that large creature with Hypnox, and the other thing you’re getting around is Hypnox”play from your hand” restriction with Clone and Vesuvan Doppelganger. Each in and of itself is a powerful effect, and to get them for cheaper than expected is a wondrous thing indeed. An unanswered early Hypnox followed by a Clone can seriously injure – if not downright remove – several opponents.
Reanimator decks are interesting in multiplayer. The problem with Reanimator is this: You have the big fat threat. Ideally, you get this creature early and follow up with another, and therefore, easily overrun a player or leave them so weak that someone else will gladly finish them off. In the long term, your creatures are of such quality that you can hang with small size armies of quality creatures as well. What are the implications of having reanimated a creature like Hypnox, which is just large, before you cast the Clone to steal someone’s hand?
The first reaction one is bound to get is the realization that there is a large threat on the board, and it has to be dealt with. The question is, how can it be dealt with? A Hypnox on turn 1 or 2 is dealt with rather easily, sadly. Swords to Plowshares, while giving you a decent margin of life, still robs you of two cards – which, as we all know, is bad. A chump blocker (or heck, even a good one) can be put into play (such as Dawn Elemental, Commander Eesha, or Fog of Gnats) to handle a non-trampling flyer.
The threat of a large, fat creature can be received in three ways: Remove the creature, remove the controller, or remove any risk associated with the creature, roughly in that order. I’ve already mildly discussed the first point, through enemy players’ removal being the favorite choice. In the case of reanimation, though, bounce (which is substantially cheaper, but is normally far less effective) becomes particularly annoying, because it does two things: Undoes the spell you used to reanimate the sucker, and clogs your hand with a virtually unusable card. All this is before we even consider the presence of Diabolic and Chainer’s Edicts, Swords to Plowshares, Terminates, and probably more than I can remember. It’s a calculated risk to take when attacking someone, so I would definitely beat more on the green and red players, and the blue players if they’re tapped out, before I messed with the white and black players.
What’s the best way to determine the direction removal and burn is going to take? Usually, it’s pretty simple. Find the Chuck in your playgroup.* Shift attention to him. This is best accomplished by pointing out (be subtle about it, lest people realize you’re trying to take the heat away from yourself) what offenses have been committed by said Chuck. An option to consider is to just not smash face with the reanimated monster, instead choosing to keep it back”as a defense blocker” against some random weenie on the board. Most people should see right through this ploy, or at least misinterpret it – in other words, the”It’s only here defending! I swear!” routine may not work.
Removing the controller of the big fat creature is the second most popular way to deal with said big fat creature. Expect every last bit of burn to come your way if no one is a bigger threat, be ready for your spells to be countered if someone has them, and expect to be assaulted wherever you might be. This is when Terrors and Capsizes should be used – to get rid of threats coming your way. (You can also use the Capsizes to reset Clones.)
Capsize links us to the next reaction to a large, fat creature – that is, removing the risks associated with the creature. One of the most well known ways to do this is to cast Pacifism on it. Another is (at least in the case of a reanimated Hypnox) to cast a Dawn Elemental that can chump block all day long, rendering that Hypnox irrelevant, or even better, in a different direction. Capsizes are your main defense against such plays, removing the permanent even if it’s only for just a turn.
Closing the gaps in the deck are Compulsion, Fact or Fiction, and Time Spiral. Compulsion, as I earlier mentioned, gives you an easy route of discard. It’s a way to filter your cards and increase your card quality as well. Fact or Fiction serves a discard purpose, and also draws you some cards in the process.
Time Spiral serves an interesting function as a one-of in this deck. Primarily, Time Spiral will return your threats in your graveyard to your library, ready to be drawn and reused – but it does the same for all your opponents. Worse yet, it doesn’t affect the board at all, except for untapping your lands, and worst of all, it provides cards for your opponents. Is it worth it to cast Time Spiral, even with all these risks?
This card is, unfortunately, not a save-my-ass-I’m-dying-here card, but nor is it a win-more card. Take any sort of card drawing you can, and hope that you draw a Clone – or something you can cast to strip an opponent (or hopefully two) of his hand. At the very least, it means that you have a few more threats back in your library.
Rounding out the deck are two copies of Scion of Darkness and a lone Visara. Scions give you another source of creatures later in the game, hopefully having eliminated threats to killing said Scions. Visara… Well, any deck running black and guns for a slower game should run this. Short of untargetables and pro-black creatures, Visara solves your problems. Terror and Capsize and Visara are the center of your creature control.
All in all, though, this particular Reanimator deck works more like Sligh, seeking to cripple an opponent or two as quickly as possible, and hope that burn goes to your creatures and not you. Reanimator is always fun to play for the ooh and ahh factor, and given the situation of big fat creature ready to smash face, is a great way to learn more about the interaction between players. So go forth! Smash face. Steal hands. Just make sure to give them back at the end of the game.
John A. Liu
“The American Syndrome infects mostly Americans between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two and forces them to talk. And I don’t mean just to chat here and there. Whenever they are winning a game of Magic, they feel the urge to talk nonsense (‘trashtalk’). A freaking lot of nonsense. But the contrary happens as soon as the poor victim is losing. In that case, he will sit quietly in his chair and mourn his position with words like ‘lucksack’ and ‘manascrew’…They don’t choose to be like this. The source of the illness is found in their heritage, education and environment, so I beg you, bear with them…”
* – Chuck being, according to Bennie Smith, the guy who just wants to take someone with him before he dies in a multiplayer game before he kicks the bucket himself.