I just finished reading the most recent Modern deck dump and I’m blown away by how fun Modern looks right now. To be clear, there’s no way all these decks are anywhere near the same power level and the dust will settle into a normal-looking format at some point, but right now, there are so many things to try that people are picking up 5-0s with literally anything. Cat Tribal, Moon-Blue Tron, Lantern Control, Enchantress, Dragon Tribal — there are no limits.
With that said, I’m surprised by the very low presence of some cards.
I recently wrote that I think Persist is the most likely card in Modern Horizons 2 to get banned. I currently think Dom Harvey is right that Urza’s Saga is actually the most likely, but I still think Persist is extremely strong, and I’m surprised it showed up in only two decks in this deck dump.
Before looking through these decks, I had my own idea about how I wanted to use Persist, but I’d like to start by looking at the lists that others have played. First, we have Mardu Reanimator by Storytime:
First off, let’s clarify that I think Archon of Cruelty is indisputably the correct go-to reanimation target. You get a ton of value up front and then they still absolutely have to answer the Archon. I’m not sure if a backup plan is even needed, but it can be nice to have.
I think the cutest part of this deck is the Goblin Bombardment, which forms an infinite combo with a pair of Karmic Guides. I’m not sure it it’s worth playing, since it’s not especially good without them. This deck’s ideal start is to use either Insolent Neonate or Merchant of the Vale to set up a Turn 2 Persist on Archon of Cruelty. I like the speed of this deck, and I think the Goblin Bombardment / Karmic Guide plan is a pretty good solution to situations where the Archon isn’t enough for some reason.
I worry a little about how all-in this deck is. Its backup plan isn’t great if the opponent is attacking the graveyard and I don’t think Fatal Push is a better support spell than Thoughtseize or even Vindicate, but this is a reasonable turbo-Reanimator strategy.
Next up, we have Hemsley’s Dimir Reanimator:
This is basically the exact opposite of Storytime’s approach. This is a control deck with a reanimation combo finish. This deck plays a massive seventeen counterspells to eventually get Archon of Cruelty on the battlefield and protect it.
Hemsley’s backup plan is to win with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and this deck can also realistically just tap eight mana and cast Archon of Cruelty. The sideboard contains some really weird alternate reanimation targets that I really don’t understand the purpose of. Fleet Swallower and It That Betrays are big nonlegendary things you can reanimate, but I’m really not sure why those in particular would be better than any other random expensive nonlegendary creature.
The entire reanimation package in Hemsley’s deck is ten cards: two Archon of Cruelty, four Persist, and four Unmarked Grave. You can support that package with anything you want, and Hemsley chose Dimir Control.
Now let’s talk about some other ways to support it. First, my take on Mardu Reanimtor, which has a very different philosophy from Storytime’s:
- 4 Imperial Recruiter
- 1 Ashen Rider
- 4 Seasoned Pyromancer
- 1 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Grief
- 4 Priest of Fell Rites
- 1 Young Necromancer
- 2 Archon of Cruelty
- 1 Vile Entomber
This plays a more value-oriented, disruptive game than Storytime’s take on Reanimator. Thoughtseize and Grief clear the way to resolve a reanimation spell, and Priest of Fell Rites gives you another way to reanimate Archon of Cruelty.
Imperial Recruiter can find Skyclave Apparition if you need an answer, Young Pyromancer if you have an Archon you want to discard, Vile Entomber if you don’t have an Archon, or Young Necromancer if you need a reanimation spell. Entomber Mage can also find Priest of Fell Rites if you already have Archon in your graveyard to function as a reanimation spell.
This is a great shell for the Grief / Ephemerate combo because it naturally has a lot of black cards and almost every creature is great to Ephemerate, with Archon of Cruelty in particular being a highlight, especially since your natural curve involves spending two mana to reanimate Archon of Cruelty on Turn 3, at which point you can protect it with Ephemerate, which should be game-ending.
Anytime I build a graveyard deck that isn’t Dredge, I like to make sure it has a reasonable plan to dodge graveyard hate, since it’s often a worse version of Dredge otherwise. Rather than include alternate reanimation targets in the sideboard, this sideboard is entirely cards that don’t rely on the graveyard, so you can focus on your Ephemerate value creature plan while having discard and Prismatic Ending / Skyclave Apparition to fight against graveyard hate.
I think this deck is really good. Four Imperial Recruiters might be a little slow, it might be better to have more Skyclave Apparitions or other removal spells instead of some of them, and a few other numbers could be tweaked, but I think this is a really good starting point. Young Necromancer and Karmic Guide are roughly interchangeable. Storytime plays Karmic Guide because the Goblin Bombardment combo doesn’t work with Young Necromancer, but I don’t think this deck cares about Young Necromancer’s cost very often and it’s nice not to have to pay echo, but it’s entirely possible that Karmic Guide’s better.
It’s tough to build a sideboard with the format as open as it is at the moment, so obviously adjust that to taste.
Another deck that I think is really strong is Orzhov Stoneblade. There are a lot of ways to build it, but I think it’s a good proactive shell with great creatures, removal, and discard, and I think you can cleanly include a reanimation package in such a strategy.
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Ashen Rider
- 4 Grief
- 4 Priest of Fell Rites
- 2 Tourach, Dread Cantor
- 2 Archon of Cruelty
- 2 Dauthi Voidwalker
Maybe my real thesis is that Priest of Fell Rites is busted and I’m shocked no one’s playing it.
I don’t think the Grief / Ephemerate package is necessary for Reanimator, but it does seem easy to include and hard to justify not including, particularly given how strong Ephemerate is with Archon of Cruelty and Ashen Rider.
Tourach, Dread Cantor is another card that I just think isn’t seeing as much play as it deserves, and of course, with seven discard spells and three Liliana of the Veils to support it, this is a pretty good home.
This deck probably has a better backup plan/fair game than the Mardu deck, thanks to Tourach, Stoneforge Mystic, and Liliana. It has a tiny bit less redundancy on getting a big creature in the graveyard, which is why it might need to skip on a Persist, but even if Priest of Fell Rites is only threatening to return Grief, that’s still very good.
If you take anything away from this article and the direction of deck I’m suggesting compared to what I’m seeing in the league results, it’s that Reanimator doesn’t need to be all-in on reanimation. You can support it with a fair game, which Hemsley did somewhat, but it can be a proactive fair game, and I think attacking your opponent from multiple angles makes it a lot harder for them to prepare for (are they trying to stop your creatures/Stoneforge or your graveyard?)
Another card that I think is way too good not to see play is Dakkon, Shadow Slayer. If you like the idea of playing a more controlling Reanimator deck, but don’t want to be quite as reactive and one-dimensional as Hemsley, I think there’s a lot of room for an Esper Midrange version of Reanimator, possibly along these lines:
I actually didn’t set out to build this as a Yorion deck, but I realized the deck was all three-ofs and that my mana would get better if I just added one copy of everything, and I’d draw my tutor targets less often, so the Yorion’s mostly a freeroll on changes that I think improve the deck anyway. This deck isn’t trying to line up Grief and Ephemerate, so the extra cards don’t hurt much. Sure, theoretically you’re still trying to find Unmarked Grave + Persist, but you’re not particularly leaning on that.
Thought Scour and Dakkon are great at filling your graveyard, which both makes it more likely that you can assemble the combo by naturally milling an Archon or by using Snapcaster Mage.
Unburial Rites allows you to turn Unmarked Grave into a reanimation spell while also giving you free value when you mill it and supporting a Gifts Ungiven reanimation strategy (you can cast Gifts Ungiven and find only Unburial Rites and the thing you want to reanimate).
Sphinx of the Steel Wind is a bullet you can Unmarked Grave to set up Dakkon’s ultimate in matchups where the opponent can’t deal with it, which, realistically doesn’t matter, but I thought it was cute to take advantage of, and it can also be part of the Gifts Ungiven package or your normal Persist plan. This deck leans the furthest into the space of primarily playing as a fair deck of any discussed here while including an “Oops, I win!” reanimation package.
It’s crazy how diverse Modern is right now, particularly considering that I still think a lot of Modern Horizons 2 has barely been explored. I know it’s just the first few days, but Modern looks incredibly exciting right now.