Last week Todd Anderson did everyone the favor of inaugurating Faithful Mending’s splashy intro to Modern.
He highlighted Jeskai Phoenix, and I get it. Everyone wants to buddy up with Arclight Phoenix and remember the good old days of 2018.
But that’s not where Modern is anymore. Jeskai Phoenix is a fine deck, but Esper Reanimator is the best home for Faithful Mending.
Why Reanimator Rocks
The basics of Esper Reanimator aren’t rocket science. Put some big thing in the graveyard with Unmarked Grave, Faithful Mending, or the weirdo dream scenario of Consider or Thoughtseize yourself. Cast Persist. Profit.
The obvious Modern Horizons 2 Reanimator package is certainly why this deck exists, but the reason Esper Reanimator is a good deck is the interactive spell package. There’s a really astonishing overlap of efficiency with generic answers.
Taking a look at Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s (WaToO) latest Reanimator list should give you an idea of the implications. Esper Reanimator is a combo deck, but it doesn’t have quite the raw speed or redundancy of something like Mono-White Hammer (Lurrus) or Living End or the full kill scope of something like Storm. Your opponent can be so far ahead that an Archon of Cruelty doesn’t save you, and you often play games where you aren’t producing an Archon on Turn 3. There’s also a lot of types of graveyard hate you have to address.
The good removal spells bridge the gaps here. If your hand takes a while to come together, you can bog down your opponent’s threats. If your opponent tries to interact with you on the stack, you can use Thoughtseize and Counterspell to take care of that. Any graveyard hate your opponent casts is going to get filtered through some of your answers, even Leyline of the Void since you have a Zagoth Triome for converge-ing Prismatic Ending up to four.
The best part is that you get to make a choice, often thanks to Thoughtseize. It’s hard for opponents to be heavy on interaction and threats and you can pressure whichever angle they seem to be short on in a normal game. Opponents sitting around on answers often find themselves with their threats handled, bogged down in a long game where your card filtering sets up an efficiently backed combo turn. Opponents trying to undercut you and have a bit of interaction to stop your combo find themselves down a threat to a Prismatic Ending and then dying to Counterspell plus Persist on Turn 4.
This is the big issue that Jeskai Phoenix has compared to Esper Reanimator. It’s forced to play a bunch of very specific interaction that it can just spew for a spell cast on the turn it “goes off.” A looming Surgical Extraction is just going to happen to you. I’m not saying you want to jam Esper Reanimator into a format loaded up on graveyard hate, but Modern is a broad format. If they’re merely aware of your existence and have a couple of pieces of hate, Reanimator still gets to play the game it expected to play.
Interactive games also play right into the broad advantage Archon of Cruelty provides with its enters-the-battlefield trigger. The midrange plan of letting your Persist resolve and then handling the Archon rarely ends well. Too many of Esper Reanimator’s other cards let them leverage the raw card swing in that exchange, and it gets even worse when you think about the best answer in that spot being Solitude that costs yet another card to fire off. The result of an answered Archon is usually the Reanimator player with a bunch of relevant resources, the opponent with basically nothing, and the likely outcome is yet another Archon fires off down the line.
Playing for attrition in addition to the raw combo plan is also the reason this isn’t a Grief deck where earlier post-Modern Horizons 2 Reanimator decks leaned on that card. That and the fact that Faithful Mending is already taking up your negative card advantage slots.
Teferi, Time Raveler is a bit weird here. You don’t have creatures to really protect it, and it borders on clunky in your efficient combo-and-answers deck. But Teferi is a freeroll hate card against cascade decks, is a forced answer against Azorius Control, and you can just sideboard it out against other decks.
This is also the best Teferi +1 deck I’ve played in a while. I’ve fired off a lot of draw-step Thoughtseizes and end-step Persists, the later of which directly translates to an Archon attack and the game ending.
If this talk of defaulting to a control plan while setting up a combo and flash kills sounds familiar to anyone, that’s right. This is at least 80% of a Splinter Twin situation.
I’m skeptical of how low the Wafo list is on ways to actually put an Archon into the graveyard, and it seems like a lot of “Persist my Mulldrifter” action is going on in those matches. But I like a lot of the other things it’s doing.
The Chalice of the Voids in the original SpiderSpace sideboard are really impressive. Not only are they hate against cascade, but Faithful Mending gives you a lot of extra room to do dumb things like play one-drops with Chalice. It’s going to be hard to convince me of all people to cut Thoughtseize from a deck, but it’s easy to convince me to trim a Thoughtseize and a Consider in sideboarding and just cast my one-drop first before Chalice-ing that Ragavan player.
A small amount of a true sweeper like Supreme Verdict would also be a fine addition to this deck. You don’t want a ton, again with the efficiency stuff, but it’s yet another thing that forces opponents into the gross, bogged-down games that are just going to naturally favor an Archon trigger being the end of it all.
The same applies to some alternate win condition that also naturally plays the attrition game. You would think that wants to be a planewalker, but Faithful Mending doesn’t always lend itself to having high land counts to cast something like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. People will also want actual removal against you, so the traditional plan of sideboarding into some efficient creature threat also doesn’t work, and it can’t be something like Murktide Regent that also gets covered by Rest in Peace. I’m open to suggestions; maybe the play is just to have Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and discard it to Mending when you don’t want a five-drop.
I’ve largely ignored the non-Archon reanimation targets, and that’s because they aren’t that important. Serra’s Emissary is nice to have to freeroll Game 1 against decks like Mono-White Hammer (Lurrus), but I often just ignore it after sideboarding since even those decks will have a decent number of Path to Exile as an out. Terastodon is a fine option for managing Mono-Green Tron, but by the time you get to Void Winnower you are really scraping for equity against anything. I would just use those slots on actual spells that matter.
Updated List and Sideboarding
I’m still fairly close to the initial SpiderSpace list, but as mentioned I’ve made some minor updates for the things I’ve found unnecessary.
Most of the updates are on point with what I’ve been talking about; the only two microdecisions to mention are wanting a Bloodchief’s Thirst in the sideboard over a Fatal Push as some Wrenn and Six coverage and giving up on the Zagoth Triome nonsense for a value land.
VS Izzet Midrange
This matchup is super-straightforward. They have some creatures, some counterspells, probably sideboard in a couple of copies of Soul-Guide Lantern or Surgical Extraction, and can Unholy Heat an Archon of Cruelty. That sounds like a lot, but this is the classic “not having a lot of any specific thing” issue. Just don’t get Ragavan’d too hard and it should be fine.
I would name creature with Serra’s Emissary the majority of the time since Murktide Regent outsizes it. The main reason to name instant would be if you know they have a bunch of Unholy Heats you can strand in their hand and there’s no risk of getting Murktide’d.
Listen, there are only so many one-drops I want with Chalice of the Void in my deck. Consider is a fine card but not a critical component of the deck. Thoughtseize is still pretty good, but the Izzet deck tends to run out of cards in general, making later Thoughtseizes less exciting. On the draw you probably want the Fatal Push over a Teferi, Time Raveler since you can’t Thoughtseize a Ragavan, but I’m biased towards Bloodchief’s Thirst to kill Murktide Regent. If they want to spend a bunch of time dashing Ragavan to dodge sorcery-speed removal, they’re welcome to do so. You may also want to swap an Archon for the Terastodon to minimize their Unholy Heats, but it’s pretty hard for them to recover from the Archon trigger and the Archon ending up back in your graveyard.
VS Jund Midrange (Lurrus)
This is very similar to the Izzet matchup, but you’re under a much more significant clock due to Urza’s Saga finding Nihil Spellbomb or Soul-Guide Lantern regardless of your interaction. You can save a Prismatic Ending for the artifact and then put an Archon in your graveyard to beat that, but under Construct token pressure, it’s a bit of a tight window.
I’ll name creature with Serra’s Emissary if I need the bail-out from behind, but otherwise name instant since their only really scary creature is Shadowspear on a Construct token.
I try not to fight midrange Thoughtseize decks with my own Thoughtseizes out of combo, especially when they have Urza’s Saga, and Teferi isn’t doing a ton here. Instead you just bring in interaction that matters, including Spreading Seas for their Sagas. It’s not a perfect exchange, but the fail case is you cycle the Spreading Seas and mess with their mana.
I’m also increasingly skeptical of sideboarding in Chalice of the Void against decks with Kolaghan’s Command. There are no promises they leave that card in against you, but when they get to line that up, it’s such a disaster. Maybe on the play you do that, and even then if it’s Game 3 and you saw Command Game 2, I’m kinda not interested.
VS Azorius Control
This is the matchup where you just spend a bunch of time setting up to work them over by positioning interaction and accumulating Archon triggers. Just take your time, grind them down, and be ready to punish a tap-down for a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Two quick things to be aware of. Chalice of the Void with two counters is a thing that actually matters since it stops Persist. Archon of Cruelty has a mana cost.
You generally won’t make a Serra’s Emissary, but if you do, the choice is fairly arbitrary. Creature and planeswalker are probably the best due to Teferi, Time Raveler and Solitude, but some lists have Path to Exile and Cryptic Command for instant.
You need a decent amount of Prismatic Ending for whatever Rest in Peace nonsense they have or the occasional stray Chalice, but you don’t really need multiple copies most games. If you get Surgical Extraction’d you might want the Terastodon for the next game, but them having that card in their deck is far from certain.
VS Five-Color Elementals (Kaheera)
They have a lot of individual things that are scary, namely Solitude and Endurance, but it’s not like they have piles and piles of it backed with pressure. A turbo Archon is certainly exposed, but if you just do your thing with a bit of backup, the odds are in your favor.
Name creature on Serra’s Emissary to force them to have Teferi, Time Raveler. It won’t beat a Risen Reef combo out later on, but early it should race them if they don’t already have the Teferi. Teferi in general is important for both sides, since it bounces an Archon for them and sets up the instant-speed Persist for you. Just think a bit about your Teferi numbers against Fury; otherwise, they aren’t even that great at pressuring it.
I’m not opposed to a couple of Spreading Seas to manage their Cavern of Souls or just to get their Utopia Sprawls, but I’m not rushing to add them to my deck. You want Prismatic Ending for Teferi or Rest in Peace. Counterspell still hits their non-Elemental interaction or a pitch-cast Solitude. You aren’t fighting over their creatures with removal or a sweeper. Just do your thing. They aren’t changing a ton of stuff either.
VS Temur Crashcade
One of the easier matchups. Archon is just out of scope for their deck to handle even if Gone and Petty Theft bounce it, and you have tons of great interaction against them with Counterspell, Thoughtseize, and Teferi, Time Raveler.
Creature versus instant on Serra’s Emissary is just a matter of being ahead versus behind.
Surpreme Verdict is also considerable, but it’s so unnecessary. You have so many hate cards with backup interaction and an insane actual plan, and it’s not like they can really have the most threatening hate cards because the cascade mechanic exists.
VS Mono-White Hammer (Lurrus)
They can’t beat Serra’s Emissary on creature Game 1. Do that as fast as possible. Archon isn’t a horrible backup plan, and besides that you want Thoughtseize hands and can clean up Sigarda’s Aid with Prismatic Ending.
I’m just taking out less efficient cards for more efficient ones, with the caveat that Spreading Seas is an answer to both Urza’s Saga and Inkmoth Nexus. Serra’s Emissary is still fine, but it’s no longer a hard lock since they will have Path to Exile. You still name creature to force them to have it.
The key to the Archon-Persist-Unmarked Grave shell has always been that it’s a relatively compact setup, and Faithless Mending is the glue that finally pulls it all together. If you want to play a combo deck with a bit more flex, or a control deck with a bit more push, Esper Reanimator is definitely the deck you are looking for in Modern.