It’s been fun to explore the land of control as a way to attack the metagame, but today’s deck couldn’t be more different than those blue decks trying to counter everything on their way to victory. Today’s deck just tries to go big. Really big! And it’s trying to do so as fast as possible. It’s a concept I had stored in the back of my mind from a failed PT session with a similar style of deck, but over time I’ve worked through a bunch of the the deck’s problems. I’m excited to present Combustible Reanimator:
Originally, I had a 16-Gearhulk version, and I was just trying to maximize my Refurbishes, but found that Verdurous Gearhulk wasn’t worth the 4th color and Cataclysmic Gearhulk just consistently played much worse than the text box read. Then I shifted around some components to be more interactive with the opponent while still maximizing the strengths of the red and black Gearhulks, both of which overperformed. On top of that, I added additional ways to discard while improving the midrange capabilities of the deck by adding cards like Nahiri, the Harbinger, and suddenly Combustible Reanimator was born!
When I first saw Refurbish I knew I had to try and get it to work. There’s a history of cheating big threats into play in Standard that we haven’t seen for quite a while. I enjoyed casting Zombify on Angel of Despair, but that was many years ago. Note that you aren’t getting all that much mana off, there, but what a difference a few turns make in cheating a fat monster into play. The same idea is true with this deck. A turn-4 Refurbish on either Gearhulk can let you stabilize in a game and lead to a victory where a turn-6 Gearhulk would have been too slow. Sometimes you just get back a Skysovereign a turn early and it ends up taking over a game before your opponent can do anything about it. Refurbish is the real deal.
Cathartic Reunion/Tormenting Voice
You need ways to get these big artifacts into your graveyard in the first place and there’s no better feeling than smoothing out your hand at the same time. On top of that, these cards will let you run fewer lands. Your plan will usually involve pitching a Gearhulk that will actually draw you into more land, and Voice/Reunion also help you keep those awkward land-heavy hands. Land reduction also has a hidden benefit other than getting to run more spells. It makes your Combustible Gearhulks into massive fire-throwing death machines since you have fewer cheap cards to flip over. I’ve had opponents at 12 life just decide to take the damage thinking there’s no way they could ever die and then—oops!—looks like it’s time for the next game.
All those benefits come with a real cost. Cathartic Reunion isn’t without its natural enemies in this Standard. Spell Queller loves to stir up trouble and there are plenty of Negates and Revolutionary Rebuffs running around too. In game 1 there’s really not much you can do about this other than trying to duck under these spells in the early turns. Your sideboard gives you hope though. U/W’s weakness is that it really can’t handle games where its opponent goes way over the top, and in sideboarding you can just sidestep getting blown out by counters. I like morphing into more of a ramp control deck by cutting 4 Tormenting Voice and lightening the burden on Refurbish. In doing so, you get to bring in a ton of cheap answers and can just plan on casting your big monsters the old-fashioned way.
Lightning Axe/Fiery Temper
These let you stabilize while also combining nicely with your Refurbish plan. Lightning Axe can pitch a big monster to your graveyard, but is also the true combo with Fiery Temper. Killing two threats can send your opponent back to the stone age. Fiery Temper is absolutely absurd with as many discard spells this deck runs and is often the second card you’ll discard on turn 3 to your Cathartic Reunion alongside the Gearhulk you plan to bring back the next turn.
This may look like a strange inclusion, but this card does a whole lot in the deck. It lets you cast a Lightning Axe the same turn, helping you advance your game without falling too far behind. It also can attack for 5 on turn 4 after a Refurbish to pressure planeswalkers. If you return a Noxious Gearhulk, you can usually kill whatever blocker that was in the way, and kill annoying Gideon, Ally of Zendikars and Liliana, the Last Hopes in one fell swoop. Additionally, it helps your plan B of just casting giant monsters and curves perfectly into Skysovereign, which is your best card versus U/W. Caravan can be awkward in multiples though, which is why you only see 3 main deck. The 4th is in the sideboard, which you bring in against U/W with the 3rd Skysovereign to morph into more of a go-big midrange deck.
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Nahiri, the Harbinger fits this deck beautifully. She actually does it all, combining with Fiery Temper and Gearhulks, but also serves as a fantastic speed bump, giving you a turn or two until you can start casting Gearhulks. Stasis Snare would also be a problem for the deck, but Nahiri, the Harbinger ensures that’s a non-issue. Perhaps my favorite use is the tried and true method of harbingering Emrakul, the Promised End into play. Emrakul, the Promised End is easy enough to cast, too, as you can get up to the full 7 discount in a long game. There’s also always the dream of flipping Emrakul, the Promised End to Combustible Gearhulk (which I have yet to do, but I’m going to keep trying)!
Tips and Tricks
• Deciding whether to Tormenting Voice or Cathartic Reunion on turn 2 is tricky. If you’re unsure, I’d lead on Tormenting Voice first so you have more options the following turn, especially if you’re just improving a land-heavy hand. Then you’re more likely to be able to Reunion away a key Gearhulk and a Fiery Temper if you draw into them. If you’re playing against a blue deck, though, it’s often better to Reunion first simply to avoid a counterspell blowout.
• Playing against Emrakul, the Promised End is tricky because you have so many ways to sabotage yourself with discard spells. Try and use your discard as soon as possible so your opponent doesn’t get any good options. Also be wary of discarding extra Cultivator’s Caravans or having ones in play that can easily chump attack. Doing so can give your opponent very good Refurbish targets they otherwise wouldn’t have. Noxious Gearhulks usually won’t be great for your opponent because you run very few creatures for it to eat and it’s usually possible to have 2 waiting in your hand or graveyard and set up situations where you’ll be able to Gearhulk Emrakul, the Promised End no matter what your opponent does.
• Lightning Axe can’t target Emrakul, the Promised End so if that’s the only creature in play your opponent can’t discard a key card to it. Your opponent can choose to draw off Combustible Gearhulk on an Emrakul, the Promised Ended turn and discard key cards to hand size at the end of your turn if you slow play your hand too much.
• The deck has enough ways to chain removal that holding Refurbish and Nahiri, the Harbinger against suspicious Spell Queller mana is usually wrong. This is, of course, context dependent though, so use your best judgment. Getting a 4-drop Quellered on the play isn’t too bad, but on the draw it’s much worse since they have Archangel Avacyn to protect the following turn.
• You often want to Combustible Gearhulk as your first action since the ability is in the hands of your opponent. If they let you draw then that can change what you discard to a Tormenting Voice or Nahiri, the Harbinger afterward.
• Liliana, the Last Hope is an effective way to board up versus counterspell decks and enables threat recursion while filling up the graveyard. She’s also obviously great versus X/1 decks and you’ll usually cut different types of cards to bring her in across different matchups.