In October of last year, I knew that I was going to be playing Legacy at the Pro Tour because we split our Team Series rosters in a way that each of them would have two Legacy “specialists.” That way, if we made Top 16, we would get two reasonably balanced trios per roster.
I sort of proclaimed myself a Legacy specialist since I used to play tons of the format before I got on the Pro Tour… eight years ago. There was some re-learning to be done for sure, but I can say that by the time Grand Prix Toronto (Team Constructed) rolled in, I was freshly adapted to all of these new Commander (and Deathrite Shaman) cards that made their way into the old decks I knew.
Unfortunately, I was fairly set on a Grixis Delver list that I tweaked to my liking and I was happy that I could relax up until the Pro Tour and just run it again.
Then these got banned, leaving me no choice but to actually test (annoying, right?).
It’s funny because, on the surface, banning these cards felt like the format would just go back to what it was when I played tons of Legacy: R/U/G Delver, Death and Taxes, Sneak and Show, Blue-White decks, Reanimator, and Storm.
Choosing a Deck
Just like everyone else, I turned to R/U/G Delver because it made sense that Stifle and taxing cards like Daze and Wasteland would become better in a Deathrite-Shaman-less world. While that was partly true, Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf don’t really cut it anymore. I tried a few variants. Ultimately, my favorite build was the one that was simply replacing Nimble Mongoose for Bomat Courier.
Yet, I didn’t feel like I was doing the most powerful thing I could be doing, so I set my favorite archetype aside and started investigating non-Brainstorm strategies.
The group of people I was sharing information with (Massdrop guys and other additions such as Matt Linde, Chris Pikula, Jonathan Anghelescu) were really high on Chalice decks. I decided to hop in and see what all of the hype was about.
Their favorite version was Steel Stompy, but we also had an Antiquities War Chalice deck that had Sai, Master Thopterist, Mox Opal, Urza’s Bauble, Jeweled Amulet, Thoughtcast and such. It was sweet because you could reliably play a turn-1 Chalice for 1 and have enough blue cards for Force of Will. Unfortunately, we deemed the deck not good enough after a bunch of Leagues. Sai was not as good as we originally thought, and from that point on we were not sure what direction to go with the build.
I was very unimpressed with Steel Stompy myself so I tried Eldrazi Stompy. I was just as unimpressed, but my sample size was small, and clearly, with the amount of people that played it at the Pro Tour, that was a case of result-oriented thinking.
Mono-Red Prison ended up being the last Chalice deck I played and I quickly abandoned it for its poor Griselbrand matchups (Sneak and Show and Reanimator).
My quick conclusion to all of these Chalice decks was that while the shell of 2-mana lands and free wins you get with Chalice of the Void was powerful, I was always underwhelmed by the rest of the cards you could play.
I’ve always hated Sneak and Show. I tend not to make deck choices based on emotion, but every time I pick up this deck, my hatred for it becomes greater. If I wanted to get my hands on Griselbrand again it would have to be Black-Red Reanimator.
Luckily, Legacy superstar Jarvis Yu happens to know everyone in the Legacy community, so he was able to hook me up with Eric Landon, one of MTGO’s most successful Legacy players, who happened to have been playing tons of B/R Reanimator.
When he showed us his spreadsheet of matches and his 80%+ win rate with Reanimator across 150 post-ban matches, I suddenly wanted to learn everything about the deck.
In fact, at that point I was locked to register the deck at the Pro Tour and trusted myself that in the 17 days left I had to prepare that I would be able to reach a similar knowledge level to Eric’s. With his help, of course.
Mastering the Deck
I don’t think you can ever be completely wrong when choosing among the top Legacy decks. That is why locking myself into playing a deck more than two weeks before an event doesn’t bother me. There is so much to learn from the thousands of play scenarios in each matchup that I’d rather know these well than find the deck that’s a few percentage better.
While my two weeks taught me so many things about Reanimator, I was not able to reach an 80% win rate like Eric had, but a 71% win rate was good enough for me. My League results were essentially tons of 4-1s and 3-2s. You can’t be mad at that.
I felt confident going into the Pro Tour because I had mastered most of the micro-decisions involved in the deck. Often decks that win or lose in the early turns get no credit for how hard they can be to play, because it’s just a bunch of very small decisions and often are about the cards your opponent can have as opposed to what’s in your own deck.
I will go over every card in the deck and hopefully tackle everything there is to know about them based on what I learned in my two weeks of focused testing on B/R Reanimator.
Needless to say, Griselbrand is almost always the best creature to reanimate. That’s because you can reliably have it in play on turn 1 or 2. Therefore, you have a high life total and draw at least up to 14 cards right away. Then with Unmask, you look at your opponent’s hand and decide what the best second creature is to put in play. That will more often than not have your opponent extend the hand.
Something that’s not always intuitive is that having Griselbrand in the graveyard makes you a huge favorite to win the game. Therefore, that should be your #1 priority even if you don’t already have the reanimate spell. A good example is when you’re playing against a blue deck (or any deck that’s a bit slow). Don’t hesitate to go to the discard step to put the Griselbrand in the graveyard.
In the mirror match, having any in your hand is a big liability as your opponent will be able to discard and then bring it back. Having it in your graveyard is only good if you plan on bringing it back the very same turn. All in all, it’s too risky to have more than one in your deck since you basically want to Entomb it at the right time.
Chancellor of the Annex
Any hand with Faithless Looting and Chancellor of the Annex, even if it doesn’t have the required pieces, is just really good. It buys you a turn and you essentially get a free card to discard to Looting.
Sometimes you will have hands that only do one thing and it’s bringing back Chancellor in play on turn 1. That’s pretty good against almost everything except decks with Swords to Plowshares (Death and Taxes, Miracles, and Stoneblade). Even against decks that can deal with it like Grixis Control with Diabolic Edict or Baleful Strix, it should buy you enough time to bring something else in later.
Both the reveal ability and actual ability are triggers, so unless you’re playing on Magic Online, I suggest that you use some kind of reminder. I personally used a huge piece of paper that I put in the middle of the battlefield.
Sideboarding: The rule of thumb is that against decks with Force of Will and/or Surgical Extraction, you always want all four on the play, but on the draw you’ll cut two since they can pay for the Force Spike.
Against Chalice of the Void decks, Chancellor is actually better on the draw since it’ll stop them from playing it on turn 1. That’s why on the play you will want to cut two.
Ashen Rider & Tidespout Tyrant
Ashen Rider takes the spot of either Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Iona, Shield of Emeria in the main deck. That slot is arguable, but I’m confident that with four Cabal Therapy, Ashen Rider is better. It comes up much more often than you would think that you sacrifice it to Cabal Therapy to get an extra trigger.
It does a similar job as Tidespout Tyrant at dealing with permanents like Karakas and Ensnaring Bridge, except there are spots where you don’t really have any more cards after you reanimate and that’s when Ashen Rider comes handy.
Sideboarding: You often cut one or the other post-board. You want to keep both when playing against annoying permanents (Karakas, Maze of Ith, Knight of the Reliquary, Ensnaring Bridge)—mainly Lands, 4c Loam, and Mono-Red Prison.
You keep one just in case you get into a weird situation that involves a card you didn’t expect. Between drawing cards and having Entomb, it really is worth the slot.
If it’s a matchup where you’re cutting on Cabal Therapies, Ashen Rider gets worse so you can cut it. Otherwise, cut Tidespout.
Unmask is my favorite card in the deck. You only need so few cards to get going that you’ll often have useless cards in your hand, so it rarely feels bad to have to exile something. This is your best tool pre-board. You’ll often target yourself without being scared of the card disadvantage since your opponents have such small number of relevant cards against you.
Sideboarding: Post-board you will want to think twice before choosing to target yourself as your opponent is much more likely to able to interact with you. Therefore, strip yourself of all your resources.
It does get better at targeting your opponents because of all of their hate cards, so I essentially never cut any.
Each reanimate spell in the deck has pros and cons. Exhume’s pros include playing around graveyard hate that targets like Surgical Extraction and the fact that it doesn’t cost any life, unlike Reanimate.
For those reasons you need to evaluate if you will have to cast Exhume when you discard a creature from your opponent’s hand. Trust me, I don’t know what happened on the Innistrad planet, but on the battlefield, Thalia beats Griselbrand. That’s something I couldn’t wrap my head around, but every time it happens, I lose and that has something to do with Karakas somehow being always present.
Sideboarding: In the mirror match, it’s fairly obvious: You want to cut all of them. Then against matchups where you often want to discard Thalia, Knight of the Reliquary, Griselbrand and such, you want to cut at least 1.
Against Death’s Shadow, you can cut up to two. It’s scarier than you think to have them bring back Street Wraith for free.
Hopefully, what I will tell you will prevent you from having to read the card.
Animate Dead targets when you cast it. Then when it enters the battlefield, there is a trigger (which can be Stifled, or responded to with Abrupt Decay, preventing the trigger). Oh, it also gives -1 power to the enchanted creature. That is very relevant if you’re trying to ride Chancellor of the Annex to victory since it’ll be a 5-turn clock instead of 4.
The pros list is much shorter but a lot more relevant. You can bring back opposing creatures, it can’t be Flusterstormed, it’s a permanent for Show and Tell, and again, doesn’t cost any life.
Sideboarding: I never boarded any Animate Deads out, but Eric Landon says that you can take out one against Elves, which may or may not be correct. I’ve never faced the matchup in my hundreds of matches.
Reanimate is a lot worse than I originally thought and that’s because you really want to able to draw 14 cards with Griselbrand and not just 7. It does cost 1, however, and sometimes that will make a big difference, especially in game 1s where you’re just looking to win as fast as possible.
I have cast Reanimate targeting my opponent’s creature many, many times and that’s a tool to keep in mind. Especially when you had to cast one and lose 8 life prior, the next Reanimates will rarely be able to bring back anything from your graveyard. Snapcaster Mage is the most common target. Often you’ll flashback a Dark Ritual and keep doing nasty things.
Sideboarding: Any matchup where you expect slower games or where they have pressure, take out one Reanimate. That happens to be like 75% of the matchups. That’s normal. It’s ironically the worst card in the deck.
Entomb is considered the most important card. It lets you play one-ofs and as I described earlier, getting a Griselbrand in the bin is the most valuable thing you can do to pull yourself ahead in the game.
Being an instant is super relevant, but don’t let the word fool you. When you’re on the play, don’t let your opponent have Spell Pierce, Daze, or Flusterstorm up, and play it right away, especially game 1 where the information on what you’re getting is close to irrelevant.
Getting Faithless Looting with Entomb happens here and there, often when you have everything you need, but can’t find a reanimate spell. Getting Cabal Therapy only really happens if you draw tons of Entombs and are trying to secure the game by stripping their hand entirely.
Sideboarding: You never ever take any copies out. It even gets better, because it’s easier with an instant to play around graveyard hate and counterspells.
Faithless Looting is fairly simple to play. The only time you really have to think about it is when you’re facing a deck with Wasteland. In those cases, you will need to think whether you should fetch that Badlands or not. While it isn’t intuitive, the better play is often to crack the Lotus Petal to cast the Looting so that you can fetch a basic Swamp.
Sideboarding: In post-sideboard games, you have to be careful when casting Faithless Looting as your opponent can have Surgical Extraction. You will want to cast Cabal Therapy, Thoughtseize, or Unmask before deciding what to put in the bin. That’s something you do the other way around pre-board.
You should not cut any copies of the card despite that.
This one got me scratching my head for a while. Why isn’t Thoughtseize just better? Well, turns out the life, once again, is extremely relevant and that pre-board, you almost always target yourself anyway. Also, if you do need to target your opponent, in those pre-board games there are so few cards that matter that you’ll either hit or whiff, but then win the game.
Sideboarding: This is the card you board out the most frequently. Against blue decks where their hate usually comes from instants, Therapy may sound good, but it’s weak against Brainstorm so you will want Thoughtseizes instead. If we didn’t have Cryptbreaker it’s possible that you might want both, but we need to cut cards and it’s the worst one.
In matchups with permanent-based disruption, like Chalice of the Void decks or Death and Taxes decks, it’s bad and you can take out all of them. As I said earlier, targeting yourself after sideboard isn’t really something you want to be doing. Games will go longer and get more grindy.
This is the reason not to play the Blue-Black version of Reanimator. You trade interaction in Force of Will and card selection in Brainstorm for turn-1 kills. There really isn’t much to say about Dark Ritual other than what it is. I guess you should keep in mind that it’s an instant so that you can use it to pay for Flusterstorm or Spell Pierce.
Sideboarding: While games get slower and more grindy as mentioned earlier, Dark Ritual is still just too good to cut from your deck. You still want the ability to punish someone who keeps a noninteractive hand.
Everything here is similar to Dark Ritual. They have the same purpose. Lotus Petal is worse because it only generates 1 extra mana as opposed to 2 and you can’t pitch it to Unmask.
But it is usually the card you’re looking for when drawing with Griselbrand.
Sideboarding: On the draw, in any matchup where I’m sideboarding Cryptbreaker (which is many), I will take out one Lotus Petal. That’s because when you have Cryptbreaker, you want lands and you don’t really care about speed as much.
The mana isn’t really negotiable. Some people cut two lands in favor of Chrome Mox. I’ve never tried it, but I’m pretty sure that would make Cryptbreaker way worse.
We have Scrubland because of the white cards in the sideboard. Also, I can’t say that I’ve never used it to cash Elesh Norn!
Three Swamps is a good number to never get screwed by Wasteland, but it has certainly happened that I could not cast Faithless Looting, so I could see someone adding a 9th fetchland over the 3rd Swamp.
Sideboarding: I take out one Swamp against Sneak and Show because that’s a matchup mostly about speed and a bit of disruption, but not disruption that affects my lands.
Elesh Norn is specifically for Death and Taxes, but it should be used as basically just a Wrath a God. You can’t rely too much on having it live because they have Karakas and Swords to Plowshares. Cabal Therapy is nice there because what you want to do is immediately sacrifice the Elesh Norn to Therapy when it comes so that it’s not sent to the exile zone or your hand. That way you get to have another Wrath of God later.
Then it comes in against Elves, Goblins, Infect, and Delver, but also against Stoneblade decks, mainly because of True-Name Nemesis. There are situations where the game drags and you would be able to bring back something but you can’t beat the unblockable True-Name. Elesh is good there.
The same is true for Baleful Strix decks. Post-board games can drag out and Strix makes it hard to actually close the game. It also makes the Cryptbreaker plan a tad better as you get a huge anthem.
Archetype of Endurance
Archetype comes in all the white and lands matchups. It’s just a smoother answer to Maze of Ith and Karakas than Ashen Rider and Tidespout Tyrant. These decks will rely on spot removal such as Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Unexpectedly Absent as well, so it’s going to shut that off.
Iona comes in a lot of matchups and you might ask why it isn’t in the main deck then. Except for a few mono-colored matchups like Elves and the mirror match where it’s game over, it’s actually not that great. But it’s a way to diversify your threats against Surgical Extraction, and gives you more options in games that last longer.
This is only there for the mirror match and one copy makes a big difference thanks to Entomb.
Pithing Needle is kind of the perfect one-of. Drawing exactly one is never bad. It’s specifically great against Sneak and Show because they will rely on Sneak Attack since Show and Tell is terrible against you.
Then it comes in against Karakas decks, Death and Taxes, Lands, and 4c Loam.
Wear // Tear
Some people play Abrupt Decay and Reverent Silence in that slot, but I’m confident that Wear // Tear is the best one of them. There is quite a bit of Leyline of the Void in the field and they happen to also usually play Chalice of the Void in the same deck. There is no better feeling than hitting both!
Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Chalice of the Void. Every matchup that has those cards you will bring at least two, then four against those with both Chalice and Leyline.
I found out that two in the mirror match is quite good. The games play very strangely since we have to take out all Exhumes, so it often comes down to Animate Dead and being able to kill it is actually really good.
It’s fairly simple. You want Thoughtseize against decks that have reactive interaction and combo decks. I think two is the perfect number here. I’ve tried zero to four.
Abrade is a concession to Containment Priest. You literally have no other out and it’s essentially just a 5th Wear // Tear that has a different split effect. Delver decks also have one or two Grafdigger’s Cage but you don’t really want Wear // Tear just for that, so at least Abrade can kill a Delver.
People have tried many different cards in hopes of next leveling the hate that people have against you. The Cryptbreaker idea came from Pack Rat. The issue with Pack Rat is that 3 mana to activate is way too much in a 14-land deck.
Cryptbreaker is not as powerful, but at least you can also use it as a discard outlet or even just draw cards when you can’t really attack with it anymore and then start finding your Wear // Tears and eventually accomplish your plan A.
Basically, it’s a great plan B that doesn’t require too many resources and blends well with your plan A.
Originally, it was meant to be against 4c Loam and Death’s Shadow, your two worst matchups. They just have so many angles of attack that it’s hard to fight through even with anti-anti-hate cards like Wear // Tear. Cryptbreaker is an angle that they don’t have covered and they usually can’t afford to keep in removal like Punishing Fire or Fatal Push (although they might now that the Cryptbreaker tech is out, but that’s up to you to find out!).
We discovered that it’s actually just really good on the draw in most matchups. You’re a massive favorite on the play with Reanimator, but like every good thing, there’s a downside and it’s that we’re massively unfavored on the draw post-board.
Cryptbreaker is a super neat way to steal some of these games against the unprepared.
Sideboarding in the Dark
Yeah, you read that right. It actually happens quite often that you win on turn 1 on the play and you have no idea what your opponent is playing.
That led me to losing game 2 basically 90% of the time. That’s why I talked to Eric about it and came up with a sideboard plan for that situation. The idea is that most decks bring in somewhat similar hate and you can bring in cards that are never really entirely dead, but can save you from situations where you would just have no out. Grafdigger’s Cage is a good example. Worst case, you have Faithless Looting to discard them or Unmask to get rid of them.
The cards I bring in and out are based on an aggregate of what I usually do on the draw against the most popular decks of the format.
That’s it for today, I hope you enjoyed my bible on Black-Red Reanimator. I wish you lots of turn-1 kills!