Three articles into the past I wrote about building a Five-Color deck composed of a slew of powerful cards. Here in the now, I’ll spare you the long and short and get right to the point. What inspired me to build such a monstrosity in the first place? My answer: the total and utter lack on control in the format.
Simply put, the metagame was wide-the-hell-open for someone (anyone, really) to Frankenstein something like this to an easy victory; hence its unrelenting successful performance since.
Of course, Contrarians would posit that there has, in fact, been a consistent presence of “control” in recent PEs. They would reference the string of Top 8 appearances of various “Crosis” amalgams (admittedly one of the hardest matchups for the Five-C deck). Or perhaps they would sing the well-deserved accolades of Lundstrom’s U/G deck, which has had the most overall Top 8s of any one deck since the format’s inception.
As you would probably guess, this is the part where I throw down the gauntlet and start pontificating.
In my immodest opinion, labeling the aforementioned decks “control” is to use the term a little too loosely. They don’t lean as heavily on counter magic as a permission deck does. The counters are moreover there to disrupt the opponent and/or protect their threats. Consider how often some of these builds tap out for big bombs like Nicol Bolas, Cruel Ultimatum, Liliana Vess, Grizzly Fate, and/or any threat, really. Counters are in no way vital to these decks, but rather just a part of the whole.
I’m sure a fair number of heads are wagging no, no, no right about now- and we could argue hypotheticals and semantics until…
But. I. Digress.
After two successful showings, I assumed my little Five-color concoction had run its course. More importantly, I was beyond eager to get behind the wheel of something new. So back into the tank I went.
I spent a good three days spewing one dead end idea after another to my deck building partner-in-crime (ChrisKool). But alas, nothing grew legs. All I knew was that I wanted to throw the community another curveball. That, and I wanted to enjoy playing rather than agonizing for 5 minutes over win-or-lose scenarios. And then it hit me…
Now, I must concede that I long considered this a wasted endeavor. After multitudinous combo strategies, Reanimator, as an archetype, took one of the biggest hits from the current Banned and Restricted List. No Vampiric Tutor or Imperial Seal. No Gifts Ungiven or Intuition. No Life from the Loam.
The vital organs of nearly every viable graveyard recursion strategy out there had been entirely neutered. Then there’s the STP/Path to Exile factor in the majority of the field. Counterspells and bounce are no fun, either. Sure, people have tried, but none to any immediately memorable avail. Still, I had to give it a go.
This is what I came up with:
Life After Death by Travis
Before I get my hands dirty, two quick things:
1.) I’ve updated the mana base with the three color-relevant new tap duals from 2010 over the crap pain lands that were in the initial build. They are just way better, trust me!
2.) The reason this list bears a striking resemblance to The Lord of Atlantis’ second place finish from a few weeks prior is because he was the only person with whom I shared my list.
Despite lacking the dual lands and some of the more expensive (and essential) rares, and only playing the deck a handful of times prior to the event, he managed to bash his way to the finals, something I myself fell short of (losing in the last round to a undeniable variant of my own 5-C beast!!!) Kudos again, friend! You did me proud!
Alright. Let’s hash this out.
THE B-TEAM (pt.I)
One of the immediate and overwhelming criticisms I received in testing was regarding the compliment of land cycle creatures. I’m not talking about Eternal Dragon and Twisted Abomination. I’m talking about Igneous Pouncer (especially) and that fire breathing fatback extraordinaire Chartooth Cougar.
Allow me to preface my explanation with another. When I set out to make the deck I kept a few simple build principles in mind:
1.) Living Death, Twilight’s Call, and Liliana Vess’ ultimate were to be the big bang in the deck. Of course, I’d run a compliment of one-for-one reanimation spells, but the end goal was to slam an army of ginormous men into play all at once, ideally attacking for lethal in one go.
2.) Not every creature, beyond the looters, had to be a ridiculous monster. I wanted some cheap efficient 187 guys that could help in the early game and make for promising reanimation targets, if need be.
3.) Every creature, no matter how costly, had to be realistically castable. (Okay, actually I made a single exception: Empyrial Archangel.) In this way, the deck could get an early reanimation and then just start hard-casting ridiculous monsters.
4.) Since the deck was going to be four colors (base blue), I wanted to include as many optimal in-color, in-theme removal, card draw/dump, and deck manipulation cards as possible.
5.) Lastly, with all the draw power in the deck, I wanted to go as light on land as conceivably possible. With that in mind, I had to ensure I hit the lands I needed when I needed them.
Three of the above guidelines more than justify the inclusion of Chartooth and Pouncer. There are a good many bigger and better men worthy of a shot at life beyond the grave – absolutely – but few fixed my mana, thinned/shuffled my deck, and were polite enough to place themselves in the yard.
(On a much more embarrassing note, Igneous Pouncer dealt 45 points of damage in the PE that day, outright killing one opponent after being reanimated on turn 2. It also single-handedly took down three separate opponents in the four days of testing prior to the tournament, dealing a total of 80 points of damage in less than fifteen matches.)
THE B-TEAM (pt.II)
The next two bros to draw fire were Avalanche Riders and Fulminator Mage. They weren’t even on my radar at first, but have since proved to be totally obscene in the deck.
Not to over-reference the 5-Color deck again, but the one sure-fire way to sweepkick it is by messing with its mana (as with a lot of decks in the format.) Both accomplish this and run the blocks to buy you some time.
During the PE, there was one match in particular where I kept my opponent off their mana by resurrecting Riders 5 times the first game, and 4 in the next.
Some would argue that any mega-threat brought back this many times would have ended the game in a more timely and lop-sided fashion. In many instances, I have had the opportunity to target a bigger creature with a potentially faster ability to end the game and still opted for Riders or Fulminator for the crippling certainty they provided.
THE BIG GUNS
I won’t bore you with the obvious reasoning behind Angel of Despair, Bogardan Hellkite, Keiga, Kokusho, and Visara. Let’s just skip right to the remainder of plus-sized bodies.
Empryial Archangel: This guy is shutdown city for a lot of decks out there. And the fact that you can Makeshift Mannequin him without fear of later being targeted is pretty cute, too.
Firemane Angel: I had reservations about this guy initially, but this is just one of those “every point of life matters” type of decks. He helps just that little bit when you’re on the backfoot and has some way-late-game tech as well.
Sedris, King of Traitors: This is another one that was met with raised brows. Truth be told, I can’t, for the life of me, fathom why. He’s a gigantic, cost-efficient reanimation engine that brings back binned monsters and utility creatures for a pittance. C’mon’!!!
Thraximundar: Obviously a gigantic haster that edicts your opponent and gets even bigger in doing so is pretty good. But read his text a little closer, because his secondary ability triggers off any sacrifice, including your own!
Thunder Dragon: With Elves and Naya refusing to be knocked out of competitive contention, this is a nice fat, winged silver bullet.
THE LITTLE GUNS
Your early game creature kill crew is FTK, Redcap, Nekrataal, and Shriekmaw. It’s almost always best to run these guys out and take down a second creature in combat. Even if you Death, you can just kill ‘em again.
Ingot Chewer, I suppose, belongs in this category as well; same idea, only for artifacts.
Next, we have our card draw and hand dump dudes. Bonded Fetch, Magus of the Bazaar, Merfolk Looter, and Thought Courier work double time in this department. Looter il-Kor got benched in the end for Fetch because I wanted blockers with all the quick beats in the meta.
Mulldrifter and Court Hussar give you some draw power, although the latter is not the greatest reanimation candidate. In hindsight, I may have played Sower of Temptation or even Venser instead.
Psychatog sort of straddles the line between dump outlet and potentially formidable threat. This isn’t the optimal style of deck for him, but he’s a fine addition.
Body Double is a reanimation spell, essentially.
Anger is the lynchpin to the Living Death alpha strike. Remember, even if you bring him back on the table you can easily kill him with one of your own CIP guys!
I already went to bat for the land cyclers, Avalanche Riders, and Fulminator Mage, so let’s take a look at…
THE REST (IN PIECES)
The primary goal of the deck is to bring back as many creatures from the yard as possible. This means that Living Death and Twilight’s Call are your two main targets when sifting and searching through your deck, with Liliana Vess on backup vocals.
With the above in mind, I tried to be relatively sparing on one-for-one reanimators. Animate Dead and Necromancy are the two enchants. Necromancy is just phenomenal with the amount of 187 guys in the deck, plus it can be tutored with Teachings. (Hopefully they will fix the current bug issue with the card, as it does nothing at the moment.)
Dance of the Dead was just too slow and didn’t provide me with immediate defense or aggression (if hasted), so I don’t recommend it, strength bonus or not.
Reanimate was a tough one. As I’ve said, the meta was aggro when I put this together, so the life loss of anything more than four made it iffy. After some consideration, I included it for its cost-efficiency and ability to steal a dead guy from my opponent.
The amount of cheap creatures with which to use flashback make Dread Return a far cry better than Zombify.
With the absurd amount of dump in the deck, Stitch Together is stellar. Makeshift Mannequin finishes off this list, its drawback an actual advantage with the Living Death focus in the deck.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about Phyrexian Furnace, Scrabbling Claws, and Tormod’s Crypt. The considerable volume of threats in the deck and the fact that you can either hardcast them or bring the whole team back from the dead make hosers like these only so effective.
Relic of Progenitus, however, can be a real problem.
Despite the number of creature-kill in dude-form, I wanted to flesh the deck out with a decent smattering of removal spells.
Damnation is the big sweeper, with Living Death as a functional second.
Vindicate, Mortify, and Oblivion Ring are versatile, cost-efficient, and deal with more than just guys.
Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile minimize the amount of guys your opponent gets back from Death.
Lightning Axe doubles as a dump outlet and a cheap solution for a big problem.
DRAW, DUMP, AND DECK MANIPULATION
Careful Consideration, Careful Study, Compulsive Research, Deep Analysis, Fact or Fiction, Ideas Unbound, and Thirst for Knowledge are old standbys in this type of deck.
Brainstorm protects your critical spells from Duress and Thoughtseize, smooths out your draws, and also puts a big boy back in your deck for something a little more reasonable. Ponder is another nice cheap spell in the same vein.
Read the Runes sends guys in hand and in play to the bin to make for a devastating Death play. It’s particularly nice with Kokusho and Keiga!
Entomb sets up a pinpoint reanimation and can fetch the two flashback spells in the deck. Buried Alive, obviously, is your key Death enabler.
Tainted Pact is an incredible tutor for any deck with no duplicates. With the high density of threats, exiling cards is never an issue.
Mystical Tutor and Teachings (in a roundabout way) get you a Death, or whatever else you may need along the way. Diabolic Intent and Insidious Dreams do the same, setting up your yard in an almost unfair manner.
As with any deck in this god-forsaken format, playing four colors doesn’t really put a strain on your mana at all. With all the multi-mana lands, the criminal volume of drawing, and the land cyclers, you’ll get there, don’t you worry.
The only lands really that require any explanation are:
Cephalid Coliseum: Again, your yard fills up quickly, so the additional draw/dump Coliseum provides is clutch.
Dakmor Salvage: With looters, Salvage is actually insanely appropriate. It’s the only Dredge card in the deck, because it’s the only one you need.
Dimir Aqueduct: On the draw, this land early = discarding a reanimation target. At the worst, it gives you a card to ditch to a looter later on.
Minamo: Untap your Legends to run “d”. Also, it can kill a guy brought back with Makeshift Mannequin, if the situation ever presents itself.
Miren: Munch a guy for some life and bring him right back with a reanimator.
Oboro: Helps against ‘Geddons and bounces back to your hand if you need a card to pitch to a looter over something better.
Shizo: Monstrous legends bash unimpeded! Thraximundar especially appreciates this.
Volrath’s Stronghold and Wasteland: Obvious
There are a ton of approaches to building a deck like this, and, with the lack of permission in the format, I encourage you to shuffle up this bad boy, or something like it, and enjoy! I did.
Until next time,
Travis: so many trolls
PS: (I’m still waiting for Deck Doctor submissions, people!!! E-mail me a decklist and some discussion on what your focus is to have me possibly feature it, along with my edits and thoughts, in an article!)