A Madman’s SCG: Detroit Report

When last we left our hero, he was battling nobly for the Forest clan. Since then, he has been lured back into the domain of Demons and other alien monsters. My buddy Jamie who is usually my go-to for decks had been working on a crazy reanimator deck. He’d been tearing it up on Magic Online with his brew, and since I’ve been out of the loop with Standard of late, I was willing to take the plunge. These days, I’m less concerned with winning as I am with having a good time, and this deck looked like a blast. Here’s the list:

You can also check out the official deck tech here.

Crazy, right? My descent into madness complete, I assembled this lunatic’s concoction a mere minutes before the tournament, with a scant few games of practice. I haven’t playtested at all for the past few tournaments I’ve been to, and it’s been working out pretty well. Why change now? Besides, my beloved Dream Theater just happened to be playing in Detroit the night before. Faced with a choice to see my second favorite band (behind Rush, of course) live for the first time or actually testing for a Magic tournament . . . Well, it wasn’t too difficult to continue my going-in-completely-cold streak.

The concert was, of course, awesome, but a pleasant surprise was having a few members of progressive rock legends King Crimson in the form of Crimson ProjeKct. King Crimson is one of those bands that tragically few people have heard of but were a huge influence to musicians of their day and generations to come. They’re also known for the double trio: two guitarists, two bassists, and two drummers. Getting to see Pat Mastelotto have a drum battle with Mike Mangini is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

Back to Magic, I should probably explain how this mess works. Your main goal is to put a Griselbrand onto the battlefield. Winning from there is usually pretty easy, but the most powerful thing to do from there is to have a Zombie Infestation out, draw as many cards as your life total will allow, make as many Zombie tokens as your hand allows, and then reanimate an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

This deck plays similar to Dredge insofar that your hand is really your graveyard. Tibalt and Faithless Looting double as both your draw engines and your discard outlets. I was skeptical of Tibalt at first, as I’m sure almost everyone reading this would be, but after playing this deck, he’s surprisingly solid. All three of his abilities are relevant, though the loot ability is obviously the most important. Lingering Souls gives you a solid Plan B, and it is your main way of attacking Delver. It buys you a ton of time against aggressive decks and allows you to put pressure on control decks.

I got a lot of criticism for not playing Liliana, but it really is correct to cut it for this particular deck. Jamie had this to say:

Liliana just isn't that great in the format, it’s generally an overpriced Tibalt. Liliana doesn't really help your deck to achieve its goal, you have so many discard cards for a quick kill. It helps against the control matchups, but they're good already.

I would add that Liliana makes your already sketchy mana even worse. There are a couple of random cards I should explain as well.

Vengeful Pharaoh

I briefly wrote about this card way back when Magic 2012 was being spoiled. It seems really bad but it’s actually really solid. It forces Delver to commit more to the board and not be able to leave up mana for Mana Leak. The deck can’t just sit back on one or two creatures. It’s especially good when you have Zombie Infestation out, as you can ambush an opponent. I can pretty much guarantee that unless your opponent has read this article or seen my deck on SCG, he will never think to play around Vengeful Pharaoh. Just keep in mind that it is a mandatory trigger.

Chancellor of the Dross

Hoo boy, did I ever get made fun of for playing this card. The thing is that gaining life is really important for this deck. Gaining 3 life at the start of the game can be the difference between being able or unable to draw seven cards. A 6/6 flying lifelink black creature is no joke and is difficult for most decks to race. Last, being able to hard-cast any of your reanimation targets is surprisingly relevant. All that said, it was the card I sideboarded out the most since it is among the worst cards in the deck. Getting it copied by a Phantasmal Image or a Phyrexian Metamorph is counterproductive, so it came out against decks that had those cards.

A Few Words about Matchups

Mana Leak
It seems that this deck would scoop to Mana Leak, but that just isn’t the case. I’m not going to claim that I have a favorable matchup against Delver, but it’s nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be. I’ve since played a ton of games against it, and I’d say that it’s about 60%–40% in Delver’s favor. That’s assuming the Delver player knows what’s going on and knows what this deck does. If he doesn’t, the matchup is a lot better. If he draws multiple Mana Leaks and/or Vapor Snags along with Sword of War and Peace, it’s hard to win, but otherwise, it’s anyone’s game.

I’ve found the most successful way of playing this deck against Delver is to run the opponent out of Mana Leaks. Play out your Lingering Souls to put on as much pressure as possible. Every Lingering Souls he’s forced to counter is one fewer he can use on a reanimation spell. You have so many flashback cards that he is going to run out of them eventually. For that reason, I would recommend not discarding Unburial Rites unless you have to or the opponent gives you an opportunity. If he has to counter it twice, that’s one more card he has to have.

Against nonblue decks, it’s very straightforward. They can’t interact with you, so just do your thing and try not to die. If the deck has graveyard removal in its sideboard, things can become a little dicey, but it’s really not that hard to beat. You have a ton of cards that buy time, and as I said before, you can still hard-cast all of your reanimation targets.

The tournament didn’t exactly go very well for me. I played badly and had some bad luck, but it was still a lot of fun. It’s a powerful deck, and I would say that my results aren’t indicative of how good it actually is. I’ll still recap the matches, as I did have some pretty good games throughout the day.

Round 1 versus Nick Stengren (B/u Zombie Pod)

Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Game 1 was fairly interesting. I was able to deal with all of his threats, and I had Tibalt going for several turns. He had multiple Phyrexian Metamorphs to get rid of my legends, but he ran out of Clones before I ran out of reanimation cards, and I eventually got a Griselbrand to stick. He had been ignoring my Tibalt the entire game, which proved to be a fatal mistake when I used the ultimate to attack him for 20.

For the second game, my opponent brought in some Surgical Extractions, one of which I saw right away after I discarded an Elesh Norn to my turn-two Tibalt. Vengeful Pharaoh did a number on him Game 1, so he used a second one to get rid of them. I still had all these Griselbrands, and once I put one into play, it was only a matter of time. He did steal it for a turn with Act of Aggression, but after failing to find an answer in the seven cards he drew, he died to my army of Zombie tokens on the following turn.

Round 2 versus Nick Moor (Solar Flare)

Zombie Infestation
My opponent wasn’t playing very many counters, if any, so it was pretty easy to put a Griselbrand in play. I already had the Zombie Infestation out, so winning from there was going to be academic, but I found a way to lose. I hadn’t slept much in the past few days and wasn’t of the soundest of minds.

My opponent played a Sun Titan and announced Phantasmal Image as his target. I said “okay” without thinking, but I caught myself a second later and said, “Wait, I have a response.” The damage was already done, and I was prison ruled. The judge call didn’t go my way, and I lost my Griselbrand before getting to draw cards. I would have won on my turn, but as it turned out, my opponent was able to stabilize from that point and win.

I’m not blaming the judge by any means, as it was totally my fault, but I am pretty annoyed that I lost because of a slip of the tongue. That just seems like a petty and stupid way to decide the winner of a game, but those are the rules. I’ve definitely prison ruled my opponents in the past, but I’ve never felt good about it even when it was to my benefit.

Game 2, he had an early Nihil Spellbomb, but I pressured him with Lingering Souls. I kept attacking for 4 until he was forced to play his Day of Judgment. I ran it back with a second Lingering Souls, forcing him to use another one. By that time, I had enough mana to hard-cast Griselbrand.

He tried to get back in the game with a Lingering Souls of his own and a Gideon Jura, but I drew fourteen cards to find and hard-cast an Elesh Norn. His Spirit tokens and Gideon bought it, and with no sweepers left, he died my dynamic duo and army of Zombies.

Game 3, he had double–Nihil Spellbomb, and I awkwardly drew two Mental Missteps after he had played both. Sun Titan with recurring Phantasmal Images and Spellbombs was too much for me to handle.

I was pretty upset with myself for punting Game 1, but I was otherwise was having a lot of fun playing the deck.

Round 3 versus Adrian Jellin (Delver)

Vapor Snag
My opponent was a small child who wished me good luck every thirty seconds. He had the nutty draw of turn-one Delver, turn-two Delver, Ponder, turn-three transform both Delvers, turn-four Runechanter's Pike, and attack for a million. I snuck in an Elesh Norn after he tapped out to equip his Pike, but I was on too low life to not die from a Vapor Snag and a Moorland Haunt token a couple turns later.

I mulliganed to five cards Game 2 and was stuck on two lands for most of the game. I also drew three Mental Missteps for his zero 1-mana cards. If there’s one thing Delver does, it’s punish bad draws, so I never got anything going.

Round 4 versus Kyle Hercliff (B/R Zombies)

Lingering Souls
I once again mulliganed to five cards. My opponent had turn-one Diregraf Ghoul, turn-two double-Gravecrawler. I was too busy missing land drops to do anything about it and died.

In Game 2, I had Lingering Souls and double-Whipflare, which should do a pretty good job of holding off his early offense. He played a turn-two Porcelain Legionnaire. Awkward. I bought myself some time, but I couldn’t get anything going and died.

At three losses, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to cash the tournament, but gosh darn it, this deck was fun, and I was going to keep playing.

Round 5 versus Trevor Blaschak (Bant Pod)

Vengeful Pharaoh
I once again started things off with a mulligan to five cards. I was Acidic Slimed three times. That was fun.

Game 2 went a little better, as I reanimated an Elesh Norn turn five, eating his entire board. I had a couple Lingering Souls in the bin, and he was pretty dead after that.

In Game 3, I kept a one-land hand that worked out in terms of finding additional lands. I had Faithless Looting and some other gas, but I couldn’t find a fatty to reanimate. I was being pressured by two Blade Splicers, but Vengeful Pharaoh ate some Golem tokens. Restoration Angel again pressured me, and I was forced to Whipflare to give myself some breathing room, but a hard-cast Elesh Norn from my opponent put me away for the final points. I made a mistake that game by reanimating Griselbrand instead of Elesh Norn, which probably cost me the match.

And That’s It

Faithless Looting
As fun as this deck was to play, losing four rounds in a row sucks no matter how you slice it. By this point, I was really hungry, so I dropped to find a place where I could have a brew and a bite. Find a place I did, the Grand Trunk Pub. I’m partial to any bar that has over a hundred beers available, but I can say without a hint of hyperbole that this was among the finest drinking establishments I’ve had the pleasure of patroning. The food and drink were excellent, and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable. I ended up going there three times over the course of the weekend and will be making an effort to go back every time I’m in the area.

I got back to the site a couple hours later to find that my boy Randy was doing well with the mono-green deck I posted in my last article. He ended up drawing into Top 16 once he found out he couldn’t make Top 8. I had no real intentions of playing Legacy, but once I found out there was going to be a Two-Headed Giant Sealed side event, I knew what I was going to be doing that afternoon.

Randy wasn’t playing Legacy either, so we teamed up. I casually won the tournament. I say I won it because I built both decks and made nearly every decision. Randy was just there to hold cards and look pretty. Yeah, yeah, sick brags and whatnot. That’s kind of how 2HG goes, though.

Overall, I’d say that SCG: Detroit was a great time. Winning is great, but I can’t win them all. Once in a while, you just need to play something crazy and remind yourself that this is a game meant for fun. I can see this deck becoming better in the future with cards such as Wild Guess coming in and Mana Leak rotating out. It’s not quite there yet, but if you’re looking for something fun to play at FNM, it’s hard to do better. If you actually have an important tournament to win and you don’t want to play Delver, there’s always mono-green.

Until next time, may your legends lead your Zombie armies to victory.

Nassim Ketita
arcticninja on Magic Online