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Budget Magic: $93 (32 tix) Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator (Standard)


Puiznu, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time again! A couple of weeks ago during Against the Odds, we ran into a super-sweet deck that played about a million Gearhulks, sometimes from the graveyard with the help of Refurbish or God-Pharaoh's Gift, sometimes from the library with Madcap Experiment, and sometimes the old-fashioned way (from hand). The deck looked like so much fun that I decided to build my own version of it and was surprised to find that even though it's overloaded with mythics, it fits nicely in the budget range! So this week, we're heading back to Hour of Devastation Standard to play a deck I'm calling Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator. How many Gearhulks can we get on the battlefield, and how quickly can we get them there? Let's get to the videos and find out, and then we'll talk more about the deck!

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Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator (Deck Tech)

Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator vs. Mono-Black Zombies

Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator vs. Temur Energy

Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator vs. UR Control

Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator vs. UR Prowess

Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator vs. GB Rite

The Deck

The basic idea of Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator is simple: we start playing Gearhulks beginning on Turn 4, and we play Gearhulks turn after turn until we eventually grind our opponent out of the game with our big creatures. We have to look at three things to break down the deck: first, the Gearhulks themselves, which are the foundation of the deck; second, our various ways of getting Gearhulks on the battlefield quickly; and third, the other support cards that round out the deck. Let's start with the Gearhulks.

Gearhulks

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As odd as it sounds, Combustible Gearhulk (normally considered among the worst of the cycle) is the most important Gearhulk in our deck. The problem with our other Gearhulks (which we'll talk about in a minute) is that they are somewhat conditional. Combustible Gearhulk, on the other hand, is almost always good (the one exception is when we are very behind on board and about to lose). 

Generally speaking, punisher cards aren't very good, and Combustible Gearhulk is a punisher card that lets the opponent choose between milling three of our cards (and probably taking some amount of damage) or letting us draw three cards. Thankfully, both options are good in our deck, so we don't really care what our opponent chooses. Drawing three cards helps us find more gearhulks for future turns, or whatever removal and reanimation spells we happen to need, and if our opponent chooses to mill three cards, this helps get more Gearhulks into the graveyard for reanimating. Plus, we have a lot of expensive cards in our deck, so it isn't unusual for us to hit our opponent for a ton of damage if they choose the mill option. Basically, Combustible Gearhulk is awesome in our deck no matter what our opponent chooses.

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While Combustible Gearhulk is our best Gearhulk, Cataclysmic Gearhulk and Noxious Gearhulk are even more important to the success of our deck because they help us come back if we get behind on board. Cataclysmic Gearhulk is—by far—the highest variance of our Gearhulks, since the body isn't great on its own, which means Cataclysmic Gearhulk is middling at best if we aren't getting significant value from the enters-the-battlefield trigger. On the other hand, there are plenty of situations where Cataclysmic Gearhulk is the only card that will save us, sweeping away a board full of our opponent's permanents while leaving behind two of our Gearhulks (since we can keep one as our artifact and another as our creature) to close out the game.

Noxious Gearhulk is our best answer to a single big creature, and the life we gain when we kill something is often very important. While we can usually start slamming Gearhulks on Turn 4, we don't really do much before that, so it's not uncommon that we fall behind in life and on the board, and Noxious Gearhulk gives us an easy way to catch back up.

One last thing about our Gearhulks in general: one of the best parts about Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator is that our reanimation targets are also castable. Many reanimator decks suffer from the fact that they do nothing if they don't draw all their pieces in the right order (a discard outlet, something to discard, a reanimation spell). This isn't a problem for our deck. While our most powerful draws involve cheating Gearhulks onto the battlefield early, we also win plenty of games simply by casting a bunch of Gearhulks from our hand.

Cheating Gearhulks into Play

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Plan A for cheating our Gearhulks into play is reanimation. For this, we have two options: God-Pharaoh's Gift and Refurbish. The best part of our reanimation package is that they work well together. Generally, we spend the first few turns stocking our graveyard with the help of cards like Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice, which means we are usually ready to reanimate something on Turn 4. If we're lucky, we can reanimate a God-Pharaoh's Gift, which then immediately lets us reanimate a hasty Gearhulk as well and then lets us reanimate another Gearhulk each turn. If we don't have a God-Pharaoh's Gift in the graveyard, we can simply reanimate one of our Gearhulks, which gives us a huge threat on Turn 4. 

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Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice are key to our deck, giving us ways to not just fill our graveyard with Gearhulks and God-Pharaoh's Gifts but also helping us churn through our library to find our reanimation spells. Almost all of our best hands have at least one of these cards, and as the game goes along, it's not uncommon that we chain Tormenting Voices and Cathartic Reunions together and stock our graveyard at lightning speed.

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Madcap Experiment is basically like a Refurbish that works from our library instead of our graveyard. Of course, it comes with a lot of risk, since we are going to take some amount of damage. Considering we have 13 artifacts in our deck, we'll typically lose somewhere around four life, but it's certainly possible to get unlucky and die on the spot when we cast a Madcap Experiment. The other problem with Madcap Experiment is that it's random, so we can't really control what artifact we get from our deck. While none of our artifacts are bad, some are more situational than others, and we'll occasionally hit a God-Pharaoh's Gift or Cataclysmic Gearhulk on an empty board.

Thankfully, Madcap Experiment does two very important, good things for our deck as well. First, it gives us redundancy with other four-mana spells that cheat an artifact into play. With just Refurbish, we'd have a lot of games where we simply didn't find our reanimation spell, even with all the card filtering in our deck, but with both Madcap Experiment and Refurbish, the odds are in favor of us cheating a Gearhulk or God-Pharaoh's Gift into play on Turn 4. Second, Madcap Experiment helps us play around graveyard hate, which is actually pretty important at the moment. If you look at the Pro Tour Hour of Devastation decks, you'll see that many are playing some type of graveyard hate to deal with various God-Pharaoh's Gift decks along with emerge and other graveyard-based strategies. Cards like Crook of Condemnation are great against Refurbish but don't do much of anything against Madcap Experiment

Support Cards

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Cut // Ribbons and Never // Return are amazing in our deck. While they are fine when we cast them as removal spells, they have the additional upside of aftermath, so we can discard them to Cathartic Reunion or Tormenting Voice in the early game and get some free value later by casting them from our graveyard. Cut // Ribbons is especially powerful because it gives us a backup finisher, allowing us to push across the last few points of damage after the board gets clogged up in the late game.

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Magma Spray and Radiant Flames are our last two non-land cards, and they are mostly in the deck to help fight against super-aggressive decks like Ramunap Red. Magma Spray lets us deal with early-game creatures for just a single mana, and the ability to exile the creature instead of putting it into the graveyard is helpful against recursive threats like Scrapheap Scrounger and Relentless Dead. Meanwhile, Radiant Flames is the most budget friendly of the red sweepers. While Sweltering Suns and Kozilek's Return are probably a bit better if budget is no object, Radiant Flames gets the job done almost as well and for a fraction of the price.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished our games 3-2 in our video matches and also beat UR Prowess an additional time, raising our total record to 4-2. Even the matches we lost felt pretty close, with the UR Control game going super long and the GB Rite deck having the perfect card on the top of their deck (Weaponcraft Enthusiast) to allow them to flip a Westvale Abbey the turn before they would have died (although to be fair, they did have a couple of scrys to find it). As such, in some ways, it was disappointing to only be 3-2. On the other hand, we also got a bit lucky by dodging graveyard hate. The videos were recorded just before Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, when many players were still not putting Crook of Condemnation and friends into their sideboards, but I expect this will change once people start looking over the Pro Tour lists, which means the format might be a bit more hostile to reanimation now than it was last week. 

As far as I can see, there are two problems for Madcap Gearhulk Reanimation. The first is that we can sometimes be too slow against aggro, since we don't really start doing powerful things until Turn 4, and aggro seems to be on the rise based on the breakout performance of Ramunap Red at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation. It might be worth adding some more Magma Sprays to better fight aggro and maybe some lifegain in the sideboard to make sure we can survive until we start playing Gearhulks. Second, the mana was oddly clunky. Even though we don't have many white sources, it seemed like Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice would have helped us have Refurbish mana on Turn 4, but this didn't always happen. It might be worth playing some Aether Hubs to help fix the problem. 

Otherwise, the deck felt pretty solid. It's really fun to play, and it does some incredibly powerful things once it gets going. Our Gearhulks provide answers for most situations, and there aren't very many decks that can deal with haymaker after haymaker, turn after turn. Sooner or later, they run out of answers, and it doesn't take many Gearhulks left over on the battlefield to close out the game quickly once this happens.

As we approach rotation, I always get a ton of requests for post-rotation budget Magic decks. The problem is that they haven't been all that popular when I've done these decks in the past, and it's often hard to find decks that can compete when using only half of the Standard card pool, but I think I've found the solution to the problem! Part of being ultra-budget (and, in all honesty, a budget player in general) is being ready for rotation, so what if we use our ultra-budget lists for the next few episodes of Budget Magic for post-rotation lists?

As you can see, Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator doesn't really lose much at rotation—we mostly just rework the mana base a little bit and change around some of the sideboard slots. Thankfully, the main plan of the deck—Gearhulks, Cathartic Reunion, Refurbish, and Madcap Experiment—remains intact. As a result, we really don't lose that much by going the ultra-budget route, apart from having somewhat worse mana thanks to less dual lands. If you're looking to play Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator for as cheap as possible and have a deck that survives September's rotation, this is the place to start!

*Note* Smoldering Marsh will be the RB dual land from Ixalan.

Since most of our slots are locked into gearhulks, reanimation, graveyard-filling card draw, and Madcap Experiment, there really isn't a ton we can upgrade in Madcap Gearhulk Reanimator. This being said, we do get Fatal Push, which is still the best early-game removal spell in the format, along with Liliana, the Last Hope, which seems like a really big addition to the deck. Not only can Liliana, the Last Hope help stock our graveyard (and potentially get back a Gearhulk), but it's also very strong against aggro decks like Ramunap Red that have a ton of x/1s that Liliana, the Last Hope can kill. All in all, this build is probably a slight upgrade, but I wouldn't recommend going out and buying Liliana, the Last Hope at $30 a copy with rotation right around the corner. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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