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Budget Magic: $99 (18 tix) RB Reanimator (Modern, Magic Online)


Happy New Years Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Modern to play a deck that takes advantage of some newly cheap Ultimate Masters reprints: RB Reanimator! The idea of the deck is to get something massive (like Ashen Rider or Woodfall Primus) into the graveyard by Turn 2 so that on Turn 3, we can reanimate a huge threat that blows up one or two of our opponent's best permanents. Ideally, we'll do these again the next turn and maybe even the turn after that, destroying more of our opponent's lands along the way, before eventually killing our opponent with one or two massive creatures. Can an all-in reanimator deck work in Modern on a budget? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: RB Reanimator (Modern)

The Deck

RB Reanimator is pretty straightforward. It's basically a combo deck, with the combo being getting a huge creature into the graveyard on Turn 1 or 2 and then reanimating it on Turn 3. The biggest upside of the deck is that it's overloaded with redundancy, with eight reanimation spells, eight or 10 reanimation targets, and 12 cards to fill our graveyard on the earliest turns of the game. The easiest way to understand the deck is to walk step-by-step through the plan.

Filling the Graveyard

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Step one of any reanimator deck is getting huge creatures in the graveyard to reanimate, for which we have three options. Faithless Looting is likely the best of the bunch, double looting for just a single mana and also having flashback, so that it offers some additional value if we happen to discard or surveil it into the graveyard with one of our other graveyard fillers. Next up is Cathartic Reunion, which is another solid way to get big threats from our hand into our graveyard while also being card-neutral (unlike Faithless Looting, which leaves us down a card), although counterspells can be a blowout, since discarding two cards is part of the sorcery's casting cost. Finally, we have a new Guilds of Ravnica addition in Discovery // Dispersal, which is basically a two-mana cantrip that can mill one or both of the top two cards of our library into our graveyard, giving us another way of filling our graveyard and also some card selection to help with digging for our reanimation spells. The only drawback of Discovery // Dispersal is that we don't have any blue mana in our deck, so we'll never cast the Dispersal side of the card, although we want to cast Discovery most of the time anyway. 

Reanimation

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When it comes to returning creatures from our graveyard to the battlefield, we have two options: Footsteps of the Goryo and Unburial Rites. While Footsteps of the Goryo might seem strange, since we have to sacrifice the creature we reanimate at the end of our turn, it will make a lot more sense once we talk about our reanimation targets, since they all minimize or even completely negate the drawback. The upside of Footsteps of the Goryo is that it's only three mana, making it one of the cheapest reanimation spells available in the Modern format. 

Meanwhile, Unburial Rites is great in our deck because we can cast it from our graveyard for only four mana after looting it away with Faithless Looting or Cathartic Reunion, or surveil it into our graveyard with Discovery // Dispersal. While we're calling the deck RB Reanimator, we do have a touch of white mana for a couple of flashback cards and one split card in the sideboard. On the other hand, if we have an Unburial Rites in our hand, we can always just cast it for five mana and then potentially even cast it again the next turn from our graveyard to double up our reanimation.

Reanimation Targets

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The main theme of all of our reanimation targets is that they work really well with Footsteps of the Goryo (while also being more than fine with Unburial Rites). Woodfall Primus is the best of the bunch thanks to persist. If we can reanimate a Woodfall Primus on Turn 3 with Footsteps of the Goryo, it will enter the battlefield and blow up one of our opponent's lands; then, at our end step, it is sacrificed to Footsteps of the Goryo only to persist back from the graveyard as a 5/5 to blow up another land. In theory, this means that if we are on the play, when our opponent untaps on Turn 3, they will have zero lands in play and will be staring down a 5/5 trampler!

Ashen Rider is similar, except it doesn't end up on the battlefield. If we Footsteps of the Goryo it back on from our graveyard, we get to exile our opponent's two best permanents: one when it enters the battlefield and one when it is sacrificed. On the other hand, if we're reanimating Ashen Rider with Unburial Rites, we still get to exile a permanent of our choice and end up with a 5/5 flier on the battlefield. 

As far as both of our primary reanimation targets, there is one major downside: it's unlikely that we can ever cast either of these cards. Woodfall Primus is literally uncastable, since we don't have green mana, and it's fairly unlikely our 21-land deck will ever get to eight mana to hard-cast Ashen Rider. As such, graveyard hate can be especially problematic. Thankfully, we do have one pseudo-reanimation target that we can cast naturally.

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Obzedat, Ghost Council is a pretty solid creature, giving us a 5/5 for five that also drains for two each turn as it enters the battlefield. There are two main reasons it's in our deck. First, and most importantly, Obzedat, Ghost Council gives us a threat that we can hard cast, so we still have a way to win the game if our opponent manages to lock down our graveyard with something like Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void. The other upside of Obzedat, Ghost Council is that it works really well with Footsteps of the Goryo, since it exiles itself at the end of our turn. If we manage to reanimate Obzedat with Footsteps, we'll get two triggers when we go to our end step: one to sacrifice Obzedat and another to exile it (allowing it to return the next turn and drain our opponent for two more life). As long as we order our triggers properly (so the exile trigger resolves first), we completely get around the intended drawback of Footsteps of the Goryo!

Other Stuff

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Lingering Souls does double duty in our deck. On one hand, it's another card that gives us value from our graveyard, allowing us to discard it or surveil it into our graveyard for value. On the other hand, Lingering Souls is really good at slowing down the game. While in theory our deck is good at reanimating something big on Turn 3 or 4, sometimes we get slow, clunky draws, and making a bunch of flying chump blockers is a good way to stay alive while we are waiting to set up our reanimation kill.

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Finally, we have a bit of removal. While our deck is pretty good at dealing with non-creatures thanks to Woodfall Primus or one big threat thanks to Ashen Rider, decks that can go wide with a bunch of small creatures can be an issue. Terminate and Dreadbore give us some unconditional removal for the early game, while Anger of the Gods can sweep away an entire board of small creatures for just three mana. Plus, the exile clause can be relevant against decks like Dredge, Hollow One, or BridgeVine, which are looking to get their creatures back from the graveyard turn after turn.

Wrap-Up

As for the record, things are a bit complicated. We went 3-2 on video, but our overall record was actually a bit worse at 3-5. Why so many matches? We ran into a string of Ux counterspell control decks and lost to them in basically the same way every time (our opponent letting us loot through our deck but then repeatedly countering our reanimation spells). Considering that Ux Remand decks aren't really that big a piece of the Modern metagame, rather than just posting these boring, repetitive matches, I decided to keep recording to find some different matchups.

Apart from decks featuring endless counterspells, the other challenging matchup for RB Reanimator is fast combo. While blowing up two lands on Turn 3 is great in a lot of matchups, it often isn't enough against decks like Storm or KCI. In fact, if we happen to be on the draw, we might be dead before we untap on Turn 3. On the other hand, RB Reanimator is great against creature decks—we pretty much crushed Jund and destroyed Tron as well. Another concern is graveyard hate. Thankfully, we have a ton of answers in our sideboard, and if our opponent doesn't have graveyard hate early in the game, we can often reanimate a huge creature or two before they can draw into it. But cards like Surgical Extraction can be a beating. 

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm pretty happy with it overall. While some matchups are rough, the deck is both powerful and consistent, with good sideboard cards for a lot of matchups. The removal suite could be tweaked—Dreadbore specifically might be unnecessary, since Woodfall Primus can take care of planeswalkers]]—but there aren't a lot of changes to be made without increasing the budget. 

All in all, RB Reanimator is a lot of fun. The good games are incredibly good, and the deck is really consistent at executing its game plan. While counterspells and fast combo can be a problem, the deck makes up for the bad matchups by crushing some of the most annoying decks in the format (like Tron). Plus, when things go well, RB Reanimator is a great option for flawless victories, literally blowing up everything on our opponent's side of the battlefield before finally beating them down. If you like annoying your opponent by blowing up all their lands and reanimating massive threats quickly, give RB Reanimator a shot!

RB Reanimator is a tough deck to get down into the ultra-budget price range. The main issue is that apart from the lands, most of the deck is already pretty cheap, which means the only realistic way to get the price down near $50 is to cut back on the lands. The end result is a really clunky mana base, highlighted by Foreboding Ruins and Evolving Wilds. Otherwise, we make a couple of small changes, with Anger of the Gods becoming Slagstorm and Wear // Tear becoming Disenchant. Otherwise, the main plan of the deck is exactly the same. The biggest problem with the ultra-budget build is that it will often be a turn slower thanks to the tapped dual lands, and in a format like Modern, that extra turn is often the difference between winning or losing a game. As such, this version is fine for having fun on the kitchen table, but upgrading the mana base is likely a necessity if you want to compete at the FNM level. 

As for our non-budget build, the foundation of the deck is the same, but we get some nice upgrades. Most importantly, we get the traditional fetch land and shock land mana base. The spells remain mostly the same, but we get Collective Brutality as a hybrid Duress and removal spell that can be a discard outlet as well, thanks to escalate. As far as reanimation targets, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Iona, Shield of Emeria join the crew over a couple of copies of Ashen Rider. Finally, the sideboard gets a huge boost of power, with Leyline of the Void for graveyard decks, Thoughtseize for more protection from graveyard hate and as combo disruption, Engineered Explosives for removal, and Stony Silence for artifact decks. In the end, the deck upgrades help to solve some of the issues of the budget build (especially with Collective Brutality to fight fast combo), but I probably wouldn't run out and spend $900 on the deck. If you have some of these cards already, you should probably toss them in, and even incremental improvements will help. It's also worth mentioning that you have a lot of flexibility in reanimation targets, so if you have something big and flashy you really want to cheat into play, feel free to give it a shot!

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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