U/W God-Pharaoh, Just Add Black!
If you've been online in the last couple days, you've probably seen that the internet is a-buzz, a-twitter, and a-netdeckin' over the newest take on Reanimator - U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift, specifically the deck that Olivetti piloted to victory at last week's MTGO Standard PTQ.
Reanimator as an archetype has been around for ages. Ages and ages, and it's a trend that is likely to go on for as long as Magic continues to have cards that allow you to reanimate fatties for cheaper than their actual converted mana cost. One of my personal favourite examples of this is the list that Shouta Mori piloted waaay back in 2005 to become regional champion of Miyagi, Japan.
That deck used Greater Good as a cheap discard engine to pitch fatties, in this case Yosei, the Morning Star and his/her duskier sibling Kokusho, the Evening Star, and reanimate them with cards that cost significantly less than their original CMCs. Similar lists were all over the place at the time, and were definitely a top tier choice.
Cut to six years later, and Unburial Rites gets printed. This goes on to spawn all kinds of variants on the Reanimator archetype, most of which go on to become widely known themselves: Junk Rites, Unburial Gifts, Gifts Tron, and so on. The game plan of each of these decks was still the same as Shouta Mori's half a decade previous - Put powerful creatures in the graveyard, reanimate them to cast them on the cheap, and win by stacking value. Are we sensing the pattern yet?
Let's take a look at Olivetti's list, shall we?
U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift
Even at first glance, the game plan here is pretty apparent. Use Strategic Planning, Champion of Wits, and Minister of Inquiries to fill the graveyard with fatties, bring them back to life with the God-Pharaoh's Gift, ???, Profit. In this case, '???' consists of choosing when to reanimate what target. Is it the time to swing in with a reanimated Angel of Invention as a 6/6 Zombie Angel with Flying, Lifelink, Viglance, and Haste? Or is it the time to reanimate a Cataclysm on a stick in the form of Cataclysmic Gearhulk?
Trick question, it's almost ALWAYS time to swing in with a 6/6 Zombie Angel with Flying, Lifelink, Vigilance, Haste.
But seriously, this deck is a work of art. The interaction between God-Pharaoh's Gift and Mausoleum Wanderer is beautiful. Getting a 4/4 creature with Flying and Haste for free is nice, but having that 4/4 also act as a Convolute on a stick is amazing. With an Angel of Invention on the field, a reanimated Mausoleum Wanderer might as well read, "5/5, Flying, Haste. Sacrifice this creature to counter whatever you want, just because you can."
I built the deck online and played it through a couple matches. Okay, so maybe it was a dozen. FINE, YOU CAUGHT ME. It was something like 50 games, and I was amazed at the consistency and the control that the deck offered. I tip my imaginary hat, and a few of my real ones, to Olivetti for helping shed some light on this wondrous - not to mention nearly rotation proof - marvel that you see before you today.
Now, let's screw with the whole thing by adding a splash of black. Just because we can.
Here's my take on this list:
Esper Pharaoh's Gift
So, what have we done here, and why have we done it?
Simply put, we've added some spot removal and quite a bit of synergy to a list that was already really strong. We drop one Refurbish, one Gate to the Afterlife, and one God-Pharaoh's Gift to get three Liliana, Death's Majesty on the board. This does a lot for us, mostly letting us curve from Refurbish'ing a Gearhulk into zombifying an Angel of Invention. Liliana hits all the targets Refurbish can't, and in my opinion that makes her a very valid addition to this deck.
If she manages to stick around, which shouldn't be hard given how easy it is for this deck to suddenly create a wall of blockers, she can start adding cards to your graveyard at about the same rate as Minister of Inquiries all while generating blockers and enough loyalty to keep reanimating things. Because her animation targets are only restricted to being creatures, we definitely want to keep three Refurbish mainboard to hit God-Pharaoh's Gift or that previously mentioned turn four Gearhulk.
Another decent addition to this deck (in my humble opinion) is opting for Cryptbreaker over Minister of Inquiries in the one-drop slot. It pitches cards to the graveyard from your hand instead of off the top of the deck, which comes with its own advantages and disadvantages: On the pro-side, you know you're discarding that extra land or reanimation target sitting in your hand and not milling yourself out of that sorely needed land drop. On the con-side, it costs two mana to activate, and requires you to have a card in hand to discard. On the pro-side, it's not restricted to energy. It also creates blockers, and in the mid-to-late game lets you tap your God-Pharaoh zombies to draw some extra cards. On the con-side, it only discards one at a time. In my opinion, it does serious work, and the ability to draw more cards outweighs anything else.
By moving two of the Cataclysmic Gearhulks to the sideboard, not only do we give ourselves the option to bring them back against decks that go super wide (I'm looking at you, Mono-Black Zombies), but against most other decks, the single target spot removal that Noxious Gearhulk offers comes in handy big time. Nothing ruins an RG Eldrazi player's day like having his World Breaker die to an ETB effect that nets you a fat seven health, regardless of whether or not it's swinging in with haste and menace or not.
Speaking of haste and menace, Dreamstealer is a dream sideboard card against the various control decks running rampant around your LGS. Sooner or later, unless your opponent is running a ton of stifle effects (Which is unfortunately likely with Nimble Obstructionist and Disallow running around, but still) that Dreamstealer will be coming for your opponent's dreams, and more importantly, their hands.
All in all, I think it's safe to expect to see all kinds of variants of God-Pharaoh's Gift popping up in standard. Personally, I'll be sleeving this up until Ixalan, and I definitely intend to reanimate some dinosaurs.
Does anyone else hear the Jurassic Park theme song playing, or is it just me?