Rant of Valakut: Vesperlark in the Spotlight Ben Iverach-Brereton May 10, 2021 Decklists, Rants of Valakut Recently Seth (“probably better known as SaffronOlive”) released a video on MTGGoldfish showcasing Niccolò Luotti’s take on Vesperlark Reanimator. This list has a lot of cards in common with my early drafts of the same archetype, and watching Seth’s matches reminded me a lot of my early experience with the deck. With in-person Magic still on hold, I haven’t had a chance to work on my Vesperlark deck in well over a year. Nevertheless, I wanted to compare my deck to what Seth was playing. My earlier articles about Vesperlark Reanimator covered a lot of my specific choices for the deck, especially my retooling of it after the Faithless Looting ban, so if you want a more in-depth look at my process, I suggest you give them a read. While Luotti and I clearly had the same starting point, we went in very different directions when fleshing out our decks. I’m biased, but I much prefer where I ended up. Even so, I appreciate what Luotti’s list was trying to do; it’s very all-in on reanimating something on turn two, while my deck focuses more on sustaining itself throughout the mid-to-late game. Luotti’s Vesperlark Reanimator Modern Creature3 x Alesha, Who Smiles at Death4 x Deep Forest Hermit4 x Fauna Shaman4 x Insolent Neonate1 x Maul Splicer4 x Merchant of the Vale // Haggle1 x Trostani Discordant4 x Trostani’s Summoner4 x Vesperlark Instant4 x Eladamri’s Call3 x Ephemerate2 x Lightning Axe Land2 x Arid Mesa2 x Copperline Gorge2 x Forest (347)1 x Inspiring Vantage1 x Mountain (343)1 x Plains (331)2 x Sacred Foundry2 x Stomping Ground1 x Temple Garden4 x Windswept Heath4 x Wooded Foothills Sideboard2 x Abrade2 x Choke1 x Gnaw to the Bone2 x Kitchen Finks1 x Lightning Axe1 x Ray of Revelation2 x Soul-Guide Lantern2 x Wear // Tear2 x Wheel of Sun and Moon Buy This List Deck by Niccolò Luotti – MTGGoldfish My Vesperlark Reanimator Modern Creature3 x Alesha, Who Smiles at Death4 x Charming Prince3 x Merchant of the Vale // Haggle4 x Rix Maadi Reveler4 x Seasoned Pyromancer4 x Triskelion4 x Trostani’s Summoner4 x Vesperlark Instant4 x Lightning Bolt3 x Path to Exile Land4 x Arid Mesa1 x Blood Crypt1 x Forest (271)1 x Ghost Quarter4 x Mountain (266)2 x Plains (254)4 x Sacred Foundry2 x Stomping Ground2 x Sunbaked Canyon1 x Temple Garden1 x Wooded Foothills Sideboard2 x Faerie Macabre2 x Fragmentize1 x Fulminator Mage1 x Genesis3 x Irencrag Pyromancer1 x Path to Exile2 x Phyrexian Revoker3 x Sorcerous Spyglass Buy This List Deck by Ben Iverach-Brereton Going All-In Luotti’s Vesperlark Reanimator build is hyper focused on pulling off the “Vesperlark combo” as quickly and consistently as possible. This means running Fauna Shaman and a suite of support cards that I’d experimented with early on: most notably Eladamri’s Call and Ephemerate. Seth’s post-league overview concluded that Fauna Shaman is too slow for a deck like this, and I regretfully agree. Modern can be a blisteringly fast format, and while the Shaman is a perfect enabler on paper, both as a discard outlet and a way to find Vesperlark, in practice it’ll usually die before it can be activated. It’s too bad, but I don’t really see it being viable in the format without specifically building the deck around ways to protect it; this deck just doesn’t have room in it for that kind of support. Seth also thought Luotti’s deck would be better if it leaned into the toolbox nature of Eladamri’s Call. While this is an interesting idea, I actually found that running the tutor is actually a bit of a trap. Like Fauna Shaman, it’s very tempting to run a card which gives you access to any creature in your deck, whether it’s to set up your combo or to find a suitable hate bear. That said, it’s important to remember that Eladamri’s Call isn’t Green Sun’s Zenith; you’re effectively paying two extra mana to cast your creature instead of Zenith‘s one, and while this can be broken up over two turns, it’s still a lot to ask in a format like Modern. To search up and cast a Vesperlark with Eladamri’s Call means either waiting until turn four to do it all at once, or spending an entire turn earlier on doing nothing but searching your library. If Vesperlark‘s payoffs won the game on the spot this might be fine, but it’s not like it brings back Eldrazi titans. I found my version of the deck vastly improved when I gave up on the tutor entirely, and replaced it with cheap value creatures instead. Cards like Rix Maadi Reveler and Charming Prince help dig for my combo pieces, while simultaneously protecting me as blockers. Ephemerate, meanwhile, is a bit of a win-more card in a deck like this. While it’s unquestionably powerful when it works, if you’re able to cast it and rebound it for value in a game of Modern, you probably didn’t need it in the first place. The only cards that synergize with Ephemerate in Luotti’s deck are Vesperlark and its reanimation targets, meaning that for the spell to do anything you probably already pulled off the deck’s combo. With a higher concentration of early game enter-the-battlefield effects, like the aforementioned Rix Maadi Reveler, Ephemerate might be better, but even then it might not be worth the slot. Most Modern decks have enough cheap removal spells to shut down Ephemerate, and since most of this deck’s oomph comes from its tokens, it’s not like this instant can be used to protect anything important. I can imagine a version of Vesperlark Reanimator that would want to use Ephemerate, possibly alongside an Eternal Witness, but at that point the list might be better without Vesperlark! Playing to the Board Luotti’s deck also runs Insolent Neonate. I also tried out the vampire in early versions of my deck, since it could enable a turn-two Trostani’s Summoner. Ultimately I was very underwhelmed by its performance, especially compared to other enablers like Seasoned Pyromancer and Rix Maadi Reveler. While it does mean my deck doesn’t usually get a Trostani’s Summoner into play until at least turn three, its spells are more impactful overall. Both the Reveler and the Pyromancer stay on the battlefield while they help set up the Vesperlark combo, and they both draw you cards when your hand is empty. This gives my version of Vesperlark Reanimator a lot more staying power in games that go long. After turn two, top decking a Neonate is pretty awful. On the other hand, top decking a Reveler at any point in the game can be great. I do need a black source to get the most value out of the Reveler‘s Spectacle cost, but the addition of a single Blood Crypt in the land base easily solves that problem. Despite these additional enter-the-battlefield cards making Ephemerate stronger in my list, I prefer to use Charming Prince instead. Ephemerate‘s best-case scenario is much stronger than the Prince‘s, but as I said before, Modern decks are often well equipped to stop blink shenanigans in their tracks. It’s also much better to top deck a Prince than an Ephemerate when things aren’t going your way; even if you don’t have anything to blink, the Prince still gives you a 2/2 creature. Moreover, resolving a Charming Prince is good both before casting a Vesperlark and after you’ve reanimated a Trostani’s Summoner: early on he can be used to scry into your combo pieces, and late in the game he can be used for his blink ability. Having some main deck life gain against Burn and Blitz decks doesn’t go unnoticed, either! It’s Not a Combo Deck Unlike traditional Reanimator decks that use cards like Goryo’s Vengeance, Vesperlark Reanimator doesn’t immediately end the game when it brings back an expensive creature. Seth said it himself: sometimes a turn two Trostani’s Summoner isn’t enough to win, something you rarely hear said about Griselbrand or Ulamog. Building around Vesperlark like it’s the same as other reanimation spells isn’t quite right. Yes, it uses the same setup cards, but because its payoffs are, in Modern terms, “fair,” it requires a different mindset. Reanimating Trostani’s Summoner is good, but that can’t be all the deck does. Instead, I think it’s better to look at Vesperlark Reanimator as a midrange deck with the ability to go over the top of its opponents with reanimation spells. I’ve had a lot more more success with my version of Vesperlark Reanimator ever since I moved away from an all-in combo approach to more of a value-driven one. Not only is my deck more resilient, but it feels more consistent, too. I have a lot fewer dead draws, meaning that I can cast more of the cards I draw each game. I also don’t rely as heavily on finding a Vesperlark or Alesha, since I can trundle along with 2/2 creatures long enough to hard-cast my big spells. This also means that if an opponent is running a lot of graveyard hate, such as Relic of Progenitus, Leyline of the Void, or worse, a Scavenging Ooze, my deck actually stands a chance of doing something. When Things Go Wrong Because the deck can have such an explosive start, it doesn’t need as much help in the early game. Rather, it’s important to ask what the deck does if a quick Trostani’s Summoner gets answered. The extra card draw from Seasoned Pyromancer and Rix Maadi Reveler goes a long way to ensuring that the deck always has something relevant to play, all while putting more bodies on the battlefield. Sometimes all it takes to win is an army of 2/2 creatures, and when that’s not enough these creatures can stall the game until I draw a bigger threat or removal spell. Playing these creatures also means I’m often drawing two or more cards a turn, which opens up the opportunity to run Irencrag Pyromancer in the sideboard. This gives the deck a powerful backup plan that doesn’t rely on the graveyard, which can potentially be very important in games two and three. The Value of Interaction In Modern you either need to win quickly, or stop your opponent from doing so. Vesperlark Reanimator realistically isn’t fast enough to ignore what’s happening on the other side of the table. This means it’s worth finding room in the deck for more interaction. Luotti’s list includes Lightning Axe, which is a reasonable inclusion for the deck. Personally, I found it to be a bit lackluster when I tried it. I felt that I had enough other discard outlets that I could get away with using more traditional removal spells instead; Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile are classics for a reason, after all. While they might not directly interact with the deck’s game plan, these spells’ low mana costs lets you set things up while keeping up interaction. Unlike Lightning Axe, though, these spells still work when you’ve run out of other cards in hand. Bolt can also deal with planeswalkers and punch through the last few points of damage in the late game, which is worth considering. Meanwhile, Path to Exile is better at dealing with larger creatures and recurring threats, many of which have six toughness these days. Going Tall Perhaps the biggest difference between my list and Luotti’s is my inclusion of Triskelion. Luotti focused a lot on token generation, with Trostani Discordant and Deep Forest Hermit, and those can certainly work in this kind of deck. Trostani Discordant is particularly interesting alongside her Summoner, though I fear the odds of reanimating both in a single game are rather slim. What I’ve liked about Triskelion, on the other hand, is the immediate impact it has on the battlefield. In an ideal world it sticks around as a 4/4 for several turns, but even if it’s targeted with a removal spell you can take off its counters for a free Lightning Bolt worth of damage. What really sold me on Triskelion over other token makers, though, was how hard it hits when it’s reanimated by Alesha. Alesha returns creatures tapped and attacking, meaning if she brings back an unanswered Triskelion it’s an immediate seven damage out of nowhere. In a lot of the games I played before the pandemic, when given the choice between a Trostani’s Summoner or a Triskelion to reanimate, I actually gravitated toward the artifact creature more often for the increased interaction, despite the fact that the Summoner provided more power on the battlefield. It’s not always the right choice, mind you, but a turn two 4/4 that can toss around damage like a Walking Ballista demands a lot of respect. By not focusing exclusively on reanimating token producers like Trostani’s Summoner, it’s harder for my opponents to predict what kind of threat I’ll be presenting from game to game. This, combined with the Irencrag Pyromancer backup plan, can make it trickier to sideboard against my version of Vesperlark Reanimator, which in turn allows me to mitigate the impact of certain hate cards. It’s not foolproof; graveyard hate will still slow me down even if I’m running the other Pyromancers, and any Torpor Orb effect will stop most of what this deck is trying to do. Still, none of these effects shut me down completely, which gives me a fighting chance each game. Triskelion will still get its counters through a Torpor Orb, for instance, and Merchant of the Vale could still be used to rummage through the deck; a single disruptive card might be a nuisance, but I won’t lose the game on the spot if one resolves. Great Minds Think Alike I’ll admit, I was a bit torn when I saw that SaffronOlive had released a video about this deck. On the one hand, Vesperlark Reanimator is a sweet deck and I’m happy more people will get a chance to see it. On the other hand, people are likely to assume that my list is based on Luotti’s list after watching his video, rather than it being something I coming up with on my own over a year earlier, and I’m not looking forward to having that conversation. Parallel design is a very real thing, and it’s only natural that other players would find the same synergies that I did; Trostani’s Summoner is a pretty obvious target once you start looking for cards that work with Vesperlark, after all. Just because we all came to the same conclusions independently doesn’t make us any less creative. Ultimately, if Seth’s video sparks more interest in Vesperlark Reanimator, it can only be a good thing. The deck is a lot of fun, no matter which version you’re playing. And to be honest, I would be delighted to find myself playing it in a mirror match some day. 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