Rant of Valakut: Vesperlark Reanimator Update Ben Iverach-Brereton January 20, 2020 Decklists, Rants of Valakut When Faithless Looting got banned in Modern, I was worried that my brand new Vesperlark Reanimator deck would completely fall apart. I was losing one of the best cards in the deck; a core part of its engine and a powerful way to dig for combo pieces. Without it, the weird brew I built might not even work. Rather than despair, I went on the hunt for possible replacements. Luckily, I found several options to try. Since I had to make some changes anyway, I decided to go over the rest of the deck and see where I could improve things, and how best I could integrate these new cards. The deck’s gone through a number of iterations since my last article, and I’m sure this won’t be its final form, but I’m pretty happy with where it’s at right now. I’ve been testing it regularly, with some success. Here’s my current list: VESPERLARK REANIMATOR (v.2) 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 (347)1 x Ghost Quarter4 x Mountain (343)2 x Plains (331)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 Overall, I win about half of my matches with the deck. That might not sound great, but I feel it’s respectable for a deck I built from the ground up. I’m not going to pretend like Vesperlark Reanimator is going to take the metagame by storm and crush everything in its path, but it can hold its own in a lot of matchups, at least locally. How it Plays The list plays a lot like a value-driven midrange deck, reminiscent of old Mardu Pyromancer lists. What sets it apart from those decks is Vesperlark Reanimator’s ability to have very explosive starts; with an ideal hand it can put ten power on the battlefield by turn two or three, and it can often steal games as a result. Classic Pyromancer decks were probably better at the mid-game grind, but even in the games where Vesperlark Reanimator doesn’t stick an early Trostani’s Summoner or Triskelion, it can pour out a steady stream of creatures to deal with. I don’t have a lot of interaction in the main deck, outside of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, so combo decks like Scapeshift or Infect can be a bit tricky to beat. Bolt, Path and Triskelion do a lot of work, but sometimes they just aren’t enough. Unlike a lot of traditional Reanimator decks, I don’t just win on the spot when I resolve a Vesperlark or Alesha. That extra time I need to win via combat damage can be exactly what those combo decks need. On the other hand, control and midrange decks can often struggle to keep up with what I’m doing. Without a well-timed counterspell, I can finish the game before they have a chance to set up. If the game does go late I can always fall back on Plan B, and just start casting a string of Trostani’s Summoners from my hand. One-for-one removal quickly falls behind when that many tokens hit the battlefield, and with the reanimation game plan, board wipes aren’t always enough, either. Learning and Tinkering A big part of working on any deck is learning what makes a good opening hand, and more importantly what a bad one looks like. This helps you to weed out cards that don’t fit, and further refine your game plan. I’ve learned from building and tweaking enough Commander decks over the years that the initial vision for a deck is often different from its final version, and focusing on what the deck actually does rather than what it was trying to do is usually the easier route to finding a good deck. This deck is somewhat forgiving to play, considering how much it can rummage away bad cards, but the best games are the ones that start with at least a few combo pieces in hand. Without that, the deck will spend a lot of the early game playing 2/2s and spinning its wheels. This isn’t the worst plan, but it is a lot slower. Despite the redundancy, it can be tricky to piece everything together, and I’ve seen more than a few clunky draws with this list. As I refine the deck I’m seeing fewer draws like that, though. One thing I tried to keep in mind as I made changes was to give it better focus and consistency. If the plan is to reanimate a creature like Trostani’s Summoner from my graveyard, I needed to remove cards that, while good on their own, didn’t help with the deck’s game plan. This isn’t a Jund value deck, after all; reanimation strategies require a lot of setup, and that means having the whole deck working towards that goal. The Big Changes While the Vesperlark/Summoner core of the deck remains the same, a lot of the other parts changed as I found what worked and what didn’t. If you didn’t read my first article about the deck, here’s where the list started: VESPERLARK REANIMATOR (v.1) Modern Creature2 x Alesha, Who Smiles at Death1 x Eternal Witness1 x Genesis4 x Insolent Neonate1 x Knight of Autumn1 x Prime Speaker Zegana3 x Seasoned Pyromancer1 x Triskelion4 x Trostani’s Summoner4 x Vesperlark Sorcery4 x Faithless Looting Instant4 x Eladamri’s Call2 x Ephemerate2 x Lightning Axe4 x Lightning Bolt Land4 x Arid Mesa1 x Copperline Gorge1 x Forest (271) (Full Art)1 x Geier Reach Sanitarium1 x Ghost Quarter3 x Inspiring Vantage1 x Mountain (268) (Full Art)3 x Plains (254) (Full Art)3 x Sacred Foundry2 x Stomping Ground1 x Temple Garden1 x Wooded Foothills Sideboard2 x Faerie Macabre1 x Fairgrounds Warden3 x Fiery Temper1 x Grim Lavamancer1 x Path to Exile2 x Lightning Helix2 x Phyrexian Revoker3 x Wear // Tear Buy This List Deck by Ben Iverach-Brereton As you can see, I’ve swapped out a lot of cards. The original deck was a good proof of concept, but it ended up feeling a bit slow and clunky, and the cards were a bit all over the map. I think I’ve ironed out a lot of the issues, and the deck flows much better now. CHARMING PRINCE Added I decided to try out Charming Prince instead of Ephemerate to see how he’d do. I was pleased with his performance from the onset, and my fondness for him has really only grown. When I draw him in the late game he can flicker a Seasoned Pyromancer or Trostani’s Summoner for a pile of value, but if he’s an early draw, I can use him to dig for my missing combo pieces with his Scry 2 ability. In a pinch he can even gain some life for me, which has been relevant against a number of Burn and Prowess decks. At his worst he’s a 2/2 for two mana, which isn’t exciting, but he can always trade with a Snapcaster Mage or help double-block a Tarmogoyf. Four copies seemed silly at first, but Charming Prince is a versatile card that’s good at pretty much any point in the game; drawing multiple copies of him is rarely a bad thing. RIX MAADI REVELER Added Speaking of good bears, Rix Maadi Reveler keeps looking better and better the more I play with it. Like Charming Prince, it’s a modest creature, but it holds it’s own. One thing’s for sure: I feel a lot better casting the Reveler than an Insolent Neonate, even if it costs twice as much mana. The fact that the Reveler rummages and still sticks around afterwards is really handy, not just because he can trade with an attacker or soften up my opponent with some chip damage, but because I can blink him later with a Charming Prince. With a single Blood Crypt in the deck I can occasionally cast it for its Spectacle cost to draw three cards, which is a sweet bonus, but even just the baseline of discarding a card to draw a card is fine. Oh, and did I mention that Rix Maadi Reveler draws you a card even if you have nothing to discard? For only two mana he does a staggering amount of work to tie this deck together, and I honestly think the list was significantly worse without his inclusion. HAGGLE Added Haggle is doing its part, though four copies proved to be one too many in the long run. With all of the discard from Rix Maadi Revelers and Seasoned Pyromancers, Haggle ended up being a little redundant. Still, I do like having some amount of one-mana discard at my disposal. Honestly, because Haggle is an instant it opens up a lot of interesting opportunities that even Faithless Looting couldn’t manage. Being able to hold up removal for an early threat is great, and if nothing problematic appears you can fire off your discard spell. Even just discarding a reanimation target on my opponent’s end step so I can untap and bring it back on my turn is good, since it reduces mo opponent’s chances of disrupting me. Merchant of the Vale himself is actually decent, too. A 2/3 for three mana looks pretty bad by Modern standards, but even that can close out a game when all other resources are exhausted. What’s more, the Merchant‘s activated ability can help to keep the deck going well into the late game, by either discarding reanimation targets or by digging for specific cards. Merchant of the Vale is effectively the flashback half of Faithless Looting, for when the deck eventually runs out of things to do with its mana. As a fail-safe in those situations, he’s ok. I wouldn’t include him in a Modern deck on his own, but as a freebie included with Haggle? I’m happy enough to cast him from time to time. ELADAMRI’S CALL Removed Eladamri’s Call is a tricky card. On the one hand, it’s a great way to find exactly the creature you need to finish your combo, but more often than not it sets you back a whole a turn. In Modern, that one turn can make the difference between winning and losing. As strange as it seems, the likes of Rix Maadi Reveler and Charming Prince feel better to cast by leaps and bounds. They fill a similar role to the Call, insofar as they can help dig for missing combo pieces, but they’re more versatile, and interact better with the other cards in the deck. Plus, as creatures they can attack and block while the deck sets up for its big reanimation plan. I’m sure there’s a deck in Modern that could make good use of Eladamri’s Call, but it just hasn’t worked out well for me here. If nothing else, by cutting it from the deck my mana became a lot easier to manage; now I really only need green mana for a late game Trostani’s Summoner. Everything else is basically white or red at this point. What ultimately clued me into cutting the Call was that I moved it into my sideboard for games two and three of almost every match. Obviously it wasn’t that vital to have around if I kept removing it, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of my Modern testing, it’s that cards you always move to your sideboard for games two and three are the ones you should seriously consider getting rid of it altogether. EPHEMERATE Removed Pauper all-star Ephemerate is a sweet, powerful card, especially alongside cards like Eternal Witness and Archaeomancer, but in this deck it’s a win-more card. Ideally it would be used to blink Trostani’s Summoner or Triskelion once they’re in play, but if I got those cards onto the battlefield I’m probably already doing ok. It’s getting them into play in the first place that I really needed to focus on; trying to pull off this weird reanimator plan can be hard enough as it is, and Ephemerate doesn’t quite help with that. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a value-based Modern deck just waiting to abuse Ephemerate with a similar play pattern as Pauper, but sadly this deck isn’t it, no matter how much I’d like it to be (did I mention how sweet it is alongside Seasoned Pyromancer, too?) In reality, I think you’d be looking at an Ephemerate deck that didn’t struggle with the double-green mana cost of Eternal Witness. Thankfully I do still get a similar effect from Charming Prince, though not quite to the same degree as Ephemerate itself; the low mana cost and Rebound ability really push this common over the top. Nevertheless, Charming Prince‘s versatility has ultimately proven to be more useful. INSOLENT NEONATE Removed You always need a way to discard cards in this deck, and Insolent Neonate was, at the time, one of the better options for doing exactly that. With the printing of Haggle, the Neonate lost a lot of its appeal; Haggle still allows me to get a big turn two play from time to time, but I’m not actually down a card when I do that with Haggle; I can still cast Merchant of the Vale, whereas Insolent Neonate just ends up in my graveyard. While I can get the vampire back, if I’m reanimating a Neonate then I think something’s gone horribly wrong. KNIGHT OF AUTUMN Removed Knight of Autumn is one of those great cards that just doesn’t help with my reanimation game plan. It can deal with enchantments and artifacts like Rest in Peace or Ensnaring Bridge, and the life gain has helped on more than one occasion, but in the end it doesn’t fit here. By cutting it I get more room for cards that directly help my game plan, and like cutting Eladamri’s Call I also reduce my dependance on green mana. I’d considered leaving Knight of Autumn in the sideboard, but ultimately opted for a more mana efficient option. The green and white cost was certainly a factor, especially since a Blood Moon would make casting this particular enchantment destroyer nearly impossible. TRISKELION Added While the original deck did include one Triskelion, having four of them is a significant change. After a bit of testing I decided to run the full four copies of Walking Ballista‘s older sibling instead of just one; I’d use Ballista instead, but it’s hard to reanimate an x-cost 0/0 without it dying on you! Triskelion doesn’t seem like an amazing creature to bring back at first blush, but every time I’ve put it into play I’ve been impressed. It usually eats a removal spell pretty quickly, but not before it takes out a couple of creatures or planeswalkers. If it does stick around it does a good job controlling the battlefield, and is usually one of the biggest creatures in play. Bringing it back with Alesha is particularly fun, since it comes into play attacking as a 4/4. If you also pull the counters off of the freshly-reanimated artifact after combat, it’s a lot of extra damage coming out of nowhere. PRIME SPEAKER ZEGANA Removed Prime Speaker Zegana is a fun reanimation target, but she’s admittedly another win-more card in this deck. The best-case scenario with her is drawing half a dozen cards for only a couple of mana, but that requires so much setup as to be nearly impossible in a game of Modern. She’s also the only card I could never actually cast in my original list, so when I was looking to make cuts for a few more lands she was a pretty obvious choice. I will say this about Zegana: the few times that I did get her onto the battlefield, she was awesome, especially with an Ephemerate in tow. I got to draw so many cards! It didn’t quite work out to have her in this deck, but I would love to see some other list reanimating her… maybe with Vesperlark and Goryo’s Vengeance? GEIER REACH SANITARIUM Removed In the mana base, Geier Reach Sanitarium proved to be a bit of an issue. Between it and Ghost Quarter I was running into mana issues a little too often. I learned after a few games that the coloured mana requirements of this deck were too much, and I couldn’t afford to have two colourless lands. As handy as the Sanitarium can be to fuel my graveyard nonsense, I’d rather keep Ghost Quarter around for ‘Tron or Field of the Dead. Field of Ruin might be the better choice to play instead, but I still like the manaless activation cost of Ghost Quarter. SUNBAKED CANYON Added My first list didn’t have quite enough lands, but I also wanted to make sure I didn’t constantly flood out when I added more. Cue the Horizon Lands: Sunbaked Canyon was the perfect compromise for this list, and gave me more red-white mana fixing to boot. The little bit of life lost from it isn’t too big a deal, and being able to cycle the Canyon away for a new card really helps with the flow of the deck. It can be a bit tricky when trying to decide whether to sacrifice a land for a card or to save it and try to hit a sixth (or seventh) land to start hard-casting my Triskelions and Trostani’s Summoners, but more often than not drawing the extra card seems to be the right call. INSPIRING VANTAGE and COPPERLINE GORGE Removed One thing I learned with this deck is that it needs all of its lands to come into play untapped at all times. I have a lot of quick turn one or turn two plays, but often I find myself at five or six mana, just looking for one more land to get a Trostani’s Summoner onto the battlefield the hard way. Drawing an Inspiring Vantage or Copperline Gorge in those situations feels terrible. MAUL SPLICER Removed The big Golem maker is perhaps the card that’s come in and out of the deck the most out since I started this project. It began as only a couple of copies of Maul Splicer, and it was pretty good. I increased its numbers to three, then eventually to a full four copies. It wasn’t until I started considering the utility of Triskelion that I started phasing Maul Splicer back out. Dropping seven power on the battlefield is really good, and because it drops a bunch of tokens into play, it ends up being very similar to Trostani’s Summoner; this isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it does mean that my opponent’s sideboarding plan becomes simpler. A card like Engineered Explosives handily answers the tokens the Summoner and Splicer can dish out, but it won’t do anything against a Triskelion. Similarly, if an opponent packs a Pithing Needle to deal with Triskelion it won’t do anything against the Summoner. Triskelion also gives me more interaction against creatures and planeswalkers, which I’ve found to be of vital importance. In the end, Maul Splicer isn’t bad, I just ran out of room in the deck for reanimation targets. LIGHTNING AXE Removed Interaction and removal are very important in Modern; pretty much every deck in the format needs a creature in some capacity, whether it’s a Devoted Druid, Soul-Scar Mage or Hedron Crab. Lightning Axe seems like a great choice, pairing discard with a way to destroy a creature, but I empty my hand a lot with this deck. As such, the Axe becomes a terrible card to draw. Path to Exile is a much tidier answer to most creatures anyway, even if it does give my opponent a land, while Lightning Bolt continues to be as great a card as ever. For a ‘Lark My new list feels a lot more streamlined than where I started, and it’s noticeably more consistent. Running the full four copies of most of your cards helps so much in that respect. With so much of my background in Commander I can get worried about repetitive gameplay, but honestly I don’t find that to be an issue with this deck at all. There are a lot of interesting decisions to make with the deck as you try to set things up, and in the games when you get that turn two Trostani’s Summoner it feels great. There’s a moment of confusion as your opponent reads your cards carefully, then a look of concern as they see the wall of tokens appear in front of them. Your opponent then works to deal with everything, and you hurry to set up for an encore. Because the game doesn’t just end on the spot, you both actually get to play a game of Magic, which I think is a lot more enjoyable than a quick “I win! Good game.” Maybe that’s just me. …On the Side? Next time, I’ll be going over the changes I made to the sideboard, and take a look at some of the biggest threats this deck needs to worry about. I hope you’ll join me then! 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