To start things off, we have to look back to 2015 where Anthony Lowry entered the scene with the initial version of Black-Red Reanimator featuring Sire of Insanity. Despite a lack of consistency and some flaws, which I discuss below, variants of this deck have never left Legacy and, slowly but steadily, made Blue-Black Reanimator obsolete in the format.
When Gitaxian Probe was still legal, a deck called TinFins saw occasional play. A Storm and Reanimator hybrid that utilizes Shallow Grave and Goryo's Vengeance to unbury Emrakul, the Aeons Torn with its trigger on the stack and either winning via lethal attack or Tendrils of Agony, it was a decent choice at the time.
Burning Reanimator was a fringe choice back in 2018 when dedicated graveyard hate was common in almost all sideboards. Nowadays, there are Endurance and Leyline of the Void, but something has to keep this deck in check, am I right?
The modern day Burning Reanimator combines the strength of these decks, the consistency of running enough cantrips and the explosiveness of all-in strategies, while mitigating their weakness, their lack of reacting to hate. But let's have a look at what's really going on here.
|Burning Reanimator by Robert Swiecki, Summer 2022|
In this deck, Griselbrand really functions as Legacy's best draw engine. In other words, it is not a typical Reanimator deck because it does not plan on dealing damage with creatures, but it so happens that Griselbrand is a creature and the fastest way to activate it is to defile its tomb. Other reanimation targets are unnecessary since they usually demand the player to pass their turn, which is something Burning Reanimator does not want to do. Being able to omit the combat step is a huge upside for this deck.
Archon of Cruelty, Serra's Emissary, and all the other huge creatures are great targets for traditional black-red builds, but run the risk of getting blown out by some unexpected interaction or draw. Children of Korlis is a tech borrowed from TinFins that synergizes Griselbrand's life-loss ability quite well. Don't forget that it also works great against opposing Storm decks, because sacrificing Children right before the lethal Tendrils of Agony copy gets resolved almost nullifies its effect.
Thoughtseize is just an overall all-star when it comes to black-based combo decks. It can also be used to discard Griselbrand. There might be a world where going down to three copies is the right amount, but four seems to be the way to go in an open field.
Grief, however, is what really pushes Black-Red Reanimator over the top. It's not only a strict upgrade over Unmask, but can be brought back to life for even more disruption. A 3/2 with menace that comes into play with the help of a Dark Ritual cannot be disregarded either. There is a chance that Grief can mess up one's Shallow Grave, but its upsides of being another creature that can actually close out the game is greater than Unmask's ability to discard one's own Griselbrand.
This deck needs a lot of fast mana but lacks the capacities to remove even more cards from hand to support Chrome Mox. In an ideal world, the Mox would only make an appearance after Griselbrand's activation, but starting hands are much more important than extra mana ramping. Let's keep in mind that Burning Reanimator does not have to win immediately, but can pass the turn with Griselbrand in play.
The other three cards are examples of the fast mana Legacy has to offer with Lion's Eye Diamond functioning like a Black Lotus with upsides. It can discard a stranded Griselbrand with Wishclaw Talisman in play, or get sacrificed with a Shallow Grave or an Exhume on the stack.
Shallow Grave and Exhume do not target a creature in the graveyard, which is extremely important. That way, reanimation lines with Lion's Eye Diamond are possible. The fourth Exhume has its place in the sideboard to support a very small but crucial Burning Wish board.
Running one Unburial Rites opens up new possibilities to bring back a creature; once again, especially with Lion's Eye Diamond. It's even possible to keep two diamonds, no lands, discard Unburial Rites and Grislbrand, and go from there.
Entomb, formerly a banned card in Legacy, works as a Demonic Tutor in this deck, albeit for one mana less and at instant speed.
The other business spells are the glue that holds the deck together. Two Wishes are enough because one does not want to draw too many. It usually serves as the final spell before a lethal Tendrils of Agony.
Faithless Looting is not as great in this deck because there are only five cards you want to go to the graveyard (along the other copies of Faithless Looting). Cutting one Looting for a Reanimate or an Unmask could be the way to go.
Three Talismans serve as slower Demonic Tutor because they can grab anything from the deck to solve the puzzle how to reanimate Griselbrand against possible resistance.
One does not want to mulligan due to a lack of lands in hand. Fourteen lands seems to be a sweet spot for this deck that cannot use blue cantrips to filter its draws.
The other really crucial rule is that every mana-producing land has to make black mana. There is no room for off-color duals because Burning Reanimator wants to operate on two lands that can cast a discard spell and Dark Ritual during the same turn.
There are only three Burning Wish targets that matter, and among those one can debate if Massacre is really needed at all. On the other hand it is so easy to play and have an out against hate bears.
I am pretty certain that Burning Reanimator wants to run a white sideboard. Surgical Extraction is great when paired with discard spells against other combo decks. Silence works well against Endurance, this deck's main enemy. And Serenity is a cheap board sweeper.
One could also play green and use Boseiju, Who Endures, Veil of Summer, and maybe Abrupt Decay. Though mandatory white mana for Children of Korlis and Unburial Rites in the main deck means that running Bayou is most likely too complicated and would weaken the mana base.
Defense Grid comes in against control decks and is one of the few cards that protects the deck from an instant-speed Endurance and cheap Surgical Extractions.
Not needed anymore are cards like Empty the Warrens, which never performed well enough in this deck, and Peer into the Abyss, which simply cost too much. A smaller wish package lets us build a more streamlined sideboard with many multiples, and that's what this deck wants; we cannot become too cute with our card choices here.
Burning Reanimator has great potential to be a powerhouse in a format that has never been more vulnerable to graveyard strategies than in 2022. Admittedly, it will sometimes lose to an Endurance or its own draws. However, it is extraordinarily consistent even when taking mulligans because it's built to have the absolute best and fastest starting hands a reanimator deck can have.
Burning Wish can grab the missing Exhume. Entomb does not only bury a Griselbrand, but can operate as an additional reanimation spell fetching Unburial Rites. And Wishclaw Talisman becomes the glue that holds everything together.
Possible changes to the main could be adding an Unmask as a fifth Grief and cutting some amount of Faithless Looting or the third Wishclaw Talisman, which can become rather clunky at times.
Going down to thirteen lands and running a single Chrome Mox might make sense to some extent, but it has a pretty low floor in terms of card value for the first few turns. Usually, a stable mana base ensures keepable starting hands, which—and I cannot stress this too much—are the key to victory for Burning Reanimator.
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