If you like gaining tons of life and playing flashy enter the battlefield effects, then I invite you to continue reading.
After a relatively quiet year for reanimator strategies, a glance into the top sixteens of several large events the few weeks would seem to indicate the archetype is back in force. Remembered in recent memory for the Innistrad era Junk Reanimator, green/white/black now is providing us with a new answer to the metagame in the form of Abzan Reanimator, or Abzanimator.
Built upon the same shell as the Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir winning Abzan Midrange deck, Abzanimator increases its count of Whip of Erebos to make the impact of strong creatures like Siege Rhino even greater, and adds cards like Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder as a way to fill the graveyard. The reanimator strategy is also more likely to drop smaller creatures like Rakshasa Deathdealer in favor of taking advantage of a few high cost enter the battlefield effects on cards like Hornet Queen.
These decks started popping up at the same time as I was working on combining ramp strategies with Villainous Wealth (which I think is a better way to play the card than Sultai Control). The problem was it was not consistent enough and lacked much of a chance in before sideboard against mono-Red and burn heavy Jeskai Aggro. I really wanted a way to reset the game after I build up a huge mana base.
Enter Resolute Archangel. Do you like resetting your life total on turn four? Then this guy is your friend. A 4/4 flyer is not anything to scoff at, but more than anything, even if it takes a Stoke the Flames immediately after resolving, the game should now be fully in your favor. I have gained 19 life, coming back from only one, and let me tell you, that feels good.
But what if you don’t draw Resolute Archangel? I’m glad you asked. Let us now turn our eyes to See The Unwritten, a card that just now seems to be getting the attention it deserves. Not only are we digging through eight cards, allowing us to see a ton of our deck looking for answers and getting to play them directly onto the battlefield, but in the end seven (or six when Ferocious) cards go into our graveyard. This is more effective as a Whip enabler than the Commune and Wayfinder, and truly puts Nyx Weaver to shame. To summarize, for six mana we are putting one (or two) creatures onto the battlefield and making our graveyard based support elements better. Seems good. In fact, the more overpriced and flashy the creature is, the better the value we get from See The Unwritten is.
Between the advantages of See The Unwritten and the speed of a ramp build I saw the Abzanimator did not have to be comprised of simple four and five drops. I wanted to push the limits of what could be played in the deck. No Limits Abzanimator.
So what are the creatures we want to bring out either for as a discount answer with See The Unwritten, bring out attacking with Whip of Erebos, or simply hardcast with our ramp? I see three prime contenders in the Abzan colors. We already mentioned Resolute Archangel, simply the best card in the deck and criminally underrated in standard. The next card is one I which already slips in many reanimator decks as their top of the curve, Hornet Queen. Five flying bodies with deathtouch change a game. Be it as defense to stop much more expensive creatures or simply attacking for six damage (divisible between player and planeswalker as you see fit), the Hornet Queen is always a live play and can also be thought of as being as good as a removal spell. Leaving four friends behind off the Whip is always welcome in my eyes.
The last creature we are playing is a Theros favorite who never found a deck to play him on time, Ashen Rider. You really shouldn’t need any other reason to play this card than the art. It is a flying tiger with an intense looking warrior on the back. If that isn’t motivating for you, then I don’t know what is. Beyond that, this eight drop not only has an enter the battlefield effect, but also one when it leaves. Not only is this insurance against removal, but it also makes him one of the best whip creatures in standard. He partners with Hornet Queen as the decks removal package.
No Limits Abzanimator
Our twelve big bad enters the battlefield effect creatures are joined by fifteen ramp creatures. Testing has shown me this is enough to reliably hardcast a seven or eight drop by turn five without too much flooding. One surprising thing about the deck is how much damage the mana dorks can slide in. With seven of them having two power, several turns of attacking can go a long way. As always, Sylvan Caryatid can block, though I often choose to just take damage rather than risk the hexproof creature getting blown out by an instant speed pump spell since hitting my threat quickly is so important. It is worth mentioning that a morphed Rattleclaw Mystic makes it possible to get threats out even faster, and is a means of getting extra green mana in the event I cannot produce the full three for Hornet Queen.
To take a brief look at the mana base, only five lands do not produce at least two colors of mana, and one of those helps fix black mana. This is achieved without any painlands which I found to dramatically reduce the win rate of the deck. Eight temples are present, either ensuring I hit my land and ramp drops in the early game and ensuring I keep drawing threats in the early game. They even can help regulate what comes to play off of See The Unwritten.
About the sideboard, you either are surprised by the complete abandon of subtlety and divergence from the sort of things I normally put into the board, or you have already realized this deck has no interest in responding to my opponent with anything resembling conventionality.
I have always loved a transitional sideboard. I proudly can say that back in the summer of 2013, months before mono-black became the scourge it was, I was playing a full set of Pack Rat in the full on aggressive sideboard of my Dimir mill deck. It caught people by surprise and won games. More recently we saw Lee Shi Tian include an aggressive sideboard element including Savage Knuckleblade within Jeskai Ascendancy during his Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir top eight performance. This got me trying to do the same.
Honestly I don’t know if this is a transformative sideboard, I am not switching to a control archetype as I could, and I do not make the jump to being a fast aggro deck, but the planeswalkers are certainly a different avenue of attack than what I am doing in game one. Nissa, Worldwaker has really shined, originally not appearing as a full four of. Against mono-Red or Prowess builds a turn three Nissa and an army of 4/4 tramplers is a great way to change the game. Her ability to untap forests, despite them appearing in a low volume, has on occasion allowed me to get more cheap rampers in play, ensuring the big boys come to play sooner rather than later.