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Legacy by the Books: Reanimator vs. BUG Control

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

Last time we talked about the kind of match up that makes Legacy an awesome format: UW Miracles vs RUG Delver. Fundamentally, there’s one thing that matters: can the UW player Terminus away Nimble Mongoose? But there are so many different ways to approach that interaction. And then there’s a constant, dynamic interaction that changes what resources and cards are important. There are a ton of ways to approach the match up and the secret to winning is to adapt to the way your opponent plays the match up.

As sweet as the UW deck was and as much as I enjoyed playing it, I wanted to try to find more match ups like that. The more dynamic and interactive something is, the more it forces you to learn about the format. Fundamentally, the goal of this isn’t to build and tune a sweet deck (though that’d be awesome too). The goal is to learn as many things about Legacy as I can.

The deck that I knew I wanted to play with this week was Reanimator. This seems to be the Dredge of the format right now; the deck that everyone has to be prepared to beat. Reanimator is highly interactive and very powerful–seems like an important deck to be familiar with right now. I like Owen’s list from GP Atlanta because of the sick plan you have against decks that are prepared for Reanimator. Against those decks, you get to play a sweet sideboarding sub game which generally seems to be in your favor.

The other deck that I wanted to try is one that shifts in and out of popularity every few months, and I’m not entirely certain why. BUG Control seems like it should be the UWx control deck of other formats. BUG always has the tools to fight against the metagame as long as you change your deck from week to week to account for the changing metagame. You have most of the best counterspells and removal in the format and don’t lose to the same hate cards people use against the other blue-based control decks. Here’s the list that I’m starting with and some of the thoughts I’d be keeping in mind for running this against a gauntlet:

I really like this list because of the rise of Shroud and Hexproof guys in legacy. Geist of Saint Traft and Nimble Mongoose seem to be at an all-time high and so having a ton of answers to those in your main deck seems incredibly important. That said, it’s pretty obvious that BUG can beat up on creature decks if it wants to. The interesting thing is how well it can do against the unfair decks.

To be honest, I expect Reanimator to be pretty rough for BUG before sideboarding. You have a ton of dead cards and all of your bombs are expensive and grindy. Also, Griselbrand all but wins the game on the spot. That means you have to leave up your shields for way too long since you can’t apply any real pressure to the Reanimator deck while leaving up countermagic until way too late in the game. By then they’ve sculpted their hand, ripped yours to shreds and are ready to combo through your Spell Pierce with Force of Will backup. I’m sure that you have the tools to win a couple of game ones, but I think it’s going to depend largely on how aggressive the Reanimator player decides to be and what kind of hand you decide to keep.

I expect the sideboarded games to be much more interactive and even favorable for the BUG deck. But, one of the things I want to pay attention to is if the post board games are good enough to make up for how bad I expect the preboard games will be. Here’s how the games went:

Preboard Games

I didn’t get to play as many games as I would have liked at FNM, but the ones I did get in were pretty indicative. I played a few games each against Lou and Ian, and I was on the BUG side each time. Out of eight games, the record ended up being 6-2 in favor of Reanimator, which is honestly better than I was expecting. It seemed to me like the game ones boil down to a few simple things:

  1. The die roll matters a ton. If BUG gets to go first, they can cast discard spells without fear. On the draw, you can play a discard spell and still get combo’d with Daze or Force of Will backup.
  2. Reanimator can afford to be patient. There are only six hard counters in the BUG deck, so as long as you’re keeping up on lands you can wait until you can force through a Griselbrand.
  3. BUG has to be greedy with its soft counters, like Spell Pierce. They’re only going to get a Reanimate if the other player is being greedy, so you should be content to hit an early cantrip or enabler. You can’t leave up counters forever; at some point you have to do something to start getting ahead.
  4. The easiest way for BUG to win is to keep a hand full of cheap disruption, wear down the Reanimator deck’s hand and then stick a Jace or Liliana. You’re vulnerable for a turn, but then you start netting advantage while you play draw-go.

Basically, unless the BUG player has a Planeswalker in play, the long game goes in Reanimator’s favor. They have eight reanimation spells that they’re drawing to and have just as much discard and countermagic as you have. Unfortunately, your disruption tends to be more expensive and eats more of your tempo.

The Reanimator deck can tap out for cantrips without fear; the worst that happens is that you stick a Planeswalker and then they just get to draw seven and still come out ahead. If BUG taps out, they could just be dead to a Griselbrand. That said, you can manage Griselbrand if you can push the game towards a state where you can deal with him.

There are two ways you can do that. The first involves sticking a Planeswalker. With either of your Planeswalkers in play, you can at least temporarily deal with a Griselbrand. It’s still not usually a winning plan to tap out and let Reanimator draw fourteen cards, but sometimes it’s what you’ve got to do. And letting them draw cards lets you apply enough pressure to kill them.

Alternatively, you can try to manage their life total. Thoughtseizes and fetchlands are not irrelevant, especially when they’re on the Reanimate plan. You can put them in a spot where they can’t draw seven when they stick a Griselbrand and you can untap and force through an Innocent Blood or Maelstrom Pulse. At that point, you’ll have a few turns of leeway to tap out and resolve real threats.

That said, BUG still has to jump through all of these hoops just to have a chance to be in the game. Reanimator is more disruptive and has a better win condition in this matchup. Its threats require a little more work, but are cheaper, more impacting and actually win the game instead of tentatively locking it up.

In summary: Reanimator is massively favored in game one and is basically unbeatable on the play. BUG has way more cards that are just dead and its disruption is more expensive and less effective. That said, the BUG deck can win games if it has the correct mix of cheap disruption and sticks an early Planeswalker. All of the games I was even close to winning involved resolving one of my Planeswalkers on an empty board and trying to grind out the Reanimator deck.


Sideboarding is actually the most interesting part of this match up, and it’s where information becomes incredibly important. Owen’s transformational sideboard creates an interesting sub game if you know about it. This is a matchup where shuffling in your sideboard and pulling 15 cards out is a great plan just to mask what you’re doing. Alternatively, you can shuffle in the Show and Tell package and Vendilion Cliques and then pull them out again.

These are all cute tricks that you can run depending on whether or not the person you’re playing against knows what your sideboard is or is paying attention to such things. You can even “accidentally” flash them cards you’re boarding in and take those cards back out again. These are definitely subtle mind games, but it’s awesome that they exist and small edges are still edges.

Unfortunately, these tricks don’t really work all too well in this matchup because the BUG deck gets to board in all of the cards it wants and then some. You have so many cards that are dead that it’s really not too difficult to make space for all the cards you could possibly want to bring in. Here’s how I start things off:

Now, there are a few questionable things here and things that change once you know their sideboard plan for sure. Maelstrom Pulse becomes marginally better than Innocent Blood if you know you’re going to be fighting Jaces from your opponent. Darkblast becomes better when you know there are Vendilion Cliques on both sides of the table.

Now, there are some weaker cards still in the main deck. It’s certainly reasonable to cut Life from the Loam, but I like the ability to power up your Brainstorms later in the game. One of the ways that you lose is to flood out or draw too many blanks later on. I like that Loam gives you cards to put back and clear off the top of your deck.

Your Planeswalkers are necessary, but it could certainly be correct to cut some of them for more ways to interact on the cheap. Really though, there’s not a ton of flexibility in your sideboarding plan. You have so many cards that are blank or near-blank that you’re going to get to play all the cards that you want to.

Now, the Reanimator side is a lot more interesting because there are a number of things you can do. The sideboard plan is very, very flexible and being able to be responsive to the way that you expect your opponent to play and sideboard is very important. Here are a few of the plans that I liked:

This is what I like to do on the play in a game two where I don’t think they know I’m on Show and Tell and Jaces. This gives you a few angles to attack from, more opportunities to force them to tap out so you can stick a Griselbrand and keeps the power level high.

Really, though, what I’m looking to do are make substitutions. It’s tough to entirely cut the reanimation package, so I like to leave in the most efficient copies of each piece. In this matchup, that’s Entomb and Animate Dead. Since Karakas is a blank, I’ll generally just sub in City of Traitors directly for Karakas. That lets you get ahead and win the race to cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Daze gets marginally worse on the draw even if it does help you force through your bombs. That’s certainly a card I’ve cut.

On the draw, I like to swap these cards if I’m still on the Show and Tell plan:

When I’m on the draw, I just want to set up my combo as effectively as possible. On the play, Daze helps you force through your key spells. But, on the draw it’s a lot more defensive. That isn’t really where I want to be.

But what if you want to stick to Reanimator? Then you can trim Dazes and a Reanimate or two for Cliques and Jaces. I’d probably run Cliques first on the draw and Jaces first on the play. Cliques help you keep Planeswalkers off the table and open up an opportunity to combo them. But I’d rather just win the Jace fight if I’m on the play.

The key here is that you can’t get locked into the mindset of boarding a certain way for each match up. You want to watch how much your opponent sideboards between games. Did they board in graveyard hate? Did they reach for their sideboard again after game two? You can always fight through the hate, but winning these subgames gives you a ton of free wins that you wouldn’t otherwise get.

Postboard Games

So, if the sideboarding is this complicated, the games must be insane right? They certainly didn’t disappoint, that’s for sure. Things were complicated enough pre-board, and only get more complicated after sideboarding. Are they on the reanimation plan? Can you use Surgical Extraction as a Cabal Therapy? As a Gitaxian Probe? You Inquisition them on turn one and see both Entomb and Show and Tell: which one do you take?

There are so many different ways that these games can play out depending on how both players have sideboarded that I really just want to focus on describing this in broad strokes. These are the things that the post board games seemed to revolve around:

  1. Vendilion Clique is the best card in the BUG deck. Disruption and a clock at instant speed is actually just insane. Figuring out the timing is very difficult, but the card does everything BUG wants to be doing.
  2. Keep track of which cards your opponent knows are in your hand. Hands are going to be revealed early and often. Protecting your hidden information is very important.
  3. Be patient. The BUG deck still has very few counterspells and has a tough time applying pressure. If you resolve your combo, you’ll have a very tough time losing. Don’t just run it into disruption.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use Surgical Extraction as a Gitaxian Probe. Sometimes you just need to know whether you can run out your Planeswalker safely or to know which spell needs to get countered.
  5. Mana denial is a plan. Pithing Needle can turn off fetchlands if they allow it to resolve. That plus Wasteland can shut Reanimator out of the game.

So, after boarding the record got a little closer: 5-3 in favor of Reanimator. The BUG deck gets some powerful disruptive tools and the ability to see what the Reanimator deck is trying to do more easily and frequently. That said, it’s still an uphill battle.

If you draw your graveyard hate while they’re casting Show and Tell, you’re just going to lose. There are so many situations where they just resolve a Griselbrand and you can’t possibly win. The Reanimator deck has a much more powerful game plan and the tools to force it through. You can’t always draw the perfect combination of disruption and even when you do, they can look at your hand and play around most of it.

BUG, at least built like this, is designed to crush creature decks. Reanimator is a control deck that just goes bigger. While the matchup has quite a bit of play to it, it’s still not especially close. There are just so many angles to try to cover. You’d have to build BUG very differently to have a favorable match up here. For all my excitement about this control deck, it just couldn’t measure up to one of the best “game one” decks in the format, which means it probably just isn’t viable right now.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I still haven’t decided what I’m going to run for next time, so if there are decks or matchups that you want to see, be sure to let me know!


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