Another TNM, another brew — I’ve been soul searching since the Standard rotation, and it’s been simultaneously the most fun and the most frustrating experience of these last few months. I started out with Junk Reanimator. I loved the degenerate things it could do (turn 3 Griselbrand, anyone?), but hated Thragtusk and Angel of Serenity Wars. I tried UWR Midrange, and could never be at ease with needing a turn 3 Geist to win games. Then came Seance, and I felt I was getting closer and closer to settling on the deck I wanted to play until February. What makes Seance so great is that it asks a question that your opponent oftentimes has no answer to. Assuming that they can even counter it, do they let it resolve? If they do, any looting and digging effects suddenly have the potential to end the game before they even get a chance to say anything about it. And if they do decide to counter the Seance, that’s one less counterspell for the actual threats in the deck.

The problem with my original list that went 3-0-1 and 3-1 at FNM and TNM, respectively, was that it had very little action in the early turns. The deck never truly gets online until a Seance sticks and is just frantically looting until then. The fixing was not ideal, and the problem was mitigated by the amount of digging the deck could do. But in doing so, the hand shrinks more and more until the decision of what to pitch after each looting became unbearably awkward. Once it gets to reanimate Sphinx of Uthuun, it very rarely loses; but until then, it can get a bit uncomfortable.

So I set about improving the list. What about putting Seance in a more traditional Reanimator shell? It gives me easy access to fixing and ramp, it allows me to play Thragtusk and Angel of Serenity, and I’m not completely dead if they manage to kill Seance. Below is the list I eventually arrived at:

Yep, 8 fatties, including 3 Craterhoof Behemoths to break any board stalls. The decision to keep Red for Faithless Looting just makes sense considering I have plenty of targets for the discard 2 side of the spell, unlike in the original Seance list. Two taplands were replaced by Cavern of Souls to deal with UW Flash and UWR Midrange. Nothing like making those decks waste all those turns holding up countermagic just to drop one and name Beast. The game plan is to stay alive and slowly get dudes on the board. It doesn’t quite matter what they are, as long as you have a good three or four by the time you’re able to get a Craterhoof on the board. Seance does wonders in sculpting my board, with the best thing being reanimating Thragtusk on my opponent’s turn to gain me 5 life and up my creature count by one. Once it’s time to pull the trigger, there is very little my opponent can do about (on average) 30 power of trample damage coming at them.

Round one was against Dave McCoy’s GW Aggro list. His is not the Luis Chato/Matt Jones GW Humans list, but rather the more traditional dorks into Smiter + other dudes version. I won the die roll and kept a comfortable hand of lands and dig spells. Dave was able to power no less than three Smiters throughout the game, but I had already set up the Seance + Thragtusk combo, and the game was beyond reach. With two dorks and two Thragtusk tokens on the board, I Seanced up a Craterhoof and swung for lethal, having never touched his life total before that.

Game two was a nut draw on Dave’s part, including a turn 2 Thalia and turn 3 Silverblade Paladin that all but sealed the game for him. I looked for Thragtusks and none were waiting.

Game three was more of a grind with Centaur Healers chump blocking Smiters until I got Thragtusk online. It traded for a Smiter and I began taking hits from two other Smiters (one with a Rancor) until I hard cast Angel of Serenity on turn 6 off of a mana dork, sweeping Dave’s board. A Gisela on the following turn prompted a concession.

1-0 after the first round.

Round two was against a deck that ran UWR but tried to do so in the fashion of UW Flash — not playing anything during the main phase and representing countermagic. We didn’t really play interactive Magic. I got Cavern naming Beast in game one and Thragtusked him into oblivion, and in game two I resolved a Seance when he tapped out on the fourth turn for an off-the-top Geist of Saint Traft. Knowing that those decks run only two Dissipates, I ran out Healers and Tusks not caring at all about Essence Scatters and Rewinds, as any non-exiling counterspell would just allow me to get value off of Seance the following upkeep. My opponent could do nothing and conceded when my life went above 30.

2-0 after round two.

Round three was against a Jund build that ran Deathrite Shamans in the main (what is this, Modern?), and he managed to turn one them in each of the three games. That guy wrecked me. Seance was a dead card, and all of my dig spells gave him fuel to gain life and shock me as he pleased. Rakdos Keyrune held the ground against my guys long enough to resolve Thragtusks of his own. An off the top Craterhoof Behemoth put him at 2 life thanks to Deathrite Shaman eating a guy to gain those crucial points, and a miracled Bonfire the following turn ended the game.

Rolling Temblors and Acidic Slimes came right out of the board for this one. In game two, I was able to Stone Rain my opponent twice thanks to Slime and Restoration Angel. An Angel of Serenity the following turn took his two Shamans and Olivia and that was all she wrote.

Alas, it was not to be in game three as turn 1 Shaman rained on my parade once again. An on-curve Olivia spelled doom for me as any Thragtusk I would cast would be used against me.

2-1 after round three.

And my last round of the night was against Young Master Lirek Kulik, who had just returned from a Day 2 performance at GP Chicago over the weekend, where he piloted my deck of choice, UW Control. His Standard deck for the night was the same color combination, he was playing UW Flash with Geist of Saint Traft replacing Augur of Bolas. I didn’t particularly agree with his choice to run Geist. It doesn’t block anything, it prompts tapping out on turn 3 instead of turn 2, an arguably more crucial turn for the Blue decks, and it doesn’t draw any cards. Without Pikes, the Geist is a dead card, and needs to be saved by Restoration Angel, which alters the entire game plan of not playing anything until the end of turn.

Game one was not a game. I resolved a Seance and followed up with a Thragtusk off of Cavern of Souls. I binned Gisela with a looting effect and reanimated her, then hard cast an uncounterable Craterhoof and sealed the game before Lirek was done reading what all of my cards did.

Game two was a fight to stabilize against turn 3 Geist backed up with turn 4 Pike, a fight that I would lose.

Game three saw me Sliming Lirek’s Pike only for him to slam another one the next turn. I dug and dug for a Restoration Angel or another Slime, and none were there. Attempts to Rolling Temblor to clear the board and buy some extra time were all met with counterspells.

A frustrating loss, after which Lirek gave me a lecture on why Geist is better, which irked me a little. Formerly a quiet and demure young man, Lirek’s confidence and opinion of himself has skyrocketed since Day 2ing both GP Philly and GP Chicago back to back. It’s an impressive feat, no doubt, and one that many of us at the store are proud of him for; but the resulting arrogance, for the lack of a better word, has bothered me.

I can attribute my losses to a number of things, not the least of which being that both of my opponents in rounds 3 and 4 drew both copies of their 2-of cards that completely hosed my deck right when they needed it. But at the end of the night, I think the blame rests squarely on my shoulders for having a terribly-constructed sideboard. Conscripts never saw any action, Resto Angels should have been in the main, and while Fling was cute tech., I would have been much better off with them being Sundering Growths instead. Olivia is also a real problem, but I completely ignored the existence of Jund as a deck, thinking I could easily go over the top. Not while Deathrite Shaman is there, unfortunately.

I was ill-prepared for a couple of key cards, and paid for it. Lesson learned.

Moving forward, I’m considering a few changes to both the main and the side for this list. Restoration Angels should definitely be in the main, I have no idea what I was thinking putting them in the side, and I ended up boarding them in every single match. I’d likely cut a Seance, a Craterhoof and Gisela to make room. Seance is no longer the main engine of the deck, so I can afford to have less copies. So long as I have one out on the board, I’m happy. Most other copies throughout the night were redundant and ended up being pitched. The third Craterhoof can sit in the board, entering for the mirror so I can more easily break board stalls. And Gisela, while she was never bad for me, she was never necessary at any point in time. She prompts concessions more than any other card in the deck, but it’s always win-more. I’m also going to try and find a spot in the main for a copy of Acidic Slime, the card does so much for me and is a 5-mana Stone Rain at worst, with the potential to be so much more now that Restos are in the main.

As for the sideboard, Selesnya Charm gets the nod. It’s the only way to answer Olivia and Thundermaw Hellkite in a pinch. Sundering Growths are also must-haves now that Pike is a card again. Flings can go and Conscripts numbers will be reduced. I may have a few flex slots remaining after all is said and done, but those are the main points I wanted to address.

I’m off to New Mexico on Thursday and will be staying through Thanksgiving. I will try and see if there are places to play close to my folks. If so, be on the lookout for an FNM report from the Southwest.

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