Reanimating Griselbrand mtgUK Style – Journey to Somewhere with Ben Heath

Journey to Somewhere – Developing Tempered Steel by Ben Heath


Do you remember when Griselbrand was spoiled?

I do.

Do you remember seeing it and saying to yourself, ‘Hey, that card looks pretty crazy and funky’?

I do.

Do you remember when the Spike in you said that it wasn’t good enough for tournament play?

Yep, me too, bro.

Do you remember when I used to post decklists that weren’t designed by Ross Silcock?

Nope, me neither…

Do you remember when I used to write decent introductions to my articles?…

Hello everyone, and welcome to another Journey to Somewhere. Today’s article looks at the current Standard/Type 2 meta, signals a rude gesture in that meta’s general direction and builds a deck that will probably fold to it like a pack of cards.

The inspiration for this was Cyrus Bales’ BWR Reanimator deck which used Unburial Rites to bring back awesome fatties such as Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Inferno Titan. I believe he called it ‘an abortion’ (or so says his article, which you can find here), but I saw as a fantastic foundation just waiting to be built upon.

So when I saw this card, I effectively had kittens.

Now, I wasn’t allowed to play NayaPod in that week’s FNM because I promised Kat Donohue that she could play with it (I say ‘promised‘, I meant ‘tricked into letting her‘), so I found all the Griselbrands and all the Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobites that Ross and I owned (he owned 3 of each, I owned, er, none) and proceeded to challenge myself to build a deck with no help from Ross, who was on his way to Nottingham to judge Magic Con.

Naturally, the deck looked like a total pile, but with no time to tinker it any further (translation: the deckbuilding made my head hurt), I went to Fanboy3 to test it out before the FNM that I was running that night in Ross’ absence (Operation ‘Infiltrate Fanboy3’ had been a success, having judged the afternoon Avacyn Restored Prereleases whilst Ross was away, again).

My only testing was against Kat playing NayaPod (she mercilessly crushed me) and against a new player playing a homebrew. I almost lost that one, too. In other words, things really weren’t looking up for me as I posted up the pairings.

Lesson #1: There is no sweeter response in Standard right now than, ‘in response, I will draw 7 cards’.

This happened in Round 1 against GW Ramp. I was on 20 life, and cast Unburial Rites, bringing back Griselbrand. In his turn, he cloned it with Phyrexian Metamorph, and I drew 7 in response (before the Phyrexian Metamorph resolved, since it was clear what it was going to copy). I drew enough business to see out that game, and even if I hadn’t, I would have just drawn another 7. The ability is absolutely insane, especially since it’s repeatable and at instant speed!

Lesson #2: If you overextend with an aggro deck, you have no right to whine when your opponent wraths the board.

I got lucky in Game 2 of Round 3, sort of. I had kept a 3 land hand on the draw, but couldn’t find any gas to drag my way back into the game against my aggressive opponent. Having already flashbacked a Lingering Souls, my only hope was to draw an untapped white source to cast the Day of Judgment that was sitting on my hand since the very beginning. He only had 2 land out, but he also had 7 creatures and was threatening lethal next turn as I only had 4 life. So naturally I rip Isolated Chapel with a Swamp already out to wrath his board. Must be nice? You bet.

Even then, I wasn’t safe, since I still had no gas or business in my hand, and we effectively played DrawGo for three turns as one of us tried to draw something to turn the tide in their favour. He won the race, then Elesh Norn said, ‘What race?’ and Griselbrand came along the next turn for the sick rub-ins (both hardcast).

It’s a fundamental rule of aggro to not overextend, and I cannot stress this enough, especially in a meta where Day of Judgment is being played a lot more, as well as cards such as Slagstorm and Whipflare.

Lesson #2b:Bonfire of the Damned is so unfair!’ is a regular phrase you will be hearing

There is nothing I can say more about this card that hasn’t already been said, repeated, and drilled into everyone’s head. Moving on.

Lesson #3: Mana Leak doesn’t matter.

Every spell that truly matters in reanimator decks has flashback. If they counter a spell, you really shouldn’t care all that much, as chances are you’ll be casting that same spell later on in the game and this time, there isn’t a lot they can do about it. Effectively, it just a delay of the Griselly inevitable. Dissipate is a pain, but no-one is packing 4 in their 75 (or at least no-one should be).

Lesson #4: Sometimes, you just need Balls of Steel.

Zealous Conscripts is an amazing card that I fell in love with whilst playing Naya Pod. When playing against it, however, it’s your worst enemy. This guy is a real pain that, if played against you whilst you have a fatty out, will make you feel as if you have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here’s the kicker. There isn’t a damn thing you can do about it in this style of reanimator deck. But you can’t be scared of it, otherwise you will just lose regardless because you were too scared to play that Elesh Norn to kill his board in case he stole it and swung for massive damage the next turn.

Just stick to the game plan, block correctly and at the right time with your token generators to keep your life total healthy (we’re talking double digits here, folks, and I don’t mean just 10 or 11), then play a fatty. The idea of the deck is to say to your opponent, ‘Oh so that’s what your deck does? How cute. Here’s an Elesh Norn. Your turn’

Lesson #5: No one plays graveyard removal

It’s tragically underused in this format. I think Nihil Spellbomb and Surgical Extraction are both criminally underplayed at the moment, and as a result the format is soft to fatties being cheated into play, so take advantage of that whilst you can. I don’t see the introduction of Tormod’s Crypt in M13 changing that any time soon, either.

Lesson #5b: Grafdigger’s Cage isn’t all that

My Round 4 opponent played Gradfdigger’s Cage on turn one. It was only inconvenient, and it just meant that I had to cast my big guys. It did nothing when it came to my mass removal, and in the end I won fairly comfortably. All it does really is create a lightning rod for those Oblivion Rings, but to be honest they’re a good target for them, anyway.

Lesson #6: Just because you 4-0’d an FNM doesn’t mean you did well

I played terribly. I made silly mistakes all day and, in one instance, got rewarded for it.

The deck was a mess (it played 3 Necrotic Ooze and only 2 Liliana of the Veil *shudder). Don’t rest on your laurels just because you posted good results. If you want to post good results at higher levels, and I’m talking PTQs and WMCQs here, you still need to analyse your performance and see what went wrong and how you can improve in terms of both yourself and the deck.

But give yourself a pat on the back for going undefeated, you deserve that much!


The Deck

Well, that covers everything.

What? You want a deck tech? Oh, go on, then!

The Real OKCupid.dec by Ben Heath

3 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
3 Griselbrand

2 Oblivion Ring

4 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Day of Judgment
4 Faithless Looting
4 Lingering Souls
3 Timely Reinforcements
4 Unburial Rites

4 Liliana of the Veil
2 Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

4 Blackcleave Cliffs
3 Clifftop Retreat
1 Dragonskull Summit
3 Evolving Wilds
3 Isolated Chapel
4 Mountain
3 Plains
2 Swamp
2 Vault of the Archangel


2 Doom Blade
1 Go for the Throat
2 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Grave Titan
3 Zealous Conscripts
1 Day of Judgment
1 Oblivon Ring
1 Sever the Bloodline
2 Ratchet Bomb

The fatties

Griselbrand and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite do different things, but they both give your opponent a massive headache. Wurmcoil Engine comes in against aggresive decks, and Grave Titan comes in against Delver.

The set up

Faithless Looting does so much work in this deck, and all your nut draws have this being cast on turn one.

Liliana of the Veil and Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded are both good discard outlets, but the edict effect of the deathmage is also used quite a lot in this deck.

Note that there is no room for Zombie Infestation here. In testing, it’s rarely been useful, and is only truly beneficial when you’ve got Griselbrand out, but by then you’re in pole position anyway.

The protection

The first five turns are vital in any game of magic, but none more so than when you’re playing reanimator. There isn’t much use implementing your game plan when you’re dead.

Lingering Souls is so good they banned it in block, and Timely Reinforcements is such a kicking to any aggro deck, and you’re playing three of them. You’ll be drawing a lot of cards with this deck, so you’re bound to see at least one of these every game, and one is usually all you need, so it’s a good job there’s seven of them (11 including flashback 😉 )!

If things start getting out of hand, Day of Judgment just resets the board position, and Bonfire of the Damned is just so unfair (see Lesson #2b)

Finally, some Oblivion Rings for those hard-to-kill threats.

The mana base

Pretty conventional, no real tricks. Vault of the Archangel is a much better utility land than other people give it credit for, but I really like it. 3 Evolving Wilds may seem a bit too many, but it fixes your mana and takes a card out of your deck, which is great for this deck as you will be doing a lot of digging.

25 lands is right. You want to consistently hit your land drops in the opening turns, and 25 is the best number for this. If you get excess lands, you can always discard them to Faithless Looting and Liliana of the Veil

The sideboard

In summary:

  • The spot removal is for Titans.
  • The fatties are to add diversity to your threats.
  • Zealous Conscripts is for the mirror and control, for when you want to say ‘Ooh, that looks interesting, mind if I take it?’
  • Sever the Bloodline and Ratchet Bomb are for token decks. Bombs are also good against Delver, I feel.

How does it do against Delver?

I cannot answer this question in great detail yet, as I haven’t tested it against Delver enough, but from initial impressions?

Pretty darn well (bold statement of the year).

Vapor Snag is probably the biggest problem, and I admit that Celestial Purge on a Griselbrand is pretty bad. If Delver decks decided that Sword of War and Peace is the right choice of equipment, you could be in big trouble, but you have outs to it.

As an aside, Sword of War and Peace is absolutely brutal. Why aren’t more decks playing this card, even if it’s in their sideboards? Certain decks just cannot deal with it at all.


Final Thoughts

I would be very surprised if I took this to the WMCQ in Manchester, simply because I like the power level of Naya Pod right now. But, I wouldn’t rule it out. That would, of course, mean that I have gone against my ‘don’t post competitive decklists before tournaments‘ rule, but screw it, rules were made to be broken, especially the ones you make yourself!

Thanks for stopping by, mtgUK



P.S. Given the clear success of last year’s football match between the Mighty North and the Southern Scum, I reckon it’s time we had another one, if only because I missed last year’s because I was a bad (Magic) player who had to qualify for Nationals at midnight whilst everyone was kicking seven bells out of Rich Hagon.

I propose we do it during a weekend in which there is a Manchester event, so that I don’t have to travel far to do it, and also because they are often well attended by the majority of the UK.

The Scottish contingent could join in if they want, but we all know they’re terrible at football and wouldn’t add much to the occasion (see their contribution to this year’s European Championships for evidence).

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