The effect on Standard cannot be overstated, since the release of Innistrad will send the Zendikar block and Magic 2011 scurrying back into the shadows of Extended, Modern, and the Eternal formats. Goblin Guide is gone. Squadron Hawks are gone. Lotus Cobra and the fetch lands are gone. Tectonic Edge is... well, you get the idea. It is going to be a brand-new format ripe for some brand-new archetypes. Or maybe it is time to go dig up an old archetype and hoist it up into the lightning-streaked sky and bring an old monster back to life.
When September 30 rolls around—and the Standard format rolls with it—I am going to be doing my mad-scientist-best to make a Reanimator deck a reality. There are no shortage of monsters to bring back and plenty of tools at our disposal to get them in the graveyard so we can circumvent their casting cost. The issue with making the deck work is the lack of a reanimation spell. Well, that is all about to change when you pull off the shroud and gaze upon the last piece to this undead puzzle.
I am very excited to get a chance to play with this card. Its mana cost is secondary to the much more important flashback cost, and my mind immediately turned to Liliana of the Veil—the lightning bolt that will make this experiment come to life. With Birds of Paradise you can cast Liliana on turn two and make you and your opponent discard a card. Ideally you are creating tough decisions for your opponent, who kept an opening hand with a specific script of turns in mind while you are discarding Sheoldred, Whispering One or Grave Titan or Reaper from the Abyss.
It is unlikely that your opponent will have been able to muster much offense to attack your Liliana and you should be able to untap for a turn three with some if not all of her loyalty intact. You activate her again and happily discard your Unburial Rites, cast it immediately for , and bring back the monster you discarded last turn. You still have Liliana to hurl diabolic edicts at your opponent or—just a turn later—rend their permanents in half.
When I did the Innistrad previews from the PAX party in Seattle, Zac Hill explained that the enemy-color-producing lands that complete the ten-card cycle started in Magic 2010 were added in part so that players would have access to opposing colors of mana in order to pay flashback costs on cards exactly like this. It is easy to see Isolated Chapel fitting into this base-black deck quite nicely.
It is hard for me to discuss a preview card without bringing you the story straight from Magical Christmasland where you are reanimating a Grave Titan on turn three—and your mana does not foil your plans—but you could also take your time with Liliana and additional discard spells to pick your opponent apart. Then you can simply cast your Unburial Rites on turn five, and have a back-up tucked away in case the top of your opponent's deck—because let's face it, their hand was in shambles—delivers an answer. In a situation where you have been attacking their hand and they have been sitting back and desperately protecting one counterspell in the hopes that it would save them you can also take advantage of the recurring threat that the flashback cost represents. A hard cast Unburial Rites can draw that counterspell out and then do the job it set out to do a turn later from beyond the grave.
If the already-previewed cards from Innistrad are any indication of the remainder of the set, there should be plenty of other ways to get cards from your hand and/or deck into the graveyard where you can flash them back or reanimate them—or both! Deranged Assistant could be just the Igor this experiment is looking for, as it provides both mana and graveyard fodder for your deck to work with on a stormy night.
Merfolk Looter lets you dig for cards and fill your yard. Civilized Scholar does the same thing at a slightly higher mana cost but can soften your opponent up a little in the process. On a more advanced board you can force your opponent to take 5 rather than endure the morbid ability of a unburied Reaper from the Abyss later on that turn should they put a creature in the path of your transformed Scholar. Nephalia Drownyard is another card that you are likely to use against an opponent in Limited but on yourself in Constructed if you are hoping to find a worthy test subject for your forays in reanimation. It seem like we are now looking at a blue-black version of the deck that touches white for flashback.
Mike Flores wrote just yesterday about Forbidden Alchemy and I am hard pressed to imagine a better card for a blue-black version of Reanimator than this blue gem. You get to impulse the best card in your top four—like a Liliana of the Veil—and stock your yard with creatures and/or flashback spells. The color has little bearing on its inclusion in the deck, but in thinking about blue cards it occurs to me that Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur is a pretty devastating reanimation target—with emphasis on target. If your opponent cannot deal with it immediately—if his or her aim is at all off—then the game will effectively end with them discarding what little is left of your opponent's hand while you are ripping through your deck in seven card increments.
Surveying the newly minted Modern format early in Day One of Pro Tour Philadelphia I saw Joel Calafell—of Fog Machine fame—cast a Zombie Infestation on turn two. He was relying on the combination of discarding Emrakul and—with the shuffle trigger on the stack—casting Goryo's Vengeance to return Emrakul to the battlefield and annihilate his opponent's permanents. He also had Jin-Gitaxias as well as the previously mentioned Merfolk Looter, and while Emrakul is on its way out of Standard, I think we could see Zombie Infestation make its way into the smaller format alongside the fearsome Core Augur.
Unburial Rites | Art by Ryan Panacoast
I fully expect Unburial Rites to become an all-star in Commander, where there are some cards that Simply. Must. Die. when you play them. Consecrated Sphinx comes to mind as a card that draws nothing but fire when you play it (and with good reason—I am actually taking it out of my green-blue Commander deck because it is so warping). The idea of getting it back two more times with one card is enough to make me think about dipping into the Esper wedge for a new deck—perhaps with Rooftop Storm. Time to do a Zombie search in Gatherer.
While You Are Waiting
If you need to distract yourself while you are waiting for Innistrad to get here you can always tune into DailyMTG.com for the coverage from Grand Prix Montreal and Brazil Nationals as the top players in the game continue to jockey for the lead in the Player of the Year race. Steve Sadin and Bill Stark will be bringing you all the stories that are fit to print from Montreal as Owen Turtenwald, Luis Scott-Vargas, Ben Stark, and Yuuya Watanabe all look to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack with a strong finish in Magic 2012 Limited.
Just about everyone with double-digit Pro Points will be in the scrum in Montreal... with one notable exception. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa will be hoping to feast on some home cooking at the Brazil National Championships—one of the last of the Nationals events this season. A win at Nationals would give Paulo a 10-point boost in the race AND give him an additional source of points in the form of the Team Championships at Worlds. Rich Hagon has traveled to Brazil to keep you updated on Paulo's quest to become the Champion and the hundreds of players standing in his way.