Matchup Analysis #3 – Naya Humans vs. Human Reanimator
Hi everyone, and welcome to this week’s Matchup Analysis! Like I explained last week, in this column yours truly and his trusty testing partner Marco Hoonderd will take the top decks of the moment and smash them against each other. With ‘top decks’ we could mean the decks that just made the finals of the latest Grand Prix, Pro Tour or SCG open, or the decks that have been consistently performing up until that point.
For the second edition of this column, Marco and I tested the top two decks from SCG Atlanta: Naya Humans and Human Reanimator. A big day for mankind, I’d say.
"Naya Humans by Joseph Herrera"
Taking first place in the SCG Open in Atlanta, this deck by Joseph Herrera didn’t drop a match the entire day. This is slightly surprising, as at the very least the manabase seems slightly suboptimal – it’s very possible that Joseph couldn’t get his hands on more Gatecrash shocks, as ten sources to cast a turn one Champion of the Parish seems to be on the low side.
This deck will be played by Marco.
"Human Reanimator by Brian Braun-Duin"
An update to the deck Shouta Yasooka played in Innistrad block, this deck aims not to kill a bunch of dorks when it reanimates an Angel of Glory’s Rise: it wants to go infinite! You can gain infinite life, and infinite tokens by looping humans in and out of play, but more on that later.
This deck will be played by me, Jay.
For today’s article, I’m not going to bore you with how each and every game played out. Rather, I’ll try to explain how the games tend to flow in a more general sense.
For the first couple of games, I simply could not lose. If Marco would keep a slower hand (with removal spells, some two drop, a Huntmaster and land for example), he would stand no chance whatsoever against the combo deck. At some point, this would happen:
Angel of Glory’s Rise enters play (hard casted or with help of Unburial Rites). Its trigger returns all of your humans from your graveyard to play. Among those are a Fiend Hunter, a Huntmaster of the Fells, and a Cartel Aristocrat.
Step one: target your Angel with the ability of Fiend Hunter. Let it resolve, storing your Angel away for another glorious rising later in the day.
Step two: resolve your Huntmaster triggers, putting a 2/2 Wolf into play and gaining two life.
This combo works in a couple of ways, and you don’t necessarily need all the pieces. Just a Fiend Hunter is enough to start some shenanigans. For example, having a Fiend Hunter with an Angel of Glory’s Rise underneath it makes a perfectly fine blocker. Any other humans can become extra never-staying-dead blockers, usually giving you enough time to find whatever piece you were missing.
Extra Fiend Hunters can also be used to remove your opponents team from the game: just sacrifice them in response to the exile-trigger. This lets the “return the exiled card to the battlefield”-trigger resolve first, which cannot return anything, because nothing has been removed (yet). Then you remove your opponent’s creature forever.
What the Naya Humans player has to remember while making mulligan and play decisions, is that they have to be able to kill their opponent before the combo goes off. This means they either have to go for a very fast kill (Human Reanimator can combo on turn four, although that’s rare), or disrupt the combo in some way.
Fast hands include one-drops, or Mayor of Avabruck with a bunch of other creatures, or hands with something big to bond with Silverblade Paladin. Hands with Restoration Angel and Huntmaster of the Fells or multiples of either are very often too slow.
Disrupting the combo can happen in two ways: you can play an early Thalia, which prevents them from stocking their graveyard as fast as they normally do, or you can Searing Spear the Fiend Hunter in response to the exile trigger. They’ll have to sacrifice their Angel to not exile it forever.
If neither of these things happen (no one-drops, no disruption), then the game often has the Naya player try to get some damage on the board, while the Reanimator player plays some creatures to block and trade with (it doesn’t matter if they die), fills his graveyard with his spells, perhaps casts an Unburial Rites on an Angel ‘for value’, just to stay in the game even longer. At some point, he’ll find enough pieces to assemble the combo the Naya player can’t possibly beat. In these games, Naya really has to hope it has a Frontline Medic, as it lets Naya suicide all its creatures in without giving the Reanimator player a chance to trade for value. This can push a bunch of extra damage through, as the Naya player can just keep expanding their board, which Reanimator can’t keep up with without reanimating an Angel.
Key cards pre-board
For the Naya deck, the aim is to kill your opponent before they can “go off”. This means you need cards that let you pressure your opponent quickly, or, like Frontline Medic does, persistently. If that doesn’t work, you can use the disruption spells (Thalia and Searing Spear) to give you an extra turn or two. While not necessarily the key to victory, Silverblade Paladin and Mayor of Avabruck often help put a big enough clock on the table. They are also often allowed to roam around freely, as the reanimator deck has no removal outside of their Fiend Hunters.
Clunkers are Huntmaster of the Fells, Selesnya Charm and to a lesser extent Restoration Angel. Selesnya Charm is a bad pump spell or a bad creature, and Huntmaster and Restoration Angel are frequently too slow.
For the Reanimator player, the trick is to stay alive long enough to combo off. All the combo pieces are therefore important, but it doesn’t matter whether they are in the graveyard or play, so you could even say Grisly Salvage is the most important card for you, filling the graveyard and finding you Fiend Hunter and Huntmaster of the Fells: the two combo pieces that are the best at stalling Naya.
Most of you deck is geared towards achieving one goal, so you have no real clunkers, but Farseek often seems a bit “durdly”, as LSV would say.
At first we were boarding out the Nearheath Pilgrims instead of the Huntmasters, but I think that was a mistake. You want speed, and Huntmaster is not fast. Nearheath Pilgrim is mostly just a two mana 2/1, but in this matchup, that seems better than spending twice as much on two creatures that trade just as easily with the creature out of Reanimator. It also helps keep your curve intact, as we are also boarding out Selesnya Charms (which do nothing but make a bad Giant Growth/Grizzly Bear splitcard impression). I think keeping Restoration Angel is fine, as she can fly in for the last couple of points.
As for the cards Naya is bringing in: Rest in Peace should be obvious, Pillar of Flame is a removal spell that actually keeps the Humans it finishes off from coming back, and Oblivion Ring and Fiend Hunter serve a similar purpose as the Pillars. I suggest not going overboard on Oblivion Rings (hence keeping one in the board), as you do need pressure more than removal.
The cuts here are the hardest. You want to protect yourself from getting blown out by Rest in Peace, and if they do bring in Oblivion Rings, Ray of Revelation is a useful card. I don’t think Reanimator needs a ton of extra Sanctifiers, but if their plan is to kill us fast, an extra lifegainer can stem the bleeding a bit.
To make room, you’re most likely cutting spells, or in my case, a land and some spells. Cavern is not needed as much in this matchup, so I think we can get away with cutting one. I also shaved two Farseeks, as those are a bit slow, and being slow gets to you in the games that you can actually lose. This does make you a tad more prone to manascrew, which is what got BBD in the SCG Open finals. However, I think that risk doesn’t outweigh the risk of just scooping when a Rest in Peace hits the table.
The postboard games are not much different than the preboard games, except that you can expect the Naya deck to put up more of a fight. They also have a card that shuts down Reanimator’s main plan in Rest in Peace. If the graveyard-hating enchantment ever hits play, expect a big swing in the expected win percentage of the Reanimator deck, unless they have or draw a Ray of Revelation really soon.
Naya still needs pressure to actually kill their opponent once they peaced out the graveyards, so do not keep do-nothing hands that contain a Rest in Peace. Remember that Huntmaster and Fiend Hunter are still fine anti-aggro cards, and while they probably won’t turn the tide by themselves, if your only creature is a Nearheath Pilgrim or some such, they probably will.
In games where Rest in Peace does not show up, the games look like pre-board games, except the Naya deck has a bit more disruption. Reanimator still seems favored if they get a little bit of time, so if you keep a hand without a Rest in Piece or a Thalia as the Naya player, make sure it can put a clock on your opponent.
Key cards post-board
Post board, you get to remove some of your bad cards for cards that actually matter, like Rest in Peace, and the “exile”-removal spells. Rest in Peace is one of the best cards you can have against this deck, as it makes it very hard for them to gather the resources needed to combo, and winning without the combo is very hard for the Reanimator deck.
Not much changes for the Reanimator deck. The spells that find you combo pieces and buy you the most time are still the best cards you can have. If they draw a Rest in Peace, the best card you can possibly draw is Ray of Revelation, but if they don’t have it, Ray is kinda bad…
How to gain some percentage points
In the first game, if you’re playing the Naya side of the matchup, you probably want to mull hands that do not contain a Thalia or a one drop. You have little chance of beating them if you have neither, especially if they are on the play.
If you’re playing Reanimator: try to save your Fiend Hunters for cards like Frontline Medic or flipped Mayor of Avabrucks. Those cards can overwhelm you if left unchecked. A Champion of the Parish, however large it might get, can probably be chumped for a while.
In the second and third game, the Naya deck can afford to mulligan a bit less aggressively, as they should have more good cards in their deck. Look out for opportunities to skip your turn to flip a Mayor early without it costing you too much, as the steady stream of Wolves can be very useful when trying to smash past the chumpers and other assorted creatures on the other side of the table. Make sure to do the math! The games are over relatively quickly, so you have the time to do so.
For the Reanimator deck: find a good balance of playing creatures to block or chump with, and playing spells to dig through your deck. This will mostly depend on your opponent’s board. If he doesn’t have many creatures out yet, you can “waste” a bit more time on filling your graveyard. Also try to maximize your mana by playing your lands in the right order. You have a lot of spells that cost somewhat random colors of mana, so keep potential needs in future turns in mind. Try to play your shocklands tapped if you can. For example, if you have a Faithless Looting, a Grisly Salvage and a Cartel Aristocrat in your hand, there’s no need to play your Blood Crypt untapped on turn one: you can just play the Looting on turn three before casting the Aristocrat.
Human Reanimator definitely feels favored preboard, and is probably still favored post-board, but less strongly. However, it’s not like the Naya deck can’t put up a fight: quite the contrary. If they have a fast start or a Thalia, and the Reanimator deck whiffs on a Grisly Salvage or two, they might have wasted too much time to get back in the game.
That was it for today’s installment. If you liked this article more (or less) than the previous ones, or have suggestions for which decks to test, what you’d like to see more or less of, etc., feel free to leave a comment, or tweet at me here.
Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you next week!
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO