Mind Bend - Izzet Reanimator
(Artificer's Intuition | Art by Wayne England)
“Today’s paperweight, tomorrow’s leveler.”
—Bruenna, Neurok leader
There are times where inspiration for a deck just strikes you without any warning. Perhaps it’s on your way to work, or taking a shower, or right before you fall asleep, and some of these ideas are half-formed at best, but every once in a while an idea just lingers in your head, popping up and demanding attention. These particular ideas are so persistent that you can’t help but address them. Perhaps it’s your gut telling you something that your brain just can’t, the subconscious reaching out of the dark and offering you deckbuilding advice.
I come across Magic: the Gathering cards all the time: when I’m writing these articles, when I’m playing at my weekly Commander league, or while I’m sitting at the bar waiting for a friend to arrive. Sometimes they pop up while I’m daydreaming during a break at work.
Right now, there’s a particular card that has stayed with me since I gazed upon it in a $2 rare binder while waiting to shuffle up for another Commander throwdown. It wasn’t my first time seeing the card; I remember a long time back someone on a Hidden Gems forum raving about it, but didn’t think much of it then. However, like any good earworm, this card stuck in my brain would not leave. That card is Artificer’s Intuition.
Follow Your Intuition
Artificer’s Intuition shares the DNA of a notorious Commander card, Survival of the Fittest. Survival is an unbelievably potent card. Packaged as a two-mana enchantment, Survival of the Fittest allows for near-endless creature tutoring while putting the wayward cards into the safe, necromantic confines of the graveyard. Survival of the Fittest turns every creature in your deck into an Entomb or a Eladamri’s Call. With that much power, Survival should be considered a kill-on-sight level threat, along the lines of Paradox Engine.
When Wizards of the Coast referenced that design with Artificer’s Intuition, they showed some restraint and placed a limiter on the card to save themselves from printing something way too powerful. Unlike Survival of the Fittest, you can’t chain large threat after large threat into the graveyard just to bring them all back with a devastating Living Death. It’s for good reason, too; the Standard format has suffered from bans almost every time we’ve visited an artifact-centric plane. Artifact synergies can easily take over eternal formats, Commander included. There's a reason why Tolarian Academy is banned, yet Gaea's Cradle and Serra’s Sanctum still get a chance to shine.
Luckily, even with the 1 converted mana cost restriction placed on Artificer’s Intuition, we still get a card that is capable of providing a whole lot of support, while giving us the ability to do some of the most powerful things in Commander - tutor on demand and fill up the graveyard for later use.
To properly utilize Artificer’s Intuition, let’s see what makes decks playing Survival of the Fittest tick.
Planning for Survival
As of right now, the most popular commander supporting Survival of the Fittest according to EDHREC is Karador, Ghost Chieftain, with Meren of Clan Nel Toth as a close second.
What strategies do decks with with Survival of the Fittest utilize? Here’s what EDHREC’s Survival of the Fittest page has to say:
Both the Signature and Top Cards categories show a smattering of sub-strategies that Survival of the Fittest decks employ. Mostly, we see a lot of what most players would call “good stuff” cards, those that don’t necessarily need to have a particular synergy with the main strategy, but are generally powerful when you play them. In this case, mana and land producing creatures like Birds of Paradise and Sakura-Tribe Elder are abundant alongside enter the battlefield effects, such as Eternal Witness, Reclamation Sage, and Acidic Slime.
However, the most interesting cards in these groupings are Green Sun’s Zenith, Chord of Calling, Birthing Pod, and Eldritch Evolution.
The first two cards, Green Sun’s Zenith and Chord of Calling, show another part of the strategy for Survival of the Fittest decks: direct tutoring of powerful creatures right unto the battlefield. Although they are similar to Survival of the Fittest, doubling up on these effects adds consistency.
The other two cards I singled out, Birthing Pod and Eldritch Evolution, follow the line of sacrificing creatures in play for greater threats and answers. You can “level up” your small creatures while also putting them in the graveyard for later use. Using Eldritch Evolution to convert Wood Elves into a Acidic Slime to kill an opponent’s pesky Cabal Coffers on demand is such a rewarding play.
There is a third substrategy that you don’t see until you look at the Creatures section of the Survival of the FIttest page, and that is creature reanimation.
Sun Titan and Karmic Guide offer a glimpse into that strategy, being creatures that you can find with Survival of the Fittest and use to return the creature you discarded to the battlefield. Pitch Craterhoof Behemoth, also pictured above, to find Karmic Guide, cast the Guide and get back Hoof to smash your opponents will all the Llanowar Elves (and similar mana dorks) that you used to ramp in the first place.
Fitting the Pieces Together
Survival of the Fittest decks are looking to tutor, sacrifice, and bring back giant, powerful creatures in an effort to press their advantage in mana or size. They aim to use low mana tricks to do so while having plenty of backups for inevitability.
So what does this have to do with Artificer's Intuition, the semi-Survival I mused upon at my Commander league? Being Mind Bend, the article series dedicated to building strategies in the wrong colors, it’s time to build Izzet Reanimator. Or, more accurately, Izzet Artifact Reanimator. You can can channel your inner necromancer without the need for black, green, or white.
Izzet reanimator? Yes, it is.
Believe it or not, there are just enough “reanimators” in blue and red to make it a viable strategy without need for too much filler, and most of it is thanks to Commander 2016. With that release came three of the best artifact reanimators that red has ever seen.
First, whe have the face of the mono-red deck from Commander 2016, Daretti, Scrap Savant. He is the best card for this strategy, full stop. His +2 allows us to dig through our deck at an accelerated pace, whereas the -2 is exactly what the deck wants to do, trading a tiny, insignificant trinket for a huge threat. Daretti’s strategy is so popular that he is the second most played commander in mono-red according to EDHREC. Luckily, we get to utilize Daretti in the 99 as a linchpin of our strategy, while blue spells will add extra versatility.
We also get access to Feldon of the Third Path, which, despite being mono-red, is a reanimator card through and through. Since we’re veering heavily into an artifact theme, most of our creatures will be artifact creatures, which is perfectly fine for what Feldon is already trying to do.
Lastly, we get red’s Living Death: Scrap Mastery. With all the draw and discard that both blue and red like to do (oh hey there, Artificer’s Intuition) we may be able to pull off a game-ending swing with a perfectly timed Scrap Mastery while our graveyard is filled to the brim with artifacts.
Moving outside of cards originally printed in Commander 2016, we have Scarecrone, a card with an artifact reanimator effect we have not seen on any card before or since.
However, the granddaddy of them all, and perhaps the inspiration for Daretti, Scrap Savant's design, is Goblin Welder. For one mana, we get the sweet ability to swap out a trinket for a treasure in the same way that Daretti can. Additionally, we can get savvy with Welder and use it as artifact removal for our opponents, provided they have something less threatening in their graveyard. Also, we get to play one of only five cards in Magic history to use the word “simultaneously” in its Oracle text. How could we lose?
To round it out, we also have Trash for Treasure, similar-ish to a typical reanimator's Victimize, alongside Argivian Restoration which requires no hoops to bring back our artifacts.
Since red and blue don’t have an overabundance of “reanimator” cards in its arsenal, we will need to bolster the core strategy with another substrategy - cheating artifacts into play, legally.
First, we have Whir of Invention, blue’s Chord of Calling for artifacts, which allows all the non-ramp artifacts the chance to pitch in on getting us a hefty artifact threat.
Saheeli’s Directive, which also has Improvise, aligns with Genesis Wave, which - believe it or not - also shows up on Survival of the Fittest’s EDHREC page in the Sorcery section. Saheeli’s Directive gives use a great mana sink and hopefully swarms the board with a ton of shiny artifacts.
Indomitable Creativity and Transmute Artifact perform similar functions to cards like Birthing Pod, though they aren’t as much of a one-to-one comparison. Indomitable Creativity can convert our mana rocks into much larger threats, and more than likely we won’t lose out on this trade. We can also target creatures or artifacts from an opponent's board as pseudo removal.
Transmute Artifact is a pricey (and somewhat screwy) card, but essentially, you can trade up an artifact should you choose the pay the difference in mana costs. Or, you can choose not to pay, and let the tutored card go to the graveyard, perhaps to reanimate it in some other way. Budget-minded builders will have no issue switching this over to Reshape, as it does a lot of same without busting the bank.
Finally, Master Transmuter can turn a one-mana trinket into a threat for the low price of one blue mana.
Masters of Metal
So what big artifact threats can we torment our opponents with?
Wurmcoil Engine, Myr Battlesphere, Bosh, Iron Golem are three aggressive threats that enjoy artifact sacrifice for sweet, sweet synergy. Additionally, Myr Battlesphere alongside Master Transmuter can create four or more tokens a turn.
Mindslaver, Memnarch, Platinum Angel, and Nullstone Gargoyle are situationally great depending on your opponents. Mindslaver can sabotage a control player, or be used to open up a defensive board to be vulnerable to an attack, not to mention how dominating it can be if you can return it to play from the graveyard frequently (hint, hint).
Memnarch can hose opponents who rely on key pieces to win. Platinum Angel, on the other hand, can act as a speed bump for aggressive decks and those looking to win by other nefarious means. Platinum Emperion is also a great choice as well, and the exact mixture of threats should be based on your meta. Nullstone Gargoyle could in theory backfire on you. However, it can also shut down players hoping to topdeck into a win.
Added to the above cards, I’ve included Steel Hellkite, Meteor Golem, and Spine of Ish Sah as pinpoint ways to deal with myriad problems that opponents might create. Looping Spine of Ish Sah with Master Transmuter while doming people with Bosh, Iron Golem is pure battlecruiser Commander heaven.
To get these big threats into our graveyard for abuse, or to otherwise dig them out of our library, I’ve focused the card draw slots to be more looting oriented, which fills the graveyard up at a faster clip.
Looting, for those unaware, is when an effect makes you draw and discard cards. Normally, these cards don’t always gain you advantage, but since our graveyard will be a resource, we should come out even.
Dack Fayden and Thirst for Knowledge are poster children for looting in this deck, doing exactly what we want - getting those big artifact threats into the graveyard. Artificer’s Intuition would be proud. Izzet Charm is another stellar example here, providing our choice of looting, small creature removal, or a situational Counterspell.
Not leaving anything on the table, and making sure we get full value out of Artificer’s Intuition, I’ve included a small number of “trinkets” - artifacts with converted mana cost 1 or less.
Everflowing Chalice, Mana Vault, and Sol Ring are staple mana rocks that Intuition can tutor for.
Codex Shredder gives us yet another way to get stuff into the graveyard, and in a pinch can get something back out for us. Tormod’s Crypt and Expedition Map are great as silver bullets. Crypt can provide defense against other graveyard decks while keeping ours intact, while Map can find use utility lands such as Ghost Quarter or Buried Ruin to deal with a particular problem.
Finally, Voltaic Key works great with mana rocks that produce more than one mana on activation, or can give pseudo vigilance to one of our creatures.
The rest of the build is filled out with artifact-based ramp and utility spells meant to keep us in the game. Of these utility spells, ones to note are Padeem, Consul of Innovation and Mission Briefing. Padeem acts as a hard counter to any targeted artifact removal, further solidifying our game plan while sometimes giving us extra cards. Mission Briefing gives us a chance to fill out graveyard even more, and to reuse a few of our key reanimation spells, if not just outright copy a Counterspell, which is never a bad thing.
Speaking of counters, the deck is geared towards stopping noncreature spells, as most artifact removal will come from those sources. However, this is highly dependent on your playgroup.
A Gifted Commander
As for choice of commander, I selected Saheeli, the Gifted. Her two +1 abilities work great with what we’re trying to do; the Servo-creating ability gives us fodder for some of our sacrifice effects, whereas the cost-reduction ability can make it real easy for use to cast two large spells early in the game. Her -7 ultimate may or may not be worth it, depending on the board, but the other two abilities more than make up for this.
A case could be made for Tawnos, Urza’s Apprentice at the helm, since triggering stuff like Mindslaver twice would be sick. However, the build would have to be changed to accommodate his strong copy effect. Since we're all about cheting big stuff into play, Saheeli is a prime choice.
Izzet ReanimatorView on Archidekt
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I think I can now get Artificer’s Intuition out of my head for a bit. I might not have ended up in the exact same space as decks using Survival of the Fittest, but the lessons learned from that powerful green enchantment lead to a fun Izzet artifact deck with a reanimator subtheme.
That’s just how the deckbuilding road might take you sometimes. You think you’re going one way, but by the time you arrive, you’re someplace you didn’t imagine. A little bit of intuition is all you need to know where to go next.
See you again next month for more color-bent shenanigans!