While we wait for the next set to drop, flooding the available card pool with vast amounts of fun and exciting new creatures, spells, and mechanics to play, Jeremy and I had a little wager about who could build an actual deck around cards that are struggling in Standard right now. I opted to post mine this week, and I was given a real doozey.
Jaya Ballard is a difficult card. My evaluation of it is really a trap card. Its exceedingly difficult to cast beyond a Mono Red deck list, and nothing about it screams "I'm going to win the game." She doesn't protect herself, and her abilities are pretty narrow.
Her mana ramp only works for instants and sorceries. Her draw engine forces you to discard first. Her ultimate almost requires you to be in a spell based deck...
...So how did I build her? I put her in a dragons deck.
I know? Weird, right? Let me break it down and see if I can't get you on board with me.
In order to properly build around her, we need to be able to properly analyze her abilities. Firstly, we need to come with the understanding that she may not survive, and that's okay. We may not need her too.
Think of her as 6 points of life for 5 mana, with the ability to either add mana, or even better, super rummage your hand. This is the ability that I'm building around. This is how we make her work for us. We are playing dragon reanimator.
Pitching our dragons to our graveyard is not a problem. Pitching our lands to our graveyard is not a problem (given that she gives us mana to cast our reanimation spells or removal). Heck, even pitching some of our removal is not a problem. This deck can work really well together.
Let's break down the various strategies and see how this deck works.
In order to have a good reanimation strategy, we need to have ways of pitching things to the yard. Luckily, we've got some powerful ones. This deck is running 4 Sarkhan, Fireblood, 3 Jaya Ballard, and 3 Pirate's Pillage. Sarkhan, Fireblood is a 3 mana planeswalker; for 1RR we get a 3 loyalty walker that can do almost exactly what Jaya can do, but on a smaller scale. He can +1 to rummage a card. Or he can also +1 to add two mana of any color to cast...a dragon! Hey, it is starting to piece together a bit. Heck, his ultimate is honestly more game winning than Jaya's in this deck and definitely fits our dragon theme. Pirates pillage is basically an overcosted Tormenting Voice, for 3R we can discard a card and draw 2 cards, as well as get 2 treasure tokens that can produce mana of any color. This can come in handy later, and is the reason we are running Pirates Pillage over Tormenting Voice. On top of that, it can combo pretty nice with Jaya, as you can cast her, pay 3 mana and an additional 1 to cast the pillage. Feels pretty great, to be honest. Lastly, as mentioned before, we have Jaya, she allows us to discard up to 3 cards and then draw as many cards as we discarded this way. Her rummage ability is extremely power, and can allow us to dig deep for the answers we need, or to pitch our dragons into the graveyard in order to reanimate them later. Speaking of...
We are running an interesting suite of dragons. I opted to run a few non-legendary dragons that I think have some good play. I'm running 3 Bone Dragon and 2 Demanding Dragon. Bone Dragon is an unsung hero in this deck. It is our one dragon that can truly reanimate itself. As a 5/4 flyer for 3BB, it is already a very powerful flyer in the air. Once it is in the graveyard, you can bring it back to the battlefield tapped by paying an 3BB and exiling 7 cards from our yard--which shouldn't really be an issue in this deck.
Demanding Dragon is another solid dragon in this list. It often will eat a small creature, but doming our opponent's for 5 if they so choose (or if they don't have a creature yet) feels pretty solid as well. Both of these are solid choices for reanimation, should our more impactful dragons not be available. Not to mention, you can power them out as early as turn 4 wtih Sarkhan or with a few other spells I'll touch on a little later.
As for our legends, we are really running some spice. 3 Nicol Bolas, the Ravager found their way into the deck list, and he is a powerful card. For those who don't know, he is 1UBR, for a 4/4 flyer that forces an opponent to discard on enter the battlefield. You can also pay 4UBR to flip him into an extremely powerful planeswalker. He is an aggressive turn 4 play, and if he were to die, could be reanimated on turn 5 to do it all again. I enjoyed playing him so much that I bumped him from 1 copy up to 3.
I'm also running another dragon legend that can (sort of) reanimate itself, but it has to have died first. Of course, I'm talking about Darigaaz Reincarnated. This dragon is a powerhouse. For 7 mana (4BRG) we get a 7/7 flying, trampler with haste that if it were to die, gets exiled instead with 3 "egg" counters. These counters are removed at your upkeep and after the final one is removed, he comes back ready to swing again. This dragon catches players off guard. I've been able to both reanimate him turn 5 as well as cast him on turn 5. Do not underestimate the power of this dragon.
I'm also running a few ramp spells in the deck, aside from Pirate's Pillage (which can fix you for the more troublesome dragons), 2 Dragon's Hoard and 2 Chromatic Lantern. A full play set of Dragon's Hoard isn't necessary as we aren't casting dragons left and right. However, having it as an option to be able to draw cards in the late game fits the deck really well. Also, being an early way to fix your mana means you can cast your Nichol Bolas on time. Chromatic Lantern is mainly for fixing, as we aren't running much in the ways of off color lands, as we are primarily Red Black. On top of that, we have spells that cost either BB or RR, and in some cases RRR (or worse). Being able to cast these mana intensive spells is very helpful.
I am running a play set of Spit Flame in this deck. For 2R, you get an instant speed burn spell that deals 4 damage to target creature. Also, whenever a dragon enters the battlefield, you can pay R to return it to your hand. This card is really quite good in a dragons deck list, and is a perfect card to pitch away to Jaya or Sarkhan, just to retrieve it later after your reanimate a dragon, or just cast one naturally. It is important to note, this card does kill both the Enigma Drake and the Crackling Drake, among other creatures.
I am also running 3 Cast Down and 1 Price of Fame in the main deck. Cast Down is just a great and efficient card. For 1B it can kill a non-legend at instant speed. Price of Fame is kind of like its big brother: for 3B, you can destroy any creature and surveil 2, and it costs 2 less when targeting a legendary creature. It is an interesting card, and a bit more flexible than Cast Down, but due to its potential slow play, was relegated to a 1 of. The surveil 2 can be extremely powerful in this deck, as it can help us pitch dragons into our graveyard and to find our reanimation spells.
We are running a few spells that help facilitate reanimation of our dragons. This list runs 3 Yawgmoth's Vile Offering and 1 Boneyard Parley. Yawgmoth's Vile offering is a Legendary Sorcery that costs 5 mana. For those who don't know, Legendary Sorceries can only be cast if you control a Legendary Creature or Planeswalker. For 3BB we get an incredibly powerful spell that forces our opponents to sacrifice a creature or planeswalker, and then we get to reanimate a creature or planeswalker from any graveyard. With so many legends in this deck, I'm not worried about this being stuck in my hand. What makes it extraordinarily powerful is that it doesn't require you to have a creature in your graveyard in order to find value. You can steal your opponent's best creature from their graveyard, too.
Boneyard Parley is a silly card. This is more for the memes than anything else. It is strong, however. As a 7 mana sorcery (5BB), one that we can power out with our ramp and Jaya, we get the incredibly powerful ability to choose up to 5 creatures from all graveyards, and give our opponent the choice to make 2 piles out of those 5 creatures. We then take which ever pile we want, and put it on the battlefield. The rest goes their respective graveyards. It isn't impossible that we get a Bolas, Darigaaz, and a Demanding dragon out of the deal. And I think that if you cast it, you should just win the game on the spot.
The Mana Base.
Unfortunately, we are struggling a little bit on the mana base, but I think we can mitigate that. We are running 7 Mountains, 5 swamps, 1 Island and 1 Forest for our basics. We are also running 2 Evolving Wilds to help us get a color of land we may need access to in order to cast on of our big bombs. We are also running 1 Overgrown Tomb and 1 Steam Vents for on and off color support. 2 Cinder Barrens are here, but that's because we don't have Rakdos yet. We are running 4 Dragonskull Summit, though. I have yet to really have issue with the mana base.
The Sideboard Plan.
The sideboard plan is fairly straight forward. For the creatures that don't die to our removal we have 2 Lava Coil to permanently exile them or Vraska's Contempt to do the same. Contempt also has the added benefit of hitting planeswalkers. If we are against counter control, I am also running 2 Banefire in the sideboard, being able to cast a giant Banefire by using Jaya's mana ability along with our ramp is just hilarious. I am running a Niv-Mizzet, Parun in the sideboard to add to our dragons' numbers against spell heavy match ups or counter control. 3 Fiery Cannonade is a great instant speed answer to tokens or small threats like Boros or Goblins, and slots in for Spit Flame very easily. We are also running 3 Duress to go up against control decks. 2 Sorcerous Spyglass found their way into the list as well, shutting down their flipped lands, planeswalkers, or specialty creatures like Izoni, Thousand-Eyed. Also, both Duress and Spyglass give you the ability to assess your opponent's hand and maximize your effectiveness on the board.
I think the one potential change I could see is adding in Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire to at least the sideboard. It is a great option to reanimate in order to deal with cards like Ixalan's Binding or Seal Away, as well as dangerous threats like Lyra. By getting that sacrifice trigger on attack, you can skirt passed those removal pieces and even flip into something powerful like a Jaya Ballard or Sarkhan for free. I think it should be worth your consideration if you see a lot of enchantment based control in your meta.
Conversely, you can also run some Assassin's Trophies in the side or main as well. You will be able to cast it off of your ramp spells and it just deals with everything.
This deck is fun. When it works it feels like a well oiled machine. When it does, well that's just Magic for you. Don't be afraid to lose your cards, you'll get most of them back later. And if you do get to that Jaya Ballard ultimate, don't be afraid to cash it in, she allows you to recast your reanimation spells from the graveyard and to keep you moving forward in the game. Give this deck a whirl, I think you'll like it. If you have any suggestions for the list, we'd be interested in seeing your response in the comments down below.