Revenant Recon is a reasonably well crafted pre-con from Murders at Karlov Manor. A Dimir deck with a Surveil theme and Reanimate sub-theme, it is very flexible. Many of the card choices are smart. The deck has multiple ways to win. You simply play what you Surveil into or put it in the graveyard.
First let’s talk about the commander and alternate choice. Then, we’ll talk about a minor error in deck design. Next, we’ll talk about how the deck plays. Finally, we’ll review a few choices you can make for upgrades.
Practice or TheoryMirko, Obsessive Theorist is the face commander for the deck, and it’s clear you should play it. The entire deck has decent synergy and you won’t have any regrets going with Mirko. A threat all on its own because it will easily grow every turn, with both Flying and Vigilance, you can freely attack without exposing yourself. Furthermore, its reanimation ability gives you another blocker during your end step and additional enters the battlefield triggers. You are well protected here. At only three mana it’s not such a big deal to recast Mirko when it inevitably dies. A solid choice all around.
There is also Marvo, Deep Operative and it’s such a cool card! It has the Clash keyword!
Way back in 2016 Mark Rosewater talked about the “storm scale” as a measure of the likelihood that certain mechanics from past sets would ever return to future standard legal sets. Now Marvo is in Murders at Karlov Manor Commander so yes, that’s not a standard legal set. But the fact that Clash came in at storm eight “It’s unlikely to return, but possible if the stars align” shows that this is a rare returning ability. It coming back at all is very interesting.
Since you are using Surveil to check the top of your deck, you can easily set up a high mana value Clash which would allow you to draw a card then cast one for free. That’s value! However, much of the deck is focused on graveyard shenanigans, and at five mana, Marvo dying even once would drastically impact your engine. The fact that it must attack to get the trigger is a strike against the Octopus for this deck. Definitely a cool commander for a different deck.
We Must Talk Swamps
Straight out of box, Revenant Recon has a minor issue with the mana base. Unfortunately, I noticed this very quickly as my first five hands produced a situation where I did have lands. I also had mana rocks. But I did not have one of my two colors of mana.
In a two-color deck, this seems extremely unlikely, so I checked the numbers. The deck contains ten gold cards and commander makes 11. There are 20 blue cards but one Phyrexian Metamorph so the deck has 19 cards requiring only blue mana. There are 24 cards that require only black mana. More black cards than blue, alright.
Yet there are 11 only blue producing lands, and ten only black producing lands. It seems elementary that if a deck has more black cards than blue, it should have more black mana producing lands than blue. That’s not the case here and I felt it during games. To make matters slightly worse, the deck features River of Tears and Tainted Isle. The problem with both of these lands is that they do not produce black mana naturally. They require either playing a land for the turn or a swamp in play. The deck doesn’t have enough swamps to reliably count on Tainted Isle, especially early on because you have a three mana commander!
Furthermore, there are six lands that produce only colorless mana. It’s hard to recommend getting rid of Tocasia’s Dig Site. Utility lands like Rogue’s Passage and Reliquary Tower are staples in many decks. That being said, you simply need a better land base here. While I understand the thought process behind includes like Drownyard Temple and Hostile Desert if you cannot cast your commander on turn three because you have too much blue and colorless and not enough black, it’s a no go. On top of that, the deck runs seven mana rocks but only three of them tap for blue and black mana.
Having a Disinformation Campaign as your value engine requires both black and blue mana equally. There are also more cards that have multiple black mana symbols than blue making black mana even more important.
I’m not sure how this was not noticed at the deck building screen, but it is absolutely a problem. Luckily, there are a bunch of inexpensive ways to fix it, and some more costly ones. More on that later.
How Does it Play?
Revenant Recon is part combo deck, part Reanimation deck. Your number one want is a steady stream of Surveil effects, and here the deck is far from lacking. With almost 20 Surveil cards, you’re sure to hit what you need when you need it or to put cards into the graveyard for Reanimation. There are a handful of repeating Surveil effects, and your best games are going to include when you get one of them into play quickly. The ability to use Reanimate to put a Sphinx of the Second Sun into play can give you these Surveil triggers twice a turn. With Eye of Duskmantle out you quickly gain a massive value engine. While this is going on Mirko is growing and is a threat by itself. This allows you to not overextend. If they are not dealing with Mirko, keep advancing your engine and let Mirko carry the game. Have they dealt with Mirko? It’s time to start reanimating huge monsters or value engines into play to establish a wider board.
One of the coolest cards that shows off the flexibility and multi-pronged nature of the deck’s game plan is Counterpoint. Having a growing Mirko on the table with a Counterpoint loaded in hand is a great feeling. Not only can you shut down a board wipe or game ending spell, you also get to advance your board.
Playing the deck is relatively effortless, but you have to be mindful of both your triggers and the shifting game state. For example, you can get in a lot of free damage attacking with your creatures once the table figures out that they don’t want to block that Ravenous Chupacabra because you will Mirko it at end of turn when they kill it. Having the entire table locked into a thought process of “I can’t block Mirko’s board” can be super useful, so use it! On top of that, you have value engines like Disinformation Campaign that simply grinds out a game if you have nothing else to do.
This deck has removal. Lots of removal. Tons of removal. Enough removal to blot out the sun, quite literally, if you consider Black Sun’s Zenith. The best part about the removal package, though, is that a whole lot of it also says Surveil like Price of Fame or Dream Eater. With this much removal, you do not have to play scared and it also generates value for your deck at the same time. See something you don’t like? Remove it! You’ll Surveil into more!
Normally when a deck has so many different avenues of attack, defense and advancement, it shows an unfocused or unrefined plan. Not so with Revenant Recon. You can drastically alter your game plan and react to the table with sSurveil while at the same time advancing your overall options to win.
The one card that you always want to see is Doom Whisperer. This makes Mirko an even more credible threat because you can slap down the Demon and pay an absurd 30+ life to make Mirko delete one player from commander combat damage. Should you do that? Maybe! This card also combos well with both Whispering Snitch and Syr Konrad, the Grim as alternate win cons. Whisperer was one of the best targets for Lazav, the Multifarious as well. In a Surveil deck, a card that can give you an effective twenty Surveil triggers, instantly, is clearly a strong card.
I am normally loathe to make a suggestion to improving the mana base of a pre-con for a variety of reasons. However, it’s essential here. Luckily, not only does Undercity Sewers help fix your mana, but it also gives you another Surveil trigger, so it’s always useful and it’s not expensive price wise. If you do have the budget add in other lands like Morphic Pool, Watery Grave or Drowned Catacomb, then you can consider adding back in another colorless land, Gallifrey Council Chamber, because you do really want that extra Surveil trigger. Interestingly enough, the Doctor Who set features a bunch of good cards for Revenant Recon.
Remember those mana rocks that only tap for colorless? Consider removing one for Laser Screwdriver which has massive functionality. Confession Dial gives you another big Surveil, but also lets you get back Mirko for only three mana consistently. Finally, Start the Tardis gives you double the Surveil power in only one card and also works as a discard outlet if you draw a card you’d rather reanimate.House Guildmage seems like an auto-include here for theme and function . It’s not the most powerful card, and a constant mana drain isn’t ideal. That being said, sometimes you simply need to be able to Surveil consistently. This is fighting for the Sinister Starfish slot and they are comparable, each with plusses and minuses. Alternatively you could play Think Tank which Surveils one card every upkeep automatically. In either case you must maintain a critical level of repeatable Surveil effects. Sinister Sabotage should find its way into every Surveil deck eventually. You do not need to load up the deck with counterspells to be effective, but having one more should be enough. Plus it’s a great target for Mission Briefing. Sanguine Spy seems like a more synergistic idea for the deck than Phyrexian Arena. Because it has Lifelink and Menace, the spy essentially gets you a free card every turn for no life while also giving you a Surveil and sacrifice outlet. This combos fairly well with Blood Operative and you should either play them together or not at all.
Finally The Grim Captain’s Locker is a good choice as another copy of Confession Dial. If you’re going to play both of these cards, make sure you balance it out with more ETB creatures to abuse these effects.
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What Comes Out?
Although I love the artwork and like the card itself, Foreboding Steamboat does not make sense here. Number one, you can’t reanimate it. Number two, you have to exile your own creatures. While that could be useful in some circumstances, it can also be used against you. The deck is not very creature heavy and you always want to have Mirko out. That means you need two non-Mirko creatures to exile for the Steamboat. If someone kills one of those two creatures in response to the cast of Foreboding Steamboat, you’re stuck exiling your own Mirko and losing all your build up. I’d play this card in another deck, but not here.Grave Titan is your standard big monster that can be reanimated for value. However, it has no other synergy with the deck. Marvo is pretty much the same. Certainly it can help you effectively draw and cast more cards, but at six mana and requiring constant attacks, it’s just not worth it for this deck. Replace these with more value or other, scarier, big monsters. Thoughtbound Phantasm is a +1/+1 counter creature that will grow but it does not fly, have evasion or any kind of protection. For those reasons it’s a fairly boring creature that sits there and gets chumped by 1/1s or deathtouch creatures. If it does become a threat, it gets removed. Dimir Spybug, on the other hand, both flies and has menace so it’s significantly better doing the same thing.
Because of the bevy of Surveil effects, you are assuredly going to hit cards you want to see in Revenant Recon. On top of that, you have excellent spells like Reanimate and Animate Dead so that you can bin monsters early without fear of never seeing them again. You always have an additional, free, reanimation effect in Mirko if you’re willing to risk the finality counter. It’s worth it a lot of the time. Treat that as the backup, backup plan though because getting two ETB triggers off every creature is very strong. This goes double if you go the escape route and add in even more recursion.
Revenant Recon packs plenty of removal, so you should never feel pressured to make a bad or rushed decision. While the game plan is simple it is also surprisingly robust. Cast Mirko, let him grow, react to the table from there. Minus the mana issue, which is easily solvable even with budget cards, this is a very decent deck.