A good while ago one of my friends was starting to get intrigued by Commander. He had seen my play group’s high powered Commander decks and expressed interest at exploring the more competitive aspect of the format. All those big spells waiting to be cast one after another didn’t excite him so he had stayed away from Commander but seeing all the efficient combo decks inspired his competitive spirit. So I started asking him what type of strategies he liked and I got a doozy: Reanimator.
Reanimator is one of the most frustrating archetypes to design for Commander. Between the singleton rule and the deck size requirement it can be a challenge to find the right balance of reanimation spells, enablers, and big creatures for a successful deck. So as I was searching for a way to increase the consistency of the deck, I was stalled a bit. I started finding the best reanimation targets, the best spells, and some of the key filters. It was looking like a deck, but the mana was rough and I wasn’t happy with the amount of discard enablers. While some decks, like Karador, Ghost Chieftain, have a good graveyard toolbox, they don’t get to consistently and quickly flop huge monsters onto the battlefield. At this point I knew I wanted to go Five Colors and I knew it was going to be focused on aggressive reanimation, but I knew little else.
It was when things were looking their darkest when I witnessed an inspiring series of plays. One of my friends was playing his Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck. It was quite budget and leaned heavily of various common mana fixing. His second land of the game was Ravnica Bounceland (Dimir Aqueduct) so he had to discard a card. He had a lot of Dragons in his hand so he ditched a Teneb, the Harvester. The next turn he drew Animate Dead and figure, “Why not?” and proceeded to get back his big guy. It was a pretty sweet revelation to me as I asked if he had planned that. He hadn’t, but then we started talking about how to build around that interaction. While it can be nice to say, “Hey, all these ideas are mine; I’m so unique and no one else builds and plays like me,” that’s pretty unrealistic. We are all inspired by the experiences we have in Magic and we all have some desire to win. I am willing to look for inspiration anywhere and absorb that which makes my decks better or my skill stronger. In this case, a completely unintended play in a game I was only half paying attention to inspired me on how to fix a vexing problem.
So the turn 2 Bounceland, discard a big creature, and then reanimate it on turn 3 plan meant that I now had access to 10 lands that could fix my mana and enable my strategy by getting creatures into the graveyard. That frees up a lot of space to both play more creatures, more reanimation spells, and more general smoothing as it makes the likelihood of a turn 3 Reanimation higher. This means I get to mess around with cards like Preordain instead of Zombie Infestation as my need for early discard outlets is much lower.
Five Color Reanimator featuring Horde of Notions
Horde of Notions vs. Scion of the Ur-Dragon
When it comes to reanimation as a strategy these two are the best options for Five Color decks. Scion of the Ur-Dragon can set up your graveyard with plenty of juicy targets while Horde of Notions provides a nice backup plan for getting back some of the big creatures you have.A 5/5 with Trample, Vigilance and Haste is quite fine, too. I went with Horde of Notions as I didn’t want to play the amount and type of dragons it takes for Scion to be useful (usually 7-10) and could instead just use a few choice elementals. I chose Tyrant of Discord for its destructive powers and Baleful Force for the raw card advantage it generates.
The Bounceland Synergies
These 10 lands from Ravnica, Guildpact, and Dissension are collectively known as the Bouncelands or “Karoos” named after the somewhat similar cards from Visions, Karoo. This group of land is known for the card advantage they provide as well as their weakness to targeted land destruction. So any deck that plays a few of these can be asking for trouble against cards like Wasteland or Strip Mine. The deck rarely will miss a land drop for a long time as each Bounceland is two land drops; one from the land itself, one from the land it bounces.
There is an opportunity for exploiting the “drawback” of the Bouncelands. They return a land to the hand so we just have to choose lands that are fine with that. Lands with enters the battlefield effects such as Bojuka Bog and Halimar Depths are great candidates for this as you don’t mind having their effects many times during a game. Lands that would end up back in your hand anyway like Thawing Glaciers, after use, are also sweet synergy with the Bouncelands. I also like using lands like Tendo Ice Bridge or Vivid Marsh as they get to be reset when you replay them.
As I made this deck a while ago, before Born of the Gods, I hadn’t had a chance to try out the Scry Temple yet. I suspect that they will work out well enough for those who embrace them. Also, as this list is budget conscious list I tried to avoid too many rare lands.
One of the most intriguing cards in this deck is Flash. It is a very odd card as rarely does one hope to use it for the designed purpose of casting a creature as an instant. This deck plans on casting Flash to cheat a big creature with a powerful ability onto the battlefield just to get that ability. It also helps that the creature ends up in the graveyard ready to be brought back. We have some impressive targets with Woodfall Primus, Ashen Rider, Terastodon, and Kederekt Leviathan leading the pack. One of my most memorable plays was using Flash to sneak in a Magister Sphinx in response to an opponent being attacked for 10. It was pretty hilarious as neither player expected it and it made my game much easier!
Similar to Flash, but less potent, is Footsteps of the Goryo. This can be quite synergistic with many of the same creatures as Flash despite being a little slower and requiring more set up. The point of Footsteps is to have additional ways
The Reanimation Suite
The reanimation options in this deck breakdown essentially into single creature or mass reanimation. While there aren’t many spells, we do play the most powerful ones. We could fill the deck with Zombify, Resurrection, and all of their friends, but we are more mana cost conscious. It’s also important not to get too wrapped up in our identity as a reanimation deck. While it is what we are built to do, we have other ways of abusing our giant monsters (Quicksilver Amulet) and can realistically just cast many of our big creatures.
The mass reanimate spells can be dangerous, but our graveyards will usually be much better than anyone else’s. If someone else has a tasty graveyard, it is possibly a good idea to search up Bojuka Bog prior to firing off Living Death or Twilight’s Call. One of the most amazing plays that we can set up involves our mass reanimation spells and Flayer of the Hatebound. When you combine it with Magister Sphinx you can kill 1 or 2 opponents just from those triggers! It’s an exciting play that can catch people off guard.
Sun Titan is a marvelous card. Nearly every deck in this format can find some way to make use of its ability. This deck is no exception as Sun Titan is quite nifty at getting back reanimation enchantments and utility creatures like Eternal Witness, Fierce Empath, and Doomed Necromancer. Teneb, Sheoldred and Reya provide similar services. While being more encompassing on the creatures they get back, the extra recursion engines help out a lot as the game goes long. It’s important to hold these guys back sometimes as the reanimation creatures are your some of the best plays against decks with excessive board wipes.
Kederekt Leviathan + Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead or Necromancy
Of all the reanimation targets in this deck, Kederekt Leviathan is the best at turning around losing board positions. The ability to return all other nonland permanents to their owner’s hand is quite powerful, but it also opens up the possibility of abuse with these reanimation Auras. So Animate Dead will return the Leviathan to the battlefield. The Leviathan’s ability will trigger and cause all the nonland permanents to return their owner’s hand. This includes Animate Dead and the Leviathan will find itself back in your graveyard. So for 1B you have just returned everything from play to people’s hands and it didn’t even cost you a card. It gets more absurd when you use Necromancy as you can do it at instant speed and cause even more headaches.
Playing the Deck
The most important thing about Reanimator is to just never give up. There are so many goofy interactions that sometimes miracles will happen. Gruul Ragebeast may let you control the board better than you ever expected. Thraximundar may team up with Terastodon to give your opponent’s elephants only to make them victims for Thrax’s ability. Due to the nature of being Five Color, having an odd array of powerful creatures, and a lot of digging power, you can perform actions that your opponents can’t predict. Your opponent may set up Ensnaring Bridge and feel safe only for you to start using Borborygmos Enraged and Life from the Loam to go straight to their face (or just blow it up with Ashen Rider and friends).
This deck can also blow up a lot of things thanks to the nuisance providing big guys. Angel of Despair, Ashen Rider, Terastodon, and Woodfall Primus can blow up lots of things and normally go after annoying enchantments, artifacts, and mana. Creatures are less sturdy, usually, and this deck has other options. But mana screwing opponents and then beating people down is one of the main plans of this deck. Never feel bad about going “End of turn, Flash putting Woodfall Primus onto the battlefield. I don’t pay so it dies, I’ll target your land, then persist it back and blow up your other land.” That’s one of your power plays! Sometimes you have a slow start and the ability to blow up all those permanents is going to be what lets you claw back into the game.
This deck has 4 pieces of removal that aren’t attached to big creatures. Terminus is the go to answer for Voltron decks, weenies hordes, or other big duder specials. Dismember is the most flexible to play removal spell in the format and we can definitely appreciate that with our mana base. Dismember deals with annoying things like Gaddock Teeg. Ancient Grudge is our artifact removal spell of choice. It can bust through counter walls when people try to combo or just pop off early Sol Rings. It’s a nice one. Krosan Grip is the real star here. Leyline of the Void and Rest In Peace are really annoying and Krosan Grip just ends them. This deck doesn’t like losing the stronger creatures to the exile so it really does help.
Adding More Valuable Cards
The deck definitely has some easy points of improvements. The mana base could be overhauled to have Dual Lands (or Shock Lands) and Fetch Lands. Intuition is one of the premier tutors, but less crucial than the ones in the deck. Loyal Retainers can be stronger than Doomed Necromancer. The Retainers fills in that reusable reanimation slot that the Necromancer holds down. I like having Grove of the Burnwillows and Punishing Fire in the deck, especially if Intuition is added. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth can help when some of the heavy black spells are cast. Avacyn, Angel of Hope is useful for metagames with lots of board wipes. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is great against creature heavy metas so she’s also a good addition.
Making the Deck Cheaper
The biggest pieces of value in the deck are some of the choice reanimation targets and the tutors. Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and Enlightened Tutor are not the cheapest options but the deck manipulation they offer is real. If you cut them, I would focus less on finding effects that are sorta like them (Diabolic Tutor, Idyllic Tutor, etc.) and instead just play more cards that do stuff. So I would look towards Frantic Search, Cauldron Dance, and Serum Visions as they were close additions. Extra discard outlets and reanimation are the most in demand effects and they get tutored for often.
Aside from the tutors, the biggest items in the deck are the reanimation targets. Iona, Shield of Emeria is a real star and can shut down entire strategies and lines of play; naming White (or Black) with Iona when the situation calls for it can stop board wipes and tutors. Most often Iona names Blue to prevent bounce spells (Capsize, Cyclonic Rift, Evacuation) and unfriendly combos. There aren’t any real replacements that can have that same impact. The closest is Chancellor of the Annex, but it is a real drop off in power level. Platinum Emperion is an odd ball, but the deck likes having a way to avoid damage. The Emperion also has nice synergy with Death (Life // Death) and Reanimate as it will be in play to stop your life from going down! But at the end of the day, you could replace Emperion with Stormtide Leviathan without a severe loss in power.
The great thing about Magic is that there are a lot of different and unique options. While they all don’t have the stats and ability to do great things, some are just a few degrees away from being powerhouses. A strategy like reanimator can make some of those cards more inviting, especially when you are being frugal, so here a few of the off the beaten choices that I would recommend trying out. Resolute Archangel as you could use its ability multiple times in a game. Trostani’s Summoner can bring a lot of friends and works well with Flash. Pelakka Wurm can be a solid choice to keep reanimating when games go long. Wrexial, the Risen Deep works well when your opponents are playing decks full of giant spells, especially extra turn effects. Inkwell Leviathan is a big, shroud monster that is can be challenging to deal with (but dies to Vandalblast.) There are lot more different options that the ones that I’ve discussed that are just ready to rise from the grave.
I hope you guys have enjoyed this article as it was a little different than normal. Feel free to email me or post below any question or comments you may have.
alextobriner at gmail.com
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