Turn one Iona. Do I have your attention? This week we’ll be discussing the epitome of oppressive combo decks, a perfect storm of giant, backbreaking monsters and countermagic that wreaks havoc on any unsuspecting opponent. You don’t need to be Herbert West to know that I’m talking about Reanimator!
What Reanimator wants to do is drop a giant monster into their graveyard on turn 1, usually via Entomb or Careful Study, then bring it back to the battlefield on the second turn. This is often enough to win on the spot through locking the opponent out of the game with Elesh Norn or Iona, or via the slower but inevitable victory with Griselbrand.
The creature suite in Reanimator is tailor-made to shut down the opponent and limit the ways they can interact with you. Griselbrand gives you the power to refill your hand, digging for countermagic to protect your monsters, and thanks to lifelink you can replenish your life total, which can be a boon when you’re losing 7+ life to Reanimate. Iona prevents your opponent from casting spells of the colour of your choosing, which is a death sentence for mono-coloured decks like Elves or High Tide. She’s also great for keeping opponents off their ways of interacting with you by naming Blue for countermagic or White for Swords to Plowshares. Elesh Norn is a death knell for any deck looking to win with creatures. Everything from Stoneforge Mystic to Deathrite Shaman gets wiped away when Elesh Norn enters the battlefield, giving you both a board wipe and a win condition all in one card. Lastly, Tidespout Tyrant and Inkwell Leviathan are non-legendary ways to put the hurt on your opponent. Tidespout Tyrant turns every Brainstorm, Thoughtseize, and Lotus Petal you cast into a Boomerang, preventing the opponent from ever building up a board state. Inkwell Leviathan is just a big, non-interactive beatstick that’s a three turn clock that very few cards in Legacy can deal with.
Reanimator runs a variety of cards to cheat these monsters into play: Reanimate, Exhume, and Show and Tell. Reanimate is the deck’s namesake and the cheapest of the three cheat spells. For one Black mana and a sizable chunk of your life total you get your monster back into play which seems like a hefty price to pay, but what’s important to realize is that with a turn one Lotus Petal you can play Entomb and Reanimate in the same turn. There are very few decks that can stand up to a Griselbrand or Iona on the first turn, so the life loss is well worth it. Exhume is the middle child of the cheat spell package, both reviving a fallen monster like Reanimate and working for both you and your opponent like Show and Tell. What makes Exhume so good in this deck is that not only do you get to keep your life total intact, more often than not your opponent will not have a creature in the graveyard to bring back when you cast it, and even when they do have a creature they’d be hard-pressed to have one on par with the giants in your graveyard. Lastly, Show and Tell is the easiest way to get a colossal monster onto the battlefield through graveyard hate. In a format with 4-of maindeck Deathrite Shaman, it never hurts to have a plan B. While more than a little awkward in the Sneak & Show matchup, against Deathrite Shaman decks Show and Tell into a Griselbrand or Elesh Norn is usually game over.
SO WHAT MATCHES DO I WANT TO FACE? WHAT DECKS JUST HOSE REANIMATOR?
Ideally, Reanimator wants to face as many combo matches as possible. Decks like Storm, Elves, Sneak & Show, and even Dredge game one can all get locked out by and early Iona or Elesh Norn to the point where they can’t play spells at all. These decks have very few ways of actually dealing with creatures on the board so once you get one in play it won’t be going anywhere. Several fair matchups, such as Jund and RUG Delver, have difficulty fighting through a resolved Griselbrand or Elesh Norn as the majority of their removal is geared toward smaller creatures. As long as you can counter Jund’s Liliana of the Veils, it should be smooth sailing.
Conversely, Reanimator really, really doesn’t want to face UWR Delver and Deathblade. Not only do these decks have access to Rest in Peace postboard, they also run Swords to Plowshares to exile your creatures, Karakas to bounce your creatures, and Wastelands to kill off what few lands you have. Couple that with trying to fight through an active Deathrite Shaman and countermagic and you have a serious headache on your hands. Here you basically have to hope Show and Tell can get an Inkwell Leviathan into play and win through your giant, unblockable, shrouded beatstick.
As well, a prepared Sneak & Show or Dredge opponent can shut down your reanimation capability through Leyline of the Void or Faerie Macabre, and they have Ashen Rider to mess with your Show and Tells. Here you need to use Echoing Truth to get rid of Leyline, and really just hope to play around Ashen Rider, either by Thoughtseizing before a Show and Tell or casting Exhume when they have no means of putting one in the graveyard.
Last but not least is Death & Taxes. This deck is just one big pile of cards that hate on combo decks. Between Thalia taxing your mana, Karakas and Swords to Plowshares clearing your board, and Wasteland and Rishadan Port to control your lands, the deck is brutal to play against. Your best bet is to stick either Elesh Norn to wipe their hate bears away, Iona to keep them off of White spells, or Inkwell Leviathan to dodge Swords. Postboard you have Pithing Needle for Karakas and Massacre for the hate bears to help even things up a bit, but even then it’s not what I’d call an ideal fight. The matchup is manageable if you can get a monster out early, but if you slow down even a little they can pile on obstacle after obstacle until you’re beaten to death by 2/2s.
WHAT SHOULD I HAVE IN MY SIDEBOARD?
The biggest thing that stands out about Reanimator’s sideboard is the City of Traitors and Show and Tells. When you’re expecting excessive graveyard hate you have to rely on the Show and Tell plan. However, Reanimator typically only runs 14 lands, which makes casting a 3 mana spell somewhat difficult. This is where City of Traitors really shines. By giving the deck more mana sources, you can more reliably get the necessary mana to fire off Show and Tell.
Thoughtseize and Flusterstorm come in for the permission-heavy matches such as Delver, as well as Storm matches like ANT, TES, and Belcher. Thoughtseize lets you strip away your opponent’s hand of countermagic, buying you plenty of time to find a creature to reanimate, and Flusterstorm can shut down everything from Force of Will to Tendrils of Agony for just one Blue mana. This makes it ideal for forcing spells through permission or just plain shutting down a Storm player.
Pithing Needle, Echoing Truth, and Engineered Explosives are great for dealing with graveyard hate. Pithing Needle shuts off Relic of Progenitus, Deathrite Shaman, and even Karakas, making it one of the most versatile cards you can sideboard in. Engineered Explosives is there to sweep away all the various 1-mana spells that fight your graveyard such as Grafdigger’s Cage, as well as being an extra board wipe against creature decks like Elves and Death & Taxes. Finally, Echoing Truth is a catch-all spell for getting problematic permanents off the table, especially Leyline of the Void. Echoing Truth is typically brought in to bounce permanents that you can’t reach with Engineered Explosives such as opposing Griselbrands, but also does tremendous work against tokens generated by Empty the Warrens and Bridge from Below.
Massacre is the board sweeper of choice for Black Legacy decks, and is primarily brought in against Death & Taxes and UWR Delver. These two decks rely heavily on X/2s like Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis, and they almost always have a Plains in play, making Massacre a free board wipe. While free spells are always welcome in Legacy, this is especially important in the UWR match since it frees up your mana to fight the inevitable counter war over the Massacre.
Finally, we have Grave Titan, the terror of Standard circa 2012. There is a very good reason for why Grave Titan is run in Reanimator and her name is Liliana of the Veil. While she’s been on the decline as of late, a resolved Liliana can prove troublesome for any creature you’re looking to put into play. With Grave Titan, however, you get plenty of zombie tokens to sacrifice to her -2 ability, leaving you with the behemoth and your opponent in hot water. Ultimately, this slot is quite flexible as a metagame call. You can run pretty much any fatty in this slot to serve any problem matchup you’re having. Deathblade keeping you down? Try Sundering Titan, the Armageddon on a stick. Jund proving to be a pain in the neck? Sphinx of the Steel Wind has your back. Need a little backup against Storm? Give Ruric-Thar, the Unbowed a shot. The sky’s the limit to the kinds of giant monsters you can run.
FINAL VERDICT: WHY SHOULD I BUILD REANIMATOR?
If you’re looking to play permission, hand disruption, combo, or huge monsters, Reanimator is the deck for you. Being able to consistently power out a huge, game-ending creature on the first or second turn and locking your opponent out of the game can be extremely rewarding. The deck has plenty of ways of playing through the most common forms of hate cards, and above all else it’s a combo deck that can run Force of Will, which doesn’t come up a lot in Legacy. And besides, there’s no better feeling than sticking Griselbrand on turn one and watching your opponent frantically try to figure out how to deal with it. Reanimator’s a deck with something for everyone!
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