Legacy Reanimator 2022
Raising Hell In Legacy
Author: Zen Takahashi
Today I will be talking about one of Legacy’s oldest combo decks – Reanimator! The deck has been around since the initial days of the format, when Careful Study was being used to discard powerful creatures such as Inkwell Leviathan and Empyrial Archangel! These days, you’ll seldom see such creatures being reanimated, as instead you’ll most likely be facing down a big Griselbrand.
by Zen Takahashi
I’ve always liked Reanimator, and it was even the deck I played at my first Legacy Grand Prix when I competed in GP Chiba in 2016. Unfortunately, I ended up just missing Day Two, but I was woefully underprepared as we’d made the trip to Japan on the way back from the World Magic Cup in Rotterdam and I hadn’t played any games with the deck before the tournament. Still, I remembered enjoying playing the deck, and so when I decided to build a non-blue deck so I could lend out a spare deck for our fortnightly Legacy events, I decided Reanimator was the one!
I initially built a Blue-Black version of the deck and played it in some local events. Having realised I do in fact enjoy playing the deck, I decided to pick up a second Badlands (purchased right here, from Three for One!) so I could build the Black-Red version of the deck, which I believe is just strictly better (being able to flashback Faithless Looting is too important). I also upgraded my Animate Deads to Traditional Chinese FBB!
The maindeck is fairly stock if you look at lists from the past few months. The only notable difference is that I played the full playset of Archon of Cruelty, while most lists play three Archons and one Serra’s Emissary. To be totally honest, the main reason why I didn’t play the Angel was that I don’t own one, and I was happy with the full playset of Archons anyway because Death and Taxes is popular here. If I was to play a major event though, I think the three/one split would be better, as some decks cannot beat the Angel in game one, but I would play the fourth Archon in the sideboard.
The significant change to this deck from prior years has been the total omission of Chancellor of the Annex from the maindeck. For nearly ten years, the card had been a staple of Reanimator decks, but in recent times most people have now dropped it, though online Reanimator master Ewlandon still plays the full playset. The main problem with Chancellor of the Annex is that it is primarily only good on the play and if you have a quick hand, except in such a scenario you should already be winning. If you are on the draw and/or your hand is slow, then the opening hand trigger is likely to matter less for your opponent. On the flip side, Chancellor of the Annex is not a good enough reanimation target against non-combo decks and is often a complete blank to draw as you cannot pitch it to Unmask or Grief as it’s not black.
Unsurprisingly, the two key additions from the past year are from Modern Horizons 2, in the form of Archon of Cruelty and Grief. The big flier has been a significant addition to the deck, as you now have a reanimation target that isn’t weak to Karakas, and is also great against Death and Taxes, which is the main Karakas deck of the format.
It’s also good against Delver, which happens to be the best deck in the format. While it can be dealt with cleanly by a Swords to Plowshares, assuming you managed to hit a creature or planeswalker of theirs, they would have paid three cards (Swords, discarded card and creature/planeswalker) for your one (Entomb/Faithless Looting and reanimation spell offset by drawing a card).
Grief has also been a solid addition to the deck, acting as a fifth and sixth copy of Unmask. I believe it is worse than the sorcery spell as you cannot target yourself, which comes up regularly for putting a creature into the graveyard, but having the ability to reanimate Grief from the graveyard is nice. Against combo decks, being able to evoke Grief then reanimate it back on turn one is sometimes enough to win games on its own.
Hands to Keep
I think it is important to view the deck in four components – enablers (eight in total – Entomb and Faithless Looting with eight creatures to discard), reanimation spells (twelve in total – Reanimate, Animate Dead and Exhume), disruption (ten in total – Thoughtseize, Unmask and Grief) and mana (twenty-two in total – Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual and fourteen lands)
The ideal hand in pre-board games is one that has a route to the combo (Entomb or Faithless Looting plus Creature, and a reanimation spell), a disruption spell (Thoughtseize, Unmask or Grief) and enough mana to make it all happen.
As this deck does not have any card manipulation other than Faithless Looting, I will seldom keep a seven or six card hand that doesn’t have all four of these components. If my hand contains a Faithless Looting, I would be okay keeping a hand if it was missing one of the pieces, especially if it’s a reanimation spell or mana as you have a larger number of those, but I wouldn’t keep it if I was missing multiple pieces as you’re not digging enough to consistently hit everything you need.
I would also be willing to keep a hand without disruption if I had two or more of both enablers and reanimation spells e.g. two Entomb and/or Faithless Looting, and two Reanimate, as that means you can still combo through a piece of disruption irrespective of what they choose to hit. Alternatively, you can also Thoughtseize or Unmask yourself to discard a creature, which acts as an enabler, so that can work if you have another disruption spell to go with it.
I am also willing to keep hands without disruption if they can land a Griselbrand on turn-one, as the chances of you winning if you do so is high enough to the point that you’re basically imitating an Oops, All Spells deck. However, I would be unlikely to keep it if it’s just an Archon of Cruelty unless you know the matchup. Going all in on a turn-one Archon just to lose to a Swords to Plowshares is too risky of a keep.
Post-board it is a bit different, as you’re now having to account for the cards you are sideboarding in as well. Post-board games also tend to be slightly slower, as your opponents bring in sideboard hate and try to play conservatively around the powerful answer they’ve brought in. Ultimately, in post-board games you cannot be as strict with your hand keeping since you’ll probably need multiple disruption and/or a Show and Tell to pave a path to victory, which means mulliganing comes at a higher cost as you have less cards to work with. On the flip side though, you can also afford to be a bit slower.
Overall, in post-board games I would still follow a pretty similar regiment to the pre-board games, with the added caveat that you probably want two pieces of disruption to try to navigate through your opponent’s hate, but can likely afford to keep a hand that is missing one of the components if it’s one of the ones you have more of – you still wouldn’t be able to keep a hand without Entomb or Faithless Lootingg (unless you brought in Show and Tell).
Below are some hands that I’ve generated for pre-board games where I don’t know what my opponent is playing:
Hand 1 - Underground Sea, Badlands, Swamp, Lotus Petal, Animate Dead, Exhume, Unmask
I would mulligan this hand on the play and the draw as you are missing an enabler and don’t have a path to find it. If this hand had a Faithless Looting instead of one of the mana sources or a reanimation spell, I would keep it, especially as you can turn one Faithless Looting and flash it back on turn two off Lotus Petal if you don’t find what you need.
Hand 2 - Bloodstained Mire, Badlands, Entomb, Reanimate, Grief, Animate Dead, Exhume
I would keep this hand on the play or the draw. You have an enabler (Entomb), three reanimation spells (Reanimate, Animate Dead and Exhume), disruption (Grief) and enough mana (two lands). Assuming you are on the play, I would lead with the Grief on turn one (pitching the Exhume) as you want to make sure that this Entomb will resolve. If you are playing against a deck with Wasteland, crack the Bloodstained Mire to find a basic Swamp (otherwise play Badlands), then cast Entomb. On turn two, if your opponent is playing Daze, play the second land then cast Reanimate, otherwise you can cast Animate Dead instead to save life.
Hand 3 - Bloodstained Mire, Badlands, Swamp, Dark Ritual, Unmask, Exhume, Griselbrand
I would mulligan this hand on the play and the draw, as this is an “all-in” hand, except you cannot resolve a Griselbrand on turn one. This hand would involve Unmask’ing yourself to discard the Griselbrand, except if you pitch Dark Ritual you cannot play the Exhume on turn one. I would keep this hand if one of the lands was any black card.
Hand 4 - Swamp, Entomb, Entomb, Animate Dead, Animate Dead, Reanimate, Dark Ritual
I would keep this hand. It does not have disruption, but it has multiple enablers and multiple reanimation spells, which means you can always battle through a piece of disruption. With this hand, I would lead with the Dark Ritual on turn one, as they are unlikely to counter it. Assuming they don’t, you can then try to resolve an Entomb, which is likely the card they’d like to counter since you only have eight enablers versus twelve reanimation spells. If they do counter it, you still have the second Entomb and the Reanimate with two mana left in pool.
Tips and Tricks
- If you have to choose between combo’ing on turn one or casting a Thoughtseize and combo’ing on turn two, I would usually take the latter path. Even if they didn’t have a disruption piece, taking their best card is hopefully enough to delay yourself by one turn. It is just very important that you can resolve your enablers since you only have eight in your deck.
- If you are deciding what to discard with Faithless Looting, generally the big creatures are the most obvious choice unless it’s post-board and you want to hold them either for Show and Tell or not wanting to expose it to a card like Soul-Guide Lantern. Second to that, if you have the combo pieces already, I generally prefer to discard excess combo pieces and hold more disruption spells.
- If you are on the play, you can play around Force of Negation and Daze by casting Entomb on your opponent’s upkeep before they have had a chance to play a land.
- Against a deck with Daze, I like to play out my Lotus Petal early so that it’s sitting there in play to fight through any Dazes if need be. While it is a very corner case, if you are looking to resolve a spell on your turn and your opponent has a Wasteland up, crack your fetchland first, or else they could Wasteland your fetchland and if you then crack it in response, they could respond with a Daze on your spell.
- You can Reanimate or Animate Dead your opponent’s creatures from their graveyard. This may come up if you cast a discard spell on your opponent and find a good target, especially in the mirror match. For this reason, in the mirror, do not expose your creature to be reanimated by your opponent.
- Always be mindful when you cast Exhume, as your opponent will also get to return a creature. This matters in terms of what you hit with your discard spell – you may not want to discard that Hullbreacher if you’re planning to Exhume back a Griselbrand, as they’ll be able to get back their Hullbreacher as well.
- Exhume does not target, which makes it the best reanimation spell against instant-speed graveyard hate like Surgical Extraction or Faerie Macabre, granted you have another creature to bring back by the time the Exhume resolves. A clever trick you can do as well is to cast Exhume, and if they respond with a Faerie Macabre or Endurance, you can then cast an Entomb for a creature after they’ve done it while your Exhume is still on the stack.
- Post-board, you want to hold your Faithless Lootings and not cast them aggressively. The main reason for this is that you do not want to expose your creature to graveyard hate before you need to – try to put a creature into the graveyard and reanimate it on the same turn. The other significant reason is that post-board games tend to go longer and you often do not know what cards you’re digging for until the game has developed a bit e.g. are you looking for a discard spell, a Wear // Tear or a Show and Tell? This largely depends on how the game is playing out and what your opponent has. Because you are holding your Faithless Lootings for longer, this naturally makes Show and Tell a good card to sideboard in, as you’re unlikely to be aggressively discarding your big creatures.
The sideboard of this deck can be broken up into three distinctive parts – cards for their hate cards (Silence, Wear // Tear, Serenity and Massacre), an alternate gameplan (Show and Tell), and different reanimation targets (Chancellor of the Annex).
In most matchups, you will bring in some combination of cards to prepare against their hate cards unless they have nothing, and against fair decks you’ll usually sideboard in Show and Tell as an alternate game plan. The other reanimation targets in the sideboard are primarily for combo decks where they swap out directly for Archon of Cruelty.
Silence is for decks with counterspells, Surgical Extraction or Endurance aka instant-speed interaction that they plan to deploy on the turn you combo off. Wear // Tear and Serenity is for permanent-based hate cards like Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger’s Cage (I like having a split as Serenity is better against artifact decks like 8-Cast but Wear // Tear is a more efficient answer specifically for hate cards), and Massacre is for white-based hatebears. Coffin Purge is for graveyard mirrors, and you can fetch it with Entomb.
When it comes to sideboarding, I think the most “obvious” cards you can cut are as follows:
1-2 Exhume or Animate Dead
Going down to ten reanimation spells is okay, and which you cut depends on the matchup.
You generally want to shave on disruption as you’ll be bringing in more answers anyway, and these “pitch” ones are worse in post-board games as the card disadvantage hurts more. While you can reanimate Grief, not being able to target yourself makes it worse than Unmask.
1-2 Dark Ritual
I would only cut these against fair decks where speed doesn’t matter as much. Post-board games tend to be more attritional and go longer, so you don’t want to be stuck with too much fast mana when you don’t plan to deploy your combo that quickly anyway. Dark Ritual does help play around Daze against Blue-Red Delver though.
Never cut any lands or Lotus Petals
You don’t have many lands, and Lotus Petals are important post-board as you sideboard in more non-black cards.
Never cut any enablers (Entomb or Faithless Looting)
You only have eight copies of these so it’s already a stretch. Faithless Looting is also important post-board for finding sideboard cards.
I think you can go down to seven reanimation targets if you’re not bringing in Show and Tell
You definitely want to keep eight in if you are bringing in Show and Tell.
Cards to Play Around
Matchup: Blue-Red Delver
Blue-Red Delver: Mainboard
1-2 Brazen Borrower
Blue-Red Delver: Sideboard
1-2 Force of Negation (2 in 75)
Matchup: Jeskai Control
Jeskai Control: Mainboard
0-2 Supreme Verdict
0-2 Day’s Undoing
0-2 Dress Down
How To Sideboard vs. Jeskai Control
-2 Dark Ritual
-1 Animate Dead
0-1 Pithing Needle
0-2 Faerie Macabre
Matchup: Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes: Mainboard
Death and Taxes: Sideboard
0-1 Faerie Macabre
How To Sideboard vs. Death and Taxes
-2 Dark Ritual
+1 Wear // Tear
How To Sideboard vs. Doomsday
-2 Animate Dead
+2 Wear // Tear
I hope you enjoyed this article, as I covered in depth one of the oldest and most iconic combo decks in Legacy – Reanimator! I have enjoyed playing this deck in local events, and I believe it is competitive enough that I would even consider it for a major event if I had one coming up soon. If you have never felt the pure power of Griselbrand, I would highly recommend giving this deck a go, as it is an exhilarating experience!
Till next time!
@mtgzen on Twitter
About the Author
Zen Takahashi is a seasoned writer and mainstay on the Three for One Trading writing team. He is an avid Eternal player from Auckland, New Zealand and enjoys competing in local Legacy events and playing Old School over webcam with friends.
Previously, he was a Silver Pro for multiple years and his results included five Grand Prix Top 8s, a 27th place at Pro Tour Amonkhet, three consecutive online Regional PTQ wins, and he co-created the Modern Dredge deck.
Nowadays though, he primarily plays Legacy, his favorite format, but he also branches out into Pioneer and Modern.
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