Modern has recently experienced its first shakeup ban in a while with the removal of Yorion, Sky Nomad from the format. With that change, Four-Color’s grasp on tournaments, specifically in-person events, has certainly lifted, and some of the trailing decks of yesterday have begun to spring to the forefront. Close seconds like Hammer Time and Amulet Titan have pulled even further ahead in the race, while some relatively new decks like Domain and Creativity have drawn on strategies that the format isn’t as prepared for. Creativity in specific has really risen through the ranks as its general game plan of disrupting the opponent while working towards cheating out a giant Archon of Cruelty has been particularly potent. Only vaguely adjacent to that is today’s deck, which also sprouts from that same root of cheating an Archon in to play. Let’s take a look at one of the slightly less explored mechanics of Modern Horizons 2, Orzhov Reanimator.
Budget Modern Orzhov Reanimator by Darren Magnotti
Orzhov Reanimator, as the name may imply, is a black/white graveyard-based midrange deck whose main goal is to cheat on the mana costs of splashy creatures with powerful effects. The deck combines two strong packages to reach this goal, being the expected reanimation package of Persist plus Unmarked Grave and a flicker package, which allows for the doubling up of all of the game-changing ETB abilities floating around. It looks to combine these two elements into a sort of grindy midrange game that has the option of blowing the opponent out in the early turns of the game.
The best place to start a breakdown of a Reanimator deck is from the top. Archon of Cruelty has solidified itself as one of if not the de facto… um… well, we used to call them fatties, but a better term would be Thiccums, Chungus or One DenseBoi worth several Solar Masses. Archon has become the go-to top-end threat for these mana-cheating strategies these days. With its ability to slowly disassemble an opponent’s hand and board, it creates a tidal tempo swing that can easily overtake most strategies if an answer isn’t found immediately.
In that same vein, Serra’s Emissary can completely shut down many strategies in the format. Naming creatures against Hammer Time, lands against the Valakut decks or even sorceries against Mill will basically ensure somewhere between 10 free turns as they dig to find an answer to an instant concession as their deck may have no outs to the card.
The deck also packs some access to utility reanimation targets as a backup plan. Ashen Rider and Shriekmaw are excellent for clearing the way for the other finishers to land on a clean board as well as being fairly capable of closing a game on their own. These, in combination with Karmic Guide, who is excellent for recycling some of these abilities to fight through opposing removal, provide a highly synergistic base for the rest of the deck to work with.
Reanimation and Enablers
One of the driving factors in the stability and strength of this deck is its ability to cheat on mana, and then further double up on that advantage for very little cost. Most of the finishers become swiftly catastrophic once their abilities have fired for the second or third time, so to take advantage of that, the deck leans into the same package that fuels a lot of the scam decks that we see today.
Ephemerate is the primary backbone of this aspect, creating a cascading wave of value when targeting any of the creatures in the deck. Undying Malice serves a similar function, though works more to protect the creatures than as a proactive value generator. Both of these cards function in tandem with Grief, which as we’re all well aware by now, can completely shred an opponent’s hand in the early turns when used with these cards. This value-oriented game plan serves the deck throughout the course of the game, grinding back to parity when the opponent takes an early lead or burying them when they choose to draw poorly.
To wrap up the list, we have the core reanimation package, or the cards that work together to put the finishers into play. The first step to that is obviously to put the creatures into the graveyard so that they can be fished back out. Unmarked Grave is the best of these, as its only function is to find a creature and set it aside for later use. While the ability doesn’t read as something terribly impressive, it is absolutely essential to the success of the strategy.
Bone Shards plays along with that, being an early game source of interaction that can move a finisher from hand to grave as a “downside.” The card is incredibly efficient at removing some of those sticky threats like a Wrenn and Six, Grist, the Hunger Tide or Ledger Shredder without worry.
While putting creatures into the graveyard can happen naturally throughout a game, getting them back out is a complete other story. Persist is the main card that people think of when considering this strategy as it’s the most straightforward and requires the fewest hoops to jump through as a prerequisite. It’s super easy: play the spell and put the dude into play with no other considerations.
The more difficult to utilize reanimation spells are Priest of Fell Rites and Unburial Rites, which either come into play much later in the game or require a bit more setup. While both are able to be replayed from the graveyard to maximise value, Unburial Rites costing an entire five mana is a bit steep for most matchups, so the deck isn’t looking to rely on that too much. Priest, on the other hand, can be an extremely potent reanimation spell. It does need to combat summoning sickness, but once it does, its lack of a downside in its effect (opposed to Persist’s -1/-1 counter) means that full value can be drawn from each creature returned. Priest also forms a nice loop with Karmic Guide, as they can bring each other back into play over and over to serve as blockers or to power through removal.
How Does It Play?
Reanimator sits in an interesting position in the general metagame right now. On the one hand, it plays a lot of good cards, does a strong and proactive thing and synergizes well with itself at all points in the game. On the other hand, all of its interaction falls at points on the curve where it’s not nearly as potent as it needs to be, so there are draws where the deck can absolutely fall short with a clunky or loose keep.
Like many linear strategies in the format right now, it’s also susceptible to some of the most powerful and prolific cards in the format such as Force of Negation, Grief, Solitude and Chalice of the Void. Also similarly to those other decks (things like Dredge, Storm, Infect, anything that’s ever been considered a boogeyman really), the deck can really flourish or flounder depending on the context of the other decks in the room – specifically, the density of graveyard interaction in sideboards. I will say that goldfishing the deck can be quite strong, and the game plan definitely has several matchups where it finds itself goldfishing.
Like many others like it though, this list just doesn’t have access to a lot of the tools necessary to fight through huge amounts of disruption. Not to disappoint, though, as in my experience the deck is able to “do the thing” with extreme regularity thanks to its “Rule of Eight” construction. For those unaware, it’s some sort of statistical science magic wherein when a deck has access to eight copies of a specific effect, the consistency in that deck skyrockets exponentially. I’m sure that Frank Karsten could lay down some knowledge on how it works specifically, but all I have in my smooth brain though is that eight copies make deck go brrrrrrrrr.
Fortunately, all three aspects of the deck’s “combo” are available to make that dream into a reality, so the deck is quite consistent when it wants to be. Overall, I think that it’s a fine choice for those looking to get into the more wild side of the format, and a good transitional piece from fair decks to unfair decks on the whole.
Modern Esper Reanimator by Thomjasz
One way to take this deck is to lean more into the “traditional” configuration of reanimator, the one that Legacy players from 10 years ago would instantly recognize. The reanimation package fills the slot of a control finisher in a deck otherwise packed tight with interactive spells like Smallpox, Spell Pierce and Prismatic Ending, all backed up by Dominarian newcomer Founding the Third Path. This style of deck leans less into the scammy game plan of value grinding and more into the notion of “we’ll get there eventually”.
Modern Esper Reanimator by Evart Moughon
AspiringSpike has also done some iterating on the reanimator shell, coming together with this version which relies heavily on Aethermage’s Touch as a value engine to backup the Invocation interaction suite. Part scam, part control shell, part Reanimator, this list showcases how the archetype can perform when the limiter is removed and you can put the pedal to the metal.
Whether or not any of these potential upgrade paths are viable as competitive mainstays in today’s metagame is still wholly up in the air, however it has to be said that Reanimator is one of the best feeling decks to play for those TimmySpikes out there. Smashing in with big stupid idiots while also coincidentally playing extremely efficiently is an awesome feeling, and the deck never gets boring over the course of a long day of play.
That’s all for this one. Hope you all enjoyed this little foray into the graveyard. While these fragile strategies aren’t the only thing that’s going to be on the menu, they certainly are capable of packing a punch and make for great budget starting points. Until next time, remember to stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading!