Why wait around to cast enormous monsters that cost eight or 10 mana? I’m busy, I’ve got things to do – I’d much rather get them out earlier. I’m a big fan of reanimation decks, and was thrilled when cards like Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite came to MTGA, but that’s just a small part of the story of reanimator strategies. People have been cheating gigantic threats into play for years and years, using all sorts of different methods, and today we’re going to have a look at some of the best reanimate spells. Here we go!
While not exactly a Constructed all-star these days, any fans of Cube will know just how ridiculous Recurring Nightmare can be when built around properly. It’s not difficult to more or less lock people out of the game with this card if you build the right deck for it – you can set up loops where you keep sacrificing and bringing back the same creatures, doing all sorts of nasty stuff as you do. If you’re ever playing Cube and your opponent plates Recurring Nightmare, buckle up, because you’re in for a wild ride.
Dread Return also doesn’t see all that much Constructed play, but there’s a good reason for that – it’s banned in Modern. This card enables you to play a legitimate manaless reanimation strategy that uses nothing but self-mill – if you mill over three Narcomoebas and Dread Return, you can then bring back whatever other enormous threats you’ve dumped into your graveyard. Some Legacy decks play it – Oops! All Spells and LED Dredge – but these days Dread Return does its best work in EDH.
Back in Khans of Tarkir Standard, Whip of Erebos was an absolute house. Used in conjunction with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, this deck filled the ‘yard quickly, made a stack of 2/2s and would reanimate great big threats like Hornet Queen or Dragonlord Silumgar. Sidisi Whip was a great deck and I remember the horrifically long mirrors it brought about, with massive stalled boards and ridiculously high life totals thanks to the Whip’s lifelink ability. If you want to learn more about the deck, have a quick read of this article, which features a picture of me with a hairstyle I wish I could still pull off.
It’s not just black that gets reanimation spells – there are also actual, factual reanimation spells in white (Defy Death, Resurrection), and it doesn’t stop there. Even blue gets in on the action with a bizarre loophole: Body Double, copying something in the bin! Having a creature-based “reanimation” spell like this actually opens up some very interesting avenues, particularly with cards like Protean Hulk. When it dies, you can use its trigger to fetch Body Double and get another Hulk plus a one-drop – perhaps a sac outlet? And then the cycle begins anew. If you like ridiculous, convoluted combos, look up Flash Hulk!
Every new Kenrith player learns the same sharp lesson at one point or another. Yes, Kenrith lets you reanimate your opponents’ creatures, but no, it’s not something you want to do. While the Returned King is very useful in bringing back dead members of your own squad, you get a nasty surprise when you target an opponent’s creature, as it comes back under their control. Unusual, for a reanimation effect, so beware before firing off Kenrith’s black ability!
Goryo’s Vengeance is a very temporary measure, but sometimes one attack with a legendary creature is all you need. For instance, Griselbrand – one of Magic’s favorite reanimation targets – is good for seven damage and seven cards (or more, if you can afford it), which isn’t too bad. But what about… Emrakul, the Aeons Torn? As an instant, Goryo’s Vengeance gets around Emrakul’s anti-reanimation rules text, and can result in a one-time attack for 15, along with annihilator 6. Not bad for two mana!
My personal favorite reanimation spell, Unburial Rites takes me straight back to Innistrad–Return to Ravnica Standard, back when I first started playing Magic. This card isn’t the most aggressively costed or the most efficient reanimation spell, but it’s so much fun to play with and synergizes wonderfully with indiscriminate self-mill, as you can mill over both this and a threat without an issue.
Rise of the Dark Realms doesn’t muck around. You want reanimation? You’re going to get it – and for nine mana, you certainly get an obscenely powerful result. Rather than reanimating one thing, or even a few things, or even just whatever you’ve got in your bin, you get everything. All creature cards in all graveyards, just like that. This, obviously, is an EDH favorite and can lead to the most spectacularly silly board starts it’s possible to imagine.
Effective, cheap reanimation spells without a downside are rare to come across, but Exhume can be exploited to provide a two-mana reanimation spell without any downside. If you can find a way to put a reanimation target in the bin on turn one, then Exhume is a downside-free way to cheat a game-ending threat into play. Your opponent won’t usually have anything to bring back themselves, but if they do… so what? Their random 3/3 isn’t beating your Griseldaddy.
Reanimate is the classic reanimation spell, coming in at just one mana to return whatever you like, without restriction. Turn one Dark Ritual, Entomb, Reanimate: how are they going to beat that? Especially if you bring back a Griselbrand – sure, he might give you a spanking on the way down, but he’ll make up for it (and then some) with a few attacks. Reanimate has been cheating huge monsters into play, ever since it was first printed back in 1997’s Tempest, and is an absolutely classic reanimation spell.