What is Dead May Never Die: A Guide to Reanimator in Pauper

“The dead make good soldiers. They can’t disobey orders, never surrender, and don’t stop fighting when a random body part falls off.”

-— Nevinyrral, “Necromancer’s Handbook”

While cartoon genies and Stephen King novels have long warned us about the moral depravity and ironic consequences of raising the dead, when it comes to Magic I’m in total agreement with Old Nevinnyral. Necromancy = fun and profit! Today I’m going to dig deep into the Pauper Reanimator archetype.

The Pauper Shakeup

Gitaxian ProbeDazeGush

I guess that’s why they call it the blues…

With the most dominant and oppressive pillar of the format taken down a peg and Modern Horizons cards creeping up everywhere it’s a great time to be a Pauper fan. While the Reanimator decks I’ll be focusing on today don’t directly gain from Horizons, exploring the new card pool is how I arrived at my current list.

Ransack the Lab

I was excited to work on Reanimator decks precisely because I wanted to try out a version that played 8 copies of Strategic Planning. Ultimately, I found my experiment wasn’t the most competitive version of the deck I was trying to build, but it was the catalyst that got the ball rolling.

Exhume and Doom

“Reanimator Decks” operate on the basic premise that you put an expensive, deranged monster card into the graveyard and use a spell or ability to “cheat” it into play. In Pauper, the primary way this is achieved is via a potent and powerful weapon:


Sometimes… Dead is better…

Exhume is the best option for cheating a fat monster from the yard into play. The other thing to consider, is unlike Legacy or Modern, there are no Griselbrand or Emrakul-tier monsters printed at common, which means we’ll be cheating less “busted” threats.

Striped RiverwinderGreater SandwurmUlamog's Crusher

While cheating out Riverwinder or Crusher may seem tame, in a formal like Pauper where everybody’s spells are also powered down, these creatures easily dominate the field of battle, especially when you can get them out on the second turn.

Digging Up Decklists

Reanimator decks in Pauper are nothing new and have been part of the fabric of the format for years. The big innovation has less to do with Reanimator getting a new toy and more to do with the free blue spells making an exit from tournament play via the recent B&R announcement. It is much easier for a deck to set up and execute a splashy play when most opponents are packing Dazes for days.

The first version of the deck I looked at was a midrange blue-black build. Ultimately, I was impressed with the deck because it added a powerful combo package (Exhume + Riverwinder) to a strategy that was already solid and focused. Here’s the list I started with:

Jerimiah Lee

Pauper Reanimator

3 Bojuka Bog
4 Dimir Aqueduct
3 Dismal Backwater
7 Island (335)
1 Mortuary Mire
4 Swamp (339)
4 Augur of Bolas
3 Gurmag Angler
3 Mulldrifter
4 Striped Riverwinder
2 Chainer's Edict
4 Counterspell
2 Disfigure
2 Doom Blade
2 Echoing Decay
3 Exhume
3 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Preordain
2 Cartouche of Ambition

2 Chainer's Edict
1 Disfigure
3 Dispel
1 Doom Blade
2 Duress
2 Evincar's Justice
1 Muddle the Mixture
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Shrivel

Striped Riverwinder is a truly outstanding card for a couple of reasons.

Striped Riverwinder

The Lich, the Lich, oh the Lich is back! Stone-cold hexproof as a matter of fact!

Typically, in Reanimator decks the strategy / play pattern is consistent and redundant:

  1. Find a way to discard a monster.
  2. Reanimate it.

The process is much easier when the creatures you are trying to resurrect already have a cheap cycling cost like Riverwinder! Incorporating reanimation into a standard UB Control deck doesn’t come at too high a cost. Jerimiah’s list only plays 3 Reanimate, 4 Riverwinder (which cycle for cheap) and a couple of Cartouche of Ambition to suit up Riverwinders. The rest of the deck is just a greatest hits of great blue and black utility spells.

The other build of Reanimator that I really like is a more “All-In” Rakdos approach. I’ve played a bunch of versions of RB Exhume in the past, and Chalky Yellow’s take on the archetype is flawless:

Chalky Yellow

Rakdos Reanimator

1 Ash Barrens
3 Bloodfell Caves
2 Evolving Wilds
7 Mountain (343)
1 Rakdos Carnarium
5 Swamp (339)
4 Insolent Neonate
4 Stinkweed Imp
1 Greater Sandwurm
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Ulamog's Crusher
4 Duress
4 Faithless Looting
2 Lightning Axe
3 Cathartic Reunion
4 Exhume
1 Shred Memory
2 Tormenting Voice
4 Lotus Petal
2 Dragon Breath

3 Blazing Volley
1 Electrickery
1 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Pyroblast
2 Jandor's Saddlebags
2 Swirling Sandstorm
2 Ingot Chewer
1 Gurmag Angler

Whereas UB Exhume merely adds the Exhume + Riverwinder interaction as another powerful thing it can do in addition to being a control deck, the Rakdos version pushes the speed and consistency to the extreme with an emphasis of trying to present Exhume on the second turn. It’s not a bad plan, especially with Daze out of the format, since pulling off the combo quickly is highly likely to win the game if it resolves.

  • Turn one, Faithless Looting: Pitch an Ulamog’s Crusher and a Stinkweed Imp.
  • Turn two, Dredge Imp and hopefully find a Dragon’s Breath. Cast Exhume.
Ulamog's CrusherDragon Breath

The dynamic between these two cards is often impossible to overcome, especially early on. If you couldn’t stop a Crusher with two lands in play, good luck stopping it with none!

The biggest drawback to the deck is that it gets shut down pretty hard by graveyard hate. While the deck is faster and more powerful in the abstract, that upside is balanced out by the fact that it is much more vulnerable to graveyard hate than a version like UB that doesn’t lean quite so hard on using it’s graveyard. There’s a tradeoff between raw power and speed, and flexibility and resilience which means that pilots have some options to consider when choosing which flavor of necromancy they want to embrace!

My Take on Blue (and Black) Magic

I loved the concept of squeezing a busted combo like Exhume + Riverwinder into a deck that was already focused and powerful. It reminds me of combing Thopter / Depths in old Extended. I’m playing a control deck, but I also have a combo that can “go off” and win the game early for no good reason. On a theory level, I loved Jerimiah’s take on the archetype, but the eternal expert in me quickly jumped to the question: “How can I get Brainstorm, Ponder, and Accumulated Knowledge into this brew?”

BrainstormPonderAccumulated Knowledge

Because that’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it!

Jerimiah’s deck played 4 Preordain. I’m packing 4 Brainstorm and 3 Ponder. As far as bigger draw spells go, Jerimiah has 3 Mulldrifter and 3 Forbidden Alchemy, whereas I’m playing 4 Accumulated Knowledge and 2 Pieces of the Puzzle. Aside from a few different flex choices, these are the primary ways my build diverges from the more traditional builds. I didn’t feel the “cost” of playing Brainstorm was particularly high in a UB deck. Ash Barrens gives us fixing and shuffling, while Ponder (which I’m also all about) can shuffle away cards put back with Brainstorm if necessary. The cost of adding Brainstorm, which is an outstanding card, was minimal and worthwhile.

I also found Pieces of the Puzzle to be an upgrade to Forbidden Alchemy in the shell I put together, because 2 > 1. I appreciate that Alchemy allows for representing Counterspell on the opponent’s turn, but ultimately I found Pieces fit the strategy I wanted to craft. I also have more and better cantrips, as well as Accumulated Knowledge, to see lots of cards that mitigate the loss of flashbacking Alchemy.

Brian Demars – UB Reanimator

4 Dismal Backwater
4 Ash Barrens
3 Bojuka Bog
1 Swamp (339)
2 Dimir Aqueduct
7 Island (335)
4 Striped Riverwinder
3 Augur of Bolas
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Brainstorm
1 Dispel
3 Ponder
3 Disfigure
4 Counterspell
2 Echoing Decay
1 Chainer’s Edict
4 Accumulated Knowledge
1 Foil
4 Exhume
2 Pieces of the Puzzle
1 Evincar’s Justice

2 Hydroblast
1 Shrivel
1 Envelop
2 Duress
2 Mindstab
1 Coffin Purge
1 Evincar’s Justice
2 Chainer’s Edict
1 Dimir Guildmage
1 Annul
1 Negate

The sideboard allows me to become a little bit better at controlling different matchups, and I’m never trying to “get aggressive.” I’ve got some nice trump cards to dig toward and I’ve also made room for a bunch of cheap interaction that will help me win critical counter wars.

Overall, I’m a fan. I’ve been impressed with the deck in a broad field with a wide range of strategies. As we get more results and a clearer picture of what the post-ban metagame looks like, it will be easier to make adjustments. In general, I like the cards I’m playing in the roles I’m playing them in, but I’m likely to fidget with the numbers as it becomes clearer which types of decks I’ll be playing against most often. Exhume is one of the more individually powerful spells in the format and worth examining more closely.

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