As long as Entomb has been legal in Legacy, Reanimator has been one of the fastest combo decks around. While the specific iterations of the deck have changed a lot over the years, recently RB Reanimator has proven to be the most consistent, powerful version of the archetype. On some level, it must always be respected in deck building as it always threatens to win the game early against players who aren’t prepared. While it hasn’t been quite as popular lately, it is still a force to be reckoned with so today I want to look at a list that Magic Online used Ark4n played to a top 8 finish in a Legacy Challenge event in October:
Legacy RB Reanimator Deck List - Ark4n
Core Game Plan
The goal of Reanimator is straightforward: Attempt to place a Griselbrand in the graveyard and return it to play as fast as possible. Once Griselbrand is in play, the raw card draw and size of the body will easily win the game, but there are a few routes to take from there. The first is to find discard spells to tear apart your opponent’s hand and reanimate a second huge creature (most often Chancellor of the Annex). The second is by finding a way to put a Children of Korlis in the graveyard and reanimate it, thus being able to draw almost your entire deck and win with Tendrils of Agony. The third is just by having an unbeatable creature in play, as a lot of decks cannot deal with a 7/7 flying lifelink. If you cannot find a way to put Griselbrand into play, there’s the failsafe of returning a Chancellor of the Annex, which will be good enough to win a fair amount of games by itself.
Let’s take a look at the individual card choices that make this deck a powerhouse.
These are the ways of getting a creature into the graveyard. Entomb is often the best of them, allowing you to pick and choose which creature is best for a specific situation. Griselbrand is almost always the correct first choice, and Entomb provides consistent access to a Griselbrand in your graveyard.
Where Faithless Looting might lack in creature selection, it greatly increases this deck’s consistency. It doesn’t just put a creature in the graveyard, but finds you any resources you are missing to execute the combo (be it lands, reanimation, or disruption). The ability to be flashed back is extremely relevant, as well, and this further increases the deck’s consistency.
These are the ways of getting the creatures back, each with a specific set of drawbacks, but all accomplishing the same goal. While Reanimate is the cheapest, if your opponent is applying too much pressure to your life total it might not be as effective (or even castable). Animate Dead does weaken the creature and can be interacted with (by Abrupt Decay or Disenchant, for instance), but in most cases will be a very safe way of returning the creature to the battlefield. Exhume is even safer, as the creature will return in its full glory, but it comes with the risk of allowing your opponent to bring something back (which is most often a downside in the mirror).
Griselbrand is the best creature possible to reanimate. You should almost always aim to bring Griselbrand out first because returning it to play will often yield enough cards to reanimate a second unbeatable creature or, in the case of Children of Korlis, a win on the spot.
Chancellor of the Annex is an awesome card in this deck, and it substantially increases the consistency of Reanimator. If it is in your opening hand, it functions very similarly to a completely free Daze. In the case that you don’t draw Entomb, or otherwise cannot find a way to put a Griselbrand in the yard, its role changes from disruption to threat. Reanimating a Chancellor will do a great job applying enough pressure to buy time to find a Griselbrand or even just kill your opponent as an additional tax on all of their spells will greatly slow down opponents.
These are the disruptive cards that allow Reanimator to play through counter magic. Unmask is often the best, as a free spell will free up your mana on key turns. Thoughtseize is a bit more reliable, as you won’t always have an extra black spell in hand to throw away to Unmask. The 2 life is a substantial cost when your plan is to draw cards off of Griselbrand, but always hitting a key card for the low cost of 1 mana is a big deal. It’s important to remember that these cards can both target yourself, which further increases the consistency of RB Reanimator, so keep in mind that they double as disruption and enablers.
This fast mana allows RB Reanimator to put a creature into play extremely quickly. Lotus Petal and Dark Ritual are by far the best of them, requiring very minimal or non-existent costs and powering out fast combos as early as turn 1. Chrome Mox comes along with a cost, but serves an important dual role as an extra piece of fast mana to enable the combo (in games where you have excess resources to use for it) and to draw off of Griselbrand and enable a Tendrils of Agony kill.
1 Tendrils of Agony, 1 Children of Korlis
Not every Reanimator deck runs this package, but having access to it allows Reanimator to turn into a turbo Griselbrand-fueled Storm deck. Occasionally just having some huge creatures in play won’t be enough to win, so having these 2 cards in your deck will allow Reanimator to win the game on the spot if a Griselbrand hits the board. After Reanimating Griselbrand and paying 7-14 life, you use fast mana to Entomb to search up Children of Korlis, then Reanimate and sacrifice it to gain that life back. Then, you rinse and repeat until you have almost your entire deck in hand and cast Tendrils to win the game. The opportunity cost to include this is relatively low, and it allows Reanimator to beat cards like Karakas and Oko more consistently.
1 Ashen Rider, 0 other targets
Ashen Rider is great at answering problematic permanents and is difficult to profitably remove. This particular version of Reanimator leans into the Tendrils combo element more, so it excludes too many other reanimation targets that are relatively common (like Elesh Norn and Tidespout Tyrant) since the plan is to win the game with a Griselbrand in almost every game.
These are both answers to specific issues that can be tutored with Entomb. Coffin Purge is excellent in the mirror, and Shenanigans is a perfect answer to Grafdigger’s Cage and Tormod’s Crypt.
It’s essential to remove Leyline of the Void, so having 8 ways to do so is a big deal. While Silence is by far the most efficient, it doesn’t answer a lot of other types of hate (like Chalice of the Void and Grafdigger’s Cage). Serenity in much slower, but its impact against decks that rely on hateful artifacts and enchantments is substantial.
This is an excellent card at beating countermagic. Most interactive decks trim on removal spells, so you can rely on it proactively to either get countered, or turn off countermagic. If it does go to the graveyard, it can always be returned by Reanimation spells, which makes this one of the best cards for the deck for dealing with blue decks.
Tips and Tricks
- To beat Surgical Extraction, try to put a creature in the graveyard and then cast Exhume with a spare mana. When Surgical is cast and removes your creature, you can cast Entomb with Exhume still on the stack and since it doesn’t target a creature (unlike the other 2 reanimation spells) the newly tutored creature will return.
- You can use Dark Ritual as a bait spell in many situations, as opponents will be tempted to interact with it and you can grind through countermagic this way.
- Mulligan more than you think you should. This is a 2-card combo deck that requires very few cards and resources to win the game.
- If you’re on the play, in order to play around Force of Negation and Daze cast Entomb during your opponent’s first upkeep before they have a land in play.
Sideboard and Matchup Guide:
In general, getting Griselbrand in play is going to be good enough in this matchup. Xantid Swarm will either require them to Force it, or keep a hand with Lightning Bolt (which is not desirable for them) so it is a huge card in the matchup. It might be right to bring out a Chancellor or 2 on the draw and keep in the Thoughtseizes, but I think Chancellor can be annoying enough in general. If you see Grafdigger’s Cage, it’s probably right to bring in Shenanigans.
Snow decks can really have any type of answer, so it can be difficult to hedge against Snow decks. There isn’t a clean answer to Containment Priest, so discard and speed are the only ways to beat it. Xantid Swarm is good against counter magic, but not against Nihil Spellbomb or Rest in Peace, so I don’t think you should lean into the full set. I think leaving the Tendrils package is a nice way to beat all of their interaction and Oko. This list doesn’t play Abrupt Decay, so I think the best approach is to not go overboard until you see something specific and try to play quickly.
This is definitely a matchup where Serenity will be great, answering both Chalice and Leyline of the Void. Keep in mind that one way to beat a Leyline is to reanimate their big creatures, so Exhume is a bit worse because it doesn’t allow you to do that. They have Karakas so having the Ashen Rider will really help against that.
Death and Taxes
This list is relatively immune to Karakas because Tendrils will allow you to win the game through Griselbrand getting bounced. They will likely have Rest in Peace, so Reverent Silence is going to be an important tool. Ashen Rider is nice to have access to, and will really help answer any problematic permanents that enter play.
Outside of Scavenging Ooze, Leyline is the most common graveyard hate spell they play. Surgical does show up in some numbers, but it’s much easier to play around. This matchup is very good besides Leyline, so just stick to plan A for the most part.