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Magic the Gathering: Reanimator Decks

Updated on September 26, 2012

Mtg Rise from the Grave

Get your lazy ass out of bed
Get your lazy ass out of bed

If after collecting magic cards for a while you find yourself with a stack of rares you can't cast, think about making a mtg reanimator deck. Instead of actually casting your spells, you just chuck them into the graveyard and play much easier reanimation cards (like Animate Dead, Dread Return, etc.). The advantage of this is that you can play nearly any creature, no matter what it's casting cost or colors. Even for someone with a modest collection there should be a decent number of creatures you don't play just because they have no practical way of being cast. On the other hand, there are reanimator decks (called dredge) that are competitive at the highest levels of tournament play (legacy and vintage). So reanimation can suit just about everyone.

Reanimator Decks run on a basic trade off. Their bet is simple, I can get any creature out, but I need a reanimation cards to do it. Cards don't exactly land themselves to the graveyard. You have to figure out a way to get them there and then how to get them from the graveyard to the battlefield. So essentially you need a reanimation engine, a group of cards which will guide your enormous creatures to the battlefield via your graveyard.

Problem One: getting your creatures into the graveyard.

Dredge: as any experienced magic player will tell you, the fastest method of getting cards to your graveyard is the dredge mechanic. When you would draw a card and have a card with the dredge ability in the graveyard, you can choose to instead return that dredge card to your hand and take a number of cards (equal to the dredge number) off the top of your library into your graveyard. Some cards dredge four or more cards (Golgari Thug, Stinkweed Imp, Golgari Gravetroll). The rub of course, is that you have to find ways to get these cards back in the graveyard to keep running the mechanic. Some suggestions:

Putrid Imp and Tireless Tribe. Both these cards cost one mana and have discard effects that can be activated as many times as one wants. You could discard a million cards, if needed. Other cards in this category include Vampire Hounds, Wild Mongrel, and Trespasser Il-vec. Also consider Darkblast. While it only dredges 3 it can easily be cast and go straight back to your graveyard.

Draw and Discard: Many blue cards that let you draw also force you to discard. This is a nice double whammy: it nets you cards while letting you discard the big creatures in your hand. For my money nothing is more efficient than Careful Study. Consider the enchantments Compulsion and Unfulfilled Desires. Also the creatures: Magus of the Bazaar and Sindbad. Blue is not the most rich color for reanimation, and these are the fastest and most powerful in getting your creatures to your graveyard.

Cycling: Cycling is wonderful in a reanimator environment. You get a card that goes straight to the graveyard without assistance, and another card to take its place. Moreover, large creatures often cycle.

Alternate Casting Costs: Some spells/creatures feature discarding a card as part of a casting cost, like Unmask. If you don't want to bust your wallet try Lightning Axe, Deep Cavern Imp, or one my favorites: Mind Maggots

Problem Two: getting creatures from your graveyard to the battlefield.

Hopefully you got a graveyard full of usually unplayable fatties in your graveyard. So how do you get them out? There isn't time to go into all the individual cards, just the basic strategies. Some enchantments (auras) like Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead pull creatures out of graveyards, but are vulnerable to enchantment destruction. As usual Auras are weak. You've spent so much time getting creatures to your graveyard and then to the battlefield these are a bad idea. There are targeted spells for creatures (like Dread Return of Resurrection) that bring single creatures back, and global spells that put your entire graveyard back. (Living Death and Living End) Other permanents can bring creatures back, including my favorite Dreams of the Dead.

I tried to make an Ice Age block deck and discovered the card Dreams of the Dead. This 3U blue enchantment could be activated for 1U. Any white or black creature in my graveyard could be brought back into play, only it gained a cumulative upkeep of 2 and was exiled after it left play. Instant speed reanimation is a fun concept and the deck is amusing even though it has never won.

Mtg: Instant Speed Dreams

Black Creatures          White Creatures           White Spells
2 Twisted Abonimation    3 Kami of False Hope      Wrath of God 
3 Mind Maggots           3 Weathered Body Guards   
                         Mirror Sigil Sergeant     Lands 
Black Spells                                       6 Swamp
3 Dark Blast             Critters                  5 Plains  
3 Dread Return           2 Teneb the Harvester     8 Island
                         Blood Tyrant              4 Esper Panorama
Blue Spells              Razia, Boros Archangel
4 Careful Study          Rubinia Soulsinger
4 Dreams of the Dead     Autochthon Wurm 

How the deck plays:

As mentioned before this deck has never won a game, it's just fun to bring to the table. You won't be winning any contests of speed or power, so if you expect a painful early game or an aggressive reaction to your deck by other players, you ought to try a different deck. On any given draw, you want a Dread Return or Dreams of the Dead, along with something nasty to reanimate. You want to get your reanimation on the table and build up your graveyard. This is done with the following cards: Mind Maggots, Careful Study, and Darkblast. If you have reanimation in hand, along with a critter, you can pull an old school magic trick by refusing to play a land and discarding your best creature. Given the time it takes for the deck to win missing a land drop is no biggie. You might notice that, as a whole, there aren't too many "critters" (the creatures that only make it to the board via reanimation). This deck has something of a recycling theme. You play Kami of False Hope and Weathered Bodyguard if you can, and then reanimate them when necessary. This takes advantage of this deck's instant speed reanimation. When an opponent sees a player with 1-2 creatures and graveyard loaded with cards that prevent combat damage they tend look at you more as a nuissance then a threat. On the other hand you should always have two mana left open to grab a damage preventer. Your threats: Teneb the Harvester. When you reanimate Teneb you want to have seven lands open. During your opponent's end step you pay 1U for Teneb. Then pay 2 for the upkeep, swing at a player without fliers, then pay the 2B to permanently reanimate the biggest creature from any graveyard. Blood Tyrant. Reanimate Blood Tyrant at the exact moment another player will die, thus giving it +5/+5 and making it 10/10. After that the Tyrant only gets bigger. Rubinia Soulsinger. If no one can remove Rubinia she causes quite a bit of havoc. Take control of any creature on the board. Attack someone with it and hope for a lethal block, then just steal another. Wrath of God. A new addition to the deck, if you happen to get it at just the right time you can wipe the board and start reanimation en masse.

Mtg Dredge

Where's my Dread Return you ask? I'm sure it's down there somewhere.
Where's my Dread Return you ask? I'm sure it's down there somewhere.

Mtg Dredge: the Monstrous Reanimator

A short note for those curious about Dredge: it is monstrous because it can gather lethal damage in a few short turns. The reanimation it runs on is Dread Return. Standard practice is to Dredge most of the library, with an aim of Dredging the following cards: Bridge from Below, Dread Return, Narcomeba, Icharid, or Nether Shadow. Bridge from Below is a card that works when it is in a graveyard. If it is in your graveyard every time you lose a nontoken creature you get a 2/2 token creature. (Bridge is exiled when an opponent loses a creature) With multiple copies of Bridge in your graveyard (standard for dredge) you can expect lots of creatures. Narcomeba will come into play if it is dredged, and Icharid and Nether Shadow have ways of reanimating themselves. Dread Return has a flashback cost: if it's in your graveyard you can cast it if you sacrifice three creatures. You sacrifice your creatures for the flashback cost which nets huge numbers of 2/2 tokens. So what do you reanimate? Flame Kin-Zealot. This card gives all your creatures +1/+0 and haste. Meaning alpha strike with your 2/2 zombie tokens this turn. A guy from my magic group let me play this once and I got a third turn kill. I managed to find a legacy dredge deck list.

Legacy Dredge

Lands                Dredge Cards          Other
4 Cephalid Coliseum  4 Golgari Grave-Troll Akroma Angel of Wrath
2 Tarnish Citadel    4 Stinkweed Imp       3 Cabal Therapy
4 City of Brass      3 Golgari Thug        Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Gemstone Mine
                     Reanimation (Spells)
Discard Outlets      3 Dread Return
4 Putrid Imp         4 Bridge from Below
3 Tireless Tribe       

Card Draw            Reanimation (Creatures)
4 Careful Study      3 Icharid
4 Breakthrough       4 Narcomeba
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths


Some notes on Dredge. Dredge runs on practically no mana whatsoever. (I've seen dredge builds without mana producing lands) Anything meant to be cast has a cost of one. (Yes, a reanimator deck on steroids) Hence, this deck runs 14 lands. It's also important to note that if a Dredge deck can't start its dredge engine it is basically hosed. So you mulligan until you can get that engine or you lose. This may sound onerous but Dredge has proved remarkably resilent in finding the cards it needs. What are the components of this engine? A land, a dredge card, a discard outlet, and card draw.

Some Final Thoughts for Reanimation in Magic the Gathering

You might not always want to bring a Legacy/Vintage strength deck to the table just as much as you might be in the mood for something more powerful than a goofy reanimator deck. Living Death and Living End are good starters, since they can wipe an unfriendly board (in both duels and multiplayer) while reanimating all your cool stuff at once. Some big fat creatures work too: Lim-Dûl the Necromancer and Teneb the Harvester.

Though these is technically outside the scope of the article, there are plenty of cards that let you play cards without having to use the graveyard as an intermediary. The problem is that many of these cards let your opponents play what they want too. Eureka and Hypergenesis both let all players play everything. Show and Tell lets all players play one thing, while Braids Conjurer Adept lets everyone else play one permanent during their upkeep. There is one particularly great enchantment called Sneak Attack. This card lets you play any creature you want from your hand with haste, but that creature dies at the end of the turn. Even so, having creatures that can't be countered that swing as soon as they enter the board is awesome, since your opponent has little ability to guess what's going to come and when. Of course, with the dying and all, you're going to want huge creatures for it and Wizards of the Coast just gave players a new arsenal of gigantic eldrazi creatures as ammo. .



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    • profile image

      Felipe da Matta 

      6 years ago

      just play Sheoldred and watch

    • profile image

      I know best. 

      6 years ago

      Avacyn, Angel of Hope. Nothing CAN die.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      First turn draw: Dark Ritual, Entomb and Exhume. My 8/8 Hypnox crushing you for 8 on 2nd turn. Another one I like, Buried alive 3x Laquatus's Champion and Twilight Call them back.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I used the Entomb/Exhume combo for a while, and it really is broken. It is amazing how powerful these reanimator decks can be.

    • danatheteacher profile image

      Dana Rock 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      This is a new favorite tactic of mine-I love it when I'm doing it and hate it when I'm on the other side ;) Another great hub!


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