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By: Joe Fiorini, Joseph G Fiorini
Mar 12 2015 1:00pm
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Guess who's back?

Back from the dead, that is...

In this week's Legacy Lessons article, I'm going to be talking about my latest pile,


     Reanimator, as an archetype, has been around for a long time. I've read stories of decks from Magic's early history that used cards like Animate Dead or Hell's Caretaker to resurrect expensive creature cards like Triskelion. There have been decks that could cheat a large creature into play for a fraction of its full cost for as long as I can remember. I've mentioned before, in my article on Pauper Reanimator, that I used to play such a deck when I was a high school student. 

Animate Dead

     All of the Legacy decks that I've been playing are categorized as "fair" decks. They are great decks, and a ton of fun to play, but I wanted to be the guy threatening a turn one unbeatable play for once! 

     I chose Reanimator, because the mana base was something I already owned. Force of Will and Daze are also key cards which I already had. I also knew that it was reasonably powerful, even though it rarely seemed to do much to me when I played against it. At first, I was messing around with an incomplete list, just to see what it could do. Even with only two Griselbrands and one Show and Tell, I was provoking a surprisingly high number of turn-one concessions. I quickly decided that I should make this deck my next project.

     After a while, I was getting a very high amount of wins in a short period of time. Some of this was positive variance, I was getting an awful lot of turn-one or turn-two Griselbrands. Some games, I would look at my hand, and realize that I had a turn-one bomb and  could back it up with a Force of Will or Daze, and that was a great feeling. Making plays like that soon had me hooked on the deck.

     Here's what I've been tearing it up with recently:



Despite being essentially a flying Yawgmoth's Bargain, I assure you all, that Griselbrand is a creature.


     The gameplan of this deck is to get an enormous monster online faster than your opponent can stop you. This task is made all too easy with enablers such as Entomb and Careful Study, as well as four Lotus Petals to speed up the process. We also have another way with which to cheat a fatty, and that lovely piece of work is Show and Tell

     I'm sure that this sounds simple enough. There should be nothing stopping us from just ranching anyone who dares step in our way...

Unfortunately. these guys have an issue with that!

     Yes, there is a lot of hate for our graveyard shenanigans in the main deck of many popular Legacy decks. So, we are just going to have to be a bit crafty about how we go about our business. 

Tips and Tricks: Deck Construction.

     Let me start off by calling attention to the fact that my deck is a pure Dimir build. My first builds had the commonplace green splash for Abrupt Decay out of the sideboard. Abrupt Decay is a terrific card, and answers most of the problem permanents that we would face in a match. The splash is a fine choice, and I still have a list with Abrupt Decay saved in my account. Lately I've switched to playing straight U/B because I hate being blown out by this card:


     Being able to fetch basic lands and still run your entire deck feels great. The person across the table can drop a useless, colorless mana source all day long for all I care. I still have to be wary of Stifle, but that's a given with fetch lands. I find that it's much easier to cast an Echoing Truth in a pinch, instead of having to fetch one of two off-color dual lands to play Abrupt Decay. Not to mention, this opens us up even more to Wasteland. Personally, I don't want to be soft to non-basic land hate, or lose to preventable mana-screw.


     I'm running full play sets of Daze and Force of Will, to give me the highest possible chance of being able to ram through our Entomb and Reanimate on the first or second turn. Many lists play main deck Thoughtseize-effects, but I prefer to keep the number of blue cards as high as possible to make Force of Will free to cast more often. 

     Seven bombs are in the main deck. I've had this number as high as eight, which makes a Careful Study into Reanimate more likely to happen. I went back down to seven recently, trading a Grave Titan for another Ponder, but I might be trying to go back up to eight, replacing a Ponder with Tidespout Tyrant. That would keep the higher number of blue spells, as well as raising the creature-count. 

     Each of the bombs have their own purpose, Griselbrand is a huge beater, and even if they can answer him, you're usually going to be able to Reanimate another monster with the seven cards you'll draw from his activated ability. The other creatures provide a large body, as well as some situationally helpful function. Ashen Rider helps you get rid of problem permanents, as can Tidespout Tyrant. Iona, Shield of Emeria will lock out several decks from ever being able to play another card, namely Elves!, Goblins, Merfolk, and Death and Taxes (although some of those decks will use Aether Vial to get back into the game, so don't forget your Pithing Needles).Against a deck like Dredge, or any deck that plays all or mostly small creatures, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is game over. 

 The Sideboard.


     In the sideboard, I have anti-hate cards, anti-mirror match cards, and a few board wipes for dealing with Death and Taxes. Let's take a look...

     Pithing Needle

     Pithing Needle answers a lot of the things that will hurt us, Deathrite Shamans and Scavenging Oozes, as well as utility lands like Wasteland and Karakas. The list of cards that the needle can stop is too long to mention in totality, but I will add one more thing: If your opponent is playing Faerie Macabre, you can name that preemptively with Pithing Needle and stop them from using its ability.

     Echoing Truth

     Echoing Truth bounces problem permanents, at instant speed, and deals with multiples if that is ever an issue. You could also bounce a bunch of Empty the Warrens tokens if that ever came  up. 

     Surgical Extraction

     One of my favorite cards to play in sideboards, Surgical Extraction is great in the mirror. Combined with a Thoughtseize and an intricate knowledge of your opponent's deck, you can possibly eliminate an opposing combo decks only path to victory if played right. For instance, this hits non-basic lands, and I extracted a Dark Depths before, which caused my opponent (playing a Hex-Depths deck) to concede.


     Thoughtseize card can strip key combo cards out of an opponent's hand, but it also can clear the way of Counterspells if we need to fight through an opposing blue mage's defenses. In a pinch, you can target yourself to discard a creature and reanimate it.

     Inkwell Leviathan

     Inkwell was a popular target for reanimation spells back in the day, and it's even included in the Graveborn preconstructed premium deck. Although it doesn't seem as crazy as some of the other bombs you could resurrect, a giant creature with Shroud is nothing to sneeze at. Islandwalk makes it unblockable in a lot of match ups, and it's not going to eat a Swords to Plowshares the way Griselbrand tends to do. A few Sultai decks also play Maelstrom Pulse, which kills a lot of your creatures, and Inkwell dodges all of that. One thing to note: Council's Judgment is the one card that (practically) targets, but still hit's Hexproof and Shroud creatures. Luckily, we don't have too much to worry about, that card is usually a two-of out of the entire 75 of a deck that would play it.

     Show and Tell

     Most Reanimator decks play some number of Show and Tell between the main deck and sideboard. It's a hedge against graveyard hate, and let's us land a bomb for cheap. I bring one in in almost every match, removing a reanimation spell most often. 


     This card is great against storm decks, but it is also very helpful winning a counter-war against the decks that play them. At worst, it's a slightly more restrictive Spell Pierce, but the upside makes it worth it.


Tips and Tricks: Game play.

Iona, Shield of Emeria


Now, I'd like to share a few tricks that I've picked up while playing with Reanimator.


     1. Game one is vital. Although every game of a match of Magic is important, game one is especially important to Reanimator, in my opinion. Game one, your opponent is the least likely to be prepared for your game plan, and what you are doing is very hard to beat if it goes off successfully. So, if you can avoid making any plays that telegraph what deck you are playing until you're ready to go off, or until the end step of your opponent's turn (right before going off), it is best to do so. That means, don't mindlessly play that Lotus Petal. Petal tells your opponent that you're on Reanimator, or at least, Sneak and Show. Sometimes, you can even avoid using a fetch land early in the game, so your opponent won't know exactly what lands you're going to end up with in play.

     A big reason to try and surprise your opponent with reanimating a creature, is Deathrite Shaman. I learned pretty quickly that I'd have to figure out a workaround for dealing with the Shaman, because it's an extremely powerful card. Luckily, people LOVE making mana with Deathrite Shaman, and they're highly likely to use it for mana the turn that it loses summoning sickness. I remember one game in particular, where I didn't have an Entomb, or a Careful Study and creature, but I did have a Reanimate. My opponent played a turn-one Deathrite Shaman, and I knew that I had to be careful. I spent the first few turns not doing much, except playing lands and shaping my hand with Ponder and Brainstorm. When I my opponent finally tapped his Shaman to flood the board with a Baleful Strix and Scavenging Ooze, I cast the Entomb that I had finally hit with my hand-sculptors, fetched Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and reanimated it the following turn. That wiped his board clean, and I was on my way toward winning.

     2. Sideboarding against and playing around the hate. Show and Tell is usually a no-brainer to bring in, it bypasses all the Grafdigger's Cages and Nihil Spellbombs that people are going to bring in. Pithing Needle is also very important against cards like Deathrite Shaman, and Karakas, just to name two. After game one, any element of surprise you had is gone (unless you managed to lose game one without revealing what deck you're playing), so you're going to have a harder time most likely. 

     Against one active Deathrite Shaman, there is a trick you can do to get around the creature-exiling ability. If you're playing Exhume, it doesn't target, the creatures it reanimates are chosen upon resolution. If you can Entomb in response to the exile ability, you can find another creature that will remain in the graveyard until Exhume resolves. You might want to consider Elesh Norn as your target, as it will kill the Shaman, and clear the way for you to go nuts resurrecting massive monsters. 

     Pithing Needle is very useful in shutting off a Deathrite Shaman, but be wary, savvy Sultai mages will keep in some number of Abrupt Decay, as they know how popular Pithing Needle is in Reanimator sideboards. 

     I'll Force of Will a turn-one Deathrite Shaman, even if I have a Pithing Needle, as this might draw out their Force or Daze if they're playing a blue-based deck. This also can lead them to believe that Force is your only answer to their Shaman, which can be to your benefit. One exception to this, if I can go off the turn after they just played a Shaman, I'll hold my Force to try and help ram through my reanimation spell. If you can either get Griselbrand or kill the Shaman with Elesh Norn, you'll be in decent shape.

     If you have to deal with Scavenging Ooze, things get even rougher. Scooze can eat your entire graveyard even with summoning sickness, so if you even suspect that you might run into one, pray you draw a Show and Tell or Pithing Needle

     Karakas is a card that can really put a damper on our plans. Sideboarding in a non-legendary creature like Inkwell Leviathan is very important if you feel that the opponent might have Karakas or even targeted removal like Swords to Plowshares. A lot of decks won't be able to block the Leviathan anyway, so it's a reliable three-turn clock. 


Bounce target Griselbrand...

     3. Using your toolbox. Reanimator has Entomb to help you get whatever creature you want whenever you need it. The trick is knowing what creature matters more in a given match up. In the dark, Griselbrand is likely the best, because after using him to draw seven new cards, you're usually all set up to win the match, either through protecting him with Force of Will, or simply reanimating another beast. When you know which deck you're facing, it's best to know what creatures your deck has that the opposing deck simply cannot beat.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

     I was playing against a Dredge deck the other day, and I went for Elesh Norn as fast as I could. My opponent played a few more turns, presumably trying to think of an answer, and couldn't find one. I don't think that they can win if all of their creatures die as soon as they hit the board. It's pretty hard to out-swarm someone with no creatures. Golgari Grave-Troll would be the only creature that could survive in play, and they can't flash back Dread Return without three creatures in play anyway Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite also beats Elves, and is very good against decks that run a lot of creatures in general. Iona, Shield of Emeria is backbreaking against mono-colored decks, especially so if the deck doesn't play Aether Vial

     The point is to figure out what creature or pair of creatures will do the most to shut out your opponent from winning. A lot of times, one of those creatures is going to be Griselbrand. The lifelink alone makes racing very difficult, and the constant full grip of cards it gives you is very overwhelming. Using Iona in conjunction with Griselbrand can help shut off some of the few cards that could kill him, such as Maelstrom Pulse. This is very important against a deck like Miracles, which has several potential answers in the form of Terminus, (Sword to Plowshares), and Council's Judgment.



Reanimator wrap-up.

Cyclopean Mummy

Get it? Wrap-up? Mummy? Bad jokes are bad...


     Reanimator is a deck that I'm confident in recommending to anyone who wants to play a very powerful deck. I think that it has what it takes to beat a lot of decks, and it has a significant number of "I win" hands. Even in bad match ups, you might just get a hand that leads to a turn one Griselbrand, and they just might not have what it takes to stop you before it's too late. Once you refill your hand, and Force of Will their Swords to Plowshares, then play Pithing Needle naming Karakas, the situation will look quite dire for the person across the digital table. 

     I was thinking about how I sideboard with the deck today, and it occurred to me that I haven't ever done a sideboarding guide for any of my decks/articles. Partly, this is laziness, and partly I tend to sideboard slightly different each time anyway. I feel like that might be a mistake on my part, and I'm considering coming up with such a guide and sharing it in a future article. I've heard some pro players swear by sideboarding guides, while others refer to them as a crutch. I think that the truth is somewhere in between, and that it is probably helpful enough to warrant making an attempt at creating one. Many games that I've lost, I've wondered if I had sideboarded correctly or not. Sometimes, I'm sure that a failure to sideboard correctly was the deciding factor in a match loss. Hopefully, working on a written guide will help out. 

After reading all of this, I hope I've sparked your interest in reanimating some fatties. Happy gravedigging, and may all of your opening hands look like this:

Lotus Petal Entomb Reanimate Underground Sea Force of Will Daze Ponder




     I have a special treat for all of you today. Mr. Zach Hill, former pro Magic player, Pro Tour coverage team member, and Wizards of the Coast R&D member, was nice enough to grant me a mini-interview, and I'd like to share it with you. I was on an extended break from Magic when Zach was a pro player and WOTC employee, but  after getting back into Magic, I first heard of Zach while listening to the Brainstorm Brewery podcast. That podcast was a great episode, and Zach struck me as a decent guy. Since starting my own Twitter account, and following him on Twitter, I've seen a lot of positive energy come from him, and I think that is a great thing for the Magic community as a whole. I feel that our community needs more people who set good examples, instead of some of the negative things that have occurred in and around the Magic/Gaming community within the past year or so. So, that's why I asked for this interview, and I'm very thankful that he obliged. 

So, without further ado, here it is.




     JF: How did you first get into magic?


     ZH: My friend Sharif taught me on an airplane, and my play was reinforced while waiting in between rounds at chess tournaments when I was a small child. We'd play between rounds, and I found myself looking more forward to the Magic than to the chess!


     JF: When did you start to play competitively (and/or work towards pro-level play)?


     ZH: It was around 1998 when I learned I could win scholarship money through the JSS. Getting enough money to attend college was definitely a real priority for me, and the JSS seemed as though it would very much help with that.

     JF: How did you come to find yourself working for Wizards of the Coast?

     ZH: I was living in Malaysia on my Luce Fellowship, and I realized that the things I was spending time doing that most connected people weren't any of the politics/policy work--it was the Magic I was playing with people like Tech, Nik, the LaFaber Brothers, Terry and Joe Soh, and all of those guys. I wanted to explore working in design-- and my columns/videos at the time were quite popular, and I had had some success on the Pro Tour--so I sent a letter over to Aaron Forsythe and Tom LaPille, who had just started working within WotC as an intern. They accepted me a few weeks later.

     JF: What was your favorite part of working at Wizards?

     ZH: Leading design teams. The collaborative environment at WoTC, and the project structure itself, is unlike anything else I've experienced.

     JF: Have you been playing any Magic at all lately?   

     ZH: Not really, unfortunately.

     JF: What do you think of the new Pro Tour Qualifier system? 

     ZH: I really love it, actually. It means I can play in a PPTQ locally on basically any weekend, and if I quality, I can actually make sure to actually prepare for the PTQ

     JF: In researching for this interview, I've seen a fair amount of your posts on Twitter and Facebook. You strike me as a person with a genuine concern for the well-being of others. I see that you took a position with The Future Project, a non-profit organization. What kind of things does The Future Project do? 

      ZH: Indeed I did! Initially coming on board as the Director of R&D, for the last 2 & 1/2 years, I've served as the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Strategy Officer. Our mission is to inspire every young person in America to live a life of passion and purpose-- and we do that by embedding full-time social entrepreneurs called Dream Directors into high schools across the country. A Dream Directors job is to connect everyone within their high school with something that they deeply, meaningfully care about--including of course, discovering what that might be in the first place--and training them in the mindsets and skill sets necessary to take action in pursuit of that thing!  


Thank you very much, Mr. Hill!


     Many thanks to all of you for reading this. I really enjoy writing these articles, and all the comments people leave on my Facebook page, my Twitter account, and on PureMTGO are what keeps me going. Magic is a great game, but it's nothing without the community of players. That's why I picked the interview I picked, and that's why I'm trying to be a positive influence in the community as well. I'm certainly not perfect, and guilty of past indiscretions, both in and outside of the game itself. The proper thing for myself and everyone else to do is to try to be better people, and to keep moving forward in a positive direction. The rest will sort itself out. 

Until next time, Thanks for reading!

Joe Fiorini

Islandswamp on MTGO 

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