Angels and Archons: Reanimator in Standard

Everyone loves playing with fatties. The only thing better is cheating to get your fatties into play even sooner, which brings me to the archetype that has fascinated players – competitive and casual alike – since the golden age of Magic and the printing of Animate Dead… Reanimator.

Everyone loves playing with fatties. The only thing better is cheating to get your fatties into play even sooner, which brings me to the archetype that has fascinated players – competitive and casual alike – since the golden age of Magic and the printing of Animate Dead.


The recipe goes something like this:

1 Cup of card drawing/tutoring/digging
1/2 Cup of necromantic spells
1/2 Cup of finely diced fatties

Can it work in today’s Standard, though? In a format frequented by 2/x one-drops, Remand, Castigate, Wrath of God, and Keiga the Fattie-Stealer?

No doubt, it’s a struggle, but after pouring over various options and iterations of this classic archetype I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Here’s the build that I started with:

It looked great on paper, and I was envisioning all kinds of really cool things, like casting Gifts Ungiven off a Signet for four fatties on turn 3 and following up with a Reanimation spell.

Things didn’t work out in such a pretty manner. I found myself discarding Gifts very often, as I tried to line up a turn 4 Zombify or Vigor Mortis.

The Signets didn’t really accelerate the deck, either. They slowed you down. I wanted Sleight of Hand or Ideas Unbound on turn 2, once again going for the big play on turn 4. Dropping a Signet the turn after meant giving up turn 3 Compulsive Research or transmuted Dimir House Guard. The Signet was only good if you could ramp into Gifts Ungiven, which wasn’t nearly often enough to justify its inclusion.

The fatties were also sort of random. Reanimating one of the legendary dragons on turn 5 was less than impressive. A quick Sky Swallower would wreck an opponent who was slow off the line, but the aggressive decks didn’t care at all and would swarm you for the win.

In the past, key search cards like Vampiric Tutor and Buried Alive have been the bread and butter of this archetype, so it seemed like Dimir House Guard would be an auto-include, allowing you to search up both reanimation spells and discard mechanisms. Gifts Ungiven proving too slow already hurt the House Guard’s utility. The mana demands were also problematic, since you always want UU on turn 2 for Ideas Unbound.

Dimir Doppelganger was also a disappointment. Originally, I thought of it as a ninth reanimation spell. The downfall here is that you need six mana for it to act as a really bad Zombify, and even then your opponent can respond with removal while the ability is on the stack.

There was potential here, but the deck needed some major revisions and I had to get back the basics of the archetype and content with some realities of the format.

Reanimator Fundamentals

1. You Need the Right Creature or Superhero

Before you can even consider constructing this archetype, you need some high-quality fatties. In comic book terms, your monsters should represent the following:

The Hulk – Hit hard with power of five or greater
Wolverine – Be resilient in the face of removal
The FlashJump immediately into the red zone with haste
Gambit – Use evasion to slip through your opponent’s defenses
Captain America – Provide offense and defense at the same time

Despite having read roughly 4000 comic books in my lifetime, that last analogy was a bit of a stretch. Imagine Captain America’s shield in action, cracking skulls as easily as it deflects bullets and saves lives.

All these heroes are quite powerful in their own way. Is there even a creature in the history of the game that resembles this multiple-personality meta-superhero? There is one…

Akroma, Angel of Wrath fits the bill:

6 Power
Protection from Red and Black
Flying, trample

Yeah, those were the days. Today we have to settle for less. Here’s a short list of the great fatties:

Razia, Boros Archangel (Hulk, Flash, Gambit, Captain America)
Blazing Archon (Hulk, Gambit, Captain America)
Angel of Despair (Hulk, Gambit, Captain America)
Simic Sky Swallower (Hulk, Wolverine, Gambit)
Verdant Force (Hulk, Captain America)
The Unspeakable (Hulk, Gambit)
Tidal Kraken (Hulk, Gambit)
Ashen Monstrosity (Hulk, Flash)
Mindleech Mass (Hulk, Wolverine Jr.)
Gleancrawler (Hulk, Wolverine Jr.)
Autochthon Wurm (Hulk)
Helldozer (Hulk)

Akroma’s little cousin sits at the top of the charts. Unfortunately, she’s also one of the few Legends on the list. This list begins to sort itself out more when you consider the next point.

2. Turn 4 is the Fundamental Turn

You don’t have anything nearly as sexy as Reanimate, Exhume, or even Necromancy. You’re stuck with Zombify and Vigor Mortis. You don’t have Chrome Mox either. This means that barring some exceptionally lucky opening hand, you won’t begin to execute your game plan and deploy win conditions any earlier than turn 4.

This is the single greatest challenge presented by the archetype. Your opponent can do a lot of very bad things to you in the first four turns, such as:

1: Kird Ape
2: Swing for 2, Scab Clan Mauler
3: Moldervine Cloak, swing for 8
4: Giant Solifuge/Char, Good Game!

The reality is that you’re going to be behind by the time you hit turn 4. Aggressive decks will be swarming the board and control decks with have hands full of counters and removal.

To have a chance you need a very consistent manabase (both in terms of color and the ability to make land drops late into the game), superb card drawing, and fatties that have a tremendous impact on the board.

Sadly, a 9/14 trampler is not going to cut it when your opponent has you on a two-turn clock.

3. Less is More

That’s the mantra my tennis instructor used to drill into my heard when I’d unleash a backhand loaded with raw power but lacking any real control. There are a lot of wild things that Reanimator can accomplish. Here are a few of my favorites:

1: Birds of Paradise
2: Compulsive Research
3: Zombify/Vigor Mortis

Wow, you’ve broken the fundamental turn and sped your clock up an entire turn.

Reality: You’ve also draw the God hand and sacrificed the consistency of your manabase to splash Birds of Paradise. Guess which one is more important.

1: Cry of Contrition (yourself)
2: Dimir Signet
3: Zombify/Vigor Mortis

Dreamland: You’ve broken the fundamental turn yet again and this time you’ve done it with only two colors. It just gets better!

Reality: Cry of Contrition is only good on your first turn and even then only good if you have a fattie in hand. After that turn, any time you draw Cry you’ll want to puke. It would be one thing if you had Funeral Charm, which also has anti-creature potential, but playing bad cards in hope that you’ll get a lucky opening hand with them is, well, really bad.

Through the Breach + Protean Hulk

Dreamland: Damn, you’re getting a hasty 6 points of damage in there, deployed at instant speed, and then you get to tutor out more fatties. Not to mention that Breach is an Arcane and you might be able to slice it onto Ideas Unbound or something else.

Reality: Breach adds another color to the deck and it wants creatures to be in a totally different zone than Zombify. Protean Hulk, on its own, is a lousy fattie compared to the other options. In other words, you’ve tampered dangerously with your manabase and added two narrow cards that cannot stand on their own.

All this is really a long-winded way of saying that you should focus on turn 4. That’s your goal every single game and every card in your deck should help you accomplish that goal.

The skeleton of this deck should be familiar and there are few slots in this list that are debatable. I’ll cover some of the new additions:

Thought Courier
Having twice as many two-drops that allow you to draw and discard is a very good thing for this deck – a hell of a lot better than Dimir Signet at the least. Admittedly, the Courier is fragile and will soak up quite a few burn spells, but that’s okay because it’s buying you precious time against aggro. Against control or decks like G/W Glare that lack removal, the Courier simply fantastic, vastly superior to Jushi Apprentice.

Peer Through Depths
Sometimes you just struggle to find that Compulsive Research or Reanimation spell that is going to make your hand perfect. This card puts the final piece of the puzzle together. With 22 instants and sorceries, you’ll rarely miss, but even if you do miss Peer is still doing its job, getting you closer to that crucial topdeck.

Sakashima, the Impostor
This is a much better ninth reanimation spell than Dimir Doppelganger. Whenever you rip an Imposter it’s like drawing a second reanimation spell that doesn’t need any fuel in the graveyard to work. Many a degenerate hand will ensue when you cast the Impostor on turn 5. In the late game, Sakashima makes a very nasty combo with Angel of Despair, allowing you to cast Vindicate infinite times. Even if Sakashima is all on its lonesome, you still have three power and a poor man’s Blinking Spirit.

Meloku the Clouded Mirror
This guy is just good. Even at face value. Meloku provides an army of chump blockers to run interference while your fattie goes to work in the red zone, and Meloku is also happy to simply win games single-handedly.

Angel of Despair
Blazing Archon
Razia, Boros Archangel
Let me introduce you to the multi-talented superhero crew. All of them set a four-turn clock and at the same time the shut down whatever game-winning creatures your opponent might have. The Angel represents the catchall answer to permanents. Blazing Archon annihilates creature-based decks that cannot produce a timely removal spell. Razia sets the fastest clock of the bunch, but you never want more than one. This creature set helps you come back from behind against even the most aggressive decks.

Tips on Playing the Deck

You need to play like a combo deck. Knowing when to mulligan and how to play out each hand to maximize your chances of getting the goods on turn 4 is essential. The best way to demonstrate this is by playing a few practice hands. I’m going to goldfish with four hands in a row – no takebacks, I’m an honest guy – and hopefully give you an idea of how to sort things out.

Sample Hand 1 (on the play)

Thought Courier
Thought Courier
Razia, Boros Archangel
Blazing Archon
Angel of Despair
Meloku the Clouded Mirror

Clearly, you’re taking a trip to Paris. Not an auspicious beginning…

Tendo Ice Bridge
Tendo Ice Bridge
Dimir Aqueduct
Sleight of Hand
Compulsive Research

It’s not perfect, but with two card-drawing spells I’m willing to give it a shot.

1: Island
Sleight of Hand
Keeping Zombify, sending Sakashima to the bottom

2: Draw Underground River
Play Dimir Aqueduct (bye-bye Paris)

3: Draw Island
Play Island
Play Compulsive Research
Drawing Angel of Despair, Ideas Unbound, Peer Through Depths
Discarding Angel of Despair, Underground River

4: Draw Sleight of Hand
Play Island
Zombify Angel of Despair

5: Draw Angel of Despair
Attack for 5
Cast Ideas Unbound
Drawing Razia, Watery Grave, Angel of Despair
Play Slight of Hand (floating a Black)
Keeping Ideas and sending Island to the bottom
Play Tendo Ice Bridge
Cast Slight of Hand with the Bridge
Putting Ideas in hand and sending Courier to the bottom
Burn for that one Black mana
Discard Razia, Angel of Despair, and Tendo Ice Bridge

6: Draw Angel of Despair
Attack for 5 (10)
Cast Peer Through Depths
Seeing Meloku, 2 Aqueduct, 2 Compulsive Research (this is a rough beat, where’s the second reanimation spell?)
Revealing and keeping, Compulsive Research
Cast Compulsive Research
Drawing Vigor Mortis, Watery Grave, and Island
Discarding Watery Grave
Play Watery Grave

7: Draw Vigor Mortis (after going 29 cards into your library!)
Play Tendo Ice Bridge
Cast Vigor Mortis with kicker on Razia (could have been Angel #2)
Attack for 12 (22)

Sample Hand 2 (on the play)

Watery Grave
2 Dimir Aqueduct
2 Vigor Mortis
Peer Through Depths

This is wretched. Slow with the Aqueducts and you’re missing not only fatties but also ways to discard them. Hope you’re not sick of Paris.

Ideas Unbound
2 Compulsive Research
2 Blazing Archon
Angel of Despair

Another easy decision. Guess you can tell that I’m doing these sample hands the legit way.

Underground River
Thought Courier
Peer Through Depths
Vigor Mortis
Blazing Archon

We’re living or dying based on drawing that second land, but I’m happy to take this gamble rather than go down to four cards.

1: Draw Aqueduct (a second and third land, how broken!)
Play Underground River

2: Draw Zombify
Play Aqueduct

3: Draw Island
Play Island
Play Thought Courier

4: Draw Swamp
Play Swamp
Activate Thought Courier
Draw Tendo Ice Bridge (now I’ve got too much land)
Discard Archon
Zombify Archon

5: Draw Vigor Mortis
Attack for 5
Activate Courier
Draw Angel, Discard Angel
Cast Vigor Mortis on Angel
Play Tendo

6: Draw Archon
Attack for 10 (15)
Activate Courier
Draw Meloku, Discard Archon (Courier unchecked = insane)
Play Underground River
Vigor Mortis Archon
Peer Through Depths
Seeing Zombify, 3 Island, Dimir Aqueduct
Revealing and keeping Zombify

7: Draw Dimir Aqueduct
Activate Courier
Draw Tendo Ice Bridge, Discard Dimir Aqueduct
Attack for 15 (30)
Cast Meloku (for the total blowout)

Sample Hand 3 (on the play)

Watery Grave
Underground River
Dimir Aqueduct
Ideas Unbound
Compulsive Research
Angel of Despair

At last we have a good opening hand. By the time we hit turn 4, we’ll have dug an extra nine cards into the library, making it highly probably that we’ll find the fourth land and the reanimation spell we need to keep things on schedule.

1: Watery Grave

2: Draw Compulsive Research
Play Island
Cast Ideas Unbound
Draw Island, Thought Courier, Reach Through Mists
Discard Angel, Aqueduct, and Courier

3: Draw Angel
Play Island
Cast Compulsive Research
Draw Tendo, Courier, Vigor Mortis (just barely)
Discard Tendo

4: Draw Underground River
Play Underground River
Vigor Mortis (1 pain from River) Angel

5: Draw Watery Grave
Attack for 5
Cast Compulsive Research
Drawing Island, 2 Courier
Discarding Angel, Watery Grave
Play Island
Cast Courier

6: Draw Aqueduct
Attack 5 (10)
Cast Sleight of Hand
Keeping Vigor Mortis and sending Compulsive Research to the bottom
Activate Courier
Draw Slight of Hand
Vigor Mortis (1 pain from River) Angel
Play Aqueduct

7: Draw Zombify
Attack for 10 (20)
Play Underground River
Cast Compulsive Research
Drawing Vigor Mortis, 2 Archon
Discarding 2 Archon
Activate Courier
Draw Island, Discard Underground River
Vigor Mortis Archon (just in case)

Sample Hand 4 (on the draw)

2 Underground River
Tendo Ice Bridge
Peer Through Depths
Ideas Unbound

A general rule of thumb is that you always keep your hand if you have two out of three combo parts and can cast Ideas Unbound on turn 2.

1: Draw Archon (bingo!)
Play Island

2: Draw Watery Grave
Play Watery Grave (take 2)
Cast Ideas
Drawing Ideas, 2 Sleight
Discarding Archon, Underground River, Tendo

3: Draw Aqueduct
Cast Ideas
Drawing Courier, Vigor Mortis, Sakashima
Play Aqueduct (combo with Ideas!)
Discard Courier, Slight, Underground River

4: Draw Island
Play Island
Zombify Archon

5: Draw Compulsive Research
Attack 5
Sakashima Archon
Keeping Razia, Sending Zombify to the bottom

6: Draw Island
Attack 10 (15)
Cast Compulsive Research
Drawing 2 Archon, Compulsive Research
Discarding Archon, Razia
Play Island
Cast Compulsive Research
Drawing 2 Underground River, Watery Grave
Discarding Watery Grave

7: Draw Thought Courier
Vigor Mortis Razia
Attack 16 (31)

What to Expect

Those games were pretty typical. Usually you get a fattie into play on turn 4, even if you have to Paris. Note that even during the wretched double Paris of game 2 the Archon hit the board on turn four. With a really bad draw, you stuck putting out a big guy on turn 5, but it’s very rare that you have to wait longer than that.

Unmolested, this deck can usually wins by turn 7 or 8. By combo deck standards that’s pretty terrible. Do you dare to compare it to Heartbeat? Look more closely at the games, though. From turns 4 to 7 Reanimator isn’t merely swinging for damage; it’s reacting to – even disrupting – your opponent. Look more closely at the non-combat part of these games:

Sample Hand 1
4: No attacking for your opponent
7: Hasty threat/blocker

Sample Hand 2
4: No attacking for your opponent
5: Vindicate
6: More No attacking for your opponent
7: Meloku plus 3 Illusions

Sample Hand 3
4: Vindicate
6: No attacking for your opponent
7: More “no attacking for your opponent”

Sample Hand 4
4: No attacking for your opponent
5: More “no attacking for your opponent”
7: Hasty threat/blocker

Rules to Keep in Mind and Blunders to Avoid

If you’re on the draw, remember that playing Dimir Aqueduct on turn 2 will get your hand up to eight cards, allowing you to discard a fattie.

Tendo Ice Bridge is a workhorse. Don’t forget that two loaded Tendos will late you actually hardcast Angel of Despair.

Sakashima on chooses a target upon coming into play. This is after your opponent decides whether or not to counter or respond with removal. The Impostor can duplicate Legends and avoid the sacrificial price, so don’t be afraid to match your opponent’s Legend or duplicate Razia.

Razia’s ability to redirect damage only works when there is another creature in play that you want to target.

Ideas Unbound forces you to discard at the end of the turn, so playing it on turn 6 in hopes that you can discard a fattie to reanimate is not a combo unless you already have an active Thought Courier.

Room to Grow

The core of the deck is pretty tight, but if you have to squeeze in some metagame cards, the first cards on the chopping block are Peer, Sakashima, and Meloku. Before you drop these, though, I encourage you to actually give them a chance first. Each one has pulled its weight in this build.

Potential metagame inclusions seem to be Last Gasp versus aggro and Quicken or Brain Pry against control and combo.

Sideboard Options

With my current maindeck, something like this seems like a good starting point:

4 Simic Sky Swallower
4 Last Gasp
2-3 Boseiju
2-3 Nightmare Void
1-2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

The Sky Swallower is a house against control and combo, swapping other fatties out against any deck that doesn’t win with hordes of men. It also serves two more subtle purposes. Thanks to Tendo Ice Bridge and Dimir Aqueduct, you’re quite capable of hardcasting SSS, which is very helpful when you’re trying to punch through counters or make yourself less vulnerable to Cranial Extraction.

Last Gasp is your generic “kill target weenie” spell that helps against any deck with an aggressive curve. Darkblast is another tempting option, but I think that you really need to kill Kird Ape and Scab-Clan Mauler.

Boseiju is crucial for getting your money spells (reanimate target creature) to resolve.

Nightmare Void is another anti-control and anti-combo spell, providing disruption, and also helping to dredge fatties into your graveyard.

The Great Glass-Spinner is tech against decks like G/W/B control that runs tons of one-for-one removal like Putrefy, Mortify, and Faith’s Fetters. The Spinner is also a great answer to the dreaded Keiga, the Tide Star.

The Future of Reanimator

I’m not going to lie. This deck isn’t going to redefine the metagame or give you an edge against the entire field. The format is tremendously varied. Like any deck, this one has its weaknesses. Magnivore plus Wildfire and Countermagic plus Wrath of God are brutal.

Nevertheless, Reanimator consistently cranks out creatures that dominate the board and its insane amount of card drawing makes it surprisingly consistent. Even decks replete with removal find themselves in trouble, because, as Jamie Wakefield famously stated:

“It’s the Last Fattie That Gets You.”

Take it easy,

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