Commander Deck Tech: Reanimator, Legacy Style

Bryan Stadterman, who has been an influential part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Commander scene, takes a page from Reanimator in Legacy to build a Commander deck with Sedris, the Traitor King as its general.

Hey all! One thing you need to know about me is I’ve always been a Timmy at heart. Nothing beckons childhood memories more than beatdown with the biggest baddies of the bunch, from a Verdant Force to an Inkwell Leviathan and everything in between. I mean, everyone had that one amazingly overpriced fatty they loved when they first started out, right? So as you can imagine, Commander naturally becomes the great sanctuary in which to express a Timmy’s needs of all things big and ridiculous, where all those unplayable draft bombs with fittingly high converted mana costs suddenly become stars.

But realistically, who wants to pay ten mana for Jin-Gitaxias, Core Auger or a whopping twelve mana for an It That Betrays? Commander might be where the biggest of the big come to slug it out, but we’re going to need some way to bring those mana costs down to size while bringing our overpriced fatty to life. Hmm…bring overpriced fatty to life for little to no cost…

Warm up your graveyards, because we’re taking a page from Reanimator.   

The archetype is seeing lots of attention lately, what with five-color Reanimator being a heck of a force in Standard and beyond, but how does Reanimator a la Legacy translate to Commander? After all, in this singleton format we don’t have the luxury of playing four Reanimate, Exhume, or Animate Dead, and the same goes for its enabler, Careful Study.

So does this mean our plan is shot? Hardly. With the slower format comes a luxury of a different sense; if we dig hard enough, we can find plenty of tech to satisfy our thirst for necromancy and with Commander being about conforming to nonconformity (we’re all trying to be different, aren’t we?), being genuinely unique is also a plus. And by we, I mean of course that I’ve already done all the work and tech-finding for you guys (Gatherer is a beautiful thing, if sometimes unresponsive).

First, though, we need to understand what exactly we’re looking for in a general. It’s a given that the deck needs to be doing two things: getting stuff into and out of the graveyard to the battlefield. Our general needs to be a part of at least one half of that process. That’s where Sedris, the Traitor King comes in—he acts as a failsafe for the deck itself, which is the main focus of the primer.

He says to our opponent, "If you thought I ran out of reanimation spells, think again," and that’s very important in the card advantage attrition war that often defines Commander. He also gives us access to both blue and red, which helps set him apart from other more popular choices like Teneb, the Harvester or The Mimeoplasm. Additionally, the latter choices usually focus more on actually playing your threats or utility and then reanimating them later for added value, very often with an enters the battlefield theme.

This is a viable route to take a Reanimator deck, of course, but I feel as though it’s becoming a bit overdone, especially with all the Blink effects from Avacyn Restored. No, we’re going to focus on keeping our eye on the prize, cheating most of everything we play from our hand to the graveyard to the battlefield, choosing the right creatures and spells to help us win in Timmy style (with plenty of Johnny and a dash of Spike to fill the deck out with something for everyone).

Without further delay, the decklist:

The first thing you might notice is how we are getting things to the graveyard, which addresses one of the main reasons for picking Sedris, the Traitor King: the access to red and blue as looting colors. Despite how widely known Thirst for Knowledge and Frantic Search are, even earning places on the banned and restricted lists for Legacy and Vintage, they largely seem to have flown under the radar in Commander. I assure you, though, that they are perfectly powerful for our purposes and with their no-go status in other formats, Commander is your perfect opportunity to break them. Nothing says game over like a turn 2 or t3 Jin-Gitaxias or Griselbrand on the back of a Frantic Search and Exhume, among many other possibilities.

When it comes to looting there are a few other unique choices that stand out, in particular Cephalid Broker, Compulsion, and the new Desolate Lighthouse. The first two are cards that I’m surprised see very little play, as you would think that digging through your deck would be pretty desirable in a 100-card format. The last one is pure Commander gold and I wager could easily see some Standard play as a convenient backup plan to get any Elesh Norns in-hand to the graveyard, as it doesn’t really cut into your non-land spells if you balance your mana base right.

Given the nature of Commander as more of a marathon than a sprint, these are exactly the kind of cards that we are looking for in the long haul. Efficient instants and sorceries are great for the explosive early plays in our quest to emulate the power of Legacy Reanimator, but cards like these really lend inevitability and staying power to the deck.  While we have Careful Study and pretty much all of its iterations in the deck, Cephalid Broker really turns that into overdrive, effectively giving us a free copy of the classic card each turn.

Compulsion is even cheaper, allowing us to loot through our deck, maintaining card advantage all while giving us similar card parity. Heck, Compulsion even replaces itself if need be, and that is the key to the deck and what it is attempting to accomplish. Digging through your deck lightning-fast while sculpting your hand and developing a graveyard stocked to the brim with the best creatures is exactly what the doctor ordered. (If your doctor starts recommending dead bodies as remedies, you might want to consider a different physician…and an exorcist.)

Another benefit red and blue lend the deck is evident in cards like Mystic Retrieval, Faithless Looting, and the unfortunately named Deep Analysis. (I guess calling it one of Magic’s biggest inside jokes would only make things worse for the poor thing, wouldn’t it?) These cards, along with Dread Return (another Legacy staple, except for Dredge) and Corpse Connoisseur help maintain card advantage while we loot away, making sure we almost always have options along with profitable card parity. This mindset extends even into the creatures we’re trying to Reanimate; Sphinx of Uthuun is Fact or Fiction (which is also included in the deck) attached to a large, evasive beater; the perfect choice for our unquenchable need to dig through the deck.

On the whole, what black brings to the deck is pretty straightforward. That is, a ton of reanimation spells, some utility removal, and extra card draw to round out the deck. But even black can aid our looting cause with cards like Demonic Collusion, a repeatable Tutor which is very much its own combo card in this deck. Just discard whatever creatures you have in hand and Tutor for some reanimation for said fatties. Beacon of Unrest is an excellent choice here and with Phyrexian Arena out, you can just keep getting it every turn! That’s something every combo enthusiast can appreciate.     

Now you might be asking, why red? True, there are some good cards we’ve named that require a commander with a red color identity, but what in red really helps us in our reanimation strategy? After all, blue along with black gives us the majority of our looting and ancillary card advantage.

Well, the reason in a word is…reach. That is, the ability to close the game. Commander games are renowned, both positively and negatively, for their easy status as time consuming endeavors. Sure, this allows for extremely interesting and entertaining interactions and builds fond memories, but sometimes you just need a way to end your friends because they’re doing broken stuff.

While Sedris’ fatties can surely end games by themselves, he needs a way to cheat the odds and just unleash a firestorm of burn at the right moment. This is where Warstorm Surge, Pandemonium ‘s big brother, and Dark Ascension’s Flayer of the Hatebound help out. Not only do both synergize perfectly with Sedris, the Traitor King himself, they’re flexible. Yes, their main purpose is closing out games, but they can act as removal in a pinch as well, with the Flayer being particularly resilient.   

Finally, we come to the fatties themselves. Most of the choices here are pretty understandable. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Auger and Stormtide Leviathan are tried and true Legacy staples in Reanimator decks, and the same holds ground here. However, there are some unique spots that really stand out in this format, and even these staples find new, powerful interactions.

For example, you might look at Jin-Gitaxias and think, "I’d really like to make use of the flash, but that’s never going to happen." However, if you have Necromancy in hand and Jin-Gitaxias in the grave, you can flash the Necromancy in at the end of your opponent’s turn. You discarded their hand for the same mana as a Mind Rot. That’s pretty solid…but what else? How about the new Griselbrand and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind?

You can ensure your opponent shares all of your pain and none of the benefit with those two out. And for you Spikes, if you want a powerful early win condition just Buried Alive for Anger, Niv-Mizzet, and Griselbrand, Reanimate both (with a well-placed Victimize, perhaps?), then swing in and burn for the win. While this might not help Griselbrand’s case for staying off the banned list, it’s the kind of powerful play and statement that defines the impact new cards can have on the format; sometimes balancing on that edge between casual and competitive and at other times threatening Commander’s casual claim.

However, this is not to say they’re the only fatties you can find fun with; cards like Sphinx Ambassador (very often a continuous Bribery on a legs in a format where you can’t possibly remember every card in your deck) restore some of that casual feel of player interactivity that is so cherished, even if it means beating your friends over the head with it with that Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre you just stole. After all, we’re cheating most of our creatures into play, so why not do the same for your friends’ fatties?

I’m sure they’ll understand…eventually.

That’s all for this week! I hope you gathered some ideas for you own Reanimator decks. Remember, there’s always a way to take an old idea and give it a new twist.