Deck Clinic #3: Reyanimator

Doc, tell me straight out: Can this Reanimator deck be competitive in the current format? And what can we learn about how Reanimator decks work in general?

Welcome to Deck Clinic Number Three!

Here, Luka Coh introduces himself and his deck with this mail.

Mr. Rieffer,

I’ve read your article
Deck Clinic Number Two: Tempo About Thoughts, and I said to myself,”Hey, this guy really knows what he’s talking about!” I have problems with my weird rogue combo deck, and I would be thankful for your time and effort if you helped me.

So without further ado, the decklist!

The Sadist:


1 Reya Dawnbringer

1 Braids, Cabal Minion

1 Scrivener

1 Penumbra Wurm


4 Buried Alive

4 Breath of Life

2 Zombify

4 Orim’s Chant

4 Howling Mine

2 Zombie Infestation

4 Boomerang

4 Counterspell

2 Absorb

4 Dromar’s Charm


3 Underground River

3 Adarkar Wastes

3 Caves of Koilos

1 Dromar’s Cavern

4 Swamp

4 Island

4 Plains


I haven’t got a clue what to put in…

This Type pile of crap isn’t easily understandable at first glance, so a little explaining would be in order. This deck abuses the Reya-Braids engine to have Scrivener or Penumbra Wurm entering and leaving play each and every upkeep. The token fun with Penumbra Wurm is obvious; the Scrivener returns Orim’s Chant to your hand every turn. Orim’s Chant is a turn destruction on its own, but casting it every turn is absolutely sick and it

should be prohibited by some kind of a law. 🙂 It’s a lot of fun watching the opponent being Chanted every turn. It’s even more fun to see him/her realize that Braids is behaving like she’s in an all-you-can-eat restaurant and that they can do absolutely nothing to stop that crazy minion.

I can hear you thinking:”Nice, but can it be done?” And the answer is yes. One Buried Alive puts Reya, Braids, and Scrivener (or Wurm) in your graveyard. With Zombify or Breath of Life, Reya comes into play. Next turn Braids crashes in (with the help of Reya), and the party can begin. With counterspells, I can keep more or less threats at bay. Howling Mines keep my hand full with counterspells and they’re helping me to find the crucial card: Buried Alive. And when the lock is all set, they fuel Zombie Infestations.

The weak spots of this deck are:

  • A high mana curve (average CC of 2.9)
  • Buried Alive is crucial for the combo to work
  • Howling Mines work for the opponent, too (Braids ability won’t work)
  • My own painlands kill me way too often
  • Removing Reya from the game is fatal

Should the Wurm go to the sideboard? Is the land count okay? What about

sideboard? Any ideas for Extended?

Thanks for your time and effort once again, and Doc… Tell me straight out:

Can this deck be competitive in current format?

My regards,

Luka Coh

The Reanimator style of deck is not one that I’m terribly familiar with in practical terms – but I can approach it and its problems theoretically, which was one of the reasons to do this clinic in the first place. Reanimator decks generally would fall under the”Tinker” style of decks in that they use shortcuts to put superior threats on the table for less mana than what they would normally cost. I’ve commented before that this is one of the hardest sorts of decks to place in a metagame because they generally look like all of the beatdown, mid-game, and combo archetypes rolled into one. Because they usually take a few turns to get going despite the shortcuts, they generally have a weakness to open counter control… Yet if they wind up finding the right cards, they often wind up being the”hand grenade” of a format.

“Fires” ran rampant for a season, Tinker itself found a mirror match in Worlds finals play… And recently,”Benzo” had a moment in Extended. That deck will be a focus regarding tweaking up Luka’s deck. Here I’ll present Dave Humphery’s top eight deck from PT New Orleans of 11-01-01: I’ll note that fellow YMG player Darwin Kastle played almost the same deck into the top eight as well.

3 Rishadan Port

19 Swamp

1 Avatar of Woe

2 Krovikan Horror

1 Multani, Maro-Sorcerer

1 Nether Spirit

1 Squee, Goblin Nabob

1 Verdant Force

2 Animate Dead

3 Buried Alive

1 Contamination

4 Duress

4 Entomb

4 Exhume

1 Massacre

4 Reanimate

4 Vampiric Tutor

4 Zombie Infestation


1 Ascendant Evincar

1 Avatar of Woe

1 Bone Shredder

3 Coffin Purge

2 Contamination

2 Massacre

1 Null Rod

1 Perish

2 Phyrexian Negator

1 Terror

Here we basically see a mono colored deck based on swamps that while having other colors of creatures can only hope to put them on the board with black reanimation spells. Obviously this gives the deck a certain sort of consistency at least as far as not getting the traditional”color screw” often suffered by many multicolored decks. One would also note that it pays little heed to the tempo game besides reanimating its own superior threats. If we take a look at Luka’s deck and the problem he outlined a set of linked problems that I see is related to the fact that he’s gone to three colors basically to add in tempo controlling blue spells at the cost of a lot of painlands. This is I think perhaps unnecessary. With this I’m going to strip the blue component from Luka’s deck and focus on what one can do with black and white, the colors which hold the key spells.

Clinic Core Reanimator

1 Reya, Dawnbringer

1 Braids, Cabal Minion

1 Penumbra Wurm

4 Buried Alive

4 Breath of Life

4 Zombify

4 Orim’s Chant

4 Zombie Infestation

4 Caves of Koilos

12 Swamp

10 Plains

This”core” is already forty-nine cards. I want to use twenty-six lands because the deck really wants to get out to four, five, and six lands to do its thing. Also, with cards like Braids and Zombie Infestation, the extra lands can be quite useful for feeding Braids or making tokens.

Generally, the success of a deck like this is based on how many further disruptive elements it can pack in addition to the”core” re-animator cards and fatties. As”Benzo” used Duress, I think that is a favorable card here as well. When facing counter control, you need to erode their countering ability so that you can make your big play. So we want four Duresses in there as well.

Now there’s one creature that I feel is a”must” for this deck. Its one of only several creatures that have protection from blue, which I think is highly imperative in a format where decks will routinely have up to eight blue bounce spells. That card is Iridescent Angel, although Sabertooth Nishoba will substitute. This leaves us with six slots left in this deck.

Now a deck like this needs six to eight creatures to work effectively, I believe; the YMG build used seven in the main deck. Some”Fattie” possibilities include Hypnox, Benthic Behemoth, Crimson Hellkite, or really just about any other dragon – although Crosis with a black activated ability or Treva with the white ability are probably best. Continuing, there are Fungal Shambler, Iridescent Angel, Kamahl Pit Fighter, Laquatus’s Champion, Mahamoti Djinn, Mindslicer, Questing Phelddagrif, Savage Firecat, Spiritmonger, Stalking Bloodsucker, Thorn Elemental, Trained Orgg, or Tsabo Tavoc.

One of the cool things about this sort of deck is that you can either tailor it with the”fatties” that you include for a sort of”toolbox” effect, or that you have a lot of choices to put in whatever you either have on hand or like. Personally, I think my top six would include Reya, Treva, Crosis, Iridescent Angel, Thorn Elemental, and Laquatus’s Champion. One thing that one would notice is that whichever creature one would put in could effect the decks final build especially in adding in some lands of the appropriate colors for the odd hard cast…. That is, some forests for Thorn Elemental or Nishoba, or Islands for Iridescent Angel.

Once these”swing” picks are made it leaves us with only four slots left. For these, the optimal pick would probably be Spectral Lynx. In mentioning this card, I have to offer that for today’s deck I have somewhat thrown my limits on card rarity out the window. This deck is going to by necessity pull some more rare and uncommon cards. In part, I did this because Luka started us with a deck with nine rare lands and assorted other rare and uncommon cards. Substitutes are plentiful, however, and are probably somewhat metagame-dependent. Ravenous Rats are very good versus control-oriented fields, as are Mesmeric Fiends. Other black cards at one or two mana would include Innocent Blood, Zombie Cannibal, Addle, Chainer’s Edict, or Sickening Dreams, many of which would be weighed based on your expected competition. Other white card options would include Kirtar’s Desire, Angelic Wall, Life Burst, Pacifism, or Standard Bearer.

Our sideboard is very likely going to contain some of these cards as well, along with cards like Circles of Protection, black removal like Dark Banishing or Slay, possibly added discard like Mind Rot or Unhinge, or other cards like Faceless Butcher and Disenchant. With that, we get something like this.

Clinic Reanimator

1 Reya Dawnbringer

1 Braids, Cabal Minion

1 Penumbra Wurm

1 Sabertooth Nishoba

1 Treva, the Renewer

1 Thorn Elemental

4 Spectral Lynx

4 Buried Alive

4 Breath of Life

4 Zombify

4 Duress

4 Orim’s Chant

4 Zombie Infestation

4 Caves of Koilos

12 Swamp

10 Plains

Cheap Sideboard

3 CoP Red

3 CoP Black

3 Disenchant

3 Dark Banishing

3 Faceless Butcher

Of course, sideboards are always very metagame dependent – so watch what your friends are playing!

Lets look back at Luka’s concerns and see if we have addressed them…

The weak spots of this deck are:

High mana curve (average CC of 2.9)

I’m not sure if this can ever really be circumvented. I did add lands to facilitate getting to the four, five, and six mana this deck likes to do its thing.

Buried Alive card is crucial for the combo to work

This is a problem for this style of deck – one can still notice a whole pile of creatures that you aren’t able to hard cast. The final deck could probably stand to have some green mana, considering all of the green creatures. Still, the number one sort of play this deck is shooting for is going to be to”bury” the creatures out of the deck anyway and reanimate them.

Howling Mines work for the opponent too (Braids ability won’t work)

Howling Mines are only an evil necessity in some very specialized, often fringe, decks like Turbo Chant. I don’t like them here…

My own painlands kill me way too often

We’ve dropped to two colors. Against very fast decks, Treva should help with the touch of lifegain. As the fastest decks are often R/G oriented, Spectral Lynx can help if you have them. Circles and black removal out of the sideboard should help.

Removing Reya from the game is fatal

I don’t think this is the case anymore.

Should Penumbra Wurm go to the sideboard?

It makes an interesting interaction with Reya and Braids. If you like that, run it. I would probably swap it for Iridescent Angel.

Is the land count okay? What about sideboard? Any ideas for extended?

Most of these have been answered somewhat.”Benzo” is pretty well intact for Extended, and I’m sure many will cover that deck in time for the upcoming Extended season. The most notable cards I did not talk about were Twilight’s Call and the forthcoming Balthor the Defiled.

Balthor, the Defiled

Creature-Zombie Dwarf Legend


All Minions get +1/+1. BBB, Remove Balthor the Defiled from the game – each player returns all black and red creatures from his or her graveyard to play.


This card should spin off a red-splashed version of the re-animator strategy. Putting three Champions in the graveyard and then using Balthor’s ability should just about end most games, and black can be disruptive enough to work such tricks.

Thanks for your time and effort once again, and Doc… Tell me straight out: Can this deck be competitive in current format?

Since the run of”Benzo” in Extended and the history of reanimator decks in general, I think that if the deck were going to be thought of as very good in the standard environment that that would have happened already. As before, blue bounce is a problem – especially when you can’t hard-cast a lot of the creatures. That being said, a deck like Tog was running a minimal amount of counters that you could hope to offset with either Duress or Chant; at that point, an Iridescent Angel or Nishoba is going to give them fits. This extends to the reemergence of CounterTrenches as well, but the match swings in their favor as they can more often make a double counter play, stopping both a Duress or Chant and then the Reanimation spell – and even if you get that all through, they are running Wrath of God as well.

The other popular deck, R/G, proves a problem with just damage. Here you don’t have to worry about going off past counters but simply that they will overwhelm you before you can slap them with your own fatties. You’re sideboard should help here with things like CoP Red, black removal, and even Faceless Butcher.

I hope this has helped Luka and others take a look at the important points of re-animator strategies.

Deck Submissions

Remember, the more information you give me, the more likely it will be that I will select a deck to discuss. Tell me everything. In what format is the deck to be played? What sort of card pool do you have? What decks are you having trouble against – and similarly, what decks are popular where you play? What sort of further resources do you have – that is, are you willing to spend money to upgrade the deck and how much?

I will present the deck clinic every other week or so with a focus on beginning the game. In this I hope to use the clinic to talk about general theory, which every new and aspiring player needs to know. Send those decks in!