Reanimator For Dummies

Bennie Smith continues to experiment with reanimation strategies in the new Standard. Read inside for his thoughts about Seance, Pack Rat, and more. You might find inspiration just before the SCG Standard Open this weekend in Indianapolis!

Two weeks back
, when writing about a couple ideas I had for Selesnya decks in Standard, I hinted at a three-color deck I was working on that included the sweet card
Seance. Seance was a card I fixated on pretty quickly after Dark Ascension came out because of the interesting puzzle it offered up. A recurring
reanimating tool was quite powerful (just think back to Recurring Nightmare), but Seance had some potent limitations that seemed to put it squarely in the
Timmy camp, far from the raw power-hungry Spike domain of tournament play.

First, it exiled the creature and made a creature token copy, so if the copy was dealt with you couldn’t reanimate the creature again (unlike the awesome
Spike-a-licious Unburial Rites). Also, the copy only lasted until the end of the turn… and it didn’t have haste. So, the creature either needed to
naturally have haste or provide value in some other way, presumably with some sweet comes-into-play ability.

The fact that you could use Seance’s ability right away on your opponent’s turn meant that you could also squeeze some value out of the creature as a
potential blocker, which was nice and all… but still, for all the hoops you had to jump through to try and make Seance a relevant card, it just didn’t seem
worth the trouble.

Sadly, Seance kept working its way further and further to the back of my Standard White Cards deck box.

But then along came Return to Ravnica and with it, Populate! A mechanic that cares about copying creature tokens in a world where most tokens are
1/1s and 2/2s. Copying them isn’t exactly exciting, now is it?

But how about copying a Craterhoof Behemoth token? Now that sounds like a token worth Populating, no? Especially since the copy won’t need to be
exiled at the end of the turn like the token produced by Seance and can stick around and be Populated again.

The beauty of all this was that I had a white reanimation spell in Seance, a green/white mechanic in Populate, and plenty of great green and white giant
creatures or value creatures worth reanimating. I even had potential tutoring ability in green with Garruk Relentless if I wanted to work in some silver
bullet reanimation targets. Green-white also has the best mana in the new format.

The problem, of course, was trying to figure out a way to get the giant, nearly uncastable creatures into my graveyard for Seance while staying in
green/white. Sure, I could just stick with castable value-creatures and use Seance to squeeze more value out of them, but if that’s the case, why not just
use Restoration Angel instead? No, with Seance I needed to go big or go without, and to go big I needed to figure out a way to dump the monsters into the
graveyard. Trying to do so without adding a color meant leaning on cards that aren’t really up to the weight. Grimoire of the Dead was interesting, on
theme, but really, really, really slow. Trading Post was another option, but you need more artifacts to make it worth playing, and with Scars of
Mirrodin block rotated out there’s a real dearth of good artifact creatures worth juicing up Trading Post while also playing nice with a reanimation theme.
Splinterfright, Ghoulcaller’s Bell and Cellar Door are too inconsistent. Mulch and Tracker’s Instincts are proven Reanimation cards but don’t help with
reanimation targets already in hand, except if you somehow manage to choke your hand with lands and can discard naturally.

I tried sketching out decklists with these cards, but the results were just clunky and weak and didn’t really give the sort of power you needed to justify
playing a Seance deck.

So… I needed another color. Red was one option, namely on the back of the amazing Faithless Looting, but potentially other fringe cards like Reforge the
Soul, Dangerous Wager, Rummaging Goblin, Shattered Perception and Wild Guess. Or I could go blue for Civilized Scholar or maybe even Murder of Crows.

But no—black was probably where I wanted to go, offering up a whole host of options for discarding reanimation targets in my hand, not least of which were
two brand new cards I was itching to try—Lotleth Troll and Pack Rat! Of course, adding black to my green and white reanimation deck meant forcing me to ask
the hard question—why play Seance over the proven powerful Unburial Rites? If we’re going to go big, Unburial Rites is the obvious superior choice—if you
reanimate some giant creature, and your opponent handles it, well you can just flashback Rites and make them deal with it a second time!

When you compare the two cards side by side, really, the only advantage that Seance has it that you can potentially keep using it over and over and over.
You don’t want to waste Unburial Rites on some little value creature unless you need it to save you, whereas with Seance you can keep tossing out dead
chump blocking Elvish Visionaries and Borderland Rangers during your opponents turn to squeeze more value and more chump blocks all day long and feel good
about it while you buy time for a bigger play to come around, all for no mana investment after the initial four.

Which made me realize… maybe I should put both Seance and Unburial Rites in my deck?

Here’s what I cooked up two weeks ago:

What I liked about this approach is that it’s not necessarily cold to graveyard hate, something you’ve got to consider strongly with Zombies roaming the
earth. You can ride the value train just as well as or better than many other mid-range decks while having a potential combo finish of a reanimated
Craterhoof out of nowhere. Lotleth Troll and Pack Rat are graveyard enablers who also have board presence, something quite handy to have when facing down
aggressive decks. Pack Rat is particularly cool here in that if one dies early on and you then cast Seance, when you have the mana available you can exile
Pack Rat to make a token, and then use its ability to make a copy that will stick around.

Pack Rat and Lotleth Troll are both cards that want lots of cards in hand to pitch to their ability, which means that Griselbrand makes a perfect fit as a
reanimation target. While you certainly want to target him with Unburial Rites first, in a pinch reanimating him with Seance during your opponent’s turn is
fine—it’s highly unlikely your opponent will want to run any creature into its lifelinking large flying body, so you’ll get a Fog plus if you have enough
life you’ll also get 7-14 cards drawn in your hand to feed your various plots.

Did someone mention “enough life?” Yes, this is yet another deck where Thragtusk is good, even better than most—you hardcast it, you Unburial Rites it, you
Seance it. Yeah, you’re gonna have enough life, but if you want a little more, let’s add Trostani to the mix. Oh yeah, I’d almost forgotten about the
Populate angle that led me to return to Seance again in the first place! I originally had 3-4 copies of Trostani in the deck, but realized she’s really not
a very good Seance target herself and wanted to slim down the mana curve some, which led me to Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage—kinda like Pack Rat, you can make a
copy with Seance and if you have enough mana, you can make more copies of itself that will stick around.

So this line of play is what you can do with Seance:

Turn 2 Elvish Visionary, draw a card, chump block.

Turn 3 Borderland Ranger, get a land, chump block.

Turn 4 Seance. Make a Borderland Ranger token during your opponent’s turn, get a land, chump block.

Turn 5 Make a Visionary token during your turn, draw a card, play Thragtusk

Handful of cards, Seance and Thragtusk in play… Probably feeling pretty good about this game.

Of course, since cooking up this list we’ve had two big StarCityGames.com Standard Opens to see how the new metagame is shaping up and a few Reanimator
lists to learn from. Let’s take a look at some:

Dan Jordan and Chris Weidinger’s decks are what we would generally expect from Unburial Rites decks, and they put up good results, both very nearly
taking home the champion’s trophies in the two events. So why in the world would I monkey with success by trying to leverage in Seance? The problem I have
with all-out Unburial Rites decks is similar to the issues I have with playing Ramp decks—you’ve got to play with a bunch of “set-up” cards to enable your
strategy, and if you don’t draw the right mix of set-up and end-game you end up with too little game for the board and you get run over, or else you sculpt
several turns of effort into one big play, and if your opponent has an answer you’ve just lost all your eggs in the basket. Being left helpless in a game
of Magic is what terrifies my midrange-loving heart.

Dan Jordan list actually goes quite a ways down the mid-range path, and gives me some hope that I’m not totally being sucked into the danger of Cool
Things. There are a couple other lists that are also not quite as “all-in” as Weidinger’s deck, both including my beloved Lotleth Troll:

So, looking at these lists and percolating some gives me some ideas on updating my deck. One man’s Junk is…

Centaur Healer has certainly proven helpful in keeping the archetype alive long enough to get your game plan in action, so I thought I’d squeeze some in
the main deck with probably the rest in the sideboard. I still like the land fetch of the Borderland Rangers to keep the mana flowing — and to help
potentially actually hard cast some of the large creatures in the deck if need be. I’ve added Murder to the mix when I asked myself what I would do against
someone who untapped with Olivia Voldaren in play. Murder seemed like the best answer I could think of so I squeezed a few copies in.

Speaking of squeezing in a few copies, I’d originally decided against Angel of Serenity because her best ability — being able to bring back a dead creature
of yours if she dies, potentially chaining multiple copies of Angel of Serenity — seemed to be at odds with the exile effect of Seance. But after seeing it
perform so strongly in all four of the decks above leads me to believe it was a mistake to omit the card. Even if you exile it with Seance, you’re still
clearing away blockers and forcing your opponent to spend resources recasting them. If you do it during your opponent’s turn you can really buy a ton of

I’m still hanging onto Craterhoof here. This sort of deck can durdle and linger for quite a while and I feel like I need a way to finish games fast, and
#HOOF coming down with a Troll, Beast token and Elvish Visionary in play can do so.

So, what do you think? This is obviously a work in progress, but I’m excited in the direction it’s going and I really like the subtle power Seance brings
to the archetype. I’m curious to hear any ideas or criticisms you may have in the comments below!

Special thanks to Elliot Scott, along with Jason Clark, Jeff Plotnikoff, and Isaac Stoddard over on my Facebook page, for their feedback and thoughts on
the idea.

Take care,


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback,
ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be
posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

My current Commander decks
(and links to decklists):

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus

• Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

• Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)