I’ve long been a fan of the Golgari color combination. Once I realized that adding black to my huge green creature decks let me get back those creatures after my opponents killed them, I was hooked. I played Oath of Ghouls, Recurring Nightmare, and Oversold Cemetery in quite a few tournament decks way back in the day. When I started playing Commander, I definitely dabbled in making use of the graveyard, but I never felt drawn into a full-blown reanimator strategy. For one thing, plenty of people play graveyard removal effects, and I’ve seen way too many people prime their graveyards to set up a really big turn, only to have all their glorious plans undone by a Bojuka Bog.
But then along came Old Stickfingers from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.
What ol’ Sticky lets you do is put X creature cards directly into your graveyard from the library, which is pretty incredible to have stapled onto a card you have hanging out in the command zone. And it scales, so the more work you want to put into pouring mana into the X cost, the more creatures you can put into your graveyard.
The downside of course is that the X cards are whatever random creatures you have near the top of your deck, barring deck-stacking shenanigans. So, while you may want to put Archon of Cruelty into your graveyard to cheaply reanimate, you may instead get a Sakura-Tribe Elder that you’ve got in the deck to help you ramp.
There are a couple of different ways you can go. First, maybe you’re not going for reanimation, but instead just want to mill creatures into the graveyard for value. In this case you’re using cards like Oversold Cemetery, Phyrexian Reclamation, and Genesis that let you get creatures back from the graveyard. Or maybe you’re playing creatures with abilities like eternalize, escape, or unearth that will let you bring them back from the graveyard. Maybe you’re playing creatures that get better the more creatures that are in your graveyard, like Kessig Cagebreakers, Mortivore, and Fiend Artisan.
Another option is to just play one creature that’s vital to some weird combo that will just win the game outright. That way, Old Stickfingers will always find it for you and put it in the graveyard. Maybe it’s Golgari Grave-Troll to start dredging like a madman? Or do you really want that Reassembling Skeleton or Silversmote Ghoul for some sort of recursion engine? Maybe you just want to shuffle your graveyard back into your deck so you’re running a single Eldrazi titan like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre? Or perhaps you’re a lifegain deck and Sproutback Trudge is your huckleberry? I’m sure there’s some really cool and obscure way to leverage tutoring the one creature in your deck directly into your graveyard, but I’ll leave that to the truly mad geniuses out there.
Me? I decided on a third approach — every creature in the deck will be a decent target for a reanimation spell, and the rest of the deck will be dedicated to reanimation spells and keeping me alive long enough to benefit from reanimating something huge and awesome. This a pretty hefty deckbuilding restriction because there are so many fantastic creatures you’d typically want to play in your green and black deck that cost less than six mana, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay at the altar of haymaker plays!
Let’s take a look at the cards I’ve put in my deck.
I basically built the rest of my deck first and then looked to see how much room I had for reanimation targets. Since we have Old Stickfingers, you can always guarantee that you’ll get one or two targets in the graveyard early in the game. Turns out I had ten slots for big monsters to yank out of the graveyard, but when I started looking through my stack of candidates it was agony to make the cuts. When it hit me: why make any cuts? Keep all twenty creatures, and at the start of each game, pick ten of them at random and shuffle them blindly into the deck—that way, you never know exactly who ol’ Sticky is bringing to the Commander party! I think this will keep the replay value of the deck quite high, especially since I can rotate creatures in and out over time.
The twenty candidates were basically just nabbed as I sorted through boxes of cards, and the power level is quite variable. For instance, getting a Lord of Extinction onto the battlefield early in a game isn’t going to be nearly as scary as it would be on Turn 10. A few choices were because I had a shiny version I wanted to play, like the Buy-a-Box promo Impervious Greatwurm or the Godzilla, Primeval Champion skin of Titanoth Rex. Greenwarden isn’t exactly dominating the battlefield, but I like that it can retrieve reanimation spells from the graveyard for more reanimating goodness. I’m definitely curious to hear what creatures you’d choose to have as part of the twenty reanimation candidates!
And here we have my reanimation spells! Many of the usual suspects are here, though I didn’t want Reanimate because the life loss can be quite brutal, and I expect to take a lot of incidental damage from folks who go for player removal when creature removal doesn’t cut it. I really love Victimize in this deck since Old Stickfingers provides an easy body to sacrifice to bring two creatures back from the graveyard. The same with Blood for Bones, where you can sacrifice Old Stickfingers to bring back a reanimation target, and you can even bring back Old Stickfingers to your hand with it at the same time.
I’ve got Tooth and Nail in here as a “reanimation” spell, mainly because it’s a nice way to put two creatures that you’ve naturally drawn onto the battlefield that you may not otherwise be able to cast, though if you’ve enough mana to pay the entwine cost, by all means go into the deck and put the two biggest and baddest creatures onto the battlefield. The only downside to this play is that I won’t know exactly what creatures are in my deck, so it’ll take a little longer to resolve and I fully expect some justified grumbles from my opponents.
Prime the Graveyard
Outside of Tooth and Nail, I wanted some other ways to deal with a huge monster I’ve naturally drawn but cannot cast, and Geier Reach Sanitarium is the perfect way to loot it away into the graveyard for reanimation. The learn mechanic won’t let you get Lessons from outside a game of Commander, but lucky for us you have the option to discard a card and draw a card attached to Poet’s Quill and Field Trip.
Then of course there’s Entomb, for when you desperately need the right huge creature to reanimate rather than the random picks from ol’ Sticky.
Top of Library
I’m making use of some library manipulation to help ensure that my hand doesn’t get clogged with expensive creatures I can’t cast, with Scroll Rack and Sylvan Library doing the heavy lifting here, and I’m happy to find a home for my Collectors’ Edition Natural Selection here. I don’t often use fetchlands in my decks, but Verdant Catacombs is a nice way to shuffle the top of my library when needed.
One downside to reanimating something threatening to the battlefield is that it immediately gets a huge bullseye on it for all sorts of removal spells. I’m including a couple of ways to protect the monsters to varying degrees.
Anticipating a fair amount of damage from people leaning into player removal for dealing with reanimated monsters, I wanted to ensure I had ways to gain life built into the deck. Cards that give the monsters lifelink are particularly awesome like Shadowspear and Whip of Erebos. I also really like Mask of Griselbrand since if the equipped monster dies and you have life to spare you can take advantage of its triggered ability to draw a bunch of cards.
I’m a little light on the number of removal spells I’d typically run in a Commander deck, but I figure as a reanimator strategy I’m the proactive deck, and force opponents to react to me instead of the other way around. It may be that I’ve got way too many reanimation spells, but I’d rather lean into having too many than not having enough. Those numbers may change after I’ve gotten a few reps under my belt.
I wanted to find some noncreature ways to interact with what my opponents might be doing, either trying to stop me or progressing with their own shenanigans. Heroic Intervention is a rockstar when it comes to protecting your battlefield from most removal spells. If your reanimated monster is going to die or get neutralized anyway, I like Tend the Pests to fill the battlefield with Pest token creatures to hold the fort until your next reanimated monster.
Curious Herd is something I want to try due to the rise of artifact-heavy decks, especially Equipment decks. It can also present a dilemma for people that have leaned hard into generating Treasures—do they want to save the Treasures to use later, or sacrifice them to prevent me from getting a bunch of 3/3 Beast tokens?
Mana ramp is always great in Commander and does extra work here—not only does it let you scale up the X in Old Stickfingers’s casting cost, but it also can help you eventually just hard cast your large monsters with your lands. Green has access to plenty of fantastic options and I’ve got a lot of them here in the deck.
The last few slots I wanted to make room for some card drawing, especially ones that can keep you hitting early land drops like Night’s Whisper and Read the Bones. Garruk’s Uprising does double duty by making your reanimation spells replace themselves with a free card when your large monster hits the battlefield and also giving that large monster trample. And Greater Good provides an excellent way to cash in a large monster for a large infusion of cards.
Sanctum of Eternity doesn’t draw a fresh new card, but you can use it to bring Old Stickfingers back to your hand so you can cast it again without needing it to go to the command zone first.
Okay, here’s the deck as it currently sits on my desk, minus the reanimation candidates:
- 1 Tooth and Nail
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Animate Dead
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Natural Selection
- 1 Necromancy
- 1 Reincarnation
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Entomb
- 1 Night's Whisper
- 1 Beacon of Unrest
- 1 Victimize
- 1 Nature's Lore
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Vigor Mortis
- 1 Dread Return
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Nihil Spellbomb
- 1 Go for the Throat
- 1 Undying Evil
- 1 Golgari Charm
- 1 Rescue from the Underworld
- 1 Read the Bones
- 1 Toxic Deluge
- 1 Necromantic Selection
- 1 Ever After
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Bond of Revival
- 1 Return to Nature
- 1 Blood for Bones
- 1 The Cauldron of Eternity
- 1 Shadowspear
- 1 Mirror Shield
- 1 Back for More
- 1 Curious Herd
- 1 Unbreakable Bond
- 1 Garruk's Uprising
- 1 Soul Shatter
- 1 Malakir Rebirth
- 1 Haunting Voyage
- 1 Field Trip
- 1 Poet's Quill
- 1 Tend the Pests
- 1 Culling Ritual
- 1 Healing Technique
- 1 Grave Endeavor
- 1 Mask of Griselbrand
Here is how the deck graphs out (again, minus the reanimation candidates):
So, what do you think of Old Stickfingers? Is there anything you’d run in your own build that I don’t currently have?
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And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.
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