I love reanimator.
Reanimator is sending me to Worlds this year and has gotten me to at least Stage 2 of every event I have played with it this season. Although the change to singleton Markets has diminished the deck’s consistency, I still think that it can power through metas when it’s not expected.
While reanimator can have draws that autopilot to a turn five win, most are not so straightforward. This is a primer I put together to help people unfamiliar with playing reanimator or those players who want to get better at the nuanced decisions to be successful with the deck.
Vara, Fate-Touched; Azindel, Revealed; and Grasping at Shadows
At its heart, reanimator is a combo deck. The key to deck is resolving Grasping at Shadows returning Vara and then Azindel from your void. Azidel brings two Shadow units which allows you to bring two more and pretty soon your entire void is on the table ready to smash. These three cards make the deck and I wouldn’t consider cutting any copies of any of them.
I’ve seen some lists that run a single Grasp in the Market with 8 Smugglers. The advantage to maindecking them is: 1) you have more high-roll potential by drawing one naturally and 2) you have backup copies if you get negated. It is worth noting that many games play slow enough that you just hit eight power and play Vara naturally, so losing your Grasps to something like Rain of Frogs is not game breaking. With more copies of Grasp, you can also just grab Azindel and it’s often good enough on its own. Returning just Harbringer or Icaria to fight aggressive decks is often powerful too. While in Magical Christmas Land you can always wait for a full combo, in real life that’s not always the case and often not necessary.
Herald’s Song, Master Cartographer, Sporefolk, Honor of Claws, Back Alley-Delinquent, Strategize
These are the cards that get combo pieces into the void. While it may not seem important on the surface, the order in which you play these cards is vital. Against aggressive decks you need the chump blockers to survive until you can combo, but in midrange/control matchups you need the Sabotages to clear their answers before you can go for it. Sporefolk you rarely want to play before you have SSSPPP for Felrauk. Ordering these cards is the most difficult part of piloting the deck.
Felrauk the Outcast; Blightmoth; Black-Sky Harbinger; Icaria, First Reaper
While reanimator has been a thing ever since Grasp was printed, I feel like Felrauk really makes the deck (especially after Privilege of Rank was nerfed). This card is huge in both aggressive and control matches as it provides card advantage, a body to trade, breaks aegis to make way for sabotage, and can be a legitimate win condition. Also, it feels great to mill two with a Sporefolk.
Blightmoth, Harbinger, and Icaria serve as board control before and after you combo off. Depending on the meta, these are the cards that I switch in numbers or add/drop. Blightmoth has the added benefit of triggering Vara when it dies, and Harbinger triggers Azindel. Learning when to hold these to cast from hand and when to dump them for later reanimation is also key, and in the more grindy games you’ll often want to get two bites of the apple with your big guys.
Royal Decree, Hailstorm, Cobalt Waystone, Desecrate, Linrei’s Kiss
I think Royal Decree (against control/combo), Hailstorm (against aggro), and Cobalt Waystone (power with the potential upside of aegis) are all pretty straight forward. Desecrate can help against a big unit but is more there to answer Vanquisher’s Blade or Reality Warden. Linrei’s Kiss is to go get Grasp or Vara. This is much weaker than playing a Grasp in the market before the market nerf but a passable option. Our team has tried Re-read in this spot but it was too inconsistent.
As this deck stands it scoops to Adjudicator’s Gavel. This was strictly a meta call for this event. Burglarize is a good market option if you expect relic hate.
Piloting reanimator is nuanced, as you can play it either as a straight combo deck or as a grindy control deck with the combo to kill. A lot of your power will come into play exhausted but you really want to have SSSPPP for Felrauk, so it may be correct to miss plays and play exhausted power in order to have Felrauk power earlier. Against an unknown opponent this decision is largely made based on your opening hand. The key decision points:
1) Should I mulligan?
Besides the obvious cases of too few/many power, this really comes down to the question of can my hand follow a game plan. If you have any mix of enablers and combo pieces the answer is usually yes. It is worth noting that following a game plan doesn’t mean can it combo: some of the best hands involve a turn three Back Alley discarding Felrauk and playing Sabotage. If you have a good grindy hand it is as good (if not better) than a good combo hand.
2) Can I get a quick combo?
If yes, the answer is usually to set up and go for it, unless…
3) Do I think my opponent is on Harsh Rule?
If yes, you need to Sabotage/Royal Decree them before going off. Even if you have a quick combo it’s better to play a slow game and lean on your hand control elements. Protect your combo pieces from cards like Royal Decree or Rain of Frogs by getting them out of your hand ASAP. Planning your reanimation around Harsh Rules is also important. You will get Harsh Rule’d, so you don’t want to give all your Azindel’s voidbound when it happens. Winning through a single Harsh Rule by having a second reanimation turn is common. The second Harsh Rule hurts a lot more than the first.
4) Do I just need to survive?
Against fast aggressive decks you basically just need to hold on as long as possible. Back Alley’s three toughness is pretty useful here, and if you can sabotage out a torch to keep him in play he can buy you a lot of time against some decks. While aggressive decks in general are not a good matchup, reanimator plays better against the very low to the ground ones where Back Alley, Blightmoth, and eventually Harbinger shine. The more mid rangy ones like Stonescar are rougher.
Playing against reanimator
Reanimator is usually a meta call, so its appearance is usually cyclical. When people are playing mostly mid-range and no hate reanimator becomes good until it is hated out of the format. People stop playing the hate and reanimator rears its head again.
As a midrange or aggressive deck you basically want to go as fast as possible. Usually there aren’t any sweeps except in the market so you need to pressure them as quickly as possible. Use removal on blockers ASAP and just go full face.
As a control deck your goal is to take out as many of the key cards as possible. Turn to Seed is super powerful in doing this (and may eventually kill reanimator) as well as Rain of Frogs or Royal Decree with Onslaught. Transpose is also a very nice tool, as reanimator can break slow speed Aegis to get in with sabotage, but the fast speed Aegis will protect your key cards. Control decks with these tools don’t need to pack void hate, as the deck is just naturally very good against reanimator.
If you like high rolling and big explosive turns, try reanimator. It’s a fun deck with many more play decisions than you may realize. I want to thank my teammate and childhood friend, imsobad, with whom I worked with to initially build the deck. It was a wild run that took us both to the Promises by Fire ECQ finals where I edged him out in the mirror to punch my ticket to Worlds. When the time comes I promise that, if reanimator is anywhere near playable, I will be playing it.