Everything You Need to Know About Black-Red Reanimator in Legacy

Feature Article from Lukas Blohon
Lukas Blohon
5/9/2018 11:00:00 AM
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Hello everyone!

Another Legacy Grand Prix is on the way, this time in Birmingham, England. If you are still not sure what to play or just want to understand better one of the best decks in Legacy, this guide is for you.

Black-Red Reanimator is probably the fastest Legacy deck that is also somehow consistent. Reanimating a creature on turn one happens pretty often, sometimes even with disruption in the form of Unmask or Chancellor of the Annex. A huge benefit is that against decks that are not interacting with you, you have a faster goldfish (the turn when you win the game, and reanimating appropriate fatty is usually enough) and disruption, so you have lot of very good matchups. Of course, there have to be some downsides, otherwise everyone would be playing this deck. The problem is that the games are very fast – you either win or lose quickly – and a lot of people don't want to be at mercy of their opening hands. Lot of times you have to go for it and hope your opponent does not have Force of Will, and if they do you lose – but otherwise you win. There's no in between and there is no play to that, so a lot of people don't want to run that risk. But I believe that the power of this deck is so high that even though it is not the most consistent it is one of the best decks in Legacy and more people should play it.

Here's how the deck breaks down.


First up are the reanimation spells. There are 12 of them, so you will most likely not have a problem finding one. Each has some unique upsides and downsides.

4 Reanimate
4 Animate Dead
4 Exhume

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Magic MTG Card Reanimate Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

The only one that costs one mana, or in other words 50% cheaper than the others, which makes it so much easier to go off a turn earlier or have extra mana for discard. The downside is that it costs life, which means fewer cards with Griselbrand, so if you have extra mana you are usually looking to Reanimate with something else. It can also get creatures from your opponents graveyard

 Animate Dead
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Magic MTG Card Animate Dead Magic MTG Card
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Animate Dead can also steal creatures from other graveyards, and stealing creatures comes in handy especially in the mirror or against Sneak and Show, where you can discard the creature and Reanimate it in the same turn. On the other hand, you need to be careful in the mirror to not recklessly discard creatures to your Faithless Looting if you can avoid it or if you aren't reanimating them right away. On the downside, Animate Dead needs to stay in play, which makes it vulnerable to enchantment removal, most notably Abrupt Decay. It's worth noting it is immune to Flusterstorm since it isn't an instant or sorcery. It also gives the creature -1/-0, which is especially important when getting Chancellor of the Annex, because it takes one more turn to kill them with it.

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Magic MTG Card Exhume Magic MTG Card
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Exhume does not target, so if you have two creatures in your graveyard, one will get reanimated even through Deathrite Shaman. Another trick good to know is that if you have one creature in the graveyard, cast Exhume and they respond with Deathrite Shaman activation to exile it, you can then Entomb for the perfect creature and Reanimate it. The biggest downside is your opponent also gets to bring back a creature, so be careful with your discard spells to not set up something you can't beat, like Baleful Strix against Chancellor of the Annex.


4 Griselbrand
4 Chancellor of the Annex
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Sire of Insanity

Griselbrand is the best all-around creature to Reanimate, because it draws you more cards so you are able to protect it with disruption and then it's not hard to ride it to victory. When in doubt, always get Griselbrand.

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Magic MTG Card Griselbrand Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Chancellor of the Annex serves dual role – it's a creature and disruption all in one. Sometimes it is even the best creature to have (against Storm), but usually it is very weak and you want to avoid reanimating it. The problem is that it takes forever to kill your opponent, is vulnerable to removal spells and creatures like Baleful Strix and can easily be raced. So Chancellor of the Annex is there mostly for the disruption, but it's better than nothing if you have no other targets in graveyard.

The last two are silver bullets that are unbeatable for some decks. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is just game over for lot of decks in game one including Grixis Delver, Elves, Dredge and for lot of others it is very hard to get through. Against other creature decks, it is a one-sided Wrath of God that they need to answer, but even so decks like Death and Taxes have multiple ways to deal with it with Karakas and Sword to Plowshares. So sometimes when you are behind you need to get Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite as a board wipe but can‘t rely on it to carry the whole game. The last option is Sire of Insanity, which is an all-around good reanimation target early, giving you basically a fifth Griselbrand when you have it on turn one. When your opponent has Karakas, you can't get Griselbrand and protect it with discard spells, so you need to have something else. I found Sire of Insanity to be great in this case, as it provides fast clock while giving your opponent only few turns to draw out of it. It is also very good against opposing combo decks when Chancellor of the Annex isn't enough.

Graveyard Enablers

4 Entomb
4 Faithless Looting
3 Thoughtseize
1 Collective Brutality
4 Unmask

Entomb is the most important card in the deck, because it finds the creature you need and puts it right where you need it. But after that, the ways to discard a creature are bit complicated. Faithless Looting is great because it helps with consistency of the deck and even has flashback for longer games, but it requires you to have the creature you want to Reanimate in your hand. Considering there are only four Griselbrand in the deck, it is not a very reliable way to get good creature there.

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Magic MTG Card Entomb Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

You have six other creatures, so the odds of having one are pretty good, but like I said earlier those might not be good enough to win the game. Faithless Looting can put two creatures in the graveyard, which is the exact number you need when you are facing active Deathrite Shaman and have Exhume in hand. The rest are discard spells which mostly serve as a disruption, but if you are desperate you can target yourself and get rid of a creature this way. This is probably the hardest aspect of the deck – to know when you have to target yourself and hope they don't have Force of Will and when to wait one more turn to first check their hand with other discard. The last, often overlooked but important way to get creature in your graveyard is by discarding to hand size. It doesn't always work, but it's a surefire way to get Griselbrand into the graveyard. You need to be on the draw and not mulligan, because otherwise you are wasting to much time doing nothing (but of course there are corner cases where it is right to not do anything for two turns). It doesn't happen often, but be aware it is a legitimate way to get rid of a creature.


3 Thoughtseize
4 Unmask
1 Collective Brutality
4 Chancellor of the Annex

Collective Brutality is amazing because it can get rid of a Counterspell and your creature at once and also it is a card you want to see when you have Griselbrand in play because it interacts with board, killing annoying creatures like Baleful Strix and giving you some life back in the process.

Collective Brutality discarding Griselbrand to escalate is a great way to beat one Counterspell – if they counter it you still have your creature in graveyard and got rid of their permission and if they don't you just take it. It costs two mana, which is why there is only one copy in the main deck as it is hard to fit into your explosive turn one as a disruption/discard outlet, but I believe it is one of the best cards – if not the best – against Grixis Delver.

Fast Mana

4 Dark Ritual
4 Lotus Petal
2 Chrome Mox

Those are the reason the deck is so explosive. Some people don't play Chrome Mox, but I think it makes the deck better at what is important (speed), and without it you have only eight ways to get more mana on turn one, which I think is not enough. Fast mana is also what you need to draw when you use Griselbrand‘s ability, and Chrome Mox helps greatly there.


4 Polluted Delta
3 Verdant Catacombs
2 Badlands
1 Bayou
2 Swamp

Nothing fancy here. Two Swamp are the minimum you need to play against Wasteland (Animate Dead and Exhume costs two so you need two basic lands to not expose yourself to it, especially if first one gets countered and you need to cast one on the following turn). Bayou is needed for the sideboard, and two Badlands are the minimum to have a red source even through one land destruction spell.


 Reverent Silence
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The best way to combat Leyline of the Void. You might get surprised by Leyline of the Void out of some decks, but usually those that have horrible matchups against you are more inclined to have it. Here is the list of some decks that usually have it: Colorless Eldrazi, Mono-Red Prison, Four-Color Loam and I sometimes saw it out of Turbo Depths. It is not a card that you sideboard in often, but when you do you are glad you have four.

Abrupt Decay, Ancient Grudge

Both are ways to fight problematic permanents. Abrupt Decay is at its best against something like Death and Taxes, because it kills Rest in Peace, Containment Priest, Sanctum Prelate and who knows what other hatebear they could have. Ancient Grudge has the advantage that you can search for it with Entomb. Tormod's Crypt, Nihil Spellbomb, Pithing Needle (on Griselbrand) and Chalice of the Void are some of the artifacts you might need to get rid of.

 Collective Brutality
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Magic MTG Card Collective Brutality Magic MTG Card
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The card I like the most against Delver decks, and because you don't need that much sideboard space, I decided to devote lot of slots for those decks because of how common that matchup is.

 Magus of the Moon
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Magic MTG Card Magus of the Moon Magic MTG Card
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Good against Delver, Four-Color Control variants, Lands and Turbo Depths. Sometimes you catch people off guard with it; it dodges lot of hate like Flusterstorm and Surgical Extraction and pretty much wins the game on the spot agaisnt decks with no or few basics.

Grave Titan, Tidespout Tyrant

Additional fatties. I think running Tidespout Tyrant is mandatory, either in the main deck or sideboard. It is important against Dark Depths, Ensnaring Bridge, Sneak and Show and needed in some other situations too. Grave Titan is good because it kills opponents very fast and creates a very big board presence fast, while dodging some of the removal that usually work against other creatures. It is at its best against midrange decks, where they have cards like Diabolic Edict, Baleful Strix, Jace the Mind Sculptor and such that work great against some creatures (especially Chancellor of the Annex), but Grave Titan pretty much laughs at them. Six mana is also not that much so you can hardcast it! The same thing goes for Sire of Insanity, although that one is bit harder because you need red mana.

Allright, now we got through my decklist, let's look at the cards that didn't make the cut and why.

Cabal Therapy vs. Thoughtseize

 Cabal Therapy
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Magic MTG Card Cabal Therapy Magic MTG Card
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Thoughtseize costs life, which is the main reason some people don't like it. Especially because Thoughtseize-Reanimate Griselbrand-use Grisebrand gets you to three life, so you might die to Lightning Bolt, but I think that sequence is not that big of a problem considering the upsides of Thoughtseize. In that particular case, the deck plays Lightning Bolt the most is Grixis Delver, and I don't think you need to draw seven against them – you can just beat them with a 7/7 flying lifelinker. The advantage of Thoughtseize is that against Delver decks you sometimes have to guess with Cabal Therapy whether to name Force of Will or Daze, and if you get it wrong your reanimation spell will get countered and you lose. Also against decks like Death and Taxes they have lot of hate cards so it is pretty hard to guess whether they have Rest in Peace or Containment Priest in hand. Maybe I am just bad with Cabal Therapy, but after board people have lot of different disruption against you and missing with your discard spell can easily mean game over.

Sire of Insanity over Tidespout Tyran

 Sire of Insanity
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Magic MTG Card Sire of Insanity Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

I think Sire of Insanity is generally better to Reanimate against pretty much anything on turn one, thus making the deck more consistent. Tidespout Tyrant shines against decks with Dark Depths or problematic permanents like Ensnaring Bridge, but I think you are fast enough in game one that you don't need this kind of insurance before sideboarding.

No Iona, Shield of Emeria

I didn't find a matchup where I would absolutely need it. Against combo like Storm, if you name blue you shut off their cantrips and potential answers like Chain of Vapor, but they can just cast multiple Dark Rituals, Infernal Tutor and kill you. If you name black they can find their bounce spell with cantrips and get rid of it when they are ready to kill you. Considering I can just get Sire of Insanity to discard their whole hand, or Griselbrand to draw more stuff and Reanimate other creatures, I don't think I need the white legend. Against something like Elves it is good, but Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is just better. Maybe there is a matchup that I missed and never played where you desperately need it, but it doesn't seem to be the case and I wonder if it is worth the slot then.

How to Mulligan

This is one of the hardest parts when playing the deck. Because the games are fast and usually decided in first one or two turns, the biggest decision you usually make is whether to mulligan or not. You are looking to assemble a reanimation spell with a way to get a creature in your graveyard. If you have those two, disruption and fast mana is just a nice benefit that makes the hand better. Those are the questions you should ask yourself when you look at your opening hand.

- How fast can I reanimate?
- What creature do I get into play? Griselbrand, do I have Entomb for the best one or one of the others that might not be gamewinning?
-Can I beat Force of Will?
-Can I beat Deathrite Shaman?

In game one, your most opponents don't have good ways to interact with you, so you are looking for consistency. If the hand has a discard outlet/Entomb and a reanimation spell I would keep it because it is good enough to beat most decks. Lets look at some examples:

Reanimate, two Exhume, Collective Brutality, Chancellor of the Annex, Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox

If you know what you are playing against you can keep if Chancellor of the Annex is a good creature to Reanimate, but since it is not against most decks I would not. If the creature is Griselbrand instead of the white guy, I would keep on the play because you can go Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox (imprint Exhume), Collective Brutality discard Griselbrand, so you beat Force of Will unless they counter one of your mana artifacts and have Griselbrand in play on turn two. On the draw I would keep as well, because you can draw a land to have the nuts with Reanimate on turn one, or you go to discard and pitch Griselbrand and then have two reanimation spells for two following turns.

Exhume, Animate Dead, Dark Ritual, Unmask, Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal, Verdant Catacombs

Classic do-nothing hand. You are an Entomb away from having a great hand, but you have only four of those in your deck. If you draw Griselbrand you can Unmask yourself and then Reanimate it, but you have no disruption. You can do better.

Exhume, Dark Ritual, Faithless Looting, Unmask, Griselbrand, two Swamp

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Magic MTG Card Exhume Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

This hand is so close to being a turn one Griselbrand. There you can see why there is the minimum of two Swamps in the deck, because with a red source this hand would be great. I would definitely keep on the draw, because if you draw red mana you can play Faithless Looting, and if you draw a black card you can Exhume Griselbrand on turn one, and if you play against a blue deck you can discard Griselbrand, and on the second turn you Exhume with Unmask protection (if you draw a black card, Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox in one of your first two draw steps). On the play it is worse, because you don't do anything on your first turn and have no disruption with Griselbrand on turn two, but that might still be good enough so I would be inclined to keep it, but I think it is very close and mulliganing might be better.

Exhume, Entomb, Thoughtseize, Animate Dead, Chrome Mox, Polluted Delta

Six cards just to showcase how well this deck mulligans. You don't need many cards, you need just specific cards. This is not a turn-one Griselbrand, but it is turn two with disruption, which is pretty much unbeatable game one.

Griselbrand, Reanimate, Exhume, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Dark Ritual, Unmask

Not the best hand, but I would keep on the draw. With the scry, you have two shots to get land or artifact mana, which leads to turn one Griselbrand. On the play I would not keep because you don't do anything on the first turn.

Animate Dead, Unmask, Reanimate, two Lotus Petal, Swamp

 Lotus Petal
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Magic MTG Card Lotus Petal Magic MTG Card
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Classic hand that that is missing just Entomb or Griselbrand, but you have only 8 of those in your deck that you can draw if you are on draw. Easy mulligan, especially on play.

Two Exhume, Animate Dead, Faithless Looting, Unmask, Lotus Petal, Swamp

Tempting hand to keep because Faithless Looting gives us a shot at hitting Griselbrand, but we have to burn Lotus Petal for that, and even if we hit Griselbrand we can't Reanimate in on turn one and we need those or land to have it on turn two. If we hit Entomb we also need more mana. I would not keep.

Two Lotus Petal, Entomb, Thoughtseize, Exhume, Chancellor of the Annex

You need to hit a mana source to go off. On the play you don't do anything turn one, but I think it is still fine because we are on six and you don't need that much. If you hit land you can even fight through Force of Will. On the draw you can hit any mana source to have turn one Griselbrand, or Dark Ritual to have it through Force of Will (Chancellor doesn't do much against Force of Will or Daze on the draw because they can just play land and pass). Keep.

Unmask, Dark Ritual, Collective Brutality, Badlands, Bayou

Doesn't do anything. Mulligan. Game one you should mulligan very aggressively because most of the cards your opponents have don't do anything so you just need to assemble your combo. I won a game when I mulliganed to three! Obviously you need to get very lucky, but you need to get even luckier to win with this.

Sideboarding Notes

I said that you should be aggresive with mulligans in game one only keep hands that don't need much to get there. After sideboard this changes because opponents will be prepared and mulligan if they don't have interaction, so expect that you need a discard spell before you go off (or removal for whatever interaction they have). Obviously sometimes you can't afford the luxury of having everything, so expect that it plays out bit differently – games are slower and Surgical Extraction is a card lot of people play.

Some general sideboard notes:

-I side out two Animate Dead against almost everything. You need just one reanimation spell to win, and if opponent is removing creatures from your graveyard you don't want to be stuck with multiple reanimation spells. Exhume is better against decks with Deathrite Shaman because if doesn't target, but against some creature decks without Deathrite Shaman you should side out Exhume.
-Side out one Animate Dead only against heavy discard decks like Storm and Turbo Depths, because you want to draw multiples, otherwise they can discard your only reanimation and it might take you while to find another one.
-I don't like Chancellor of the Annex on the draw against Force of Will decks. It is usually not a good reanimation target and it doesn't protect you. I like to sideboard those out for Grave Titans and more disruption.
-I saw some people sideboard out one Griselbrand sometimes, but please, never ever do that. It is the best creature in your deck and you would play more if you could.
-Decks with Snapcaster Mage are generally the worst matchups, so don't be afraid to be greedier with your keeps and do not try to play long game with them. Just go for it and hope it is enough.

Thanks for reading and good luck in your next Legacy tournament, whether you are playing with or against Black-Red Reanimator!

- Lukas Blohon

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