For this week, I’ve decided to do something out of the ordinary. So far, my articles about EDH have focussed on a commander incredibly in depth, picking a decklist apart piece by piece in order to see the synergies between each card in the selection and how they work towards forwarding the gameplan. This series of articles aims to give a wide overview of archetypes, colours, spells, and rank them in comparison to each other.
This week, I’ve picked something close to my heart. As a commander player, my personal vice is value. I cheat thing into play whenever I can – the longer a game drags out, the more I get to do this, and it puts me incrementally ahead. Past commanders have included Roon of the Hidden Realm (Full Deck Tech Here), Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Full Deck Tech Here), Marchesa, the Black Rose, Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, even in my EDH infanthood I experimented primarily around Riku of Two Reflections. Today, I’m focussing on my favourite method of cheating: Reanimation. Reanimation is one of the classic ways to cheat big things into play for cheap; over time targets have changed (Force of Nature is no longer the bomb it once was), the methods have evolved and – most importantly – new Legendary creatures take up the mantle to allow us to fuel our dark desires to bring the dead to life. This list aims to rank the commanders that reanimate – graveyard-based commanders would be too broad, and as such Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and the like aren’t here, as their abilities could potentially qualify a separate list for dredge potential. Before I begin, I would like to iterate that this is opinion-based, and disagreements with the list may happen. First, allow me to begin with some honorable mentions:
Alesha, who Smiles at Death: A recent addition to the Pantheon of reanimators, Alesha aaaaaaaalmost made the list by virtue that she is an unusual colour for this kind of deck archetype, and the interesting build-around she proposes. Sure, she can only reanimate small creatures – but then again, Karmic Guide, Master of Cruelties and Wall of Blood are all VERY powerful synergistic targets with her. While her ability is powerful though, the necessity to attack to trigger it and the fact that creatures without decent combat abilities are immediately off the menu due to their immediate attacking slightly edge her out below the rest of the list.
Horde of Notions: A candidate that I desperately wanted on the list, the Horde of Notions opens up a completely different type of play. Not only is it one of the few commanders that allow multiple activations per turn, but it also allows interactions with noncreature spells that are elementals, such as Nameless Inversion or Crib Swap. Unfortunately he just missed the cut too, as a Horde deck doesn’t really work as a pure reanimator strategy; the lack of a high concentration of valuable targets (For every Avenger of Zendikar there is a Glacial Crasher) and the overall lack of flexibility in the strategy ekes out slightly less power compared to the others on the list for me. Oh well, perhaps in future for a Tribal list?
5) Feldon of the Third Path: At fifth place on the list, I decided to add one of the most interesting designs of recent years. In mono-red, Feldon enables the colour access to the previously inaccessible archetype of reanimator. Yes, it is slightly different. But, for a commander with a reanimation ability, it thoroughly maintains a VERY red feel. Red wants to be aggressive, and you are more or less are obliged to attack with your risen monstrosities. But, thats what edged
him ahead of poor Alesha, he CAN revive monstrosities. Wurmcoil engine, Bogardan Hellkite, or Inferno Titan can all be cheated in with Feldon for a very reasonable cost, and that makes it a VERY powerful ability with some discard effects like Tormenting Voice. Nevertheless, he is all but unstoppable, and his fragile body combined with his creations being susceptible to more removal prevent him from moving higher.
4) Sedris, the Traitor King: When beginning research on this article, Sedris jumps out as unique. First off, he’s one of the only (not the only, however) commanders to not actually do the work himself, either through a triggered or activated ability. Instead, his static ability to grant Unearth (creatures of all sizes for a flat cost of 2B, no less) grants him a very unique (and flavourful, being a lord of Grixis) gameplay element, where your graveyard, after being filled by either self mill; sacrifice or combat, can suddenly be brought back online with a sorcery speed Sneak Attack. It’s an intimidating prospect for decks to deal with; popular bombs for this deck include Kederekt Leviathan, and other large beasts with
instant swings in tempo such as Sepulchral Primordial or Sphinx of Uthuun. He suffers from drawbacks similar to Feldon with a twist; once Sedris raises his army and they last their duration, they get EXILED. As such, his strategy has a limited lifespan; eventually, the deck WILL run out of steam, as unless you are packing some ways to retrieve cards from exile (the two I can think of absent from UBR, unless your opponents run processors and decides to give you back your bombs) you cannot interact with your stuff when once it has finished its second run, so either timing is essential or you must be able to beat them down before they can stabilise. There are ways around this if longevity is preferred, such as things that cheat End of Turn effects like Sundial of the Infinite. My co-author Crazy brewed up a build a while ago with this very idea; it remained just that, an idea, but its a very valid line of strategy to be considered.
3: Meren of Clan Nel Toth: The most recent legendary to attempt to gain access to the ranks of Legendary reanimators, Meren was a very impressive offering. When I knew to be anticipating a new reanimating GB commander, I was expecting something ridiculously safe: Experience counters earned through nontoken creatures, an overcosted activated ability in order to reanimate at sorcery speed. Well, I was almost correct I guess. First, let’s address her stats: being a 3/4 is a fantastic durable body that dodge most cheap boardwipes like Infest or Pyroclasm, often baiting hard removal to get rid of her. Four is a reasonable converted mana cost too, considering she’s a value engine that gets pretty powerful fast. I would LOVE to say that her frankly disgustingly easy way to gain experience counters is her strongest point, too (But then I’d be lying). Her ability to trigger off of ALL creatures – including tokens – is insanely strong, and with just a few sacrifice effects you’ll easily be sorted for the rest of the game. As such, Meren players tend to run a lot of self-sacrificing creatures, such as Sakura-Tribe Elder or Caustic Caterpillar, and the perennial Skullclamp in order to kill off as many creatures as possible to get her experience. Then, she becomes one of the most efficient reanimation engines in the game, disentombing things you’re not experienced enough to raise and flat out raising things for free once you are. The typical GB suite of bombs are her weapon of choice, featuring Rune-scarred Demon, Avenger of Zendikar or Grave Titan.
2: Chainer, Dementia Master: Boy oh boy. Here he is. Chainer, the OG, the progenitor of reanimation strategies in EDH. A terrifyingly powerful legendary creature, his ability to target everything with no restriction and bring it to field at instant speed (Bigger than before, thanks to the Nightmare typing) is a formidable ability to try and work around. His exile clause is concerning, but being a renimating general, he fully hits his stride in the later game. How does he fill the yard? Besides the usual black ways to fill the yard such as Entomb, Buried Alive or Discard effects, being mono black he has access to the incredibly powerful Cabal Coffers/ Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth combo, allowing him the possibility to just ramp out big threats during the early turns of the game, only to be allowed to reuse them later in the game. The only thing against him is his colour identity: Being mono black, he has access to a strong threat suite, such as Massacre Wurm or Sheoldred, Whispering One, but black is all he has to choose from. And that is the only thing keeping him back from topping this list, frankly. That honour goes to a very good friend of mine.
1: Karador, Ghost Chieftain: Anybody aware of my Commander history and my preferences will know that this will always be my answer. Karador is the only commander to have been persevered with over the years, and it’s no joke that I’m absolutely in love with the centaur king and his myriad of VERY powerful abilities. Besides the usual Reanimation Midrange builds, but I’ve come into contacts with Spirit build, and the evergreen boogeyman of the format (and my meta), the Boonweaver Karador combo. Karador’s incredible flexibility comes from his two substantial abilities. First, the stats. 3/4, as I’ve said with Meren, is a fantastic body for a commander who is looking to survive incidental removal and crank out value. Second, he has unbelievable value through his cost reduction. Karador, at the helm of a creature-heavy deck, will most often be a 3 mana 3/4. The cost reduction persists over commander tax, so it is possible to have him still cost GWB even after 5+ deaths, which is great for playing the long game (and there is nothing Karador loves more). Though when people look at Karador, there is one place their gaze is caught first: The ability to cast creatures from your graveyard is huge. While Karador is on the field, your graveyard is an extension of your hand. Your threats, your hatebears, your utility creatures, they all become live again. No exiling like Sedris, no time limit like Feldon, flexibility in when to cast them unlike Meren, and they stick around if Karador dies, unlike Chainer. He takes all of their downsides and laughs them off. When new reanimation commanders come around, they need to either stand up to Karador as Meren did, or they need to be in a completely separate combination of colours; When it comes to reanimator, Karador is your guy – he has the bomb suite of Meren, but also includes white for killer white threats like Elesh Norn or Iona, Shield of Emeria. Alas, I could go on forever, but here exists Karador for a reason.
That’s all for now folks! Feel free to drop some feedback on the series, I’d love to hear what you think. Also, any ideas for future editions of Sowing Salt are more than welcome. Until then, Unmistakable out.