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Old School Magic: Chapter 9 – Reanimator Rises to the Top!

Series Index

Chapter 1: Back to the Future – An Introduction to Old School Magic

Chapter 2: Old School Magic – The History of “The Deck”

Chapter 3: Old School Magic – A Visit to the Zoo

Chapter 4: Build Your Own Old School Format


Chapter 5: New Strategies for the Old School: The Transmute Control Deck

Chapter 6: Banning and Restriction in Old School

Chapter 7: New Strategies for the Old School: Blue-Red Aggro Control

Chapter 8: 2nd Place at Eternal Weekend, 2016 with Blue-Red Aggro-Control

Chapter 9: Reanimator Rises to the Top!

Chapter 10: Rules of the Road

Chapter 11: The Untold History of Combo in Old School

Chapter 12: Building a Stronger Prison



When it finally arrived, Ice Age was probably the most anticipated expansion set ever released.  After a series of expansion set releases in 1994 (basically, a clip of a set almost every other month), there was a long gap between Fallen Empires, released at the end of 1994, and the next expansion set, Ice Age, which was finally released in June, 1995.  It wasn’t just the long wait that made Ice Age so anticipated; Ice Age was also one of the largest sets ever – originally envisioned as a standalone replacement for the original Alpha/Beta/Unlimited set (with a different card back, and everything).

Not long before its release, cards began to leak out, and player enthusiasm racheted upward. Cult favorite Icy Manipulator was revealed as an Ice Age reprint, and when the text of Jester’s Cap leaked, Type I players like myself were going crazy with anticipation.  Jester’s Cap was guaranteed to shake up the Type I metagame as an anti-The Deck tactic.

Because it was designed to be a standalone set, Ice Age featured a number of staple cards from the original Magic: The Gathering release, including Giant Growth, Dark Ritual, and Counterspell.  But, Ice Age also featured many functional cousins, like Incinerate instead of Lightning Bolt, Pyroblast instead of Red Elemental Blast, and Dance of the Dead instead of Animate Dead.

For the Type I player, close functional reprints were in many ways superior to actual reprints, as it increased the playable card pool, and gave players more weapons, consistency and even redundancy.  This was especially important for strategies that simply lacked sufficient tools in the pre-Ice Age environment to build a reliable strategy.  Nowhere was this more obvious than perhaps Reanimator.


A Brief History of Reanimator

In late 1994, rumors on the internet and in the pages of the Duelist began floating around that Bay Area wizard and deckbuilder extraordinary Mark Chalice had created a novel and powerful strategy called “the Machine.”  The Duelist #8 described “the Machine” as using Hell’s Caretaker and Animate Dead to “constantly recycle Triskelion’s and Tetravasus.” I interviewed Mark Chalice in 2012, and published his original list of “The Machine” for the first time ever in my History of Vintage series, 1994 chapter.

Using Jalum Tome (and, at one point, considering Bazaar of Baghdad) as discard outlets, Animate Dead was paired with Hell’s Caretaker to create boundless creature token and damage generation with Trike and Tetravus. Hell’s Caretaker and Tetravus in particular were used, turn after turn, to go nearly “infinite” with token generation (or damage).  Tetravus and Triskelion may seem like unusual Reanimator targets, but the pre-1995 card pool offered precious little in terms of larger threats that did not require mana intensive upkeep costs (like Force of Nature, Lord of the Pit or the Elder Dragons) or infeasible untap costs (like Colossus of Sardia).  Triskelion could be recycled with Tetravus tokens via Hell’s Caretaker to generate uncounterable direct damage as well.

The Machine was, according to my research, the first reported and documented successful attempt to build a Reanimation strategy. Reanimation strategies were hampered by the lack of effective tools.  Ice Age would change all of that, but it would take a few years more before the next successful Reanimation strategy would emerge.

Publishing a deck for Type 1.5 play in 1997, Alan Comer posted a bombshell on the USENET Magic forums, which he dubbed “The Re-animator,” after the great HP Lovecraft’s short story.



Old School

The Re-Animator

By Alan Comer, August, 1997


Creatures and Spells:

1 Zur’s Weirding

4 Vampiric Tutor

1 Nevinyrral’s Disk

4 Ashen Ghoul

4 Nether Shadow

4 Krovikan Horror

4 Nicol Bolas

3 Crimson Hellkite

4 Deep Spawn

4 Dark Ritual

Mana Sources:

4 Bazaar of Baghdad

4 Animate Dead

4 Shallow Grave

4 Badlands

4 Underground Sea

1 City of Brass

8 Swamp

1 Diamond Valley


1 Crimson Hellkite

4 Necromancy

4 Incinerate

2 Nevinyrral’s Disk



In his introductory post, Alan provided some notes on the deck.  In particular, he provided a parenthetical note next to Vampric Tutor that read “MUST have the bazaar!,” telling his readers that the first step in this strategy is finding Bazaar as a discard outlet. With this deck, we see all of the hallmarks of this emergent School of Magic:

  • Discard outlets for Reanimation targets (like Bazaar of Baghdad)
  • Reanimation spells (like Animate Dead)
  • Reanimation targets (like Deep Spawn)
  • Self-Reanimating creatures (like Nether Shadow)

This deck has each of these elements in spades.  It is not uncommon to find Reanimation decks with efficient disruption as well, although Comer’s list here lacks it.  The Reanimator School of Magic’s first preference for disruption is efficient discard spells, like Hymn to Tourach or Duress.  Although Reanimator decks have sometimes used pitch countermagic, like Force of Will as well.

The self-reanimating creatures are often the best answer to counterspell decks, because the self-reanimating targets are generally uncounterable.  But against other decks, the Animate Dead effects are often game ending.

The Dredge decks that first emerged in 2006 (and I was the first to Top 8 a documented tournament with that strategy) follow this pattern as well, using Bazaar as the discard outlet, but ultimately using Sutured Ghoul (and, eventually, Flame-Kin Zealot) as the finisher, and Dread Return instead of Animate Dead and cousins.

Although Mark Chalice may have been the first to build a deck within this School, Alan Comer appears to have been the first to bring this School into full bloom.  That is not to say that Reanimator strategies weren’t tried in the interim (I daydreamed about playing Dance of the Dead on Polar Kraken, not long after Ice Age was released), but, based on available historical evidence, this appears to be the case.

Although Old School Magic is centered on a nostalgic experience – enjoying Magic as it was in its early years – part of the allure of the Old School experience is applying modern technology and deck-building know-how to the past. With the introduction of Ice Age into the Old School Magic card pool for a local tournament, Reanimator was at the very top of my list of strategies to work on.


New Strategies for the Old School: 1995 Reanimator

Virtually all new deckbuilding projects go through multiple drafts, no matter how well conceived or sharply designed a first draft may be, and this was no exception.  Ice Age is the critical boost needed to build a reliable Reanimator strategy not only because it provides Dance of the Dead, but because it also provides Demonic Consultation, a tutor to reliably find Bazaar, and a much better self-reanimating target, Ashen Ghoul.

My first draft had too few creatures in it to reliably trigger Nether Spirit and Ashen Ghoul, and was also prone to mana flooding.  The maindeck Hymn to Tourach was great, but I had to make room for more threats.  Dark Ritual was jettisoned.  Brainstorm was not reliable enough to save an otherwise unkeepable hand, either.  Despite the synergy with Bazaar of Baghdad and Demonic Consultation, Brainstorm was also cut.

After a good deal of testing and tuning, here is where I finally landed:


Steve Menendian’s Deck


Old School

“1995” Reanimator

By Stephen Menendian


Creatures and Spells:

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Chaos Orb

1 Demonic Tutor

4 Demonic Consultation

4 Dance of the Dead

4 Animate Dead

4 Nether Shadow

4 Ashen Ghoul

4 Sindbad

3 Polar Kraken

4 Deep Spawn

3 Tetravus

2 Triskelion

Mana Sources:

4 Bazaar of Baghdad

4 Underground Sea

4 Underground River

1 Strip Mine

2 Swamp

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Black Lotus


4 Gloom

3 In The Eye of Chaos

4 Hydroblast/Blue Elemental Blast

3 Hurkyl’s Recall

1 Chaos Orb


I started out with just 4 Deep Spawn and 4 Polar Kraken as the Reanimation target finishers, but started adding a Trike, and then an Tetravus, and gradually upped their numbers, eventually shaving off a Polar Kraken with more testing and experience.  It’s possible that the correct numbers are maximum quantities of both Trike and Tetravus, and zero Polar Kraken.

Deep Spawn, counter-intuitively, is the best reanimation target in the deck, an oft-neglected card from Fallen Empires.  Not only does Deep Spawn trample and have the first-ever activated Shroud ability (features which would earn it a spot in this deck alone), but its upkeep mills two cards from your library.  Reanimating Deep Spawn is one of the first and critical steps in this deck’s game plan, as it helps you build your graveyard so that you can quickly surface Ashen Ghouls and Nether Shadows to overrun your opponent.  The Shroud ability protects Deep Spawn from Swords to Plowshares and Red Elemental Blasts.  Deep Spawn is the closest thing to a dredger you have in your deck, and is a precursor to it.

Perhaps the spiciest bit of technology I developed for this deck was Sindbad.  Most of the other components logically fall into place once you’ve thought them through, but Sindbad provides a bit of additional glue.  Sindbad is perfectly designed for this deck. Almost every draw in your deck with Sindbad works perfectly. If you draw a creature, it will go to the graveyard, which is where you want it to go anyway.  If you draw a land, it will go into hand.  The only “misses” with Sindbad are Enchantments and Artifacts (like Moxen).  That means you can use Sindbad’s ability aggressively and reliably to build your graveyard and your hand.

This becomes especially important with Bazaar of Baghdad. Sindbad is a card that you will want to interface carefully with Bazaar.  Sindbad is a card that can put lands into your hand that you will want to discard with Bazaar to dig for more threats.  For example, in your upkeep, you might want to activate Sindbad before activating Bazaar to either put more creatures above a Nether Shadow or to have more cards to discard to Bazaar, and thus better sculpt your hand.

Much like modern Dredge, you must generally mulligan any hand without either Bazaar of Baghdad or Demonic Consultation (even if it has Ancestral Recall in it).  The only exception to this may be a hand with multiple Sindbad.  Experience suggests that a single Sindbad, unless you’ve already mulliganed very low) is not likely fast enough.

The sideboard requires a bit more explanation.  Reanimator is not a deck you want to do much sideboarding with.  Gloom is the perfect sideboard card here as white contains almost all of the cards you are most concerned with: Disenchant, Moat, and Swords to Plowshares.  It is also a silver bullet against White Weenie strategies.


Gloom in play against White Weenie


Chaos Orb was included as an all-purpose answer, including removing cards like Moat (which I can only deal with using Tetravus and Trike maindeck).

In the Eye of Chaos is here not simply because it makes countermagic more expensive, but also because it can be used to remove other “Enchant World” effects.

Of course, the two cards that my deck is most afraid of, at the end of the day, are Tormod’s Crypt and City in a Bottle.  City in a Bottle wrecks my entire game plan unless I’ve already made substantial progress using Bazaar.  City not only destroys all of my Bazaars and prevents me from playing more, but it does the same thing with Sindbad!  Hurkyl’s Recall is here as a card that can situationally bounce both Crypt and City in a Bottle and also disrupt artifact heavy decks like The Deck and Workshop Aggro.


Playing 1995 Reanimator


The basic game plan follows the same basic progression:

First, find Bazaar of Baghdad and use it. Second, Reanimate Deep Spawn to begin ‘dredging,’ and start reanimating self-reanimating creatures. Third, Reanimate more creatures and begin to attack for the win.  Reanimate Trike as needed to remove opposing threats.

Like modern Dredge decks, this deck can be pushed into higher or lower gear depending on the circumstances.  If you want to be more aggressive, you can reanimate a Turn 3 Polar Kraken to try to get a quick win (note that Turn 2 Polar Kraken will generally not work as you will need to sacrifice three lands in order to get two attack steps).  Or, if you want to be more controlling, be sure to Reanimate Deep Spawn first, but only with blue mana available to protect it.  Or, you can Reanimate Trike or Tetravus for immediate defense.  Although it slows down the kill, it is often wise to remove tokens from Tetravus at the earliest opportunity.  This distributes Tetravus’s damage over multiple permanents so it can’t be entirely removed with a Swords to Disenchant.  With Dance of the Dead, you can fail to pay the upkeep, and then Reanimate it again.  Polar Kraken is usually only used as a very last finisher.



Polar Kraken in Play


It should be noted that Deep Spawn and Dance of the Dead have a very unique interaction.  Deep Spawn has a drawback when activating shroud.  The shroud ability taps Deep Spawn, which will not untap on your next untap step.  Dance of the Dead has a special clause that enchanted dead creatures will not untap unless you pay 1B at the beginning of your upkeep.  This works out well with Deep Spawn.  A previously shrouded Deep Spawn may be untapped with Dance of the Dead’s upkeep payment, which would otherwise remain tapped.  This means that deciding which Animate effect to play at which time is actually quite important, when you have the option to play either Animate Dead or Dance from the Dead.  Dance of the Dead also makes the trample damage more painful for the opponent, whereas Animate Dead slightly weakens its target.


Dance of the Dead on Deep Spawn here – with an Animated Tetravus, a Nether Shadow and an Ashen Ghoul


And, as well modern Dredge decks, it is vital to maintain and pay attention to all upkeep triggers at all times.  Stacking and managing your upkeep triggers and activated abilities is essential to tournament success.  Like Ichorid, Nether Shadow’s upkeep trigger stacks at the beginning of the upkeep.  Oddly, however, Ashen Ghoul’s ability is different. It can be used any time during the your upkeep.  The current Oracle text on Ashel Ghoul is:

B: Return Ashen Ghoul from your graveyard to the battlefield. Activate this ability only during your upkeep and only if three or more creature cards are above Ashen Ghoul.

Despite the fact that many players were unable to attend because of conflicts, we still had a good Old School showing at Eudemonia Games in late November to try Ice Age Old School for the first time (B&R list is in that link).  We decided to restrict Necropotence for this event, not because Necropotence is too good (although it may well be), but because we wanted players to experience and test other Ice Age tactics.  The most popular Ice Age interaction in the room was Brainstorm and Land Tax (and Zuran Orb), with multiple players using this draw engine.  I think Ice Age solves many problems in 93/94 – namely, the dominance of The Deck. As I’ve said before, Ice Age opens up broad new areas for strategic play, makes non-control strategies better, and is just really interesting. For folks just experimenting with Ice Age, I recommend restricting Necro so that other Ice Age cards come into focus.


Tournament Report – November 20, 2016

Round One: Brian Hanlon, playing WW with a blue splash


Game 1:

 This was a hard fought battle.

I played a first turn Demonic Consultation for Bazaar, but unfortunately exiled 38 cards in the process.  This created a precarious game state, since two Ashen Ghoul and all four Nether Shadow were exiled.  Nonetheless, I used the Bazaar to bin Deep Spawn, which I Animated immediately.  Brian Disenchanted my Animate, and then another when I tried a turn later.

Unfortunately, Brian played Black Knight, which held my Ashen Ghoul at bay.  At one point, he had Thunder Spirit, White Knight, Savannah Lion, and a Mishra’s Factory facing off against an Animated Trike, Deep Spawn, and two Ashen Ghoul. The problem was that his double Crusade boosted Thunder Spirit was attacking for 4 a turn, and I had no obvious way to break through on a swing back.

I managed my library effectively such that I built towards the maximum damage I could muster, but I simply didn’t have enough reanimation spells or targets to overcome his board.  When it was clear I was not going to win, I decided to try to attack in the off-chance he’d block incorrectly, but he blocked well.  Although he fell to two life, he killed me on the counter-attack, a turn or two before I’d deck.


Game 2:

 I played first turn Demonic Consultation for Gloom, planning to play it on turn two with another land and a Mox, but I drew Lotus for the turn, so I was able to play Gloom and Bazaar on Turn 2, and Brian was locked out of this game until it was too late.


Round 1 photo of Gloom in play


Game 3:

My opponent had a Strip Mine for my first Bazaar, which normally would be crippling.  But this time I had a second Bazaar, and he had no blue or white mana.  On my first activation, I discarded three creatures, and then played an early Time Walk to reinforce my advantage, and quickly swarmed him.


Record: 1-0



Round 2: Johnny playing Mono-Red Burn

Johnny was playing Ice-Age boosted red burn, which meant Incinerate in addition to all of the most hateful red spells you can play in this format.  The good news was that the only card he had that could really hurt me was City in  Bottle, but he didn’t have many of them.


Game 1:

 This game unfolded quickly, and not to my liking.  He had a turn one Black Vise, which I met with a Turn 1 Bazaar.  He played Turn 2 City in a Bottle and Turn 3 Blood Moon.  I responded to the latter development by playing Demonic Consultation for a basic Swamp.  This removed a good chunk of my library, but gave me the mana I’d need to animate a threat.  I Animated a Tetravus I binned on turn 1, and rode that Tetravus to victory while he vainly tried to race with burn.  I won the game with 1 card left in my library.  This game illustrates the best way to defeat a City in a Bottle: activate Bazaar before it resolves.


Game 2:

I kept a hand with Demonic Consultation and black mana, but no Bazaar.  I Strip Mined his first land, and then drew Bazaar, so I could Animate Deep Spawn on Turn 3.  I cast Demonic Tutor for Mox Sapphire so that I could broadly protect the Deep Spawn (I also had Blue Elemental Blast in hand), and Deep Spawn went all the way.


Against Mono-Red Burn


Record: 2-0


Round 3: Eliot Davidson with Ernham-geddon

In the first game, I had Ancestral and Bazaar on the draw, but Eliot played Turn 1 Timetwister, but I actually won!  I played Lotus, Land, Mox Sindbad.  He Disenchanted the Lotus, and burned out Sindbad, but I Consulted for Bazaar, and then DTed for an Animate effect, and won the game pretty quickly.

In game two, I played three Underground Sea/River, but he played Armageddon, but I somehow won by simply recurring Nether Shadows and Ashen Ghouls right at the end.

Photo against Erhma-geddon

Record: 3-0


Round 4: Eliot Burke with Land’s Edge Combo


Game 1:

Eliot was playing Land Tax, but I didn’t realize what his win condition was.  Fearing he was a control deck, I played extremely conservatively.  He played a turn one Land Tax, and I refused to play another land after my Bazaar, trying to rely entirely on Nether Shadows and look for Black Lotus or Mox Jet to try to get Animates going, but I probably made some suboptimal decisions with discards.  I even Strip Mined one of my own lands to prevent him from activating Land Tax, but eventually he Choas Orbed one of his own lands, and by that point, it was too late.  He Taxed for like 6 cards, and played Land’s Edge and killed me with like 18 damage.  Had I known what he was playing, I could have killed him much earlier.


Game 2:

 I sideboarded in Gloom this game, but never saw them.  This played out according to plan this game, and I quickly overran him.


Game 3:

 In this game, I just sideboarded in Chaos Orb and two Blue Elemental Blasts.  I animated a Deep Spawn and started milling in this game, and kept up two blue at all times to protect it.  At the final moment, I was able to BEB a Chain Lightning on an Ashen Ghoul and shroud a Deep Spawn for the win.


Record: 4-0


Round 5: Miguel with The Deck

 The Deck won our previous tournament, but the Deck is much more vulnerable in the Ice Age environment, and this tournament revealed that.


Round 5 against “The Deck”

Game 1:

 This game went pretty much according to script.  He countered or disenchanted all of my Animate effects, but couldn’t stop a steady stream of Ashen Ghouls and Nether Shadows.  He did accelerate out a Jayemdae Tome to generate card advantage, but against my game plan, it was hilariously slow as my creatures bled his life total until he was dead.

There are so many good cards I can bring in this matchup, it is a bit dangerous and difficult to decide exactly what to bring in, and how much restraint to exercise.


Game 2:

 He opened with a first turn Library, normally the best play in the format.  But I had Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall (drawing Underground River and a Mox Pearl I had scryed on top), and cast Chaos Orb and activated it to destroy his Library.  I played the River and consulted for Bazaar.  On Turn 2 I cast Sindbad, and used both Sindbad and Bazaar to draw plenty of cards.  I started going to down with self-reanimating creatures, and clawed at Miguel until he played Balance, and then Regrowthed Balance to buy more time.  I had whittled his life low enough, however, that I only needed a few attackers to end the game.  In the end, I reanimated a pair of Nether Shadows, and used Time Walk as a surprise to generate one more attack step for the win.

 Miguel requested a third game for fun, which I obliged.  In this game, however, he brought in Circle of Protection: Black, which is normally a problem, but can’t stop Deep Spawns, Trikes, or Tetravuses.  Bear in mind that Gloom inhibits the use of COPs, but I didn’t need Gloom to win this game either.


Final Record: 5-0



Reanimator is about as much fun as you can have in Old School.  It’s exciting, decision intensive, but also great against counterspells.  No game is the same, although there is a core path to victory. You can win from so many directions, but few that can be entirely stopped. I encourage you to sleeve this up for fun in tournaments or kitchen tables anywhere Old School magic may be found.

Ice Age was more than worth the experiment.  The players who played in the event enjoyed playing with Ice Age, and I heard no one complain that it was unfun or boring.  Yet, I am not sure how many would prefer to have Ice Age be the norm.  Ice Age may create a more balanced environment, but, for Old School players, sometimes less is more.

Until next time,
Stephen Menendian


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timewalking says:

Jan 26,2017

Absolutely love the idea of playing with Ice Age. Love the deck too. Already know how to "hate" on it though, I'm afraid 🙂
Same thing here, not sure how many would want to try that format. I guess with Alliances and FoW you'd start to get too much of a Legacy feel, since people are already Brainstorming a lot, and with Thawing Glaciers on top of that, you'd have a maybe playable emulation of the Brainstorm uncounterable land shuffle effect. But with Ice Age to me you're still fine, the Brainstorm action isn't all that easy to setup for maximum profit, and it's a quite old set. I guess an argument for Ice Age inclusion (on top of being funny and interesting) is that it was the first Magic expansion designed (when making Arabian Knights, that interrupted Garfield's work on Ice Age).

Stephen Menendian says:

Jan 26,2017

hi Timewalking, I addressed this topic in Chapter 4 of this series, conveniently provided in the series index header 🙂


Report : 93/94 Paris tournament at Magic-Bazar – timewalking says:

Jan 24,2017

[…] back with mostly the same deck. As it happens, Stephen Menendian has jut published an excellent deck tech/history/report about reanimator in old school MtG, his deck is in a different format but some of the same logic applies : Bazaar of Baghdad […]

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