Recently, someone posted the following question in the Goblin thread on The Source.

“On another note: I know our Reanimator MU is atrocious, but what’s the general strategy for winning that?”

Today I will aim to answer that question. After jamming a few games versus a good friend and Reanimator player, we sat down to discuss the matchup. It should be noted that there are multiple versions of Reanimator, and you should adjust your strategy depending on which one you’re up against.

Reanimator is a combo deck at heart, and a very fast one at that. Its goal is to put a big creature into the graveyard with Entomb or Faithless Looting, and then reanimating it. As always versus combo decks, what we’re looking for in a hand is a fast clock backed up by disruption. However, as a general rule the faster the combo deck the less reliable becomes the plan of trying to race them. Because Reanimator often wins on turn one or two we need some form of disruption if we want to beat them. We also want to play our disruption as early as possible to give ourselves the best chance of stopping them in time. Versus most combo decks you want to lead on Goblin Lackey or Aether Vial before playing your disruption, but against Reanimator I’d rather lead on Grafdigger’s Cage.

The Disruption

Graveyard hate

The best form of disruption against Reanimator is graveyard hate, and the best graveyard hate is the fastest. Reanimator is a two card combo deck with a lot of redundancy, so trying to win by trading one for one with discard or countermagic isn’t quite as effective. A single piece of graveyard hate on the other hand can single-handedly stop them from comboing.

The best graveyard hate can come down on turn one or turn zero, as anything later than that is often too slow. Surgical Extraction, Leyline of the Void, and Grafdigger’s Cage are your best options. Leyline of the Void is better against countermagic, but Surgical Extraction can catch them out of nowhere when they’ve already invested multiple cards into trying to go off. Many Goblins sideboards will include some number of Relic of Progenitus, as it also helps deal with Tarmogoyf, but you should be aware that Relic is often too slow versus Reanimator’s faster draws.


Discard spells can be useful at stripping your opponent’s hand of one half of the combo, but it’s mostly just there to buy time. Because Reanimator is a two card combo deck that doesn’t need both pieces in hand two win the game, they’re often just one draw step away from winning on the spot. The best use of a discard spell is to try and snipe their Entomb on the play. If you take away their reanimation spell, they can still spend their mana to get a creature into the graveyard. But if you leave them without a way to get a creature into the graveyard their mana will go to waste, making it less likely that they will be able to go off in one turn when they eventually draw into the missing combo piece.

Lock pieces

Reanimator is a very land-light deck filled with cheap spells, so a card like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Chalice of the Void can do a lot to prevent them from resolving their spells. The problem with Chalice of the Void is that they will often be able to get a creature into the graveyard before you can land a Chalice, which gives them a lot of live draws to win in Exhume and Animate Dead. Thalia is very good when they’re stuck on mana, especially if she’s backed up by a Wasteland, but they also need very little mana to go off. She will often just slow them down a turn.


In general I advise against trying to Wasteland Reanimator, because they can operate off of less mana than you do. If you don’t have anything better to do with your mana, or if you have a reason to believe that they’re low on mana, go for it. Also, sometimes they play Careful Study on the play discarding a Griselbrand, in which case Wastelanding them and hoping they don’t have another land and a one-mana reanimation spell can be your best bet. But in general trying to Wasteland them is going to put you too far behind for it to be worth it.


These are the cards that can answer an opposing creature once it’s in play. Stingscourger and Warren Weirding are the most commonly played, although some people (including myself) have also been playing Karakas. You want access to some number of these to help answer opposing threats. The first copy of Stingscourger or Warren Weirding is the most important, as it lets you Goblin Matron for an answer when you need it, but additional copies help as well. Not all threats are as easily dealt with however, which brings us to the next section of this article

The Creatures


Griselbrand is by far their best creature, and most lists contain the full four copies. Not only does Griselbrand put a lot of pressure on its opponent; his ability often lets the Reanimator player draw seven to fourteen cards, making it nearly impossible to beat. Because their deck contains fast mana in the form of Chrome Mox and Dark Ritual, they will often be able to play spells they draw into with Griselbrand on the same turn they get him into play, and so you might find yourself facing not one but two different creatures after their turn is over.

Griselbrand does get more beatable the longer the game goes on, however. His ability becomes significantly weaker once you’ve put some pressure on their life total. If you have a way to kill one of your own creatures (such as Tarfire or Skirk Prospector) you can sometimes set up a lethal attack by attacking with all of your creatures and killing whatever they block and preventing lifelink damage from occurring. If you have Pithing Needle in your sideboard, consider bringing it in to name Griselbrand. While you likely won’t be able to race a 7/7 lifelinker, a needle on Griselbrand means Stingscourger, Warren Weirding, and Karakas are still outs.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite kills all of your creatures, but is much easier to answer than Griselbrand. She sometimes comes down later in the game to clear the board when their life total is under a bit of pressure and Griselbrand is less reliable. If you suspect she is about to hit the battlefield, it can sometimes be correct not to overextend into her, so as to ensure you’ll be able to rebuild a board presence after answering her.

Iona, Shield of Emeria

Iona, Shield of Emeria locks you out of a large portion of your deck if they name Red. Aether Vial and Goblin Lackey can both circumvent this problem however, as they let you put creatures into play without casting them. The black splash really helps here, as Warren Weirding is an answer is a different color. While Aether Vial does help, if you want to Goblin Matron for a Stingscourger you need to tick it up to three, at which point it can no longer be used to put Stingscourger into play. Because Gempalm Incinerator is an ability and not a spell, it can also kill Iona on rare occasions. You need to have a lot of goblins in play though.

Grave Titan

I’ve found Grave Titan to be quite difficult to beat, in part because it doesn’t die to Warren Weirding, and in part because it’s very difficult to race. It’s also a little cheaper than their other threats, which means you’ll occasionally see one being hard-cast off of a pair of Dark Rituals. If they do get it into play you can sometimes trade for it in combat or use a well timed Gempalm Incinerator to get rid of it. But even if you do, this will usually cause you to fall far enough behind on tempo while you’re struggling to beat the remaining zombie tokens that they will be able to rebuild.

The Reanimation Spells

Reanimator uses a few different reanimation spells, but the most common ones are Animate Dead, Reanimate, and Exhume. All of them do very similar things, but have subtle differences to them that can be the difference between winning and losing the game.


At just one mana, Reanimate is the cheapest of the bunch, and thus is commonly involved in their fastest kills. It comes with a rather significant cost in the form of life loss though, which can make the possibility of racing them more realistic. This also means it will sometimes become a dead draw later in the game when their life total is low enough. Beware of the fact that they can target creature cards in your graveyard. This doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it’s all they need to finish a game. This interaction is especially important if you have Relic of Progenitus, as it’s a reason to wait until their end step to tap it.


Exhume doesn’t cost them any life, but it does let both players return a creature to the battlefield. This makes it match up very poorly against Stingscourger, which tends to find itself in the graveyard anyway once it’s done its job the first time. Similarly, an opposing Elesh Norn, or a flashbacked Cabal Therapy sometimes means you will have a creature or two in the bin, and if that creature is something relevant like a Matron or a Stingscourger, Exhume gets a lot worse.

What Exhume does do extremely well however is play around graveyard hate, particularly Surgical Extraction. Because it doesn’t target, they can Entomb for another creature if you remove the one that was already in their graveyard before letting the Exhume resolve. Sometimes they will also just have multiple creatures to choose from already.

Animate Dead

There are a few things to note about Animate Dead. The first is that it’s an enchantment, which means cards like Krosan Grip and Wear // Tear can destroy it. The effect that returns the creature to the battlefield is a triggered ability. If you respond to it by destroying the Animate Dead, the creature never comes back. This is really important versus Griselbrand and Elesh Norn in particular, and you might want to keep up mana in order to play around it. The fact that it gives the creature -1/-0 is also surprisingly relevant, and often means you get a whole extra turn to try and find an answer to it.


Reanimator is and will likely remain a difficult matchup for Goblins, but if your play is tight and your deck well built you can gain additional percentages in the matchup. Never forget that even though you think the game might be over, your opponent can still make a mistake to give you an out. Sometimes they go for Elesh Norn or Iona instead of Griselbrand turn one, thinking you can’t beat it. Sometimes they cast Reanimate on a second creature and die to triple Tarfire. And sometimes they forget that Skirk Prospector can stop the lifelink on Griselbrand.

Sandro is a Magic player from Stockholm, Sweden. He’s been playing Goblins in Legacy for years. Follow him on Twitter @SandroRajalin

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