Last updated on December 28, 2023
Ox of Agonas | Illustration by Lie Setiawan
Persistence goes a long way in Magic, and thankfully the game is full of creatures that just never seem to give up. Today’s list looks at the best recursive creatures, the ones that laugh in the face of Wrath of God and spring right back into action.
Ready to come back to life?
What Are Recursion Creatures in MTG?
Skyway Robber | Illustration by Denys Tsiperko
Recursion creatures have built-in ways to return to the hand or battlefield when they die. They don’t rely on external reanimation effects to come back but instead have abilities that pull themselves out of the graveyard (or sometimes exile).
We’re talking about creatures that can re-enter play multiple times, excluding one-time reanimation effects like persist or unearth abilities. Entries on this list might put themselves directly on the battlefield or return to your hand, Raise Dead style.
Expect a focus on Commander for this list. Creatures like Arclight Phoenix and Vengevine have proven track records in Constructed formats but won’t show up here since they don’t have much impact in Commander. When decks from any format do care about protecting the graveyard, that's a separate issue.
Best White Recursion Creatures
#3. Pilgrim of the Ages
Pilgrim of the Ages marked a turning point in Magic design where white started getting better card advantage tools. The exorbitant 6-mana activation keeps this from being great, but it’s fine filler material.
#2. Eternal Dragon
I wasn’t playing Magic during the era of Eternal Dragon, but rumor has it the card was a Constructed mainstay during its prime. You can still find it mucking around in cycling decks, but it’s more of an option than a staple.
#1. Breathkeeper Seraph
I didn’t know Breathkeeper Seraph existed until doing a deep dive for this list. If it or the soulbound creature die, they return to the battlefield the following turn. There’s a window where it can be sniped from the graveyard, but it’s a decent form of protection barring that.
Best Blue Recursion Creatures
#4. Misthollow Griffin
Misthollow Griffin is hard to permanently get rid of but also fails to make a lasting impression on the board. It gets a nod here as a Food Chain enabler, which we’ll see with a few other entries on the list.
The mana cost seems to scare people away from playing Demilich. Casting spells helps mitigate the quad-blue cost, sometimes even making it free to cast, after which it casts free spells from your graveyard.
Returning to play requires gobbling up spells in your ‘yard, which admittedly makes the attack trigger worse.
#2. Sinister Concierge
Sinister Concierge puts a unique spin on recursion. It suspends itself upon dying and pulls another creature into limbo with it for three turns. It’s a solid deterrent from incoming attacks and provides great sac fodder for the rare blue-based sacrifice deck.
#1. Skyway Robber
Skyway Robber, get it? It’s like a highway robber, but it flies.
Puns aside, this seems to have gotten swept away with the deluge of new Magic cards released in the same year. It can escape right back into play and free-cast the cards it exiled when it connects in combat.
Best Black Recursion Creatures
#23. Ovalchase Daredevil
The Underworld Cookbook comes to mind, which combines with Daredevil as the backbone of some popular Constructed decks.
#22. Scourge of Nel Toth
You get a huge mana discount casting Scourge of Nel Toth from your graveyard, but sacrificing two creatures makes up the difference. You might consider running this if you can turn sacrifices into an advantage.
#21. Cauldron Familiar
This cat would rank near the top of a list of recursive Constructed threats, but in EDH it’s a middling Food payoff. The pings add up over time, but it’s not the oppressive threat we saw banned in Standard.
#20. Clattering Augur
Much like Daredevil Dragster, Clattering Augur is easy to pitch to a discard effect and buy back later on. Clay Revenant and Sanitarium Skeleton mimic this play pattern, but Augur is usually a better card to cast.
#19. Risen Executioner
There are so many zombie lords at this point that I don’t consider Risen Executioner a must-play in a zombie deck. It’s annoying that it’s harder to recur the more you fill your graveyard, something most zombie decks actively want to do.
Still, it’s highly thematic and fills out a zombie deck just fine.
#18. Boneyard Scourge
I used to play Bladewing's Thrall in my dragon deck, but Scourge has long since replaced it.
#17. Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
From dragons to knights, Haakon, Stromgald Scourge has the distinction of being the only creature that must be cast from your graveyard. Haakon gives itself and other deceased knights a gateway back to the battlefield.
The tricky part is getting Haakon in the graveyard in the first place.
#16. Blood Operative
That means more opportunities to bring Operative back, even if the card is average at best.
#15. Oathsworn Vampire
My experience with Oathsworn Vampire is finding convoluted infinite combos that revolve around it. One of the simplest ones uses Jet Medallion or Bontu's Monument to make it cheaper, Phyrexian Altar to sac it and produce mana to recast it, and a Blood Artist effect to turn that into a win.
#14. Relentless Dead
It does a good job of staying alive (ironic for a zombie), and sometimes brings a friend back from the dead with it.
#13. “Lifetime” Pass Holder
If you’re not savvy on attractions, just know that opening one for a single mana is borderline broken.
#12. The 2/1 Brigade
The 2/1 recursive creature for is a common design these days. There are usually restrictions on when and how you can bring them back, but they all play out similarly in EDH. Cult Conscript, Dread Wanderer, Gutterbones, Dungeon Crawler, and Bloodsoaked Champion all fit the bill, and you can pick and choose which ones fit your deck style best.
#11. Death Tyrant
Death Tyrant has stats, token generation, and its own personal reanimation ability packaged into one card. It’s hard to tell what types of decks actually want it, but there’s nothing negative to say about the card.
#10. Tenacious Underdog
Everyone loves a good underdog story. Tenacious Underdog is tuned for Standard, but I’ve found it respectable in aggressive black Commander decks. It’s a mana sink that generates card advantage throughout a game.
#9. Silversmote Ghoul
An unsung hero of lifegain decks, Silversmote Ghoul always plays out better than I expect it to. Consider the Ghoul in your 99 if you’ve got a commander that gains chunks of 3+ life at a time, like Baba Lysaga, Night Witch or Chevill, Bane of Monsters.
#8. Dogged Detective
If you let Dogged Detective slip under the radar, I suggest giving it a second look. It makes for excellent sac fodder, digs through your deck while filling the graveyard, and is trivially easy to get back.
Unlike Ledger Shredder and similar cards, Detective isn’t scary enough to change the way your opponents play while still being a great recursive value creature.
#7. Ebondeath, Dracolich
Recursive creatures tend to be smaller, persistent annoyances, which isn’t the case with Ebondeath, Dracolich. It hits hard and flies right back into action from the graveyard, assuming another creature died first.
#6. Woe Strider
#5. Reassembling Skeleton
Putting Reassembling Skeleton so high on this list might seem crazy, but it fulfills a unique role. It’s one of the cheapest recurable creatures without restrictions, making it an indefinite source of chump blockers and sac fodder. Persistent Specimen does its best impression but misses the mark on the reanimation cost.
#4. Nether Traitor
Nether Traitor combos with everything but a light sneeze. You can easily produce infinite death triggers with a sac outlet and a way to generate mana from a creature dying.
Shadow is a downside here since it stops you from chump blocking ad infinitum.
Poxwalkers doesn’t stay down for long. Flashback, suspend, and escape are just a few ways to recur it, after which it threatens to trade off with another creature or removal spell thanks to deathtouch.
Gravecrawler stands (or crawls) above other 2/1s on account of just how easy it returns to the battlefield. While Gutterbones and friends ask you to jump through hoops, Gravecrawler only needs to see another zombie in play. You’re free to get up to some zombie-themed shenanigans or pitch it to Phyrexian Altar over and over again once it’s back.
As long as you can keep a steady stream of lands coming, Bloodghast will return time and time again. Unlike Skyclave Shade you don’t have to cast Bloodghast, so you’re free to bring it back as many times as you can hit land drops. Provided you have a sac outlet on board.
Best Red Recursion Creatures
The red section is mostly populated by phoenixes and Squees.
#6. Squee, Dubious Monarch
Squee, Dubious Monarch is basically a Goblin Rabblemaster variant that has escape. It doesn’t output the same damage as Rabblemaster or Legion Warboss, but those creatures don’t come back from the dead like Squee does.
#5. Aurora Phoenix
#4. Skyfire Phoenix
#3. Squee, the Immortal
Squee’s whole shtick is that he’s immortal, so each of his cards works in a recursive element. Squee, the Immortal is another “cast from exile” creature, making it another viable Food Chain-combo enabler.
#2. Ox of Agonas
Ox of Agonas is a consideration for decks that empty their hands fast. Ox might be your best friend if you plan on being hellbent most games and you want a way to restock on cards.
#1. Squee, Goblin Nabob
Squee, Goblin Nabob is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Sacrifice it, discard it, Doom Blade it, throw it in the flaming pits of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Whatever you do, Squee always comes back.
Best Green Recursion Creatures
#9. Feasting Troll King
Feasting Troll King, or as I like to call it, J.R.R. TrollKing, is a beatdown Food payoff. It spots you enough Food to recur it once, but stocking up through other sources means you’ll see this multiple times per game.
#8. Sproutback Trudge
#7. Deathmist Raptor
#5. Kami of Transience
The +1/+1 counter and recursion abilities on Kami of Transience aren’t enough to make it playable. Throwing trample into the mix changes the equation and makes this Kami a sizeable threat for enchantress decks.
#4. Earthquake Dragon
Joining the prestigious “Mana Value 15” club, Earthquake Dragon realistically hits the board for just a single green mana. And if a 10/10 flying trampler doesn’t get the job done the first time, you can sacrifice a land to bring it back and try again.
#3. Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar
Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar is often the largest creature on board. Reach and trample make it formidable on offense and defense, it brings itself back from the graveyard, and the land-bouncing ability can even enable some landfall synergies.
#2. World Breaker
World Breaker exists for the giant Acidic Slime lovers. It’s not really fair to compare a 5-drop with an ETB to a 7-drop with a cast trigger, but World Breaker is a great disruptive creature for decks that produce lots of mana quickly.
#1. Old One Eye
I don’t understand the numbers on Old One Eye. 11 power and toughness across two bodies for six mana, and trample to the entire board? And you can bring it back from the graveyard?
I have some questions for whoever’s responsible for this design.
Best Multicolored Recursion Creatures
#20. Voidwing Hybrid
Phyrexia: All Will Be One gave new life to poison and proliferate decks. Voidwing Hybrid sits at the cross-section of these two strategies and provides decks with a recursive tool to get those infect/toxic kills.
This is an awareness slot dedicated to Evershrike because the card is just so sweet. It’s not the most impressive card from a gameplay perspective, but it deserves more exposure.
#18. Darigaaz Reincarnated
#17. Chamber Sentry
Chamber Sentry’s big claim to fame is being a Cheerio, a nickname for 0-mana spells. The color identity restricts where you can play it, and being second-class to Clown Car isn’t a good look for a Magic card.
#16. Syrix, Carrier of the Flame
Syrix, Carrier of the Flame was Magic’s first take at a legendary phoenix. It didn’t quite live up to players’ expectations, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad either. Being a Rakdos card is the most baffling part given that there are no black phoenixes in MTG.
#15. Polukranos, Unchained
Polukranos’s second coming is certainly off the chain.
Polukranos, Unchained returns from the graveyard as a 12/12, beats up on other creatures until it runs out of counters, and then comes back to do it all again.
#14. Lucius the Eternal
Lucius the Eternal has a weird variant of the haunt mechanic. Lucius will certainly live up to its name as long as you have a steady way to kill off opposing creatures.
#13. Lochmere Serpent
#12. The Scorpion God
The Scorpion God sits in a league below the other two, but it’s equally difficult to remove. As with most recursive creatures, exile effects are your best hope for dealing with them.
#11. Prized Amalgam
Prized Amalgam is a great demonstration on just how many semantic hoops MTG has to jump through to convey simple concepts. The ability basically says “if something came back from the graveyard, this does too,” which lets it piggyback off of other recursive creatures.
#10. Edgar, Charmed Groom / Edgar Markov’s Coffin
Edgar, Charmed Groom has one of the most flavorful forms of recursion. When Edgar dies it returns to the battlefield as Edgar Markov's Coffin, pumps out a few 1/1 Vampire tokens, and then transforms back into the creature side.
#9. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is a playground of strange and interesting design choices that completely upended the Modern metagame. While it’s harder to “get ‘gaaked” in Commander, it’s still a fun puzzle deciding how you’re planning to cast Hogaak from the graveyard.
#8. Brokkos, Apex of Forever
Brokkos, Apex of Forever says it all in the name. You can cast it from your graveyard with the catch that it has to be mutated. That means you have to control at least one non-human, ideally a creature with another mutate ability.
#7. Slimefoot and Squee
Slimefoot and Squee was previewed about 24 hours after I finished this list, so I’m giving it a high slot on pure conjecture. It reanimates itself and another creature as long as you can keep a steady stream of Saproling tokens.
And like I told you earlier, Squee always comes back.
#6. Otharri, Suns’ Glory
The second legendary phoenix in Magic, Otharri, Suns' Glory brings together Rebel synergies and experience counters, two things that aren’t that common. It doesn’t really need any outside support and provides an army of Rebels to bring it back all on its own.
#5. Master of Death
#4. Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger chews through your opponents’ hands and punishes them for running out of cards. Both Theros: Beyond Death elder giants have made their impact across multiple formats, with Kroxa being the more disruptive of the two.
#3. The Locust God
As with the other two HOU gods, killing it through normal means puts it right back in your hand at the end of the turn.
#2. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Whereas Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger eats your opponents’ hands and deals them damage, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath draws cards, ramps, and gains life. It does just about everything you could ask for in Commander, patiently waiting in the graveyard until you have the resources to escape it.
#1. The Scarab God
The Scarab God needs to be dealt with immediately, but just pops back into your hand when it’s answered. When unanswered, it eternalizes creatures from any graveyard while the first ability scries and chips away at the opponents’ life totals.
Best Colorless Recursion Creatures
#2. Eternal Scourge
#1. Metalwork Colossus
10/10s without evasion just don’t carry games of Commander, even when they’re free to cast. Because of this Metalwork Colossus works best as a utility creature that sits in your graveyard. It’s an artifact sac outlet that’s hard to interact with, and sure, you can jam it into play if the large body feels like it’s going to matter.
Best Recursion Creature Payoffs
Recursive creatures thrive in sacrifice decks. That’s assuming by “thrive” you mean “die over and over.” These decks need fodder to feed to the sacrifice engines that make the deck tick. What better creatures to throw away than the ones that just come back?
Aggro decks also benefit from recursive threats. Aggressive decks often overextend and run low on resources, which can make it difficult to rebuild after a sweeper effect. Creatures like Tenacious Underdog and Skyclave Shade make that rebuilding phase easier and give you longevity through more controlling games.
Recursion and combos go hand-in-hand. Recursive creatures lend themselves to infinite loops very easily, with cards like Gravecrawler and Nether Traitor forming the backbone of numerous infinites. These combos usually involve a few other key pieces, like a Blood Artist effect and a sac outlet. Phyrexian Altar is notorious for enabling infinite combos alongside recursive bodies.
Won’t Stay Dead for Long
Otharri, Sun's Glory | Illustration by Marta Nael
Recursion exists primarily in black, but each color has its unique way to bring creatures back from the dead. This list only touches on creatures that can bring themselves back, but there are plenty of cards that bring back other creatures.
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