Reanimate - Illustration by Johann Bodin

Reanimate | Illustration by Johann Bodin

There isn’t much better in Magic than having things for free, or for far cheaper than they normally cost. Whether it’s ramping out with mana rocks or casting instants and sorceries for free, it’s a great way to get ahead and overwhelm opponents.

Over the course of a game of Magic, one zone naturally fills with cards as turns go by. That begs the question: why not use the graveyard to your advantage?

That’s right, today we’re looking at reanimation effects and how to reanimate cards. How does reanimation work in Magic? Which reanimation spells and abilities are a necromancer’s dream? Let’s dive in and find out!

What Are Reanimation Cards in MTG?

Dread Return - Illustration by LJ Koh

Dread Return | Illustration by LJ Koh

Reanimation cards are any cards that bring a permanent back from the graveyard to the battlefield or return a dying creature to the battlefield. Most reanimation cards bring back creatures of any kind, but a lot of the best ones occasionally bring back any permanent, permanents with a specific mana value, or even lands in the case of a few.

#30. Kaya’s Ghostform

Kaya's Ghostform

Kaya’s Ghostform is a 1-mana enchantment that doesn’t necessarily bring a creature back from the graveyard immediately, but instead returns the enchanted creature to the battlefield when it dies or is put into exile. It’s like a preemptive reanimation.

All in all it just provides a worse version of totem armor. That’s good enough to make the bottom of this list, and it’s only up from here!

#29. Emeria, the Sky Ruin

Emeria, the Sky Ruin

Emeria, the Sky Ruin is a nonbasic land that can tap for white and reanimates a creature card in your graveyard if you have seven or more Plains in play. It’s not too special, only functioning in mono-white Commander decks.

The tapped entry is a serious downside here because mono-white decks usually play a low curve, and it’s a major hindrance if you fail to play a mana rock or a turn 1 creature and this is your only white source.

#28. The Cruelty of Gix

The Cruelty of Gix

The Cruelty of Gix is a 5-mana black saga from Dominaria United. It has a few different options including getting rid of a creature or planeswalker in an opponent’s hand, tutoring any card into your hand from library, and reanimating a creature from any graveyard.

Thanks to the read ahead mechanic, this can (at worst) do any one of these immediately upon entry. It’s a decent versatile card, but it isn’t the best value in terms of reanimation if you immediately read ahead to the third chapter.

#27. Patriarch’s Bidding

Patriarch's Bidding MH2

Patriarch’s Bidding is a 5-mana sorcery that has each player choose a creature type then return all creatures with that type from their graveyard to the battlefield. This is an A+ in tribal decks but has serious drawbacks outside of that strategy.

If you play this against a tribal deck, you might as well concede.

#26. Tergrid, God of Fright

Tergrid, God of Fright

Here’s another 5-mana reanimation card, but this time it’s Tergrid, God of Fright, a god creature that lets you reanimate permanents that your opponents discard or sacrifice. It’s a great built-in two-for-one and works incredibly well in discard decks. That niche specialty does draw back from its general power level, though.

#25. Artisan of Kozilek

Artisan of Kozilek

Artisan of Kozilek is a monster of a creature at nine mana. It comes in as a 10/9 with annihilator 2 and has an on-cast ability to return a creature from your graveyard to the battlefield. This isn’t anything crazy on a technical level, but a massive beater that brings a friend even if it’s countered is usually pretty good.

#24. Whip of Erebos

Whip of Erebos

The good ol’ fashioned Whip of Erebos lets you tap it (and pay ) to reanimate a creature for a turn before exiling it. It also gives all your creatures lifelink.

This isn’t the most powerful god artifact but it’s certainly good, and the reanimation ability can provide some generic value in non-sacrifice or reanimation strategies.

#23. Dread Return

Dread Return

Dread Return is a 4-mana sorcery that reanimates a single creature from your graveyard. It also has flashback for the cost of sacrificing three creatures, which probably isn’t that much of a cost in the first place.

This card is decent overall. It’s nothing too crazy, especially compared with what’s coming, but it’s better than everything before it on the list.

#22. Sevinne’s Reclamation

Sevinne’s Reclamation

Sevinne’s Reclamation doesn’t restrict you to creatures specifically, but it restricts you to permanents with a mana value of three or less. It also has flashback and reanimates two targets when flashed back.

This is great in white and Selesnya () enchantment decks that don’t have access to the vast majority of reanimation and has a few critical pieces to reanimate if needed.

#21. Sheoldred, Whispering One

Sheoldred, Whispering One

The first iteration of Sheoldred, Sheoldred, Whispering One reanimates something from your graveyard on your upkeep and forces opponents to sacrifice a creature on their upkeep. That’s a very powerful mechanic overall, and it holds up despite the mana value of seven on this card.

#20. Emry, Lurker of the Loch

Emry, Lurker of the Loch

Emry, Lurker of the Loch is the queen of reanimating artifacts, and even costs less for the artifacts you already control. It can also fill your own graveyard with its ETB ability, helping to ensure that you have something to cast the next turn.

This card doesn’t directly reanimate artifacts; it lets you cast them. This is one of the only artifact-centric reanimation cards, so I’m allowing it on this list as a technicality.

#19. Splendid Reclamation

Splendid Reclamation

Splendid Reclamation is a 4-mana sorcery and a one-shot catch-call reanimation spell to bring back all your lands. They come into play tapped, but pairing this with some kind of mass land destruction leaves you with everything you had and your opponents with nothing.

Make sure to float mana before casting an Armageddon.

#18. Living Death

Living Death

Living Death (no, not Living End) is a 5-mana sorcery that basically swaps the creatures in play with the creatures in graveyards. It’s a big swap that leaves sacrifice decks ahead. Just make sure to know what’s coming across the table!

#17. Finale of Devastation

Finale of Devastation

Finale of Devastation is one of the few green reanimation spells on this list. It costs and allows you to tutor out creatures from your library and graveyard. It even gives them a massive buff if you paid or more for X.

#16. Victimize

Victimize

Victimize is another 3-mana sorcery that requires you to sacrifice a creature in the process. In exchange you get two creature cards from your graveyard reanimated and coming into play tapped. This is great value for just three mana.

Unfortunately you can’t reanimate the sacrificed creature thanks to the ordering of effects, and sacrificing a creature isn’t part of the actual cost of this card.

#15. Ramunap Excavator

Ramunap Excavator

Ramunap Excavator is a cheap creature that lets you play lands from the graveyard. It doesn’t “reanimate” them in the sense that it returns them. Like Emry, Lurker of the Loch, this is essentially a consistent source of land reanimation.

#14. Crucible of Worlds

Crucible of Worlds

Crucible of Worlds is just Ramunap Excavator on a stick that’s tougher to remove, so it’s better (usually).

#13. Daretti, Scrap Savant

Daretti, Scrap Savant

Daretti, Scrap Savant is an infamous red planeswalker that loves messing around with artifacts. Its ultimate gives you an emblem which has you return artifacts from graveyard to the battlefield on the end step. That synergizes well with its other abilities, but it also offers great protection if you’re an artifact-based deck.

#12. Goblin Engineer

Goblin Engineer

Goblin Engineer needs no introduction. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a cheap and effective combo piece for reanimating artifacts for other combos. It does this well and efficiently, which makes it quite strong in eternal formats.

#11. Necromancy

Necromancy

Necromancy has a gigantic wall of text. All you really need to know is that it reanimates a creature. If you cast it at a time a sorcery couldn’t be cast, it’s sacrificed at the end step.

This is great generic creature reanimation at instant speed, and it works well in defensive situations or when the creature you’re reanimating is something with immediate impact like Griselbrand.

#10. Reveillark

Reveillark

Reveillark isn’t the most powerful reanimation card on rate, but it’s an effective combo piece in Commander. A lot of combo pieces have small powers, and this is conveniently costed at five mana to work well in many different Birthing Pod combo lines.

#9. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is a great reanimation piece thanks to how it functions in various combos that run Protean Hulk as an initiator. It works well specifically with Walking Ballista and other cards to infinitely ping enemies.

#8. Underworld Breach

Underworld Breach

Underworld Breach is… another combo piece. This is typically reserved for getting enough mana to conduct a combo with Brain Freeze by reanimating Lion’s Eye Diamond, and it does that very cheaply and quickly.

#7. Sun Titan

Sun Titan

Sun Titan is similar to Reveillark in certain combos, but it offers better generic reanimation for white decks. It’s as great a staple in mono-white hatebears/stax decks as a way to replenish your board and return the right stax piece for the problem when played.

#6. Eerie Ultimatum

Eerie Ultimatum

Here’s a total tank of a card, Eerie Ultimatum. It’s a whopping 7-mana sorcery with a lot of different pips, but its effect of returning any number of permanents with different names from your graveyard to the battlefield is unparalleled.

This can obviously have easy combo potential with graveyard decks, especially with effects from cards like Entomb, but it works well in essentially any permanent-based deck.

#5. Malakir Rebirth

Malakir Rebirth

Malakir Rebirth has a nearly identical effect to the worst card on this list, but the fact that it’s at instant speed completely changes its power level. It’s a great combat trick and way to protect single creatures from removal, working as an in-the-moment reanimation card.

#4. Animate Dead

Animate Dead

Animate Dead has animate in its name, and it’s one of the best and oldest reanimation spells. It’s a solid value that’s easy to understand and build around and it even works well in generic decks that lack a reanimation or graveyard focus.

#3. Karmic Guide

Karmic Guide

Karmic Guide makes up for what it lacks in generic reanimation potential with its incredible functionality in combos. It comes in at that crucial 5-mana slot for Birthing Pod combos, but it doesn’t have any limits in what it can reanimate.

#2. Persist

Persist

The runner-up is Persist., which is nearly as good as it comes. Two mana to reanimate a creature with a -1/-1 counter is incredible, but the clause for the creature being nonlegendary cuts it out of Griselbrand reanimator decks. Which is basically all of them in Legacy.

#1. Reanimate

Reanimate

I can’t think of a more deserving card than Reanimate itself. It’s simple: one mana to reanimate a creature with the only actual drawback being the life lost in the process. That life can occasionally mean something, but it’s always worth the exchange if you’re reanimating something incredibly game-altering.

Best Reanimation Payoffs

The best way to get a payoff for reanimation is reanimating something incredibly powerful and ahead of when it should normally enter play. Reanimating is all about getting more out of the spell than what you put into it.

In the common example of Griselbrand reanimator decks, big Griz fulfills both tasks. It’s a massive creature that comes out on turns 1 to 3 on average, and it brings immediate and assured value in drawing you seven cards. If it didn’t draw cards or have an impact once entering play then you’re just getting a big body for cheap.

How Do Reanimation Cards Work?

Reanimation cards return cards from the graveyard to the battlefield. When these explicitly say “return” it means that it’s moving those cards from zone to zone. Nothing is being cast.

There are a few cards that don’t follow this “return” clause in my rankings, but they’re included because they still have the sentiment of reanimation.

Does Reanimating Count as Casting?

No, reanimating doesn’t count as casting because reanimation cards return permanents from the graveyard to the battlefield. They don’t make them castable or playable.

Can You Return Tokens from the Graveyard?

No, you can’t return tokens from the graveyard because tokens go to exile when they die.

Does Returning from the Graveyard Count as Casting?

No, cards that return others from the graveyard don’t cast them or make them cost-free, so they aren’t being cast.

Wrap Up

Malakir Rebirth - Illustration by Marta Nael

Malakir Rebirth | Illustration by Marta Nael

I enjoyed researching this and was surprised to see a few cards I had basically forgotten about. Hopefully I’m not alone to have my interest in them reanimated!

What did you think of my rankings? Did you agree with my placements, or do you have some suggestions? Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord.

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!

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