mahler, mark - headshot By Mark Mahler

Avengers 181 - 2nd stringers

Here’s a hint: if you don’t have your own movie yet, he’s not talking about you.

A weird sort of epiphany happened to me recently that both changed the way I look at cards and at deck construction.  First, that Reanimate is a card (very profound, I know–I guess I live under a rock), which lead to a subsequent hankerin’ to build my first reanimator deck. Second, more importantly and perhaps less “duh!” than the first, what I term the “second stringers” of  EDH–cards that you might always have wanted to try but never seem to make the final cut in the other 99 of a given deck–can be both more valuable and a lot more fun than a lot of the so-called staples in the format.

Let me back up a bit, all the way to the first round of Commander pre-cons.  I’ve always thought that The Mimeoplasm was crazy awesome and that Karador, Ghost Chieftain totally sucked.  I have also always felt completely justified in this assessment based on the art alone (a weird, green bison head and a %&*# T-rex for an arm?! That’s metal on all the steroids. But a centaur spirit? “Oh no, don’t stab me with your phantasmal spear!” Lame. Your buddy the ghost bear is pretty rockin’, though. Where’s his card?)

Fast forward to about a month ago–after the Reanimate epiphany–where I finally decided to break that legendary ooze out of my binder and build a deck around him. The deck itself is fun, but nothing to write home about; it allowed me to combine a lot of the mill cards I love (here’s looking at you, Mesmeric Orb *wink*) with some of the reanimation shenanigans I was looking forward to abusing.  Nothing new under the sun, but certainly serviceable.

The really interesting bit came later when I was sorting through all the sad little also-ran cards that didn’t quite make the cut.

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C’mon in, Lhurgoyf. Have a seat. I’ve got some bad news for you…

Normally, I just set aside these cards and stick them back into their respective binders, never to be heard from again until they don’t make the cut in another deck.  This time, though, I did something different.

Call it forgetfulness, call it ignorance, or call it pure, unadulterated laziness, but for whatever reason these cards took up valuable real estate on the corner of my kitchen table for the better part of a week. This impromptu camping session also neatly dovetailed with the implosion of a Ghave, Guru of Spores stax deck that just never came together the way I wanted it to, so I decided, “What the heck? Let’s throw all these guys into a deck together and see how bad it can be.”

Enter: the return of the least intimidating chieftain in all of ghost-dom.


Well, kid, here’s your moment to shine.

Using Karador’s ability as a convenient excuse, I lumped together all the dopey creatures that I’ve had lying around in binders forever that even vaguely looked like they might fit a reanimator theme. Satyr Wayfinder, sure. I’m got about a million of you little guys in limited chaff from the pre-release. Novablast Wurm, why not? I blow up all my dudes and make my general cheaper. And so it went until all of the 99 were filled.

No matter how much I might shake my head in regret once the derp-factor really set in, I promised myself not to allow any more than a handful of crossover cards between my Mimeoplasm and Karador decks.  I had just slapped down some cash for a playset of Reanimates, so obviously that guy would be pulling double duty, but aside from a few others (Avatar of Woe, Eternal Witness, and my personal fave, Mesmeric Orb) every one of Karador’s undead mod squad would be pulled from their spot warming the bench while their bigger, and just empirically better, bros played in the big leagues with Mr. Mimeoplasm.

Consciously choosing to run Ghoultree and Dawntreader Elk over Lord of Extinction and Necrotic Ooze actually made me wince a bit at first, but you know what? I had an absolute blast building this deck.

Once I caved and fully committed to my B-team theme, I got to slot in cards that I’ve owned for years and never actually played. To my even greater surprise, most of them were absolute champs, too, punching well above the weight I had assigned them in the past and even sticking some sweet jabs to my opponents in the process. Necroplasm totally hoses token decks. Who knew? (Sidenote: probably everybody except me, but it was a cool little surprise for someone as bad at Magic as I am.) Benevolent Bodyguard has caught so many bullets for Karador by now that he might as well work for the Secret Service. And Augur of Skulls is a great way to disrupt any early hand-sculpting by an opponent, or to simply destroy their hand all together once I get my reanimation machine online.

Shambling Shell B-team

Here ya go, champ. You earned it.

Are any of these the “optimal” choices for a reanimator deck? Hell, no. But who plays Commander to build an optimal deck anyway?

If you feel like your deck building choices have gotten a little stale lately, or that you simply end up using the same cards in the same color combinations over and over again, I think you owe it to yourself to give the second stingers in your binder a closer look.

And don’t be afraid to go whole hog on this–don’t just slot some bench warmers into your good decks and see how they play.  Pretend it’s 1987 again, the pros are on strike, and the only football players around are the scabs who walked in off the street. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.