Khans of Tarkir has brought a host of cards that help put creatures into the graveyard, and they tend to be blue, green, or black. In Standard with Return to Ravnica we did see Dredge strategies do reasonably well, and when Innistrad block was legal Junk Reanimator was one of the best performing archetypes. Now, with a number of new tools from Khans or Tarkir graveyard strategies may become a powerhouse in Standard once again. Let's start by going through the individual cards from Khans of Tarkir that could be played in a graveyard-based strategy and then move onto talking about some lists.
Sultai Ascendancy: Sultai Ascendancy certainly has the ability to put a lot of cards in the graveyard extremely quickly, while providing a significant amount of deck manipulation. With Sultai Ascendancy in play other types of scry effects become less useful because you are already automatically looking at the top two cards each turn. Sultai Ascendancy certainly provides a large late game advantage; the question is whether the card is too slow, because it can take a few turns to get much value from it.
Sultai Charm: Here is a card that fits perfectly into a reanimation strategy, while also having other uses. Being able to pitch a creature after looting is a big deal, as there aren't many other good discard outlets available. The other two modes are also very relevant, and this is a card that should likely be a four-of in most Reanimator decks.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant: Upon first impression this card seems completely overpowered in a graveyard based strategy. Certainly the more creature dense the deck, the more effect he will be at making 2/2's. Sidisi, Blood Tyrant seems to make a bit more sense in a Dredge strategy with tons of creatures but it's not clear that you don't also want him in a Reanimator deck. Even if he is immediately killed the initial trigger of when he enters the battlefield and mills three cards is very relevant. This is the card from Khans of Tarkir that jumps out as out as one of the biggest reasons to play a Dredge or Reanimator deck.
Rakshasa Vizier: Personally I would love this guy to be good, and with delve being reintroduced as a mechanic in Khans of Tarkir he could be. The idea of playing him and then say making him an 11/11 with Treasure Cruise doesn't seem bad.
Treasure Cruise: This is one of the more difficult to evaluate cards in the set, but Treasure Cruise has a lot of potential when a bunch of cards are hitting your graveyard. Who would have thought one mana to draw three could be good?
See the Unwritten: It doesn't seem like this card has gotten much hype but it certainly has a lot of potential. It is true that six mana is a steep price to only potentially hit a big creature to put into play, but because of ferocious there is also the potential to hit two big threats.
Necropolis Fiend: Here is a card that seems like it could be a powerhouse in a straightforward Dredge or Reanimator strategy. This card provides a large evasive body while also acting as continuous removal, being able to block Stormbreath Dragon or an attacking Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is a big deal. The key will be having enough ways to fill up the graveyard.
Bitter Revelation: This is another strong filter effect that offers both card drawing and a way to put cards in the graveyard. The issue is that four mana is more than you want to be paying, and the two life lost can definitely end up being relevant.
Clever Impersonator: While Clever Impersonator isn't an obvious card to play in a reanimation strategy a lot of the creatures that are good targets for a reanimation spell happen to have strong come into play effects. Clever Impersonator can be used as another late game big creature, or oftentimes it will be correct to copy a threat the opponent has presented earlier in the game.
Sultai Soothsayer: Speaking of creatures with powerful come into play effects, this card provides a large defensive body while having another Commune with the Gods type effect attached. He may be uncommon but the card certainly has applications in Standard.
Murderous Cut: Here is one of the strongest removal spells that a graveyard deck could ask for. One mana to destroy any creature is a Bargain, especially in a format where a number of strong cheap removal spells are rotating out.
Dig Through Time: Delve naturally pairs well with a deck that is already trying to put a number of cards into the graveyard, unfortunately Dig Through Time puts cards on the bottom of your library, otherwise it would work really well in this type of strategy.
Everything Else: Kheru Lich Lord, Scout the Borders, Rakshasa's Secret, Empty the Pits, Tiagam's Scheming, Jeskai Elder- These cards all seem to be either a bit overcoasted, or they just don't provide a strong enough effect. With that being said each does favorably interact with the graveyard theme.
Alright I am going to start with Dredge because that is an archetype that has been seeing some success and isn't actually losing that many cards. The question becomes is it correct to stay straight black/green or to add blue? Here is a list with a bit of blue in it, and I could see Dredge moving in this direction:
The most notable exclusion here is Sultai Ascendancy and Sultai Charm. Dredge plays a bunch of creatures that don't need to be discarded because they are better being played from your hand than graveyard. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant provides a strong replacement to Grizzly Salvage as a way to fill up the graveyard, and produce a number of 2/2's along the way. It has always been important to find the right mixture of creatures and spells to make sure there are plenty of creatures to make Nighthowler and Nemesis of Mortals effective.
One of the reasons why this deck doesn't want a bunch of delve cards is that you don't want to Remove creatures from the graveyard, which only leaves the lands and other spells that are milled away. The two Murderous Cuts provide removal that is needed to help stabilize earlier in the game, and will usually cost one mana when properly set up. Ultimately the deck hasn't changed that much with the addition of Khans of Tarkir, though I do like the splash of blue.
The manabase can support the addition of another color especially since the deck likely wants fetches anyway. Fetchlands of course work very well with delve. The two copies of See the Unwritten are a bit of a wild card, but this deck is certainly capable of turning on ferocious as most of the big threats end up having four or more power, especially when a Herald of Torment is bestowed.
There are a lot of different cards available for a Reanimator deck, so choosing the right mix of creatures, looting effects, and reanimation spells will prove to be important. Here is a first take on Reanimator with Khans of Tarkir:
There are definitely a number of different elements to the deck, but they do all work together nicely. The first thing that may seem off is the two copies of Ashen Rider without any white sources in the deck, besides Sylvan Caryatid. First of all it is very possible to draw two copies of Sylvan Caryatid over the course of a game and Ashen Rider hard cast is a full eight mana. Optimally Ashen Rider will be reanimated and it is not too hard to accomplish that.
There are a full four copies of Sultai Charm here, and oftentimes if you do draw an Ashen Rider it will be possible to loot away the Ashen Rider with a Sultai Charm. The benefit of having Ashen Rider in the deck outweighs the cost of potentially having a dead card in hand. However, there are only two copies for the reason that the deck can't produce white mana.
There are a variety of creatures in the deck and they are all either mana producers, creatures that come into play and mill cards, or creatures that you want to be reanimating. There are only 22 creatures though which makes Sidisi, Brood Tyrant slightly less good, than when played in a deck like Dredge. The 2/2's created by Sidisi, Brood Tyrant can be used as fodder for Rescue from the Underworld if necessary.
So far the Souls haven't been seeing much play but it is possible this will change as the format starts to shift. In this deck I'm trying them out and it's unclear whether it is correct to play one, both, or neither of them. Both Souls have a lot of value when hardcast, and it's also tough to complain when one is milled. They provide a bit more value from the mill effects and, when needed, having a 6/6 to Reanimate from Whip of Erebos can provide a big life swing.
So I already talked about one of the reanimation targets in Ashen Rider, but the card that makes the deck tick is Hornet Queen. This format looks to be a spot for Hornet Queen to shine, as the 1/1 flying deathtouch creatures can be a nightmare for all of the midrange decks. It is very possible to be able to hardcast Hornet Queen, and then when she dies you can Reanimate her! I expect decks that want to be able play the best late game creatures possible to start running Hornet Queen, as she might be the best late game threat in the format right now.
There are two copies of Sultai Ascendancy because while you usually want one in play having two isn't much better than one. If this card is played on turn three it will be able to smooth out draws for the rest of the game and help find the pieces to be able to Reanimate either Hornet Queen or Ashen Rider. The deck is only playing four scry lands because the Sultai Ascendancy's already are providing a permanent scry like effect.Takeaways
There are a number of cards in the format which showcase the graveyard, and there are multiple cycles of cards that actually want cards in the graveyard. While Souls were already Standard legal they haven't been around for that long. In addition, Delve seems like an abusable mechanic with cards like Sultai Ascendancy around, which has the potential to essentially filter through an entire deck if left unchecked. The challenge is navigating through the large pool of cards which work favorably with your graveyard and selecting the right combination to produce a competitive deck. These two lists are initial attempts at Reanimator and Dredge but I plan to continue developing ideas around these strategies to make the lists as successful as possible.
Thanks for reading,