Animate Dead – Crimson Vow
Date Reviewed: January 27, 2022
Commander [EDH]: 3.75
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
You may well be wondering why this card is about a third the mana cost of other cards that do basically the same thing. Alpha was designed with an assumption that seems almost comical in modern trading card games, namely that people would only buy a few sealed products (there were boosters but also larger 60-card starter packs), and thus only see a fraction of the total card pool. Magic design would be very different if that had turned out to be correct; as it was, Alpha flew off the shelves within a month or two, and they had to revise everything. But when there’s only one Animate Dead (or, for that matter, Time Walk or Black Lotus) in a playgroup and its owner needs at least one backup plan for when it gets countered, it’s theoretically a lot less dominant.
But since it made it to print as we read it, you may as well take advantage of it. That, to be honest, doesn’t require too much effort, because two mana is a perfect cost to reanimate something devastating in the “combo” style, restore your most powerful lost creature, and/or add insult to injury by stealing your opponent’s. It has very little downside, and the only thing that stops it from being in every reanimator deck in larger formats is even bigger 90s design mistakes!
Commander [EDH]: 4/5
Almost 30 years into the game’s run, Animate Dead, even with its now-comical Oracle text meant to make the effect actually work as worded, is an excellent reanimation spell, despite being the first of its kind. Two mana to get back any creature, albeit slightly weakened, is an excellent rate of return, and reanimation spells that cost two mana or less have long been threatening presences in whichever formats they show up in. While Animate Dead does demand you protect the enchantment to keep the creature, one upside is that it can hit any creature in any graveyard. Of course, most decks built around the spell will usually want to get back their own creature, but turning an opponent’s threat against them will never get old. There’s also the infamous loop with Worldgorger Dragon to make a game end in a draw or set up an infinite combo to end the game then and there, which is certainly a fun way to proverbially give everyone at the table the finger.
It’s certainly not flashy, and it does demand some set-up, but the sheer versatility of Animate Dead keeps it relevant in Legacy to this day, usually as part of a package with other reanimation spells. It carries some downsides of its own, namely in giving -1/-0 to the reanimated creature and presenting a second way to get rid of the creature, but it’s a classic spell with brutal efficiency, and it remains one of the standards to measure reanimation spells against to this day.
Constructed: 3.5 (it’s usually not the first spell in the reanimator package people will turn to, but it’s still quite potent, and a four-of in Legacy Reanimator shells)
Limited: 4 (a second life for any creature is always good, especially if it’s a bomb creature)
Multiplayer: 4 (remember: any graveyard)
Commander [EDH]: 4.25
The original reanimate card, Animate Dead is a solid and simple enough card to bring a creature back from your graveyard. Nowadays it’s not the greatest in constructed but it does have a home in several commander decks. Long gone are the days of comboing this card with Worldgorger Dragon to get infinite mana or ETB triggers in constructed play, it has a home in some decks but not like once upon a time. Things could change as cards get printed and this could be a staple once more, only time will tell!
Commander [EDH]: 3/5
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