The release of the Commander decks has inspired me to branch out into a new way to play Commander, by unlocking for me the potential to play Commander whenever I want instead of just those times once or twice a week when we can find the time. I guess you could say it was the promotion kicker on Magic Online that started it for me; I'm scheduled for competing in the Battle Royale on Wednesday and in addition to shopping for low-priced hidden gems of Standard here in the SCG Store to build a deck, I had to log into Magic Online in order to put together the final deck online. And while I've been using Magic Online since Kamigawa Block to draft and occasionally playtest some Standard decks that are on my mind, since I don't use it as my main way to play the game it hadn't occurred to me that I might want to own a Commander deck online.
Then, when loading Magic Online, it announced that the Commander decks would be for sale in the online store next week, and remembering how very happy it made me to receive a four-pound box full of Commander decks shipped to me courtesy of Star City Games, I smiled at the thought of getting to play Commander on Magic Online, because I have had a lot of fun playing with these five decks and pulling some of them apart to build new decks as I chase the excitement of trying to build around some of the new Commanders.
That excitement grew once again after I purchased my Battle Royale deck off of the fair chunk of tickets I apparently had left over after selling off some Zendikar Block staples I felt I no longer needed, and I had about fifty tickets left over. My usual thought at seeing several drafts worth of tickets just sitting there waiting to happen was soured at the thought of how little I know about drafting this format—I've drafted the full block exactly twice now, played triple New Phyrexia and triple Mirrodin Besieged a few times each during their respective online Prereleases, and at the start of the year played maybe five or six Scars of Mirrodin / Mirrodin Besieged drafts. The more you draft, the better you do at it, because you absorb more information and grasp the context of the format much more adeptly, but unfortunately as well as I seemed to understand triple Scars of Mirrodin Limited, with these new sets in the mix I'm still at the low end of the learning curve and feel like an elephant trying to climb up a narrow little escalator.
I could burn those fifty tickets in an evening of drafting, with nothing to show for it save perhaps the chance opening of a valuable Mythic Rare, and I had to ask myself whether the way I want to use Magic Online is changing or not. Lately, if I've wanted an evening's entertainment with cards in my hand, it was not Magic Online I logged into but Full Tilt Poker, because I have been slowly but surely trying to understand the game of Texas Hold 'Em by blundering my way through at the bottom-most level, and I've been feeling I learn more from playing a free tournament there than a Magic Online draft. The price tag of “free" was a fair share of what was attracting me to the idea, I don't have the time to commit to being good enough at this Limited format to approach the break-even point nor any events to prepare for that would provide a financial incentive to try... instead I have a girlfriend leaving for Cambodia and a premium on my time and money, so if I want to sit down and try to just enjoy myself in an online distraction, I certainly didn't want to have to pay for it, too.
Then, a light bulb flickered on over my head, as they say in the funny pages. You can play Commander online for free, after all, and surely given the scope of this column the hint had to be there that I might enjoy having that ability for when I reach for an online distraction; it was the price point of poker that was causing it to get most of my attention, not specifically my interest in it, and if only I had an online Commander deck I could play a whole lot of Commander while I was at it.
Thinking about what I might want to do if I were to chase the muse of having an online Commander deck, I started to shop and see what I could do with those fifty tickets, and see if my subconscious wanted to illuminate for me any of the desires I had not consciously been exploring. I've been focusing on building a Damia, Sage of Stone deck out of the ashes of my Experiment Kraj deck, and like some of where it is going even as I am aware of the fact that it needs a lot more work, but in thinking about some of what I wrote last week about the fifteen Commanders that are so newly available to us I started to wonder whether there was anyone amongst them I felt I hadn't given a fair shake. I know I definitely want to build a Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter deck, but considering how I feel like I over-favor black overall (three of my five ‘paper' Commander decks play it, two very different mono-black decks and that Damia deck) I didn't want to just build another black deck to play online. I thought about some of my other recent purchases for Commander from Star City Games, and the fact that I was very happy to be the owner of a shiny new Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed to go alongside the re-christening of my Ob Nixilis deck under the new leadership of Sheoldred, Whispering One but still couldn't really believe I'd spent that much on a card before buying myself a Mana Drain. Surely, if I was going to invest that much in some cardboard I would only end up playing in my Commander decks, Mana Drain would be at the top of my list, right?
Some quick shopping on Magic Online showed me that Mana Drain was surprisingly affordable, less than twenty tickets, and the other impossible-to-find high-power Commander staple, Mana Crypt, was a mere six tickets to own. Thinking about blue decks and the several new options available to explore amongst the blue commanders led me to my answer: I didn't feel I had paid enough courtesy to Animar, Soul of Elements and wanted to chase that muse a little further.
Seeing another Commander staple I didn't own, Survival of the Fittest, also at a very affordable price range made it clear to me that Blue and Green were colors I wanted to chase, and once that was narrowed down I was left with the clear certainty that for Magic Online it would be Animar that got my attention. I felt of all the Commanders I discussed last week that this one was the one I didn't explore far enough when I looked at the idea—I noted that Palinchron would be ‘a good accelerant' to help cast more and more cards on the cheap, not only being free but potentially untapping more lands than you used to cast him, all while also putting a counter on Animar and reducing future prices even further.
Nowhere in there did I realize that with a few counters on Animar you could work Palinchron to the point where you had lands that tapped for four blue and two colorless and could just put an arbitrarily large number of counters on Animar and deal the 21-Damage Salute to opponents far more quickly than I'd first realized; sure, on Magic Online this wouldn't be ‘infinite' because no one wants to sit and watch me tap for Palinchron for fifteen minutes, but there was far more potential hidden just beneath the surface if I wanted to look for it.
Of course, price quickly became a difficulty. I have a fair share of Standard commodities on Magic Online, so I could start on a decent mana base with fetchlands and such, but after adding one copy of Misty Rainforest and one copy of Scalding Tarn I need a good deal more lands still and can't throw in any more of those. Verdant Catacombs and Arid Mesa can pinch-hit but only if I invest in some dual lands, and both the Masters Edition original duals and Ravnica Block revisions on the original cost roughly ten tickets each, and as much as fifteen to eighteen tickets for some of the ones I wanted to put in the deck. Sure, MountainValley cost a pittance and helped out, but Wooded Foothills wouldn't be a cheap addition just like it isn't in real life, so if I was going to commit to this idea I would need to work on a deck, put together an agenda, and figure out how much it was going to cost. I already had an idea of how I might want to pay for it, if only I could convince my dealer friend Morgan Chang to assist in divesting me of some of the Commander cards I now found I owned too many of—I owned three Sol Rings already before the Commander decks provided me with another five, and even after adding one to each of my five decks I still had three spare to play with and no real desire to own more than those five, as five has so far been the upper limit of how many Commander decks I have ever wanted to keep assembled at the same time. The death of other decks to make way for these—the end of both a Memnarch deck I had been working on but wasn't in love with, as well as the aforementioned transformation of the Experiment Kraj deck—left me with a fair share of Commander wealth laying about unused, and with Morgan now dealing with both online and paper economies it seemed easy enough to convince him to take about a hundred tickets' worth of paper Commander cards I wasn't going to use anytime soon and upload them into the potential to play Commander whenever I felt like it.
With the Commander chosen, that left us with ninety-nine more slots to fill, and I started sketching out interactions I wanted to build into the deck and cards I wanted to play. The interaction between Morph and Animar seemed compelling—once Animar had three counters on him, morph creatures were free to play, and so utility cards like Nantuko Vigilante and just best-beloved friends like Vesuvan Shapeshifter were easy and obvious additions. The overlap between Animar and Forgotten Ancient could prove to be devastating, letting me play giant creatures far before their proper time, and visions of Kozilek and Myojin of Seeing Winds at bargain-basement prices made me want to giggle as more and more such interactions came to mind, and two-mana Draining Whelks got my attention.
So fertile was my imagination that I hit about a hundred non-land cards I wanted to add to my deck, and it was time to discern its true function instead of just giggle whenever I thought of something new. I do try to counsel my readers who send in their deck submissions to put a critical eye towards what they were trying to accomplish, instead of just the best cards or even their favorite cards in a color combination, and an Animar deck built with the mana curve in mind and towards a specific purpose would prove far more important than whether every cute thing I had thought of so far made it to the final cut.
And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became to me that the difference between paper Commander and online Commander is even bigger than I had first thought—not only would this be the first Commander decklist I was putting together for myself that used the original dual lands instead of just the Ravnica Block editions that are far more affordable, it would also get to play cards that in the offline world have an absurdly high opportunity cost to own but which in online terms were cheap and affordable, such as the Imperial Recruiter I purchased when I realized he might be excellent alongside Animar at finding cards like Mulldrifter. (Yes, Lauren Lee, you will finally see a Commander deck from me in which your totem animal is not cut—this deck has ninety-nine problems, and Mulldrifter is one!)
Imperial Recruiter cost me three tickets... but to own a paper copy is more like $200. I spent less than $200 assembling my entire Commander deck, and even the part of me that considered it reasonable to put down $130 on how much fun I would have reanimating Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed with Sheoldred, the Whisperer turn after turn after turn balked at the notion of finding such an expensive card as Imperial Recruiter. If Xiahou Dun weren't the key to making the second black deck I have been working on an actually resilient deck instead of inflexible design, I don't think I would have bought it, and surely if I were to own an Imperial Recruiter in real life just for Commander purposes I would have a hard time finding a way to put him in more than one deck. And, well... $200, sheesh!
Animar, Soul of Elements likes it when you play more creatures, be they cheap or expensive. After just a little while, the cost to play any creature you draw will end up being just the colored mana portion of the spell, like just UU for Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur or the UU of Keeper of the Mind. So given that he gains power and provides more and more mana by playing additional creatures alongside him, a fair share of the focus would be on creature spells, and making sure that you don't run out of cards just by committing all your threats on the table for the often-inevitable board sweepers that fly across the land from time to time in Commander (and usually are prompted by things like 5/5 Animars). So the theme would be not just creatures that work with Animar's acceleration powers and are efficient for their price—Great Whale was on my list of definite-playables, not just Palinchron—but card drawing would be a high priority as the deck deploys its hand and the grinding resilience of the deck would need to be at a very high level, with a fair element of recursion or a few cards that didn't die to typical sweepers and might provide us with a fresh army in a box, with Lurking Predators being the ideal in that case.
First to come would be the mana. Added resilience could come here as well as everywhere else, with the ability to play two very good Hideaway lands and three Ravnica Block bouncelands to reuse them, plus Tolaria West to search for either side of that interaction. Little things like Llanowar Reborn could prove very key with Animar, since that one Graft trigger would be worth a colorless mana on each future creature spell played, and likewise Llanowar Reborn could be reused with bouncelands for future castings of Animar if he didn't stick the first time around.
Even with the mulligan rules on Magic Online proving less flexible than the over-generous ones I have grown accustomed to, with the mana-fixing and a couple of cheap card-drawers I know I am going to want to play, and alongside Mana Crypt and Sol Ring, I capped that land count at 36. The deck has plenty of card drawing to help it along once the initial mana has been drawn, plus accelerants and other cards like Crucible of Worlds to cover the fact that once you have the first few lands the rest should come fairly easily, so I wanted to lock in that number and go to work on the rest of the deck. Most of the additions are fairly obvious, and for the most part the only oddity to me was the fact that with a land count this low I wasn't able to find room for any cycling lands, when usually I would find myself including at least a few—lands coming into play tapped in the early turns are a much bigger hindrance to this deck than most others, and I found I had higher priorities and only so many slots to work with.
Just Mana: Verdant Catacombs, Arid Mesa, Misty Rainforest, Scalding Tarn, Mountain Valley, Thawing Glaciers, Taiga, Tropical Island, Volcanic Island, Stomping Ground, Breeding Pool, Steam Vents, Gruul Turf, Simic Growth Chamber, Izzet Boilerworks, City of Brass, Command Tower, Rootbound Crag, Copperline Gorge, Flooded Groves, Cascade Bluffs, 3x Forest, 3x Island, Mountain
It would seem like artifact creatures would be a good way to get ahead with Animar, but for the most part I decided I was getting further with morphs than I could with any but the best of artifact creatures and some of the other ideas that came to mind were just downright unfriendly and not things I wanted to be doing. (I'm talking about you, Sundering Titan.) So the artifact creatures got nailed down very early on as just Duplicant and Solemn Simulacrum, and for the rest of the just-colorless crowd we'd have morphs and Kozilek. Colored mana costs were still going to be kept pretty low, especially with the option to Evoke a fair number of creatures, and some of the more expensive cards were going to be things like Palinchron that didn't really care too much what was spent on them, they'd end up free by another means—the advantage of thinking in things like Great Whale and Palinchron was that not only might they be free like a similarly-costed artifact creature would, but might even help ramp up to one of the major card drawers by providing extra mana besides, which is even better than free artifact creatures. And since I wanted to play mostly creatures, it was easy to keep myself to just the best of artifacts, especially since I'd determined I wanted to be the beatdown and thus wouldn't have cards like Oblivion Stone or Nevinyrral's Disk myself, planning to beat those cards instead of have to join them myself and using light countermagic or more pinpoint answers to individual specific problems... and, where possible, preferring to steal a threat instead of just negate it. So it would be Sensei's Divining Top, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and Crucible of Worlds—and that's it for artifacts.
Between the lands and these artifacts, 42 slots were taken, and every slot taken up at this point is one less slot that can be given to a creature card and thus something that can undermine just what Animar is able to do by playing creature after creature. Some of the hope is that the creatures you do play will help you to draw into more of them, but even with that hope I still want to keep a fairly healthy creature count, aiming for one-third of the deck at minimum. After honing and whittling down on cards I wanted to cast, even making myself cut things I really wanted like Cryptic Command based on the fact that as a beatdown deck I wanted to keep as little mana as possible untapped on my opponent's turn for purely reactive cards. Other angles I thought certain I would include fell by the wayside—Explore ended up not feeling like it was worth a slot to me after all, while the Godo, Bandit Warlord for Sword of Feast and Famine package sounded like it wasn't doing quite enough to justify itself to me, though it will still be kept in mind for the future to be explored as I finally get to play with the deck next week with the release of Commander (and, thus, the actual existence of Animar, Command Tower and Edric allowing me to actually play some games). Perhaps more importantly, Godo is getting the ever-critical Sunforger in my R/W/U deck and is the Commander of my mono-Red deck, in which he in fact gets Sword of Feast and Famine a shocking percentage of the time, so even if this might be the most efficient angle I don't necessarily want to chase it when it's the same story as I'm doing everywhere else already. And maybe Glimpse of Nature would be awesome, but I can envision things going wrong and it being difficult even to cycle it just to get another card, so I'm going to stick with creature cards for my variable-effectiveness card drawing instead of dipping into the creature count for it. Sure, Palinchron + Glimpse might let me draw all the cards I want to, but that same Palinchron should be assembling lethal Animar attacks and that sounds good enough to me.
Preordain: I often feel that the most underrated cards in Commander are the tiny effects, the small gains that aren't flashy or impressive, or can even be forgotten after the passing of a single turn so that the benefits of the minor effect never impact themselves upon your memory to be realized for the important element that they are. Forgetting to play Preordain in this deck, however, would be a sin of omission rather than a statement of the card's worth; Preordain is great at filtering early mana draws and racing past useless lands later in the game to find important cards you actually want instead, and being mindful of effects like these can let you play those slightly-low mana counts without being punished for it quite as often as you might expect as well as help you depress that virtual land count even further when you want to draw action later in the game. I don't have to see Preordain in anyone else's Commander decks to know it's right for this one, and probably most other blue decks in the format. Big and splashy is good, but Preordain can be just as vital.
Brainstorm: Much the same line of argumentation as Preordain, except that the card is even better than that when you have as many fetchlands and other shuffle effects as this deck will end up accessing. The last time I posted a deck of mine with Brainstorm in it, I got a fair share of comments and emails asking why I would waste one of my precious 99 slots on a lowly draw fixer... but to me the better question is how you can justify going without, when the card is as good as this one is.
Regrowth: An obvious high-value addition, reusing the best of your spent cards will be even better than usual in this deck considering how quickly I am hoping to be able to go through the library when things are firing on all cylinders.
Survival of the Fittest: So far, I have resisted the urge to play Survival of the Fittest in any of my decks, and not for lack of appreciation of the card. My other green decks so far have potentially been able to use it well, but not really been focused on drawing specific creatures as this deck will likely end up doing, and frankly given my playgroups I frequently interact with, Survival of the Fittest would be at the very top end of the power level and I've found it my obligation to be responsible and shy away from that escalating arms race of power for power's sake. But in this deck, it makes every sense to include Survival of the Fittest—it is going to be running light on answer cards and will want the assistance stretching its few utility cards as far as possible, and will want the help playing more cards to draw yet more cards and will benefit from having access to Survival in order to find the right resources and not sputter out. Some restraint will still be used—Survival of the Fittest with Anger is more dangerous by far than Survival of the Fittest without it, and I'm more interested in finding Genesis with it than I am at finding Anger. I also can't allow myself to put Brine Elemental in the deck, knowing already the high value I am placing on having Vesuvan Shapeshifter in it—I don't want to play Survival just to hyperkill my opponent or narrow the focus down onto just one specific two-card combo that an entire table will crumble beneath, I want to play Survival as a good card instead of the card that makes me an absolute must-kill threat.
Mana Drain: I look forward to seeing just how much I love getting to play with Mana Drain, and given some of the high-cost monsters I am putting to work for me I can't wait to reap the rewards for investing the fifteen tickets to get this online. I don't really want to keep a lot of mana open on the opponents' turns, but when I can expect to get that mana back as an investment in the subsequent turn it's much easier to justify.
Remand: Another low-cost counterspell, this one chosen specifically for its cantrip nature and the fact that it should play politics nicely by being a delay spell instead of a true counterspell. There to steal time, rather than just counter a spell.
Arcane Denial: A second low-cost counter with cantrip attached, to help recoup the investment in such a reactive spell. The hope is to have it in reserve for truly deadly problems like Tooth and Nail or Time Stretch, but my experience playing with the card also tells me I'll just spend it once in a while as an Ancestral Recall when I have the opportunity to counter my own spell that is being targeted by an opponent's countermagic, and this second little bit of utility keeps me happy.
Compulsive Research: Another solid card-drawing spell, to help keep the creature army coming in the face of sweepers. The best option of the bunch for me, given that I can easily part with excess lands and would rather have the right card than just have it as an instant by way of Thirst for Knowledge, and the mana's savings makes me want it first over Deep Analysis even though you can use Deep Analysis twice.
Krosan Grip: If you're going to have answer cards, high versatility or a guarantee of their resolving had better be involved, and when a problem needs solving it's often a Krosan Grip that can come to the rescue where no other card could.
Beast Within: Where Krosan Grip has its guarantee of doing its job, Beast Within just has the flexibility to solve any problem, and with a lower risk than the comparable option of Chaos Warp could provide. Sometimes Chaos Warp flips nothing, and usually it's just a land, but it can definitely be used and not really fix anything at all. I'd rather give them a 3/3, and make up for that fact by once in a while occasionally using it on something of mine instead.
Harmonize: Not much to say here; I want a certain ready flow of card-drawing spells, and between Harmonize and its color-appropriate ancestor Concentrate, it's easier to bias the deck towards getting GG that it wants to spend on its own turn than UU. After all, ideally you'll still hold up at least one blue mana and preferably two afterwards, and that is considerably harder when you start by spending two... in a deck where the dual lands are at least somewhat biased towards R/G. The choice was those versus Deep Analysis and favored Harmonize because I wanted as much bang for my mana investment as possible, and while Deep Analysis can get me one more card, it takes two more mana to even get the third in hand, never mind the fourth. Control decks I play in this format are happy to spend their mana drawing cards, since they're just trying to buy time and then spend it profitably once they have it, but here you are trying to be the beatdown so your card draw requires maximum efficiency.
Fact or Fiction: Like Harmonize, high efficiency card draw. This one's even an Instant, because back in the day they were happy to make Blue as broken as they could, and this one in particular got the acronym “EOTFOFULOSE"... for “End of turn, Fact or Fiction, you lose." Since those bad old days are a decade gone now, very few people actually are used to playing with Fact or Fiction and splitting piles accordingly, so this will often be the one card you wanted most, plus a land, plus something else for free besides, and that's just awesome.
Greater Good: My first time putting Sheldon Menery's favorite card to work in a Commander deck of mine, because this is my first green deck with a significant enough creature base to work with it. When you have pumped Animar as hard as you can but have run out of cards to take advantage of the cost reduction anymore, Greater Good will happily allow you to trade that mana advantage back for cards again, and when recast and followed up with a bunch of the nice creatures you've just drawn he'll be back to providing deep discounts in no time. I've only ever played this one in Limited, but I've been reading about it for over a year now, so I'm excited.
Treachery: I have very few spots for removal, so when I spend one of them I want to get as high a return on that investment as possible. Treachery happens to be free when cast, and not only solves a problem but gives you it to own yourself while you're at it, and there is no better price than ‘free'. I would actually have a second card to go with it if Submerge were to exist on Magic Online right now, since my recent dabblings with Damia to see just how many ‘free' spells you can play in a turn profitably made me realize that at any given Commander table someone has Forests, and in response to a shuffle effect Submerge is just as good as Spin into Myth at nerfing pesky commanders. Unfortunately, Nemesis is not yet a real set on Magic Online, and while a few cards from it have made their way into the online card pool via duel decks (hello, Daze!) Submerge was not one of them.
Time Warp: Working on the deck, it seemed readily apparent that unlike some of my other decks, this one couldn't realistically expect to ever cast Time Stretch. Everyone loves casting Time Stretch, it's true, but I could reasonably expect to be able to cast my ten-drop creatures because of the mana discount Animar offers and never be able to cast a spell of similar cost. Still wanting to be able to fuddle with time at least a little bit, I reached for the less powerful but more affordable cousin, Time Warp, figuring a second turn of beating down and playing land was more than enough advantage to make it worthwhile.
Capture of Jingzhou: See also “Time Warp." A Time Warp by any other name in fact is sweeter, because where Time Warp was four tickets, Capture was a pittance, being legal in so very few formats and all. This isn't even the first time I've put Capture of Jingzhou into a deck, either—my original version of the Experiment Kraj deck had every realistic Time Walk I could play in the deck, including Time Stretch, both of these, and Walk the Aeons for good measure. We'll stop at these two and hope it allows us that extra little edge in getting a crucial extra attack phase in, a powerful thing when your commander is so cheap and can get very big quite quickly... and it's worth noting that all of my best Time Warp and Time Stretch stories involve the times I've cast them targeting other players, usually to help finish off a combo deck player or give an ally of the moment the ability to untap their lands before the combo deck hits their crucial turn, but I've also cast Time Stretch on somebody just because it was their birthday. Time Walks in your deck are only as broken as the way you use them, and we aren't taking infinite turns, just beating down.
Lurking Predators: This is not my first time putting Lurking Predators to work, however, and I look forward to it being every bit as powerful in this deck as it has been in every other one I've put it in. Sure, there's high variance in what I can pull—Birds of Paradise is not exactly something to fear—but a fairly large number of my creatures provide card advantage, and many are quite sizable to boot.
Animar as a beatdown deck will live or die based on how effectively the creatures fit something resembling a mana curve, as well as how readily they start piling on top of each other once a few colorless mana has been shaved off of all their costs. I've found as much room for them as I could, picked quite a few based on their ability to come down for free or just one mana while increasing the size of an Animar with about three counters on it, and worked in a lot of avenues for card advantage within the creature base to help make up for the fact that inevitably I will be deploying a lot of cardboard onto the table, and creatures played on table have a bad habit of dying. A lot.
Birds of Paradise: I wanted as many good cheap accelerators as I could get, but the problem remains that creatures are fragile and biasing towards creatures that put land into play will at least allow you to keep the mana that you spent a card ramping towards. As a one-drop that is able to tap for any color, though, including it will presumably allow me to cast turn two Animar off any two lands I might expect to draw, a fact I couldn't say about any other creature—Noble Hierarch is unfortunately dead to me thanks to her ability to tap for white mana, while Arbor Elf can work neatly with dual lands but does nothing useful if my turn one land is Copperline Gorge, Command Tower, City of Brass or even basic Forest. So just the one one-drop will have to suffice, as it is the only reliable one, and I shall have to be happy with the fact that any game it ever does happen in, I will be all smiles.
Fauna Shaman: The not-as-broken backup copy of Survival of the Fittest. Given the highly creature-centric design of the deck, Survival with legs will still be a happy inclusion, and can do some excellent work solving problems and putting fresh cards in my hand. After so long playing Elves in Standard even when everyone tells me it was probably wrong, I couldn't break Fauna Shaman's heart by taking her plant friend away, so committing to use a Fauna Shaman makes me want a Vengevine to help profit off of it. Considering that much of the plan already involves casting two or more creature spells in a given turn, and wanting recursion effects to recover from board sweepers, my cardboard girlfriend will of course get her way.
Sakura-Tribe Elder: Easy mana acceleration, and a cheap body to help pump Animar. Good before playing the Soul of Elements, or good after, no complaints either way.
Coiling Oracle: Sometimes an even-better Sakura-Tribe Elder when you want to make that third land come into play on turn two, doing that job while staying around. Often enough, not quite as good since the effect is unreliable, but past the first few turns of the game potentially getting an actual spell instead of just a land off the Oracle makes it the better version for sure. Might not always be a ramp effect when I want it to be, but it should always make me happy, and it does the job often enough to be well-liked for doing so.
Gilded Drake: A pure Survival of the Fittest target. The cheapest, surest answer to an opposing creature problem, since taking it for yourself should answer almost any problem. Given that some of the design includes being able to recur dead creatures, this is an especially potent effect to have, since you can search for it quite readily and use it again and again, so long as it dies as creatures inevitably due just as a matter of course in this format.
Imperial Recruiter: Included for the affordable price of three tickets, and the impressive ability to help ramp Animar quickly by bringing a friend to the party. Often that friend will provide card advantage or mana, be it Mulldrifter or Wood Elves, but other key creatures like Forgotten Ancient, Draining Whelk and even Vesuvan Shapeshifter are willing recruits. I look forward to seeing just how good Imperial Recruiter can be, since this is a commander who can put it to the best use.
Elvish Visionary: Another card included based solely on who my Commander is, Elvish Visionary is pretty low-impact either way but works very nicely with building up Animar. Having a lot of cards like this help me get away with the low land count, and the rule is the more card-drawing you add to your deck, the more often you'll play card drawing spell after card drawing spell and never run out of cards in hand. Even the little effects can have a big impact, and the Visionary is just there to be a good card towards the goal of establishing a few counters on Animar without gumming up your draw.
Wood Elves: Cheap with Animar, and in fact actually free once there are already two counters on him... but also in and of itself just a solid mana-ramping creature, since it gets to play with real dual lands. As much a part of the mana base as it is a creature inclusion, it's early ramp plus color fixing all in one.
Yavimaya Elder: Talk about your high-octane cards! Yavimaya Elder is great for pure card advantage, able to put three cards in your hand for the one that he starts as, and alongside the Fetchlands + Crucible engine, the trio of bouncelands and the healthy dose of card drawing it should help for the worse-case scenarios where Animar isn't allowed to run rampant and you have to actually pay retail prices for your cards instead of wholesale. Green decks shouldn't leave without one, and I have no intention of breaking that particular rule at least... no promises on the “red decks play Insurrection, blue decks play Time Stretch" rule.
Edric, Spymaster of Trest: ‘As much card advantage as we can reasonably play,' I seem to remember saying. Edric helps out the opponents too, which is not my favorite thing to do, but since I am focusing on using it very well myself I can hope to get better mileage out of it than anyone else and convert him into more cards more often than anyone else. Add to that the fact that he refuses to reward anyone who should be so cheeky as to attack me instead of someone else, and even as he gives to the opponent, he gives to me as well. I haven't gotten to play Edric yet, he's too new still, but he seems like he would be an ideal inclusion for this sort of deck. Yet another Imperial Recruiter target, for the record, so between the card draw, the Survivals, and the Recruiter, I can expect to find out just how good Edric is very quickly, I should be able to see him in play a lot.
Eternal Witness: Obvious inclusion is obvious. Green decks leave Eternal Witness behind even less often than they leave Yavimaya Elder behind, and adding Regrowth to the list of things Imperial Recruiter can tutor up is yet another awesome reason to add that too.
Taurean Mauler: A solid beatdown creature, with the right amount of colorless mana in the cost if I want to follow up Animar with multiple creature drops. Able to readily get out of hand when left alone, since he often untaps as a 5/5 and then grows +3/+3 or more for each turn cycle. Considering how I've intentionally biased away from red cards as often as possible, so I can ease the stress on the mana-base by favoring just Blue and Green when possible, there's a high water mark to be passed before being considered and the Mauler is far, far above it. If you want to beat down, he's your best buddy.
Forgotten Ancient: Just as beloved as Taurean Mauler and for many of the same reasons, but unlike the Mauler he is able to spread the wealth around. An easy and powerful way to crank up Animar sooner than you think you should be able, and just as capable augmenting the rest of your team profitably if you want to go that route instead.
Masked Admirers: Excellent with Survival active, since you can pay a small premium in order to get back something to pitch to Survival, and excellent just for grinding out games where the opponents drop a couple of sweepers on you as they are wont to do. Card advantage creatures with graveyard resilience are the best sort of answer there is to the very-common mass removal spells that can be expected to be plentiful in this format,
Slithermuse: Finally, a creature I can say I haven't seen all over the place in other Commander decks of these colors! Slithermuse is your walking Windfall, and if you're able to crank Animar a little bit early on can be evoked for just one blue mana to trade in for a whole bunch of fresh cards, either readying the second wave after the first die or maybe just letting you keep playing threat after threat since Slithermuse even puts a counter on Animar as it refills your hand. A peculiar choice but one which can work as part of a greater engine, adding to the deck's resilience and Animar's synergy both at the same time.
Nantuko Vigilante: Morphs are somewhat favored in this deck, simply because with three counters on Animar they are literally free (and put Animar to four, so they're even ramp spells too!). Vigilante is wanted as a Survival target, but there are a lot of similar options that could be chosen—Wickerbough Elder or Indrik Stomphowler depending on whether you want to kill the permanent right away or not and keeping the fatty while you're at it, Nantuko Vigilante if it suits your fancy or Viridian Zealot if you want something that works with Genesis as it does so. Given the special place in my heart for morphs with Animar, Vigilante was the obvious first inclusion, but unfortunately it didn't seem like I'd have a slot to put in a second one so it'll have to be a hard-working vigilante... here's hoping he's more Batman and less Rom, Spaceknight.
Oracle of Mul Daya: Low on the beatdown curve but excellent at providing a good chunk of resources to work with, Oracle sounds like an awesome follow-up card to Animar and provides a bit of ramp and some card-drawing/card-filtering as well, put to good work alongside a fetchland-heavy mana-base. An active Oracle of Mul Daya provides a wealth of resources, and helps draw you into spells instead of lands, so he's part of the plan for how to cast your ten-drops even if things go wrong and Animar can't build up to help with that... and thus an excellent target for both Survival effects and Imperial Recruiter.
Flametongue Kavu: Back to the beatdown side of the deck, finally! FTK is a good aggro play, with lots of power for his cost and the ability to deal a good chunk of damage to an early creature, enough to presumably kill any realistic early play. One of the few ways to interact with creatures, and thus both beatdown-positive tempo play and a key Survival target as well.
Vengevine: Included for graveyard recursion and aggression purposes, making it something of a weird card, but I'd rather limit myself and play Vengevine instead of Anger as my Survival of the Fittest target to provide this sort of effect in that slot. An active Anger makes everyone unhappy with me because I threaten to turbo-kill everyone with Animar's hefty ability to provide a discount that lets you play a lot of sizable creatures in one turn, and I don't want that dirty combo-kill feel when I'm ultimately still playing this game online to have fun and not just win games, so I run with Vengevine because it makes me happy and has been my girl Fauna Shaman's best plant friend for as long as I've been playing them both together. Considering that I was even able to jam Elves at the very last PTQ before Jace 2.0 and Stoneforge Mystic are kicked off the boat for good and only missed out on tiebreakers after going 6-1-1 with it, even if all I'm getting by including Vengevine is warm remembrances of a deck that has served me well even in an ultimately broken format, that's still enough to make me very happy indeed. I suspect Vengevine will do more than that, since I'm playing it with Survival, a mana engine, and a whole lot of card drawing. I won't be happy until it shows up in a Fact or Fiction split, though, I can just tell already. I want to see something new with Vengevine, and that's the only thing I can think of happening here with this deck that I haven't done yet already.
Mulldrifter: How to appease your editor once in a while: play Mulldrifter. I've been knocking Mulldrifter every other time it's come up in this column, but when the evoke cost is U and you put a +1/+1 counter on Animar, it is in fact actually love at first sight. Considering that Mulldrifter was previously a favorite card of mine—I played a Block Constructed PTQ season with Mulldrifter in my Faeries deck to very good (if somewhat weird) effect, I am hoping that this will be the deck that lets me fall in love with Mulldrifter again. If by Mulldrifter I mean Mulldrifter and not Lauren Lee, let's be clear: one should not proposition one's editor in one's articles. And not when said editor has reminded you that perhaps you are now that creepy old guy at Magic tournaments when she announces you'll be participating in the Battle Royale on Wednesday night, by saying that as far as Magic is concerned you are as old as God... sheesh, I didn't realize 31 was so close to death! [I kid because I love! –LL]
After all, as Anthony Weiner recently proved to us, that's what Twitter is for.
Vesuvan Shapeshifter: Another old favorite, this one something of a holdover from the dark days of Emrakul domination, since if you had the foresight to play it first you could break up Emrakul recursion in a way that even Willbender couldn't stop... all while having a morph your opponent assumed to be Willbender itself anyway. Willbender didn't make the grade because I favor it strongly in control decks, and the 1/2 is a terrible beater for a more aggro design, but Vesuvan Shapeshifter had real competition for its slot—the new Phyrexian Metamorph. Morphs are highly favored in this build, but Metamorph is quite capable of costing just three colorless as well, so it came down to how I thought the games would play out. Metamorph is great if I think I'll have a good target to copy already, instead of waiting to hold it for a better thing to duplicate, while Shapeshifter can be dropped for free and won't copy anything as it does so, but can hold off on choosing to copy something until a more sizable threat has come into play. I'm favoring the Shapeshifter part for nostalgia and partly under the assumption that I'll want to wait longer to make the decision but still want to drop it early, getting the best synergy with Animar while also getting the best value for my cardboard investment. Presumably with the price of some of the other cards included, the fact that Shapeshifter was .08 tickets and Phyrexian Metamorph was five is not the reason for the choice... I'm trying to be faithful to the deck's needs, not just my ticket count, it's my own fun and enjoyment I'm investing in after all.
Hystrodon: Another fun Morph, this one can also serve as card-drawing and is a sizable beater while he's at it, though of course ‘sizable' is in the eye of the beholder and after the Titans start to fly fast and furious suddenly a Hystrodon is no big deal to anyone. I want a decent chance of having a morph serve excellent duty as a means to ramp Animar, but am still only picking ones that can do good work on the goals of the deck (beat down, draw cards) regardless of whether I have to pay full price or if Animar is online.
Primeval Titan: It is, in fact, Prime Time. Even more fun for me is the fact that Primeval Titan can search for both hideaway lands and with just a smidgen of help can even activate them too. Primeval Titan has featured in every green deck I've ever played, though, so the bar is high before I am impressed: we know you're good, Primeval Titan, but I will just kind of be bored by your routine awesomeness until I flip a Time Warp off a hideaway land because of you.
Keiga, the Tide Star: Another solid beatdown creature with a lot of colorless mana in its cost, and another profitable way to deal with opposing creatures just as a matter of course. Not really a Survival target, because Gilded Drake steals creatures far more easily and reliably, but this is Commander, who doesn't love a dragon once in a while?
Draining Whelk: The sweet spot for what I am hoping this deck is able to do. The plan is to have a nice bit of beatdown going on, maybe Survival of the Fittest active, a couple of counters on Animar while we're at it... then spend two mana for a Draining Whelk to counter some powerful spell or mass-removal effect, then untap with yet another counter on Animar and yet another sizable threat as well while I'm at it.
Phyrexian Ingester: Another riff on the note Duplicant started, a little bit more expensive but the plan is, with Animar going, price is not really an object... and this is the Duplicant that gets +3/+3. Again, not a lot of ways to interact with creatures here, so the ones I do have had better be potent (and preferably work with my ‘trying to beat people up' plan, while we're at it). A new friend brought to us by New Phyrexia, and one I've talked about a lot but haven't actually gotten to cast yet in a Commander game. Yet another thing to look forward to!
Great Whale: Part of the beatdown dream. A free 5/5 that can even do more, be a Dark Ritual that happens to also be a free 5/5, and part of the overarching plan of dropping an awful lot of power onto the table and refilling my hand somehow, at a greatly reduced price thanks to all those counters already on Animar and which Great Whale even helped to ramp while we're at it. I don't think I've ever seen Great Whale cast as an honest beatdown creature, so I'll be glad to try and clear its name after the attempt Team CMU made to despoil it with Recurring Nightmare abuse.
Palinchron: The considerably less fair version of Great Whale, when bent to my same purposes. After all, Palinchron goes infinite when you get more than its cost plus four out of seven lands, and with just a few counters on Animar you'll see Palinchron not just break even but go infinite. I'm not so interested in infinite, be it mana or what-not, after all this is Magic Online, to achieve infinity requires infinite time and infinite clicking. It can, however, reasonably quickly click not to infinity but to 21, which is a sufficient quantity for Animar to start pushing people out the Door to Nothingness. Oh, and while he's at it, he flies too, so despite having one power less than Great Whale, it's more likely to connect that power to an opponent's undefended face. It's just the ridiculously better version, but both find a happy home here.
Deep-Sea Kraken: So, no, I don't get to suspend for a reduced cost... but it is a very cheap beatdown creature in a similar vein as Taurean Mauler, and impressive size for a low price is worth having.
Myojin of Seeing Winds: Another ‘wayback' inclusion, this time ripping years and years back in time and obscurity to a few terrible decks I thought I loved back in Kamigawa Block. Having played this creature with a straight face at both States and several PTQ's, I can tell you that what you get for that ten mana is a lot. Drawing a card for each permanent you control is a ton of cards, if you were able to cast a ten-mana spell in the first place. Even being able to play this card at all guarantees we're talking about a full grip plus a few extra, and this humble 3/3 is the epitome of what Animar can make possible if you build towards it. I look forward to this being a downright reasonable price, even if it's only with the assistance of Mana Drain instead of Animar firing off on all cylinders, and don't even get me started on what can happen if you use a Regrowth or something and get to do it twice. I might die, of all the card advantage.
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth: Another card-drawing outlet, able to be made all the more affordable by doing what I want to be doing and making life awfully difficult for the opponent. Of all the Eldrazi available to us, it is only Kozilek who tramples, and thus the most beatdown of the bunch... and since he comes with four cards attached to his tentacley goodness, he's the best beloved of the bunch as well when things try and get rolling. Amusingly enough, he's also a Survival target of sorts... if you've been through everything and need a specific effect, but can't afford to pay the three extra for triggering Genesis to do it, Survival for your Eldrazi and Survivaling it away will shuffle your graveyard back into your deck before the Survival search resolves, letting you re-buy any creature card you've already gone through once already. That's just a pure upside, a bonus interaction that happens to exist because of a card I wanted to play anyway, but it's a cute trick while you're at it... he's there to draw four and attack for twelve and be awesome, and if he could only cost six or so while he's at it I'll love him forever.
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur: Another New Phyrexia inclusion I am going to get to try out for the first time, this one has sharp elbows while he provides me the bucket of card advantage I so dearly desire. With the ability to search for him and pay a greatly reduced price to get him, I actually have to worry whether those elbows are too sharp—whether the deck is going to tip over into the realm of too powerful and not enough fun because Jin-Gitaxias draws me a full grip each turn and Mind Twists each opponent for every card they haven't used by the end of their turn. But until I've played with him a few times and proven he's unfun, he'll have a place at the table for me to try him out, and we'll see what we see. It's presumably less unfun than if I had included the Brine Elemental lockdown capability, and that is thing #1 that Brian David-Marshall hopes to get to do in Commander; this guy is just a dude that you can kill or counter if you want to keep your hand after all, and not being able to kill a creature as an instant by the time I'm playing ten-mana spells (or convince someone to give you an assist in so doing) is the kind of thing you should be punished for by not getting to keep your hand after all. I don't think it's too much, but it is something I will have to watch for before it tips over into un-fun; some of my cards are already pushing towards too much repetitive consistency, after all, and if too many games are being decided by Jin-Gitaxias overwhelming an entire table of opponents, then he'll just have to come out. I know he has the potential, but he's innocent until proven guilty.
This brings us to the final decklist, and the breathless anticipation for the online release of the Commander decks so I can finally put Animar through his paces and see what he's capable of alongside some old friends and some new favorites that I think might do the trick:
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Coiling Oracle
- 1 Deep-Sea Kraken
- 1 Draining Whelk
- 1 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Flametongue Kavu
- 1 Forgotten Ancient
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Gilded Drake
- 1 Great Whale
- 1 Hystrodon
- 1 Imperial Recruiter
- 1 Masked Admirers
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Nantuko Vigilante
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Palinchron
- 1 Phyrexian Ingester
- 1 Primeval Titan
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Slithermuse
- 1 Taurean Mauler
- 1 Vengevine
- 1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 1 Wood Elves
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- 1 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Myojin of Seeing Winds
- 3 Forest
- 3 Island
- 1 Mountain
- 1 Arid Mesa
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Cascade Bluffs
- 1 City of Brass
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Copperline Gorge
- 1 Flooded Grove
- 1 Gruul Turf
- 1 Izzet Boilerworks
- 1 Llanowar Reborn
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Mosswort Bridge
- 1 Mountain Valley
- 1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
- 1 Raging Ravine
- 1 Rootbound Crag
- 1 Scalding Tarn
- 1 Simic Growth Chamber
- 1 Spinerock Knoll
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Thawing Glaciers
- 1 Tolaria West
- 1 Tropical Island
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Volcanic Island
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 Crucible of Worlds
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Survival of the Fittest
- 1 Treachery
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Mana Drain
- 1 Remand
- 1 Capture of Jingzhou
- 1 Compulsive Research
- 1 Harmonize
- 1 Preordain
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Time Warp
-- Sean McKeown
-- s_mckeown @ hotmail.com
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