So... now that the flurry of excitement and anticipation over the new Commander decks from WotC has died down a bit, people are settling into their new generals, having tried on some of the new Legends to see what fits and what doesn't.
Recently, I posted deck tech articles examining the preconstructed decklists and giving suggestions on how to tune them up, while keeping them fairly in line with the original themes and strategies, at least in spirit. One of the most exciting interactions, for me at least, was between the three Generals of the Mirror Mastery deck. Riku was the official designated driver of that list, but both optional wedge commanders - Intet, the Dreamer and Animar, Soul of Elements - had great synergy with Riku. Animar made your creatures cheaper to cast, freeing up the mana needed to copy those creatures, while Intet let you play all kinds of things for free, also allowing you extra mana for copying purposes.
Of all the decks, Mirror Mastery had the best overall synergy between all three of its generals. And as fun as Riku was - who doesn't love copying spells and creatures? - Animar always intrigued me far more. The most exciting games I played with Riku were those in which I landed an early Animar, and eventually I decided that Animar was just the better general overall.
Adding to that, one of the players in my regular playgroup kinda latched onto Riku as his new favorite commander, so I hardly got the chance to play my own build. This made it plainly clear that the only recourse was to switch tracks and morph my deck into an Animar build, which was something I was considering anyway.
I am still in the process of fine-tuning the deck, of course (I rarely leave any list alone, as tinkering and tweaking is one of the biggest draws of Magic to me). But, I feel like the list is very playable already, and truth be told it's as close to "complete" as it will ever likely be.
That said I am very interested in hearing ideas - Secret Tech, or just obvious stuff I somehow overlooked - so feel free to chime in on the Comments section.
Enough chatter, here is the list:
Animar, Soul of Elements
Sphinx of Uthuun
Avenger of Zendikar
Momir Vig, Simic Visionary
Simic Sky Swallower
Artisan of Kozilek
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Ulamog of the Infinite Gyre
Rite of Replication
Pattern of Rebirth
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Simic Growth Chamber
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Novijen, Heart of Progress
Let's start with the Mana base first, get it out of the way. My article on Riku already stated that colored mana was a huge priority and colorless-producing lands should be kept to a strict minimum. That hold true here, as well. Animar only reduced the colorless portion of the CMC of your creatures, so often times you will be subjected to some very stringent color requirements. I did the best I could with what I had, but obviously just run the best dual lands you can get your hands on. I chose the Ravnica duals to go along with the Zendikar fetches, the Shadowmoor/Eventide filter lands (absolute rock stars here), and the vivids and bounce-lands already included with the deck.
An odd thing about this deck: I've been playing three-colored EDH decks almost exclusively for years now, and I've always run EVERY Ravnica bounce-land in every deck, and never have I once doubted that this was wise. But, for the first time ever, I find myself disappointed with them in this deck. If I stick one Turn 2, it's great, but I absolutely hate seeing them any later. It's crucial that we stick Animar on turn 3 consitently, so we need the smoothest mana-base possible, but if I'm forced to drop a Ravnica bounce-land on turn 3 instead of casting Animar that loss of tempo almost guarantees that instead of setting the pace, I'll be playing catch-up.
That said, simply throwing in three more Basics doesn't seem any better. If I had the old ABUR dual lands, I'd definitely run those instead of the Rav Karoos (as opposed to "in addition too"). But alas, we work with what we've got.
The only colorless-only producing land I'm running is Novijen, Heart of Progress. I'm still not sure how good this will be over time, but it has come in handy once or twice. Oran-Rief is much better: cheaper to use, taps for green. But both are pretty key here. Dropping Llanowar Reborn one turn one or two is pretty good.
As you can see, I only have three utility lands that aren't strictly there for color-fixing, and all three of them are capable of putting +1/+1 counters on Animar. The only other ones I'd consider are High Market, Maze of Ith, and Reliquary Tower (I've had a few games where getting 10+ cards in hand was easy). But as stated, I'm minimizing the colorless producers, so Novijen amusingly gets the nod in favor of those usually-superior lands.
As for the non-Creature stuff, we obviously have a limited number of slots available, so competition for these spots is very fierce - we might make room for janky, underpowered pet cards in the Creature category, but in these slots, we need every single spell to have impact.
And what's more, most of them need to synergize with our creature-centric strategy.
For mana rocks, I've gone with the Signets as they produce colored mana. Sol Ring, while it's true that it is near-universal in EDH, has been cut for the simple fact that dropping a Turn 1 Sol Ring doesn't help us cast Animar any sooner than turn 3, nor does it fix our mana to ensure a turn 3 Animar. Unless it is followed by a Signet, that is. So I've opted for reliability and consistency over speed here. We can turn to creatures for our true mana acceleration.
Other artifacts included are those that best enable strong creature-based tricks. Mimic Vat, for instance, is one of the best EDH cards printed in recent memory, and it thrives in an environment laden with creatures. Lightning Greaves are fantastic for helping to protect our general, and also plays well with a number of other creatures, especially the Titans. Akroma's Memorial is just a big, splashy and fun way to win games out of nowhere. Turning your Primeval Titans into Akromas is scary, indeed. Birthing Pod is a neat way to find the right creature at the right time, and it also has the benefit of making your Mimic Vat even more broken. Whatever you sac to the Pod can be Imprinted on the Vat!
Planeswalkers are not necessary, but I happen to like them. Haste is essential to the success of this deck, and Sarkhan Vol does a fine job of showing up Fires of Yavimaya. He is far more potent for only a single mana more. Garruk is also a superb supplement to any creature-intensive strategy, fixing and ramping mana with his +1, while winning games with his -4. Finally, Jace the Mind Sculptor is simply too powerful to pass up, but he is subtly more relevant that you'd think here. Typically, in EDH, I find his -1 ability of unsummoning a creature to be near worthless, but in this deck it's actually more relevant. I still prefer to just Brainstorm every turn, but removing a pesky blocker, or even bouncing one of our many ETBF-effect creatures is wonderful too.
Overwhelming Stampede and Rite of Replication are hold-overs from my Riku build, but obviously are well-suited to a deck packed to the brim with strong, powerful Creatures. Either spell can simply win games on the spot, even without Riku to copy them.
This deck packs a small host of powerful Enchantments. Pattern of Rebirth is a fun way to dissuade an opponent from killing Animar or some other important creature, but even if they do, Pattern will see that you have the means to punish them for it.
Greater Good is one of the most powerful draw-engines ever printed, and it's not even Blue, or Black! This deck will fold to one or two Wrath effects, if you don't find a way to keep your hand full. Greater Good lets us convert creatures that are about to die anyway into more cards with which to rebuild.
Of the remaining three, it's tough to say which Enchantment is the most powerful. Wild Pair likely gets the nod, though. I carefully tweaked and adjusted the creature selection of this deck to ensure that virtually every creature on the list has at least two or three Wild Pair targets, many of them with utility effects. This makes Wild Pair a repeatable tutor effect as well as a card-advantage engine. For every creature you play from your hand, you wind up with an extra one in play.
Equilibrium benefits from having many, many creatures to cast and the reduction in cost Animar gives. But the nice thing is that it allows you to recycle and reuse your ETBF utility creatures like Mulldrifter and Acidic Slime over and over, while adding counters to Animar all the while.
And who could resist Warstorm Surge? A Pandemonium that only works for you? Very enticing, very powerful in a deck capable of dropping several large creatures every turn.
Vengeful Rebirth and Prophetic Bolt are also hold-overs from Riku. Prophetic Bolt is just a pet card of mine, and I am loathe to cut it from any deck that can play it. That said, it's been awkward the few times I've drawn it - often, it is correct to just cast more creatures instead of a middling burn spell. However it can provide us with a creature when find our hand full of lands and non-creature spells.
Vengeful Rebirth is a necessary evil, though. Eternal Witness is really our only other form of graveyard manipulation, so the Rebirth stays in for now.
For my card-draw spells, I chose two: Momentous Fall and Tezzeret's Gambit. The Gambit is a good way to dig for creatures while proliferating to "cheat" an extra counter onto Animar. It's nice if you have a Planeswalker out, too, but mostly it's just here for the Animar interaction. Momentous Fall is clutch, as one of our few sources of life-gain, and it happens to be a powerful draw spell too. I don't recall ever getting fewer than five cards and five life from it, and at Instant speed, no less! Eat it, Blue mages.
Rounding out this section is Primal Command and two oddball removal spells in the form of Pongify and Beast Within. URG is a bit short on options when it comes to hard removal. Red has burn, but most of it is underpowered in this format of fatties. Beast Within and Pongify both have the benefit of being very versatile answers with an almost laugable "drawback" of granting a 3/3 token to replace whatever was destroyed. It should also be noted that either card can be used on one of your own creatures or permanents to draw and extra card if you have Garruk's Packleader on the board. Sure, circumstances would have to be grim for that option to be appealing... but what counts is that it's there at all, and sometimes drawing one single card can be the difference between winning and losing.
Primal Command is just a good, all-around utility spell, but you'll almost always want to choose to search for a creature as one of your modes. The others all have their uses and are great to have, but tutoring for creatures is powerful in this deck - so much so that I'm strongly considering adding Worldly Tutor. This deck rarely does anything before casting Animar, unless it's to drop a Signet. Casting Worldly Tutor on turn 1 or 2, to ensure you have a cheap creature to cast immediately after Animar hits is crucial.
Brutalizer Exarch, a card I pretty much poo-pooed in my EDH set review of New Phyrexia, is also worthy of consideration here. It's already won over many fans who think I judge it too harshly. Perhaps I'm right about it in general, but this is one deck where I think it can shine. My only gripe in the first place was that it was a tad too expensive for what it did. Animar makes him cheaper, so casting him for 4 mana seems perfectly fair while casting him for 1 seems downright broken...
And that brings us to the real heart of the deck: Creatures.
Creatures are Animar's lifeblood. Without them, there is no compelling reason to have him as our general, or cast him at all. And the more creatures you cast, the better Animar is.
But, even with Animar's cost-reduction ability, we need to ensure that we have plenty of lands in play and of the right colors. No small amount of thought went into my selection of mana-fixing and ramping creatures. As a rule, I generally loathe playing creatures that generate mana themselves, such as Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves. When an opponent casts a Wrath to get rid of some giant threat, it kinda blows when they also happen to take out one or two of your lands in the process. No, creatures like Wood Elves and Silverglade Elemental have proven far more effective and reliable: loosing the creature itself doesn't also cost you a "land".
But for this deck, I feel the need to make an exception to this rule. Oh, we still want Wood Elves and many more land-fetchers, but there are three mana-makers that I feel are worth the risk: Lotus Cobra, Bloom Tender and Alloy Myr. You can follow a turn-two Bloom Tender with a turn-three Animar, and still have 3 mana open to drop Wood Elves, Mimic Vat or an evoked Mulldrifter. Bloom tender lets you untap and cast a Primeval Titan (or his Frost or Inferno brothers) on turn four.
Lotus Cobra, I shouldn't have to sell you on. If it stays in play for two turns, it's highly likely you'll have made your two-mana investment back plus interest. Any longer and it'll probably win you the game.
The third one might raise some eyebrows. Alloy Myr is, in the world of EDH, a strictly worse Darksteel Ingot, a strictly worse Coalition Relic. Hell, in most decks, the little Myr would be worse than Mind Stone. But, I chose him for this deck because he can easily - very easily - be a free Coalition Relic. Casting him puts a counter on Animar, so even if he doesn't live to tap for mana, he still likely made one or two creatures cheaper for you. Trust me - he might seem like rubbish, but he has been golden for me here.
These three fine specimens are supplemented by: Coiling Oracle (the only creature in the deck that CANNOT benefit from Animar in any way, yet is still undisputedly worth running), Wood Elves and his bastard stepbrother Farhaven Elf, Solemn Simulacrum, Silverglade Elemental and of course the Primeval Titan himself.
Solemn Simulacrum is probably not surprising - he sees a massive amount of play in the format. What makes him such an interesting choice, for me, is that this is the only deck with access to green mana that I play him in. Why? Well, because when I have access to green I can easily pay three mana or even two for what Solemn does for four mana. Green just has better options. I chose him here, though, for the same reasons as Alloy Myr - he can be free to cast, netting me a land AND another Animar counter. Also, he fits a sweet spot in the mana curve for Birthing Pod purposes, but he's also a crucial piece in the Wild Pair puzzle, Pairing up with Mulldrifter, Momir Vig or other such goodies.
Fierce Empath and Fauna Shaman are fantastic creature-tutors (very important!). If an unwary opponent happens to allow you to Fauna Shaman up a Momir Vig, well... I like your chances.
Eternal Witness is a big fat "DUH!" here.
Forgotten Ancient is also pretty obvious, but he lets you cheat savagely, basically granting Animar counters for EVERY spell played, yours or your opponents, creature or not.
Hystrodon, Garruk's Packleader and Primordial Sage are all phenomenal card-drawers. Packleader might look odd, but the single G in the top right means you can easily cast him for one mana, and follow him up with something big enough to trigger him. Hystrodon can be played face-down as a Morph for free, if Animar has three counters or more.
Primordial Sage has an awkward P/T total, so Silklash Spider was the only suitable mate I could find him for Wild Pair, but I was needing something to ward off Akromas and various Dragons. The Spider is already good enough, but the fact that I needed a Wild Pair mate for Primordial Sage is also compelling.
Spearbreaker Behemoth is another way to keep the deck from rolling over and dying to a single Wrath of God. Simic Sky Swallower is just a "good stuff" inclusion in most decks, but here he can also Wild Pair for one of your three Titans.
Duplicant and Phyrexian Ingester both supply us with some much-needed creature removal, and such a purpose similarly suits Flametongue Kavu and Spitebellows. Or, of course, the dread Bogardan Hellkite.
Aethersnipe can temporarily remove an obstacle and is much more cost-efficient at 3 mana or less.
Phyrexian Metamorph does whatever you need it to do. Simple.
Mulldrifter, Consecrated Sphinx, and Sphinx of Uthuun keep your hand full of stuff to do.
And, finally, we come to the biggest and the meanest - the Eldrazi. I liked Artisan of Kozilek enough to keep him around - this deck doesn't have access to Karmic Guide or Beacon of Unrest, so we make do with a nine-mana version of Karmic Guide. Except you won't often need to pay all nine mana. Sometimes, with a little luck he can even be free. As can his big, Legendary brothers Kozilek and Ulamog. Emrakul should have no trouble staying banned now that Animar is here.
I've also considered It That Betrays as well, but without access to stuff like Grave Pact and Barter in Blood, he looses some of his appeal. Then again casting him for half-price or even less gains him back some of that appeal...
True story: playing a three-way game with this deck, I had managed to get Animar high enough that I ended one turn by dropping Ulamog for zero mana. Passing the turn, one of my two opponents played Evacuation (as no one was fortunate enough to have real Wrath handy). So I began my next turn with no permanents in play, save my lands. I ended THAT turn by casting Ulamog for 1 mana, meaning I cast 10 creatures before him. Without Alloy Myr, Solemn Simulacrum and Phyrexian Metamorph - all cast for free just to get another counter on Animar, this turn would not have been possible.
Yes, the deck is weak against Wrath-heavy decks, but you can easily subvert that by using some counter magic - I'd suggest Venser and Draining Whelk for starters. Also, you can supplement the Spearbreaker Behemoth with other Indestructibility-granters like Eldrazi Monument.
It might also be fun to see if you can go "all creature" and cut everything else to make room for more creatures. I don't know if that's wise or if it'd win many games, but if you're fortunate enough to play in a group that tends to undervalue Wrath effects, you could very easily make them regret that evaluation, playing a deck like this.
Well, that's all for now. Enjoy!