Being as fond as I am of Animar, Soul of Elements, it shouldn’t be surprising that my first ever Commanding Opinion would center around one of my favorite Legendary Creatures created specifically for the Commander format. He remains one of the very few Legendary Creatures in the RUG color combination. As of right now, he is joined only by Intet the Dreamer, Maelstrom Wanderer, and Riku of Two Reflections as potential Commanders for those colors. He will soon be joined by Surrac Dragonclaw from Khans of Tarkir.
Animar has got some cool things going on for a 3 mana creature. He is only a 1/1, which can mean that when he first hits the board, he’s rather fragile. However, right away, you can see that he has protection from white and from black, which protects him from a good chunk of removal spells, including things such as Dreadbore, Path to Exile, Utter End, Vindicate, or any other white and/or black removal spells. What makes Animar truly awesome is his next two abilities. Whenever you cast a creature spell – even if it becomes countered, you put a +1/+1 counter on Animar. It’s an on-cast trigger, so the creature need not even resolve. Plus, for each +1/+1 counter on Animar, creature spells you cast cost 1 colorless mana less to cast.
The most obvious recent development that benefits a deck commanded by Animar is the influx of new Morph creatures with Khans of Tarkir. While his ability does not affect Morph costs, you can play creatures with Morph for much less with his ability. As soon as Animar has three +1/+1 counters on him, you get to cast Morph creatures for free instead of their usual 3 colorless mana casting cost. It makes their Morph abilities much more potent as you’re playing them for only 2 mana, 1 mana, or even free. There are actually quite a few older Morph creatures that see play with Animar, such as the potent Akroma, Angel of Fury, the clone Vesuvan Shapeshifter, or the tricky Willbender. But Morph creatures aren’t the only ones that benefit from having their colorless casting cost requirements lowered. Let’s take a look at the friends that Animar makes through his astounding abilities.
Red, Blue, and Green have some of the most powerful creatures in Magic. However, many of them have high mana costs that make them more high-end bombs in most decks. Animar makes those sorts of creatures available to you much earlier in games and at much lower mana investments. This sort of mana-curve bending is one reason that Animar has over time become one of the most feared Commanders in the format and why he is so quickly targeted at any given table he is played upon.
The most common creatures seen hanging out with Animar are actually fairly staple cards in the Commander format: Eternal Witness, Acidic Slime, and Solemn Simulacrum.
Of all the creatures that are played alongside Animar, Eternal Witness probably gains the least benefit. However, her casting does give Animar one of those nifty +1/+1 counters. Being able to get any card back from your graveyard is good at pretty much any point in the game, however.
Acidic Slime is already very good at 5 mana, and saw Standard play for quite a long time in decks that could play it on turn 3 or 4. In Animar, he can cost as little as 2 Green Mana. Being able to destroy a mana rock, pesky Enchantment, or utility land can really set opponents back. As Animar decks tend to ramp quite a bit themselves, you may not even need the benefit of Animar’s ability to cast him on turn three or four.
One of the fathers of Commander, Sheldon Menery, has said time and time again that Solemn Simulacrum is one of the staples of the format. For 4 mana, he is a 2/2 that searches out a basic land from your deck and puts it onto the battlefield tapped. When he dies, you get to draw a card. That’s a lot of value for 4 mana on a body that can be played in any Commander deck around. Add to the fact that he’s rarely going to be cast for 4 mana in this deck, and he only gets better. He’s one of the creatures in this deck that can regularly be played for free. A Rampant Growth effect that could end up drawing you a card for free is extremely good.
Speaking of ramp, let’s look at some carsd that do just that:
Birds of Paradise is a card that doesn’t typically see a ton of Commander play due to the fact that it’s so fragile. But it can be a turn one play that instantly gives you access to all three of your colors and it’s a creature that can give Animar a counter at any point in the game.
Sakura-Tribe Elder is pretty much a Commander staple, but with Animar he could cost only a single Green mana, and is yet another cheap creature to ramp up the counters on Animar. Plus, his availability in the Conspiracy set makes him even easier to get than he’s ever been.
Oracle of Mul Daya is one of the best cards in this deck. Many people hate revealing the top card of their deck, as it gives away information about draws, but playing land from the top of your deck up to twice per turn is extremely advantageous. If you have Exploration on the field (not required in this deck, but possible), you could even play three lands off of the top of the deck. While Courser of Kruphix has become sexier in competitive play despite being a similar card, the Courser doesn’t give you the extra land drop and its 1GG casting cost isn’t as friendly as 3G for Animar. Playing this for a single Green mana feels very good.
Some people consider Coiling Oracle to be a Blue/Green staple in Commander for any deck running that color combination. For 2 mana, you can get a land from the top of your card right into play untapped. If that top card isn’t a land card, you reveal it and add it to your hand. It obviously combos very well with Oracle of Mul Daya. While it costs GU (Green/Blue) and doesn’t have any colorless mana symbols in its cost, it still is yet another cheap trigger for Animar.
Speaking of card advantage, Mulldrifter has been a popular card since the days of Lorwyn, when it was first released. Evoking it for a Divination (draw 2 cards for 3 mana) always feels good. But with Animar, its Evoke cost could be as low as a single Blue mana, and with 4 counters on Animar, you get the 2 cards and a 2/2 flying body for a single Blue mana. Mulldrifter’s value is at a maximum alongside the Soul of Elements.
Farhaven Elf, Yavimaya Elder, and Wood Elves are all pretty standard ramp cards. The Elves have the advantage of possibly costing only a single Green mana each, but the Elder, despite having a double-Green mana cost is just too valuable to not play. Farhaven (often mistakenly called “Fairhaven”) Elf can grab any of your basic Forests, Islands and Mountains and put them into play tapped. The Wood Elves have the advantage of grabbing basic Forests or your Breeding Pool or Stomping Ground and putting it into play untapped (you still have to pay the 2 life for the “shock” lands, though, if you decide to have them come into play untapped). The Elder is just pure value if you sacrifice him to cycle him and grab two basic lands.
Speaking of tutor effects, Fierce Empath helps you to grab any of your creature cards with converted mana cost 6 or greater. We haven’t quite gotten to them yet, but there are some very powerful ones higher on the mana curve.
Sages of the Anima is one creature that’s often played in Animar that is a bit tricky. The ability of the Sages is that whenever you would draw a card, you instead reveal the top three cards of your library. You put all creature cards revealed this way into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order. Being able to consistently add two or three creatures to your hand is nifty, especially as you don’t run a ton of non-creature spells in Animar. But personally, I think you have to be careful when you play it.
While often played in tandem with the Sages, I would prefer to just play Momir Vig, Simic Visionary by himself. Not only is he famous for being the Avatar of Momir Basic, an extremely popular Magic Online format, but he’s a fantastic commander of his own. While his ability is only effected by green and blue creatures, the majority of your deck will in fact be blue and green creatures.
Here’s what he does:
Whenever you cast a green creature spell, you may search your library for a creature card and reveal it. If you do, shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.
Whenever you cast a blue creature spell, reveal the top card of your library. If it’s a creature card, put that card into your hand.
Talk about some sweet card advantage. You cast a green creature spell and you get a Worldly Tutor effect, and if you cast a blue creature spell you get the top card of your deck if it’s a creature. If that creature is both blue and green, you get both effects. Personally, while the Sages can be better, I think Momir Vig is a better way to get exactly what you need at the time rather than just adding a bunch of creatures to your hand. But that’s my personal opinion. Running both is perfectly fine.
Speaking of card draw…
Garruk’s Packleader is actually a really good card. Not only is he a great Pauper EDH Commander, but he’s really good in a creature-heavy deck. There are a good amount of power 3 or higher creatures in this deck that we’ll be getting to soon. There’s actually another card in Khans of Tarkir very similar to this, Temur Ascendancy, but it’s an Enchantment that grants you a card for a creature entering with power 4 or greater. This is a creature and the floor is only power 3.
Prime Speaker Zegana is a really good Commander and a key component to Vorel of the Hull Clade decks. Since you have creatures in this deck with high levels of power, she’ll often enter with a good number of +1/+1 counters, and you’ll be drawing a number of cards equal to those counters. Add to the fact that her casting cost of 2GGUU is often going to look like GGUU with Animar on board, and you’re talking about solid value.
Clone was actually one of the first cards ever printed for Magic: the Gathering, beginning all the way back in Alpha. It dosen’t see quite the play that it used to in Commander after the Legendary rule was changed to every player being able to control a Legendary permanent with the same name. However, in Animar, with all of the powerful creatures it can copy, it makes sense.
Phantasmal Image is the Clone that’s most often used in Constructed, in Modern, Legacy, and Commander. Being only 2 mana makes its downside as an Illusion not really that important. He always provides a lot of value when he hits the board.
Duplicant sees play in a wide variety of Commander decks due to its completely colorless mana cost. Not only does it serve as removal by exiling the nontoken creature in question, but it also copies that creature’s stats and creature types while also remaining a Shapeshifter. It’s not a true Clone, per se, as it doesn’t copy enter the battlefield abilities, but it has the potential to be cast for free with 6 counters on Animar. Overall, it’s just a solid card in many Commander decks.
Vesuvan Shapeshifter is a repeatable Clone. Not only that, it’s a Morph creature, meaning that its usual casting cost of 3 colorless mana to be played face-down as a Morph creature can usually be free. The idea that it can be flipped face up for only 1U and then be turned face-down again at the beginning of your upkeep in order to then Clone something else is quite extraordinary. Do keep in mind, however, that you only get to Clone the enter the battlefield effects if you pay its regular casting cost. But it’s well worth that initial investment. It may be one of the best Morph cards ever printed.
Phyrexian Metamorph is one of the more versatile Clones in the game, in that it can be cast for 3 colorless mana and 2 life. It can also copy artifacts as well as creatures. Much of the time, he’ll only cost 1 or 2 mana at most, and paying 2 life in Commander isn’t a big deal.
But now the Metamorph has competition from Clever Impersonator from Khans of Tarkir. It costs 2UU, but it can copy any nonland permanent on the board, including Enchantments and Planeswalkers. You can definitely add the Impersonator to any Blue deck, Animar included.
Draining Whelk and Mystic Snake are both creatures with Flash that are essentially counterspells on a body. Draining Whelk is the more expensive of the two, but Animar can make it costs as little as UU. Also, the Whelk gains X +1/+1 counters where X is the countered spell’s converted mana cost. Counterspells that gain value as the game progresses are always quite good.
Mystic Snake requires two colors in its casting cost, but is simply a hard counter for as little as GUU on a 2/2 body. It sees a lot of play in a wide variety of Commander decks, and while it doesn’t have quite the synergy with Animar that Draining Whelk does, it’s still good enough to play.
Glen Elandra Archmage is very good in that she can usually counter two noncreature spells, due to the fact that she has Persist. Having that ability open to you for a potential cost of only U to cast is very strong.
Another major component to Animar is the Cascade creatures, one of which is its own potential Commander.
Bloodbraid Elf is one of my favorite cards in Magic: the Gathering, and for good reason – it’s very powerful. Not only is it a 3/2 Elf with Haste, but she also has Cascade. Considering that she is regularly a 4-drop (2RG) that can be played for as little as RG you can get some serious value out of her. For those unfamiliar with the Cascade mechanic, you reveal cards from the top of your deck until you reveal a nonland card with a lower converted mana cost than the card with Cascade, in this case, anything with converted mana cost 3 or less. There are enough such cards in this deck that it’s worth playing the Bloodbraid Elf. Plus, with Cascade, those cards are counted as cast, meaning that they activate Animar’s counter ability.
Etherium-Horn Sorcerer, which was only printed as a Planechase exclusive in the same deck as Maelstrom Wanderer, While the Sorcerer is technically a 6-drop, it can cost as little as UR with Animar on the board, meaning you’re getting the chance to cast something as high as a 5-drop for free for only 2 mana. Plus the Sorcerer can also be returned to hand for 1UR, allowing to dodge removal and be able to Cascade once again.
Maelstrom Wanderer is a mighty good Commander on his own, but in Animar, if you can cast him for only URG, you’re getting some ridiculous value. Not only does the Wanderer give all of your creatures haste – itself included – but it also Cascades twice. To hit something as high as a 7-drop twice is just an absurd amount of value. He’s worth casting for the full 8 mana, but the cheaper he becomes, the better he gets.
You could run Shardless Agent which is a Cascade creature for 1UG. However, she tends to not hit very much in this deck, so she’ll often send a lot of cards you’d want to have to the bottom.
Speaking of Commanders, two of the other potential RUG commanders are often played alongside Animar…
Intet the Dreamer provides an interesting sort of card advantage engine. Whenever she deals combat damage to a player, you may pay 2U. You get to exile the top card of your library face down. As long as Intet remains on the battlefield, you may cast that card for free. Obviously if Intet leaves the battlefield you lose that card forever. More often than not, you’re probably going to cast it right away.
Riku of Two Reflections is a pretty tricky Commander himself, or himselves… In this deck, you’re basically only ever going to use him to clone creatures for GU. The instant or sorcery spell copy isn’t so necessary in this deck, as you’re only running a few in this deck anyway. Repeatable clone effects are very good, especially with the power level of creatures we’re dealing with.
Before we get to the heavy hitters in the deck, let’s take a look at a couple of other creatures that are well at home in this deck.
Consecrated Sphinx is one of the most powerful cards in Commander, and for good reason – he can draw you a ton of cards. In a deck that can always use the draw power, the Sphinx is a valuable card. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a 4/6 flyer that can cost you as little as UU to cast.
Urabrask the Hidden is not only a Haste enabler but he also forces opponents’ creatures to enter the battlefield tapped. He’s an extremely popular card in the format for that reason, but he’s probably best at home in Animar, where he can cost as little as RR to play. He’s also a 4/4.
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger could probably fit into the “heavy hitter” category but you don’t play him for that reason. Any 8-drop that can be played for as little as GG with the kind of effects that he has is magnificent. He’s a 7/6 with trample to begin with. Also, whenever you tap a land for mana, add one mana to your mana pool of any type that land produced – meaning that it’s essentially a mana doubler. This is great for Animar, since you don’t have access to a card like Mirari’s Wake, as it’s green & white. But not only does it double your mana – it also makes it so that when opponent’s tap lands for mana, they don’t untap for another turn. Ouch.
We should now also talk about the combo pieces in the deck.
The infinite mana combo between Deadeye Navigator and Palinchron is well known in Commander. But infinite mana is not quite as important in Animar as it is in a lot of other decks. The Navigator typically will combo with a lot of other cards in the deck, and considering that it can be cast for as low as UU, it allows for combo potential far more early than most non-Blue Commander decks. Palinchron is more in the deck because of its interaction with Animar’s counters. Once there are four counters on Animar, you can cast Palinchron for 1UU and return it to hand for 2UU after untapping seven lands. On the next cast, Animar will have a 5th counter, allowing you to start an infinite loop for infinite mana. It’s a crazy way to mana fix, but it means that once you have this combination in place, you’ll always have the mana you need.
The other major combo piece in the deck is Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts. Kiki-Jiki can combo with a good many creatures in the deck, so he’s rarely a dead draw. The triple-Red mana cost is a bit restrictive in a three color deck, but his presence is worth it, especially when he combos off with Zealous Conscripts. The Conscripts targets Kiki-Jiki, which then untaps. You can then make an infinite number of Conscripts, until the last one, with which you can then steal a problem permanent. It also is incredibly nice that Conscripts can be cost for as low as R.
You could also play Deceiver Exarch, of course, which can tap things down, but Zealous Conscripts is typically the better play as it’s incredibly useful on its own.
Now onto the heavy hitters…
Artisan of Kozilek is the most common heavy hitter you’ll find in Animar. It does cost 9 colorless mana to cast, but you’re usually going to be casting it for far less. It’s a 10/9 with Annihilator 2, meaning that the defending player that it attacks must sacrifice two permanents! Also, when it’s cast, you may return a target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. It’s obviously the cheapest of all Eldrazi cards, and if you can’t afford Ulamog or Kozilek, you definitely want to at least include this one.
Terastodon can be a devastating card, but it’s even more devastating when you consider how cheaply it can be cast for (GG). While it’s perhaps rare that you’ll be only able to cast it for only 2 mana, the value it provides is worth any amount of reduced cost. It’s a 9/9 for 6GG and when it enters the battlefield, you may destroy up to three target noncreature permanents. For each permanent put into a graveyard this way, its controller puts a 3/3 green Elephant creature token onto the battlefield. Giving away Elephants isn’t all that relevant if you’re destroying powerful enough permanents.
Woodfall Primus fills this role in many decks, but the triple Green in that creature’s mana cost make it a bit clunky for Animar decks.
Khans of Tarkir gave Animar a very strong ally, the Temur Clan Khan, Surrak Dragonclaw. He costs 2GUR to cast, and he’s a 6/6 Human Warrior with Flash that can’t be countered. Not only that, but other creature spells you control can’t be countered either as long as he’s on the board. Also, other creatures you control gain trample. Making sure your creatures stick, especially Animar, is very important. He doesn’t gain trample himself, but most of the other creatures in this deck are big enough to make that element worth it. He provides two elements that this deck was missing – a way to keep creatures from being countered and a way to give creatures trample on a consistent basis. Having a 6/6 with Flash at your disposal is likewise rather handy.
While I’m personally not the biggest fan of Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur in Animar, he does make some sense. It’s 8UU, making it a dead draw for most of the game. He does have Flash, however, and you get to draw 7 cards at the end of each of your end steps. Having something like Reliquary Tower is very helpful in this case. But you really play him for the fact that he reduces your opponents’ hand sizes by seven – so if they don’t have a Venser’s Journal, Spellbook, or Reliquary Tower out, your opponents will be discarding their hands at the end of every turn. He’s not going to consistently make an appearance, but once he does, he can be incredibly crippling.
Avenger of Zendikar is a very powerful card in Commander just for the number of Plant creature tokens he can pump out. For each land you then drop after that, those Plant creatures gain +1/+1. His army of Plant tokens can get rather out of control, and that 7 mana cost is not nearly as imposing with Animar in play.
Tidespout Tyrant might have that cumbersome triple-Blue mana cost, but for 5UUU for a 5/5 flyer that returns permanents to its owner’s hand whenever you play a spell… yeah, it’s worth it. Once the Tyrant hits the board, the game could well be over.
While typically best deployed as Commander of his own deck, Xenagos, God of Revels is actually quite helpful in Animar, especially for giving your larger creatures Haste and doubling its power and toughness for one combat phase. While not a part of many Animar lists, he’s one that I highly recommend as he’s very hard to remove because of its indestructibility. You don’t really care about him ever becoming active as his static ability is enough to play him.
Nylea, God of the Hunt, Purphoros, God of the Forge, and Thassa, God of the Sea are all playable in Animar, but not necessarily incredibly synergistic. Purphoros makes the most sense as he deals 2 damage to each opponent whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control – a great combination with a card like Avenger of Zendikar.
Now, if you can afford them – here are the two major players in the deck:
While their big brother Emrakul won’t be joining in any time soon in the Commander format, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre are both mighty enough on their own to flank Animar in the endgame. Kozilek draws you four cards and has Annihilator 4. Ulamog destroys a target permanent upon entering and has Annihilator 4, plus indestructibility. If either is put into a graveyard from anywhere, it and the rest of the graveyard is shuffled back into the deck.
If you can’t afford either of these cards, there are the less expensive uncommon Eldrazi: Pathrazer of Ulamog, Spawnsire of Ulamog, and Ulamog’s Crusher. The Spawnsire’s second ability isn’t much use in this case, however. The point is to have some big finishers.
Alternatively, you could use Darksteel Colossus, Blightsteel Colossus or both. They are also quite appropriate in this deck.
Other creatures you would or could run in Animar:
- Anger (3R) – yet another Haste enabler, as long as you control a Mountain and Anger is in your graveyard
- Edric, Spymaster of Trest (1UG) – a great card draw outlet that I’ve had varied success with in the deck
- Fauna Shaman (1G) – discard a creature card you don’t want to get one that you do from your deck
- Forgotten Ancient (3G) – stockpiles +1/+1 counters that you can move to Animar
- Indrik Stomphowler (4G) – artifact/enchantment destruction
- Inferno Titan (4RR) – he can provide amazing value if cast for cheap and given haste
- Man-O-War (2U) – simple bounce a creature to its owner’s hand
- Phyrexian Ingester (6U) – a bit high on the mana curve for most decks, but he’s useful removal that gains that creature’s power and toughness
- Primordial Sage (4GG) – draw a card every time you cast a creature spell, on a 4/5 body
- Prophet of Kruphix (3UG) – giving your creatures flash and untapping all your creatures and lands during each upkeep
- Soul of the Harvest (4GG) – draw a card each time a nontoken creature enters the battlefield under your control
- Wonder (3U) – giving all of your creatures flying works wonders
- Wurmcoil Engine (6) – lifelink, deathtouch, 6/6 for 6 colorless mana, and it replaces itself with two 3/3 tokens – just solid value
Some other cards you could use:
- Cloudstone Curio – reuse enter the battlefield effects of your utility creatures
- Domri Rade – can get you some card advantage by adding creatures to your hand
- Garruk Wildspeaker – untapping lands is fun and overrun is even more fun
- Worldly Tutor – because tutoring is awesome
I hope that this primer helps you to be able to construct your own Animar, Soul of Elements Commander deck. There are many ways to build it, with many other combo options that can be added in. Soon, we will be discussing a very different build of Animar, one that will center around the Morph creatures of Khans of Tarkir. Stay tuned for that.
Until next time,
– Elspeth for the Win