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Animar Reconstructed

See how Sheldon rebuilt and revitalized his Animar, Soul of Elements Commander deck after cannibalizing it to build Prime Speaker Zegana.

A few weeks back, I went through the cannibalization of Animar to build Prime Speaker Zegana. Animar isn’t a commander that you can let sit idly by, though. I had planned to do the actual work a few weeks down the road, but an afternoon came free. I decided to go for it, getting the deck put together right before leaving for the shop.

There wasn’t that much left over to start building with. There were the eight lands and six cards with red in them: three Mountains, Kessig Wolf Run, Rootbound Crag, Stomping Ground, Taiga, Volcanic Island, Bloodbraid Elf, Shivan Wurm, Stingmoggie, Maelstrom Wanderer, Warstorm Surge, and Chaos Warp. Then there were the things that Animar helps cast cheaply (or ideally for zero): Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Darksteel Colossus.

Finally, there were two Animar-specific cards, Vorrac Battlehorns (to kill with commander damage) and Melira, Sylvok Outcast (to keep -1/-1 counters off of Animar). A few of the proliferate elements—Tezzeret’s Gambit, Steady Progress, and  Fuel for the Cause—were also along for the ride, as much out of laziness (I love taking cards out and building decks and hate taking them apart and putting them back) as out of desire to take advantage of Animar.

I had to decide whether Primal Surge was staying in Prime Speaker or coming with Animar. In the end, I decided that I wanted more spells in Prime Speaker and more permanents in Animar, so it made the trip.

The major decision was theme. What direction to take the deck in? Obviously, I didn’t want to repeat the "+1/+1 counters matter" of old Animar/new Prime Speaker. I clearly wanted to take advantage of Animar’s ability. My experience with the previous Animar build was that it fell on its face without the commander. While it was epic when it was working, there were a number of games in which I just kind of sat around, especially after a few Wraths took out the otherwise difficult-to-kill Animar.

I wanted to tighten up the mana curve a little while still going big. I also decided that while I have many decks that have cards which do things when they enter the battlefield, I didn’t really have anything specifically built around that theme. The only deck in which I was playing Cloudstone Curio was The Mimeoplasm. As soon as I made that realization, I was off to the races with the bounce/ETB theme.

I broke down the elements of the deck into four general categories: the bounce engine, the ETB creatures, ways to take advantage of Animar, and "top of the library." 

The Bounce Engine

There are four cards which make up the basic engine: Cloudstone Curio, Crystal Shard, Equilibrium, and Stampeding Wildebeests. I suppose Shivan Wurm and Venser, Shaper Savant also count. Other cards I considered were Umbilicus, Stampeding Serow, Roaring Primadox, and a whole suite of gating creatures.

Man-o’-War makes a little more sense in this deck than it does in Prime Speaker, so I imagine that it will eventually come on over. Now that I think a little more on it, I’m pretty sure that Man-o’-War and Primadox make way more sense in this deck. I don’t want to be a complete slave to the theme, but I do want to take solid advantage of it.

From my original draft, Wilderness Elemental can go for Man-o’-War, and I’ll decide later what Primadox comes in for. Martin Cornelius Frydsholt Lausten in the forums came up with the awesome idea of Lorescale Coatl to go into Prime Speaker, so there’s one change. Brad Tolzien suggested the very cool Sage of Fables, so I think that’ll be the other, although I may try to complete the theme with Simic Charm.

The ETB Creatures

Even if the rest of the deck were the same, this part is where 100 people might build the deck 100 different ways. Many of the creatures here are ones I just love to cast, so it’s a personal taste thing. These include ramp guys, utility guys, and control elements. The point is casting them multiple times over the course of a game.

Bloodbraid Elf: While not accurately an ETB dude, Bloodbraid Elf cascades into some of the utility creatures and all of the noncreature artifacts. One huge thing I like about it is that it will take away cards that would be a disappointing draw later in the game.

Civic Wayfinder, Sylvan Ranger, Wood Elves, and Yavimaya Granger: Simple ramp or extra land draws. The Granger is janky because of the echo, but we’ll run with it out of a spirit of recapturing the game’s ancient days.

Eternal Witness: Argues with Yavimaya Elder for best green three-drop ever.

Flametongue Kavu: How is it that I’m not playing one of my favorite creatures of all time in any other deck? That’s just crazy.

Garruk’s Packleader: He might not do anything when he enters the battlefield, but with the relatively light card draw in the deck, he’ll be a star when other stuff comes in.

Inferno Titan: Post-Gatecrash, he came out of Kresh to make room for Rubblehulk, and he’s too good to just leave lying around. Probably also qualifies for the "taking advantage of Animar" part.

Invader Parasite: I’ve always liked this creature for exiling offensive lands. It’s unlikely he gets used to dome the mono-colored deck repeatedly. I’d rather be getting rid of Academy Ruins, Cabal Coffers, and the like.

Llanowar Empath: Also plays into the library control below.

Man-o’-War: We’ve already talked about him as a late addition, and the more I think about it, the more I like the idea.

Masked Admirers: Card draw is card draw. I wonder if maybe Elvish Visionary might be better in the spot for mana cost reasons, but we’ll run the Admirers for now due to its flexibility.

Mystic Snake: The mack daddy of creatures that go with Cloudstone Curio. It’s not original, but boy is it effective.

Solemn Simulacrum: Obv.

Sylvan Primordial: Also a fatty.

Thragtusk: We all know how good this card is and recently saw it do extremely well at the Pro Tour. The fact that you get the Beast when you bounce it makes it perfect for the deck.

Uktabi Orangutan: The deck needs artifact destruction. I don’t want to play Acidic Slime in every green deck despite the fact that it might be better here than in the seven other decks that I have it in. Maybe I’ll find which one of them has enough destruction to put the monkey into and put the Slime here.

Venser, Shaper Savant: The tempo advantage this card can create is amazing.

Taking Advantage of Animar

The most obvious way to take advantage of our commander is casting giant stuff for next to nothing. One of the ways we have to do that is casting some cheap creatures with Animar in play. Many of the creatures in the previous section do that for us. Nothing feels better than casting a creature for zero, like you can do with Duplicant when you have six counters on Animar. Apocalypse Hydra can get out of hand pretty quickly. In previous builds, I’ve had him be 32/32 for just two mana. Here is why I included these fatties with no or low colored mana requirements:

Artisan of Kozilek: Especially insane if Animar has counters and I can start bouncing the Artisan. I don’t have any sacrifice outlets that let me put stuff in the graveyard on command, but if my stuff isn’t getting killed, I’m doing okay already.

Darksteel Colossus: Indestructible. Potentially for free.

Garruk’s Horde: We’ll talk a little more about him in the next section. He’s still a 7/7 trampler.

It That Betrays: This was in Thraximundar for a while, but the mana of that deck didn’t really let it get cast that often. Seems more likely here. People love to sac their stuff for many reasons. It will certainly slow down other folks’ Reveillark shenanigans.

Keiga, the Tide Star: This may have also come over from the other build. Even without a sacrifice outlet, it’s such a great rattlesnake.

Memnarch: Casting Memnarch for zero leaves mana up to steal stuff. Copy and control is a pretty popular theme in the format, which is why I don’t run it much, but this just seemed like the right opportunity.

Rubblehulk: One of my favorite new cards from Gatecrash, I’ll confess that I might be too fond of it. Certainly attacking with something, using the bloodrush, and Regrowing it with Artisan would be cool.

Spearbreaker Behemoth: This guy is in there mostly as a way to protect Animar since direct damage and board wipes are the ways to deal with it.

Sylvan Primordial: No, it’s not getting emergency banned.

Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre: Again, casting an Eldrazi for nothing is cool. Like most of the folks in our group, we don’t often attack with it unless someone is just getting crazy.

Warstorm Surge: It’s obviously not a dude, but I put it here because its primary use is to deal piles of damage from the cheap fatties. I’ll talk in a bit about its use with Primal Surge.

Worldspine Wurm: Okay, I’m starting to think I might want a sacrifice outlet for this deck.

Wurmcoil Engine: I took this out of Karador because it was never the six in my Birthing Pod chain. It’s too good to not go into a deck.

There is another class of cards that take advantage of Animar: the morphs. It’d be neat to find some room for Willbender, but for now the always-worthwhile Mischievous Quanar, early-format superstar Nantuko Vigilante, and Root Elemental are sufficient.

I’m also going to put Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir in here. I’m not a big fan of locking folks down for most of the time, but he gives all my guys flash. I’d put Yeva in this spot if she wasn’t limited to just green.

Top of the Library

Getting to cast stuff off the top is basically card draw. There aren’t so many surprises in the deck that I’m concerned about people knowing what’s coming. Garruk’s Horde and Future Sight both do effectively the same thing because there are so many creatures in the deck. Scroll Rack will help me sculpt both hand and top of library. One could argue for Sensei’s Divining Top and Oracle of Mul Daya as well. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I try to not have the same suite of cards in every deck, and I feel pretty Oracle and Topped out. If you are going to build this from scratch and want to play both of those, I suggest taking out Coalition Relic for Top and Djinn of Wishes for Oracle.

Controlling the top of the library also suggests Lurking Predators, which is once again a victim of being in lots of other decks. If you want to play it, Asceticism seems like the most likely candidate for removing. It’s there mostly for Animar protection (and regeneration since damage is one of the things that kills him), so you might be able to live without it.

Other Stuff

Slithermuse: A criminally underplayed card in the format, bouncing it just seems kind of crazy since it’s a leaves-play trigger. Card draw is one of the things the deck is weak on, and this can draw lots of them for you.

Maelstrom Wanderer: Double cascade is good enough. Repeating it is even better. Folks often forget that it also gives all your guys haste.

Garruk Wildspeaker: Mana acceleration for the most part, but the obvious danger of Overrun later on.

The Primal Surge Conundrum

First, a rules note. Unlike Living Death or Genesis Wave, which put everything onto the battlefield all at once, Primal Surge does them sequentially. This means that you have to pay attention to the order things came into play because some of them might trigger off of the others. You still don’t put the triggers on the stack until after Primal Surge has finished resolving, but the conditions by which things trigger will be met.

For example, if you Surge in order of Garruk’s Packleader, Inferno Titan, Thragtusk (and then hit a sorcery), you’ll draw two cards because Packleader sees the other two. If the order is Inferno Titan, Thragtusk, Packleader, you won’t draw anything. Primal Surge does however lead to the weird situation that you can target something with a triggered ability even if that thing wasn’t in play when the ability triggered—because you don’t choose targets until the ability goes on the stack. This means that if Venser is the first thing that comes in, you can choose anything that comes in after it to bounce. It’s weird, but that’s the way it works.

The actual conundrum with Primal Surge is whether I want to keep playing Warstorm Surge with it. You kind of have to get lucky by getting Warstorm Surge early in the process for it to be really broken, but with only three Instants and one other sorcery in the deck, you’re going to end up with lots of permanents. Odds are you’re unlikely to whiff, and even if you get Warstorm Surge late, as long as it’s before Rubblehulk you’re going to kill someone. It’s pretty close to an "I Win!" card (although it’s arguably two cards with Warstorm Surge), and I’m not a fan of ending a well-fought game on the "plop" note.

There’s a little bit of excitement in "What will I get?" but you know you’re getting something. It’s mostly just the order in which you get it. When it happens, it feels like a violation of "Build casually/play competitively." Then again, resolving a ten-mana sorcery probably should run you a decent chance of winning the game—but I’d hate for games to just be a race to ten mana. I’m interested to hear if you think I should dump Warstorm Surge or not. Or is Primal Surge itself the offender, especially in light of the rest of the deck’s construction? Or will it happen so infrequently that it doesn’t matter much?

Another realization I came to is there’s kind of an infinite combo in the deck. It’s a four-card combo: Animar with at least three counters, Cloudstone Curio, and two morphs. Cast the first morph for free, then cast the second morph for free, triggering Curio, putting back the first. If you’re uninterrupted, rinse, lather, repeat, and you have arbitrarily large Animar. Add Warstorm Surge for infinite damage. Like with Primal Surge, I don’t think it’ll happen that often, especially since there’s no way to assemble the elements other than just drawing them. We’ll see after some play of the deck, and if I don’t like the taste of it, I’ll change it up.

I’ve already played the deck twice. The first time, I ended up getting out some dudes but didn’t have any of the bounce tricks going. I got one kill on someone who had taken a bit hit from someone else and then forgot Animar’s protection from Black. I then died to the crack back. The second time, I resolved Primal Surge on an already-crowded board state, somewhere between fifteen and twenty turns into the game. I went about fifty cards deep, with Warstorm Surge being somewhere in the middle. Rubblehulk came after, and Maelstrom Wanderer and Champion of Lambholt were in the mix, so I had over 100 damage to spread around—killing everyone (and creating the aforementioned crisis of faith).

I look forward to playing the deck more. Primal Surge questions aside, it’s a load of fun and explores a cool, if not completely original, theme. It has interesting card interactions and for the most part is a deck that you have to do some thinking to get the most mileage out of.

Commander