I got my start playing Magic early in the summer of 1994. Revised had just been released, and the local comics/collectables shop was enjoying a relatively meager flow of product. The store itself was pretty typical for the time: a few weathered tables covered with Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks and half-painted miniatures crammed in next to the rows of comic book long-boxes that took up most of the available floor space in a dusty little repurposed storefront that was a thrift shop in a former life.
The game was starting to catch on, so if you wandered into the store at any given time there were usually a few people ripping open booster packs and playing games on whatever surface was available.
These were the “wild west” years for Magic; back then, if you asked someone to trade, they’d reach into their backpack for a beat-up starter deckbox and hand that to you to go through. No one had a clue about binders (back then, the average collection was probably less than 300 cards) and with no Internet, you were just as likely to be wowed by a Juggernaut as you were a Shivan Dragon.
If you sat down (or stood next to a box of comics) to play a game, you’d riffle-shuffle your unsleeved pile ofÂ 120-odd cards and hope the ante off the top was one of your Shanodin Dryads and not the sole copy of Birds of Paradise.
That’s ‘sole copy’â€”as in ‘the only one in the entire town.’
I vividly remember the first time I opened a pack of cards. I eagerly shredded the plastic wrap on a starter deck, discarded the tiny rules book, and began leafing through the contents with reckless abandon:Â
In the middle of the deck, it started to get interesting.
Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]. Wait, who plays black and white together? I already have lands that give me black and white mana. This is pure garbage! Let’s hope it gets better from here.
… And then, there it was:
Micheal, I was pretty excited about your Mayael the Anima list when I saw it. Giant creatures have grabbed my attention since the moment that Force of Nature fell out of the starter deck and into my hands. Things have gotten bigger, better, and cheaper since then, but the emotional weight remains the same for me. That feeling of awe when an 8/8 trampler hits play still comes to the surface every single time I witness it.
Commander is also the hallmark format for giant creatures. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard fans of the format say that for all of the power of the card pool and all of the broken combos that can happen, the purest joy they still experience is from getting into the red zone with a giant beater. I agree completely with that sentiment.
Now, there are plenty of examples of Mayael decks out there, but there’s usually a consistent thread among most of them:
- Play Mayael.
- Activate ability.
- Dump giant creatures into play.
And that’s all good and well, but let’s examine the facts before going forward:
First, Mayael’s ability is expensive. You have to invest twice as much mana into activating her as you do to play her. The important thing to note here is that this creates a serious line in the sand as far as value goes; you actually lose value finding a card like Baneslayer Angel and break even on Primeval Titan. (The minor Tutor effect notwithstanding…)Â
This forces you to look to converted mana costs higher than six to try to glean some value. This isn’t always a bad thing, until your opening hand looks like this:
Threat density is very important as a result when building around Mayael.
Second, her ability is a limited blind activation. Sure, it’s a good idea to work on adding cards such as Worldly Tutor and Sensei’s Divining Top that allow top-of-library manipulation, but without the true Tutors, you’re rolling the dice in a big way. My personal Mayael list actually came apart after consecutive instances where I was forced to blind activate her, and the result was something like three lands, a Sol Ring, and Yavimaya Elder. Hello, frustration!
(Related note: My personal experience is that KMC Matte sleeves are the best ones on the market. They tend to stick together slightly more than either Ultra Pros or Dragon Shields do, meaning you get a much tighter cluster when you launch your uncooperative deck across the room. Less time searching for cards underneath furniture equals more time to play games, after all.)Â Â Â
Finally, Mayael is a relatively small body with no haste and no protection. This is not particularly confidence inducing when you’re relying on her for your primary strategy to work.
What I’m essentially saying is that I tend to gravitate toward a different angle of attack with Mayael. In my experience, she’s far better playing an ‘icing on the cake’ role rather than one that puts her front and center strategically.
I want to build a deck that can gain value from her but stand alone just fine without her.
After a slight massaging of your mana base, I’m going to work on making some changes that will accentuate the function of the deck as it applies to Mayael (giant creatures!) while also working to make it a little smoother and independent of commander reliance by cutting down some of the more egregious casting costs. I also want to focus on the main strategy (beating down with giant creatures!) by cutting back on some areas (too much removal for an aggro deck!) and working to actively increase others (more giant creatures!).
Did I mention giant creatures yet?
This section of your list reads like a ‘who’s-who’ of Commander staples, Micheal. The overall count seems okay, but there are some head-scratchers in and around the necessary inclusions you do have.
Cut: Raging Ravine, Wasteland, Vesuva
Mayael really wants to tap out every turn to play giant creatures. Ravine enters the battlefield tapped and forces you to tie up five mana producers in order to swing with a 3/3 creature that grows marginally bigger with time. That doesn’t help your cause.
Wasteland seems like a bit of an auto-include in this list. This deck wants to be the aggressor, and Wasteland is more of a control element. Strip Mine is in the deck for any must-solve problems (such as Maze of Ith), so this is an easy cut.
By comparison, Vesuva is an auto-include here. I don’t see any lands that are so worth their slot that multiples would be better at the expense of another “enters the battlefield tapped” option in an aggressive deck. I get the feeling that this is here just because it’s one of those cards that is considered to be a Commander staple.
To that end, you can quote me on this next part:
There are no Commander staples. Period. There are cards that make a deck better, and cards that don’t. End of list.
Cut: Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Marsh Flats, Misty Rainforest, Scalding Tarn, Verdant Catacombs
That’s a whole lot of off-color fetchlands. Mana fixing isn’t a terrible thing, but going this deep makes even minor land destruction potentially game ending when you run out of actual lands. This deck is already in pretty good shape as far as mana fixing goes, and I would imagine that when you make references to proxies, there are at least a few in here. Let’s make you honest.
You know what decks like this hate? Insurrection. Blatant Thievery. Slave of Bolas. Nothing is worse than finally getting Avacyn, Angel of Hope into play, only to make your opponents’ stuff indestructible instead of your own.
These offset the fetchland removal. I also can’t remember the last time I played any of the core set/Innistrad dual lands tapped, so these are a great bargain in the color-fixing department.
Basic lands round out the replacements, and I’ll be sure to give you good reason for the change later on down the list.
I like a lot of what I see in this section. In some areas there’s an excess of redundancy, and others are missing altogether, so there is some room for improvement.
When was the last time that anyone not playing mono-green ramp hard cast Darksteel? It’s a great card, but not one that is going to see play unless Mayael gets lucky, which you shouldn’t rely on. By the time you play this card fairly, you could have already dealt thirty damage and gained thirty life with Wurmcoil Engine.
Blightteel, on the other hand, just isn’t any fun period. Losing to poison tends to leave a bad taste in the mouths of most players anyway, but cheat this in early enough with Mayael and take someone out with one shot, and I guarantee the rest of the table will target you immediately. And again in the next game. And the next.
I’ve never seen either one of these two hit the battlefield and elicit a positive reaction from other players. They’re big creatures that prevent other players from playing the game to one degree or another, and that is prime criteria for drawing retribution from the rest of the playgroup.
Cut: Deathless Angel
This is a card that dares you to figure out a good way to gain value out of it and then laughs in your face when it leaves you short of enough white mana to protect it long enough to make it back to your turn.
Avacyn and Spearbreaker Behemoth have already got your bases covered here. I’m slotting something better.
I’m looking at four of the best mana-producing creatures in the game. Two of them give you card draw as well.
Now, maybe I’m just sick of seeing them so regularly. Maybe I forgot to take my meds this morning. In either case, I’m positive that I can find four replacements that actually fit this deck better by providing equal or better function. And I’m talking “strapped to some big Mayael-able bodies” function at that.
No, I’m not kidding. Please don’t click the “back” button.
… Still here? Good!
This deck is practically begging for ways to give creatures haste and draw more cards. While neither of these two meet Mayael’s ability criteria, both offer undeniable effects that are incredibly synergistic with the rest of the creatures that do, and there are a lot of those in here.
Add: Sun Titan
A touch of extra recursion for wayward lands and Eternal Witness never hurts.
Top-notch removal utility on a big flying body. A definitive, repeatable answer to token decks and big fliers alike, Scourge is criminally underplayed in Commander.
Add: Greater Gargadon
Another nod to all-important sacrifice outlets; Gargadon protects your interests from thievery and then comes down as a hasty 9/7 body. 100% Mayael approved when coming off the top five as well.
Let’s break these four down one-by-one and compare them to what they will be replacing.
Valley Rannet is our big, bad Sakura-Tribe Elder replacement. Both effectively do the same thing: finding a land on turn 2; it’s just that Rannet finds Taiga, while Elder is relegated to finding basic lands instead.
I will concede that everyone’s favorite Snake Shaman does offer acceleration as well as mana fixing, but Rannet is a huge beast. That’s way better in the end game off of a Mayael activation. Â Â
Next up, Wood Elves comes down on turn 3 and accelerates things ahead one Forest. It then sits around being a 1/1. If it shows up in the five cards from a Mayael activation instead, it makes a grumpy sound, rolls over, and pulls the comforter up over its head.
One of the new additions from M13, Mwonvuli Beast Tracker trades the acceleration slot for a very relevant Tutor that works hand-in-hand with Mayael for the same mana investment. I have cut down on the potential targets a bit, but the critical ones are still in place, and I’m comfortable that the trade in synergy is worth the slot. (I’ve still got some cards up my sleeve in the mana fixing category yet, so no worries on losing a slot there.)
Krosan Tusker may not dump the basic land it finds directly into play like Solemn Simulacrum, but it draws you the same card and gets going a turn earlier. It also provides the extra large body that Mayael wants to see. Functional upgrade.
Finally, Drumhunter has more synergy with the deck than Yavimaya Dryad does. I’m okay with a slightly higher casting cost here because the slightly inferior mana acceleration comes with the potential for drawing some serious cards in this deck. Adding draw is a top goal for me in order to keep from running out of gas in the late game, and Drumhunter is essentially a one-card draw engine that excels at this task.
I’m not quite done adding creatures, so I’ll be stealing slots from this neck of the woods where applicable. As I mentioned above, dedicated aggro decks have the luxury of running lighter in the “answers” department due to the fact that they want to be the problem (and not the solution) to begin with. There’s also the fact that overdoing it on board sweepers in a deck like this makes it really tough to keep your own pressure on the board, especially without an increase in haste enablers to up the ‘instant value’ quotient.
Micheal, you’re engaging some serious overkill in the mass removal area. Seven dedicated Wrath effects is just too many for an aggro deck, especially one that is light on other needed effects like haste and card draw.
Three effective copies of the same card, and it’s a single card that gives you a single creature back at sorcery speed. It seems like a good deal to get that Baneslayer Angel back for the low price of four mana, but a single Withered Wretch just ruins your day. I’m also not a fan of telegraphing my plays that heavily unless I’m getting extended value for my troubles.
I’m also going to chop out anything labeled as a proxy 100% of the time. I’m still bitter about a game I lost involving a giant pile of Plains in front of an opponent not all that long ago. As it turns out, my declared attack would have been lethal except for the fact that the fifth Plains down had the words “Kor Haven” illegibly scribbled on the front in pencil. My creature took a nap instead of bringing lethal damage, and the unprotected counterattack killed me.
In case you’re wondering, it’s possible to rip a lightly modified Plains into 127 pieces. Â
Correction: 128. Waitâ€”make that 132.
Cut: Path To Exile, Oblivion Ring
Again with the excessive removal! Here’s the thing:
This deck is the aggressor; make no mistake about it. There’s always some amount of removal necessary to handle problems. After all, what happens when a Blazing Archon or Propaganda shows up and keeps you from getting into the red zone? Those are problems that prevent you from executing your game plan.
Answer: you run them over with Godsire tokens.
The point is that you want flexible answers like Beast Within and Chaos Warp, not fragile aura-based ones or creature-specific removal that you already have covered. These two miss the cut as a result.
Cut: Reiterate, Wild Ricochet
What are you doing if you’re sitting back, untapped mana at the ready, just waiting to spring these cards on an unwitting opponent?
Not playing giant beaters.
Cut: Worldly Tutor
The single hardest cut in the list. Worldly Tutor is the definition of synergy in a deck focused on Mayael the Anima. However, I’m not crazy about a one-shot helping hand when I have an option that will work with the big creatures this deck creates to provide synergy all the way down the stretch instead.
Add: Cream of the Crop
Full disclosure: Sylvan Library was a contender for this slot as well. In the end, I’m fine skipping on the early card draw that Library provides (and the synergy of Worldly Tutor) in order to slot a card that will keep setting up cards for Mayael to cheat into play with every creature cast. The payoff is long-term draw and top-of-deck sculpting, which is exactly what this deck needs. I’ve even been completely satisfied dropping Cream of the Crop onto the battlefield on turn 2 and following up next turn with a Yavimaya Elder.
With these additions, I’m fully satisfied that the deck can reliably provide haste to its creatures, as well as toss in some combat enhancements that will push their potency over the edge as well. I’m most excited about the Amulet, which reasonably impersonates haste in the same way that Winding Canyons does while also allowing you to get a really early jump on sneaking your giant creatures into play.
Add:Â Disaster Radius
If you’re going to run Wrath effects, run ones that leave your creatures standing and level everything else. If there’s a deck that will be able to reveal a monster-sized casting cost to get the most out of Radius, it’s this one.
Add: Reap and Sow, Boundless Realms
I like the flexibility of Reap and Sow; it pulls any single land from your deck (a la Expedition Map or Primeval Titan) and picks up the slack from the exiting Wasteland without losing a slot in the deck.
Boundless Realms is another new M13 toy that I’ve been dying to find a good use for, and this seems like the perfect spot. The explosion of mid-game mana production is exactly what Mayael needs and exactly when she needs it, and this is the main reason I added the basic lands that I did earlier on. Realms is a guarantee that you’ll be able to cast anything you draw into for the rest of the game.
Add: Genesis, Deadwood Treefolk
Add: Momentous Fall, Harmonize
I’m filling out a few of the last available slots with some increased card draw. Harmonize is pretty much the gold standard for decks that run green but not black or blue, and Momentous Fall is the same standard for big creature decks. The shot of life gain and huge card draw potential made this an absolute all-star in my old Mayael deck, and I personally guarantee results or your money back.
(If it doesn’t work for you and you do want your money back, my name is spelled S-E-A-N space M-C-K-E-O-W-N…)
The last two slots in the deck are the tech slots. People will inevitably want to kill off your superior creatures, and Pattern is a fantastic way to force a serious decision on your opponents. Is Baneslayer or Meglonoth really that scary considering what’s probably just around the corner?
Better yet, this is the best card to slap on Mayael herself before you can produce the mana to fire off her ability. She’ll stick around for sure.
Finally, Warstorm Surge. Double the firepower of every creature that you can bring onto the battlefield. Removal and a solid finisher in one angry red package. This is a new favorite of mine.
Summing It All Up
Here’s the final list:
- 1 Krosan Tusker
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Karmic Guide
- 1 Greater Gargadon
- 1 Deadwood Treefolk
- 1 Scourge of Kher Ridges
- 1 Hamletback Goliath
- 1 Twilight Shepherd
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 1 Drumhunter
- 1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
- 1 Godsire
- 1 Mayael the Anima
- 1 Meglonoth
- 1 Valley Rannet
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 1 Rampaging Baloths
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Terastodon
- 1 Garruk's Packleader
- 1 Primeval Titan
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Moldgraf Monstrosity
- 1 Avacyn, Angel of Hope
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
- 1 Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
- 1 Strip Mine
- 4 Forest
- 1 Wooded Foothills
- 3 Plains
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 1 Kor Haven
- 3 Mountain
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Savannah
- 1 Plateau
- 1 Windswept Heath
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Winding Canyons
- 1 High Market
- 1 Krosan Verge
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Sacred Foundry
- 1 Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
- 1 Temple Garden
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Rootbound Crag
- 1 Sunpetal Grove
- 1 Arid Mesa
- 1 Mystifying Maze
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Homeward Path
- 1 Clifftop Retreat
- 1 Kessig Wolf Run
- 1 Gavony Township
- 1 Slayers' Stronghold
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 In the Web of War
- 1 Wrath of God
- 1 Pattern of Rebirth
- 1 Quicksilver Amulet
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Reap and Sow
- 1 Nature's Lore
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Skyshroud Claim
- 1 Rout
- 1 Farseek
- 1 Harmonize
- 1 Akroma's Memorial
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Cream of the Crop
- 1 Martial Coup
- 1 Marshal's Anthem
- 1 Disaster Radius
- 1 Momentous Fall
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Warstorm Surge
- 1 Ranger's Path
- 1 Boundless Realms
Here is the complete list of additions:
|Mwonvuli Beast Tracker||$0.49|
|Reap and Sow||$0.49|
|In the Web of War||$0.75|
|Cream of the Crop||$0.99|
|Scourge of Kher Ridges||$1.99|
|Urabrask the Hidden||$2.99|
|Pattern of Rebirth||$3.99|
|Miren, the Moaning Well||$5.99|
This shopping list puts you in the low $70 ballpark, which seems pretty reasonable since you’re packing original Revised dual lands already. To help you out, you’ll receive a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com for your participation in this week’s “Dear Azami.” You should be able to knock out a pretty large chunk of this list with that alone.
Micheal, I hope you enjoy the changes. This deck looks like a blast to play, and it really takes me back to where I started. Commander is the place where giant creatures can still excel, and it’s nice to see them getting a proper tribute in the modern era of combo and control. I hope some of these changes help to make the deck a little more potent and resilient in your metagame.
Before I head out, I want to let all of you know that I’ll be doing a little something special in a few weeks time in honor of Gen Con. I’ll be in Indianapolis for the entire extended weekend (August 16tg through August 19th), doing my best to see the sights, meet some good people, play some Commander games, and possibly even get to show the world how terrible I am at drafting as well.
The other thing that I’m going to be doing is a “live” “Dear Azami!” I’ll announce some more details as Gen Con gets closer, but I’ll be looking to find one lucky player who isn’t afraid of a camera (or someone tearing down their deck in person) to let me work a little magic Azami-style on the spot. I’ll send you away with a reworked decklist, award you the usual $20 StarCityGames.com store credit, and feature the process in the next edition of “Dear Azami. “
Stay tuned for further details!
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Craig’s Ragnar and Kaalia of the Vast decks or Dan’s Glissa, the Traitor deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear AzamiÂ includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com store!
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of “Dear Azami” here, in the Article Archives!Â Feel free to follow Sean on Facebook… sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week’s column at the end of the week! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page here, or check out his Commander blog — GeneralDamageControl.com!