Spicing up your FNM since 2012!

Show Me Your Generals: Animar, Soul of Wit

Last week I wrote about the multitude of Animar Commander decks I have seen played at the Encounter since I started playing the format, specifically mentioning that I would someday like to take a look at the Animar, Soul of Elements deck piloted by Ian Evans. For those of you who don’t know Ian, he is one of the few Encounter regulars packing about as many Commander decks as myself (my recent Glissa deck put me back in the lead). His Commanders include staples like Animar, Gisela, and Hanna, as well as less-used Commanders like Empress Galina (in merfolk tribal, no less!) However, even when his Commanders is one of the more popular legendary creatures in the format, his decks regularly surprise me with odd card choices and neat interactions. As such, I would like to spend today’s column talking about the aforementioned Animar deck or, as I like to call it:

Before I delve into Ian’s deck, I would like to correct one mistake made in last week’s article. It was brought to my attention that there have actually been six Animar decks at the Encounter since I started playing Commander. I failed to mention the Animar deck piloted by Mark Benning; unlike all the other decks, his is a hyper-competitive Animar combo deck that seeks to win as early as turn three and can do so with great regularity through the use of mana dorks and bounce creatures like Shrieking Drake. I apologize for missing Mark’s deck and thank him for reminding me that I do have people reading my articles.

All right, enough durdling, let’s dig in!

He That is Giddy Thinks the Animar Deck is Fair

Here is Ian’s list:

Gatecrashers

Creatures (36)
1x Æ ther Adept
1x Aphetto Alchemist
1x Archivist
1x Cinder Pyromancer
1x Cunning Sparkmage
1x Deadeye Navigator
1x Dwarven Patrol
1x Goblin Medics
1x Goblin Sharpshooter
1x Horned Kavu
1x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1x Laboratory Maniac
1x Malignus
1x Man-o’-War
1x Marsh Viper
1x Mist Raven
1x Mystic Snake
1x Nephalia Smuggler
1x Nettle Sentinel
1x Nightshade Peddler
1x Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
1x Pestermite
1x Primeval Titan
1x Prodigal Pyromancer
1x Prodigal Sorcerer
1x Razorfin Hunter
1x Rootwater Hunter
1x Seeker of Skybreak
1x Shocker
1x Shrieking Drake
1x Suq’Ata Firewalker
1x Tandem Lookout
1x Thornwind Faeries
1x Veteran Explorer
1x Vulshok Sorcerer
1x Zealous Conscripts
Lands (36)
1x Dryad Arbor
1x Evolving Wilds
1x Faerie Conclave
3x Forest
1x Ghitu Encampment
1x Gruul Turf
1x Hinterland Harbor
6x Island
1x Izzet Boilerworks
1x Kazandu Refuge
1x Misty Rainforest
5x Mountain
1x Mountain Valley
1x Reliquary Tower
1x Rootbound Crag
1x Rupture Spire
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Shivan Oasis
1x Simic Growth Chamber
1x Treetop Village
1x Tropical Island
1x Vivid Crag
1x Vivid Creek
1x Vivid Grove
1x Volcanic Island
Enchantments (15)
1x Aluren
1x Arcane Teachings
1x Earthcraft
1x Equilibrium
1x Fertile Ground
1x Fire Whip
1x Fires of Yavimaya
1x Furious Assault
1x Hermetic Study
1x Intruder Alarm
1x Kyren Negotiations
1x Presence of Gond
1x Quicksilver Dagger
1x Splinter Twin
1x Squirrel Nest
Instant (1)
1x Artifact Mutation
Artifacts (8)
1x Basilisk Collar
1x Gorgon Flail
1x Gruul Signet
1x Izzet Signet
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Quietus Spike
1x Simic Signet
1x Sol Ring
Sorceries (3)
1x Hull Breach
1x Regrowth
1x Restock

There’s a lot to take in with a deck like this. First and foremost; Ian tends to build ridiculously silly combo decks, and this list is no exception. A number of competitive-caliber combos exist in this list; Aluren, Niv-mizzet-Curiosity, Kiki-mite, Nest-craft, and Intruder Alarm-Presence of Gond are all represented. What makes this deck particularly spicy is how Ian chose to supplement these combos; instead of adding a mass amount of tutors and card draw, he filled the remaining slots with pingers (creatures that tap to deal 1 damage to target creature or player), an ability that synergizes very well with things like Tandem Lookout and Basilisk Collar.

I spoke last week of the importance of redundancy in Commander. Unfortunately for Ian, there exists such a thing as too much redundancy, which is where I think his list suffers most. Too many of his cards do nothing because other cards in his deck do the same thing, only better. Hermetic Study seems like a pretty terrible card when your board is Cunning Sparkmage, Suq’Ata Firewalker, and Cinder Pyromancer! As such, let us cut the wheat from the chaff and see if we can’t improve on Ian’s framework.

The Play’s the Ping

First up, the lands:

Dryad Arbor – For the thousandth time, no! There is no potential upside to this card that would lead me to include it over a basic Forest, as Wrath effects are some of the most commonly-played spells in Commander.

Replacement: Forest

Faerie Conclave, Ghitu Encampment, Treetop Village – Man lands are great when the name of the game is equipment. Unfortunately for Ian, the name of the game in his deck is enchantments, which do not work well when the creature disappears at the end of turn. There is not enough inherent power in any of these lands to warrant their inclusion.

With that said, Raging Ravine is actually good on its own, as it can grow to ridiculous proportions with little to no effort. As for the other two slots, a basic Forest and a Sulfur Falls should fit the bill.

Replacements: Forest, Raging Ravine, Sulfur Falls

An Overflow of Good Converts to Bad

Well, that was easy; now it’s time to discuss some spells!

Arcane Teachings, Fire Whip, Hermetic Study, Kyren Negotiations – All of these cards grant the ability “Tap: This creature deals 1 damage to target creature or player.” The problem with this is that most of Ian’s creatures already have this ability, making all of these cards unnecessarily redundant. The only reason Quicksilver Dagger doesn’t make the list is that it draws Ian a card upon activation.

Speaking of drawing cards, enchantments like Ophidian’s Eye work very well in a deck full of creatures that tap to deal damage. As of right now, there are five cards that grant the “Ophidian effect” to other creatures: Curiosity, Keen Sense, Ophidian’s Eye, Snake Umbra, Tandem Lookout. Seeing as Ian is already running one of these, we can easily include the other four as replacements for the four cards we’re taking out!

Replacements: Curiosity, Keen Sense, Ophidian’s Eye, Snake Umbra

Fertile Ground – I understand that having the appropriate mana can sometimes be an issue when one does not have access to a ton of fetch- and dual lands, but putting yourself down a card just to fix your mana feels wrong in an Animar deck. This slot could easily be something that wins the game rather than a do-nothing enchantment!

What better way to win the game than Triumph of the Hordes? With Marsh Viper getting the axe due to the exclusion of the pinger-granting enchantments, Ian still needs a way to win with a lulz-y poison kill, and casting Triumph of the Hordes onto a board full of pingers is a great way to instantly kill one’s enemies!

Replacement: Triumph of the Hordes

Furious Assault – The low cost of this spell almost makes me want to keep it in, but the fact that it can’t target creatures ruins the card for me. Barring shenanigans with Aluren and Shrieking Drake, I just don’t see Furious Assault being very good on its own.

Warstorm Surge, on the other hand, is an excellent card! It still allows for the combo kill with Aluren and Shrieking Drake while having the added benefit of being able to hit creatures on the way down, making Deadeye Navigator that much more deadly. The fact that it doesn’t trigger for your opponents is why it gets the nod over Pandemonium.

Replacement: Warstorm Surge

Restock – Restock is a fine card that has passed its prime. Back when it was first printed, a double Regrowth was the bee’s knees. Since its printing, cards like Eternal Witness, All Suns’ Dawn, Praetor’s Counsel, and Creeping Renaissance have outclassed Restock in terms of inherent power. This is not to say that I think Restock is unplayable in Commander; I just think there are other cards that should be considered before it.

That being said, Ian is playing cards like Horned Kavu and Man-o’-War, and that screams synergy with Eternal Witnes. There is rarely a green deck I build that doesn’t want Eternal Witness; it is the most powerful Gravedigger variant ever printed and a Commander staple for good reason!

Replacement: Eternal Witness

Combo is a Fearful Thing

Now that we’ve discussed the spells, it’s time to get to the meat of Ian’s deck: the creatures!

Aphetto Alchemist, Seeker of Skybreak – I appreciate the potential of these cards in tandem with cards like Archivist and Niv-Mizzet, but I don’t think the upside of drawing an additional card outweighs the cost of having a do-nothing creature that takes a turn to really impact the board. If Ian is in the market for an effect like this, he should look to non-creature cards to provide the benefit.

Enter Mind Over Matter, everyone’s (least) favorite combo-enabler. With Niv-Mizzet and Mind Over Matter in play, the world is your oyster, and everyone else gets to eat shit waffles. The fact that we’re adding redundant combo pieces like Snake Umbra and Curiosity make Mind Over Matter that much more potent in this list, turning every pinger into a possible three-card combo kill.

Thousand-Year Elixir is suspiciously absent from Ian’s list. Granting haste to activated abilities in a deck that relies on activated abilities to win seems like a no-brainer to me, and having the ability to untap any of Ian’s creatures is just icing on the deliciously evil cake.

Replacements: Mind Over Matter, Thousand-Year Elixir

Dwarven Patrol, Goblin Medics, Marsh Viper, Nettle Sentinel – All of these creatures are grouped together due to the fact that they all lose their ability to do anything by virtue of removing the pinger-granting enchantments from the deck. Even with said enchantments in the deck, most of these cards have little potential upside to warrant their inclusion. Commander is a 99-card singleton format, so each card has to impact that board state in some way or at least progress your game plan toward its logical conclusion. When these cards are good, they’re only marginal, but when they’re bad, they’re the worst cards one could possibly hope to draw.

As such, let us replace them with the pingers that Ian seems to have missed when building this deck! I noticed in perusing Ian’s list that he tried to keep all of his pinging creatures at converted mana cost of three or less, probably to synergize properly with Aluren. However, he failed to include Vithian Stinger, Zuran Spellcaster, and everyone’s favorite Weird, Gelectrode!

In addition, I think Ian would do well to include Frostwielder in his list. Though it costs four mana, the ability to exile a creature is very powerful in Commander, and putting a Basilisk Collar on Frostwielder is almost like having Swords to Plowshares on a stick (and we all know how good Swords to Plowshares is!)

Replacements: Frostwielder, Gelectrode, Vithian Stinger, Zuran Spellcaster

Malignus – Let’s be perfectly clear: I love Malignus. There is nothing funnier to me than having a Flayer of the Hatebound in play when I cast Cauldron Dance to bring this monster back from my graveyard and smack someone in the face for death. However, outside of combo shenanigans, I just don’t like this card for what it is; a giant vanilla beater. Even though I’ve suggested Ian add Warstorm Surge to his list, his opponents’ life totals are irrelevant to his overall game plan, so Malignus seems unnecessary to his strategy.

What is necessary, however, is Soul of the Harvest. Having already suggested Mind Over Matter and taking note of the fact that Aluren and Laboratory Maniac are both in Ian’s list, Soul of the Harvest can easily give Ian a win out of nowhere when Shrieking Drake is involved, combo killing the table by having Ian draw out his deck and drop Laboratory Maniac for the win. The fact that it is a 6/6 trampler just makes it all the more appealing.

Replacement: Soul of the Harvest

Mist Raven – Bounce creatures are great with Animar, as they provide a way to grow your Commander with relative ease. The problem with Mist Raven, however, is the fact that Ian already has a number of three-or-less costed bounce creatures to auto-win with Aluren, and Mist Raven simply doesn’t do enough for its cost.

Enter Venser, Shaper Savant. He’s a Mist Raven with all upside, bouncing creatures, lands, spells; whatever Ian wishes! Moreover, Venser can combo with Deadeye Navigator to Capsize-lock opponents in the late game.

Replacement: Venser, Shaper Savant

Nephalia Smuggler – In a dedicated blink deck, Nephalia Smuggler is the conductor of the train to Value Town. In Ian’s deck, he’s a do-nothing card that can combo with Intruder Alarm at a very inefficient price. He does what Deadeye Navigator does for a higher cost and with less upside.

Since we’ve already added Venser to the list of “unfair things to do with Deadeye Navigator,” we may as well suggest Draining Whelk to complete the trifecta. With a few counters on him, Animar will insure that the whelk is able to be cast with reasonable efficiency.

Replacement: Draining Whelk

Shocker – In a world where every Magic player doesn’t think like a five-year-old, I hope that Shocker gets the respect he deserves. As for us; we live in a world where everyone giggles when you “give someone the Shocker.” Ian was running the Shocker to combo with the enchantments that grant the pinging ability as a combo with Niv-Mizzet but, since we’ve removed said enchantments, his role has become null and void.

Deceiver Exarch is suspiciously absent from Ian’s list. He already has Zealous Conscripts and Pestermite to combo with Kiki-Jiki and Splinter Twin, so adding the last of the “ha-ha-I-just-killed-you-with-a-broken-combo” creatures should be a no-brainer!

Replacement: Deceiver Exarch

Veteran Explorer – I love me some Veteran Explorer. In Legacy, he lets you cast Grave Titan! In Commander, he makes everyone love you when secretly you’re just ramping up to that Primeval Titan with a Rite of Replication to kick the next turn. The problem, then, is that Ian doesn’t want to ramp in his deck. His is a combo deck; as such, he should leave the exploring to the dedicated ramp deck.

In the message sending me his list, Ian mentioned that he wanted to find room for Guilded Lotus in his 99 for the combo potential. For those of you who don’t know, if you have a Deceiver Exarch bonded to a Deadeye Navigator with a Gilded Lotus in play, you have infinite mana of any combination of colors. Here’s how it works:

1.)    Tap your Gilded Lotus for UUU.
2.)    Pay 1U to flicker Deceiver Exarch/Pestermite/Zealous Conscripts. (You have U floating.)
3.)    The creature re-enters the battlefield, untapping Gilded Lotus. (You have U floating.)
4.)    Tap Gilded Lotus for any color of mana. (You have XXXU floating.)
5.)    Pay 1U to flicker Deceiver Exarch/Pestermite/Zealous Conscripts. (You have XX floating.)
6.)    Repeat steps 1 – 5 ad infinitum.

For every two activations of Gilded Lotus, you net two mana of any one color. What’s even better about this combo is that it instantly wins Ian the game with Soul of the Harvest in play, as he draws out his entire deck, then casts Laboratory Maniac before drawing into an empty library. You know; for the lulz.

Replacement: Gilded Lotus

Fairwell, Fair Foresthead

Here is the updated list:

Gatecrashers v2.0

Creatures (34)
1x Æ ther Adept
1x Archivist
1x Cinder Pyromancer
1x Cunning Sparkmage
1x Deadeye Navigator
1x Deceiver Exarch
1x Draining Whelk
1x Eternal Witness
1x Frostwielder
1x Gelectrode
1x Goblin Sharpshooter
1x Horned Kavu
1x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1x Laboratory Maniac
1x Man-o’-War
1x Mystic Snake
1x Nightshade Peddler
1x Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
1x Pestermite
1x Primeval Titan
1x Prodigal Pyromancer
1x Prodigal Sorcerer
1x Razorfin Hunter
1x Rootwater Hunter
1x Shrieking Drake
1x Soul of the Harvest
1x Suq’Ata Firewalker
1x Tandem Lookout
1x Thornwind Faeries
1x Venser, Shaper Savant
1x Vithian Stinger
1x Vulshok Sorcerer
1x Zealous Conscripts
1x Zuran Spellcaster
Lands (36)
1x Evolving Wilds
5x Forest
1x Gruul Turf
1x Hinterland Harbor
6x Island
1x Izzet Boilerworks
1x Kazandu Refuge
1x Misty Rainforest
5x Mountain
1x Mountain Valley
1x Raging Ravine
1x Reliquary Tower
1x Rootbound Crag
1x Rupture Spire
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Shivan Oasis
1x Simic Growth Chamber
1x Sulfur Falls
1x Tropical Island
1x Vivid Crag
1x Vivid Creek
1x Vivid Grove
1x Volcanic Island
Enchantments (15)
1x Aluren
1x Curiosity
1x Earthcraft
1x Equilibrium
1x Fires of Yavimaya
1x Intruder Alarm
1x Keen Sense
1x Mind Over Matter
1x Ophidian’s Eye
1x Presence of Gond
1x Quicksilver Dagger
1x Snake Umbra
1x Splinter Twin
1x Squirrel Nest
1x Warstorm Surge
Instant (1)
1x Artifact Mutation
Artifacts (10)
1x Basilisk Collar
1x Gilded Lotus
1x Gorgon Flail
1x Gruul Signet
1x Izzet Signet
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Quietus Spike
1x Simic Signet
1x Sol Ring
1x Thousand-Year Elixir
Sorceries (3)
1x Hull Breach
1x Regrowth
1x Triumph of the Hordes

Basically, I’ve cut all of the redundant enchantments for an effect of which I think Ian’s deck was sorely in need (card draw) and added some more protection in the form of countermagic as well as adding the game’s most ridiculous combo piece (Mind Over Matter) which should have been in his deck in the first place.

Until next time, I leave you with this message: go out there and kill everyone with poison!

Editor’s Note: Shortly after this article was uploaded, David Malafarina was picked up by the US government and sent to Guantanamo Bay for conspiracy to poison everyone in the world.

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