Animar, Soul of Elements was my first ever commander when I was introduced to the format, and I chose Animar because I wanted to test just how competitive and viable a nearly-all-creature strategy could be. This version of Animar is a committed combo deck that is designed to abuse the general’s discount ability and routinely wins by going infinite. During gameplay your opponents are perpetually forced to respect your potential to combo off and keep your board presence in check if they want to survive. A hidden weakness to the deck is that it can sometimes function as a glass cannon and fold to players who take care to answer your threats as soon as they are presented; however, this effect can be mitigated by Animar’s protection ability, and also by the fact that the deck draws cards so quickly that you are often able to dig to your few protection spells in time.
The Game Plan
The strategy in this deck is very linear:
Step 1: Play Animar (sometimes preceded by a one-drop ramp spell).
Step 2: Play lots of cheap creatures to put counters on Animar early.
Step 3: Play card advantage / tutor spells. The goal is to see as much of your deck as possible to dig for combo pieces.
Step 4: Play removal and/or protection spells that either help you survive long enough to assemble the combo pieces, or help protect your combo on the turn you try to go off.
Step 5: Deploy the combo.
Note that in this version of the deck you generally do not need to apply pressure with your fatties; you are usually content sitting back on them to block. In Modern, Burn/Zoo decks try to beat down and race from twenty to zero, whereas the purpose of Storm is just to set up for one big turn. Animar can be thought of as a Storm deck that uses creatures instead of instants and sorceries, and the chaining of value from the discount can be thought of as the rituals. An exception to this is when Animar himself races a single player with general damage. (This is usually a black/white player who likely won’t be able to interact via their creatures or their removal.)
Also note that this deck depends on the synergies with its general more than almost any other. If Animar is not in play, the deck simply can not function at capacity because the deck is stock full of expensive spells that, without the discount in generic mana that Animar provides, are over-costed for what they do. Without the general, you are typically relegated to casting one spell per turn.
The Creature Count
Literally over half of this deck is creatures, with only eight noncreature spells in the entire list, and the reason that the deck can function despite being so creature-saturated is that almost all of the creatures have noncreature-spell-like abilities. When building an Animar deck, for every type of effect you could possibly want in a game of Magic, ask yourself if there is a creature that can fill that role as well or better than a noncreature with a similar ability. For example, when considering Divination, instead play Mulldrifter. When considering Rampant Growth, instead play Sakura-Tribe Elder. The only reason that the eight noncreature spells are included is that their effects are so powerful that you want to play them, but also so unique that there isn’t a viable creature that could take its place.
The Mana Base
Colorless mana production is a nombo with Animar’s discount ability, and you have to be able to get Animar out on turn three at the latest. Both of these factors mean that the deck’s mana is extremely color hungry, and it can’t afford to play very many colorless-mana-producing sources. (Not even Sol Ring!) The fact that Yavimaya Hollow is included, despite not producing colored mana, is a testament to its power.
Also, it is extremely important for almost all of your lands to enter the battlefield untapped. You certainly don’t want to be casting Animar on turn four for no other reason than that your opening hand had three tap lands. This is also why the Scars of Mirrodin and Kaladesh fast lands are included, despite entering the battlefield tapped later in the game. As long as you get Animar out on turn three, that’s all you care about.
To abuse the discount ability and rack up counters on your general as quickly as possible, the deck runs creatures with as few colored symbols in their mana cost as possible – this way, you can cast multiple expensive spells in a single turn as early as turn three or four. Dominus of Fealty, for example, is a fine Magic card, but it just doesn’t synergize with the deck’s game plan. If a creature with few or no generic mana in its casting cost gets a slot in the deck (like Prime Speaker Zegana, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and Nin, the Pain Artist) it has to earn it. This is also why the deck prioritizes colorless creatures, totaling nine if you count the morphs.
There are also several different cards whose sole purpose is to rack up counters extremely quickly. Shaman of the Great Hunt is one of the most powerful of these because of its dual function; that is, it racks up counters and is also a card advantage engine. Llanowar Reborn‘s graft ability may seem innocuous, but it’s actually exactly the sort of effect this deck wants, and allows you to play that much faster ahead of curve. Depending on the matchup, however, even if Llanowar Reborn is in your opening hand, you will often want to wait until after Animar has been removed once or twice to use the graft ability, so that you can recover a little more easily after you recast him.
This deck runs more card advantage spells than almost any other creature-committed deck you could imagine – you’re digging for combo pieces, plain and simple. Furthermore, many of the card advantage spells are extremely high-impact, so you usually need to stick only one of them to start a very fast engine. A resolved Consecrated Sphinx or Prime Speaker Zegana in particular can usually dig you far enough that you can close out the game pretty easily.
While many green creature-based decks will be very committed to mana acceleration as part of their principal game plan, Animar is not so much. Instead, the deck relies on generating “virtual mana” via the discount. There are still several mana accelerants in the list, however.
Sakura-Tribe Elder, Wood Elves, Farhaven Elf, and Solemn Simulacrum were chosen over other (seemingly) more powerful or efficient options because they accelerate mana in a way that isn’t removed by creature wraths, allowing you to recover after a wrath more easily. The other mana acceleration options that don’t fetch a land are either extremely efficient because they cost only one mana, or are extremely high impact because they generate multiple mana. Mana creatures that don’t fall into one of those categories (Sylvan Caryatid, etc.) are simply not powerful enough to be included. Also, the power of Rattleclaw Mystic is derived from its flexibility, because it can be played either face up for one mana, or face down for zero mana.
Finally, if the only mana acceleration in your opening hand is at the two-drop slot or higher, wait to cast it until turn four after you have played Animar because you will actually net more virtual mana over the course of the game that way.
There are only eleven removal spells in the list, but since there’s so much card advantage it’s like there’s more. The four wraths in the deck are either one-sided (Balefire Dragon and Cyclonic Rift) or virtually one-sided (Bane of Progress and Crater Hellion), since you obviously don’t want real creature wraths.
Any blue combo deck needs counterspells to function, but there is obviously tension between the need to run both counterspells and lots of creatures. Fortunately, in the history of Magic there are just enough creatures that also function as counterspells to give the deck a supportable counterspell package without diluting the creature count. Among these, Glen Elendra Archmage is by far the most powerful because you can cast her for only a single blue, leave up another two blue for protection, and then use the rest of your mana to combo off.
In addition to counterspells, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger can lock opponents out of mana, Wurmcoil Engine can mitigate life loss and stave off attackers, Yavimaya Hollow protects against wraths and spot removal, and Deadeye Navigator, while primarily functioning as a combo piece, can also protect against targeted removal.
These are what really do the heavy lifting, and the deck likely wouldn’t function without them. Half the time you will need only one more combo piece and be able to tutor for it, and the other half the time you will be missing several pieces and opt to tutor for the most impactful card advantage spell you can afford (namely Consecrated Sphinx or Prime Speaker Zegana). A resolved Fierce Empath with enough mana remaining usually means game-over as well because it’s a combo in a can. A frequent line of play will be to cast Fierce Empath, get Deadeye Navigator, then blink Fierce Empath to get the other combo pieces.
Palinchron in conjunction with Deadeye Navigator, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, Zendikar Resurgent, and sometimes Animar alone (if you have enough counters on him already and at least four blue sources in your land base) generates infinite mana and puts infinite +1/+1 counters on Animar. Be careful with Zendikar Resurgent, though, because the draw-a-card trigger is not optional.
Once you have infinite mana, there are three cards that draw your library via mana-sink, and six cards that draw your library via enter-the-battlefield triggers, which you’ll get from Palinchron, allowing you to win the game by casting Laboratory Maniac.
A commander deck with Animar, Soul of Elements at the helm is not quite as customizable as many other decks, simply because the general does tend to lead the deck builder down a certain path. Animar is the perfect general for players who prefer proactive, all-in strategies, who love playing big creatures and drawing cards, and who are enticed by the idea of always being the threat at the table. No matter which style of deck you choose, Animar is a sweet general to play, and whether you’re just getting started building or tuning a long-standing list, I sincerely hope this deck tech was able to give you some fresh ideas! Thanks for reading.