There are some very Spikey ways to win with Animar as your commander. This deck isn’t one of them, but if it’s a duel or a 3-player game it will win you your fair share while being plenty of fun.
Who here likes Coiling Oracle? I love Coiling Oracle. My favorite part of making a green-blue deck is getting to start the list with 4x Coiling Oracle. Because the Oracle either puts a card into your hand or gives you an untapped land, it can fuel one of my favorite types of Magic turns: the quick roller, where a spell leads to another spell and that one leads to another in rapid succession. It’s a sequence of jabs rather than a hard gut punch, but it can be just as effective while also having more flair. Also, Coiling Oracle is a Snake Elf Druid. Coil your mind around that!
When Animar is out and about this whole deck takes quick roller after quick roller, with a supply of creatures limited only by your mana. Ideally, this deck gets Animar out on the third turn, goes to town with a bunch of quick-rolling creatures, gets Commander damage in, and then figures out what to do with the other player(s). I don’t play Animar in a 4+-player game because the whole deck is severely vulnerable to wrath effects – you have to kill the person with the most board sweepers first, but that tends to be easy due to Animar’s protection from white and black – and I suspect that to build Animar for large games you have to build it to degenerate levels. I don’t find that fun, but I do find Coiling Oracle fun, so I built that way and came up with a fun deck.
So what are the guiding principles?
Cast a series of Coiling Oracles. There are a surprising amount of value creatures that can build the strategy. They’d be terrible without Animar – what are you going to do with a stream of 1/1s that drew you nothing but more 1/1s? – but they can support Animar in the early game while maybe digging you to some beef later on. (My deck normally has one major chance to wreak havoc with Animar. Occasionally it can reload, but I’m not counting on it.)
Keep the color commitments as low as possible. For the most part I try to avoid triple-costs of any one color in a three-color deck. When you search for basic lands or try to fix your mana, it’s best if you’ve configured your deck so that you want to get that second or third color basically every time. You don’t want to have to make strange decisions; just fix your colors and be done with it. This is especially true with Animar, where you want to cast your small creatures as soon as you draw them. It’s hard to do that when one costs UU and another GG. Besides leaving Animar few costs to reduce, it’s a major mana base strain, and you don’t want to do that; you want to play creatures! Artifact creatures help in this regard, especially ones that make mana; here, Alloy Myr is more valued than a Signet, and rarely does a Commander deck get to say that.
Those two principles helped build the following list. For several reasons I’ve broken the Gatherer links into cheap creatures, expensive creatures, and support cards. It’s easiest when you don’t have to look at a bunch of cards at once, after all.
I run 37 lands, none of them surprising or utility-based. They exist to fix the mana and nothing more. Ancient Ziggurat begged for a deck liked this. For mana-fixing in the noncreature artifacts, I run the three possible Signets, Armillary Sphere, and Darksteel Ingot. I want my mana to come from the creatures as much as possible so they can fuel Animar on casting, so I had no incentive to get fancy here.
That’s 43 cards, counting Animar. What are the other 57?
Here’s where it gets fun: the suite of creatures only Animar wants this badly. In the early game, I want as many of these as possible to chain into a huge commander that I can swing semi-unblockably at scared opponents. My deckbuilding views and theories about Commander don’t lend themselves to killing with commander damage, so it’s fun when I can counter that tendency.
Within cheap creatures we have:
The mana fixers (Veteran Explorer, Joiner Adept, Sylvan Ranger, Fertilid, Pilgrim’s Eye, Alloy Myr, Scuttlemutt, Centaur Omenreader) – Each of these is lovely when you’re trying to cast Animar as well as when you’re starting a quick-rolling turn. Scuttlemutt is particularly valuable, as it can turn anything targeting Animar white and/or black. Who knew the Soul of Elements hung out with metal Scarecrows? Centaur Omenreader is a backup Animar, which is useful for such a risky commander.
The gas finders (Coiling Oracle, Citanul Woodreaders, Cryptic Annelid, Llanowar Empath) – These are welcome sights whether your hand is empty or full. So far as I know this is the Empath’s ideal home; in a creature-heavy deck, the Empath can pull some fantastic scry action. Really, any scry creature or similar ability is a great draw. Because of all the tutoring and Topping in Commander, scry might be underrated in the format to begin with, but rather than use those artifacts and spells, Animar wants creatures to do it, so you get to go nuts with Llanowar Empath for value.
Utility (Razorfin Abolisher, Plaxcaster Frogling, Trygon Predator, Mystic Snake, Forgotten Ancient) – Although Abolisher isn’t ideal with Animar, it’s nice to have the option of bouncing Animar rather than sending it to the command zone; your cost-reducing commander costing 2 more every time burdens this deck. The Abolisher is also great for bouncing Fertilid for replay value. Plaxcaster Frogling is an all-star, as it can protect Animar while also grafting onto it if you had to cast things out of sequence. Mystic Snake is a fun surprise, while the Predator’s just a good idea in a world of artifacts and enchantments that need destroying. But it’s Forgotten Ancient that loves Animar the most; it feels unfair every time I curve Animar into Ancient, as you get to pile a gazillion counters on your evasive commander and put your deck on turbo mode.
Things to do with mana (Cetavolver, Azure Mage, Crimson Mage, Jade Mage, Apocalypse Hydra) – Animar reduces kicker costs as well as the normal bits, so Cetavolver can have some fun. Kicker’s pretty good with Animar regardless of the creature involved, as you get the option of letting it feed an early chain or coming in better later. The M12 Mages give you some versatility; presumably all that saved mana should get you something, right? This doesn’t play out as often as I drew it up, but at least they’re cheap creatures.
Apocalypse Hydra gets its own paragraph. You want your Animar chains to lead to this creature. Why? Because Animar’s cost reduction feeds X costs automatically and Apocalypse Hydra’s power is 2X as long as you can get X over 4. So let’s say you cast Animar on turn 3, cast Veteran Explorer and Pilgrim’s Eye on turn 4, and then Llanowar Empath, Scuttlemutt (for free!), and Crimson Mage on turn 5. Animar has 5 counters and you have around 6 mana. In this scenario, Apocalypse Hydra on turn 6 is an 18/18. Seriously. That specific sequence won’t play out often, but turn 9 32/32 Hydras are typical. It’s ridiculous and it’s fun.
The beef serves two purposes in Animar: as the end of a chain (if Animar’s working right, you play a constant stream of big creatures) and as the only good insurance against board sweep. Board sweep can wreck you, but if you drop a 6/6 on an empty board, you’re probably going to rip a chunk of life off somebody.
The mana fixer (Krosan Tusker) – One of my favorites from when I started playing, the Tusker’s an ideal Animar include.
The gas finders (Brutalizer Exarch, Primordial Sage, Garruk’s Horde, Sphinx of Uthuun, Jin-Gitaxias) – Although the Exarch winds up being removal more than tutor because of how little this deck can remove things, it certainly can find what you need (which is normally Apocalypse Hydra; not gonna lie). Horde hasn’t been as good as I anticipated, but a 7/7 trampler that lets you get more creatures is certainly fine. Primordial Sage is absurd when you’re drawing creatures off it; it’s one of my mainstays. Jin-Gitaxias is as unfair as Primordial Sage feels; it’s there in case the board is just too out of hand. The way the deck is constructed, though, it’s not waiting for J-G to arrive before becoming broken; it does what it does regardless. It’s a lot more difficult to use than its raw power implies, due to the massive target it puts on me and the body being too small to deal with whatever was putting me behind on board. If I’m behind and at a targetable life total (i.e. one that the rest of the table could take out with teamwork in a round), Jin makes the game go longer; if I’m ahead, I’d rather have Apocalypse Hydra.
The utility (Ingot Chewer, Genesis, Deadwood Treefolk, Phyrexian Ingester, Living Inferno, Shivan Wurm, Manor Gargoyle) – Evoke works well with Animar, but not just any evoke is a good idea; you want creatures to stay on the board where possible. Destroying an artifact is a good enough reason to evoke sometimes, though. Ingester’s single blue in the cost is right where this deck’s philosophy sits; it’s removal in a creature, exactly what I want. Living Inferno can’t always kill what you want, but it’s nice to get rid of multiple dorks, which many Commander decks have to burn a card to deal with. Shivan Wurm lets you rebuy a creature, which can help in a pinch. Genesis, Deadwood Treefolk, and Manor Gargoyle are built-in sweeper defense that can swing if they need to. Plus, I want to cast a free Gargoyle one of these days.
Things to do with mana (Avatar of Fury, Witherscale Wurm, Rhox, Spearbreaker Behemoth, Carnage Wurm, Hydra Omnivore, Simic Sky Swallower, Intet, Nullstone Gargoyle) – Many of these are in the preconstruct and are obviously good. Avatar of Fury is great for having a cost reduction regardless of Animar. Spearbreaker Behemoth’s all kinds of good in a deck of fatties, especially fatties that get cheap; you can spend the savings on indestructibility! The others mainly are the best of the undercosted green dorks. Witherscale Wurm isn’t that great, but with a discount, it can show up to the party long before anyone’s ready to deal with its size, at which point it has no real drawback. Bloodthirst is too slow for Animar’s preference, but 9/9 trample isn’t.
My favorite inclusion for personal reasons is Nullstone Gargoyle. A 4/5 flyer gets the job done often enough, and as a colorless creature it can be free sometimes. But the main thing is its countering the first noncreature spell cast each turn. How many Commander decks are naturally okay with this? I only have 18 noncreature spells, and 5 of them are mana fixers. This is an ideal home for one of the least respected Ravnica rares, and it’s fun to frustrate opponents as their sweepers rot in the hand.
Card advantage is fun (Crystal Shard, Guided Passage, Fathom Trawl, Hunter’s Insight, Creeping Renaissance, Biomantic Mastery, Evolution Charm) – What do you do when Animar isn’t out so you can quick-roll ad infinitum? You reload in the hope you can start again. All of these with the exception of Crystal Shard, whose main use is to reduce the burden to find more creatures, get you closer to good working order. Guided Passage also brings a rare political element to the deck. Hey you who agrees with me about this board state? Wanna give me 3 cards to help out?
I guess maybe I should have some removal (Chandra Nalaar, Disaster Radius, Tribute to the Wild, Savage Twister, Firespout, Tower of Calamities) – Animar is of course vulnerable to its own colors, so your removal has to be selective. Disaster Radius is obvious, but don’t underestimate Chandra in a deck with tons of blocking dorks, or Tower of Calamities in a deck that might not be using its mana for anything else. Tower doesn’t seem to have caught on in the format, but making an annoying Commander cost more than it takes you to kill it every time it comes out has plenty of value. And while Commander is a home for huge creatures, they still don’t survive a tower aiming at them.
Animar is a cross between hated commanders Uril and Momir Vig, a Voltron commander who wants to be fed only creatures. Here, unlike with Momir, all those little dudes let you kill someone faster, asking you to go as aggressive as you can. For someone like me who doesn’t normally play that way, it’s quite fun to take Animar for a swing. It’s also fun to be on a plan that doesn’t involve too many decisions apart from stacking your creature chain the right way. Oh, look, there’s someone who can’t block Animar – let’s swing there! It’s easy on the brain, produces great turns with strange creatures, and can kill quickly. What’s not to like?