Last week we talked about playing for value, the concept of getting the most out of your cards and card advantage. This week, I’m going to address those concepts with a breakdown of my Mayael the Anima deck. This deck, despite containing very few card drawing effects, is all about card advantage.
I like a bit of a challenge when I play Magic, so I look for ways to generate card advantage without actually just drawing cards. Mayael is a perfect commander for that, since she’s both a card advantage engine and potentially a mana advantage engine. The best Mayael activations not only get you a great creature directly onto the battlefield, they do it at a discount.
Even though there are well over 30 creatures in this deck, the focus is around generating card advantage. Nearly every creature in the deck provides an effect when it hits the battlefield or dies, and the ones that don’t often require multiple cards to answer. The sweepers that aren’t attached to creatures are all based on knocking out multiple permanents for each of your opponents while hitting very few of your own. The utility cards make your Mayael activations more powerful while providing card selection to help you maintain your board presence.
Notable Moments Playing Mayael
- Timmy Moment: Activating Myojin of Life’s Web to put eight fatties onto the battlefield at an opponent’s end step (fatties included Vigor, Scourge of Kher Ridges, and Spearbreaker Behemoth)
- Johnny Moment: Casting Seedborn Muse with Mayael and Coalition Relic, in a five player game, and making it all the way back to my turn, with five more creatures out and five extra mana on my turn
- Spike Moment: Curving out with turn 1 Sensei’s Divining Top, turn 2 cycle Eternal Dragon, turn 3 Coalition Relic, turn 4 Mayael the Anima, turn 5 Seedborn Muse (even Johnny can have his Spike moments)
The most important reason I’m running Mayael is because she’s a card advantage engine in colors that typically have a hard time generating it, short of board sweepers. She makes a perfect complement to a strong suite of board control effects by letting you rebuild faster than your opponents while digging through your library to find the best creature with power greater than or equal to 5 you can.
Board sweepers can do a lot to generate card advantage, but if you aren’t going to combo out you eventually need creatures to win. In a multiplayer game, creatures are noticeably more important than in a normal game because a board sweeper will reset the board, but you could have (potentially) 2 or more players attacking you every turn. The only way to make sure you aren’t getting pounded for more damage than you can handle is to run some defensive guys to block all those incoming attacks. If you’re going to run the guys to block with, why not run ones that are hard to destroy, and do a great job of attacking as attack deterrents while you’re at it?
In Commander it’s often go big or go home, so fatties do a great job of mucking up the board when we don’t want to use a board sweeper. A single fatty will often keep teams of less than 3 creatures at home, or rumbling over to attack someone else. You will even force people to overextend into your sweeper if they want to get in for any noticeable damage. It only gets better if you can keep your creature around through the sweeper, and green and white have the most ways to protect your guys from your own effects.
Focus #1: Sweepers
Even though they make up less of the deck than the creatures, the sweepers are the most important cards in this deck. While occasionally the right play will be to just come out, guns blazing and curving out before turn 5, the deck normally plays much more conservatively. The typical path to victory involves playing out a few ways to fix your mana, or set up a way or two to fix the top of your library while your opponents get set up. Once they start to get some threats onto the battlefield, use a sweeper to clean up the mess and break the symmetry of sweeping, creating some solid card advantage to get ahead.
The deck has a wide variety of creature sweepers alongside a few that can hit other permanent types as well. It’s important to use the right sweeper at the right time. If you need to kill a few creatures and you have the option of using Day of Judgment or Austere Command, use Day. Don’t blow a way to severely cripple a Sharuum the Hegemon, or Hanna, Ship’s Navigator player if you don’t have to.
The best sweepers in the deck are Austere Command and Scourge of Kher Ridges. Being able to select what you destroy will put you in a much better board position. Since very few creatures in the deck are small enough to die to one or two activations of Scourge of Kher Ridges, he makes for a fantastic way to keep hordes of creatures under control. The flexibility of Austere Command makes it amazing as well. Wiping out frustrating artifacts and enchantments on demand really can’t be underestimated, as well as being able to selectively deal with either the expensive creatures or cheap ones. Breaking symmetry is the key to making the card truly effective.
Focus #2: Hard to Answer Fatties
Mayael only likes creatures with five or more power (unless they are named Seedborn Muse – she makes an exception for a girl that sexy). It’s a good thing for us that Ken Nagle started working at Wizards, or we most likely wouldn’t have Mayael or all the fantastic five (or more) power fatties that we’ve gotten in recent years.
It’s important to have enough fatties that you should always hit at least one when activating Mayael. I find around 25 or more five power creatures does the job, and more is usually better provided you aren’t including cards just to up the count. There are three main types of fatties we want to have in abundance if possible.
Hard to Kill Fatties
This is the most obvious category, but also the one with the fewest to choose from. If you’re going to build a deck around sweepers, wouldn’t it be sweet if you could cast your creatures even if you might need to sweep the board later? I know that sounds like a great plan to me. I hope it sounds like a good one to you too, or you might be in the wrong place. While there aren’t a lot of these guys to run, the ones you can run are very good.
There are a few obvious includes. Number one is Spearbreaker Behemoth. He’s indestructible. He makes the majority of your other guys indestructible. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Deathless Angel gets the nod as well for similar reasons. Vigor isn’t difficult to kill on its own, but he makes it very difficult to kill your other fatties in combat, or with any sort of damage effect.
Unique Effect Fatties
There are a lot of weird effects available in Magic. Fortunately, many of them come attached to a body with five or more power, and we have a deck that can take advantage of several of them.
I already mentioned Vigor, but it also belongs in this category. A few of our sweepers are damage-based, and the combo absurdly well with Vigor for that reason. Myojin of Life’s Web lets a smart Mayael player drop a ton of threats onto the battlefield all for the low cost of giving up indestructibility the turn you plan on killing someone. Blazing Archon just says no, and does it pretty convincingly. Combine with Spearbreaker Behemoth or Deathless Angel for the ultimate in not-dying-in-the-attack-step.
Card Advantage Fatties
Normally, one thinks of small enters-the-battlefield trigger creatures when they think of card advantage creatures, like Mulldrifter. This deck is an exercise in going big or going home, so we’re going to find fatties that do that job on top of having a huge body. There are also numerous behemoths with death triggers that you can use quite effectively to make killing your own creatures with a sweeper less painful.
The rest of the fatties I run fall into this category. The Titans (Primeval Titan, Inferno Titan, and Sun Titan) are perfect examples of what we’re looking for here. All them come with a body that can’t be ignored, and an ETB trigger that will guarantee you get at least something out of the card. Death triggers also can get the job done–see Wurmcoil Engine. The important part of fatty selection is to make sure that if you resolve one, you’re going to get something out of it even if someone kills your guy.
Focus #3: Library Manipulation
There’s very few cards in my Mayael build that draw additional cards, but there are a lot of cards that let me manipulate the cards on top of my library. When you have a fatty in your hand, it generally means you’re going to end up paying retail for it, and doing it at sorcery speed. This is the opposite of what you want to be doing. The ideal play is to activate Mayael during your last opponent’s end step, or in response to an attack. You should know what you’re going to flip off her activation but they won’t, making it much harder to attack you profitably.
Considering we’re playing a deck full of fatties that you’ll end up paying retail for eventually, we want to make sure we have the mana to cast those creatures, so cards that passively manipulate the library for you while you execute on your main game plan are excellent. Sylvan Library and Cream of the Crop both let you dig without necessarily goofing up and putting the fatty in your hand, and Sensei’s Divining Top does it on the cheap. Scroll Rack is one of the few cards outside blue that lets us put our hand back on top of our library. Greater Good is one of our very few actual card drawing spells, It’s great here because sometimes you just need to sweep the board, and you might as well get something out of your fatties that are going to die anyway.
Card advantage, Naya style:
Until next time, go big or go home.