Welcome back to another edition of Treasure Cruisin'. This week the readers voted on our format and they wanted another Commander article. I initially set out to write about one of the new possible commanders from Hour of Destruction, but each of them wanted to push both the budget and the competitive edge. Perhaps I can find a good budget path for them in the future, but if I had rushed them for this week they would have been only semi-functional decks. Instead, I wanted to write about a commander that can easily thrive on a small budget.
At its heart, I believe that commander is about having fun and enjoying the game with friends. I have never played a commander more enjoyable than Mayael the Anima, and could not resist writing about her. Mayael fits the spirit of Commander perfectly. She is all about big impact cards, table engagement, politics, and interaction. She's also quite powerful on a budget, and easy to get the handle of for a newer player. She allows for a large variety of decks that can be molded to the builder's preference. Today I will start with what I consider to be a baseline deck that can then easily be modified to your desires.
For this budget deck, I stuck with the same budget as the previous Treasure Cruisin' Commander. With only four exceptions, all cards within the deck are less than $2 USD. These four exceptions — Chaos Warp, Hunting Grounds, Shaman of Forgotten Ways, and Sol Ring — are each around $3. I felt their inclusion was essential enough that it warranted a slight bending in the budget. All told, this deck is still very economical, costing less than $70 to build from scratch.
Spirit of the Anima
Mayael is a strong representation of the power of Naya. Blue and black are often considered the dominating colors of control, but Mayael can have that same level of dominion at the table. Her methods to establish that dominion are simply very different. Mayael brings with her an army of gargantuans and gods, and uses these titans to tower above the battlefield. Blazing Archon can hold an army at bay, Hellkite Tyrant can steal the hopes and dreams of of your opponents away, and Ruric Thar, the Unbowed can stop many decks from functioning.
The core of any Mayael deck is her ability and the creatures it can fetch. Any legal creature with power 5 or greater is an eligible card, referred to as "titans" in this article for ease of reference. These titans are the center around which we frame the deck. We can't rely on Mayael's ability alone, so we also have to also devote portions of the deck to mana ramp and other ways to sneak the titans onto the field. This takes up much of the deck, but there will be room left to explore other areas, add our own unique twist, and delve into unrelated concepts.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Running the right titans is one of the most crucial aspects to get right. Not only do we want to choose the best titans, but we also need to run enough that we can count on Mayael's ability working while not flooding our hand, we are reliably getting them, and that they cover everything we need.
The probability of successfully getting a titan with Mayael's ability is a complex problem involving hypergeometrix probability - nothing we really want to go into today. Instead, the chart on the right shows the key area we are concerned with. Running 20 or less titans makes her ability drastically unreliable and unpredictable. Between 20 and 30 we start seeing the chances becoming the realistic target area. The graph shows that less than 25 titans would make her ability miss at least 1 in 4 tries. Once we reach close to 30, we start to stabilize. We get an 85% chance when we hit 30 titans even. Beware, though, returns are diminishing. Once we start going above 30, the gains become less and less. Going from 30 to 35 only adds another 4% chance, which is negligible for the deck space. I believe that 28-30 is the ideal target, and prefer to err toward the 30 side.
The types of titans we need can be separated into four categories:
1. Defensive Titans
2. Disruptive Titans
3. Utility Titans
4. Aggressive Titans
This list is arranged by importance. Aggressive titans often get the most attention, but they are the least important. The titans that secure us, disrupt the opponent's plans to win, and ensure our survival are the most powerful and influential. An Angel of Serenity or Exquisite Archangel will have infinitely more impact on the game than a Kalonian Behemoth. The angels protect you and give you security. The behemoth just gets chump blocked.
As I just mentioned, the aggressive titans are the least important - but they still do have some importance, and they absolutely have a place in our deck. These giant beatsticks are often the first thought of a Mayael deck, as they can be the most fun and exciting. I'm covering them first because one should not get lost in the frenzy of cheating in combat powerhouses. "The best defense is a strong offense" can apply well in a two player game, but a single-minded offense has trouble competing against an entire table of adversaries. We do want a few game-ending power houses, but they should be a minor section that are just there to finish things when we need. There are two main types of aggressive titans that we need: ones that can kill a troublesome opponent quickly and by surprise, and titans that slowly grow our table for the inevitable.
Decimator of the Provinces and Molten Primordial are both excellent examples of one-hit-wonders that can kill an opponent the turn they come down. Decimator can turn a good swing into a finishing blow with it's surge, and can easily come out of nowhere with its emerge cost. Molten Priomordial can finish an opponent with even greater surprise. Not only does he steal you the board presence to do the job without any forewarning, but he also removes these targets from your opponent's defenses. Both creatures can turn a stalemate board into a killing blow. Other budget possibilities include Thunderfoot Baloth, Siege Behemoth, Silver Seraph, Atarka, World Render, and Hellkite Charger. Each of these are best snuck out at the end step before your turn.
Titan lords that add incremental aggression don't have the same instant-impact as the above, but they work better against the long game. While Decimator can take out one opponent well, Omnath, Locus of Rage will reach critical mass and threaten the entire table after only a few turns. Any titan that can create an army or grow your existing army can become a good incremental threat. Rampaging Baloths, Dragonlair Spider, Verdant Force, Giant Adephage, and Borborygmos are all good budget possibilities. Each option has its own weaknesses and strengths, but each can ultimately compound the pressure coming from your side of the table.
As above, I consider the defensive guardians to be the most important. Even an opponent who has durdled for the last few turns is assuredly planning a strong attack, and the ability to protect yourself from that attack determines if it will be a fatal blow or a feeble attempt. Utilizing the best protective guardians instantly turns Mayael from a beats deck to a control deck that dominates the field.
There are many marquee creatures that protect us. Blazing Archon is the ultimate pillow fort. It protects you from all combat for as long as you can protect him. Purity is the counterpart that stops all noncombat damage from spell slingers, combo commanders, and hyper-aggressive insanity alike. Other great protectors include Angelic Arbiter, Celestial Force, Exquisite Archangel, and Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. Additionally, titans that protect their brethren should fit into here. Although Archetype of Endurance does not directly protect you, it protects the Blazing Archon that is keeping you alive. Greenwarden of Murasa, Moldgraf Monstrosity, and Twilight Shepherd can all save your titans from the inevitable Wrath that you can't stop. Many of the disruptive creatures in the next section could also be included here, as they do ultimately protect you, but their nature is slightly different.
Mammoths of Massacre
Tying in with the above defensive elements, disrupting your opponent likewise protects you. We need not only proactive titans, but also reactive. Our opponents will surely gain a foothold, and removing it is just as important as trying to prevent it.
Although our titans are naturally large, an opponent's creature base can still become problematic. Being able to clear part of a field disrupts our opponent's plans, protects us from possible aggression, and also opens us a path inward. Angel of Serenity and Breaker of Armies are both excellent examples of titan creature removal. The Angel can remove multiple problematic creatures, and do so across multiple opponents. The removal works especially good against commanders, and can even work to regain your own fallen creatures in a pinch. Breaker of Armies is likewise a strong removal creature. An opponent that's amassing an armada can have his side cleared out with a single swing. Breaker is also good at killing commanders, which also have to block, and his Taunting Elf ability lets everything else that swings go unchallenged. Butcher Orgg, Gruul Ragebeast, and Inferno Titan fill out the creature removal section.
Against noncreatures, Terastodon is the ultimate powerhouse of removal. Terastodon can clear out multiple problematic cards spread throughout the table, and the elephants he gives them in return are usually of little consequence. For massive noncreature removal, Kalemne's Captain is a good choice. Although he requires an investment to use, Mayael usually doesn't have a problem reaching seven mana to set him off. Other possibilities include Hoard-Smelter Dragon, Steel Hellkite, Mockery of Nature, and any of the annihilator eldrazi that are within your budget.
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed finishes this section as a creature that adds a nasty complication against problematic spells. While he's not a hard barrier, a spell slinging deck that wants to go through cards quickly will have to stop and completely reevaluate its plan while he's on board. Mayael has no problem sitting behind him, casting little or no noncreature spells, but the majority of the field will at least take a strong hit before he dies.
We come, at last, to the utility titans. Titans that give us variety, adaptability, or good abilities that don't fit above. There are many options here, and they range from must-haves to filler cards.
Krosan Tusker and Shefet Monitor might seem like subpar choices when they reach play, but their ability to be both titan targets and mana ramp serves us well. Even with diminishing returns, we want to get the highest titan count we can fit without the deck suffering, and these two help get us there. Mana ramp is an important part of our deck, and drawing into titans when we can't yet cast them can be a frustrating waste. Tusker and Monitor help solve this by being both mana acceleration and titans, giving us either when we need them. A third card, Regal Behemoth, requires hitting the field, but gives us some very strong acceleration. Landing the Behemoth on the end step before our turn ensures us of being able to unload after we untap. Valley Rannet and Wirewood Guardian are additional budget titans that serve as land search.
Regal Force and Woodland Bellower are both titans that can give us direct card advantage. Although we're across three colors, Regal often nets at least three cards. Timed well, it can instantly refill our hands. Woodland Bellower can fetch us many of our non-titan creatures, providing both utility and adaptability. Conduit of Ruin, Borborygmos Enraged, Garruk's Horde, Soul of the Harvest, and Ulvenwald Observer can all give different methods of card advantage and manipulation.
Once we get past these two sections, cards become increasingly diverse and assorted. There are a lot of niche cards that can work well, but are more dependant on your metagame. A good example is Hellkite Tyrant. Hellkite Tyrant can wreck artifact decks, and is a star in some metagames. This niche card is always good though, because regardless of your opponents, he can usually steal mana rocks all day long. Linvala, the Preserver, Lodestone Golem, Oblivion Sower, Panglacial Wurm, Patron of the Kitsune, and many many more. The list of possibilities is immense, and far too long to try to cover.
Tools of a Trickster
Unfortunately, not everyone wants us to have fun with Mayael. Whether they consistently target her with removal, or find a way to lock her out, we simply can't rely on her alone to sneak our titans into play. She has plenty of available backup, however.
See the Unwritten and Summoning Trap are the most direct mimicry of Mayael's ability, but they are both actually stronger than her ability. Not only do they dig through more cards, they don't have her restriction on the creature that you can find. Even if we add only 5 non-titan creatures, we can easily get a 95% hit ratio for these cards. Even See the Unwritten's ferocious ability would have an 85% success rate of hitting two creatures. These cards are not to be underestimated.
Other suitable budget possibilities include Champion of Rhonas, Clone Shell, Hunting Grounds, and Selvala's Stampede. Champion and Clone are both slow but reliable, while Hunting Grounds is absurd when it comes online, and Selvala's Stampede usually nets multiple creatures. Wild Pair is another strong way to grab creatures, although it requires a titan to operate. Less powerful budget options include Animal Magnetism, Call of the Wild, Gamekeeper, and Root Elemental.
Mana of the Anima
Mayael packs a lot of large spells and high costed titans. Although we have Mayael's ability and several cheats to help, we still need a good deal of mana ramp. Needing to hardcast our titans is an inevitability, and Mayael has access to some of the best ramp that exists.
The most obvious ramp cards are the ever-present mana rocks. Sol Ring, Basalt Monolith, and Everflowing Chalice are good budget options that can ramp out our titans quickly. In a similar vein, Mayael has access many even-stronger mana critters. Knotvine Mystic, Sacellum Godspeaker, Shaman of Forgotten Ways, Somberwald Sage, and Whisperer of the Wilds are as good as any mana rocks out there. Other good budget options include Fyndhorn Elder, Greenweaver Druid, Joraga Treespeaker, and Nantuko Elder.
The other common and reliable mana ramp is land search. There is a lot of land search to choose from, but I find the best are Burnished Hart, Cultivate, Kodama's Reach, and Rampant Growth. Other options include Explosive Vegetation, Far Wanderings, Nissa's Expedition, Nissa's Pilgrimage, Ranger's Path, and Skyshroud Claim.
Two more unique choices include Dictate of Karametra and Keeper of Progenitus. Both can allow explosive plays; however, each can bolster your opponent, so you need to use them carefully. Flash Dictate into play at the end step before your turn, timing it so that you can play out your hand to dominate the field. Keeper offers less boost to your opponent, as it is dependent on your Naya colors. Again, if your table has other players who can benefit from it too much, use careful timing.
Outside the Center
Although Mayael is creature-centric, she is by no means single minded. Much of our deck will be taken up by the titans, cheats, and ramp, but there's still room for the spell package of your choice. Much like our titan package, we need removal, protection, and utility. After we fulfill these needs, however, there are no limitations or restrictions on what else we can add. I will focus mainly on the essential points that we need, as adding unrelated possibilities can be an endless discussion.
Although our titans have pack a healthy removal package, we need more direct and dependable answers. Beast Within, Chaos Warp, Clan Defiance, and Decimate are all versatile removal spells that can get rid of problematic cards. Beast and Warp can hit anything, while Defiance and Decimate can hit multiple things at once. Afterlife, Banishing Light, Grasp of Fate, Oblation, Unexpectedly Absent, and Swords to Plowshares are other alternatives with varying degrees of restriction and power.
Our opponents are sure to pack some form of mass removal, and this can definitely hurt our plans. While we have a few titans that combat this, Heroic Intervention is a necessity that protects our board state. Boros Charm, Make a Stand, and Rootborn Defenses provide similar effects that can save us.
Utility spells can be a broad category, but we'll focus on things that help with our core plan. Congregation at Dawn, Eldritch Evolution, Rishkar's Expertise, and Signal the Clans are all high powered ways to dig into our deck and find what we need. Swiftfoot Boots acts as both protection against removal, and a hasted push for aggressive creatures. Cloak and Dagger and Whispersilk Cloak are equipment with a similar dual purpose.
Lands are, of course, our final item to add. Given our count of high cost titans, our curve will be steeper than usual. We'll need a full forty lands to maximize our land drops. Beyond the basic lands in proper ratio, we'll need color fixing for our three colors, and some utility lands.
There are a variety of good color-fixing lands that fit within our budget. Canopy Vista, Evolving Wilds, Jungle Shine, Naya Panorama, Rootbound Crag, Temple of Abandon, Temple of Plenty, Temple of Triumph and Terramorphic Expanse are basic color fixers. There are also fixers that add function. Blighted Woodland and Krosan Verge allow color fixing while also gives us some extra ramp. Stirring Wildwood and Needle Spires are dual lands that can double as threats. The list goes on; add the mixture that you prefer.
Utility lands can add a large variety of service, but should be used with control, as almost all of them lower our colored mana abilities. Rogue's Passage, Slayers' Stronghold, Skarrg, the Rage Pits, and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion can all be nice creature buffs. Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree can come in handy making chump blockers or building up a token army. Mosswort Bridge can easily sneak in a strong spell. Again, find the ones that suite you and add to taste.
Now that we've covered each section, it's time to assemble the deck. You'll note that the decklist below is a direct reflection of the cards I mentioned above. While it might have been easier to simply lead with the deck, understanding why I chose the cards I did is as important as seeing which cards I chose. There are enough options that you could replace half of the deck with other cards mentioned above, and it would still operate generally the same. That said, this is what I would start with for Mayael on a budget.
As I stated in the beginning, there are a plethora of paths that Mayael can take. While she, of course, has a large selection of creatures and spells that would suit her, there are also completely different avenues the deck can take. The above list has been well tested and works smoothly, but it is still what I would consider a baseline build that can be adapted and molded to a player's preference. If you're not already headstrong on what you want, I recommend starting with the above. After a few games of playing it, you'll get a feel for what you want to change. I'll go over some of the viable options I've considered myself.
Adding Some Flare
My own personal version of Mayael has in it a slew of Mana Flare effects. This is a risky gambit, as it bolsters your opponent's position as well as your own. However, this is perfect for a build that wants to heighten the the fun atmosphere of the game. Although every deck should be designed to ultimately win the game, bringing the game to another level of epic spell play can be as much fun as winning. If you are wanting to build Mayael more competitively, I recommend skipping the flare effects that can help your opponent. Otherwise Mana Flare, Heartbeat of Spring, Dictate of Karametra, Overabundance, and Zhur-Taa Ancient can combine to form a consistent package.
Mayael tribal might not be as strong of a choice as staying diversified, but it can definitely add a refreshing twist that adds another level of fun. The restriction of a tribe cuts out many of Mayael's options, but if you are wanting a titan tribe, Mayael makes a good commander. Going tribal will demand a slightly higher budget, so while my suggestions below will remain in a budget mindset, they are not strictly limited to the budget guidelines above. Mayael lends herself well to three main tribes: Dragons, Beasts, and Angels.
Dragons are definitely at the forefront. With Atarka, Dromoka, and Utvara, you have some hard-hitting titan lords. There are just over 60 dragon titans to choose from, however, which means that the list starts to be fairly self-selecting when you look for the better half. That self-selecting half is still quite strong, and packs a wallop. Dragons also bring with them several non-titan support cards like Dragon Tempest, Crucible of Fire, Dragonspeaker Shaman, and Sarkhan's Triumph.
Beasts are the second pick for a tribal theme. Although beasts don't have any proper lords, they do have a few support cards. Contested Cliffs becomes strong removal, Wirewood Savage creates card advantage, and Krosan Warchief acts similar to a lord. There are definitely some strong beasts to choose from, like Rampaging Baloths, Meglonoth, and Godsire. Beasts are mostly aggressive-minded, however, offering very little protection and control. Beast tribal is a step further away from competitive, but offers more entertainment and excitement in return.
Angels are the third pick for a tribal theme. They bring with them many of the strong control-oriented titans that we really want. They have no lords and almost no support as a tribe, however. Herald of War is the best support card they have, with only a few other minor effects available, such as Seraph Sanctuary. Additionally, there are just over 30 possible angel titans we could use, so it will be hard to fill the slots with angels. However, angels as a minor theme could still work, and many of the best protectors above were angels. Admonition Angel, Angel of the Dire Hour, and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight are strong additions that push the control further.
The plan is simple: lay down a couple of titans to gain control of the battlefield, and then destroy everyone's lands so they remain uncontested. Destructive Force, Devastating Dreams, and Wildfire are a nice budget trio to wipe out opposing forces. Armageddon, Boom // Bust, Catastrophe, Decree of Annihilation, and Impending Disaster are all mass destruction, although most are pushing the budget beyond our normal guidelines.
You will need to tune your titan package slightly as you add this. Especially if you go with the Wildfire trio, you will need to ensure your titans can survive the damage this spells cause. Titans to add in support of this strategy are Deus of Calamity and any annihilating eldrazi within your budget.
I always recommend talking with the playgroup before adding in something as controversial as land destruction, however. While some groups consider it an acceptable strategy, others are wholeheartedly opposed to it. Many players can grow frustrated as they are left unable to play their decks. If you want to go this route but are unsure, start with a few land destruction spells, such as the Wildfire trio above. It's less forceful, but still works well with the deck.
As a creature based deck, Mayael is most susceptible to mass creature removal. Her titans pack a large punch, and one-for-one trading generally falls in her favor. A single Wrath of God, however, can set her back a few turns. Although we utilize several cards to combat this, they will not always be there when we need them. If your playgroup has a good deal of mass removal, you will need to devote more resources to protect yourself from these.
Mayael also has trouble against some spell slinging decks. While her titans can own the battlefield, she has only a few defensive pieces against a deck that sticks to the stack. Adapting to combat these decks is much harder, as there aren't nearly as many options at her disposal. In this instance, you will need to switch gears to be more aggressive and focus on pummeling such an opponent quickly.
Expanding the Budget
As with any budget deck, increasing the budget greatly expands our possibilities and options. Interestingly, much of Mayael's core stays the same, regardless of its allowance. Still, there are some highly useful cards that are just outside of our budget guidelines that we should cover.
The most obvious addition for a Mayael deck with any kind of higher budget is Mayael's Aria. I considered adding it in here in spite of the budget, but it simply bends the budget rules more than I like. At roughly $4, this should be one of the first cards you add. The Aria's +1/+1 counter ability will almost always work, growing and protecting your field every turn. You can also occasionally reach the life gain ability if you can land one of our 8/8s and keep them on the field for a couple turns. Winning the game with Aria will almost never happen as is, but there is a singular addition that makes it possible. With Mossbridge Troll, you can activate his ability to make him a 25/25 in your upkeep before Aria resolves and win the game. This can be a cheap trick to steal a win, so use it only if you and your playgroup are comfortable with such things.
There are a number of titans that become available to us with only a slightly higher budget. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight is one of the best options, providing both protection and strong aggression. Balefire Dragon, Dragonlord Atarka, and Woodfall Primus are all robust removal pieces that Mayael would love to have at her disposal. Further first-tier options include Angel of the Dire Hour, Avenger of Zendikar, Dragonlord Dromoka, Elderscale Wurm, Stonehoof Chieftain, and Worldspine Wurm. Raising the budget only a few dollars opens us to a world of prospects, and listing them all would be an article unto itself.
Outside of the titans, there are several key cards that benefit Mayael. Defense of the Heart, Elvish Piper, and Quicksilver Amulet are solid ways to sneak in titans. Adding in extra cheats gives us more stability and consistency. Mirari's Wake and Selvala, Heart of the Wilds both push the budget, but are the best mana ramp cards we can get. The most reliable way to get titans is to be able to hardcast them. Eladamri's Call and Worldly Tutor are my two last call-outs, as they give us the ability to fetch the right creature at the right moment.
Beyond these examples, there's plenty of room for other additions that are just all-around powerhouses. Planeswalkers, for instance, can easily add whole other dimension to the deck, while compounding our titan's presence. There's no planeswalkers within our budget, but Ajani, Domri, Garruk, and Sarkhan all have cards at the $5 or less range that work. Remember that Mayael's core is fairly set, but she doesn't need to remain single minded. There's room for development, and you can easily adapt her to fit your needs.
That's it for this week's Treasure Cruisin'. How do you feel about Mayael and her titans? Did I miss any good Mayael budget cards? Let me know in the comments below!