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Budget Commander: Animorphs ($72)


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If you've never seen Animar, Soul of Elements before, this creature is rightfully feared as one of the most powerful commanders in the entire format. The lil' elemental quickly grows into a colossal size, while giving your creatures an equally huge casting discount. In no time at all, Animar is pooping out free Eldrazi like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre or just plain ol' winning the game with combos such as Ancestral Statue + Purphoros, God of the Forge. Oh yeah, it's protected from a lot of popular instant speed removal like Swords to Plowshares, because why not! Animar is trivial to break and has been stomping playgroups since 2011.

This article isn't about the cookie-cutter Animar deck, however. We're going to be discussing one of my favorite casual decks, Morph Tribal, which the cool kids like to call "Animorphs." Instead of using Animar's absurd ramp to cast Eldrazi, we're using it to play an army of 2/2 face-down creatures (e.g. Icefeather Aven). Your opponents have no clue what your face-down cards are. Is the face-down creature attacking them Akroma, Angel of Fury, or is it Scornful Egotist? They don't know, and that's half the fun! It's a super sweet way of building Animar that is utterly janky and hilarious. Let's dive in, shall we?

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It's Morphin' Time!

I learned of the Animorphs archetype during Khan of Tarkir's release when the morph mechanic made a return to the game. Later I got to try out the deck when it was submitted to us for a Commander Clash game. I enjoyed the deck so much that I'm revisiting it, tuning the list to fix some holes, and update with new cards. This is not a competitive deck, since Morph Tribal isn't a powerful archetype, but I will still do my best to optimize the strategy without diluting the deck's goal.

Animorphs is a simple deck concept: we are playing Morph Tribal. We drop down a bunch of face-down 2/2 creatures on the board and our opponents have no clue what they could be. The deck lives for the "aha!" moment of flipping up our face-down cards at the right time to pull off cute tricks on our foes.

Morph creatures have a versatile array of tricks they can pull off. Some of those tricks are even good! Here are some of my favorites:

We have a good number of ways to interact the board, from blowing stuff up (Ainok Survivalist) to stealing creatures (Riptide Entrancer). I'm surprised at how many ways we have to counter spells! Obviously some are better than others. Kheru Spellsnatcher is a sweet Spelljack on a body in our deck. Even the worse ones, like Voidmage Apprentice (an overcosted Cancel), are still decent enough for a casual deck like this.

We're lacking in a few aspects, notably ramp, creature removal, graveyard removal, and board wipes. But this is already a great start to the deck!

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Why Animar?

So, why Animar, Soul of Elements as our commander? Two big reasons:

  1. Ramp! As mentioned earlier, Animar gives the deck absurd ramp. Pretty much all morph cards are overpriced for what they do because you're paying extra for the flexibility of playing an overcosted Grizzly Bears and then paying the rest another time to flip it. But with Animar with three +1/+1 counters, we can play our 3 cmc morph cards for free. That changes our morph cards from "overcosted" to "fairly costed!" Amazing!
  2. Best Morph Colors! Animar gives us access to the best morph colors, particularly Green and Blue. We miss out on a handful of sweet White/Black morph cards such as Exalted Angel and Bane of the Living but it's not a big deal.

The biggest downside to playing Animar is its cost. The card is currently $24, far more expensive than any other card in the deck. If you can stomach that price though, Animar is certainly the best leader for the Morph deck.

Another downside is that Animar has a bad reputation for being obscenely powerful, since 99% of Animar lists out there will be, so it's important to communicate to your group that your deck is not a typical Animar list and is 100% Eldrazi-free or else you might be hated out of the table quick. Once you get in a game or two with a group they should realize what you're up to and not hate you out immediately.

One thing to remember: Animar reduces the cost of casting your creatures, but does not reduce the cost of flipping up your morph creatures! While Animar provides some powerful ramp to the deck, we are still very hungry for mana to pay for our high flip costs. The viewer-submitted Animorphs deck that I ran skimped on other ramp sources, and while I could pump out 2/2 face-down creatures like nobody's business, I struggled to do much else. Because of this, I highly recommend running ten other sources of ramp in your deck to pay for the steep flip costs.

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Morph Support

We've got two categories for morph support cards: direct and indirect support.

Direct support are cards that care specifically about morph cards. They care about "face-down" cards. Most of these are fantastic for us because they either ramp or draw cards. Two notable exceptions are Dream Chisel and Obscuring Aether, which are redundant with Animar, Soul of Elements. The good ones are: Ixidor, Reality Sculptor, Skirk Alarmist, Aphetto Runecaster, Temur War Shaman, Secret Plans, Unblinking Bleb, Salt Road Ambushers, and Trail of Mystery.

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Indirect support cards are a category of cards that synergize well with our morph strategy without specifically mentioning face-down cards. These will need a bit more explaining:

  • Ixidron is probably the best card in the deck! It's a creature "board wipe" that flips down all creatures and leaves us with a huge beater. This neuters our opponents' armies, also denying their creatures any useful death triggers (e.g. Solemn Simulacrum) and forces their commanders to stick around as a vanilla 2/2's without having the option of going back to the command zone. But it gets better! Ixidron actually helps our board, because we flip down our morph creatures so we can re-use their flip triggers! That's another use of Ainok Survivalist or Thelonite Hermit!
  • Strionic Resonator is a sweet inclusion because most of our morph cards have sweet triggers when they flip up. Loot twice with Riptide Survivor, or return two cards with Den Protector!
  • Ezuri, Claw of Progress gets an experience counter for every morph card we play and can quickly turn our 2/2s into serious threats!
  • Azami, Lady of Scrolls is an excellent source of card draw for the deck because a significant amount of the best morph cards happen to be wizards. Tap them for value!
  • Thousand Winds is mass creature bounce, even our own. Bouncing our own stuff is actually a benefit because we get to replay them (for free with Animar) face-down so we can re-use their flip triggers.
  • Ruric Thar, the Unbowed is excellent in creature-heavy decks like this one as he can dish out absurd amounts of damage against our opponents and barely hurts us.

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Winning

Outside of just swinging for lethal with our smallish morph creatures, we actually have a 100% on-theme Morph Combo, and it's a good one! Brine Elemental + Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Flip up the Shapeshifter to copy the Elemental, which copies the Elemental's trigger and keeps your opponents from untapping. Then at the beginning of you upkeep, flip down the Shapeshifter and do it again. Your opponents can't untap anything until they can disrupt your combo. So sweet, so thematic!

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Other than that you can insert any win condition you fancy. Pump up your creatures with Beastmaster Ascension, steal everyone's creatures with Insurrection, maybe burn everyone out with a big Comet Storm? Up to you! Or maybe I can recommend this spicy win condition: Primal Surge. All the best morph cards are permanents anyway, so you can cut out the remaining instants/sorceries for the chance to cast Primal Surge, and then flip your deck up on the table! It feels glorious. Oh and yes, it wins the game. Either give your 50+ random creatures haste with Temur Ascendancy and swing for lethal, or add Laboratory Maniac to your deck so when you flip your entire deck on to the table you can draw a random card off Hystrodon or Azami, Lady of Scrolls and win the game!

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Animorphs Budget List ($72)

Here is my current Animorphs list. It's sweet jank that can randomly steal games. If you want to make it more casual, you may consider removing the Primal Surge and/or Brine Elemental combos. The deck runs zero ways to tutor for those combos so it shouldn't happen often anyway. Elixir of Immortality is there so your opponents can't figure out your morphs through the process of elimination (seeing which ones are already in the graveyard) and also adds your win conditions back into the deck.

 

Upgrading

No morph-themed card was omitted due to budget concerns, so no need to worry about that. It also seems silly to whip up a list of competitive Animar cards to add, because Animorphs isn't competitive and if you're looking for that you might as well play a traditional Animar deck instead. So here's a list of cards that make the deck run a little smoother but stick to the Morph Tribal theme:

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That's All, Folks!

Hope you enjoyed this little brew. I may knock out another article before Aether Revolt hype is in full swing, we'll see! As always, your feedback is always appreciated. Let me know what you think about this deck or what decks you want to see in a future article. You can reach me by leaving a comment below or tweeting me @BudgetCommander. Thanks for reading!


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