Commander Showdown - Kadena vs Animar
Caio Monteiro | Art by Peter MohrbacherArt by
Mighty Morphin' Magic
Commander 2019 has made a splash in the EDH community, with its mechanics-based commanders each opening up some doors that were previously closed.has given Rakdos the Madness deck that never quite lived up to, and gives us all a big Flashback to the past. However, no mechanic has been happier to receive a dedicated commander than the keyword Morph, whose Faceless Menace deck brought with it the sly and sinister .
Morph hasn't been completely unsupported, of course; though Kadena is much more deliberate about her face-down creatures, Morph players have had a home for their sneaky tricks for years by using the commander. Though he doesn't specify any synergy with Morph cards, his natural ability to reduce generic mana in a creature's casting cost has not only made him a home for the s and s of the world, but also those hidden face-down creatures. With enough counters, Animar can make every single one of them completely free!
Both commanders share a core identity of green and blue, but their third colors radically shift the ways their decks behave around the Morph mechanic. If you're searching for a home for your face-down creatures, which commander is best for you? Let's find out!
We begin, as usual, with the commander we already know.is a standout from the very first Commander preconstructed decks in 2011. Animar is a classic case of momentum: the more creatures you cast, the more creatures he allows you to cast.
Now, Animar isn't exclusively a Morph deck; his abilities have phenomenal synergy with the mechanic, but his EDHREC page is filled with all types of creatures, fromto . A normal Animar deck has to balance itself with enough tiny creatures to get the ball rolling and put a few counters on Animar, while also have high-cost creatures that he can provide a huge discount to later, especially for those creatures with as few colored pips in their mana costs as possible.
In fact, check out the Average Type Distribution on Animar's EDHREC page:
Would you look at that! 44 creatures! Nearly half the deck is devoted to creature slots. Normally, this kind of prospect would be risky for a Commander deck - too many creatures doesn't leave room for other much-needed effects like card advantage or mana ramp - but Animar has already solved this problem. Each creature you cast provides you with mana advantage, so there's less need forand other spell-based ramp. Additionally, with the inclusion of , , and , your value train gets to keep rolling and rolling.
This is all extremely important for Animar when using him specifically for the Morph strategy. Morph decks rely upon a significant density of creatures to be most effective; the more of them you have in play, the less your opponents will be able to play around your strategy, since they have no idea what you can do, and no idea how many resources it will take for you to do it. If Animar is able to spit out creatures for free, it's imperative to have a wealth of effects that refill the hand after you've cast a bunch of creatures. We don't want to waste our valuable slots on mana acceleration, but rather on card advantage.
Many of the most popular Morph creatures appear in green and blue:, , , . Even the Morph-specific enchantments like and are centered much more in the Simic slice of Animar's color identity. What special offerings does Animar provide us in red?
To be honest... not much. There are only about five red Morph creatures on Animar's Morph Theme page, and only about ten red creatures total, face-down or otherwise. is a fun surprise, though only on your own turn, and can save you in a pinch, but it's still not ideal. Probably the most fun is , though even she has a hefty cost to flip face-up. Overall, though, red just isn't the color that specialize in hidden information, so the s and of the world are going to provide you with more interesting gameplay than red's face-down contributions.
Luckily, Animar has a lot of other tricks available. Let's review them with a quick decklist:
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Simply put, I don't think it's wise for us to attempt to foist extra red cards into Animar's deck just to attempt to stick to the Morph theme. Rather, I think it's important to take two of red's most important strategies and apply the spirit of those strategies to this deck.
First up: artifacts. Are they Morphs? No. But are they colorless creatures? Yes, yes they are. If you ask me, it's more important to lean into the colorless creatures than it is to find more red cards for Animar. Red loves artifacts, and frankly, Animar can too. If possible, we don't want to pay any mana for our creatures ever, and the fewer colored pips in the mana costs, the better.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think these cards are that much of a deviation from the overall strategy and theme., for example, allows you to hold up mana to save the entire army from a Wrath, which is very necessary, given how many creatures Animar will have in play. Better yet, holding up mana like this is exactly what all those face-down creatures want, so they can flip over at a moment's notice. If you've spilled your entire hand onto the table for free, what better than a to help you refill at effectively no cost? With enough counters on Animar, is a . These creatures operate more like spells than actual creatures, which I think justifies their inclusion; they don't interact with the primary face-down-ness of creatures, but they do interact with a lot of the secondary consequences of having those face-down creatures.
The second important aspect about red? Its explosiveness. More than anything, this is the hallmark of Animar. The question we have to ask here isn't, "Which Morph creatures should I play?" but rather, "What function do Morphs serve in this deck?"
I would argue that the function they serve is to make Animar completely obnoxious. Everyone's probably already familiar with thetrick, which can repeatedly bounce and recast itself from Animar's super-awesome discount to put infinite counters onto Animar. That'll get you one heck of a powerful commander - one touch and it'll annihilate any opponent you want, helped all the more by Animar's exceptional protection from two of the most removal-heavy colors in the game.
is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Morphs can serve to be a tricksy shell game, but they can also serve a purpose as being simply free creatures. What they do isn't nearly as important to Animar as what they enable. For example, can help enable a repeated bounce trick with any two Morphs, as can and . Bouncing your own creatures to make Animar even bigger is awesome, but we can go one step further and throw a nice into the mix to really get the clock ticking.
See? Red loves its explosiveness.
Slink to the Past
Let's move now to, who exchanges Animar's red for the color black. What does switching this one color help enable?
To be frank, black offers a lot more to your face-down collection than red. In red, your opponents only ever had to worry that you might flip aand steal a creature for a turn. In black, with and and and more, your opponents now have to worry that, at any moment, you stand a legitimate chance of destroying one of their precious creatures. That's a very different dynamic, and it's one Kadena fully intends to capitalize upon.
Kadena, like Animar, cheapens the cost of our face-down creatures, but only once per turn. Luckily, she's carefully worded to say 'each turn' rather than 'each of your turns'. In other words, with a nice ol', you could cast a free creature on every turn.
The most important distinction, however, is Kadena's second ability: whenever face-down creatures enter the battlefield under your control, she draws you a card. Where Animar ran the risk of running out of steam, Kadena keeps her engines fully fueled around the clock. Best of all, this opens up the Morph strategy just a hair to include another face-down mechanic: Manifest.
is lackluster in any other deck, but here with Kadena, it not only can fill up her board, but also draw her a frankly obscene number of cards. might look like a lot of mana, but keep in mind that with Kadena in play, it also draws you a card on each opponent's turn. That from Commander 2018, by the way? Slam-dunk in Kadena's deck.
Let's slink through a decklist to see what other schemes Kadena's up to:
Slink to the Past
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Shockingly, when we look through EDHREC's Precon Upgrade Guide for Kadena's deck, we can see that a lot of folks appear to be removing spells like and . While yes, is perhaps not the spiciest card, these spells are extraordinarily important to a deck that intends to commit this many bodies to the board.
It's my recommendation to increase those effects rather than decrease them; though perhaps not as explosive as Animar, this deck still puts a whole lot of bodies onto the battlefield, and one of the best ways to win from that position is to pump them up and make them trample over your enemies. You're not realistically going to chip away at your opponents' life totals with a bunch of 2/2s that flip over into 2/3s. And as cool as the "pickles lock" is, usingand to repeatedly skip enemy untap steps isn't a win condition, it's a slow lockout. If Animar leans into red's explosiveness, I say that Kadena should lean into black's tendencies too, and murder something.
Cards to Consider
Let's take a brief moment to highlight some special cards in the lists above that run the risk of being overlooked.
- : Morphs are nontoken creatures without a name... which means they don't share a name with another creature you control.
- : It probably isn't worth the big price tag on this little ditty just to have a one-time , but if you happen to have one, a deck that plays a bunch of literally free creatures seems likely trigger this card quite a bit.
- : This is effectively a Storm-style creature deck, and this spell not only can reset your Morphs for a bunch of extra Animar triggers, but this can also save your board of creatures from an unfriendly board wipe.
- : Free creatures from the top of the deck? Don't mind if I do.
- : The above list is pretty Storm-heavy, which may not be everyone's jam with Animar. I still think Purphoros is a good call here, even without a dedication to casting lots of spells each turn, because a natural part of Morph decks is bouncing them back to hand after they've flipped face-up, so we can reset them and get their Morph abilities again. Purphoros takes good advantage of all that extra bouncing and gets in some much-needed extra damage.
- Gatherer rulings here. : This genuinely doesn't make any sense to me, but can in fact cast Morph cards. Check out the
- : This card is so awesome! Why is it one of Kadena's least popular Morph inclusions? Attack as a face-down creature, and when it goes unblocked, cut someone's life in half! Then return this to your hand later and put it face-down again so you can avoid its downside!
- : Speaking of returning things to our hand, this is a phenomenal way to do it. It can catch some unwitting enemies off-guard too.
- : Honestly, any pump effect will do. , , , anything at all. Make sure your deck isn't just playing face-down creatures and drawing cards, but is also using those creatures and cards to end the game.
- : Colorless card for a colorless deck!
Why Doesn'thave Morph?
Morph is a very tricksy mechanic, but both of these commander approach it in very different ways.takes more advantage of Morphs as free objects, almost like the zero-drop artifacts seen in decks like or . Animar takes advantage of the nature of these free spells to generate enough power for a huge payoff. Flipping the creatures face-up can, in some Animar builds, be an afterthought compared to the other abilities they enable. If you play Animorphs, don't just think about what Animar does for the Morph creatures, but about what they do for Animar.
, on the other hand, plays Morphs much more like they're traditionally known, tricking her enemies by threatening them with hidden abilities. Where Animar spills his guts onto the table, Kadena is more nuanced and methodical, carefully measuring her mana to make sure she's able to react at a moment's notice. She's more than just subtle, though. If built correctly, she can hit like a truck.
So, which Morph-mander do you prefer? Are you all about those exponential explosions, or do you prefer subtler sorcery?
Oh, and which pair would you like to see on the next Commander Showdown? Cast your votes!
Til next time!