The Knowledge Pool - Mayael the Anima WAR Update

(Mayael the Anima | Art by Jason Chan)

Mayael Has a New Boar Friend

Hi everyone! Welcome back to The Knowledge Pool, where we take a deep dive on deep commanders!

In my last two articles I've looked at decks featuring a couple of my favorite cards from War of the Spark, Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and God-Eternal Oketra. You can find those articles here and here.

As excited as I am for these two new cards, there was one card that instantly stole my heart, and if my articles have revealed anything about my playstyle, you've already guessed which one I'm referring to: Ilharg, the Raze-Boar. Without a doubt, Ilharg is my favorite new card in War of the Spark. Anytime an ability as powerful as Sneak Attack is stapled to a creature, the card in question has my full attention. Include an impressive body, an aggressive mana cost, evasion, and resiliency to removal, and the card is certain to be on the short list for many of my decks.

Frankly, it's hard to imagine too many red creature decks that aren't at least considering Ilharg, but he's clearly at his best combined with big creatures sporting powerful ETB effects and combat abilities. For me, two commanders immediately came to mind as perfect homes for the boar god: Mayael the Anima and Maelstrom Wanderer. I've written about both of these decks in the past, and today we'll be addressing the virtues of Ilharg in a Mayael build. While we won't be directly discussing Wanderer, it's worth keeping in mind that it shares many of the same synergistic qualities as Mayael.

Ilharg is a magnificent creature, but what makes him so excellent in these decks? To start, both Mayael and Maelstrom Wanderer pull cards from the top of the library, meaning that the Raze Boar will be making frequent trips to the battlefield. Ilharg also benefits from the haste that Wanderer offers, and the pseudo-haste that Mayael gives creatures that enter the battlefield on enemy turns. Haste is particularly powerful with Ilharg because it means we can immediately attack and put another creature into play, and we will not be in short supply of powerful bodies to send into the red zone.

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When I was Green

Some of you may remember my very first articles were related to my Mayael the Anima deck. I've played Mayael for nearly eight years, and over time, maintenance of the build has been a labor of love. Not many new cards make the cut in my list, but a handful of new offerings from the past year seem like necessary inclusions. In addition to new cards, I frequently adapt Mayael to fit changes in my deckbuilding philosophies, revisiting old cards in the process. When I originally wrote about the Naya legend, I made note of establishing defensive creatures in the early game, and about including alternative methods for cheating creatures into play. I don't disagree with my previous assessments, but I think we can make a couple changes that will provide us with extra utility. Since I last wrote about this deck, I've swapped in nine cards: three new, and six old.

With this series I like to follow a loose structure. After I introduce a new deck, I'll break down key statistics and establish core strategies and considerations. After that, I like to dive into the cards that best enhance our strategy. Because I've already written about this deck comprehensively, I'll instead summarize the most important details before presenting my latest updates. I will still offer a cut list at the end, although I will focus primarily on new cards on my radar.

While my previous articles are not a necessary prerequisite here, I strongly recommend looking them over if you want to have a better understanding of the decisions that lead to my final product. The following is the list I presented in my original articles related to Mayael.

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Mayael the Anima: Previous Design

Creatures (32)
Artifacts (7)
Enchantments (4)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (13)
Lands (38)

The Breakdown

Mayael decks have a few signature characteristics. It's important to notice just how heavy our top-end is. This deck has an average converted mana cost around 4.5, and because I've built my deck to synergize with my commander, the high cost is a necessary evil. The fact that we have so many big creatures means that there's the potential for us to have very clunky hands in the early- and mid-game, and I recommend players mulligan aggressively to ensure they don't end up with nothing to do in the first few turns. When contemplating cutting big creatures to lower our curve, we need to be cognizant of the fact that each creature we cut will also detract from our Mayael activations. I've found that 24-27 Mayael targets is a nice sweet spot for this deck, offering us roughly 75-80% chance to reveal a creature with Mayael.

Conceding the fact that we will run a steep curve and that Mayael's activated ability is mana-intensive, we'll need to build in the right supports. The primary support that concerns us is ramp. We will want to be ramping at all stages of the game, owing to the fact that this deck will rarely have mana to spare. In this deck, we have two milestones: 6 mana and 9 mana. At 6 mana we can afford the bulk of our spells, and we can activate Mayael's ability following a turn around the table. At 9 mana we can cast all but two of our spells, and we can cast and activate Mayael in the same turn provided we can give her haste. In addition to ramp, we will want a few alternate ways to cheat creatures into play, allowing us to bypass hefty casting costs.

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While ramp will allow us to apply pressure, many opponents will be wary of the extra mana we're making, and the potential we have to make threatening beasts. To help quell any heat aimed in our direction, I like to pack a lot of removal, particularly Wraths. As the Mayael player, we also have to acknowledge that we will often be the last player to the party, and so we'll need to stunt the growth of our enemies while we build up. There have been games where I've Wrathed the board as many as three times before even dropping a threat of my own.

We want to be liberal about keeping the board clear, but it's worth noting that we're also happy to sit back and ramp if our opponents are ignoring us. Often Mayael will win by sticking a series of threats after our opponents have used up the resources that could have dealt with them.

The moral of the story here is to go with the flow of the game, while at the same time keeping your trigger finger near the big red button.

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The last detail I want to address before we move on to new cards is the creature selection process. Naya has an endless number of powerful targets for Mayael to chose from, but we're limited to only 24-27 of them. For this reason, I try to chose creatures that offer an ability upon ETB, have a static ability, or have an attack trigger. We want to activate Mayael during enemy turns, if we can afford to, and putting a creature into play during an opponent's end step will grant our fatty the ability to attack when it comes back to our turn. Focusing on these sorts of abilities will help guarantee that we're maximizing the mana investment we put into Mayael.

Now that we have an idea of how Mayael functions, let's move onto the changes I would make to the above list.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Let's start by addressing our new additions.

Both Cleansing Nova and Etali, Primal Storm are excellent inclusions in this build. In my previous articles, I mentioned that I would be testing Hour of Revelation as a potentially cheap board reset. However, as many of you pointed out, the glaring issue with Hour is its challenging cost. Even with a tuned manabase, WWW is not an easy cost, and we could end up in trouble if we're relying on Hour and our mana doesn't work out correctly. Luckily, Cleansing Nova is an easy replacement here, giving us control over creatures, artifacts, and enchantments without the cumbersome mana requirements. While swapping Cleansing Nova for Hour of Revelation seems like a pretty clear upgrade, not all changes are so cut and dry.

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Etali, Primal Storm is a natural fit in this deck: it's big, and it has the potential to provide us a mountain of value. Playing cards from opposing decks is rather chaotic, but we can take a little control over Etali's power by making sure the card we reveal from the top of our deck is exactly what we need. Sensei's Divining Top, Scroll Rack, Enlightened Tutor, Worldly Tutor, and Sylvan Tutor will let us stack our deck to get the most out of both Etali and Mayael. So what do we replace with our Dino friend? There aren't any cards in my previous build that offer an ability similar to Etali's, so we're going to have to cut something else. As I was looking over my list, I realized we had a lot of options for protecting our dudes, and Soul of New Phyrexia felt clunky. For now, Soul of New Phyrexia goes back to the binder.

The last new card is the star from WAR, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar. Previously, my Mayael deck was running Quicksilver Amulet as a backup method for cheating dudes into play. Unfortunately, the Amulet has never been particularly exciting in this deck. Four mana to cast Amulet and four mana to activate it is a hefty cost to play one creature, and we will rarely break even on the exchange, not to mention that the Amulet is also a miss with Mayael. Ilharg is an easy swap here, offering us similar utility while increasing our odds of a successful Mayael activation.

A New School of Thought

In addition to the new cards released this past year, I've swapped in a handful of cards that have been on my radar for a while. Some of these have even been in my deck in the past, but had been rotated out of my deck to try new things.

My previous articles stressed the need for early-game interaction to keep opponents off our back. One way I suggested to do this was by including Wall of Blossoms, Wall of Omens, and Courser of Kruphix. I must note that these cards have performed admirably in my list, and they will remain in reserve for the future. However, each of these cards lacks utility beyond drawing a couple cards and providing a solid body, and I feel like we can get more out of these slots.

I've replaced the Walls with Relic of Progenitus and Naya Charm, and my experience with the deck post-swap has been positive. This deck completely lacked graveyard hate before this addition, and Relic provides a cheap answer with a cantrip. We can also tutor for Relic with Enlightened Tutor if the situation is desperate. Naya Charm has been an excellent Swiss Army knife for this deck. At instant speed we can burn a creature, Regrowth a spell, or tap down an opposing army to blunt an attack or make our dudes unblockable.

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Courser of Kruphix is a bit harder to replace because it can offer so much value with all of our fetch lands. I had originally considered Courser to be a form of draw; this isn't incorrect, but even if it was, it's not a very satisfying draw spell if we're trying to pull ahead of our opponents. For this reason, I wanted to beef up our draw options by including Rishkar's Expertise. In the past I didn't like Expertise in this deck because casting a card with CMC 5 or less seemed underwhelming in a deck with such a heavy top end. However, as a big draw spell, Expertise should normally present us with a lot of value. If we can manage to cast a bonus spell off of our Expertise, we'll be in excellent shape.

The last three cards I've swapped into the deck are role players. We have a lot of creature removal in this deck, and while we aren't lacking in artifact and enchantment removal, we don't have many options at the lower end of our curve. For this reason, Path to Exile was swapped for Wear // Tear.

Next, I've decided to swap out Scourge of Kher Ridges for Steel Hellkite. Scourge is a fun card, and can act as a reusable Wrath in the right situation, but I like the fact that we can tune Steel Hellkite to destroy any nonland permanent while potentially avoiding blowing up our own in the process.

The final swap is replacing Elvish Piper with Regal Behemoth. Piper falls into the same category as Quicksilver Amulet as an alternative way to put creatures in play. Unfortunately, Piper doesn't survive very long in most games. Regal Behemoth, on the other hand, is a Mayael target, and its mana-doubling ability will help us to cast our big creatures. The fact that we will often have tons of big bodies will help ensure that we stay the Monarch, and we won't complain about the extra draw each turn.

Taking into account these swaps, here's what our deck looks like:

Mayael the Anima: WAR Edition

Creatures (30)
Artifacts (7)
Enchantments (4)
Instants (7)
Sorceries (14)
Lands (38)

The Cut List

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Ilharg wasn't the only card from WAR that caught my attention. In fact, one card that I considered heavily was Finale of Devastation. Finale of Devastation didn't quite get a spotlight article of its own, but it's on my honorable mentions list for most exciting cards in the set. The fact that Finale is such a close analog to Green Sun's Zenith should set off alarm bells for green players, and the fact that it also gives green decks a way to Reanimate creatures is huge. I've built iterations of Mayael in the past that aimed to utilize cards like Green Sun's Zenith, and these versions usually include more mana dorks for us to snag with an early game Zenith. The trouble with Zenith, and similarly Finale of Devastation, is that our loaded top end leaves these cards dead in the early- and mid game. I think to consider Finale in this list, I would need to restructure my build, but it's worth keeping in mind that Finale can grab creatures of any color, which means that it's an excellent late game tutor.

I pointed out that we were light on graveyard hate, and in my opinion there are two options that are particularly appealing. The less-invasive option is Scavenger Grounds, given the limited opportunity cost to play it. We can even tutor Scavenger Grounds with Sylvan Scrying. The other option I've considered is Rest in Peace. Rest in Peace is near unbeatable for certain strategies, and it will force graveyard-focused decks to find an answer before proceeding. The issue with both of these cards is finding a spot in the 99. Scavenger Grounds could be a 39th land, but that means cutting a spell. We could replace another land to make room for Scavenger Grounds, but then we're cutting into our fixing. Rest in Peace, on the other hand, is a nuclear option, and threatens to deal significant damage to us given that we have a handful of ways to interact with the graveyard.

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Beyond these, the card that always pops up when I'm editing Mayael is Warstorm Surge. Mayael is one of the few decks in my arsenal without a backup combo win condition or a way to win if combat becomes impossible. The idea of burning down opponents with Warstorm Surge is appealing, and I've experienced success with similar strategies in Mayael in the past. My issue with these sorts of effects is that they do nothing until we play other spells, meaning an enemy Naturalize can suddenly Time Walk us if we invest our entire turn in a Warstorm Surge. I think these spells are at their best in decks like Omnath, Locus of Rage that can put power on the board with limited investment, but in Mayael, Warstorm Surge will remain on the sidelines.

Wrapping Up

Thank you all for taking the time to read my article! I've had several people request edits to this deck, and the release of Ilharg seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Until next time, I wish you all the best and happy brewing!

I'm a Timmy that loves Green, Creatures, and Lands. I prefer controlled smashing, and best associate with the Temur colors. I've been playing commander since 2012, and I spend my free time brewing decks and exploring new strategies. I'm also a sports nut, and follow baseball, football, hockey, and soccer in detail.