Mayael the Anima

My altered Mayael the Anima

“Prior to the Conflux, Progenitus reunited into five heads, telling Mayael to build up an army to counteract Sarkhan Vol’s invasion of dragons.” – History of Alara

Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH/Commander)

I’ve played Magic: the Gathering semi-competitively for roughly two years now – started in 2012, took a break in 2013, then got back in late 2013 – and I never really understood why people play EDH. After all, I play Magic to win store credit and prizes, and I have heard all sorts of crazy stories about ridiculous combos in EDH that Wizards never intended to happen together due to things like banlists and rotating formats. But then I started playing EDH after Tuesday night Standard events with borrowed decks, and the format really started to intrigue me.

I think people like playing with a Hero card that leads their army, which is basically what the Commander card in EDH is supposed to be. This is something I think the WoW TCG did very well, and Hearthstone’s class system is a great successor to that game in terms of letting people experience variety. One thing about a game as old as Magic is that there are a lot of possible commanders to choose from, and in designing Zems with the idea that each deck should have a Hero, I felt like there were a lot of lessons I could take from EDH. I won’t talk about heroes in Zems in this post, but instead on how I built my Mayael deck.

It All Starts Online

I do the majority of my testing online through Cockatrice because I can’t afford to buy an actual deck on MTGO, nor do I have any real interest to grind MTGO without a paying job that also allows me to save a decent amount in the bank. Many professional Magic players mention that playing games is paramount when building a deck, and the truth is that preparation and simulation is absolutely essential in virtually every aspect of life. I’m always critical of people who show up to events and try to build a deck on the spot to play with, and I’m even more critical of people who go to sealed Magic tournaments and register their deck without even goldfishing or playing an imaginary game with the deck they’ve put together before turning in the final deck registration form.

I think that no matter what format you are preparing for, testing and preparation is absolutely essential, and I have made it a rule to test things online before putting them together in paper. Mayael’s Army is my first EDH deck, and I have tested it online for an entire month before committing to buy the cards to actually assemble it. In doing so, I have been able to test against a variety of different players and power levels, and the list I will be presenting and explaining below is in my opinion the best way to build Mayael.

First Rule of Mayael – Pretend She Isn’t There

I always look at other people’s lists online as a starting point for my Magic brews. The main problem I encountered after testing various Mayael lists is that they basically are out of the game if Mayael gets killed repeatedly. In groups where people run interactive decks and actually know what they’re doing, Mayael will be targeted the moment she is put into play. Some of the lists I tried were able to get a few activations with her after having to cast her multiple times, but they lacked the mana ramp to hard-cast any of the threats, leaving me with large creatures in hand that I could never cast and really wish were in the top 5 cards of my deck instead. I think one of the litmus tests for EDH decks should be, “Operate in the case your commander gets tucked.” By tucked I mean shuffled into your deck, which is something that has actually happened to me in some of my test games. How do you solve the issue of being able to operate without Mayael? Mana rocks. Lots of them.

Artifact (19)


The only two non-mana rocks are Quicksilver Amulet and Scroll Rack. My initial versions of this list excluded the Rack, but after a few games I realized the ability to put a creature on the top of my deck and then activate Mayael to cheat it into play on someone’s EOT is very strong. In addition, sometimes your artifacts get destroyed by an overloaded Vandalblast and you want to dig for lands. Rack helps with this.

The Quicksilver Amulet is pretty self-explanatory. I’m not a fan of Elvish Piper since it’s a creature (and also has summoning sickness). The Amulet has the advantage of being harder to destroy since it’s not a creature and there’s enough ramp in this deck to usually activate it the same turn it enters play, which is a HUGE difference compared to Elvish Piper, even if Piper’s activation cost is cheaper.

Also, with this many mana rocks, the number of lands we run is also at a bare minimum:

Land (33)


The mana base is extremely solid and I wouldn’t change a thing. Right now JOU spoilers are out and I can tell you City of Brass is better than Mana Confluence in this deck, if only because we run Platinum Emperion.

Second Rule of Mayael – Aim To Create An Escalating Board State

A lot of Mayael lists I’ve seen run large creatures that are really just individual threats. That’s not an optimal way to build Mayael. Given our mana ramp, Mayael can come down as often as turn 2 and start activating on turn 3. Since our primary game plan is to beat down with giant fatties, our goal should therefore be to only run fatties that also help protect our position on the board. This is one reason why I don’t include Worldspine Wurm – it’s just a giant trampling fatty that doesn’t say ‘protects my other creatures from wraths’ (like Avacyn), ‘protects my life total’ (like Platinum Emperion), or ‘prevents me from getting attacked’ (like Blazing Archon). All of our fatties are huge, and while they may not be 15/15 huge, we shouldn’t be trying to just cheat in big stuff, but instead impactful stuff. There are some other reasons why I don’t include Worldspine Wurm (especially the fact that it’s a creature that violates rule #1; it will take forever to reach the mana to hardcast this thing, even with our ramp), but I won’t go into detail on them. Just know that every big creature that has gone into this deck has been carefully selected and tested.

Creature (31)


There are likely some questions in the style of ‘why isn’t this in the deck?’ and I will address the most common culprits here.

  • Utvara Hellkite – If I had room, I would fit him in. He’s actually insane and it doesn’t really hurt to have army-in-a-can type cards in this sort of deck as long as they are kept at a minimum and don’t rely on things such as landfall (like Avenger of Zendikar). I just think the other fatties I have are all a step above Hellkite, otherwise I would replace one of them with this.
  • Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger – Most blue decks play Bribery and are aiming to combo off. Cutting all the other players’ mana and doubling the blue player’s mana means the blue player is going to go infinite way faster while you’re still struggling to cast spells with restricted lands. However, Iona is in the deck because we can fight through Bribery on Iona (but we can’t fight through Vorinclex, trust me).
  • Angelic Arbiter – I see some lists run this card, but it really doesn’t do enough. It’s an awkward card that doesn’t really stop anyone. Combo decks looking to go infinite aren’t going to be attacking the same turn they play spells, and aggro decks (Krenko, Rafiq, etc.) are relying more on abilities/effects than spells to get in for massive amounts of damage anyway.
  • Godsire – Doesn’t help our board state, and Bribery on this thing is essentially a 3 turn clock before the blue player starts 1 shotting people, with us being the likely first target.
  • Aegis AngelAvacyn is just better, and often times giving one permanent temporary indestructible just isn’t good enough.
  • Admonition Angel – This card is a voltron removal card in the sense that you’re removing things but really just stacking them on this creature, which means killing it gives your opponents value. We also don’t have enough lands in the deck to make much use of the Landfall anyway.
  • Bogardan Hellkite – We can do much better than this dragon. 5 damage ETB isn’t that great in multiplayer EDH anyway.
  • Worldspine Wurm – Violates rule #1 and rule #2. Hardcasting is hard if people have been interacting with you. Getting three 5/5 tramplers after a wrath isn’t bad, but it’s also not really great considering we could have ran a creature that might have saved our board in place of this guy.
  • Avenger of Zendikar – With only 33 lands, I have had a lot of games where we’re sitting on six or seven 0/1 plants for a long time. Was originally in the deck and is a solid inclusion in slower lists that don’t run as many rocks, but he just doesn’t make the cut here.
  • Blightsteel ColossusBribery on this guy, and people are getting one-shotted by the blue player while everyone is still pointing fingers at you for including such a douchebag card in your EDH deck.
  • Craterhoof Behemoth – I usually activate Mayael on either EOT or upkeep of someone else’s turn, otherwise I would run this.
  • Moldgraf Monstrosity – Is just a big fatty that does nothing until they wrath. Also is a nonbo with Avacyn.
  • Sun Titan – We have nothing really good to recur, except fetchlands.
  • Giant Adephage – If I were to include something like this, Utvara Hellkite would make the cut first.
  • Akroma, Angel of Fury/Wrath – Just not good enough if we have to hardcast them. Also, both versions don’t really help protect our board in any way.
  • Xenagos, God of Revels – Our stuff is big to begin with, and going bigger isn’t as good as including a creature that builds toward an escalating board state instead.
  • Heliod, God of the Sun – Has the problem of not being guaranteed to be a creature, so often times hitting him is equivocal to practical missing on a Mayael activation.


Now to justify some of the more questionable choices.

  • Krosan Tusker – He’s in here because we actually don’t want to draw any of our fatties unless Mayael is tucked or has been killed repeatedly to the point where we might as well just hard-cast our threats. Tusker is one of the rare creatures that are a legal target for Mayael while also being a decent draw due to its cycle ability and subsequent trigger.
  • Eldrazi – We don’t run wraths because we don’t really have room and should be committing to the board heavily anyway. The Eldrazi, along with other creatures with ETB removal effects, are our primary way of dealing with players who are getting out of control. I understand Annihilator is an unfun mechanic, but after testing for about a month online with this deck, I know it’s absolutely needed.
  • Yosei, the Morning Star – Has a rattlesnake effect that helps us lock down another threatening player in the game for a turn.


Another thing to consider when building Mayael is the mathematics behind hitting or missing. We have the awkward issue of not wanting to draw any of our big threats while Mayael is in play but absolutely have to include a decent number of them to not miss on her activation.

Mayael miss probabilities. Left column is the number of fatties in the deck, right column is percent chance to miss without accounting for deck thinning (fetchlands, etc.).

20  | 32%
21  | 29%
22  | 27% 
23  | 25% 
24  | 23% 
25  | 21% 
26  | 20% 
27  | 19% 
28  | 17% 
29  | 16% 
30  | 15% 
31  | 14% 
32  | 13% 
33  | 12% 
34  | 11% 
35  | 10% 
36  | 9% 
37  | 9%


My list currently runs 25 fat, but also includes deck thinning cards, meaning roughly 1 out of every 5 activations will miss in an actual game setting, with this percentage increasing the more times we hit.

Third Rule of Mayael – Seedborn Muse Is Her Best Friend

We run a decent number of instant-speed tutor effects, and some of these are creature tutors. We ideally want to start with one of these in our opening hand so that when we cast Mayael, we can tutor for Seedborn Muse and start using her ability on every other player’s turn.

Instant (9)

Sorcery (4)

Enchantment (3)


The best opening for this deck is:

  1. Ramp into mana rocks on turn 1
  2. Cast Mayael turn 2
  3. Tutor for Seedborn Muse on either someone else’s end-of-turn 2 or during the upkeep of our turn 3 or Green Sun’s Zenith for 5 (costs 6 mana total, keep this in mind) during main phase to fetch Seedborn straight from the deck.

Getting three Mayael activations on turn 3 is nearly unbeatable in this deck, and you would be surprised how often we are able to do this.

Sculpting the Opening Hand

Opening hands with Mayael are much simpler than her dega counterpart, Kaalia, because we don’t want uncastable fatties in our hand (as Kaalia does) but instead we want them in our deck. This means you ship all of the following in virtually all opening hands:

  • Interaction (all instants that aren’t tutors – we don’t need to interact early on and instead care about ramping fast)
  • Artifacts that aren’t mana rocks (there’s only two, Quicksilver Amulet and Scroll Rack)
  • Aura Shards
  • All fatties, including Krosan Tusker


The ideal opening hand is therefore:

  • Land
  • Mana rocks
  • 1 creature tutor (to grab Seedborn Muse) OR Seedborn Muse in opening hand


The Final List (As of 04/13/2014, before JOU is released)

Sorcery (4)

Instant (9)

Enchantment (3)

Creature (31)

Land (33)

Artifact (19)


From the JOU previews, there’s nothing I see that is worthy of inclusion anyway.

There’s a lot of things I’m taking from my EDH experience that I will try to incorporate into Zems to make it as enjoyable a game as possible. There are some other EDH decks I’m working on in my spare time, so I might make another one of these posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed this one about how I build Mayael. Thanks for reading!