Last updated on September 12, 2023
Part the Waterveil | Illustration by Titus Lunter
One of my favorite ways to play Magic (when I’m not playing grindy control decks) is with a land-based strategy. There are so few ways to negatively interact with lands that it makes it tougher for your opponents to handle when you employ them as your strategy and win condition.
One of the land interaction strategies is to animate them, or turn them into creatures. It’s a powerful and often unexpected strategy that can quickly take over the game with the right tools.
Which cards offer the best effects? What does each color have to offer? Let’s find out!
What Are Animate Land Cards in Magic?
Planar Outburst (Battle for Zendikar) | Illustration by Vincent Proce
Animate land cards are any card, permanent or not, that can turn lands into creatures. This includes making them into a 0/0 creature and putting +1/+1 counters on them, or turning all lands of a certain type into 1/1 Saprolings.
Regardless of how its done, animate land cards turn lands into creatures, plain and simple. How it’s done and how well determines just how powerful of an effect it actually is.
Best White Animate Land Cards
#5. Guardian Zendikon
#4. Genju of the Fields
Genju of the Fields, from Betrayers of Kamigawa, is one of the older cards here. It’s a 1-mana enchantment for Plains that lets you turn that land into a 2/5 spirit with lifelink for just . It can also be put into your hand if the land it was on is killed or destroyed, which adds some nice redundancy.
I think this card is neat. It’s cheap and effective, and it sticks around. The only area it’s lacking in is its actual power. It doesn’t have that same sort of beat-down potential that something like a 3/3 or 4/4 has.
#3. Ondu Rising
This is nothing crazy, but I’m a little surprised I’ve never seen this in a casual Commander pod before.
#2. Planar Outburst
Planar Outburst is beyond the most powerful card in white among these. You need three white pips on top of the five colorless to animate a land.
This is just too much to reliably cast outside of mono-white, and all that work for a 4/4 won’t usually be worth it.
#1. Wall of Resurgence
Wall of Resurgence gives creatures a 3/3 for you on top of being a pretty big wall at six toughness. It’s the best overall bang for your buck, though I’m not sure there’s too much bang here.
Best Blue Animate Land Cards
#7. Balduvian Frostwaker
Balduvian Frostwaker is a 3-mana 1/1 that turns your lands in to 2/2 fliers. You have to pay one blue and tap this creature as part of the cost, but the key fact is that the land stays a creature forever.
The overall problem with these kinds of cards is that the lands don’t stay creatures forever, but that isn’t an issue here. Still, paying one mana to turn your land into a creature isn’t always beneficial. You can’t use the lands for mana if you want to get value from the creature part.
#6. Scatter to the Winds
I could see myself playing this in a mass-counterspells deck with a commander like Baral, Chief of Compliance, but nowhere else really.
#5. Avalanche Caller
Avalanche Caller is a 2-mana 1/3 that can make one of your snow lands into a 4/4 with hexproof and haste for just two. This is closer to the kind of value I’m looking for in these cards, but I’m not too sure I’d want to put mana into this. That’s four mana for a 4/4 overall, and you don’t even get to keep it around.
I’d be much happier with this if the text “until end of turn” were removed.
#4. Coastal Discovery
Coastal Discovery is a 4-mana enchantment that draws you two cards and makes a 4/4 out of a land if you pay the awaken cost. Six mana to draw two cards and make a 4/4 sure is sweet in Limited, but I’m not too keen on sleeving this one up for a format like Commander.
#3. Wind Zendikon
Wind Zendikon isn’t anything special, but the bar is low for these kinds of cards in blue. It makes a 2/2 flier out of a land for one mana.
I’m not too fond of these kinds of effects, but this one seems okay on rate.
#2. Genju of the Falls
Another Genju, this time it’s Genju of the Falls. This is a 1-mana enchantment that makes your land a 3/2 until end of turn for two. It’s decent value, being just a single power ahead of Wind Zendikon.
This isn’t going to do much for you in the long run. A 2-mana 3/2 is borderline okay in most Constructed formats and probably just bad in Commander. Especially when you factor in that you pay two each time you want to use it, and it keeps a land down.
#1. Part the Waterveil
Hey, you’ve probably heard of this card. Part the Waterveil is a 6-mana extra-turn sorcery with awaken 6. That means that if you pay instead of , a 3-mana difference, you get a 6/6 on top of taking another turn.
I don’t normally like cards like this because you typically get some mediocre creature and effect for a premium price, but this is an exception. Nine mana to take a turn and get a 6/6 is slightly better than average. A 6/6 for four mana is just good considering that most extra-turn spells are five mana.
Best Black Animate Land Cards
#6. Rising Miasma
Rising Miasma is pretty bad, worse than Pyroclasm. I don’t think I’d ever want to make a 3/3 with this card. It doesn’t make sense to me to make a cheap board wipe that’s meant to wipe out small creatures an 8-mana spell.
#5. Genju of the Fens
The black Genju is Genju of the Fens, a 1-mana enchantment that can turn an enchanted Swamp into a 2/2 with a pump ability. It comes back to your hand if the land dies just like the other Genjus, which is always good.
A 2/2 isn’t too crazy. I wish the pump ability would put counters on the creature instead of just giving it +1/+1, but maybe that would be too good.
#4. Mire’s Malice
Mire's Malice is a 4-mana sorcery that makes your opponent discard two cards. It’s not too great, especially since you can find that for three mana on average without the awaken mechanic.
The awaken mechanic bumps the price up to from , and it puts 3 +1/+1 counters onto a land in the process. I’d be somewhat happy to have this card if your opponent was hellbent.
#3. Corrupted Zendikon
Corrupted Zendikon is a 2-mana enchantment that makes a 3/3 out of a land. The land stays a 3/3 for as long as the enchantment is in play, and the land returns to hand when the creature dies.
Nothing too crazy here. I’m not a fan of making my land a 3/3 that I can’t even use half of the time, especially early in the game, but this is one of the better ones in black.
#2. Ruinous Path
It has the awaken mechanic, so you can pay the full to get a 4/4 out of this exchange.
#1. Fendeep Summoner
Fendeep Summoner is a 3/5 for 5-mana that can turn two of your Swamps into 3/5 creatures. It’s not horrible on rate as a 3/5, and it offers a lot of power immediately by making two creatures.
Unlike some of the worse blue animate spells, you get more than a flimsy 1/3 and some actual power from your lands.
Best Red Animate Land Cards
#6. Crusher Zendikon + Crackling Emergence
Here’s a two-way tie between Crusher Zendikon and Crackling Emergence. Both of these enchantment-based animate land cards are very underwhelming. Neither offer particularly strong creatures, and both are enchantments that keep coming back.
I’m just not into these when I could play a 3-mana 4/2 instead. These could be good in some sort of 5-color land tribal, but I’m not sure that’s really supported in any meaningful way.
#5. Embodiment of Fury
I like that it gives haste and I could see this working in some incredibly-niche landfall/aggro Gruul () deck.
#4. Genju of the Spires
The red Genju, Genju of the Spires, is a 1-mana enchantment that turns your land into a 6/1 spirit for just two mana.
I’d have loved to see this give trample. You’re almost always sacrificing a land unless you pay two to just deal six. If you’re playing this in an aggressive red then you probably have better 1-drops to play. Heck, you’re probably already winning if the board is clear and you’re soaking mana into a 6/1.
#3. Siege of Towers
Siege of Towers is a 2-mana enchantment that turns a target Mountain into a 3/1 creature. It also has the replicate keyword. Replicate basically lets you cast the spell as many times as you want, so you could cast this five times for and animate five 3/1 lands.
It has a lot of explosive power, but it doesn’t seem too reliable on its own.
#2. Awaken the Ancient
Awaken the Ancient is a 4-mana enchantment that turns a Mountain into a 7/7 with haste. This is something I can actually get behind. A 4-mana 7/7 is always good, and those stat lines plus the haste make casting this and giving up a land somewhat worth it.
I’d like to see trample, but then I think this card would go from okay to actually good. That may be too much, but you’re also going down a land if your opponent has spot removal, so who’s to say?
#1. Koth of the Hammer
Koth of the Hammer blows other cards out of the water. It also protects itself by making a 4/4 out of a Mountain and untaps it, so this is actually playable on four instead of a dud.
I wish it were a creature until your next turn because that would actually protect it, but red is naturally the aggressive color anyway.
Best Green Animate Land Cards
There are more green animate land cards than there are all other colors combined, so I’m going to stick to the best ones. There’s no sense in ranking 15 different yet functionally identical mediocre cards that you’ll never want to play.
#9. Life and Limb
When I first read Life and Limb I didn’t even think about what I’d do with my onslaught of little plant lands. It was the destruction I could inflict by pairing this with a Pyroclasm and a Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth that got me.
Sometimes you just have to be the menace at the table.
#8. Liege of the Tangle
Liege of the Tangle is the kind of massive obtuse card I come to Commander night to play. It’s big, it forces your opponents to interact, and it dominate boards when it connects with an opponent’s face.
You probably already have half a dozen lands at least, so having that many 8/8s is too overwhelming to deal with. It opens you up to board wipes, no doubt. You could probably one-shot whoever might have that board wipe before they get a chance to cast it, turn cycles permitting, if you manage to give your creatures trample.
#7. Primal Adversary
Primal Adversary has been one of the worse Adversaries out of the bunch. I think it still carries its weight in Commander, especially when you get to the point where you’re paying the cost five or six times.
There’s nothing better than going wide other than going wide with creatures that pack a punch. This is a great top-end card in werewolf decks that can naturally enhance your land/wolf creatures. You already have haste, so you really just need trample and some +1/+1 effects to get this going.
It’s even all right on rate as a 4/3 with trample for three mana.
#6. Sylvan Awakening
Sylvan Awakening is a neat but not so powerful card. It turns all your lands into 2/2s with haste, reach, and indestructible. You won’t have to worry about getting blown out by a Pyroclasm, but you still need some extra power to back these creatures up.
But I don’t think that’s too much of an ask. You’re almost never just casting this on-curve to make a few 2/2s for no reason. This is often going to be one of the last cards you cast because you have some tribal-enhancing permanents out already, or a Craterhoof Behemoth to seal the deal.
#5. Destiny Spinner
Destiny Spinner is the most played land-animating card, and for good reason. It’s an excellent win condition in enchantment decks that frequently have more lands (and mana) than they know what to do with.
Your lands will be pretty big when you activate this, at least 1/1s thanks to the creature being an enchantment itself. It also gives haste and trample, which is often what decides if these kinds of cards good or bad.
#4. Druid Class
I’m a big fan of Druid Class. It’s great as a 2-drop, offering some lifegain throughout the game and great options to activate on two and three. It provides decent mana ramp for green, which is important because you’re playing this over other ramp spells mostly on turns 2 and 3.
The 5-mana ability is where things get interesting. It lets you animate a land with power and toughness equal to the number of lands you control, which will be at least five but probably more.
This isn’t too special, especially when you consider what else you can do with that mana in green, but it’s that ability in conjunction with the others that makes this such a powerful value-oriented enchantment.
#3. Nissa, Worldwaker
The first among Nissas is Nissa, Worldwaker, a 5-mana planeswalker that can either untap four Forests or make a 4/4 with trample out of a target land you control. That’s pretty good, offering two versatile ways to protect itself while also going up to four loyalty counters.
Its ultimate is a total bomb. It tutors out any number of basic lands out of your library and puts them into play as 4/4 creatures with trample. This is a mono-green player’s dream. It typically results in you pulling 10+ land/creatures out of your deck and onto the battlefield.
#2. Nissa, Vital Force
I enjoy Nissa, Vital Force quite a bit. It comes in at five loyalty, which quickly goes up to six once you make a 5/5 out of a land you control. It also untaps it, so you can play this on curve and have a steady board state out of almost nothing.
Its ultimate isn’t the land-animating bomb you’d hope for, but it gives you plenty of card draw throughout the game. It can also be activated the next turn if you don’t mind sacrificing the planeswalker altogether.
#1. Nissa, Who Shakes the World
Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the most popular (and powerful) Nissa planeswalker. It comes in at five loyalty for five mana and lets your Forests tap for an extra green.
That’s pretty powerful for a passive, and the +1 is also good. It puts three +1/+1 counters onto a noncreature land you control, untaps it, and gives it vigilance and haste. This is what Koth of the Hammer wishes it were.
Best Multicolored Animate Land Cards
#6. Skarrg Guildmage
Skarrg Guildmage is a 2-mana 2/2 that can animate lands for just . It can even give them trample if you can pay an extra red and green. That’s kind of expensive for a 4/4 with trample, especially considering you’ve already paid those just to get this creature in play.
I’d like to see more power out of creatures like this, maybe something like giving the land haste and indestructible and untapping it.
#5. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper
Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper is an Azorius () animate land card that makes a creature out of a land whenever you cast and instant or sorcery by giving it three +1/+1 counters. This is honestly pretty good, especially since it’s also a 4/4 body for five mana.
The downside here is that Azorius has no real way to capitalize off this. It doesn’t want to attack because it’d rather hold up mana for interaction, which often limits these lands to defensive bodies rather than actual board pressure.
#4. Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor
Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor a 4-mana 3/3 that turns a land into a creature at the beginning of your combat phase. It gives the land power and toughness equal to its power. That works well with its landfall trigger, which has you put a +1/+1 counter on a target creature you control.
This is a great card and commander for Naya () decks. They’ll eat this up and have plenty of synergy to go alongside it. Great card design here.
#3. Tatyova, Steward of Tides
You’ve likely already seen Tatyova, Steward of Tides, either in a Commander pod or in Magic Arena Cube drafts. It’s a great Simic () commander that turns one of your lands into a 3/3 with haste and flying whenever you play a land, assuming you have seven in more lands in control when it triggers.
The flying part here is what sells me. It makes it so strong as a commander specifically, and I’d love to try this out.
#2. Nissa, Steward of Elements
Oh, look, another Nissa. Nissa, Steward of Elements is the only Simic Nissa card and one of the few planeswalkers with in its casting cost.
As you may have guessed the is the number of loyalty counters it comes in with. That’s critically important to this card’s worth because it gives you a way to dump your excessive Simic mana into something useful.
Its land-animating ability is its ultimate, which costs six loyalty counters to turn two lands you control into 5/5 creatures with flying and haste until end of turn. That’s pretty good, especially when you consider that you still have a strong value-oriented planeswalker around who can scry and then flip permanents off the top of your library.
I see this having the most value in a super friends decks where you can activate its abilities multiple times per turn.
#1. Nissa of Shadowed Boughs
Nissa of Shadowed Boughs is new to me, which I find surprising since it’s so strong. It comes in at four loyalty for four mana but has an incredible landfall passive that puts a loyalty counter on it. That’s great, and it works amazingly in the Golgari () landfall/recursion decks that play this card.
Its animate land ability is its +1, which turns one of your lands into a 3/3 with menace and haste. That’s some great aggressive value and you won’t have to worry about your land dying because you usually have a way to bring it back in this style of deck (think Crucible of Worlds).
Best Colorless Animate Land Cards
#3. Mishra’s Groundbreaker
#2. Lifespark Spellbomb
#1. Kormus Bell
Nissa of Shadowed Boughs (Zendikar Rising) | Illustration by Yongjae Choi
There are certainly some massive differences in power level for animate cards, especially between colors like blue and green, but I think that’s perfectly fine and intended.
What do you think of animating lands as a strategy? Have you found success with it in Commander, or is it just a sub-strategy of landfall decks? Let me know in the comments below or come chat about it in the official Draftsim Discord.
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