Mana is a tricky thing. When do you have enough? Is there ever too much? The answers to these questions depend on the deck you're playing, but more and more, I'm finding the answer to my question is:
Between Titans and Primordials, Dragons and Eldrazi, I always seem to want more mana. Even less expensive cards' repeatable effects demand more mana. While I can increase the number of lands in my decks, that is already reaching a breaking point. I want more than one land per turn so I don't have to wait until the seventh or eighth turn to cast my fun cards, and I don't want to have to make my decks more than 50% land to ensure the odds of drawing eight lands in the first eight turns are in my favor. This means ramp.
Kodama's Reach, Rampant Growth, Harrow, and others of their ilk are great cards. These are cards that are synonymous with ramp. They are practically staples in any deck I make that includes green. They help get my land count into the eight-through-ten range that lets me really start playing spells. Sometimes, though, eight is not enough. What about the times when you need more, and I'm not talking cowbell here. Collective Voyage is a fun card, but I'm not really looking to help everyone else out of their mana problems. I just want some "me" time, you know? What good is it to be able to cast Atarka if you don't have the mana available to protect her? When your group is cutthroat mob style, you need protection mana for Atarka. Say 'ello to my li'l fren'.
This is a mana ramp spell with a Hemi under the hood! Animist's Awakening adds multiple lands to your side of the battlefield in one turn. It doesn't care if the lands are basic or not, so you get them all! This sort of ramp can put you into the stratosphere, letting you cast anything and everything in your deck. Atarka with protection in hand? No problem. Why not bring out one of Atarka's friends this turn as well!? Spell mastery even untaps the land if you meet the two sorcery and/or instant requirement.
So let's break down this card a bit and see what it is really doing.
Your average deck is about 40% land. If you pay six mana for Animist's Awakening, you are likely to see two lands in the five cards you reveal. Are you willing to pay six mana to find the next two lands in your deck? Admittedly, there is a chance you will find more, but there is also a chance you will find less. Six mana is a lot to pay for only two lands, especially when those lands are not necessarily the ones you want.
The key to Animist's Awakening lies in spell mastery. If you have the two sorceries and/or instants, the lands get untapped. This means that the six mana to get the land was in fact only four mana. This becomes a much better deal! This doesn't even consider the lands you are getting. When you put a Theros Temple onto the battlefield, not only does it scry, but it would get untapped. The same is true of all the "enters the battlefield tapped" lands. The Ravnica shock lands become as good as dual lands, and the Tarkir lifegain lands are even better! Azorius Chancery still demands that a land return to your hand, but you'll be able to tap it for two immediately! This can be a real boon!
It may seem like I'm getting ahead of myself here, but spell mastery just isn't that difficult. If you are running Animist's Awakening, you are likely running another ramp spell to get yourself to a spot where casting Animist's Awakening can shine. Between that sorcery spell and another spell to: kill a creature, keep a creature alive, or just cause general mayhem, getting two sorceries and/or instants in your graveyard just isn't that difficult.
Cause for Concern
When you look at Animist's Awakening, the limitations of the card are twofold.
This is not the card you want for early ramp. When you get to three or four mana, you really aren't looking for Animist's Awakening. If you are playing it and X is less than four, the odds say you are more likely to only hit one land. This would be a waste of the card. That early in the game, you probably aren't getting the spell mastery bonus either. This is just a feel bad. There are plenty of better options that guarantee you that card.
The second limitation lies with the unknown. How many lands will you get? You can work out the odds, but there are times when you won't find any lands, and you are left putting all the best cards in your deck at the bottom of the library. You also aren't getting to pick which lands either? You might need just one more Plains, or a Kessig Wolf Run, but Animist's Awakening doesn't let you pick which lands. You are stuck with whatever happens to be on top of the library. If you knew which lands were on top of your library, and how many are in the first five (or whatever you use as X), this card could be amazing! If you revealed five lands in your five cards, you'll be jumping for joy!
So to minimize the limitations and make Animist's Awakening even more amazing, you need to know what's on top of your library. My go-to card in situations like this is Sensei's Divining Top, but pretty much any card that gives you a look at the cards coming your way will work here. You'll know exactly what you are getting and whether casting Animist's Awakening makes sense. Of course, if there was a way to set up the next handful of cards in your library, it would be golden. If there was a way to stack the top of your library with lands, so Animist's Awakening would find you a big pile of lands, you'd likely be unstoppable.
Scouting Trek can help you along. Cast Scouting Trek to set up the top of your library with as many lands as you can manage with Animist's Awakening. This will allow you to spend all your mana to almost double the mana you have on the board. If you have six lands on the battlefield, you can use Scouting Trek to set up the next five cards as lands. Cast Animist's Awakening, with X being five and reveal all five lands, and put them on the battlefield tapped. With Scouting Trek in the graveyard, you are halfway to having all those lands you just put into play being untapped. That Rampant Growth you cast earlier just looks even better now doesn't it? This means that Animist's Awakening cost you one tapped mana! You still have five mana untapped and available for other spells. And on your next turn you have almost double your mana to use for whatever you choose!
The Awakening the Avengers
Something else Animist's Awakening does is put several lands on to the battlefield all at once. When you drop Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and a few Mountains all at once, it can be a surprising amount of damage. A Scouting Trek that finds five Mountains with a Valakut already on the battlefield can be a stress-inducing nightmare for the opponents who can see what is about to happen. Having several lands hit the battlefield all at once creates plenty of triggers.
I particularly like the idea of landfall triggers, since they won't require all that much work. A creature with Adventuring Gear can become suddenly huge. Hedron Crab seems relatively harmless at three cards per land drop, but with multiple lands hitting the battlefield all at once, the Crab becomes a ruthless milling machine. Emeria Angel provides many more feathered friends, presenting you with an entire flying army in one turn. Ob Nixilis, the Fallen gets very big, and your opponents feel some serious suffering. I'm confident Golgari mages can find a way to cast Animist's Awakening again and again, killing many opponents without even having to attack them!
However, I think Avenger of Zendikar is the big winner here.
Whether you are using Animist's Awakening to get the Avenger onto the battlefield, or using it to provide several landfall triggers to make the Plants huge, the Avenger of Zendikar shines even brighter. Lotus Cobra pads the mana total and goes crazy on an Awakening turn. Grazing Gladehart helps with your life totals, something that will be necessary when facing decks that comd blazing out of the gates. Omnath, Locus of Mana is there as a failsafe. Assuming you reach the land mass where you have all the mana you need, Omnath can act as a dumping ground, storing the mana for that turn when no amount of mana would be enough. When you can't win with numerous Plant tokens, going wide with a multitude of creatures, Omnath gives you the option of one ridiculously large creature to try and go over the top.
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa provides the engine that can use all of the mana you are saving. Kamahl can turn all the lands you have been getting with Animist's Awakening into 1/1 creatures. The extra mana is used to give all your creatures a power and toughness boost, and trample. With enough mana, you can activate that ability again and again making the Plant tokens and the rest of your creatures beyond huge. Even when attacking with just Omnath, Kamahl gives Omnath trample, making the threat of a massive Omnath far more frightening.
The Artisan's Sorrow exiles annoying artifacts and enchantments in the early game, then sits in your graveyard waiting to bring your spell mastery count to where it needs to be. Getting all the lands untapped makes Animist's Awakening so much cheaper and lets you cast other threats, or at least threaten them, on the turn you play it.
Animist’s Awakening | Art by Chris Rahn
This decklist, like most in my preview articles, is less about providing you with a finely tuned machine and more about providing you with ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Animist's Awakening provides you with so many options beyond the few that I've covered. You might even want to try it with Grenzo, Dungeon Warden! Plenty of lands to make Grenzo huge and a way to keep the bottom of your library loaded with creatures!
Casual Magic is all about the big, splashy spells. It's about doing the outrageous and ridiculous. When everyone around the table throws their hands up and shouts in disbelief, you know you are doing it right. Animist's Awakening helps make these moments happen.