Conditions Allow – Ulrich of the Krallenhorde

(Moonmist | Art by Ryan Yee)

With the Moon in Your Eye

Hello everyone and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I find a commander with a powerful drawback and turn it into a strength. This is my sixth article, and I realized I haven’t covered any decks with green in them yet. Let’s fix that by talking about Ulrich of the Krallenhorde

Ulrich is a little different from other commanders I’ve covered before. He actually has a pretty respectable presence on EDHREC, with 565 decks to his name. His place as the sixth most popular Gruul commander has less to do with his power, however, and more to do with his creature types. Looking at his page, most of the decks with Ulrich at the helm are Werewolf tribal. Werewolves are a famously janky tribe in EDH, and Ulrich offers very little support for the archetype. His abilities are fairly self-contained and, much like other members of his tribe, he will often get stuck on his Human side, effectively acting as a vanilla 4/4.

Despite this, Ulrich has three lines of text I want to pay special attention to. The first two are his transform abilities. At the beginning of each upkeep, if no spells were cast during the last turn, we can transform Ulrich of the Krallenhorde into Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha. Then, at the beginning of each upkeep, if a player cast two or more spells during the last turn, transform Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha into Ulrich of the KrallenhordeFinally, when he transforms into Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha we can have him fight a non-Werewolf creature we don’t control. With six power and toughness, Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha is able to remove most large threats and survive on board… if we can reliably transform him back and forth.

This is where the downside of this commander becomes apparent. His ability to actually do anything is entirely reliant on our opponents behaving in certain ways. Especially as the game goes late, there won’t be many turns when a player casts zero spells. Even on your own turns you won’t want to opt out of casting spells just to flip your commander; you’ll want to respond to threats and develop your own board. Doing nothing just to get a fight trigger from Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha quickly becomes underwhelming. To make this deck work, we are going to need a way to reliably transform Ulrich of the Krallenhorde on our own.

Flip Flopping

Luckily for us, we don’t have to go too far to find a way. Right on Ulrich’s EDHREC page is this gem: Moonmist. Moonmist is a two-mana instant that transforms all Humans and prevents combat damage not dealt by Wolves or Werewolves. What we really care about is that transformation ability, and its status as an instant at two mana. This lets us get Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha triggers reliably, and do it repeatedly with Isochron Scepter.

Isochron Scepter, if you haven’t heard of it, will Imprint an instant card with converted mana cost of two or less when it enters the battlefield. Then, for two generic mana, you can tap the Scepter to cast a copy of that spell. Isochron Scepter is used most commonly to generate infinite mana, either with Dramatic Reversal and a bunch of mana rocks, or Paradox Engine and a bunch of mana rocks. Unfortunately for Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, red and green don’t care much about artifacts, so it will be difficult to find Isochron Scepter reliably. For that reason, I’m not going to include Paradox Engine. This isn’t going to be a combo deck, but rather a grindier tempo deck focused on winning with combat.

To make Isochron Scepter work when we do draw it, we’ll need a couple more spells to Imprint under it. Heroic Intervention, Mortal’s Resolve, and Withstand Death will protect against board wipes while Noxious Revival will help us recover from them. Pounce acts as creature removal, while Red Elemental Blast is a counterspell for counterspells. All of these are valuable on their own, and gain additional value when paired with Isochron Scepter, ensuring neither half of the combo is a dead draw.

Gruul colors aren’t good at searching for artifacts, but they are good at searching for creatures. Yeva, Nature’s Herald is probably the best creature to pair with Ulrich of the Krallenhorde. By giving creature spells flash, Yeva allows us to play out our spells on other player’s turns. This leaves us free to do nothing on our turns, ensuring Ulrich of the Krallenhorde can transform into Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha. It also means we can be the player to cast two spells to flip Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha back over, effectively reclaiming control of our commander. Flash is such a valuable ability for this deck that I’m going to include as many ways to get it as possible, including Vernal Equinox. This is a symmetrical ability, meaning our opponents get it too, but we’ll be getting some extra value from it through our commander.

Assert Dominance

There is one other way we can try to get our opponents to play nice with Ulrich. By playing effects that punish our opponents for casting spells, we can make it more likely that our commander will flip. Ruric Thar, the Unbowed is a great example of this effect. By punishing noncreature spells, we can discourage our opponents from casting spells while still being free to play out our creatures to flip Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha back to his Human side. Searching through Ruric Thar’s EDHREC page, we find cards with similar effects, like Eidolon of the Great Revel.

Burn effects like these are really good for us because they also make it easier to win through combat damage. To pile on the pain, let’s include Harsh Mentor and Immolation Shaman, which trigger on activated abilities, and Zo-Zu the Punisher, which turns every land into a Shock.

Runic Armasaur and Heartwood Storyteller take a different approach. Rather than deal damage, they deal in cards. It is very difficult to justify casting a noncreature spell when every opponent gets to draw a card from it. Again, we break parity on Heartwood Storyteller by playing mostly creature spells, ensuring we keep as much of an advantage as possible over our opponents, who will likely have a much greater density of noncreature spells.

Finally, we have Lurking Predators. This six-mana enchantment is great in this deck. Not only can it net us a bunch of free creatures, but it also makes everyone else at the table wary of casting any spell. By pairing it with Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, the rest of the table is stuck in a pretty poor situation. Either they cast spells to make sure he doesn’t flip, or they don’t cast spells to try and prevent us from acquiring free creatures. As an aside, if you have the budget for it, Worldly Tutor and Sylvan Tutor pair very nicely with Lurking Predators.

The Rest of the Pack

Which creatures would I search for with these fancy tutor cards? I’m glad you asked. While Ruric Thar, the Unbowed or Yeva, Nature’s Herald would usually be my first pick, something like Beast Whisperer or Soul of the Harvest are great options too. We want to cast creature spells as often as possible, so refilling our hand every time we do ensures we can keep the pain coming. Grand Warlord Radha keeps us flush on mana as well, in conjunction with a bunch of early game mana dorks. Fauna Shaman can search for whatever creature we need, and Eternal Witness can fetch back whatever we pitch to it. Eternal Witness can also be looped with Temur Sabertooth to recur Moonmist if we never find Isochron Scepter.

At the top of our creature curve we have Balefire Dragon to deal with those crazy token decks, and Avenger of Zendikar to spit out our own tokens. Additionally, Pathbreaker Ibex makes those tokens (and all our tiny Elves) into real threats while avoiding some of the negative emotions surrounding Craterhoof Behemoth. It isn’t difficult to flash in Pathbreaker Ibex either, giving it a lot of the same shock value Craterhoof enjoys.

There is also a small section of noncreature utility effects. Guardian Project and Lifecrafter’s Bestiary are additional draw engines, and Rhythm of the Wild can make our creatures bigger, or make them hasty if we can’t flash them in. Chord of Calling and Green Sun’s Zenith grant a little extra consistency. Finally, Darksteel Plate and Hammer of Nazahn help keep value creatures like Beast Whisperer alive or allow our commander to punch above his weight class. Throw in a few lands, and I think we have ourselves a deck!

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This deck plays for the mid game, when you have a few light punisher pieces out and your commander. The goal is to be able to flip Ulrich at least once a turn cycle, while still being able to attack for pretty hefty amounts of damage. Once you have one or two draw engines out, the deck can really pick up, hopefully finding a flash enabler, and getting more and more aggressive. There are even a few extra Werewolves, like Huntmaster of the Fells, to act as payoffs for the play patterns the deck encourages, in case Ulrich gets too hard to cast.

That brings us to the end of this weeks article. What did you think? Not enough Werewolves in the world to satisfy our howling needs, right? If you liked the deck, or have a commander you’d like to see me write about, let me know in the comments down below.

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.