Epic Experiment – Ulrich Politics

(Ulrich of the Krallenhorde | Art by Slawomir Maniak)

Epic Preparations

Hello, EDHREC! I’m Bernardo Melibeu and this is Epic Experiment, a series where we throw all common sense aside and experiment with some unusual strategies, changing how we normally play our deck. Is it going to work? Who knows?! We’re making science here. When you’re an Izzet mage, blowing things up is half the fun.

In this article we’re going to talk about the scruffy lord himself: Ulrich of the Krallenhorde.

First, let’s take a quick look at his kit

Whenever this creature enters the battlefield or transforms into Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, target creature gets +4/+4 until end of turn.

At the beginning of each upkeep, if no spells were cast last turn, transform Ulrich of the Krallenhorde.

(Flip side)

Whenever this creature transforms into Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha, you may have it fight target non-Werewolf creature you don’t control.

At the beginning of each upkeep, if two or more spells were cast last turn, transform Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha.

Observation 1:

Ulrich is very similar to Huntmaster of the Fells in the sense that they both encourage their controller to keep transforming them back and forth.

Observation 2:

A player casting no spells in a turn is quite rare in EDH. To make things worse, the payoffs are unreliable. For example, unless he’s transforming back to a Human on our turn, we won’t be able to use the bonus P/T.

Observation 3:

Having mana sinks such as activated abilities will help avoid casting spells, which could assist us to transform Ulrich.

Observation 4:

Unlike Ulrich’s Human side, transforming into his Werewolf side feels great on any turn. The fight ability is useful since it can pick off valuable utility creatures and/or clear a path for an attack.


The Old Formula

Now, let’s take a quick look at Ulrich’s EDHREC page:

Werewolves everywhere! Given Ulrich’s borderline vanilla feel, and that he’s the only Werewolf that can be a commander, people tend to only try him out in tribal decks. However, as many deckbuilders have found, commanders like Ruric Thar, the Unbowed or even Surrak Dragonclaw give a better support for that tribe, since they facilitate transformations more easily.


The Epic Ingredients

This idea was suggested to me by a reader in a previous article, so here we go:

As we saw before, Ulrich’s payoffs are kind of unreliable, which means we need to think outside the box to make them more reliable. How? Well, for example, let’s say we have our commander in play, and Jenny is about to start her turn. We could ask her to let us flip Ulrich so that we can fight and destroy that Zur, the Enchanter over there that’s trying to be sneaky.

Now let’s say that, while Ulrich is in Werewolf form, someone casts two spells on the same turn, making him flip back to Human. The next turn isn’t ours, so Ulrich’s P/T bonus would be kind of wasted if we were to buff any of our creatures… but what if we try to make a deal with Timmy, whose turn is next, to give one of his creatures the buff, so he can attack that Zur player for more damage?

In both of these cases, we use the added dimension of a multiplayer game to transform (pun intended) our beatstick into a political tool.

As mentioned before, Ulrich appreciates spending mana on activated abilities, since it allows us to use our mana without casting spells, to help him transform. Thus, a strong Equipment suite allows us to develop our board while also triggering our commander. Basilisk Collar and Gorgon’s Head will make sure that if Ulrich fights a creature, it dies. Sword of Kaldra not only exiles the affected creature, but also allows Ulrich to Voltron people out of the game. You won’t gain any political points with Scythe of the Wretched, but this card lets us use some of our opponents’ creatures against them.

Since we’re trying to be a political engine, it’s kind of hard to play threats, since those threats could paint a target on our back and remove our political capital. This is why we’re packing some damage-doubling effects, so we can try to avoid some of the backlash while simultaneously accelerating the clock. Curse of Bloodletting and Bitter Feud are efficient ways to incentivize our opponents to target each other. Other global effects like Furnace of Rath can also work, but these are a little bit scarier to use since we have no control over them.

There are also ways to make people want to attack, though without forcing them to. Usually forcing a player to attack will invite them to just attack you, but if we’re just giving our opponents the option to attack without forcing them to, that can work out a lot better in our favor. Rite of the Raging Storm gives a free attack to the active player. Assault Suit lets us lend our commander to every opponent, which helps spread commander damage across the table. Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor is very fun political card, benefitting greatly from both of Ulrich’s abilities and creating an interesting dynamic with Her Survivor tokens. In this deck, we should always ask permission before attacking with Varchild; explaining our thought process to the defending player can be instrumental to make sure they don’t begrudge the attack, and will then go on to use those Survivor tokens to help us take out mutual enemies.


The Mixture

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The list is running a slight lockdown subtheme. This is not stax, per se, but they help us control many types of common strategies. We have graveyard hate with Relic of Progenitus, lifegain hate with Sulfuric Vortex and Rampaging Ferocidon, and more blunt pieces, like Sandwurm Convergence, which shuts down folks looking to attack our way, and Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon, which will punish greedy manabases.

Given that we’re running a political deck, seems only fitting to add a few Threaten effects. In EDH, these usually affect the whole board and are on the expensive side, but they do pack a punch. Insurrection is the go-to card, and can just end games. Disrupt Decorum doesn’t give us control of the creatures, but its effect is quite potent when it wreaks havoc for a full round.

We’re not running many straight-up win conditions, but one in particular is Tooth and Nail. For our T&N creature package we’re running the dynamic duo, Avenger of Zendikar and Craterhoof Behemoth, but we’re also running a spicier one in the form of Avatar of Slaughter and Molten Primordial. Depending on context, you could really do a lot of damage with these big creatures.


Methodology

Getting started with political decks can be really difficult, since political play isn’t a skill we learn in other formats. I would recommend trying the list with people that you feel comfortable playing with, so the process of making deals is a little bit easier to understand. I’d advise against multi-turn deals, as they can become frustrating for the other players and might backfire very quickly. Try small “X-for-Y” trades instead, which make the game run smoother and will avoid feelbads.

For our opening hand, we need a way to get ahead in mana to start developing our board. This is really important because we can’t make deals if we don’t have anything meaningful to offer. Playing lock effects and damage doublers is a bit of a gambit and I’d recommend, unless given a strong reason, not doing so.

For the mid game, we want to play out political tools, which includes our commander, one of our most repeatable political offerings. We should also try to incentivize our opponents to hit each other, be it with cards like Rite of the Raging Storm or simply by making deals. As we play more and more pieces, the number of deals we can make can increase – just make sure you read the room and don’t make folks uncomfortable by doing so.

By the late game, when our opponent’s resources start to crumble, we should make the infamous face-to-heel transition and start going aggro. Good pacing throughout the game is important for this transition; with the bloodbath that we’ve enabled, many of our threats are finally online in this stage of the game, and we only need that one big punch to open wide the game.

One mistake I often see when playing against political decks is that the pilot tends to think that they’re everyone’s friend. This cannot be further from the truth – we’re not trying to make friends, we’re using them to get what we want. Every deal we make has to put us slowly ahead, and every “gift” we give comes with many strings attached. We, as the politics deck, need to always remember that we’re playing to win. Giving out things without a plan will just result in a kingmaker scenario, which will lose us the game while also feeling pretty bad for the other players. However, giving things out when we do have a plan will turn our opponents into our chess pieces.


Epic Results

If you’d like to tune up this deck, there are tons of other potential inclusions to facilitate interesting gameplay. Monarch cards like Skyline Despot and Throne of the High City, for example, introduce a great new dynamic to the board. We could even add effects like Bedlam, to the mix so that it’s easier to finish the game up. We might take some extra damage because of that, but if we’re playing our politics correctly, we should be able to get around the aggro. Finally, you could amp up the Tooth and Nail package with a combo like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts.

That’s it for this Epic Experiment! What do you think about this list? Was Ulrich a good boi? Do you have any questions about the list? Which cards did you like? Which didn’t you? Was the Epic Experiment a success? Please let me know in the comments below!

Bernardo has been playing(on and off) since portal and somehow manage to survive mirrodin block while being a total casual(beast tribal ftw?). He loves all the shades of blue and being the one saying "nope", while holding a full grip of cards in hand.