Making the Cut – Reader Submission: Shalai Hatebears!

(Shalai, Voice of Plenty | Art by Victor Adame Minguez)

Do Bears Hate Hatebears?

The Hatebears strategy is usually categorized by two-mana 2/2’s that make life difficult for your opponent. Those 2/2 bodies aren’t much, though, so what if you could make those annoying Bears bigger as the game went on, ultimately swinging out against your annoyed opponents?

That is the ultimate goal of u/rhou17‘s Shalai Hatebears deck, only they have a problem: the decklist has 106 cards in it, and is therefore illegal in the Commander format! Time to see what we can cut to make that perfect 100. To get started, let’s go over what they have on paper right now:

Shalai Hatebears

Commander (1)
Artifacts (3)
Creatures (42)
Enchantments (7)
Instants (9)
Sorceries (8)
Lands (36)

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A Quick Note About Power Levels

Regular readers of Making the Cut will probably note when looking through this list that it’s playing at a higher power level than most decks I’ve considered to this point. For me personally, I am firmly in the #PlayLessTutors and #PlayLessStaples camp, although I understand that is not how everyone likes to play the game. Which is fine; there’s absolutely no problem with that. In my home playgroup, I have seen people scoop on the cast of a Gaddock Teeg, and I’m sure you know players who have similar feelings about specific sets of cards. That said, I also keep a few tuned decks of my own in case the right crowd shows up.

We are all Commander players, and we all come from diverse backgrounds, playgroups, and metas. As has been stated time and time again, for most of us, we don’t mind much, provided we are all playing at similar power levels. Individual social contracts can be worked out from there with your consistent playgroup, but overall, asking people what power level they’re playing at is a great start to any game. This has been covered by any number of writers and content creators, our own Jason Alt being one of the biggest voices with his many musings on the 75% mentality. My favorite starting point when it comes to defining power levels, however, is this episode of the Command Zone, which goes into a lot of detail about the differences between Jank, Casual, Focused, Optimized, and Competitive decks. I also did an overview of the episode before writing at EDHREC, if you don’t have an hour handy to watch a video or listen to a podcast.

Regardless of how you (or I) feel about what power level is best, this is /u/rhou17’s deck, and as such, I am going to resist the urge to cut tutors as I normally would, or as I would suggest to a spikier player who was trying to play in my local group. It’s obvious their playgroup plays at a bit higher level, which is exactly why the Hatebear strategy is needed to compete. Tutors will only make that strategy more consistent, even allowing them to find things like Aven Mindcensor to make opponents’ tutors less effective.


Curving Out on Command

Now that we’ve acknowledged the higher power level, let’s start with one of the primary concerns of a more tuned deck: mana curve. There are lots of good deckbuilder websites out there, but for me, the one with the best means of looking at mana curve is Archidekt.com. Using their Deck Stats option, we can easily see that we have 17 cards in our one-mana slot, 20 in our two-mana slot, and 19 in our three-mana slot. Doing some quick math, these 56 cards make up the vast majority of our deck, as they probably should in just about any deck trying to play a bit faster.

Still, between those 56 cards and our 36 lands, that puts us at 92 cards in the deck before we even get to the more expensive punches we’ll still need for the late game. With that in mind, let’s try and preserve the true two-mana bears for now, and look at the one- and three-mana slots to see if there’s any fat we can cut to streamline the mana curve even more.

For the one-mana slot, you really want to make sure that drawing one of your one-mana spells in the late doesn’t cause you to let out a sigh of resignation about the low quality of the spell. Contrarily, for the three-mana slot you want to make sure that it is worth the higher price of admission. For now, let’s commit to cutting three cards total from the one and three slot, as an initial means of further smoothing that mana curve while also cutting some bulk, without overwhelming ourselves.

On first look, I was rather confused by the amount of mana dorks in the deck. Sure, ramping early is great, but why all the ramp when half of your deck plays out for two mana?

Upon further inspection, however, there are a couple soft locks in the deck that don’t play nice at all with you or your opponent’s lands, so having some Elves that can get around the mana lock is a great plan. Llanowar Elves and their ilk get around everything from Winter Orb to Stony Silence to Root Maze, cheap effects that will have your opponents slowed down and a bit foamy around the mouth.

Carpet of Flowers, Utopia Sprawl, and Wild Growth also fit this bill. If you also include Sol Ring (as we’re certainly not taking it out), that brings us to 10 total one-mana accelerators, with another in the two-mana slot. This seems about right for the deck, practically guaranteeing at least one accelerator each game, with a good possibility of more.

The other one-mana choices are similarly excellent. Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares are some of the best creature removal in any form of Magic, Nature’s Claim is an EDH equivalent for artifacts and enchantments, and Enlightened Tutor searches for just the right thing when you need it. Lastly, Mother of Runes is the cheapest protection you can buy.

So with that in mind, and knowing we’re not going to cut the two-mana Devoted Druid, which makes up half of an infinite mana combo in the deck, I would still say the proper thing to do here would be take the mana accelerators down to 10 total.


So… Which is Worst?

Let’s go straight across the board and order each card per how many decks they’re in on EDHREC:

  1. Sol Ring – 242,686 decks, $3.90
  2. Birds of Paradise – 34,354 decks, $5.00
  3. Llanowar Elves – 23,553 decks, $0.20
  4. Elvish Mystic – 22,842 decks, $0.25
  5. Fyndhorn Elves – 13,392 decks, $2.00
  6. Arbor Elf – 13,337 decks, $0.30
  7. Avacyn’s Pilgrim – 8,511 decks, $0.20
  8. Wild Growth – 5,205 decks, $0.15
  9. Carpet of Flowers – 4,752 decks, $11.00
  10. Utopia Sprawl – 4,117 decks, $4.00

Some of these rankings come down to preference and age, especially when it comes to the basically identical Llanowar, Fyndhorn, and Mystic Elf varieties. Additionally, if you look up the stats for Selesnya as a whole, Avacyn’s Pilgrim is actually included in 27% of green-white decks overall, something that definitely bumps it up a bit in my mind. That’s even before you look at the deck’s stats to find out that it actually plays more white cards than green cards, so the Pilgrim’s mana is even more usable than a traditional Elf.

That brings attention over to the Wild Growths and Utopia Sprawls of the world however when you notice their combinations with Arbor Elf it builds their credibility a bit as well. That really only leaves Carpet of Flowers, a card that is mostly guaranteed to be more resilient and get you more mana than you’ll see with any other card on the list, possibly earning it’s $11.00 pricetag for those that can afford it.

For me, this comes down to which Elf you like least, or whether you think the extra creatures are worth it over the enchantments, given the fact that you’re ultimately trying to win by going wide with a bunch of +1/+1 counters.

So now that we’ve narrowed it down and given some background, which would you cut?


Three’s a Crowd

Given how necessary the one-mana slot ended up being, we’ve got two more to cut here in the three-mana slot, so let’s get to it:

I can already hear the shouts about Birthing Pod in the list above, but I assure you that it is much more of a three-mana card than Chord of Calling ever will be. Outside of that mostly semantic issue, the three-mana slot is all over the place. Let’s go ahead and do a good old seat-of-the-pants cut. We’ll quickly look through the whole list and give each card a rating of 1-5.

  • Birthing Pod: It fits a role here, fetching specific Hatebears for specific situations. 4/5
  • Aven Mindcensor: The flash here is huge, and the deck has little evasion otherwise. 3/5
  • Dauntless Escort: A 3/3 for three that will save your whole board in a pinch. Hard not to like this guy. 3/5
  • Eidolon of RhetoricHe’s not as one-sided as we would like; we play a lot of little creatures, and will want to be able to cast them. 2/5
  • Eternal Witness: I don’t like “auto-include” cards in general, but Eternal Witness really is played in too many decks. We only have two total ways to recur it. The saving grace here is that it can be tutored in ways that Regrowth cannot. 2/5
  • Manglehorn: I can’t help but love this guy, and it fits great in a deck that disrupts opposition this much. 4/5
  • Runic Armasaur: Whether or not you ever draw a card from it, it’s a possible Stax piece that will disincentivize players from using abilities. With a couple +1/+1 counters, it becomes a real problem. 3/5
  • Sanctum Prelate: A fine problem for everyone else to deal with. 4/5
  • Thalia, Heretic Cathar: Competitively costed almost-Kismet and first strike? What’s not to like? 5/5
  • Tireless Tracker: She makes a lot of sense here, given our lack of card draw and low mana costs. 4/5
  • Vryn Wingmare: No-brainer. 4/5
  • Yisan, the Wanderer Bard: I’m a fan of this commander in general, but he’s slow here. Two turns before a payoff is just forever in a game of Commander. 1/5

All right, that was a lot. Looking at the cards that got a 1/5 or a 2/5, let’s make some cuts. We’ll split them by creature and noncreature to keep our ratios intact.


Nonbos

There are a lot of interconntected parts in the deck, some of which affect all players, rather than just our opponents. With that in mind, it’s not surprising to see a few interactions that don’t work so well in combination with each other. Let’s look through a few of them and see if it’s worth keeping them despite the risks, or whether we might want to look at cutting one half of the interaction.

Containment Priest and “put that creature onto the battlefield”

While Containment Priest is certainly a great “gotcha!” card to play in response to an opponent’s Defense of the Heart or Living Death, once it’s in play, it causes problems with some of our own cards. We also have cards that put creatures directly onto the battlefield without casting them, which the Priest would hinder.

At first, I considered maybe cutting some of those effects, but given how many there are in the deck and how impactful they tend to be, this might not be the best approach. Still, one of them is Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, a card we already considered cutting, and there are a few others that aren’t necessarily up to snuff. If we cut some of the onto the battlefield effects, that would certainly make Containment Priest a little less risky.

Go Directly to the Battlefield. Do Not Pass Go.

For me, this boils down to a one-for-one switch. Either we cut one of the lesser “put onto the battlefield” effects and take our chances with the power that is Containment Priest, or we cut the Priest herself.

 

Leonin Arbiter and Tutors

Leonin Arbiter is one of the classic Hatebears, so it’s no wonder it was put into the deck. Two mana taxes add up when we have the table locked down… but we’re playing a lot of search effects, too. Almost every card listed above with Containment Priest searches the deck, as do the actual tutors like Enlightened Tutor and Eladamri’s Call. Our main infinit- mana-combo-finder Uncage the Menagerie is affected too, requiring six mana instead of four to fetch our Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies. That two mana could really make all the difference.

In any case, this feels like another situation of risk and reward, where we can either eliminate the problem entirely, or just minimize the risk by cutting one of the lesser tutors from the deck.

I guess I’m going to go back on my word and suggest that we either #PlayLessTutors… or we could go ahead and cut the Leonin Arbiter. Paradoxically, I think I’d actually lean towards the latter, but what would you do?


At the End of the Day, It’s Up to You

I’d like to go straight to the creator to get the last cut of the deck. When I received this reader submission, /u/rhou17 stated the following:

Selesnya Hatebears, headed by Shalai, needs 6 cuts. The base plan of the deck is using green’s creature-based value engines plus white’s hatebears (and other stax pieces) to slowly pillowfort your way to a lethal board with Shalai’s mass buff. It has the Devoted Vizier combo, though the only real mana sink is Shalai’s ability or Duskwatch Recruiter, so I consider this a “fair” deck meant to do well against unfair decks.

Cuts would likely be Craterhoof Behemoth, Windborn Muse, Aven Mindcensor, Slaughter the Strong, Dauntless Escort, and maybe a land, since the curve of things I actually cast in that deck is so low.

So, there you have it, what they would cut. So, what would be the last card you would select to cut?

 

So, what do you think of /u/rhou17’s deck? How do you feel about Hatebears and stax in more competitive environments?

And as always, what do you have roaming around unsleeved in the side of your deck boxes? What cards can you just not find room for in your decks? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll help you get to your best 99!

Next time:  Bestowchantress

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.