Hi everyone! Welcome back to The Knowledge Pool. With 2018 now behind us, I wanted to take a look back at a few of the decks I’ve demoed and suggest a few updates that I think would help take them to the next level.
This past year I’ve presented 18 decks in this series. The issue with presenting so many decks is that my recommendations come with varying degrees of real testing. When I show you my Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck, my suggestions are based on tons of personal testing, but when I present you my new idea for Kresh the Bloodbraided Hydra tribal, the brew is primarily informed by my overall experience playing Commander rather than specific experiences. In a lot of cases I’ve had the opportunity to build the decks I demo, and when I do, I take mental notes of which cards work as intended and which don’t. I also think back to the strategies I proposed and try to determine if they execute in practice.
As I’ve revisited the lists I’ve presented to you, I’ve identified three in particular that I think could benefit from adjustments, and a fourth that needs a couple swaps. I’ve selected these four because of the additional testing I’ve done with them, which has helped me to identify some key weaknesses. Luckily, these weaknesses are easily remedied, and I think with the tweaks presented here these decks are on the verge of consistency.
Throughout the course of the year, my building philosophy has evolved. The longer I play Commander, the more lands I seem to include in my decks. In past years, 34 lands was an acceptable benchmark, and coming into this year, 36 lands was my target. Over the last couple months I’ve found myself moving to 38 lands as a minimum number for most decks. Is there truly a difference between 36 and 38 lands? While I don’t have the statistics to show how the extra lands affect our ability to fix our mana or hit our land drops, I can say from experience that 38 lands feels more consistent, and I’ve found that I’m rarely getting mana screwed with this number.
Beyond minute changes to land numbers, I noticed a trend among the decks I’ll be updating here: I sacrificed draw and removal in favor of synergy. I think we’ve all been in this position from time to time. We get so wrapped up in what we want our deck to do that we end up cutting ramp, removal, or draw spells to accommodate more ‘awesome’ spells. Sometimes this is the right move; Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, a deck I presented previously, is happy to sacrifice removal for more artifacts, counters, and draw spells. However, most decks are not artifact-based Storm decks like Jhoira, and cutting removal is ill-advised.
This acknowledged, I noticed for the decks I’m updating that I made excuses for the lack of removal or card draw when I originally brewed them. “We’re fine with limited removal because….” As it turns out, while these decks were functional with limited removal or draw, they felt lacking.
So which decks will we be looking at today? We’ll be starting with Ghalta, Primal Hunger.
Find my original article for this deck here.
Let me start by saying that I love this deck. Even just typing out this deck list gets me excited. For the most part, this deck functions as advertised. You play powerful dudes, make more mana than you could ever use, and beat face. Truthfully, you could play this deck as is and you probably wouldn’t be disappointed. But what do you do when the ground gets gummed up? What about when the Enchantress deck has three Ghostly Prison effects? As built, we have a few ways to deal with these situations, but we’ll certainly be struggling to do so. We’re going to need to punch up our removal.
The other deficiency I’ve noticed so far is with our drawing ability. We have nine ways to draw cards in some capacity, but the problem is related to cost. The bulk of our draw abilities cost around four to six mana, and draw tons of cards. This is great once we’ve gotten into the mid or late game, but I think a few more cheap options for some consistent card draw would do us some good.
Lastly, at the moment we’re really heavy on forests. This isn’t a bad thing, but I think we have some room for more utility lands.
Let’s check out the changes I’ve made:
Of the cards I cut, I tried to focus on redundant abilities. Cards like Tireless Tracker are excellent, but I think we’ll get more mileage out of Beast Whisperer. I’ve also cut a few big creatures that don’t offer much more than power. Cards like Ulvenwald Hydra offer a big body, but unfortunately we can’t make great use of finding a single land. We also have a glut of ramp spells, so cutting a few of our pricier ones is easy.
The last two cuts I made were Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves. I like what these do for us in theory, but my experience so far is that we just don’t need them. Ghalta will rarely cost us more than GG, so if our opponents want to waste removal on her, we’re okay letting them do so. In fact, a lot of the time, we’ll be offering her up to Greater Good for a complete reload. The secret of this deck is that all of our dudes are big and scary, and protecting one or two of them shouldn’t be our primary concern. If we are concerned about a Day of Judgment effect, Heroic Intervention and Wrap in Vigor will keep our dudes on board.
So what do we get in return for these cuts? Oblivion Stone and All is Dust offer us two unconditional Wraths to clear the board. Both of these cards have been making more appearances in my decks, and we’ll be seeing more of them today. I also want to point out Life’s Legacy. Somehow this card has been evading my notice, but we’re already running Rishkar’s Expertise and Greater Good, and Life’s Legacy offers us another cheap way to turn Ghalta into 12 cards.
I want to point out two cards that are on my radar to be added in later. Whiptongue Hydra helps us deal with flyers, and if we can kill a couple it will push us closer towards Ghalta quickly. The most obvious potential swap-out here is Arbor Colossus. I’m not sure I’m sold on this swap yet, but if my meta makes the move towards more flyers I will be bringing in the Hydra.
With the recent reprint, Ancient Tomb is now a more appealing option. On one hand, this is the perfect deck for Ancient Tomb, since color-fixing isn’t a huge concern and the extra mana will let us summon our beasts a bit earlier. On the other hand, we have so much ramp that Ancient Tomb is far from a necessity. I don’t know if I want to spend the $20 to include this card, given that it’s a clear luxury for this deck, but if you would like to add Ancient Tomb to your arsenal, this would be the time to do it.
Having addressed our big, green, scaly friend let’s get some blue in our lives and talk about Tatyova, Benthic Druid.
Find my original article for this deck here.
This deck isn’t lacking in card draw, but it is desperate for some more removal options. Luckily, the addition of blue gives us a few more ways to deal with creatures, and Reality Shift and Curse of the Swine are easy additions. I’m hoping including these two is enough, but if we need more spot removal for creatures, Pongify, Rapid Hybridization, or the new Incubation // Incongruity could easily be swapped in.
I think we also want so more Wrath-style removal. Evacuation is an option, but with all the mana we will have, Oblivion Stone and All Is Dust are once again appealing, especially since we have less than 10 enchantments and artifacts that they would remove. In fact, because we have so few enchantments and artifacts, I think including Bane of Progress as a catch-all for these permanents will be in our best interest.
These inclusions are necessary, but not very exciting. However, I’m making two changes that I am quite excited to try out, and I have you all to thank for them. You all correctly pointed out that my deck was clearly missing Abundance and Retreat to Coralhelm, and I’m happy to switch those in. Both of these seem like they’ll generate tons of value on their own, but there is also combo potential to be had. Retreat to Coralhelm + Tatyova + Sakura-Tribe Scout or Skyshroud Ranger will let us dump all the lands in our hand on to field, but if we can include Abundance into this combo, we now get to dump all the lands in our deck on to the battlefield. You all know how much I love back-door combos, and this one is perfect.
Let’s look at what we’re swapping out.
Much like my Ghalta adjustments, the cards I’m removing are clunkier redundant pieces. We have so much ramp already, so cards like Zendikar Resurgent and Dreamscape Artist don’t seem like they offer as much as the cards we’re adding.
As a lover of all things Simic, it pains me to cut the Kioras. Both Kioras were included because they had abilities tangentially related to our strategy, and I’ve never had another deck where they fit. Unfortunately, in the interest of making a better deck, they aren’t offering us enough.
We have two more flavors of green to dive into, so without further ado, let’s check out how we’d change up Kresh Hydras.
Find my original article for this deck here.
This deck has surprised me. I’ve always wanted to build a Kresh deck of some sort, and the idea of building it around Hydras was amusing to me. When I actually put this together, I imagined it would be a somewhat casual deck that I would bring to the table when I was looking for a more relaxed game. While this deck isn’t among my strongest decks by any stretch of the imagination, it has held its own at the tables I’ve played it.
Once again, removal is the word of the day, as this deck doesn’t have nearly enough. In the original article, I had imagined cards like Apocalypse Hydra and Walking Ballista would function as a deterrent for creatures. They can function that way, but when it comes to dealing with problem creatures or a board that has grown out of control, we don’t have many ways to get the game back in our favor. We’re also lacking in draw power to help us claw back into a game that’s gone poorly.
Here are the changes I’ve made:
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that it’s easy to get too wrapped up in a synergy or theme, and I’ve done that here. Cards like Heroes’ Bane and Savageborn Hydra are just big bodies, and while I like the idea of having a Hydra tribal deck, these just aren’t the best cards for us to be playing when we have critical roles to fill.
My additions here are straightforward. Assassin’s Trophy, Beast Within, and Windgrace’s Judgement will all let us answer whatever is causing us problems. To bolster our Wraths, I like Damnation as a clean and efficient way to clear the board. If price is an issue, Crux of Fate or Chain Reaction could easily fill this spot. I also really like Find // Finality. Find is a nice recursion option in a deck like this to grab any of our Hydras back, while Finality is the sort of Wrath that can grow Kresh in the process.
Our draw spells are standard additions, but I would like to highlight Blood Tracker. Tracker will grow big with counters, letting us double up with Hardened Scales and friends, and we can sacrifice him to draw a handful of cards.
Another card that has surprised me with its versatility is Retribution of the Ancients. This card does WORK. With all the counter synergies in this deck, Retribution does an amazing job of grinding down our opponents’ boards throughout the course of the game. Given how quickly Kresh can build up a density of counters, even big creatures have much to fear.
Find my original article for this deck here.
I don’t have enough good things to say about this deck. What started as a deck designed to be “just for fun” ended up being immensely powerful. If your opponents don’t see what you’re up to, or they aren’t prepared to stop you when you go off, this deck will take over a game and your opponents won’t see another turn. When this deck goes off, there are few more satisfying feelings. This deck is Timmy heaven, and it’s so much fun.
Believe it or not, we aren’t adding removal or draw spells to this deck like we did for all the others (you can now breath a sigh of relief). Instead, I’d like to share a few things I learned while playing it. Simply, I was trying too hard to diversify my win conditions with this deck. Cards like Blatant Thievery and Rite of Replication are nice to hit off of an Epic Experiment, but they get in the way as we’re trying to build up towards our combo.
Instead, the cards I found most impactful were the Time Warp spells. We’re more than happy to play these on turns when we’re not ready to go off, and once we do go off, these are some of the cards we’re happiest to flip on an Epic Experiment. The more turns we’re taking, the less vulnerable we are to disruption. It also helps that our Time Warp spells are great targets for our Twincast effects as well, so let’s add in Temporal Manipulation and Nexus of Fate.
The last card I want to add should seem like a no-brainer. This year, the UR colors received one the most disgustingly powerful enchantments for storm style decks: Thousand-Year Storm. We were already running Swarm Intelligence just to copy our spells, but Thousand-Year Storm is cheaper and has so much more upside. This is the easiest swap I made in the entire article.
So to summarize:
Thank you all for taking the time to read my article! I hope these updates might help you upgrade your decks, and give you some ideas if you’re trying to determine your deficiencies. Next time we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming, looking at and breaking down a brand new deck!
Until next time, I wish you all the best and happy brewing!