A funny thing happened on the way to making a Radha, Heir to Keld deck: Ruric Thar stormed in and took over. Unbowed indeed.
The process started simply enough. I had planned for quite some time to build the Radha deck as the Gruul contribution to my project of making decks of all 27 color combinations. Sure, Ruric Thar was cool, but I was thinking along the lines of playing one of the games I like to play, namely ramping out fatties and dealing damage. Radha is guaranteed mana acceleration, which is the important part. The mana in combat is neat and can help fuel some tricks, but mostly I just wanted a turn 2 accelerant that I could rely on.
I considered two approaches to building the deck. The first was to just go to the box of foils, riffle through it, and pull out cards that I wanted to play. There would be enough there to suggest some other layer of strategy. The second approach, the one I eventually went with for no other reason than I couldn’t get up from the desk because there was a cat sleeping on my lap, was to pull up Gatherer and see what cool cards were available to me. I went in with nothing specific in mind save “big creatures.”
I started by doing a search on the all the Gruul-colored creatures in Return to Ravnica block because creatures are pretty good these days—certainly better than they were way back when. I wondered if I could make some bloodrush strategy work, but I discarded that (there’s one for you, LSV) because I don’t think that Gruul has enough recursion to make it viable.
As I was combing over the card list, the theme of creatures fighting each other jumped out at me. The one that really got me going was Gruul Ragebeast. If figured that if my creatures were going to be bigger anyway, they’d be happy to bully everyone else’s creatures. I had my first theme. I remembered loving Karplusan Yeti a million years ago, so it seemed like an interesting road to go down. At this point, I was still on the Radha plan, although Ruric Thar had now crept into my thoughts.
As soon as I thought about my creatures fighting everyone else’s, I thought about making mine lethal no matter what. That’s when I came to deathtouch. Gorgon Flail and Quietus Spike came up on the search, but the first one listed is the absolute king of deathtouch equipment: Basilisk Collar. It wasn’t too much of a leap from Basilisk Collar to Ruric Thar. I thought about not just the damage I’d do to others when they cast noncreature spells but also the life I’d gain. Plus, it would keep me from hurting myself when I cast them. The idea was picking up steam. I’ll confess to having for a nanosecond thought about ways of giving Ruric Thar infect, but decided that I didn’t want to be that guy. I did think about giving him lifelink, though, which is where the always-useful Loxodon Warhammer came in.
Now settled on Ruric Thar, I started looking for ways to maximize his damage output. I also had to think about the spells I was going to play because I won’t always be guaranteed to have Basilisk Collar on Ruric Thar. This means that I need to be willing to take six damage for any noncreature I cast, which is no small order. Inexpensive things—especially ramp spells—are okay because they’re likely to be cast earlier. Higher-mana things have to really be worth it, so I limited the number of them to big things like Creeping Renaissance (since there’s no real recursion in the deck), Praetor’s Counsel (same reason), and Insurrection.
After that, creatures pretty much rule the day. There were a few tricks in the “fights” theme with Pit Fight and Prey Upon, and then I found the hidden gem of Lace with Moonglove to give a fighting creature deathtouch while drawing a card. I realized that Momentous Fall would be good card draw because it will mitigate some or all of the damage from Ruric Thar.
One of the happy moments in the process was realizing that I had finally found a home for Wurmcoil Engine. It was the best card that I wasn’t playing, having rotated it through other decks when newer, shinier things came along. Wurmcoil Engine plus Warstorm Surge seems like all upside. I can kill nearly anything with the trigger, and then if it’s big enough to kill the Wurmcoil Engine, I still get two more 3/3s and more triggers—one of which can also take out nearly anything.
I made a quick note of ramp and utility creatures before moving forward. Borderland Ranger, Fertilid, Genesis, Masked Admirers, Oracle of Mul Daya, Seedguide Ash, Solemn Simulacrum, Soul of the Harvest, Sylvan Primordial, Wood Elves, Yavimaya Elder, and Zhur-Taa Druid all came in to go along with Gift of the Gargantuan and Skyshroud Claim. Now it was on to finding more creatures.
I went backward a block to Innistrad, still working with the “creatures are generally better these days” idea. As I was poring over the list of Gruul-colored creatures, I saw the Werewolves. I started thinking that I always wanted a Werewolf subtheme in a deck and realized that these are the right colors for it. As I was looking at all the available Wolf and Werewolf cards, another thought popped into my head. Ruric Thar will make opponents less likely to cast noncreature spells. When players don’t cast spells, Werewolves transform!
I didn’t have room for all of them, so I picked out a nice selection: Daybreak Ranger, Huntmaster of the Fells, Instigator Gang, Kruin Outlaw, Mayor of Avabruck, and Mondronen Shaman. The Wolf theme suggested Master of the Wild Hunt, Kessig Cagebreakers, and Immerwolf, so in they went. I looked for a long moment at Feed the Pack, but I didn’t think there were enough elements to truly make it work. Feed the Pack does some heavy lifting in a deck like Kresh the Bloodbraided where the sacrificed creature pumps up Kresh and comes back due to one of the many recursion elements. Without the black cards, it just didn’t come together.
I also added Wolfir Silverheart in the hope of pairing it with Ruric Thar most often, but we’ll see if it’s actually worthwhile. I also thought that it would be a nice way to make something bigger in order to fight with a Gruul Ragebeast trigger. Assuming Wolfir Silverheart is unpaired, when another creature enters the battlefield, you can put the Ragebeast trigger on the stack first and then the soulbond. The creature gets +4/+4 before it has to fight.
I then added Hunter’s Insight to take the theme a little further; it’s a card I wouldn’t mind playing even if Ruric Thar is out. Because I didn’t want too many noncreatures, I swapped it in for Gift of the Gargantuan, considering it a straight upgrade.
Rounding out the fights theme with older cards, I added Tracker and Tahngarth, Talruum Hero. As I was considering further how to maximize this theme, I realized that I don’t have any real artifact removal besides Sylvan Primordial and Acidic Slime (which is in there primarily because of the deathtouch/fight interaction in addition to nice utility). That’s when Karn, Silver Golem occurred to me. If there’s an artifact that I really want to get rid of, I can just turn it into a creature with Karn and then fight it.
That then got me on the idea of doing the same with troublesome lands by playing Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. I’m not the type to Armageddon anyone, but taking out Cabal Coffers, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Gaea’s Cradle, and the like is most always a good idea. I don’t need to fight in order to use either of those cards. They’re useful on their own, especially in response to a sweeper effect. Kamahl obviously also has the late-game strategy of just Overrunning one or more times.
Assuming I have either Warstorm Surge or Gruul Ragebeast on the battlefield, the two Garruks will likely be making more Beast tokens than they would in other decks. Wildspeaker is also a mana ramp ability, and Primal Hunter is a card drawer. Of course, Primal Hunter’s ultimate with Warstorm Surge in play is likely lethal to someone. Speaking of creature creators, Giant Adephage just seemed too wild to pass up. The idea of battling with multiple Giant Adephages over multiple turns and getting either Warstorm Surge or Gruul Ragebeast triggers spoke too loudly to the Timmy in me to be ignored. I briefly considered Spawnwrithe as well, but it ended up cut for other things.
With deathtouch on the table, Inferno Titan became a must-have. First of all, it’s independently a solid creature. The ability to attack someone who can’t kill the Titan (or in an emergency, even someone who can) and then getting three triggers to kill three creatures regardless of how large is strong.
As I was flipping through the box of foils looking at what lands were there (pickings being pretty slim with 22 other decks), I saw Arena and realized that it couldn’t be left out. Arena is a land that doesn’t produce mana so it has to be treated like a spell. It doesn’t factor into the deck’s end land count. I normally start at 37 lands, and this deck being one that doesn’t have super-high mana demands, that’s where I stayed. Arena is the 38th. I like its addition here because it follows the theme, plus using it doesn’t hurt me if Ruric Thar is in play. I decided to have it replace either Pit Fight or Prey Upon since they do basically the same thing even if the opponent gets to choose which creature fights—although Arena also has the added benefit of being able to tap the creature in case you don’t kill it.
At first, I was going to choose Prey Upon because it’s one cheaper and because of the targeting restriction. Because Prey Upon specifically targets a creature you don’t control for the fight and Pit Fight just targets “another creature,” I was worried that I could get potentially get blown out by Willbender retargeting it to one of my own creatures. I then realized that because the spell has two targets and Willbender can only be used on something with a single target that that wouldn’t be a concern. The added flexibility of being an instant is worth the one extra mana. Pit Fight it is.
From Arena, the natural next step is Contested Cliffs. If Ruric Thar were a Beast, I would snap-call making this a Beast-themed deck instead, swapping over all the Beasts from my Adun Oakenshield deck. That’s not the case, and Gruul Ragebeast is the only Beast I have here, so Contested Cliffs is out. That said, there’s a giant thought exercise here. None of the Beasts in Adun Oakenshield are black, so they’d all easily port over to Ruric Thar. There was no strong reason the Beast deck was Jund colors save for the fact that back when I built it—I’m pretty sure it was one of my first five decks—I wanted a Beast theme and Jund is my favorite shard. The Ruric Thar/Werewolf connection is thin enough that I’m not heavily tied to it.
I’m left wondering if Werewolves could benefit from a little black mana in the arsenal and if the fight theme might be even more savage if it’s full of beasts. Alternately, I wonder if the fight theme might be better with the black mana since now infect would actually be on the table. Add to that Adun Oakenshield being able to regrow creatures that have died in those fights (not to mention the ones discarded to the bloodrush ability) and we could be on to something—but that’s a discussion for another time. I’m not quite ready to completely rework two different decks, one of which has barely been sleeved up. We’ll put that on the backburner for now, but it’s evidence of one of my favorite things about Commander: it’s full of options.
Side Note: That Adun Oakenshield Deck
I was in a game last week where only two of us were left, me and a Trostani deck. The Trostani deck, which had somewhere north of 2,500 life, had a choice of killing me or another player with his army of Angels. I had only one card in hand and no serious board position besides a few creatures and Greater Good, so he decided to kill the other guy—a reasonable choice. Facing my doom the next turn, I dug with Greater Good and found Decree of Pain. Of course, that was only the stopgap. With so much life, his plan was to simply deck me, suspecting (correctly) that I didn’t have an Eldrazi. Even with a pile of creatures in play via Descendant’s Path, there was no way I could generate the amount of damage I’d have to do before running out of cards.
The answer was commander damage, but with a 1/2 with no significant ability, I doubted that I could get there. I cast Sword of Body and Mind, hoping to equip it to Adun and maybe mill him if he didn’t have an Eldrazi. That hope was doubly dashed when he cast Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre to destroy the Sword.
Realizing that I was just going to die to Ulamog, I started digging through what was left of my library via Greater Good. I found an answer in Insurrection. The 60+ damage wasn’t significant. It was the fact that I could annihilate him for four lands, cutting him from twelve to eight—meaning he couldn’t recast Trostani and subsequently use its populate ability to rebuild—and sacrifice Ulamog to Greater Good. That meant the mill plan was out, so we were back to the commander damage route.
Precipitously low on cards, I peeled the answer: Kessig Wolf Run. An Overrun from Garruk Wildspeaker plus Wolf Run got me there in two turns with three cards left in my library. A few months back, I got killed by Zedruu commander damage while at 3,000+ life with my own Trostani deck. This was sweet, sweet revenge.
Back to Ruric Thar, there are two Gruul-colored “I just want to play them” older cards in the deck: Burning-Tree Shaman and Wilderness Elemental. If the hate Burning-Tree Shaman creates is greater than the damage it deals, it’ll get swapped out, but I think it’s one of those slow little bleeds that people don’t care about that will eventually cost them more than they think. If you turn your head sideways and squint a little bit, you can also see how it kind of goes thematically with Ruric Thar. It also prevents any infinite activation combos. Wilderness Elemental has been a favorite since the ancient days of the format, but I found it squeezed out by newer, sexier cards. It can certainly be a beating, and its power is commonly in double digits.
Battlefield Scrounger is another card from ye olde times. Because there is no real recursion in the deck, it’s nice to have a creature-based way of getting things back into the library.
That pretty much rounds out the deck. There are two things the deck wants. The first is Domri Rade since it goes mechanically with the large number of creatures and thematically with the fighting. When I pick up one, I’ll find a place to wedge it in, most likely for the Darksteel Plate—a card that for me has gotten to be another Wurmcoil Engine. I put it into decks, mostly to protect the commander, and then it gets swapped out for something new. The second thing the deck might want is a way to pitch cards that I don’t want to cast because of Ruric Thar. Scroll Rack might be an idea, and Greater Good is never to be ignored. We’ll see how the deck plays and if the need to rid myself of unwanted cards is a real thing. Here’s the list:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Karn, Silver Golem
- 1 Wood Elves
- 1 Tahngarth, Talruum Hero
- 1 Genesis
- 1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Tracker
- 1 Karplusan Yeti
- 1 Battlefield Scrounger
- 1 Burning-Tree Shaman
- 1 Wilderness Elemental
- 1 Masked Admirers
- 1 Seedguide Ash
- 1 Fertilid
- 1 Boartusk Liege
- 1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Master of the Wild Hunt
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Hornet Queen
- 1 Kessig Cagebreakers
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
- 1 Instigator Gang
- 1 Kruin Outlaw
- 1 Mayor of Avabruck
- 1 Mondronen Shaman
- 1 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 1 Immerwolf
- 1 Nightshade Peddler
- 1 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Soul of the Harvest
- 1 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 1 Rubblehulk
- 1 Zhur-Taa Swine
- 1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 1 Giant Adephage
- 1 Gruul Ragebeast
- 1 Sylvan Primordial
- 1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
- 1 Zhur-Taa Druid
All in all, I’m happy with this first draft of the deck. I’m aware that it’s heavy on theme and needs a good deal of time to get going. It’s not likely to stand up to serious decks, but most of the folks that I play with have the same view I do: play decks that do cool stuff and create awesome board states. Winning is secondary to having a good time. As always, questions, suggestions, and comments are welcome.
Embracing the Chaos,
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