Elder Dinosaur Highlander?!

Ghalta, Primal Hunger sure got Bennie Smith’s attention, and not just for the type line! He’s already dreamed up a Commander list for the Elder Dinosaur, and today he shares it with you!

The last week in December, your local game store will have the opportunity to hold a Store Championship tournament. There are some sweet prizes for the Top 8 and the eventual winner, but everyone who participates gets a sweet, full-art preview card from Rivals of Ixalan that just so happens to be legendary, so we Commander fans have even more to celebrate. Behold this monster:

In the early days of Magic, there was a cycle of cards nicknamed “lucky charms” that provided three things for one mana. Here they are:

These cards let you convert a resource – one mana – and in return you get three life, or three cards, or three mana, or three damage, or three extra power and toughness.

The value of these conversions ended up being fairly lopsided. Ancestral Recall ended up being one of the most powerful Magic cards ever printed, and is banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage. Healing Salve… well, pretty much was never played. The other three were considered fair enough for Magic to be printed for quite a while before R&D realized the fast mana provided by Dark Ritual was a little too good for a healthy environment.

I bring these cards up because the neat thing about Ghalta, Primal Hunter is that it can potentially turn your Giant Growth into a Dark Ritual. In a way this reminds me of Neheb, the Eternal from Hour of Devastation. With Neheb on the battlefield, you could turn Lightning Bolt into a Dark Ritual. These conversions are even better in that you still get the original effect plus the mana boost.

I would say Neheb is “better” in this way because the conversion is clean—you dish out damage to your opponents, and you’ll get it back in mana during your postcombat main phase that you can use for whatever you want. The only stipulation is that Neheb, the Eternal is around to make it happen.

Ghalta, Primal Hunger is much narrower in application of that conversion—the only benefit you get from the power on the battlefield is in helping to cast Ghalta itself. Which, let us be real, is a good payoff – a 12/12 trampler is nothing to sneeze at, and if it is your Commander, it can kill an opponent with Commander damage in two hits. It seems very worthwhile to build a deck where Ghalta can be cast early and often. So what does such a deck look like?

Giant Growth as Dark Ritual is exciting to think about, but Giant Growth needs a target on your side of the battlefield in order to be effective in helping to cast Ghalta. So we will want a good number of creatures too… which works out well, because creatures usually have some power of their own. In fact, since we are playing green, we can take advantage of creatures that have high power-to-mana ratios so that our creatures themselves can be walking Dark Rituals when it comes to casting Ghalta, Primal Hunter.

Let us see what we can pull together!

Power Boost

The first order of business is looking for cards that provide a boost in power outside of Giant Growth. Strolling down memory lane and talking about the “lucky charms” brings to mind an old favorite, Berserk! If we’re playing power boosting cards and creatures with high power, Berserk can rapidly increase the power of a creature on our battlefield. It is a great card that is even more flexible in multiplayer, since you can target someone else’s creature to kill it at the end of a combat (hopefully timed for when it is attacking another opponent). We can even make use of Invigorate, potentially costing zero mana to shave four mana off the cost to cast Ghalta! Rancor is another great inclusion, providing a mini-Dark Ritual for Ghalta while it sits out there on one of our creatures. Since we are playing power-boosting effects, Wild Beastmaster makes a great multiplier.

Wolfir Silverheart never got much love back in the day (no thanks to Thragtusk), but it does some great work in this deck by providing twelve points of power itself, provided you have another creature to pair with it. Verdurous Gearhulk does similar work by providing eight power for five mana, but without needing another creature.

Beastmaster Ascension is a deadly card all on its own, but once you charge it up and have even just a few creatures around, it becomes incredibly easy to cast Ghalta.

I made room for Grafted Exoskeleton to help in circumstances where your opponent has been successful in keeping Ghalta in check. With the other power-boosting cards, you can use Grafted Exoskeleton to boost a random creature to take someone out with poison.

Good Power-to-Mana Ratio

Next up is the creature base. Most of these I chose because the creatures had good power-to-mana ratios, with a few exceptions. Experiment One is just a 1/1 to start but it will have all sorts of opportunities to grow and its ability to regenerate can be quite handy. The Vehicles are nice since you can tap a creature to turn one into a creature, so it is a way to boost the power on your battlefield without necessarily overextending your creatures. The creature-lands can themselves tap for mana to provide their activation cost, providing more power than the mana to activate them, so I count them here.

Weatherseed Treefolk does not strictly fit the “good power-to-mana ratio,” but I chose it for its resilience to mass removal and its trample.

What I like about this host of creatures is that they provide you with significant threats while you are building towards casting Ghalta. This is not at all a glass-cannon deck!

Power Matters

Since we are concerned about having a good power presence on our battlefield, I went in search of cards that care about that. Selvala, Heart of the Wilds immediately jumped out. Its static ability will likely provide quite a bit of benefit our way while potentially helping our opponents who might be inclined to let the card stay out there. Meanwhile, the activated ability should be able to provide a significant amount of mana. Surrak, the Hunt Caller has good power to mana ratio, and providing a creature with haste each turn will come in handy—the only thing better than a cheap Ghalta is a cheap, hasty Ghalta!

Mosswort Bridge and Mossbridge Troll both like you to have ten power on the battlefield, and since that is part of our plan anyway, they go right into the deck. I’m excited about Mossbridge Troll in particular, since if you’re able to tap creatures to give it +20/+20, you’ll never have a problem casting Ghalta, no matter how many times it’s been returned to the Command Zone. By the way, Mossbridge Troll loves going Berserk.

Last but not least is Greater Good, a classic card-drawing engine that if you squint real hard turns your Giant Growths into Ancestral Recalls. Talk about converting for value!

Converted Mana Cost Matters

When I was sketching out initial thoughts on this deck, I thought for sure we could capitalize on Ghalta’s high converted mana cost. Unfortunately there were not too many cards I could use that were worth the slots. Food Chain is an interesting possibility, since you can exile Ghalta for thirteen green mana to cast a bunch of creatures from your hand, which in turn have enough power to let you recast Ghalta again. Dragon Fangs seems like an easy include, providing a “free” point of power after you cast it the first time whenever you cast a creature with a converted mana cost of six or more. Though Ghalta does not need the trample, there are plenty of other creatures in the deck that would appreciate that ability, like our good buddy Mossbridge Troll!

Creatures with Mana Discounts

These creatures probably qualify as “good power-to-mana ratios” but I wanted to call them out specifically because they can help us ramp to Ghalta quite quickly. Commander players love their token creatures, so Avatar of Might and Primeval Protector seem like easy ways to get a giant creature onto the battlefield at a discount. I imagine many of my creatures will be killed along the way, so Nemesis of Mortals and Ghoultree should also be pleasantly discounted. It looks like I am playing enough different cards types that Emrakul, the Promised End should be sufficiently discounted to be an efficient way to get thirteen power on the battlefield.

Good Stuff

I wanted to round the deck out with some “good stuff” cards. Nissa, Vital Force seemed particularly nice, not only for the ability to retrieve cards from your graveyard but the +1 ability that lets you put five power on the battlefield to help with Ghalta summoning. While Greater Good provides tons of card drawing, I wanted to add some other options too. Rishkar’s Expertise plays really well with what we are already trying to do by boosting our power and giving us a free spell. Sylvan Library, Harmonize, and Seasons Past help give us selection and raw cards in hand.

Here is how the deck shook out:

Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Bennie Smith
Grand Prix on 11-14-2017

Are you excited about our Commander Christmas present Ghalta, Primal Hunger too? How would you go about building it differently? Do you have any questions about my card choices? What cards have I overlooked?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)