From Right Field: Hulk Smash! Or at Least Hulk Break Some Things So Badly That It’s Just Easier to Throw Them Out

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Chris submits his entry for the Longest Article Name competition, with a natty little piece discussing a Standard deck based on everyone’s favorite fat green beatstick – Protean Hulk. Actually, I thought the Hulk in question was Ronom Hulk, but I’ve got Coldsnap on the brain…

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Dark Confidant, Sacred Foundry, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks “set in stone” or “done.” If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

Normally, this is the point where I have some entertaining and convoluted introduction that segues into the card that I’m featuring this week. However, you’re too smart for that. Thanks to the dead-giveaway title, which is as subtle as the comic book anti-hero it references, you know that I’m talking about the Protean Hulk.

I will now wax philosophic concerning the P-Hulk or “Phulk,” as I like to call him. He’s a BBC (a.k.a. Big Beautiful Creature). By that, I mean that, while he’s not much to look at, he’s got a great personality. Usually, when we consider expensive Green creatures for tournaments, we expect to see one-to-one power-to-mana-cost ratios and Trample. This guy’s a tad underpowered as a 6/6 for seven mana. The dagger to his heart, though — the thing that blinds most people to his inner beauty — is that he lacks Trample. To most people, he’s no BBC; he’s a BDC (a.k.a. Big Dumb Creature).

To those who judge creatures in this way, I say, “Shame, shame on you!”

Look at that ability. When he hits the graveyard, he leaves other guys behind. Holy Phulk! Can’t we think of anything good to do with that?!?

“When Comes Into Play, Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Everybody Wang Chung Tonight.”

Obviously, what we’re looking for when we start our deck with “4 — Protean Hulk” are creatures that have triggered abilities when they come into play (a.k.a. CIP abilities). This has both an up and a downside. The upside is that Magic has a ton of those right now, and it’s a long ton, not a short ton. You can find something at pretty much every casting cost to do whatever you want. This is a deck designer’s dream because, when we get to grab six mana worth of creatures, we want to have options. Should I grab a single six-mana creature, a four and a two, three twos… what should I get?!?

The downside is narrowing the choices. Obviously, we could go with some mono-Green deck and a bunch of creatures that we have no chance to cast. Not a good idea. A piece of countermagic stopping a Hulk really puts a knot in the ole panties. I’ve never trusted those types of deck. Why include a card that you can’t cast? (That’s rhetorical.) Oh, sure, I can see one or two here and there in, say, a Reanimator deck. But to load your deck chock full of them is foolhardy.

Luckily Fortunately, this deck is going to be Green. Which means we have a chance to do some color fixing. (That’s one of those things that Green does really well.) So, if you could partner Green with one or two other colors based on CIP effects, which would they be? I used The Gatherer to see if my gut was right, and it does seem that Black has the best CIP effects followed by Red. (Blue and White were pretty far behind, it seemed.)

For the Greater Good

If you’re like me — and, if you are, I pray for you — your first thought when you see a Green creature that wants to go from play to the graveyard is Greater Good. Seems like an easy call. The Green guy wants to die; Greater Good wants to help. It’s a win-lose situation because of the huge card advantage.

My first version of this ran Green and Black with the Hulk and the GG. I found two problems with this. First, every game I tested, my opponent seemed ready with some sort of Enchantment destruction, whether it was Mortify, Naturalize, or Kami of Ancient Law. In other words, if I wanted to get use out of the mini-combo, I had to do it on their schedule, not mine, and it only mattered if I had already gotten to seven mana and cast the Hulk. If the G-Good was on board first, it died.

Second, we have certain restriction in Right Field, and those include not having more than twelve rares in a deck. With four Hulks and four Greater Goods, that left either four Overgrown Tombs (or Llanowar Wastes) or four rare creatures. This limitation wasn’t very easy to work with. If I used the lands, the CIP creatures I was left with were all uncommon (and very, very few good common ones). Sure, that meant I could go with four Nekrataals and four Indrik Stomphowlers, but I wanted more from The CIP Gang. Whither Skeletal Vampire? Or how about a creature that works great with guys who want to die: Gleancrawler? No room at the inn, kids. Try the barn out back. The smell is authentic.

By version five — oh, just wait — I had decided that I couldn’t get this thing to work with Greater Good. What else would allow me to sac the Hulk? Howsabout the Rusalkas? Good news on those fronts, they are creatures, and they are cheap. That means I could use them to fill in holes when I grabbed stuff with the Hulk. “I get six mana worth of guys? I’ll take Skeletal Vampire and a Rusalka. Or Nekrataal and two Rusalkas. Or I could get Loaming Shaman, Ravenous Rats, and a Rusalka. No, wait: Loaming Shaman and three Rusalkas. Oh, it’s so hard to decide!”

I gave up on the G/B model at version nine. Oh, it was fine. It often just did st00pid things to the opponent. Like… well, let me give you the deck first, and you’ll probably even see more than I did.

A Million Little Pieces

2 Llanowar Wastes
2 Golgari Rot Farm
12 Forest
8 Swamp

2 Birds of Paradise
1 Starved Rusalka
2 Plagued Rusalka
1 Ravenous Rats
1 Stinkweed Imp
2 Civic Wayfinder
1 Loaming Shaman
2 Gravedigger
2 Nekrataal
2 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Skeletal Vampire
1 Golgari Grave-Troll
1 Gleancrawler
1 Netherborn Phalanx
4 Protean Hulk

4 Putrefy
4 Utopia Sprawl
4 Last Gasp

Stupid Hulk Trick #1: Oh, geez, you’re gonna love this. Okay, so, you sacrifice the Hulk to a Rusalka or he dies in combat. Whatever. Go get a Gleancrawler. You know what? You get the Hulk back at the end of the turn. No. Seriously. You do.

Stupid Hulk Trick #2: Let’s say that you’ve been doing Hulk-Gleancrawler tricks, and you’re worried about decking yourself. Or better yet, as happened to me one game, your opponent is actually trying a Dimir-Millstone strategy. You know the kind. They don’t care about their life total because you’re going to be milled out before you can deal them twenty damage, right? *bzzzzzt* What is “You’re wrong, Alex?” Wait until late in the game and either use the Hulk to get a Loaming Shaman or just cast it. Shuffle your ‘yard back into your deck (you can probably leave the lands out, though), and just win, baby!

Stupid Hulk Trick #3: So, your opponent thinks “Whew. Finally. I got rid of that fourth Hulk!” Except that you go and grab a Gravedigger and two Rusalkas. Heh.

The problem that I kept running into with this deck was no early game, a very bad thing for a G/B deck. The desire to run a full mana curve up to the Hulk blinded me to the lack of early game. Sure, sometimes, it worked great. Utopia Sprawl or Birds led to a second-turn Wayfinder, and the mana was all good. Or, I’d get a Rusalka, Last Gasp, use the Rusalka to block, bring it back with a Gravedigger, ramp up to the Hulk, and win. About half of the time, though, I just made bad trades. Rusalka died to a Kird Ape. Advantage: the other guy. Civic Wayfinder needed help from Last Gasp to kill Loxodon Hierarch. Advantage: the other guy.

What I needed was mass removal. What I didn’t need was more rares. Any ideas, class? Buehler? Anybody? Yeah, Pyroclasm and Savage Twister.

That led me to this deck:

This one had a much better success rate, thanks in large part to the mass removal of the Pyroclasms and the Savage Twisters. It also helped that the deck had creatures that could bring themselves back without a Gravedigger or Gleancrawler.

Wilderness Elemental?!?

Yes, really. This guy was often a game ender. The first time I got to drop him, he was an 8/3. Ponder that for just a few seconds. An 8/3. With Trample. For three mana. Heck, we thought that Kodama of the North Tree was a great deal as a 6/4 for five mana, and you could only have one of those out at a time. Imagine having two 8/3’s for three mana. Imagine!

The biggest hole in this deck was simply the lack of a “kill that creature dead” card. Skred came close, but it was no Nekrataal. Several times (too many for some folks) I was able to cast the Yeti and pump it with Resize to kill a Hierarch or an Angel or Dragon, or just to save it while also killing a Watchwolf.

It took me a while to find this deck’s style, but I think I finally got it. The deck actually plays more like a Control deck than anything. Yeah, I know. “Big surprise.” It has seven mass removal spells as well as a mass removal creature. Green-Red Control, though, makes me nervous. Don’t ask why. I can’t explain it. It’s like trying to figure out why my brother doesn’t think Halle Berry is attractive. I have no problem with mono-Red Control, but G/R Control bothers me.

That’s when I started thinking: what about a G/R Beatdown deck that just happened to have the Hulk as the top of the mana curve. If it died, I could go get other critters. If not, I had a 6/6 beatstick with which to clobber my opponent. Now, into my thirteenth (sixteenth?) version of a P-Hulk deck, I got:

I know: a beatdown deck with twenty-four lands and eight mana accelerators? We’re trying to get to seven mana for the Phulk, pholks. We need them. I tried twenty-two with four Maulers, and I almost never got to Hulk mana. Ditto with twenty-three lands and three Maulers. Yes, you could try going with four Maulers and no Stomphowlers. I don’t recommend it. You need some maindeck Artifact and Enchantment destruction.

Also, you may be uncomfortable with Into the North. It can’t get the Stomping Grounds. Farseek can. Of course, Farseek can’t get Highland Weald or Mouth of Ronom. You use what feels right to you.

This version was much more successful. Makes sense, since it was more focused. Truth be told, though, I didn’t like it as much as the previous version. Why? Too many fast wins without the Hulk ever being a factor. For those of you who like winning quickly while having an out if your deck doesn’t win quickly, this is a nice cheap option. When the deck didn’t win fast, the Hulk allowed for some shenanigans. Still, I like all of the tricks that the other versions could do. But that’s just me.

“If I Had a Million Dollars…”

The original genesis for this idea came months and months ago. Joe and I pretty much said the same thing at the same time when we saw the Phulk. “Six mana? Isn’t that what the Dragon Legends cost?” Yes. Yes, it is. We worked on several versions of a G/W/b Greater GoodProtean Hulk deck that looked something like this before getting tired of it:

I never wanted to spring a deck like this in this column because, well, the cost is way outside of From Right Field. Heck, this is skybox kinda stuff. Worse, it’s owner’s box. Second, it relies very heavily on Kamigawa Block cards, and I’m not writing about decks that use those right now. They have a very short Standard life left.

If you got ‘em, smoke ‘em. If not, I can’t tell you to get them.

But, if you do got ‘em, man, oh, man, can this thing just do really st00pid stuff. With Greater Good and Phulk, you get some serious card advantage. Sure, things were good enough when you were just sacrificing Kokusho or Yosei to the GG. You’d end up with two cards in hand in exchange for one on the board, but you’d have essentially cast Time Walk, too. With the Hulk, you’ve got *tee hee* an incredible amount of card advantage. You get three cards in hand yet lose nothing on the board (presuming you grab only one six-mana creature to put into play).

My Favorite Hulk Play: The game had gone long, and I was out of gas. My hand was empty. I had a couple of Wood Elves, Greater Good, and lotsa mana but nothing else. At two life, I was about to be overrun by a bunch of weenies. What did I topdeck but a Hulk. I cast the Hulk and sacrificed it faster than Angelina Jolie sacrifices her top in her R-rated movies. I grabbed Yosei to drop into play. Guess what one of the cards I got to keep from Greater Good was? Go on. Guess. Yes, it was Gleancrawler. I cast the ‘Crawler, sacrificed Yosei to the Greater Good, locked my opponent out, ended up with two more cards, and then had the Hulk and Yosei in hand at the end of the turn. From empty-handed loss to mittful-of-cards win in one topdeck. Boo-ya.

Why I Really Like the Hulk

The thing that enticed me most about the Protean Hulk was how the card seemed to be at home in both casual and tournament decks. It just slips right into Greater Good builds even if you only run one of two copies. For the casual player, we have a big, fat creature tutor. I can’t wait to drop this guy in one of our 5-Color Fatty Singleton games. However you use it, I don’t care. I’d just like to see you use it. For the children. They are, after all, our future.

Chris Romeo