Commander MTG Deck Of The Week: Exploring With Hakbal Of The Surging Soul

Bennie Smith maxes out his MTG Merfolk with Hakbal of the Surging Soul in his latest Commander Deck of the Week.

Hakbal of the Surging Soul
Hakbal of the Surging Soul, illustrated by Tyler Walpole

I’ve been a huge fan of the explore mechanic since its introduction in Ixalan. That slow-grinding value engine is exactly the sort of Magic that I love!  I played it a bunch in Standard at the time, but there just weren’t enough of them to fill out a deck in a singleton format like Commander.  So, when the mechanic returned in a big way in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan and was even supported with a themed preconstructed Commander deck, I knew I was finally able to live the dream of exploring like a madman in Commander!

I usually buy some number of Commander decks during each release, but I almost always tear them apart for parts to add to other decks or build new ones. But since the Explorers of the Deep Commander precon deck included lots of old and new explore cards, along with excellent Merfolk typal support, this time around, I started with that deck and then made cuts to add other cards that I wanted to have in there. 

Hakbal of the Surging Soul

The face commander, Hakbal of the Surging Soul, is perfect for what I was looking for—a card that explores at the beginning of combat, and then has an attack trigger that takes advantage of you having extra lands in hand from exploring. It’s amazing that Hakbal lets all your Merfolk explore at the beginning of combat, and since Simic Merfolk has some Merfolk token synergies, I can easily see getting this trigger for three, four or even more Merfolk each turn.

Let’s dive into the list!

Explore Creatures

Cenote Scout River Herald Scout Merfolk Branchwalker Jadelight Ranger Deepfathom Echo Jadelight Spelunker

With the commander providing each Merfolk with explore, the main thing we’ll want to do is ensure we have plenty of low-curve Merfolk to have on the battlefield once we’re able to cast Hakbal, but I also wanted to play as many Merfolk with explore abilities as possible.  Old favorites like Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger join the new hotness of River Herald Scout and Jadelight Spelunker. Like the commander, Deepfathom Echo explores at the beginning of combat on your turn, and then you can have it become a copy of another creature you control. Given that so many Merfolk have sweet Merfolk typal synergies, this could make for a very nice combat step!

Other Explore Cards

Twists and Turns Glowcap Lantern Subterranean Schooner Path of Discovery

I had much fun with Path of Discovery in my Prossh, Skyraider of Kher deck before I upgraded it to cEDH level. Making six Kobold tokens when you cast Prossh and getting six Path of Discovery triggers is a grindy good time at lower-power Commander tables! I’m surprised I don’t see it in more green token strategies and have been looking for a place to play it again.

I’m over the moon about Twists and Turns and Glowcap Lantern. These little one-drops pack great value for the card investment. I love that Twists and Turns makes all of your explore triggers just a touch better by adding a scry trigger first, and it even lets you explore when it enters the battlefield (which means it won’t normally be a Turn 1 play). I’d be playing it even if that was all it does, but when you play your seventh land, it transforms into Mycoid Maze, ramping you to eight mana and being a perfect mana sink for the late-game to help you dig for more creatures.

For a one-mana initial investment and an equip cost of 2, Glowcap Lantern gives the equipped creature “You may look at the top card of your library any time” and “Whenever this creature attacks, it explores.” Knowing what the top card of your library is strong for letting you plan out your explore triggers.

Subterranean Schooner is cheap to cast and easy to crew, giving one creature you crewed it with an explore trigger. Without buffing itself, a 3/4 creature will quickly get outclassed in a typical game of Commander, so I’ll be keeping an eye on how well it performs and might need to replace it with something better later.

Explore Synergies

Temple of Mystery Rivendell Mirri's Guile Exploration Ponder Nicanzil, Current Conductor Topography Tracker

Topography Tracker and Nicanzil, Current Conductor are awesome support creatures for a deck focusing on exploring.  I’m especially excited about Topography Tracker doubling up all of my explore triggers – maybe someday Wizards of the Coast (WotC) will make a card that triples the explore triggers?  Fingers crossed!

The appropriately named Exploration is great for when you’re drawing extra lands, and since its recent reprint in Dominaria Remastered, it’s much more affordable to pick up these days. I’m thrilled to have a great place to run my old copy of Mirri’s Guile; restacking my library during my upkeep is a fantastic way to set up the perfect explore triggers!  Scrying is another way to do this, so I’m running cards like Rivendell and Ponder.

Merfolk Synergies

Deeproot Elite Merfolk Mistbinder Master of the Pearl Trident Stonybrook Banneret Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca Svyelun of Sea and Sky Merfolk Sovereign Emperor Mihail II Merrow Reejerey Deeproot Waters Mist Dancer

You can’t shake a stick without knocking into Merfolk that care about Merfolk in Magic, and while I consider this more of an explore deck than Merfolk typal, it’s still worth playing a lot of these cards to fill out my creature count. After all, the more Merfolk on the battlefield, the more powerful Hakbal’s beginning of combat trigger.

A lot of these are already in the Explorers of the Deep deck so it’s easy to just keep them around, waiting to collect explore triggers. Merfolk Sovereign is a great inclusion here, since it can help you punch through a battlefield stall by making a Merfolk unblockable. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca can do something similar, though the more Merfolk you have on the battlefield, the more impressive his activated abilities become.

Svyelun of Sea and Sky is a sweet card, indestructible so long as you control two other Merfolk, and drawing you a card as it attacks. Since it is itself a Merfolk, it gets buffed by all the other Merfolk cards.

Other Merfolk

Deeproot Wayfinder World Shaper

I rounded out the Merfolk crew with a few more additions. Deeproot Wayfinder’s combat damage trigger seems to play nicely with the explore theme, surveilling to manage the top of your library, and potentially bringing a land back from the graveyard. World Shaper can add more lands to the graveyard with its attack trigger, and when it dies, you can get all those lands back to the battlefield.

Typal Cards

Path of Ancestry Mutavault Secluded Courtyard Unclaimed Territory Roaming Throne Reflections of Littjara Kindred Discovery Titan of Littjara

I was lucky enough to crack open a Roaming Throne from a set booster pack, and its trigger doubling ability seems like the perfect addition to an explore Merfolk deck. I’ve been looking for a deck to run Titan of Littjara in, and it seems like a great addition here. You can draw extra cards and ditch an extra land that you’re sure to have, and I like that, as a base 6/6, it’s going to be a huge Merfolk threat.

I thought about cutting Reflections of Littjara, but changed my mind as I thought about how important it is to have a fair amount of Merfolk on the battlefield at all times. Reflections helps build out your battlefield presence without having to invest too many cards from your hand, protecting against mass removal and letting you rebuild from those sweepers quickly.


Rapid Hybridization Over the Edge Reality Shift Atraxa's Fall Thieving Skydiver Aetherize Portal to Phyrexia

With all the exploring and other library manipulation, I think the deck will play as if it had more removal spells than it actually has. I love that Over the Edge provides artifact or enchantment removal if you need it, and if not, you can simply have a creature explore and explore again!

I had a Portal to Phyrexia looking for a home, so I added it here as a way to destroy a bunch of my opponents’ creatures, and slowly bring back a creature each of my upkeeps.

Card Draw

Cold-Eyed Selkie Inspiring Call Seafloor Oracle Tributary Instructor Tatyova, Benthic Druid

I mostly just used Merfolk cards for card drawing, starting with the already ridiculous Tatyova, Benthic Druid. The new card Tributary Instructor is a nice bit of battlefield sweeper insurance in this deck, where most of the Merfolk will eventually snag a +1/+1 counter or two along the way. It also lets you get aggressive with your Merfolk, even if they’re sure to die in combat, letting you draw more gas from your deck.


Strip Mine Alchemist's Refuge Tide Shaper Arcane Denial Ripples of Potential Spreading Seas Merfolk Trickster Tishana's Tidebinder Whirlwind Denial Exchange of Words Herald of Secret Streams Wave Goodbye Mystic Confluence Sublime Epiphany Silkguard

One of the most important parts of interaction in the deck are ways to turn an opponent’s land into an Island, which turns on several cards that have or grant islandwalk, with Spreading Seas being the best of the choices. I also like Merfolk Trickster and Tishana’s Tidebinder for some instant-speed shenanigans.

Perhaps my favorite “tech” card is Exchange of Words. Quite a few of my creatures are pretty simple, with the only relevant text being “explore”, and these make perfect swaps with another player’s creature with awesome rules text.  I’m thinking something like Sun Titan, Beast Whisperer, or Etali, Primal Storm.

Mana Ramp

Sol Ring Growth Spiral Explore Growing Rites of Itlimoc

Outside of Exploration, here is the rest of my mana ramp.  Truth be told, Hakbal should provide extra land ramp pretty reliably, so I’m not wasting slots on the traditional green ramp spells that traditionally go in Commander decks.

The Deck

Okay, here’s the full decklist!

Hakbal of the Surging Soul
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 11-24-2023
Magic Card Back

Here are the deck stats from our friends at Archidekt:

Cards to Pick Up

Vodalian Hexcatcher Raise the Palisade Aquitect's Will Compulsion

These were a few of the cards I was hoping to add to the deck but couldn’t seem to put my hands on them in my collection.  I’m also curious about adding Agatha’s Soul Cauldron to the deck:

Agatha's Soul Cauldron

I don’t think I have all that many creatures with activated abilities I can count on being in my graveyard to copy with my exploring Merfolk, but do you think there will be enough opportunities for shenanigans in most Commander pods?  I’m very curious to hear what you think.

So, what must-have cards might I have missed including here?  Which of the four decks from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Commander are you most interested in?

Talk to Me

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and start conversations about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  You can also find my LinkTree on my profile page there with links to all my content.

I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl, and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews.  

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!