Building My Innistrad Plane Constructed Commander Deck

The Commander Rules Committee is venturing into new territory with Innistrad Plane Constructed. Sheldon Menery explains the format and his latest list.

Tovolar, Dire Overlord, illustrated by Chris Rahn

Innistrad: Midnight Hunt reminds us that there are five other Magic expansions set on one of its most popular planes.  Those sets are full of cards that are both spicy hot and chilling at the same time.  In our continuing effort to explore fun and interesting ways of putting together Commander decks, the Commander Rules Committee (RC) will be diving into Innistrad Plane Constructed.  It’s a simple setup with a rewarding finish.

There are two basic rules.  First, your commander must come from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, which we’re counting the associated Commander decks to include.  Second, legal cards are from the six sets: Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Innistrad, Dark Ascenscion, Avacyn Restored, Eldritch Moon, and Shadows over Innistrad.  We’re again including cards from the two decks, but only the new ones; no reprints from them are allowed (unless they’re reprints from one of the listed sets, obviously).  Cards that are banned in the format are still banned, so git wrekt, Griselbrand.  That’s it. 


We had explored adding in a list of Innistrad-adjacent cards—those with characters seen in the various sets, art that suggests the card is set on the plane, or anything that has a creative concept associated with Innistrad.  Ghoulcaller Gisa from Commander 2013, Hushwing Gryff from Magic 2015, and Sorin, Vampire Lord from Magic 2020 are examples.  In the end, the list got kind of big and stretchy.  It easily could have included every Vampire and Zombie in Magic, which would start to defeat the purpose of a narrower card pool.  While we’ll miss out on some cool cards, we’re falling back in simplicity.  There’s an easy way to define the sub-format: all the cards made for any Innistrad set. 

We put this idea together earlier in the year, knowing that Innistrad: Crimson Vow would also come out in November.  At that time, we’ll add that set to the card pool, to include the new cards from the two Commander decks released along with it.  We’ll be able to choose new commanders from the set if we like. 

One of the agreements we made is that no one would build the obvious Vampire or Zombie decks.  They’d both be very good and likely quite unbalanced with any other two decks.  Since we’d like enjoyable games that aren’t easily dominated by a specific deck, we thought we’d stretch our collective legs a little.  It might turn out that we were just being overly cautious, so if it looks like the decks some of us build are equitable in power level, maybe we’ll add them back in.  The other tribes, Humans and Werewolves, don’t seem quite as potentially dangerous.  In fact, I’ll be building one of them. 

There are 24 potential commanders, sixteen that are multicolored.  Here’s the list:

Adeline, Resplendent Cathar Lier, Disciple of the Drowned Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia Jerren, Corrupted Bishop Gisa, Glorious Resurrector Saryth, the Viper's Fang Dennick, Pious Apprentice Liesa, Forgotten Archangel Ludevic, Necrogenius Vadrik, Astral Archmage Florian, Voldaren Scion Old Stickfingers Tovolar, Dire Overlord Rem Karolus, Stalwart Slayer Katilda, Dawnhart Prime Sigarda, Champion of Light Slogurk, the Overslime Gorex, the Tombshell Kurbis, Harvest Celebrant Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth Leinore, Autumn Sovereign Kyler, Sigardian Emissary Lynde, Cheerful Tormentor

I went over the list quite a bit and narrowed it down to three strong candidates:  Old Stickfingers; Liesa, Forgotten Archangel; and Tovolar, Dire Overlord.  I really like Liesa as a commander, since she can shut down the graveyard shenanigans which are likely to be found in these decks.  She’s also inexpensive and has a great triggered ability.  Old Stickfingers is my kind of card, since it sets up the very graveyard tomfoolery I was just talking about. 

Tovolar, Dire Overlord

In the end, I decided to go with Tovolar for a few different reasons. The first is that I feel like playing black puts me in kind of a rut.  It might be my most-played color in Commander and I don’t want to keep hitting that note all the time.  I haven’t played anything Gruul in quite a long time.  My only Gruul deck is Ruric Thar’s Beastly Fight Club and I don’t pull it out that often.  It’s time to do something fresh, so Tovolar it is. 

There will definitely be black cards I miss; who doesn’t want to jam The Meathook Massacre?  And the chance to play Mikaeus, the Unhallowed in a small card pool? 

Focus.  Gotta focus.

While the really cool red cards from the previous five sets are pretty limited to Bonfire of the Damned, Flayer of the Hatebound, Malignus, Zealous Conscripts, and Rage Thrower, there are plenty of very good green ones to explore.  But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.  We have to start top-down with our commander and a strong look at the new Werewolf cards from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Midnight Hunt Commander.

Tovolar himself has two elements.  The first, which is repeated on the transformed side, Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge, is that when a Wolf or Werewolf deals combat damage to a player, draw a card.  We’ll be full of tribal goodness, so that ability should keep our grip pretty full. 

Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge

The second ability frequently will be relevant as well: at the beginning of upkeep, if we control three or more Wolves and/or Werewolves (so two in addition to Tovolar), it becomes night and we transform any number of Human Werewolves we control.  That ability will make Tovolar slightly larger, get rid of his Human creature type for the time being, and give him the Kessig Wolf Run ability, which might be relevant in a late-game situation.  The real damage done by Tovolar will have been done by making it night and getting our pack running into the wild. 

What’s important to note with Tovolar is that, daybound/nightbound mechanics aside, he’ll transform any Human Werewolf creature.  He’s not transforming them because of the night/day change (the older cards, even though their mechanic is similar, don’t actually have daybound/nightbound); he’s transforming them because of his raw power.  He’ll transform Mondronen Shaman just as easily as Burly Breaker

In our color identity, there are eighteen other Wolf or Werewolf cards from the new set:

Bird Admirer Bounding Wolf Burly Breaker Fangblade Brigand Harvesttide Infiltrator Hound Tamer Kessig Naturalist Lambholt Harrier Outland Liberator Pestilent Wolf Primal Adversary Reckless Stormseeker Snarling Wolf Spellrune Painter Tavern Ruffian Tireless Hauler Tovolar's Huntmaster Village Watch

All of them deserve due consideration and there’s a pretty good chance most of them get played.  Tavern Ruffian is the only one that’s vanilla and Bird Admirer might not be strong enough to make the cut, especially since there are transforming DFCs in some of the other expansions.  Kessig Naturalist is of interest because it’s an Anthem when transformed, plus there’s the mana production.  Burly Breaker is just exceedingly large in either form. 

The one that I suspect we’ll get most mileage from is Outland Liberator, in its Frenzied Trapbreaker form, destroying an artifact or enchantment of the defending player whenever it attacks.  Then there’s Tovolar’s Huntmaster, which brings along friends, and when transformed into Tovolar’s Packleader can have a Wolf or Werewolf fight with an opponent’s creature, giving us some battlefield control.

There are another 65 Wolf or Werewolf cards in the other five sets.  I won’t list them all, but there are few worth specifically calling out.  Afflicted Deserter transforming into Werewolf Ransacker gives us a little more artifact control.  Breakneck Rider’s transformed version, Neck Breaker, gives attacking creatures +1/+0 and the all-important trample.  That’ll offer us both extra damage and card draw. 

Afflicted Deserter Breakneck Rider Hermit of the Natterknolls

Hermit of the Natterknolls offers even more card draw.  Immerwolf is an anthem, although it’s just a Wolf.  Instigator Gang gives attacking creatures we control +1/+0; when that’s transformed, it turns into +3/+0.  Kruin Outlaw transformed into Terror of Kruin Pass means that each of our Werewolves must be blocked by at least two creatures.  Mondronen Shaman’s transformed side, Tovolar’s Magehunter, deals two damage to opponents whenever they cast a spell—so if they want to turn it back into day, it’s going to hurt. 

Sage of Ancient Lore is a Werewolf version of a Maro, and becomes a (targetable) Multani, Maro-Sorcerer when turned into Werewolf of Ancient HungerSilverfur Partisan replaces any Wolf or Werewolf hit with targeted removal with a 2/2 Wolf token.  Smoldering Werewolf is one of the few transform-into-Eldrazi Werewolves, since there’s a little more creature control with it. 

Huntmaster of the Fells deserves its own spotlight.  When it enters the battlefield, we’ll get a Wolf token and gain life.  When it transforms into Ravager of the Fells, it’ll deal two damage to an opponent, and importantly, two damage to a creature.  There will be some very relevant creatures in the sub-format that it can kill.  The one that’s most significant to me is Blood Artist

Mayor of Avabruck is also spotlight-worthy.  In its normal form, it gives other Humans +1/+1, which is fine enough.  When transformed into Howlpack Alpha, things get aggressive.  Our Wolf and Werewolf creatures get +1/+1 and then during the end step, we get a 2/2 Wolf token.  The pack gets larger. 

Our third spotlight Werewolf is Ulrich of the Krallenhorde.  When it enters the battlefield or transforms back to its original form, a target creature gets +4/+4 until end of turn.  That’s good even if we’re not transforming the whole pack.  When it does transform into Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha, it can fight a non-Werewolf.  At 6/6, it’s going to do some killing. 

That gives us a good basis in creatures for our pack.  Then it’s time to look at the other 500+ cards in the relevant sets in our color identity to see which direction we can take the deck that either directly supports the battle mission or does other things we want to do.  Again, I can’t talk about all of them (and some of them are worth ignoring), so I’ll pull out some highlights that I haven’t already mentioned. 

Alpha Brawl

Alpha Brawl is the biggest flavor win.  Despite being expensive to cast, it’s going to wipe out someone if it resolves.  The two planeswalkers, Arlinn Kord and Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope, are must-includes flavor-wise as well.  Augur of Autumn’s effective card draw makes it worth at least considering.  Even though it violates the tribe, Balefire Dragon is just a game-winner, one of the few ways the color combination really has of sweeping the battlefield that’s not Blasphemous ActBurn at the Stake might be a nice surprise kill in an awkward combat situation.  Then there’s Craterhoof Behemoth; I’ve already said enough.

Dawntreader Elk Eldritch Evolution Full Moon's Rise

Dawntreader Elk is some of the little ramp available in the sub-format.  Descendants’ Path casting stuff for free is great and we have other card draw to get us to noncreature cards.  Even if I’m not playing it, Eldritch Evolution deserves a shoutout for its potential.  Fling is in Dark Ascension, and that’s okay by me.  Full Moon’s Rise giving trample makes my team deadly; sacrificing to regenerate everything could really save the day.  Gutter Grime gets us into a little Ooze tribal and helps with mitigating getting creatures killed. 

Primal Surge Champion of Lambholt Hellrider

Primal Surge has to be there for the lolz, right? Somberwald Sage is mana acceleration in a deck that’s predominantly creatures.  Soul of the Harvest is some saucy card draw.  Ulvenwald Tracker offers some more creature control, although we’ll have to pay attention to the fact that it’ll be better served at night. 

Champion of Lambholt deserves some special attention, although I’m not sure how much I can say about the card that hasn’t already been said.  Especially in an environment in which removal might be a little low, ChamLam could get pretty large and make a fully unblockable team. 

Hellrider deserves its own call-out as well.  Everyone’s favorite hasty Devil is just deadly and means that creatures don’t necessarily have to connect in order to kill people. 

Lost in the Woods The Celestus Druids' Repository

Lost in the Woods reinforces the message of staying in school, eating your vegetables, and playing your Fogs.  There will be lots of attacking in this environment, so preventing some damage—especially given that we’re going to be pretty aggressive on the offense—is extremely important.  Speaking of which, Moonmist is also Fog that’s so much more. 

The Celestus is one of the major story cards of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and it’ll have a place in this story as both a mana rock and for lifegain.  I’ll have to resist thinking about the possibilities of looting and graveyard recursion since that’s not what we’re doing in this deck. 

Unnatural Growth will be an enchantment that one of the other players simply has to destroy.  Doubling the power and toughness of an already-large, frequently trampling pack of ravening monsters will get life totals to zero in no time. 

Arguably the deck’s top superstar will be Druids’ Repository.  The deck will be frequently attacking, piling up the counters.  They’ll end up going to fuel a big Bonfire of the Damned, Burn from Within, or a reasonably early Primal Surge—which, if it contains Craterhoof Behemoth, will get very deadly. 

Here’s the list I settled on:

The plan is simple:  curve out Werewolves, have Tovolar running early, and keep attacking.  The card draw that Tovolar provides will be enough to get to the significant instants and sorceries and importantly lands, giving us the opportunity to hit drops every turn and cast some of those big spells, even without the assist from Druids’ Repository.  The deck will be relatively straightforward and fun to play.  It also shouldn’t provide any webcam challenges.

From what the other three have said, Toby looks to be going for Old Stickfingers, Scott is running some version of Selesnya Humans, and Gavin has mentioned Lynde, Cheerful Tormentor.  I’ll keep you posted on what everyone eventually settles on.  Regardless, it’s going to be a howlingly good time. 

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