The Moon Is Full: Exploring Gruul Werewolves In Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard

Werewolves have always come up short in Standard when Magic takes a trip to Innistrad. But Gerry Thompson believes their newest tools will take them from pretender to contender.

Tovolar, Dire Overlord, illustrated by Chris Rahn

Given that Werewolves are one of the most popular tribes in Magic, it would be a shame if they never had a Tier 1 Standard deck. It’s almost impossible to believe it hasn’t already happened. This is the third time going to Innistrad and that’s simply unacceptable. 

The previous iterations of Werewolves were typically high-power, low-toughness threats that had difficulty getting through in combat. They also struggled against sweepers or a pile of spot removal. Planeswalkers would have helped but the options were too weak. For some reason, they weren’t pushed in the ways they needed to be or their creators underestimated what it would take in order for them to be successful in Standard.

Getting Started

From the look of it, the vast majority of those problems are going to be solved in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt

Tovolar, Dire Overlord Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge

One of the most important cards for the archetype might be Tovolar, Dire Overlord. The early card advantage is going to be huge and a Kessig Wolf Run on the backend can close games quickly. We’ve seen how strong cards like Toski, Bearer of Secrets can be in the right deck and I hope Tovolar can capture that for Werewolves.

The classic way to approach aggro decks was to see how much pressure they could put on their opponents in the early-game. These days, that pressure can’t solely exist as damage output because of the lack of decent ways to close games. There’s too much efficient removal, too much lifegain tacked onto various effects, too much toughness, and not enough ways of winning the game once your opponent has stabilized. 

To that end, the pressure created by cards like Toski or Tovolar is integral to the success of aggro decks. You want to get under your opponent and ride that advantage to victory with the help of other effects because relying on damage alone probably won’t win the game. 

Having difficult to remove permanents is another way for aggro decks to win. It doesn’t really matter what they do as long as the rate is good enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s Experimental Frenzy or Faceless Haven — we just need something. 

Kessig Naturalist Lord of the Ulvenwald

A Grizzly Bear with a mana ability isn’t enough to get excited about. If your deck is doing its thing and is able to transform Kessig Naturalist, then it becomes worth it. Between the lord ability on Kessig Naturalist and the text on Tovolar, it seems like the tribe is being rewarded more for going wide than we’ve seen before. That’s a step in the right direction, as banking on a single large threat isn’t a winning strategy.

Arlinn, the Pack's Hope

Brad Nelson already went deep on Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope last week, so I won’t dwell too much on her. 

Arlinn is very, very good. As Brad pointed out, she’s so good that she will show up in decks that aren’t strictly based on Werewolves. That bodes well for the Werewolves archetype, except it could also mean that Gruul aggro decks stick with playing all the good cards instead of trying to do tribal stuff.

As a standalone card, Arlinn creates three threats during daybound, although each of them are very beatable. I’m far more attracted to the nightbound side where you get a 5/5 creature with haste that’s difficult to remove. You’re more likely to have a game where Arlinn can hard carry you with the nightbound side. 

We have plenty of mana sinks in Gruul already and, although the mana from Kessig Naturalist and Arlinn is pointing toward casting two spells per turn if you want to, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another mana sink in this set. It could be as simple as the Gruul flashback spell we haven’t seen yet. Maybe it’s an instant to facilitate day and night.

Those are the new standouts for Werewolves. However, if anything is going to drive what Gruul Werewolves will look like, it will be Werewolf Pack Leader. 

Werewolf Pack Leader

Werewolf Pack Leader already has a pedigree of success, is the right creature type, and does what Gruul Werewolves should want to be doing. It would be a shock if it didn’t fit into what R&D imagined the archetype would look like. That means we’ll want to be green-based, likely splashing some gold cards and maybe a removal spell. Red one-drops shouldn’t make the cut because of the awkwardness of playing them alongside a GG two-drop.

Ranger Class

It shouldn’t be a surprise that two of the strongest cards for green aggro decks in recent memory both produce Wolves. They’re seeds for this set and hopefully set us up for a successful archetype. Similarly to Werewolf Pack Leader, Ranger Class provides a mana sink and source of card advantage, both things the archetype lacked in the past. 

The Other Stuff

Since we’re early into preview season, we don’t have all the information. Especially because this is the Werewolf set of Innistrad, I expect the hits to keep coming. If that’s not the case, we’re a touch short on having a great looking Werewolf deck for the first week of Standard. Even if we have to play fewer cards with tribal synergies and more cards like Goldspan Dragon, it wouldn’t be the worst outcome. 

So far, I like where we’re at.

For now, consider Fearless Pup a proxy for an as of yet previewed one-drop. I assume we’re getting more than Snarling Wolf, but if I’m wrong, maybe we have to play Jaspera Sentinel or Frost Bite. Ideally, that one-drop would be a creature that can work with Tovolar. Snarling Wolf might be below rate from what we’re used to but it still fits well into the archetype. Maybe there will be a reasonable green 1/2 with daybound we can happily add to the deck.

I’m not stoked to play Sarulf’s Packmate. It’s not uncommon for a Limited all-star to warrant consideration for Constructed and Sarulf’s Packmate certainly fits the bill. Even though it’s a clean two-for-one, is a Wolf, and gives you some flexibility with foretell, it’s still clunky. If we absolutely needed a curve filler, it’s a possibility.

Realmwalker is both a Wolf and a Werewolf, so it garners attention. Then again, its ability is medium when you take into consideration that the deck is split between those two creature types, plus there are cards like Ranger Class and Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope that fit the Werewolf theme, yet do nothing with Realmwalker. One of the changelings that does look great is Masked Vandal. Whether it sees maindeck play will depend on the format, but it looks like a slam dunk sideboard card. 

Outside of Shatterskull Smashing, none of the DFCs look great for the deck. Tangled Florahedron and Kazandu Mammoth are always solid, although they don’t particularly fit here due to the tribal nature. If anything, I could see playing a copy of Kazuul’s Fury as a finisher. 

Thundering Rebuke and Inscription of Abundance aren’t exciting and hopefully they’re just placeholders. I feel like we should be able to do better in Gruul. The sideboard has Burning Hands, Masked Vandal, and some random cards. Obviously, that’s not a great start, but we also don’t know what we need to be fighting. 

So, What Does This Deck Need? 

As I mentioned, a second one-drop would be excellent. Another three-drop would be great but not entirely necessary. It has more than enough two-drops and an ample amount of four-drops. The one thing truly missing is any sort of interaction. Thundering Rebuke and Inscription of Abundance are merely fine and I would expect that if the deck is going to compete, it’s going to have to do better than that. 

I’d be more than happy with a playset of Primal Mights but we don’t have it that good anymore. Blizzard Brawl and Frost Bite are a possibility. It’s worth noting that Faceless Haven is a Werewolf too. Trying to balance a snow manabase in a deck that clearly needs both Cragcrown Pathway and Rockfall Vale is difficult. Losing Lair of the Hydra would hurt but Faceless Haven is a fine replacement. Leaning on Werewolf Pack Leader means the mana is already strained, so I don’t think it will be easy.

If all we get from the set is a removal spell and some sideboard cards, I’d be happy. This deck is almost there.

Brutal Cathar Gavony Dawnguard

Although we tend to think of Werewolves as a Gruul tribe, we should take notice of both Brutal Cathar and Gavony Dawnguard. Maybe Selesnya Werewolves will be a thing or we can simply splash Brutal Cathar in the above Gruul decklist if we end up short on removal. Given how many Gruul cards we’ve gotten already, I doubt Selesnya is what ends up being the most supported, but we’ll see.

Either way, Werewolves are off to a great start to the Innistrad: Midnight Hunt preview season. My heart is certainly more interested in what kind of Zombie support we’ll be getting, but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for any Werewolves that could potentially solidify Gruul Werewolves as a contender. It’s taken long enough.