Halana and Alena seem like relatively serious people. As Rangers, they face constant dangers and have endless battles. Since they’ve gotten together on the same card, I figured it would be a nice time to throw a party for them to celebrate their partnership — a spot of brightness in the otherwise dark world of Innistrad: Crimson Vow. I mean, if there’s a bash up in the castle, why not have one down in the woods?
My intention for this deck is to be thematic while maintaining playability. It contains the kinds of forest and woods creatures that would come along with Halana and Alena, other hunters, and legendary folk that would want to join their celebration.
As good as a Dinosaur like Ghalta, Primal Hunger might be in the deck, it just doesn’t fit thematically. Leaving aside Werewolves felt right, merely because there are so many of them running around lately. I was going to go down a Primal Order line, but then dumped it to move down the power scale a little; you’ll still see that reflected in a large number of basic lands.
I thought for a moment about a dungeon sub-theme, since there are two Rangers that have venture abilities. In the end, Intrepid Outlander and Varis, Silverymoon Ranger (and maybe Ellywick Tumblestrum?) didn’t seem worth it. This exploration led me to the conclusion that, while there are some very good swords in Magic, there aren’t very many good bows other than the one Nylea has. We need a Blackblade Reforged version of a bow.
This deck is intended for the battlecruiser end of the format. It’s about getting a bunch of creatures onto the battlefield and at some point having an Overrun effect. Even at a lower power, I believe in packing some interaction, but most of it here comes in creature form. The deck should be resilient enough to withstand a sweeper or two; by the time the first one happens, there should be enough lands out to start casting big stuff again. Of course, if a sweeper is met with Heroic Intervention or Inspiring Call, it’s game on. Here’s the list:
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Spike Feeder
- 1 Forgotten Ancient
- 1 Gaea's Avenger
- 1 Heart Warden
- 1 Nullmage Advocate
- 1 Wilderness Elemental
- 1 Seedguide Ash
- 1 Fertilid
- 1 Devoted Druid
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 1 Arbor Elf
- 1 Garruk's Packleader
- 1 Soul of the Harvest
- 1 Gyre Sage
- 1 Zhur-Taa Druid
- 1 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Xenagos, God of Revels
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Shaman of Forgotten Ways
- 1 Vizier of the Menagerie
- 1 Grand Warlord Radha
- 1 Beast Whisperer
- 1 Incubation Druid
- 1 Mowu, Loyal Companion
- 1 Evolution Sage
- 1 Steelbane Hydra
- 1 Pako, Arcane Retriever
- 1 Radha, Heart of Keld
- 1 Neyith of the Dire Hunt
- 1 Halana, Kessig Ranger
- 1 Alena, Kessig Trapper
- 1 Ashaya, Soul of the Wild
- 1 Augur of Autumn
- 1 Kurbis, Harvest Celebrant
- 1 Ulvenwald Oddity
- 1 Cultivator Colossus
- 1 Avabruck Caretaker
I’ll go through and break down the relevant card choices by section; I don’t need to tell you what mana creatures are for, unless they’re particularly innovative or unusual.
The small but enduring buff Halana and Alena give to a creature is nice and giving haste is even nicer. Changing the combat math is always a good idea. As we’ll see through the course of looking at the deck, there are some dangerous creatures here when you don’t see them coming.
Creatures: The Masses
Every big celebration has its lower tables, where the rank-and-file people sit. These folks have just as good a time as the celebrities and often less of the pressure.
While it’d be nice to have Avabruck Caretaker transform into Hollowhenge Huntmaster, the combo here is with Halana and Alena. Put their beginning-of-combat trigger on the stack first targeting our commander duo, then Avabruck Caretaker’s. Our friendly puppy-tender’s (really, how adorable is that art?) trigger resolves first. When Halana and Alena’s trigger resolves, they’ll be two +1/+1 counters larger, thereby making whatever else we want to be at least four counters larger.
You might have heard me talk before about what I call effective card draw. While it’s not according-to-Hoyle card draw, abilities like Augur of Autumn has give you access to additional cards. If you can play them, you’ve effectively dug one deeper into the deck. Unlike Oracle of Mul Daya, which gives you an additional land drop, you trade that for the potential ability to get more than just lands. With the deck’s ability to fire around +1/+1 counters, you should have coven when you want it.
Our actual card draw comes in creature form. With Beast Whisperer, a late-game Llanowar Elves isn’t necessarily a dead card.
Everyone’s favorite Centaur friend adds a little life to the party with more of that effective card draw.
The deck has a subtheme of power and toughness equal to the number of lands we control. When Beast Whisperer is on the battlefield, we’ll obviously stack that on top of Cultivator Colossus’s ability so that we have an extra card in hand. This card goes extremely well with Wrenn and Seven, which isn’t in the deck, since it just felt like Vivien and Garruk would be closer with Halana and Alena.
The interaction we’re looking at here is getting two or three mana per turn out of Devoted Druid by putting a -1/-1 counter on it to untap it, and then adding a +1/+1 counter to wipe it out. Kind of like what we intend to do with Woodfall Primus.
I didn’t want to go down a long path of proliferation, but when there are so many counters running around, it made sense to provide the proliferate creature that does it when you do something you’re doing anyway, namely dropping lands.
Extra counters from Halana and Alena mean extra lands. Pretty simple and enjoyable stuff. Or, if there are enough lands on the battlefield already, a battle-worthy Fertilid.
The regular thing here will be to spread out the counters with Mr. Babycakes’s upkeep trigger. For one, we don’t go all in on a single creature. Additionally, there are some spells and abilities that care about the creatures with counters on them, like Inspiring Call. The case in which we might go all-in is putting them on our commander for a quick commander damage kill.
I knew I wanted an Antiquities card and bad Dockside Extortionist before Goblin Pirates were ever dreamed of applies. If my opponents don’t have any artifacts, even better.
Here’s a little more card draw that’s gated by power. A significant-enough percentage of the creatures in deck apply, so we’re all good.
The best case is to drop Gyre Sage Turn 2 and then cast creatures up the power curve. If it sticks around long enough, it’ll also fuel an Overrun. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t put Kamahl, Fist of Krosa in the deck.
Oh, hello mana acceleration. One from Forgotten Ancient is fine. Two plus haste from Halana and Alena rules. I see only the odd use case of resorting to using the adapt ability.
This is seriously underplayed card. It has some applications that might not seem obvious, like taking something out of a graveyard that an opponent actually wants there—be it Genesis or some giant monster that they’re trying to reanimate. Lands, dead mana creatures, or useless spells become fodder for blowing up enchantments and artifacts for no mana. Then there’s the time when there’s a spell in someone’s graveyard that’s going to save everyone else’s bacon. Give Nullmage Advocate a whirl. I trust it will serve you well.
This is a little bit of a test. I’m not sure how often we’ll actually have eleven mana (or fourteen if we’re hasty) and creatures with total power eight or more (actually, that one should be common). If that’s the case, we might have an alternate win condition on our hands.
Another creature that I think people are sleeping on. If your Seedguide Ash survives it might mean that things are going better for you than if it doesn’t. It’s a common Greater Good sacrifice (a card I left out of this deck because I feel like I’m a little too fond of it), but I’d still be happy just slamming it into combat.
The card draw is the reason you came. Trample and +1/+1 counters are the reasons you stayed. A very Commander card that’s done rather well in our Innistrad Plane Constructed league.
The life-giving power of Spike Feeder is always welcome. Putting it into a deck that’s going to abuse +1/+1 counters will make it the life of this particular event.
The only reason I don’t feel off-theme with Steelbane Hydra is that it’s a Turtle. A Turtle is a nice, safe pet for Halana and Alena and they’d certainly bring it to the party.
From a flavor design perspective, I’d like Ulvenwald Oddity to be an Avatar. It just feels more “spirit of the wood” than it does a Beast. I guess we’re on Innistrad, though, so it has to be a Horror as well. With our couple in the flavor text, this one was an easy addition.
We’re back to effective card draw again. The last line won’t likely be an issue in this heavily green two-color deck, but the first two got us here anyway.
Another holdover from the deck’s nonbasic-hating origins, Wilderness Elemental is simply huge in most Commander games. Even if everyone just has three nonbasic lands, the rate on this thing is insane.
Everyone’s favorite Treefolk Shaman will show up at the party and keep wrecking those artifacts (and enchantments, planeswalkers, and scary lands). Like with Seedguide Ash, if it’s not persisting back, then it’s getting in for some tramply damage, made larger by our guests of honor. If it does persist back, the counters they’ll give it will let it persist back again.
Our edgiest mana creature came to the deck when I had thoughts of a Druid subtheme. Still, giving our opponents (who no doubt accepted invitations to the party in the castle instead) a little pain with our mana was the right thing to stay with.
Legendary Creatures: The A-listers
There was an early idea during sketching out deck possibilities to make all the creatures legendary, but that fell by the wayside for a little more playability. Still, they’re the most noteworthy and powerful figures that we’ll see.
The younger self of half of our pair is mostly there for the battles, but occasionally for the mana boost. If we use the commander duo to give her haste, it’ll be a delicious six mana either during or after combat.
We couldn’t keep the very soul of the wild away from our festivities and we wouldn’t want to. Ashaya’s essence infuses all our guests, importantly making them immune from Cyclonic Rift. She’ll also lay down some serious beats.
We’ll look to the beefed-up heir to Keld to refill the punch bowl post-combat or maybe to just breeze all the way through Bard Class.
Some of that mana from Grand Warlord Radha might also be put to picking off enemies with the younger Halana.
Nobody parties like Kurbis, who keeps the festivities going and going. The more counters on Kurbis, the more stamina our other revelers enjoy.
Just one trip into combat with Halana and Alena makes Mowu a 7/7 trampler, who then remains vigilant for any party-crashers later.
Sort of sneaky card draw, anytime there’s a chump blocker, Neyith will step up for us. Doubling a creature’s power can get deadly, especially when there’s more than one way to do it in the deck. There will be plenty of times when an opponent doesn’t have something to block with, which will be just fine.
Mowu isn’t the only loyal doggo. Without Haldan, we obviously won’t be able to get back our exiled cards, but it’s a small price to pay for one very large Hound that will be gnawing away at every else’s life totals.
Getting to play lands off the top is only the smallest thing that this version of Radha does. She’s ready to be large and very in charge in short order.
You can’t really have a big to-do without the God of Revels. With the number of trampling creatures here and ways to give trample, Xenagos will show everyone how to boogie. The most desired play will be doubling up Halana and Alena after they’ve gotten larger via some counters, swinging in for a commander damage kill.
Planeswalkers: The S-Tier Guests
Planeswalkers are under immense pressure from the time they arrive to make sure they perform. There are so few of them that they always draw great attention, especially when they fail to pump up the volume.
Both mana acceleration and Overrun in one package, Garruk is a planeswalker that sometimes gets left alone by my locals. When you don’t have scary lands like Gaea’s Cradle to untap, people shrug. Then, during your turn, they’ll think to ask how many counters he has. When it’s more than four, they start panicking.
Vivien likes to make sure that every guest has their +1. It’s a happy occasion; it’s nice to bring along someone you want to hang out with.
It was either this version of Vivien or Colossification. This one works extremely well with Halana and Alena in more than just a one-shot situation.
While the other to Viviens are about utility, this one is all about getting to the ultimate. It’s probably most likely to happen with either Doubling Season or some proliferate shenanigans. If it does, Viven will make sure that each and every guest parties deep into the night.
Halana and Alena’s Party in the Forest is about gathering a bunch of friends and lighting the fires of combat. It’s about partners and pairs getting together for rollicking good times. Look forward to seeing it in action on the Commander RC stream in the very near future.
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