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Brewing With Your Inner Wolves


Many of you know me as a Commander content creator, what with the article you're reading right now that's part of a series that's been going since early 2014, but I've been creating Magic content since 2012 in my other life as an mtg financier. New cards being revealed is sort of a messy time for me because I have a lot more axes on which I need to evaluate cards than most people. Inside of me there are two wolves, one wants to brew decks and the other wants to go on twitter and warn people that a bunch of bad cards are about to go up in price whether I think they should or not. They agree on a lot, and brew wolf (I call him Wolfbrauen) frequently informs the buying and selling decisions that go-on-twitter-and-complain-that-people-are-buying-cards-they-want-to-play-in-a-deck-they're-excited-about-wolf (basically exactly my regular personality, except also metaphorical wolf nested inside myself) makes. Both wolves got very excited about a card they saw previewed this week, but for different reasons.

Grolnok, the Omnivore

Grolnok is an omnivore, which means he'll eat anything - hopes, dreams, one of my two inner wolves, your whole library if you let him. This is the Frog tribal commander no one thought to ask for but which frog tribal enthusiasts now can't live without. Wolfbrauen took one look at this and got brewing. The ideas flowed freely and soon a rough sketch of a deck had taken shape. How could they not - the deck practically builds itself. The ability to turn every Spore Frog, Plaxcaster Frogling, or Omnibian into a source of self-mill, you'd have to be a complete idiot not to build the deck Frog tribal.

The one thing that my two wolves can agree on is that I want to be an idiot, very much. You can build a cutesy Frog tribal deck, I guess, and I won't try and stop you. I'm not the police. What I will say is that Grolnok has a lot of explosive potential, and goofing around with frogs doesn't seem like the direction I want to take this deck. Frogs are, for the most part, sort of inefficient. Of the 32 frogs in Magic, 8 are Black, one is White, one is Frogmite and all of them have pretty abysmal power and toughness to casting cost ratios. Two have trample and two can gain flying for mana, the rest have no evasion. Unless you plan to let Chameleon Colossus do a ton of heavy lifting, you may want to think twice about your Frogs living long enough to swing a second time. It's an inefficient way to fill your.... croak zone? Your Rana Temporarihand? If you're jazzed to jam Species Gorger and.... this is where I'd name a second good Frog if there was one, go to town. Don't let an internet curmudgeon who used a dumb Wolf metaphor too many times to stop using it now yuck your yum. Instead of building around a handful of frankly really medium Frogs, why don't we see if we can figure out the deck's thesis Enchantment?

Court of Cunning

Oh. That was really easy, huh? This mills us way more efficiently if you can manage to stay the Monarch (Spore Frog and Haze Frog would be a big help here, which is why I avoided mentioning them in the paragraph where I talked about how bad all of the Frogs are) and there are a ton of other self-mill Enchantments we can add to the stack to make sure your whole deck ends up covered in croak counters. We can, but do not have to run any creatures at all if we have other ways to mill ourselves, allowing us to focus on what we love to do in Simic decks - draw cards effortlessly and develop our board twice as fast as everyone else. Speaking of which...

So, you know how I said I started thinking of my landfall decks as Burgeoning decks rather than Exploration decks? Well, it turns out this is going to very much be an Exploration deck, because while we can play lands with croak counters on them, we cannot put them into play from our hand because they're not in our hand. That means we are an Exploration deck. Burgeoning is actually really bad here. That sounds obvious when I put it like that, but bothering to even think about the deck in those terms is something I haven't always done and focusing on Exploration and Exploration accessories will help me figure out what else I want to be doing in the deck. For example, I have found myself cutting Oracle of Mul Daya a lot lately in my Burgeoning decks, and not only is Oracle great here for allowing us to play extra lands, some of which might be in the croak zone, Oracle allows us to look at the top card of our library and rescue it with a draw effect if it's an Instant or Sorcery before we mill ourselves with reckless abandon. Another insight from this line of thinking is that we can weed out non-Instants and Sorceries in the process of milling ourselves, because our commander doesn't exile those types of cards. If the croak zone is our second hand, surely that makes our graveyard a third hand and if we avail ourselves of cards like Snapcaster Mage, we'll be able to access anything we milled fecklessly. In this way, we're actually mitigating what I see as the one downside of playing self mill and that's milling cards we don't have a convenient way to return. Typically, milling your Eternal Witness feels bad- so bad I'm willing to pay... I want to say it's 37 mana to Eternalize Timeless Witness. Grolnok allows us to mill our Eternal Witness and play it, too, effectively eliminating the minor feel-bads experienced when you watch a card you wanted to play hit the bin and stay there.

What does a Frogless Grolnok deck look like? How do we win if we hate how it feels to win with Thassa's Oracle or Laboratory Maniac? How do we make sure they don't continuously kill Grolnok, stranding our library in a kind of croaky purgatory that we can't access without our commander in play? The answer to all of these questions and more will be revealed below because my bellicose inner wolf is accosting people on twitter, leaving the other one a few hours uninterrupted to brew. This won't be a traditional Jason Alt Simic deck, which is probably for the best, as much as I'd love to change 4 cards and turn it in. Here's what I came up with.

Frogless Grolnok | Jason Alt | Commander

It might be arguable that it's just as boring to hope to Primal Surge into a board that has Craterhoof, Avenger of Zendikar and Concordant Crossroads as it is to build a Thassa's Oracle deck, but I personally find one boring and not the other but this is how I'd build it and run it until I got bored of it.

Despite this being a Simic commander and even running some of the same cards I usually run, this is NOT at all how I tend to build Simic decks. If the deck runs as it's supposed to, we're not going to have access to our graveyard in a significant way, making cards I like such as Ramunap Excavator and Splendid Reclamation useless. Burgeoning is awful in this deck. There isn't a Sakura-Tribe Scout or Explore for miles. In fact, I cut almost all Instants and Sorceries which almost makes this MORE a Jason Alt Simic deck than what I normally build since I always force myself to include a lot more Instants and Sorceries than I like in other Simic decks. Finally, this isn't a landfall deck since I can't avail myself of basically all of the tricks I normally try. Furthermore, even though we're a monarch deck nominally, I don't have easy ways to loop Glacial Chasm or buy back Constant Mists. This is farther outside of my comfort zone than it looks at first glance, which is actually a good thing.

If you did want to go deeper into Monarch territory, which I recommend since the Courts are both very good here, Keeper of Keys, Dawnglade Regent, and cards like Crawlspace might be good additions, though the latter is a bit of a nonbo with the Craterhoof plan. I hate to run cards and then have to run ways to get rid of those cards.

I said the thesis Enchantment is Court of Cunning, but if you built the deck around Urza's Saga, that might make it fun. Saga is much better in my Slogurk deck where it can fetch me Amulet of Vigor and Zuran Orb, but here it can get Expedition Map in case you want to try and Dark Depths combo and it gets Elixir of Immortality in case too many cards you want access to end up in your 'yard rather than in the croakation (I'm going to work on that portmanteau because that sounded funnier in my head than it does on paper) or just gain some life so you don't die because you're the Monarch a lot and people tend to solve the problem of you drawing a card a turn with violence. I know I said I don't care for Frogs, but the Fog Frogs could be good here, except there is no real way to loop them since Grolnok really only avails you off cards you mill, not cards you kill.

Ultimately, I think Grolnok represents a step in the right direction for Simic design. Sure, Simic is still the boogeyman Guild because Simic decks, Grolnok included, still generate insane card advantage - Traumatize essentially draws you half of your deck, for example. However, we're forced to pull off a risky strategy to make it work and it doesn't synergize with any of the other ways Simic decks play that feels unfair. I think this is a fun and novel deck and I think it's about time someone broke Court of Bounty because, worst case scenario, it's a clunky, 4-mana Exploration and it turns out even something that fair is really good. That does it for me, readers. Until next time!

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