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Stocking Up on Big, Green Creatures with Ghalta, Stampede Tyrant

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I played a game of Magic: The Gathering with a couple of my friends last night. It was a small game - just three of us - and one of us doesn't have any cards, so he needs to borrow decks. We've done this before, so we all borrowed decks from one of the players. He has a variety of decks, sort of a mix of precons, upgraded precons, and fully original decks. They're fun, and it's an easy, relaxed way to play.

He lays out a few decks and we roll to see who gets what. I went to get a drink and came back to discover they'd rolled for me (I'd told them to) and I'd gotten Dragons - the awesome one with The Ur-Dragon as the Commander.

We joked about how Dragon decks are kind of no fun to have in a pod, because very often they just... win the game. You can't really do anything about it. You try, and you do your thing, but eventually the Dragon deck is just going to spew Dragons all over the table and attack everyone to death, and that's going to be the outcome. Which was precisely the outcome we had. I did nothing for five turns and started dropping all kinds of Dragons, and there was no way they could keep up.

The game was fun (for me, and I think for my friends) and we really enjoy each other's company, so all was well with the world. But it reminded me of something. I play Commander to have fun. I don't play to win, I don't play for prizes, I don't play to beat people. I play for fun. And the game is a lot less fun when the outcome is preordained.

I was struck by this again today as I looked through the Legendary Creatures for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. I like Pirates and Dragons and Vampires as much as the next guy, but a lot of these Commanders really just do one thing, and don't have a ton of variety available in the building. It's the same problem as the Dragon deck, just in construction - I want the end result to not always be clear. I want push and pull, ideas to be challenged, expectations to be confounded. It's why I did the last few decks I built (I recommend checking them out if you haven't - it's decently wild), and it's why I culled through and found some stuff that isn't completely straightforward.

Of course, the Dinosaur in the room is always Ghalta, and this new version certainly could be Dinosaur Kindred, but look more carefully at the card:

Ghalta, Stampede Tyrant

"Put any number of Creature cards from your Hand onto the Battlefield." (Emphasis mine.) Nothing in there says Dinosaur. How about we just drop some fatties?


As much as I love grindy Black decks, something about this sort of giant-Creature-stomping-face deck just makes my heart sing. Who cares if the thing is a Dinosaur or not? We're going to run a bunch of giant things, and we're going to play most of them for free.

We have my normal 40 Lands, 30 of which are Basic Forests. We have enough mana ramp which wants Basics that this is worth it, and the non-Basics we've got are pretty great. A couple get us even more Lands, one of them gives us no Hand size (more on that in a minute), and Oran-Rief, the Vastwood can do some work in a deck that drops this many Green Creatures in a single turn. Oh, and take note of Sanctum of Eternity. We'll get to that, too.

Thought Vessel and Decanter of Endless Water both ramp us and (more importantly) give us no Hand size. This will matter, so it's worth having a few ways to do it. I'd recommend only playing out one of these at a time, because otherwise a Shatterstorm can seriously hurt our fun.

We're going to draw cards in two ways. The first is (mostly) one at a time. We've got a few Creatures which draw cards when they enter the Battlefield, as well as stuff like Ulvenwald Observer and Soul of the Harvest, which watch for specific conditions and reward us with cards. This is great, and should keep things moving along nicely for us.

The second way is with some massive spell like Hunter's Prowess or Return of the Wildspeaker. With Ghalta out, these cards can draw us 12 or more cards. Hopefully we hold on to them all, then we get to put them all on the Battlefield for free when we play Ghalta again. Either way, we have a number of spells which will draw us a metric ton of cards; the idea is to drop an overwhelming board state in a single turn, and to do that we'll need a bunch of huge Creatures in our hand.

That leads us nicely into how we win the game: we attack with a bunch of giant Creatures. Most everything does something worthwhile here; Giant Adephage makes copies of itself, Elder Gargaroth makes other little dudes or gains us life or draws us more cards, and End-Raze Forerunners pumps our whole team. We play huge things and we attack people to death with them. It doesn't get more pure than that. It's just extra fun because we don't pay for most of them.

Our answers are mostly tied to our Creatures; we have some stuff that Fights when it enters, and we have a couple of things in the Terastodon arena. Tornado Elemental should clear the skies for us. We'll probably take some damage, and if the combo deck is quite quick they'll likely get us, but if they're not too fast and we figure out that's what they're up to and kill them first, we should be just fine.

A few of our Creatures grant abilities or power ups; Pathbreaker Ibex and Earthshaker Giant both function as Overruns here. Craterhoof Behemoth probably wants a slot, but that card gets played so much I decided to leave it out. Run it if you wish. A number of our Creatures grant our team Trample; when available, I also granted them Haste. A well-timed Crashing Drawbridge could be quite the blowout.

The thing that really drew me to this deck, though, is First Responder. What I want to do is ramp to Ghalta, play Ghalta, drop a small team, and draw a million cards off Ghalta. Then the next turn I want to return Ghalta to my Hand and play Ghalta again, now dropping way more Creatures because I've drawn so many more cards! First Responder does this for us. There are a few more which bounce something when they ETB, and Conjurer's Closet will just flicker Ghalta on our End Step no matter what. That Sanctum of Eternity? Built for us.

Is it complicated? No. Will it win? Sometimes. But more importantly, it's infinitely customizable. Want to run Bookwurm? Do it! A couple of Eldrazi titans? Throw 'em in! If it's a Creature, it can be played for free, so run what you want. Build the two-card combos you want. Play your favorite massive Green Creatures. Have fun.

Because that is, of course, the point. How do you have fun playing Commander? Let me know on socials!

Thanks for reading.

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