Black Panther Stalking a Herd of Deer by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1851). Ondu Greathorn by Aaron Miller.
It’s the start of a new year and after a few too many weeks of not writing about legendary creatures and topics related to deck-building, it’s time to get back to business. While I am tempted to look at some decks I’ve been working on, I think it’s important to have an eye on the new Legendary creatures we will soon have available to us in Rivals of Ixalan.
Today’s post is a discussion of how I would approach building around Ghalta but will not end in a decklist. I find deck-building to be an enormously fun and fulfilling process and while I will sometimes leave you with a full deck, today will be one of those weeks where I leave you with a starting point for building your own unique Ghalta brew.
As I started this article, there were only two legendary creatures that had been spoiled from Rivals of Ixalan. One of them is a Mono-Black Elder Dinosaur with deathtouch whose ability requires it to be revealed from your hand.
Thanks a lot, Wizards of Coast.
The other legendary was my only viable option for today’s article: Ghalta, Primal Hunger.
Taking A Closer Look
We’re looking at the first Elder Legendary creatures that aren’t Dragons in the history of the game. The creation of “Elder Dragon Highlander” was inspired by the first 5 Elder Dragons: Arcades Sabboth, Chromium, Nicol Bolas, Palladia-Mors and Vaevictis Asmadi. In Dragons of Tarkir we got to meet 5 Dragonlords: Atarka, Dromoka, Kolaghan, Ojutai and Silumgar. At this point it’s looking like we will have a full cycle of five mono-colored Legendary Elder Dinosaurs. Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve got to work with.
Ghalta is a Mono-Green 12/12 with a CMC of 12. While that might seem so high as to make him uncastable, Ghalta costs X less where X is the total power of creatures we control. That means we will build a deck where creatures’ power matters.
Ghalta also has Trample, so she can’t just be blocked by a squirrel. This build is going to be toward making a Mono-Green beatdown deck that will try to win with commander damage. We’ll attempt to take full advantage of Ghalta’s uncommonly high CMC as well as the fact that she has an amazing power and toughness.
While it’s hard to ever fault someone for running traditional ramp spells like Rampant Growth and Kodama's Reach and artifacts like Sol Ring or Emerald Medallion, our deck is going to be focused on getting Ghalta out as quickly as possible. Mana dorks are going to be an essential way to do that because they will both produce mana and reduce Ghalta’s cost.
You’d think Birds of Paradise would be a good pick, but Ghalta cares about the total power of our creatures. Unless we desperately need a flying blocker in our early game, we’ll be looking at 1 CMC mana dorks like Elvish Mystic. We’ll want to add in 2 CMC mana dorks as well, but keeping an eye on the power is important. A mana dork like Gyre Sage is going to have great upside, as it will tap for more and reduce Ghalta’s cost as it gets +1/+1 counters. Karametra’s Acolyte may have a power of 1 but we’ll be ramping with creatures so we’ll likely be able to tap her for a lot of mana.
Every creature with a power greater than zero will be a cost reducer for Ghalta but they don’t all have to be mana dorks.
Krosan Drover will reduce the cost of Ghalta by 4 mana and will help us cast any other fatties we happen to have in our deck. Natural Affinity might seem like a strange pick, but turning four forests into 2/2 lands will reduce the cost of Ghalta by 8 mana. It can also pair nicely with an instant like Heroic Intervention and an opponent’s board wipe to make everyone at the table hate us just a little bit. Pump spells like Aspect of Hydra can work late game to deal out a ton of damage, and early game it might be enough to get Ghalta out an extra turn or two early by pumping a creature up and bringing Ghalta’s cost within reach.
It might seem odd that I’m suggesting you look at Anthems, but remember that we’ll be ramping into casting Ghalta using lots of mana dorks and cost-reducing creatures.
Gaea's Anthem is an enchantment that will pump each of our creatures +1/+1. Pumping mana dorks will cut Ghalta’s casting cost nicely. Hall of Triumph does the same thing but as an artifact and Caged Sun will pump our team and double our mana if we’re clever enough to name Green when casting it.
Getting Ghalta onto the battlefield is just the first step. We need to draw cards to be able to close out the game. Draw gives us answers. Draw gives us options. Draw is probably the most important and most neglected part of deck-building.
Mono-Green staples like Harmonize will never feel exciting or sexy, but there’s a reason it has seen so many printings. We’ll be playing lots of creatures, so unless there was a recent board wipe, Shamanic Revelation should do some work for us. Rishkar's Expertise will draw us a dozen cards if Ghalta is out; and, if we hit her with some instant speed pump, we could wind up with a big enough hand to warrant running Reliquary Tower and Thought Vessel. We should probably run those anyways, even if we don’t find ourselves drawing a few dozen cards at a time. Other draw options are worth including as well. Regal Force, Sensei's Divining Top, and even Elvish Visionary are worth a look as well. Don’t neglect card draw in this or any build.
Having a 12/12 Commander is pretty nice, but making her into a one-hit kill is where we want to be. That’s pretty tough for most legendary creatures, but for Ghalta it’s a piece of cake if you add the right equipment.
We’ve already included ways to pump Ghalta up, but with these three artifacts we can probably make her a one hit kill. Fireshrieker, Grappling Hook or any way to give her double-strike will make her a one attack kill, not a one hit kill, but your dead opponent isn’t going to complain. They’ll be dead. Hedron Matrix will give her +12/+12, also doing the job quite nicely. Strata Scythe will give her +1/+1 for each forest on the battlefield. In many multiplayer games that should get up around 12 forests pretty easily if you’re bringing 6-8 of them to the party. This is where having trample is really going to shine for Ghalta. If you’re hitting with a double-striking 24/24 your opponent is going to have to block with an army or another behemoth to survive if they don’t have removal.
One of the really interesting things about trample is how it interacts with deathtouch. Any damage over and above what it takes to kill a creature gets applied to the creature’s controller. That means that with deathtouch all we have to do is assign one damage to each blocking creature.
If we want to be really mean, running an instant like Lace with Moonglove should catch some opponents by surprise. They block with a 10/10. A pumped-up Ghalta only needs to do 22 damage with trample and deathtouch in order to kill them; and, if they aren’t expecting the combat trick they’ll probably not assign enough blockers to do the job. Bow of Nylea and Gorgon Flail will both lack the element of surprise, but should still do the job well enough.
Trample will really do a nice job of getting damage through, but adding in lure effects can ensure a clean attack with our commander. These effects might wind up being unnecessary but they are worth mentioning and there may be times where they’ll really make a difference.
You won’t enchant Ghalta with Lure unless you’re attacking with deathtouch and you are trying to wipe out your opponent’s entire board. Instead, some poor mana dork will wind up running into battle against your opponent’s army thanks to Lure so that Ghalta can get in a clean shot. Prized Unicorn and Noble Quarry will do the same thing, and Noble Quarry has the added advantage of falling off and becoming a creature when the creature it’s enchanting is killed. That only happens if it was cast as an aura for its Bestow cost.
It should go without saying that your opponents will be saving their targeted removal for Ghalta. To be honest, they should, and if they don’t, you should do your best to teach them the error of their ways. The phrase “dies to Doom Blade” applies here, so let’s review some ways to protect our main threat.
There are lots of equipments that give a creature hexproof, but you may not have heard of Mask of Avacyn. The equip cost isn’t as low as we’d like but if you’re looking for lots of options it is a good one to have available. Alpha Authority will also give Ghalta hexproof and will ensure our opponent only blocks with one creature. That may come in handy if she’s got deathtouch. Archetype of Endurance is a nice way to both give Ghalta hexproof and keep our opponents from having hexproof on any of their creatures.
There may be times when the difference between knocking out an opponent or not is whether or not Ghalta can attack on the turn she enters the battlefield. Adding some ways to give Ghalta haste is easy enough and any Commander player will recognize some of these options.
Concordant Crossroads will help our opponents, so it should be used with caution. It only costs one Green mana so we can hold onto it until we need to cast Ghalta and kill someone on the same turn. Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves are staples in our format and will both give Ghalta haste and will protect her with hexproof or shroud. You might have been wondering where these were in the above section, but have no fear — I do understand the value of Boots & Greaves.
A spell like Lignify will go a long way toward neutering an opponent’s commander. Berserk will turn Ghalta into a one-shot kill but should probably be saved for our last opponent. It can also work as both player and creature removal if we catch an opponent swinging on another opponent with a dangerous enough creature. Ulvenwald Tracker will allow us to remove one of our opponents’ creatures each turn provided they are under 12 toughness. Fight effects will work nicely in this deck as we’ll often have the biggest creature at the table.
One of our most basic wincons is going to be winning with commander damage. We can’t rely upon that as our only win condition, so we need to add a few other options into the deck.
If we develop a wide enough board and have Ghalta out, we should be able to use Triumph of the Hordes to kill at least a few of our opponents. If for some reason we know we can’t attack with Ghalta, we can sit her on the Dragon Throne of Tarkir and give each of our creatures +12/+12 and Trample. If we are able to get enough card draw, an Enchantment like Food Chain will go a long way toward allowing us to play as many creatures as we can get our greedy little dinosaur hands on.
There are clearly lots of other ways to get the most out of Ghalta. Grafted Exoskeleton will give her infect and turn her into a one hit kill. A creature like Psychosis Crawler will turn card draw into damage, and when paired with a card like Greater Good we’ve got the potential to do a ton of damage and draw into enough ramp, answers or threats to seal the win.
You may note that I didn’t cover evasion at all in this article. Trample will do a lot for us, and we’ll also want to run Rogue's Passage and maybe a few equipments that give flying or unblockability. A Whispersilk Cloak might look silly on our big dinosaur, but it’ll do the job.
It’s worth noting that Commander Tax is affected by Ghalta’s cost reduction, so replaying our commander will likely only be Limited by how many creatures we can play and how easily we can make that extra two Green mana. That means that your Ghalta deck will absolutely be vulnerable to board wipes. Save your Heroic Intervention to protect your board even if it means losing your commander for a moment. Those creatures will be worth as much for their ability to reduce Ghalta’s casting cost as for anything else they bring to your game.
My hope is that I’ve given you a better idea of how easy it could be to turn Ghalta into a seriously dangerous Mono-Green voltron deck. She’s never going to be a high tier commander, as she’s lacking in the colors to give her access to the answers and threats that a multicolored general would provide. You’re going to need to be ready to deal with lots of counters and lots of targeted removal, but if you build and play it right you should be able to win your fair share of games in a casual or semi-competitive playgroup with this deck.
If you’re interested in following my progress in my push to win my Commander league’s top point total in 2018, I will be sharing stories of my casual and league games on the blog where Commanderruminations first appeared — http://dantesdad.wixsite.com/commanderruminations. I’ll post there on Sunday mornings, at the same time that I used to post these articles.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!