I must confess that I love playing tribal decks. To this end I play any kind of tribal deck I can feasibly support (unfortunately this means no Goat tribal). When I first started playing Commander (then EDH) I wanted to go with a tribe that was out of the box but still had support. Due to my second love of big creatures I went with the biggest of the Lorwyn tribes: Giants. I built a deck using Brion Stoutarm and tried my hand at playing red/white. Unfortunately I found that it ran out of gas pretty quickly so I decided to add another color but I still wanted a legendary Giant to command them so I put the deck on the shelf to come back to at such a point. Eventually WotC heard my prayers and delivered Ruhan of the Fomori. True he attacks at random but he's huge cheap in the color of card draw and of course a Giant.
I realized that if I wanted to cast my commander and do some damage with him I would want some equipment to help him go that extra mile. So I added a bunch of awesome equipment and sleeved the deck up for Ruhan to lead his army of Giants to victory. But as I've played the deck I've noticed that the deck is less of a Giant tribal deck and more of a Ruhan Voltron deck. It's reached a point where there are games where I only cast Ruhan and some equipment and card draw the whole game. I'd really like to get back to Giant tribal being plan A but I still like smashing through for the magic 21 damage for plan B. Anyway here's the deck:
Commander: Ruhan of the Fomori
Elixir of Immortality
From the games I've played I've found my favorite cards to be the Titans Levitation and Tenza. Each one allows for some crazy plays especially Sun Titan. Levitation also is a fun spell to cast as there is nothing scarier than some flying Giants headed to your face. As for Tenza there is no equipment I like to see more; putting it on Ruhan makes him a 10/10 trampler. Also the equip cost is just one mana so even if I'm recasting Ruhan chances are I can reequip it that same turn.
Some of the lackluster cards have been the Propaganda effects and Blue Sun's Zenith. I included them thinking that after a few swings with Ruhan I'd become a target but that doesn't really happen unless they are put into kill range at which point killing me becomes a priority regardless of what roadblocks I may put up. Blue Sun's Zenith was added because I wanted to be able to draw a bunch of cards at multiple points in the game but the triple blue makes it almost impossible to cast early on making it usually a onetime thing. I'm on a bit of a budget so I'd avoid suggesting things like Mazes and shocklands but things at a price of about $10 or less are doable.
Tribal is an interesting thing to try to tackle in Commander. You'd think if there was any place that a tribal deck of any kind would thrive it would be here. My personal attempts tend to speak to the contrary.
I had an ill-fated Zombies tribal build that traded back and forth between Sedris the Traitor King and Lord of Tresserhorn depending on my mood. Before too long I scratched out "Zombies" and wrote "Patriarch's Bidding.dec" on the deckbox. Eventually that also got scratched out in favor of "Folds Hard To Mass Removal.dec."
I then had mono-white equipment featuring Raksha Golden Cub. It wasn't even a tribal deck to begin with (not intentionally anyway) until one of my close friends noted that the win condition tended to be White Sun's Zenith rather than my huge double striking Sword of Fire and Ice wielding commander. He then lovingly began referring to the deck as "Mono-White Kitties!"
The Kitties grew very accustomed to the dark end of the same Fat Pack box that had Folds To Mass Removal.dec for a good reason.
Most recently my overdeveloped sense of poor timing came into play with Angels tribal. I wanted to make a deck based on my equally overdeveloped 'Commander hipster' tendencies so I naturally built around a hard-to-find (and equally hard to understand the price tag on) foil copy of Radiant Archangel.
To make a long story short see "Zombies" above for results. Play a small army of Angels. Equip them. Watch everything die to Oblivion Stone. Good times.
The selection of Angels was a bit weak in some areas and that and the poor performance finally pushed me over the edge. I finally took the thing apart and traded off the components. A week or so later Avacyn Restored was spoiled.
I know…timing. I'm terrible when it comes to timing. (Ask my wife about when and where I proposed to her if you'd like some clearer evidence to back up that claim.)
Sean after that intro I'm sure you're either wondering why I chose your deck to work on this week or else you're probably hoping that I get hit by a runaway cement truck on my way to work and my partner-in-crime Sean McKeown gets to step in and finish up here. Either is an understandable reaction.
My response is pretty simple: I love building tribal decks.
My reason is simple: Commander is a format with a massive card pool and a wide-open design space. It's not hard to put together a deck but after you spend enough time brewing and constructing things can start to get stale. People love to discuss 'staples' and how they're supposed to be avoided like the bubonic plague. (Guilty.) The reality is that once you spend time at the drawing board you start to figure out what cards are the best at what they do and your decklists can start to look a little cookie-cutter-esque whether you like them to or not. (Guilty again.)
It's not an easy mold to break out of and this is precisely why I love design constraints. You get a fresh perspective on the building process and that's a refreshing thing every once in a while.
Ruhan is frequently overlooked as a commander due to his inability to be decisive on the attack. He is tough to beat in the 'bang for the buck' category but I think many people end up in the same place—a build that leverages the color identity for a decent control shell coupled with a 'Voltron' style general beatdown.
Easy to play easy to improve hard to point in the right direction. That's Ruhan all day long.
You're in luck Sean. Fortunately for you I'm here today to not change that at all! (You're welcome!)
You want very much to take things back in a tribal direction and that's my sole mission. I'm going to strip out a lot of options that don't fit the 'Giant' theme almost to a fault; if it's not a Giant it's gotta go. I'll place my focus on trying to improve your mana curve (34 lands for what is essentially a "six-drop" deck is not a great way to go…) and make additions that both serve to improve the function of your deck and give it better staying power while staying true to theme.
You have also mentioned a minor budget cap and I think this is the perfect place to be for that limitation. The reason I say that is that I personally don't think tribal decks are particularly well equipped to be 'tier 1' in Commander. (I'm ready commenters. Open fire.) It's not that I think theme decks are inherently weak necessarily but line Ruhan up next to premium versions of Sharuum the Hegemon or Kaalia of the Vast and I'm putting my money elsewhere. (Besides he'd likely take off in the wrong direction anyway…)
As well Giants in general are a pretty tough tribe to crack; they're big but only until you start realizing that there are cards like Krosan Cloudscraper and Worldspine Wurm out there. They're also fairly solitary and don't really lend themselves to swarm strategies that usually rule the Commander battlefield and the hallmark of the creature type seems to be the inclusion of some sort of drawback in most cases. (Hello Blind-Spot Giant! No…over here. On the left. No…your other left…)
As a result I think I can bring some changes to the table that make this deck function a bit better and also take the focus off of Ruhan himself to help his family shine while also showing you that design restrictions can be a great tool for jump-starting some pretty creative decklists. We'll hopefully end up with a solid tribal concoction that is fun to play but doesn't break the bank.
Let's get started!
The Main Issues
Here are the deck's problems as I see it:
- It seems to want to be a 'big mana' deck but can't really support the strategy with the mana production.
- It seems to be conflicted running a bunch of defensive cards like the Propaganda you mentioned but it wants to be an aggro deck.
- The mana curve is straight-up ugly. It has some low end and then dives headfirst into the six-mana pool.
- Gas. (Yeah yeah. Funny. I get it.) It doesn't seem to have a ton of options to keep things moving once they get going or to get moving again after a board wipe.
- Theme. You nailed it… This is a Ruhan deck not a Giants tribal deck.
Let's start with creatures:
These cuts are easy enough because they're not Giants. (I told you I was going to stay right on the theme thing didn't I?) These cuts range from reasonable helping hands (Stoneforge Trinket Mage Solemn) to Giant improvers (Lieges Automaton) to on-color role-players (Hedge-Mage.) I know these aren't going to be popular cuts in all cases but if we're going to do this we're going to do this. If half of your creatures aren't Giants you're not running a Giants tribal deck.
And no… Shapeshifters are cheating. They may technically have the Giant pedigree but they mostly look like ET.
These two are weak links in the Giant kingdom. You're not running lots of mana so Enforcer is going to be draining you dry for meager gains and Arbiter takes things in the exact wrong direction. You don't want to spend a bunch of time beating face only to give it all back. Sure it might save you in a pinch but most of the time you're going to be looking at this card and wishing it was something else.
There's a lot going on here so let's look at things in pieces:
-Clone Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Quicksilver Gargantuan all show up as perfect copies of the creatures they're copying so when you point them at your existing Giants they all become real Giants. And Gargantuan is basically bigger than most of the true Giants in your deck anyway so he really fits. (Okay… In the face of the Shapeshifter cuts maybe it's a bit tenuous to go here but I'm driving so deal. My Giant car my Giant rules.)
-Bloodshot Cyclops… Come on! How can you miss Chuck? You're getting a bit of removal and direct damage in a native Giant so he's a no-brainer.
-Bloodfray Giant is shiny and new and helps to lower your curve while still packing an unleashed punch.
-Chancellor is that obnoxious guy who shows up to your party with a bunch of friends of his you didn't invite but you could use a bit of a bump in the finisher department so we're going to tolerate some Goblins for now. We use an Armada Games style points system at our shop and there's a point for first combat damage dealt to a player. Chancellor wins that for you every time.
-Borderland Behemoth is probably the biggest Giant in your deck most of the time. He's a perfect fit for your tribal theme; he's a Giant that needs other Giants to be around to really persevere.
-Oathsworn Giant isn't really all that giant to be honest but he's the on-theme pump this deck wants. The vigilance for your team is the real Propaganda effect this deck should have; Giants don't charge a toll—they just are Giants. That's a better way to prevent attacks in my opinion.
-Jotun Grunt is cheap at face value but due to the cumulative upkeep it doesn't exactly lower the curve since you're not really playing him early. He does offer you a reload option on any fallen comrades and also representing some solid graveyard hate at the same time.
-Finally Magma Giant is a good-sized body with a nice removal ability tied on. If you want real Giant cred play Chancellor the turn before you play this guy and wipe out your own Goblin horde. You're just that hardcore… No non-Giants allowed!
… Okay okay. On a serious note I heard he's pretty good against token decks too.
We desperately need to start getting more lands into this list so the last two creature slots are being repurposed to bolster your real estate. Clifftop Retreat is giving you a bit more juice in the color-fixing department and High Market is going to be there to prevent you from getting smacked with your own Giants.
Next up: artifacts!
I'm simply not a fan of Dolmen Gate in this deck. Giants are tough right? Why do they need a miniature Stonehenge to protect their feelings when they charge into battle? I think this slot could instead be used to help this deck fix its mana. Let the Giants do what they do best.
On the equipment front I'm losing the two cards that seem to be the least Giant-like. Giants want big axes and hammers and stuff not opera glasses and capes. I will miss the card draw of the Lens but I'll make up for it in short order.
Manalith gets cut because it has been recently upgraded in this format plain and simple.
The Lantern is basically a strict upgrade to Manalith in Commander. Moving on from there Totem is the ultimate giant-themed mana-fixer helping to get you what you need to summon your huge team while also bringing in one of the iconic original giants (in spirit) at the same time.
I'm pretty sure there's not much to say about the Warhammer. For some reason there are a good number of Giants that don't trample natively so this will be a nice help in that category. (The lifelink doesn't hurt either.)
Lastly Coastal Piracy is the replacement effect for the Lens I just cut. This deck needs a good way to stay supplied once it gets rolling and rewarding it for getting into the red zone is the best way I can think of to do that. Besides I'd sooner believe in a Giant pirate than a giant sneaking around a castle with a pair of infrared goggles.
Enchantments are next:
The primary offenders here are the ones you called out for underperforming in the beginning. Even excusing the lapse in theme I don't think a Giants theme deck wants a prison element on the strategy front either. Again I'd rather do what I can to see your team get better doing what they do best.
Fetters and Term aren't bad but they aren't exactly strong answers in this format. Auras need to really carry their weight to be viable in Commander and you've already got better answers to problems in inclusions like Swords to Plowshares and Return to Dust.
Enchantments need to make your problems into far bigger problems to make the cut in this deck. These selections do that well; Fervor is an important bump up in the haste department while True Conviction makes each of your Giants into double striking lifelinking monsters. (I know we're trying to get away from Voltron land but it's not hard to make him into a one-hit surprise win condition with not much more than these additions and some of the equipment you've got lying around.)
I understand that this is an addition with color requirements along the same lines as Blue Sun's Zenith but this is a card that hits in the end game and breaks things wide open. It doesn't draw three cards. I'm willing to go out on a limb for this power level especially considering that I've made some strides to also add some extra mana fixing in the process.
Marshal's Anthem is a concession to rebuilding. As I said before this deck lacks a way to reuse creatures that die and when we're talking Giants we're looking at quality not quantity. Every last man counts so this is a great way to improve on things in general while also getting you the extra value you need to have.
And if you want to prevent opponents from doing the same thing newcomer Rest in Peace is the best there is. It flies in the face of Anthem but sometimes the lesser of two evils is losing out on bringing back a Giant or two in order to shut off The Mimeoplasm across the table.
Let's move on to instants and sorceries.
I'm willing to concede that Brainstorm isn't bad in Commander when used in the right deck. I don't think this is the right deck; you need more positive card draw over cheap card quality.
And I also agree with you on Zenith. I think the triple-blue cost is prohibitive and again this isn't a big mana deck. It wants to keep tapping out to roll threat after threat onto the battlefield not sit back and draw a few cards at the end of the turn of the person to your immediate right. Simply put there are better options out there.
We're upgrading both slots. And yes the Changeling rule still applies.
I like a good Fog effect as much as the next guy but I don't think a Sleep that doesn't actually tap things and only effects one opponent is really worth it in this format. If I wanted the effect I'd just play Holy Day instead—and I don't really want the effect to begin with.
And Gambit…I'm really not sure on this one either. This thing was a beating in Limited. Here not so much. For six mana there are far better outcomes.
OUT – Dream Fracture
And for three mana there are far better counterspells. Like any that don't give your opponent a card in the process.
Brightflame is just not going to be viable in most cases. Your deck isn't designed to produce massive amounts of mana and in a world of big creatures this is going to be a great tool against token decks most of the time but otherwise may just be Stream of Life on steroids. To deal with your average 6/6 beater Brightflame will cost you ten mana. I don't think it's particularly worth it.
Feudkiller's Verdict is the hardest cut for me. It's a great thematic card and I appreciate that. However it's really the ultimate 'peacock' card. You have to play it early to really guarantee it will work and then you've only really succeeded in a relatively modest gain in life and a creature token that probably gets outclassed immediately for the investment. Also everyone immediately starts gunning for you. Is that the best you can do for six mana?
This is compounded by the fact that I've seen this card played three times in Commander and in all three the rest of the table took it as a challenge to prevent the Giant token trigger from resolving. They were always successful.
Finally Insurrection. It's a great card but I'm personally sick to death of it just immediately ending otherwise enjoyable games when it gets played. At this point I've permanently relegated it to "only when it thematically matters" status and I'm not sure that it fits the bill here so I'm pulling it for other considerations.
The other way I want to keep this deck going is through the liberal use of draw seven effects. The idea is that you're drawing Giant threats due to your theme so hopefully your opponents will naturally miss the high-water mark in comparison. I've also started to believe in the power of draw-sevens as hand disruption as well lately; nothing is more enjoyable than refilling your hand with gas while simultaneously forcing the guy who's been burning tutors to sculpt the perfect hand to bin his hard work for a random pile.
In a world where Akroma's Memorial is printed in the current core set and people love their Omniscience shenanigans I'll play Orim's Thunder any time I can meet the color requirements. Similarly Dismantling Blow is a great way to be able to answer things you need to early and do the same while gaining value later.
Wrath effects are all well and good but one-sided board sweepers are just better. With some of the Giant casting costs you're packing Disaster Radius should always be a blowout for the whole rest of the table.
Here are a few more artifacts to play with before we close up shop.
I'm not always a big fan of Coalition Relic. More often than not I see it being tapped for a counter which will then be spent during the next main phase without the Relic itself being tapped. Congratulations—you're still playing Manalith for all intents and purposes.
Here though this deck actually benefits from the ability to tap out on turn 3 play the Relic tap it for a counter and then untap on your fourth turn play a land and be able to play a Titan. The key here is in remembering that Relic is mana acceleration and this is the space and time to use it as such.
IN – Counterflux
While I did cut Stoneforge Mystic I left Stoneforger Giant alone and I also left the Sunforger and the associated utility package. Counterflux is the new go-to hard counterspell to add to the 'Forger suite providing an arguably better option than either Suffocating Blast (it's cheaper to hard cast) or Double Negative (it counters more stuff at once.)
I'm not advocating turning this deck back into a control list but it's important to be able to shut down the critical removal spell or board sweeper in a pinch so it's great to have the options in here.
IN – Sulfur Falls
For the last available slot another land and a solid mana fixer at that. Between the other two land additions and the added mana rocks I'm now comfortable that this deck will be able to keep up just fine.
And with that we're done!
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Bloodfire Colossus
- 1 Bloodfray Giant
- 1 Bloodshot Cyclops
- 1 Boldwyr Intimidator
- 1 Borderland Behemoth
- 1 Chancellor of the Forge
- 1 Clone
- 1 Desolation Giant
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Giant Harbinger
- 1 Hamletback Goliath
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Jotun Grunt
- 1 Magma Giant
- 1 Oathsworn Giant
- 1 Quicksilver Gargantuan
- 1 Stonehewer Giant
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Sunrise Sovereign
- 1 Thundercloud Shaman
- 1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 1 Brion Stoutarm
- 1 Ruhan of the Fomori
- 4 Island
- 7 Mountain
- 6 Plains
- 1 Ancient Amphitheater
- 1 Azorius Chancery
- 1 Boros Garrison
- 1 Cascade Bluffs
- 1 Clifftop Retreat
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Evolving Wilds
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 High Market
- 1 Izzet Boilerworks
- 1 Mistveil Plains
- 1 Mystic Gate
- 1 Rugged Prairie
- 1 Rupture Spire
- 1 Sejiri Refuge
- 1 Sulfur Falls
- 1 Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Terramorphic Expanse
- 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
- 1 Armillary Sphere
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Foriysian Totem
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 O-Naginata
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Sunforger
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Sword of Vengeance
- 1 Coastal Piracy
- 1 Fervor
- 1 Levitation
- 1 Marshal's Anthem
- 1 Rest in Peace
- 1 True Conviction
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Counterflux
- 1 Dismantling Blow
- 1 Hindering Light
- 1 Mirrorweave
- 1 Oblation
- 1 Orim's Thunder
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Return to Dust
- 1 Spell Crumple
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Wild Ricochet
- 1 Tenza, Godo's Maul
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Disaster Radius
- 1 Reforge the Soul
- 1 Time Reversal
- 1 Windfall
- 1 Obsidian Battle-Axe
And here are the prices on the replacements:
|Chancellor of the Forge||$0.49|
|Reforge the Soul||$0.99|
|Rest in Peace||$3.99|
Not too bad if I do say so myself. The only place I really broke from your budget constraint was on the Sulfur Falls and even then the whole list only rings out at $60.50. If you really wanted to you probably could sacrifice condition a little bit and pick up a copy in slightly played condition and end up under the $10 mark for every card on the list. On top of all of that you'll receive a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com for your participation in this week's Dear Azami which should help things along nicely as well!
So there you have it…tribal Giants. I had a lot of fun on this one Sean and I really hope you enjoy it. I think it should hit a little closer to the mark in terms of what you originally had in mind for a tribal theme and you should notice that it spreads the love around a little more with less focus on winning through Ruhan commander damage every time. It may not be a top tier strategy but this deck still retains some bite with a strict list of some solid Giants and some new answers to complement the always-potent Sunforger package.
I hope this also serves as a bit of a look at how to start building with a theme in mind. It's not easy to cut Trinket Mage from a blue deck or Lieges from an aggro deck or Solemn Simulacrum from any deck but it's a nice change of pace to build from the ground up without any preconceived ideas about what "should" be included. This isn't a perfect example by any means and there are tribal fans out there that probably would have taken this list and built it completely differently but the idea stands.
Don't be afraid to go outside of the box sometimes when you build. It can be incredibly rewarding in this format.
See you all next time
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