Today, I wanted to discuss why the oh-so flavorful Werewolves of Innistrad could actually make it into a legitimate Standard deck that's got, well, teeth. Let's take a look at what can make this deck happen!
When werewolves were first previewed in Innistrad, my Timmy self got super pumped over sleeving up werewolves for Standard. Gruul was always a favorite guild of mine (it's my current "Sword" deck for Emperor); unlike Core Red aggro or B/R beats, Gruul colors have always had a certain presence, a certain power on the board that's very appealing to me. Without being blue or white, you feel in control of the board through intimidating board states. Also, haste and trample on the same card give me warm fuzzies.
I actually think it can happen. Brian Kibler won PT Honolulu recently with an R/G deck built around ramping into the big fellows fast, and I respect that. Obviously, it was very successful. Kibs played the best deck, but I've seen plenty of different lists win on the big tables over the last few weeks. Delver, RDW, B/R Zombies, Spirits and Frites have all performed admirably.
But about tribal Werewolves? Not just the "good ones" like Huntmaster and Daybreak Ranger, but what about the other ones? Most R/G decks are Wolf Run Ramp; their goal is to get you from zero to Primeval Titan in four turns. This is fine, and again, is very effective. But here on UTP, my goal isn't just to netdeck the best list devoid of player input. There are some people that do that and you know, more power to 'em. I, however, am a brewer. I like to make terrible novel Standard decks that pull from a broader range of cards. Being a good Magic player is not about playing the best cards, but it's about taking cards and playing the best you can with them. With this philosophy, more decks are open up to try. Will they always cut to Top 8? Not always. But, when they do, you'll feel proud and reassured that your skill in play AND in building got you there. You'll never learn if you don't try; I've made a LOT of bad decks that I thought would be awesome, and more and more building and more and more play make you better, knowing which metagame interactions are likely and the best way to prepare for them.
In this instance, my friend Danny, a recent Magic convert himself, had been slinging Werewolves, and they were getting in there pretty well. While playing against him with my straightforward twist on Delver, I was constantly nervous of being bashed for lethal even from a healthy life total. Flipping was a constant concern, as my Gathered Townsfolk couldn't hold off 15-20 power of trampling werewolves. Maybe it CAN be done.
First, let's decide how this deck is going to win and how it's going to keep from losing, the two most important things to consider in competitive deck design. The win condition and prevention condition, in this case, are intimately bound; outrace your opponent. Most aggro decks have that, but this one has significantly less removal to pave the way; therefore, we must have powerful enough creatures that their claws and fangs act as removal. A card that has to chump your big dude is removal. In this case, a good offense is a good defense. Also, there is a special rule for Werewolves; any potential Werewolf candidate must be good (or at the very least relevant) on its front side to even be considered for its backside (chuckle chuckle.) So, let's take a look at cards I want to include in a Werewolf deck.
Huntmaster of the Fells
|Who knows? The Shadow knows...|
This is pretty much a no-brainer. The Huntmaster is bubbling with value; Moan of the Unhallowed is to Limited what this is to Constructed. Slows down your opponent's attacks, provides a relevant threat, flips into removal, muscle and pressure. I would play 12 if I could.
Also another auto-quatro. The synergy he provides is invaluable, and the Intimidate on the side is awesome for punching in that last bit of damage against White, Zombies, Delver…
|She's got some kinda cross-gun-bow-lista thing going there.|
The flexibility of this lady is undeniable; she has a lot of power in this metagame, being able to effectively eliminate most non-Titan threats all by her lonesome. Delvers, Drogskol Captains and Spirit tokens on the front, Heros of Bladehold, Fiend Hunters, Bloodline Keepers, Phantasmal Images, and just about any token on the back. Not too shabs. She's also at a relevant spot on the curve and easy on the mana.
The Mayor is everything a Werewolf should be; synergistically relevant on both sides. If your opponent is keeping your werewolves on a leash, you can cast him as a cheap Anthem for your unflipped Humans. If your opponent lets Mayor flip (along with the rest of your Werewolves), your opponent needs an answer immediately. That buff, even with just one or two werewolves out, can push your dudes through relentlessly and provide a backup blocker on the end step. Mayor is a card I am always happy to draw.
Mayor of Avabruck
|The mayor's prized hound has more in common with his master than he thinks.|
This is the core of the deck's creatures. Those below are less certain, but solid inclusions nonetheless.
|This art looks so Ravnican to me (see artist for reason).|
My feelings are fairly mixed about this fellow. If you can land him first turn, he's basically a Diregraf Ghoul if your opponent doesn't have a one-drop. Diregraf Ghoul does have the advantage of shrugging off Gut Shot, but this fellow may be one of the better drops if your field gets wiped while your opponent is on the backpedal. His ability to stand up against a Titan is not insignificant, either, and he can bash for 6 on turn three if you hit it right. He has enough potential that I believe he deserves an inclusion, although not as readily as some of the staples.
|My, what generous ramp you have!|
|Howl I ever use this?|
The shadiest of inclusions, I was in need of another one drop to establish this as a legitimate and reliable aggro deck. That being said, though, there are two other creatures that make the Wolf even better, and his undying ability lets you swing care free, and he can also survive a board sweep. I love the idea of playing three of these on Turns 1 and 2 and then dropping the Immerwolf for mega-Wolves. One day, maybe. Relevant on offense or defense, and that's about all I'd want.
|Rumble rumble, stomp stomp, now the wurm goes chomp chomp!|
Having trouble breaking through? Not anymore! Todd Anderson, a Star City Games grinder, introduced me to this card a couple months ago, and I think it's stellar. A 4/4 unblockable (against most decks) seems pretty good, and the ability to search it up provides you an easy, searchable win condition.
There aren't many, but these spells help complement the otherwise aggressive creature suite.
|Strictly eats Storm Crow.|
In the words of Ace Ventura, "Like a guh-love!" I can't think of a better spell to play on turn four (or three, hehe) than this card. He paves the way for your dudes, can commit creatures to the board and, once flipped, provide synergetic black Wolves and/or the ability to fish up that Huntmaster. Also, once he's out, his abilities are abilities despite the fact they act like spells, so they don't mess with your werewolves! Holy synergy, Batman! He's much easier and more relevant than Big Garruk in this deck, too.
Green Sun's Zenith
|Oh, that thing's a TREE. Well, now I can't branch out into a funny joke.|
More copies of your best creature for your particular situation! Awesome! Every creature in this deck is green (or at least half-green), so this can search for any creature in your deck. I don't think a full playset is necessary, as they do shuffle back in. I picture fetching Huntmaster the most, but the Tanglewurm and Daybreak are also good targets.
|Bonus for cheating in a Mycosynth Lattice in Standard.|
In most matchups, this will spread the blockers too thin for them to chump effectively and can clinch the game, too. It punishes a slow or anemic hand, and it deals with nuisance token makers, like Lingering Souls and Gather the Townsfolk.
|Like fire! Hellfire! This burning...desire...is bringing me toooooooo SIN!|
|"Why not us?"|
|"I nunno," *nom nom nom* "fumfing abou..." *nom nom* "confiftinfee."|
I love me some Waif. Landing that on Turn 1 then flipping and bashing is pretty exciting in a Limited game. However, Reckless Waif has three strikes against it. First, it's not relevant on the front. On the front, it's a Mons' Goblin Raiders, and that is not the card you want to be playing. Even on the back, a Goblin Roughrider isn't that scary, even on Turn 2. There are tons of things that answer it, and some are even for profit (Strangleroot Geist). I just picture very few board states where this would be good. Second, it's red, and therefore unsearchable with the Zenith (not like you'd want to), but it doesn't even break through with the Tanglewurm, can't block a War and Peace card, and is a ground-based and much more conditional Delver of Secrets. It was just bad news. Third, it is a completely dead draw. I do mean draw, too, because if you draw for your first turn and play it, it is unlikely your opponent doesn't have a Turn 2 play. If you're able to get in more than once, you're probably going to win anyway, and even in a normal scenario, it's still a clunky Lava Spike. I've written so much about the Waif here as a personal lesson - it was in my original concept for this deck, and I see after some consideration that it is a poor choice.
|I guess it's best fur the final product.|
This gimmicky card from Innistrad is a weird spell. Although we picture awesome board states of them swinging into our untapped Human Werewolves and flipping them at instant speed for profit, in most games, I've just seen Moonmist be a Fog. It is often an irrelevant or highly conditional spell that gets pretty awkward if your board includes nothing or a Wolf token, say. You're already imposing a playstyle on your opponent ("Gotta make sure I cast at least one spell.") Make the flip occur from good play and pressure, not a card slot.
Ancient Grudge (Swords and Phyrexian Metamorphs are everywhere.)
Full Moon's Rise (An excellent sideboard option against board-wiping effects and bad combats, as well as to push through tokens. It may even be good enough for a main-deck consideration.)
Phyrexian Metamorph (To copy Swords or flipped versions of your own werewolves that do not flip back. )
Gut Shot (As a possibility against the Human deck or to pick off utility/ramp creatures)
Beast Within (An amazingly flexible spell and skill-tester).
Here are some other considerations that didn't make the main or side...
Birds of Paradise (Instead of the Young Wolf as an option for ramp and as a flying chump blocker)
Slagstorm (Effectively destroys swarms of tokens and, if your flipped werewolves are big enough, they'll be able to shrug it off.)
Brimstone Volley (A powerful and game-closing removal spell.)
Naturalize (There are a lot of powerful artifacts and enchantments running around, and sometimes you need an unconditional removal spell for them.)
Corrosive Gale (When Daybreak Ranger isn't cutting it, effectively swatting away mounds of Spirits and even Birds of Paradise.)
Final Main Decklist
3 Wolfbitten Captive
3 Young Wolf
2 Scorned Villager
4 Mayor of Avabruck
4 Daybreak Ranger
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Bellowing Tanglewurm
2 Galvanic Blast
3 Green Sun's Zenith
2 Arc Trail
4 Garruk Relentless
1 Devil's Play
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Kessig Wolf Run
I didn't put a definitive sideboard here because that's highly specific to the metagame.
Sadly, I have neither the cards nor the resources to implement this deck, so I'm going to try and feed my friend Danny with whatever of these cards I come across so I can dominate vicariously through him. If nothing else, I hope to see a similar decklist make it in Top 8 at some SCG Open or FNM, so I'm just trying to be a shot-caller, I guess.
Thanks for reading! If you have a well-performing werewolf deck or suggestions to improve this theorized list, feel free to leave a comment. Until next time, don't forget to untap!