We’ve all heard the questions: why isn’t there a Werewolf Commander precon deck for Innistrad: Midnight Hunt? You might not have heard the answers, though – Gavin Verhey mentioned two main reasons in his August 11th edition of Good Morning Magic. The first was an issue with including double-faced cards; specifically, a production issue. Printing DFCs, says Gavin, is hard, and putting a bunch into preconstructed decks adds process complications. Second, new players who want to play these decks off the shelf with no sleeves, which is a common use case, would have to mark off 30 or more checklist cards before getting to battle.
At that time, we also didn’t know about the daybound/nightbound mechanic, which is another good reason not to create a Werewolf Commander deck featuring old Werewolves from original Innistrad. Since they don’t line up mechanically with the new way Werewolves work, it would have been awkward for new players to track both the day/night cycle and the individual statuses of their old Werewolves. All in all, it’s totally understandable in my eyes that we didn’t get a Werewolf precon.
But what if we did? What would it look like? Let’s imagine that all of these issues didn’t exist or weren’t big enough to stop Wizards of the Coast from creating a Werewolf precon, just for the rest of this article, because today I’m going to show you what that deck might have looked like.
Now, one important factor in Commander precons is new cards – they’re often about 20 percent of the deck, and while some help shape the strategy, some feel like plants for the format overall that would be more useful in other decks. I won’t be designing any new cards today, because that feels like a bit of an overreach. That said, I will be doing my best to imitate the structure of recent Commander precons – I want this deck to feel as legitimate as possible, and I’ll be talking more about the specifics of that as we go along.
We know this is going to be a Werewolf-themed deck, but who’s the Commander? Well, I don’t think there’s much of a question – it has to be Tovolar.
Tovolar manages the day/night cycle while also transforming the old Werewolves that predate Magic’s new adherence to linear time, making him the perfect headliner for this deck. That means we have a solid incentive to include Werewolves both new and old, which is good because that makes the card pool quite a bit deeper.
Even though these products are decks, not boosters, each card in any given precon has an assigned rarity. These rarities are usually connected to recent printings of those cards, though sometimes they’re up or downshifted from old versions. I took a look at the breakdown of cards by rarity in the last six two-color Commander precons that have gone to print (not counting each deck’s commander) – here’s what I found.
Looking at the Midnight Hunt and Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Commander decks, it’s clear there’s a difference between them and the Kaldheim Commander decks – specifically, the number of rares included in each deck. There are plenty of delightful commons and uncommons to play, but let’s face it – rares are often more powerful, and so it makes perfect sense that, as Commander becomes a greater focus, these decks would include more rares in order to be easier to play against friends out of the box.
With that in mind, I’m going to discard the Kaldheim decks from the equation and focus on the four more recently printed ones to determine how I should build this deck in terms of card rarity. Averaging them out and rounding a bit, we should be aiming to build a deck with about four mythics, 40 rares, 20 uncommons, nine commons, and 26 basics to support Tovolar.
While I think this is going to be a bit more of a subjective choice, let’s take a look at how our four example decks break down on card type:
Since we’re building a tribal deck, I expect our final product to have a creature count in the high 30s, but I also expect it to have quite a few off-turn mana sinks and instants so that we can spend our turn casting zero spells in the event we need to manually manipulate the day/night cycle without Tovolar’s help. While we shouldn’t commit to a by-the-numbers type breakdown at this point in the build, especially with no knowledge of our curve, I’ll be using the numbers from the Leinore and Wilhelt decks to guide me toward something that makes sense.
Again, I’m not committing to a by-the-numbers mana curve at this moment, but let’s take a look at the mana value breakdown for each of the four decks we’re talking about:
The general theme is what’s important. The Prosper deck peaks at 2, which makes sense considering its desire to access lots of cards, but the others peak at mana value 3, with an overall slide outward from there. I’ll be aiming for a similar curve to the Wilhelt deck, as I think it’s healthy for tribal decks to have relevant plays turn after turn, especially early.
Average mana value has long been a sticking point for me with these precons, but in recent sets I think the teams behind them have really nailed it, reining in cost while increasing land/mana rock count. Here’s a quick look at average mana values for these decks:
|Deck||AMV (No Land)||AMV (With Land)|
Before we get into card choices, let’s talk about one more metric – how many new cards does each deck have? By “new,” I mean cards printed for the first time in this deck plus cards printed in the set associated with the deck. I won’t give you another table, because this isn’t a D&D supplement – instead I’ll say that for the four decks we’ve studied, the answer is anywhere from 15 to 20, so I’ll be trying to limit myself to that range.
And now, finally, we get into card choices! Or, more accurately, card non-choices. These four decks all share some number of cards, and I’ll be respecting the design convention of printing a few of the same exact things in basically every Commander deck. This is mostly centered around the idea of making sure the decks have solid (but improvable) mana bases. So which cards “must” go in these decks? Well…
These two appear in all modern Commander preconstructed decks, and I think it’s generally a mistake not to include them regardless of your build, so we’ll start here.
The appropriate Talisman is only in the two most recent decks, but I’m counting it – it’s not hard to get me to justify a two-cost rock.
Of the four decks in question, only Prosper fails to include this, and since this deck is going to be focused on a specific creature type, we can’t pass this up.
Lands in the first four of these five cycles appear in all four of the decks we’ve looked at, with Temples appearing in the two newer ones. That’s good enough for me.
After making a lot of tables and examining these deck lists in great detail, we’ve secured a commander and slotted in 11 cards – only 88 to go, right?
It’s time to start building this deck in earnest with the most important ingredient: Werewolves.
Of the 13 (yes, that’s all) Gruul-aligned non-Tovolar Werewolves in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, these eight felt like the strongest possible options. Even with Tovolar locking us into night given a critical mass of Werewolves, it’s quite hard for me to imagine playing cards that are just stats at mediocre rates, so I drew the line at cards that provided solid abilities or, at minimum, were castable at a good rate even on the front (Burly Breaker is definitely on the lowest rung of the quality ladder here, but it’s still big and strong enough to play).
Let’s move on to Werewolves from old sets! Since we’re trying to make sure we curve out nicely, I want to break them down by mana value so that we can ensure we’re not going too hard on any particularly number. I think three is a good place to peak our curve, so let’s focus ourselves there for the rest of this build – that ensures we have the ability to cast spells and activate abilities or use instants in the same turn cycle.
Card selection, a lord and mana acceleration? These are the best two-drops available in the Werewolf tribe – no need to dip down to Gatstaf Shepherd.
As before, none of these cards are just stats with no upside. Reprinting Kruin Outlaw here would give us the chance to use the updated Oracle wording – yes, it does give Werewolves menace. Geier Reach Bandit provides some solid backup for Tovolar, and the rest provide solid overall advantages.
I don’t love Afflicted Deserter too much, but some artifact destruction is going to be important for us, so let’s make sure to include it. Instigator Gang is one of my absolute favorite creatures for a Werewolf deck as long as it’s transformed, and Mondronen Shaman is a close second.
Ulrich of the Krallenhorde was the presumptive Werewolf commander before Tovolar, so let’s at least make sure he has a job in this new world. Ulrich certainly isn’t bad, but it’s not the most impressive either. Sage of Ancient Lore may look a little weird in what appears to be such an aggressive deck, but given its transformation from Maro into Multani, I’d say it’s a reasonable threat.
Is 21 Werewolves enough? Given that the Wilhelt deck features 20 Zombies, I think we’re on the right track. I still want to crest past 30 creatures, probably to somewhere around 32 to 35. That Wilhelt deck had 11 creatures without the Zombie type, so it’s only fitting that I include some creatures that, while they don’t flip back and forth themselves, do have some synergy with our game plan. Some of them might even be Werewolves themselves!
Of all the available Midnight Hunt creatures, this was the only non-Werewolf I really got hyped about. Getting to do some rummaging every time day/night flips seems like a reasonable justification for a low-cost creature.
Cost reduction is always good – this is an easy inclusion.
Wolf in the art, draws us cards, cares about combat, makes creatures big. Check, check, check, and check.
Lords with bonuses beyond their lordliness!
These cards care specifically about Werewolves (in the Cult’s case, slightly obliquely) and pay us off with some on-board advantages.
Creature-based decks love creature-based card draw.
We definitely need more ways to blow up problem permanents, and this delivers that while being a Werewolf for on-board effects. I don’t mind throwing away a piece of my graveyard for this.
Now let’s take a look at some noncreature spells, starting with some rad selections from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.
As I mentioned in my set review, sometimes you just need it to be night. When Tovolar’s not around, this is a great way to cast spells and still turn the sun off.
This feels like a card that was aimed at Commander decks. Look at all that text! Plus, it’s a fun way to blow up permanents that might cause us issues.
Did you know this makes mana? It kind of gets lost there in the text, but regardless, benefiting from the day/night cycle while also being able to manipulate it makes sense.
Our creatures get big, but why can’t they be even bigger? Werewolf in the art cements the inclusion.
This shows up in the Coven Counters deck, but it feels like it really fits here – it’s a Werewolf ruining a party. Can’t pass it up.
Let’s move on to older cards, categorized somewhat functionally!
Cards that refer to Werewolves directly are generally going to be good – it’s not like Goblins or Merfolk where you have a huge buffet to pick from. Remember that daybound and nightbound cards are locked to their proper side, so Moonmist won’t suddenly make it night.
These originally showed up in Commander precons, so they’d fit right in as reprints here. It doesn’t hurt that these cards are both really solid.
Thematically-relevant cards that put more creatures on the battlefield are fine by me. Both cards also punish opponents for behaving in ways we don’t want them to (casting spells and hoarding cards in hand), so that’s great.
More combat is better, and so is a card that just wins the game on the spot sometimes (that’s Overwhelming Stampede, for reference).
Lump sum card draw is great, and the life gain from Shamanic Revelation is going to be relevant from time to time as well. Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and our three mana value-based creature curve are going to be great friends too!
We already have a few ways to blow up problematic permanents, but frankly, there are always more than you can really destroy, so let’s play with these thematically appropriate cards.
A couple pieces of pinpoint creature removal are always welcome to end the reign of a pesky commander or blow up an oppressive utility creature. Blasphemous Act is a great Innistrad pull that gets played in all kinds of Commander decks, and Alpha Brawl is exactly the kind of eight-mana card that lower-powered games love.
Let’s round things out with some ramp.
Wait, we’re already on to lands, and we’re putting in 16 Forests and 10 Mountains? That means we only have room for four more cards, and at this point, they should all be lands to get our count up to 38. Here’s what we’re filling the deck with:
Some more ways to send damage directly to domes should help us close games out, especially as we look for ways to spend mana in the late game. Rogue’s Passage is also a precon classic.
Unclaimed Territory is a great card for tribal decks that appears in precons, and while Sheltered Thicket hasn’t been included in a premade 100-card deck, other cards in the cycle have, so I’d say it qualifies as a reasonable dual land.
Now that we’ve done all this deckbuilding, let’s see if what we have holds up to the standards we set earlier in our many tables. Let’s begin with rarity:
I’ve missed the mark here a bit, but I think that’s because I chose not to design new cards. If I were planting new Commanders, we’d have more mythics, and a lot of the cards designed for Commander precons end up at rare as well.
For types, we ended up fairly close to the Wilhelt breakdown, albeit with more of a focus on instants – a difference we intended to have. I love where we ended up in the type breakdown.
In terms of mana curve, we have a Prosper level of two-drops and not as many high-cost cards. I think that’s partially because of the lack of high-cost newly-designed Commander plants and partly because of my general instinct to keep costs a little lower. Our average mana values of 3.46 ignoring land and 2.13 with land come in lower than any of the four decks we looked at as well.
Finally, we put in 14 new cards, which is lower than the 15 to 20 range we aimed for, but again, without being able to design new cards, I’m happy we even came close.
Here’s the final deck list for our preconstructed deck. What are your thoughts? How do you think it could be built, in this theoretical universe? Either way, I had fun imagining what it would be like to design one of these, or at least a first draft of one. See you next time!
Werewolf Commander "Precon" by Eric Levine