It’s remarkable just how many abilities there are that use +1/+1 counters: Outlast, Support, Devour, Evolve, Megamorph, Graft. There are so many more, and that’s not even counting abilities like Proliferate or the one-off cards that interact with counters. Doubling Season and Hardened Scales have gained a certain level of notoriety for these strategies, as has Vorel of the Hull Clade, my choice to lead my Commander deck full of Grafting, Evolving, Proliferating shenanigans:


For those of you unfamiliar with Vorel, he is a blue-green creature that can double the counters on artifacts, creatures and lands. When paired with cards like Doubling Season, Rings of Brighthearth or Illusionist’s Bracers the potential for explosive growth cannot be understated. Having constant access to Vorel is great, but even without my commander this deck packs several other ways of piling up the counters.

Cards like Thrumming Bird, Contagion Engine, Skyship Plunderer and Clockspinning all work well alongside Vorel, and are powerful utility cards in their own right. It is not unreasonable for this deck to turn a single counter into 4 or more in short order. If left unchecked for too long this growth can dominate a game. The catch to this plan is that to get all of the required pieces together takes time, and what it is trying to do is easily telegraphed to the rest of the table. This makes it difficult to keep important cards around because your opponents will be hastily trying to find answers to what you’re about to do.

When I first built this deck several years ago, I had very few ways to protect my key cards. I’ll admit that I still don’t have all that many, but cards like Inspiring Call and Plaxcaster Frogling have been great additions on that front. Eternal Witness and Den Protector are excellent for retrieving any destroyed cards, too. Den Protector even has Megamorph, so when it flips face up it gets a +1/+1 counter!

I feel it’s safe to assume that most players are familiar with the value of Eternal Witness and Den Protector in Commander (in short: if you’re playing a green deck you’ll probably want to include them), but it’s worth pointing out the further value of Inspiring Call; not only does it protect my creatures from a Day of Judgment or similar spell, but also being able to draw cards with it is noteworthy. Along a similar vein, Armorcraft Judge has proven to be a good addition, despite my reservations about it. I kept imagining the worst case scenarios with the Judge, where there are no counters on my creatures so I draw no cards. In reality, drawing at least 2 cards with the Judge is actually pretty reliable in this deck. Obviously drawing more cards would be better, but for the mana cost a pair of cards is fine. Mulldrifter, by comparison, costs 1 more mana for a guaranteed 2 cards when it enters the battlefield. If I accept the risk of sometimes drawing fewer cards, the ceiling on Armorcraft Judge is pretty high. So long as the Judge remains somewhat consistent it should prove to be a good source of card advantage, potentially drawing far more than just 2 cards.

The deck isn’t relying entirely on Armorcraft Judge for card draw, either. Fathom Mage is clearly an all-star here, drawing cards from any large creatures I play, from Proliferating, or any of the other ways I can put counters on my creatures. As great as Fathom Mage is, redundancy is important so I have even more ways to draw cards, like Zameck Guildmage and Sage of Fables. For a more obscure addition to my card draw package I would like to direct you to Mindless Automaton. What makes the Automaton worth including is that I can remove two counters from it to draw a card; like Fathom Mage this doesn’t require spending any mana, which is significant. If I can get the Automaton to stick around and add some extra counters to it I can use it to refuel my hand quite effectively. If I’m honest, though, it’ll probably get destroyed before it can get too out of hand.

Of course, one removal spell deserves another, and I made sure to include some in this deck, too. While I would love for all of the cards in the deck to have perfect synergy with my commander, sometimes better cards must prevail. That’s why I opted to include Acidic Slime and Reclamation Sage instead of cards like Woodripper and Wickerbough Elder to destroy artifacts and enchantments. They don’t gain any big benefits from counters, but Slime and Sage are some of the best cards in the format for dealing with those card types.

I can at least take solace in the fact that most of my creature removal fits with the deck’s overall game plan of “put a lot of counters on everything”. For instance, Triskelion is both excellent removal and a deadly win condition in this deck, and Nissa’s Judgment even has Support to put counters on my creatures. I still need to get a copy of Walking Ballista for this deck, and if I’m honest I’m not sure what I’ll cut for it. (Maybe I’ll cut Pongify? But I do so love to turn things into Apes….) Having a variable-sized self-growing Triskelion around is exactly the sort of card this deck wants; it will work especially well if I can generate massive amounts of mana to pay for the Ballista and its ability.

Thankfully there are plenty of options for mana acceleration in a counter based strategy like mine. With cards like Everflowing Chalice, Astral Cornucopia, Gyre Sage and Rishkar, Peema Renegade, I can produce a lot of extra mana each turn. (Viridian Joiner can also produce a lot of extra mana if I can get a counter on it.) Mage-Ring Network, Pentad Prism, Gemstone Array and Crystalline Crawler can store mana and allow for a huge burst of it in a single turn, setting up one big play. All that is not even counting Fertilid, arguably the best of the bunch. Because it puts land into play it can be destroyed and I’ll still be up mana. The other mana producers here are good, and can produce more mana faster, but at a cost of being more fragile.

All this extra mana is sure to make me a target, so the question remains: how can it survive? If its big threats die despite my efforts recovering can take a long time. The deck can fight back with cards like Hangarback Walker, Chasm Skulker and Hooded Hydra, which all produce tokens when they die, but this isn’t perfect. If an opponent ‘goes wide’ and produces a large number of smaller threats I might be in trouble; the death triggers of these creatures help to keep them alive, but most players will avoid unleashing my ‘army in a bottle’. Without a way to kill these creatures myself, creatures like the ‘five snakes in a trench coat’ won’t be able to stop a whole army.

On the other hand, Pentavus and Mycoloth are much better suited for these token-based match ups, as they don’t need to die to make extra creatures. The best token producer in this deck has to be Animation Module, though. Whenever a +1/+1 counter is placed on a creature I control I may pay 1 mana for a 1/1 creature. That mana cost is well worth the price, considering how how easy it is to trigger in this deck; cards like Forgotten Ancient, Managorger Hydra, and Champion of Lambholt, for instance, generate counters at an alarming rate. The Ancient and Hydra can give me a creature whenever a player casts a spell, and the Champion can produce as many tokens as I have mana to pay for them. (When the Servo enters play, it will trigger the Champion. The Champion then triggers the Module again….) The Animation Module can even put extra counters on my cards, and those extra counters can translate into some very unfair plays.

Charging up a Titan Forge or Lux Cannon using Animation Module or Power Conduit can do some serious damage, but those options are tame compared to taking extra turns with Sage of Hours and Magistrate’s Scepter. Many players will be familiar with Sage of Hours from his regular appearance alongside Ezuri, Claw of Progress, providing a trivial way to take infinite turns. While Vorel of the Hull Clade can also take infinite turns with the Sage, it is considerably more difficult to pull off. Taking one extra turn is relatively easy with this deck, but because the Sage removes all of its counters it can be tricky to find ways of putting more of them on; if there are no counters to double or Proliferate then Sage of Hours becomes little more than a 1/1. Magistrate’s Scepter, on the other hand, is a lot harder to take the first extra turn, but once it gets going it is significantly easier to ‘go infinite’ and win the game. It’s not the focus of the deck, but these combos worked so well with my commander that I was hard-pressed not to include them.

I’ve talked before about building a deck around a theme, and I’ve found that “+1/+1 counters” is one of the most diverse themes out there. There are cards from almost any set that could be considered in a deck like mine, and if you aren’t sticking to blue and green your options grow considerably. My Vorel of the Hull Clade deck has gone through many years of tweaks, trying out new cards or old ones I’ve rediscovered, but I’m pretty happy with how it’s ended up. There are a lot of sweet synergies, but like any Commander deck there is always room to tinker. Maybe I should include Paradox Engine? I certainly need to make a cut for Walking Ballista. Even Ridgescale Tusker is on my short list to consider.

If you have any ideas for tweaks I could make to this deck I’d love to hear them in the comments. Is there a card I missed that I absolutely need to have? What would you cut for the Walking Ballista, or do you think it’s not even worth it? I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

3 Responses

  1. Ben Iverach-Brereton

    I don’t think I’ve heard of Bramblewood Paragon before; nice find! The other option, it seems, is Crowned Ceratok (for Trample) or Sapphire Drake (for Flying), but at only 2 mana that elf might make it in over the other two. Champion of Lambholt can help with evasion too, but you make a good point; when the Tuskguard Captain hits the table my opponents do look a bit more concerned….

    Taking a critical look at the list, I’m thinking I might be able to cut Gemstone Array; I like the card, but as far as the mana acceleration/storage cards go, it’s the slowest of the bunch. The recent addition of Rishkar, Peema Renegade probably makes up for the loss of the Array anyway.

    Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. James LaPage

    So, story time! Vorel of the Hull Clade was the first EDH deck I ever built, and it was awesome. Revisiting the deck after Kaladesh block seems like a really awesome project, and I think you’ve picked the perfect pieces – especially Armorcraft Judge. One tweak I might make to your list, believe it or not, is to provide some redundancy in the evasion slot. You’ve got Tuskguard Captain, which is the perfect choice, but I would either run 2 of that type of effect or something that allows you to tutor for it. Between spot removal and board wipes, I found myself frequently sitting there with an 80/80 Vigor or Sekki or something and I’d be slamming into people’s dorks over and over again while they assembled their machine.

    Good read overall and sweet deck!

    • James LaPage

      Bramblewood Paragon is the other one I’d use for redundancy. Give // Take is also some nice tech to get your first couple counters on something like Gyre Sage.


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