Last week I hope you had as much fun as I did brewing a casual Ad Nauseam deck. “Casual” and “Ad Nauseam” don’t usually fit in the same sentence unless it’s something like “This Ad Nauseam deck is perfect for stomping casuals”, so it was kind of fun to brew with a motivation other than winning as soon as possible.
For those of you that enjoyed the brew, you’re in luck! Ad Nauseam is not the only competitive card that I’ve brewed around. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into an entirely different competitive strategy to see what kind of junk we can pull off. Let’s give a warm welcome to today’s guest — everybody’s favourite 7-mana 6/6!
Protean Hulk is somewhat of a competitive-meta boogeyman for good reason — this beast forms half of one of the fastest game-winning lines in all of EDH. In competitive circles, as a general rule, if you don’t have a good plan for how you’re going to win against Flash Hulk, you’re essentially planning on losing to Flash Hulk. Before we get into today’s brew, I want to talk about what Protean Hulk does, and how competitive decks leverage its ability to win the game quickly and consistently.
At a high level, Protean Hulk-centric strategies look to utilize Hulk’s on-death trigger to cheat a game-winning combination of creatures into play.
If you’re curious about how the deck works or the specific lines that are available by colour, I would recommend Sigi’s Breakfast Hulk Primer, the LabManiacs deck tech video, or this post on the CompetitiveEDH subreddit.
6 mana, as a general rule, is plenty of room to accommodate a two- or even three-card combo, so the established competitive game-winning lines will either win after the first hulk trigger, or use the first one to grab a card like Phyrexian Delver if they need a little more than 6 mana to pull it off.
Protean Hulk, however, is only half of the deck’s name. How does Flash play into all of this?
Flash is a card that allows for a lot less interaction than most people assume. Once Flash starts resolving, it does three things:
- It allows its controller to put a creature from their hand onto the battlefield
- It offers its controller the opportunity to pay the creature’s mana cost reduced by up to 2 generic mana
- If the mana cost is not paid, the creature is sacrificed before Flash is finished resolving.
Because nobody gets priority during the resolution of a spell, the first opportunity for anyone to interact will be when Protean Hulk is in the graveyard and its on-death trigger is on the stack. This means that it’s not a valid target for Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares. Even though you could Faerie Macabre it out of the graveyard, unless the game winning line relies on reanimation, it’s way too late for that to have any kind of impact.
Since its unbanning about a year ago, thousands and thousands of words have been written about Protean Hulk and the game-winning lines that it enables. Like with the Ad Nauseam deck, I’m really looking to maintain the feeling of getting a ton of value off of the on-death trigger without making it a shot-for-shot remake of something like Breakfast Hulk that will steamroll a competitive meta. I started out this brewing session by thinking about what types of creatures might be interesting to grab off of the trigger. One type of creature really stuck out to me while I was reviewing the CompetitiveEDH thread I linked to above – Walking Ballista, Ornithopter, and Memnite are essentially free add-ons to their respective lines, and enable their respective combos by adding to the body count without increasing their aggregate CMC.
This raises a really interesting question:
In a singleton deck, how many 0-drop creatures can Protean Hulk put into play?
The answer, as it turns out, is 13. This scryfall search includes Westvale Abbey because the backside has “creature” in the typeline, but it doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to do here. I didn’t exclude lands from the search because I knew Dryad Arbor was going to show up, and you can absolutely grab it when Hulk dies.
My gut tells me that cheating 13 bodies into play from your library has to be somewhat powerful even though they’re largely useless individually, so I made a list of the things that would happen if I ran all of these creatures in a Hulk deck:
- 13 creatures entering the battlefield
- 9 artifacts entering the battlefield
- 5 creature dying due to having 0 toughness when state-based actions are checked after resolution of the Protean Hulk trigger
Realistically, unless we’ve got an anthem in place, when the dust settles we’re going to have 8 creatures, totally free and clear, before we even start to burn through our 6CMC allowance. We’ve already established that 6CMC is plenty of room to win the game with a combo, but this got me thinking of ways I might use that allowance to take advantage of all these bodies.
Deck Mission Statement
At this point, I’m pretty comfortable putting together a mission statement for this deck. This is the idea that’s going to guide our card selections and help us rough out the framework for the deck.
This is a casual deck built around an objectively powerful creature tutor. We’re looking to retain the feeling of winning the game by using Protean Hulk’s on-death trigger to search up interesting and powerful cards. We’ll be taking advantage of a suite of 13 0-drop creatures to maximize the number of bodies we can put on the battlefield, and using the 6CMC allowance to modify and utilize those bodies to win the game.
What Do We Do With 6CMC?
Anthem effects seem to be the obvious way to go, so I Scryfalled the list of creatures with CMC <= 6 that contained the oracle text “creatures you control get”. I didn’t include “+1/+1” at the end because I didn’t want to exclude things that buffed the team by different amounts, and I didn’t want to exclude the creatures that might grant keyword abilities like Haste or Lifelink.
A quick glance at this list reveals a ton of tribal synergies. I’m very familiar with these because I run a lord/changeling tribal deck under Kangee, Aerie Keeper that relies on creature subtype manipulation. Goblins, Elves, and Allies all offer really strong go-wide synergy, so I started to think that a Conspiracy/Xenograft/Arcane Adaptation might be the way to go, but it really didn’t get my creative juices flowing.
At that point, I came across Goldnight Commander, which reminded me that I’ve actually got a ton of ETB effects that I can take advantage of. I was on a hiatus from Magic during Avacyn Restored and never really played with it, but I do get a ton of value out of a similar card — Ogre Battledriver — in my Anax and Cymede voltron/token deck. Goldnight Commander got me excited, but the idea that Ogre Battledriver could grant my newfound weenies a little bit of attack and a little bit of haste is really what got me thinking that this deck could be going somewhere.
Rather than creature-based anthems, I jotted down a list of creatures with abilities that trigger when other creatures enter the battlefield:
Initially I also had Master Biomancer on this list, but after doing a little bit of reading I realized that Master Biomancer needs to be on the battlefield prior to other creatures entering for its ability to work. This is a little different than abilities that trigger on ETB, because Master Biomancer’s ability needs to change the way that other creatures enter the battlefield, rather than modifying the creatures after they enter. I decided to keep Master Biomancer in mind because it’s a strong card in its own right, but it’s definitely not a great Protean Hulk target.
Purphoros is a spicy little addition, and eventually led to the inclusion of similar effects in Impact Tremors.
Who’s Going to Lead This Motley Crew?
Normally I’ve got rough idea of which colour identity is going to really support a strategy, but I have to admit I was at a bit of a loss here. I knew I needed access to red and green to take advantage of the full 0-drop suite, but both blue and white offered some pretty strong support in Goldnight Commander, Ezuri, Claw of Progress, and Master Biomancer.
Unlike last week’s Ad Nauseam monstrosity, I didn’t have any luck looking for four-colour partner combinations, so I pulled up the entire list of Temur and Naya commanders to see if anything stood out. It took me a couple hours of poring over these lists before Riku of Two Reflections:
Picking a Temur identity allows me to play the entire list of > 0CMC Hulk targets I came up with, and also ensures that we have access to Temur Ascendancy, which further allows us to close out the game on the same turn. Beyond that, Riku’s ability synergizes really well with what we’re trying to do, allowing us to pump excess mana into copying key pieces to extract a little more value.
While I was looking at these lists, I also had a really strong temptation to build this under Wort, the Raidmother. It makes me really happy that the final list includes Wort in the 99 and actually plays incredibly well with the deck’s primary strategy.
Supporting the Strategy
Fortunately for us, we’ve got way more card slots available to support the strategy than the 28 we had last week. This means that rather than being a one-trick pony, we can actually build a complementary alternate wincon and a package of tutors and spells that reduce our reliance on Protean Hulk as the only way to win the game.
Buff the Team
With Riku in the command zone, we actually end up with some interesting options for buffs. Rather than stapling them to creatures or enchantments, we can run them on instants and sorceries and copy them using Riku’s trigger.
I tried to lean towards team buffs that scaled based on the number of creatures in play, because when you’re going wide they’re generally good ways to hit really hard. They’re not permanent buffs, but if we’re playing this right the game’s going to be over before the end of the turn.
Building in an alternate, complementary win condition is something that I really enjoy doing in my decks. Protean Hulk is a pretty unique effect, but based on how we’ve built this deck we can cobble together a Hulk-esque win without using Hulk itself. This reduces our exposure to effects like Jester’s Cap or Praetor’s Grasp that have the potential to cripple us by removing a single card.
There are plenty of effects that pull things directly out of your library, and even more effects that interact with having a large number of permanents on the battlefield at any given time. The first one that came to mind was Mass Polymorph (and by extension, Polymorphous Rush and Divergent Transformations). Including these types of effects allow us to roll out the 0-drops, use them to generate a little mana or draw a few cards, then trade them for the beefier cards in the deck. This strategy lets us include creatures that didn’t make the cut for the Protean Hulk list, like Tishana, Voice of Thunder, Avenger of Zendikar, and Craterhoof Behemoth. The great part about this package is that you can essentially just run your favourite fatties, and it really doesn’t matter what they are as long as they’re big. Here’s what I came up with:
Running a total of 13 high-impact cards out of a total of 33 means that – at any given point in the game – we’re likely to have 2 or 3 in the top dozen cards of our library. After resolving a Hulk trigger, the odds go way up. This means that effects like Genesis Wave could also be quite strong in this deck (combined with our ability to generate large amounts of mana), but I decided to take it in a different direction.
Warp World isn’t generally the first thing people think about when they’re brewing a Polymorph package, but we’re ideally dealing with a high volume of creatures on the battlefield at any given time, resolving Warp World means we could reasonably see a pair of 8+ drops come out in exchange for a field of 0-drops. Add this to the fact that we’re likely to severely disrupt at least one carefully-crafted board of creatures our opponents have assembled, and I think this has the potential to be some really strong tech.
This deck is starting to look a little greedy, mana-wise. Unlike the competitive lists this deck was inspired by, we’re probably looking at spending more than 1U to win the game. With that in mind, I decided to include a small package of mana dorks and enchantments that allow us to use small creatures to generate mana.
There’s nothing too unusual here. In fact, this mostly looks like a standard green creature-based ramp package with a few additions:
Battle Hymn and Dragon Rage are spicy little rituals that pay off big time if you’ve got a ton of creatures on the battlefield. They only make red mana, but they’ll help us pay for Riku triggers and some of the more expensive spells we’re planning on casting.
Inspiring Statuary is a really interesting piece that I’ve been meaning to brew with for awhile. This is a pretty experimental piece of the deck because we don’t have an exceptionally high artifact count, but using 0-drops to pay for generic mana costs could potentially lead to explosive early-game plays.
When I was polishing this list, I’m forced to acknowledge that – even though we’ve built in alternate win conditions – this deck is still pretty reliant on a handful of cards to do its thing. With that in mind, we’ve got to increase our ability to find those cards in-game, so we include a useful suite of tutors:
What is This Thing?
Finally, we’ve arrived at a somewhat final list:
Like our Ad Nauseam casual brew, it’s… uh… weird, to say the least. I’ve played this deck a couple dozen times against casual tables and people usually have no idea what I’m doing until way after the point where they can reasonably do anything about it. Riku Hulkmorph is a combo deck that I think embodies the Protean Hulk way of life while maintaining a decent amount of variance, allowing proactive opponents the ability to interact, and just generally doing the goofy explosive stuff that draws most people to Commander.
What do you think of the finished list? Would a combo deck like this fly in your local meta? Do you have any recommendations for other cEDH All-Stars that could form the core of bizarre casual deck? As usual, hit me up in the comments!