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Budget Commander: Werewolf Tribal


 

War of the Spark hype is in full swing and people are going on about all the sweet new Commander cards like Feather, the Redeemed, all the new inclusions for Superfriends, the new God cycle like Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, aka the good stuff, aka the stuff 99% of content creators immediately latch on to.

But me? I'm a sucker for jank. And floating atop the sea of sweet new cards was this oddball, drawing me in with its siren call:

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War of the Spark's Arlinn, Voice of the Pack has got me excited to brew Werewolf Tribal.

It's not just Arlinn either: I realized that Werewolf Tribal got A TON of goodies from this set to get excited about! Not directly, no, but in this article I'll explain why War of the Spark adds a huge boost in viability to Werewolf Tribal:

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Join me, friends and fellow jank lovers, as we explore a beloved tribe that never seems to quite get there in Commander. We're not just going to make a functional Werewolf deck; we're gonna make it look good! The full moon's out, wind's howlin', and we're gonna smash some faces!

 

Why You Should Play Werewolves

Because Werewolves are cool, obviously. That's the real reason.

I'm not going to say Werewolves are one of the strongest tribes in Commander. They're not. The card pool is rather shallow, with only 42 werewolves currently printed, compared to more popular tribes like the 225 Vampires or 693 Wizards (seriously?!). And while some tribes get a serious boost from their stupidly powerful "official" commanders like Edgar Markov and Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Werewolves are stuck with ... Ulrich of the Krallenhorde. Yeeeeah.

But just because Werewolves aren't the most powerful tribe in Commander doesn't mean they suck / shouldn't play them / can't optimize them! The tribe does have certain strengths you can capitalize on and weaknesses you can mitigate, and you CAN make a sweet and effective deck that wins games!

Werewolves are designed to be a tribe of undercosted fatties. While that doesn't sound particularly thrilling when we transition from 1v1 games at 20 starting life to multiplayer games at 40 starting life, there actually are werewolves that thrive in a multiplayer environment. The more people in the game, the more opportunities for your werewolves to transform each turn cycle, so werewolves that have beneficial transformation triggers like Huntmaster of the Fells and Afflicted Deserter provide more value for you. Then there's cards like Sage of Ancient Lore, which only gets nastier the more opponents you have.

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Despite having only 42 cards, Werewolves are a unique tribe because they actually synergize with their best friends, Wolves. All the best Werewolf support cards like Immerwolf, Mayor of Avabruck, and Howlpack Resurgence support Werewolves and Wolves! It also helps that a lot of the best Werewolf cards even produce Wolf tokens! With Werewolves and Wolves combined together in one Tribal deck, suddenly we have a lot more cards to work with!

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Being big undercosted beatsticks isn't enough in Commander, however. There's bigger and more undercosted beatsticks available to us. Our tribe needs to do more. Luckily, some werewolves point us in the right direction: fighting! Our creatures start off as 4/4's and 5/5's (Lambholt Elder) and only get bigger thanks to our lords (Mayor of Avabruck), which put them in a prime position to start mauling opposing creatures. We have two werewolves that do just that: Daybreak Ranger and, yes, Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, but Gruul has tons of excellent cards that enable fighting like Ulvenwald Tracker and the new Domri, Anarch of Bolas! Our beatsticks doubling as removal is exactly what we need to make this tribe viable.

There's even an official payoff card for fighting! Foe-Razer Regent grows our werewolves bigger after they brawl. We also have an unofficial fighting payoff with Vigor, which does the same thing but better!

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While a few of our werewolves actually benefit from flipping back and forth, most of them would rather flip asap and stay flipped. We have two ways to help flip our werewolves, Geier Reach Bandit and Waxing Moon, and Immerwolf helps them stay flipped, but that's not enough. There's plenty of tricks we can pull off to help our werewolves transform and stay that way. Here's some of them:

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So that's our deck in a nutshell: play werewolves, flip them and keep them flipped, and fight whatever creatures oppose us. Simple but effective!

You might like the deck if ...

  • You like werewolves
  • You like wolves
  • You want to play a more casual / underestimated tribe and make it look good
  • You like Creature-heavy synergy decks
  • You want to smash faces with creatures

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You're only interested in playing the most powerful tribes
  • You'd prefer a Combo or Control deck
  • You want to cast a lot of noncreature spells
  • Combat doesn't interest you
  • You're more of a Cat person

 

Stick To Gruul Vs. Splashing

All the playable Werewolf cards are in Gruul (sorry, Greater Werewolf, your place is only in my nightmares). And the only good Wolf card outside of Gruul is Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, which is admittedly a sweet one. Plus, our only official Werewolf commander is Gruul: Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, who despite being a disappointment after years of anticipation is actually a pretty decent commander and one of the best Werewolf cards available. Also sticking with Gruul keeps our manabase nice and simple, which lets us run punishing cards like Blood Moon and Ruination to slow down our opponents. Therefore it makes perfect sense to stick with Gruul for your Werewolf Tribal deck.

Splashing for a third color can add a lot of benefits to the deck, however. White is my favorite splash because it gives us access to Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, which synergizes very well with our Wolf generators (Arlinn Kord) and our Fight theme (Vigor). Plus we get access to hatebears (Gaddock Teeg) and other stax effects that will prevent our opponents from casting spells so our werewolves can transform and stay that way. But all the colors can bring something useful to our deck. 

For this article, I'll show how to build a Gruul Werewolf deck with Ulrich of the Krallenhorde at the helm, but I will point out notable splash cards if you're interested in adding more colors.

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Choosing The Goodest Puppers

Not all the Werewolf and Wolf options available are going work well in Commander. It's important to identify and run the best creatures available to us. I've divided the best Werewolf/Wolf related cards from best to worst:

The Alpha

Of all the options available to us, there's a single card that stands our as the alpha of the pack: Geier Reach Bandit. This card lets our Werewolves immediately transform when they hit the table, kicking our entire deck into overdrive and makes all our best cards ten times better. Mayor of Avabruck pumps all your doggos and makes a token on your end step. Instigator Gang gives all your attacking creatures +3/+0. Sage of Ancient Lore immediately becomes a 10/10 or bigger - great if you can give it haste! Things just get wild.

I'm actually frustrated when I look at this card because it literally is the perfect Werewolf commander: low cmc, actually cares about the tribe, and its effect is the single best thing the tribe could ask for. All Wizards had to do was change the casting cost to 1RG and add "legendary" to its type line. It's even more frustrating because this card came in the exact same block as our given commander, Ulrich of the Krallenhorde.

If only Geier Reach Bandit was our commander. Sigh.

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Top Dogs

These are the first cards I'd look to add to a Werewolf/Wolf Tribal deck. They either pump up your team (Instigator Gang), generate tokens (Huntmaster of the Fells), double as removal (Afflicted Deserter), or bring other powerful utility (Duskwatch Recruiter). 

Some of these cards have high power ceilings but aren't suitable for all decks. For example, Feed the Pack and Wolfcaller's Howl are excellent Wolf token producers, but will be worse in super committed Creature-heavy decks that run noncreature hate cards like Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Nikya of the Old Ways. Master of the Wild Hunt is merely okay on its own, but when paired up with the mentioned Wolf token producers and ways to pump Wolves he becomes a powerhouse. Howl of the Night Pack is insane but only if your deck runs a lot of land ramp and is heavily skewed towards Forests.

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Pretty Deece

These Werewolves/Wolves aren't amazing, but they do relevant things for the deck and their card type allows them to benefit from our deck's synergies. You'll probably end up running some, if not most of these cards to fill out the deck.

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The current options available to us not on this list I would advise against running. Random vanilla beaters like Wolfbitten Captive and Gastaf Shepherd are far too low-impact in Commander to be worth a slot in your deck. If you're worried about achieving a critical mass of Werewolves/Wolves in your deck just add more card draw / tutors to find your better ones instead.

 

Fight Club

This deck's primary schtick is fighting, adding some great removal options in our creature-heavy deck. Our werewolves are generally going to be bigger than opposing creatures, making them great brawlers. Gruul has plenty of ways to fight opponents, and also two fighting payoff cards: Foe-Razer Regent and Vigor. Vigor is especially sweet when paired with Red's board wipes, like Blasphemous Act. Imagine having a bunch of creatures on the battlefield plus Vigor, then casting Blasphemous Act: all your opponent's creatures die, your other creatures get 13 +1/+1 counters, swing and win? Sounds good to me!

Here are some of my favorite fighting cards for the deck:

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With your creatures being big and getting even bigger thanks to lords like Mayor of Avabruck they should be fine surviving most tussles, but if you want to guarantee they come out unscratched then you can run these damage prevention cards on top of Vigor. They all work wonders with the Red board wipes too! Most are in White, but a few aren't:

 

Flipping Out 

In order to get the maximum value out of our tribe, we need to consistently transform our werewolves and then keep them transformed. As mentioned earlier, the best way is by casting your spells at instant speed, putting your creatures onto the battlefield without casting them, and stopping your opponents from casting multiple spells each turn. Let's break down each way:

Flash

There's not a ton of options for casting your pups with flash, but a few, like Vivien, Champion of the Wilds, are exceptional in this deck:

 

Not Casting

We want the ability to pass a turn without casting a spell, but still advance our board. These are cards that can help do that.

 

Stopping Our Opponents From Casting

Denying our opponents the ability to cast spells drastically increases the odds of our werewolves flipping and staying that way. Plus, slowing down our opponents in general puts us ahead, regardless of our werewolf plans. Think of it like a Hatebear strategy except our win conditions are big ol' fuzzy monsters.

Gruul has some powerful options for this. We can dissuade opponents from casting noncreature spells with Ruric Thar, the Unbowed; lesser pingers like Cindervines and Scab-Clan Berserker are fine too but far less effective than Ruric. But the real anti-casting cards in Gruul have to be the artifact and land destruction. Cards like Vandablast, By Force, Meltdown, and Bane of Progress can quickly clear away all your opponent's mana rocks, while land destruction cards like Wildfire, Destructive Force, cycled Decree of Annihilation, and Keldon Firebombers remove their lands. A Gruul deck can also get away with running Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon, which can be devastating against decks that are three or more colors.

If we add White do our deck and go Naya, we open ourselves to even more noncreature-hate options to slow down our opponents: stuff like Gaddock Teeg, Eidolon of Rhetoric, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Oh, and Armageddon effects!

If we add Blue then there's Arcane Laboratory, Mana Breach, Sunder, and possibly other naughty things.

Black is interesting because instead of denying our opponents mana or preventing them from casting certain spells, we can just strip them of their hand with cards like Arterial Flow and Painful Quandary. Can't cast spells if you don't have spells to cast, right?

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Lands

Lands are a great source of mana-fixing and utility.

For Gruul mana-fixing, I recommend prioritizing dual lands that count as both Forests and Mountains: Cinder Glade, Stomping Ground, Sheltered Thicket, and Taiga (if you're willing to spend lots of money) add layers of extra synergy to the deck because they can be fetched by lands (Wooded Foothills) and spells (Wood Elves) while also empowering cards that care about land types like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Howl of the Night Pack.

For utility cards, Kessig Wolf Run is one of the best options and definitely the most flavorful. I'm also a big fan of Homeward Path to deny opposing Blue (Control Magic) and Black (Animate Dead) decks from stealing our creatures. Since this is a Tribal deck we can get some good use out of Path of Ancestry and Cavern of Souls.

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Ramp

We're in Green so we're absolutely spoiled with top-tier ramp options: mana dorks (Arbor Elf), land ramp (Rampant Growth), and all the best mana rocks (Sol Ring).

In this deck in particular, I recommend leaning heavily on creature-based ramp so we can take advantage of creature synergies: abilities like Duskwatch Recruiter, Domri Rade, and Lurking Predators become much more consistent card advantage if we have a high creature count. We also can take advantage of powerful ramp like Somberwald Sage and Nikya of the Old Ways, and it also lets us break the symmetry on noncreature hate cards like Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (if White).

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Card Draw

In more creature-heavy versions of the deck, cards like Duskwatch Recruiter, Beast Whisperer, and Guardian Project are all excellent sources of incremental card draw. We can also get a burst of card draw with Harmonize, Rishkar's Expertise, or wheels like Magus of the Wheel.

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Recursion

Sometimes the card we want is sitting in our graveyard. Here are some of my favorite Gruul options for getting them back:

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Removal

No permanent is safe from us. I've already covered the fight cards, which will be the primary way we deal with opposing creatures, but we still gotta pack artifact / enchantment / land hate, plus a board wipe or two. These are some of my favorites:

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Tutors

The best creatures that can also tutor have to be Fierce Empath, Fauana Shaman, Imperial Recruiter, and Woodland Bellower. For noncreatures, nothing beats Survival of the Fittest if you've got the money for it, but Worldly Tutor / Sylvan Tutor are staples as well and Gruul has some funky good ones like Signal the Clans.

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Buffing Our Doggos

Our werewolves are pretty sweet, but we can make them even sweeter! We should give them haste so they can immediately attack and protection from mean removal spells.

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Putting It All Together

Alright, now that we've gone over the card pool we're working with, it's time to talk about how we craft the deck. As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely but am mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ non-land cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 targeted removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; because you never forget to add some graveyard hate in your deck, right? Right? Right?!
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

 

Budget Deck Lists

Finally we get to the part everyone scrolls down to: the budget deck lists! Here's a couple of lists I threw together using the cards I listed and the ratios discussed previously.

 

$29 List

The first list is the cheapest I could make it without compromising on the deck identity/power too much. All the cards are under $2 USD at the time of writing this, except for Mayor of Avabruck which is a couple cents over. I didn't even spend a penny on the lands -- just basics will do.

Our plan is simple:

  1. Ramp out our good boys.
  2. Mangle our opponent's creatures and blow up their artifacts/enchantments.
  3. Draw cards.
  4. Draw more cards.
  5. Attack and stuff.

Hammer Mage and Molder Slug are all-stars in our deck since we run zero Artifacts so we have super-efficient methods of blowing up all our opponent's mana rocks, stopping them from casting spells so our wolfies can flip out and kill them. 

 

$100 List

Our $100 features numerous improvements over the previous. Our Werewolf pack is finally complete thanks to the addition of Huntmaster of the Fells. This list is heavy on the "Creatures Matter" theme. We've added a ton of sweet planeswalkers to the deck, all of which care about running lots of, like Domri, Anarch of Bolas. Our card advantage has gotten much better thanks to the addition of cards like Beast Whisperer, and we've even got tutors now like Fauna Shaman! Our ramp is better than ever too thanks to additions like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Somberwald Sage, further pushing our Creature theme. AND Lurking Predators IS RIDICULOUS HOLY MOLY!

Probably the most impactful inclusions, however, are the cards that slow our opponents down: Bane of Progress is the ultimate middle finger to enchantments/artifacts, which we run very few of. Even better are Magus of the Moon and Ruination which barely effect us but can cripple 2C+ decks. These cards are crucial to helping us flip our werewolves and keeping them that way.

Our Fight theme got shuffled around a bit: instead of relying on instants/sorceries like Pounce to do it, we've upgraded to repeatable fighting with cards like Domri Rade. And yes, we now have Vigor in the deck! Huzzah! Wombo combo with fighting and Chain Reaction!

 

$514 List

Here's how the deck looks when you bump the budget a little over $400. Tutors like Worldly Tutor and Sylvan Tutor add both flexibility and redundancy to our deck which lets us cut cards that perform similar roles but worse than our best options, plus they synergize well with "top of library matters" cards like Domri Rade. Our mana base is way better with ramp,Oracle of Mul Daya, and way better lands. And there's Blood Moon! Seth-approved!

It's weird upgrading the list this high because at some point the only cards you should be cutting are, well, the Werewolves / Wolves in the deck. So I tried my best keeping the idea of the deck intact and just added ways to strengthen the tribe instead of cutting them out.

$193 Naya List

Finally, here's how Werewolves can look like if you splash White. The main benefit for splashing is we get access to all the best noncreature hate cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Gaddock Teeg. Our own list runs very few noncreature cards so these hatebears barely affect us at all, but severely slow down our opponents, allowing our werewolves to flip out and murder them. We also get to add Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, which fits perfectly with our tribes and our fight theme!

We pick up a few other sweet cards from white, like better board wipe protection with Selfless Spirit and Dauntless Escort.

There are downsides to going Naya, however: we need to run more nonbasic lands for a consistent 3C manabase, so it's much harder to run cards like Ruination and Magus of the Moon. Plus there's no Naya Werewolf commander! I picked Samut, Voice of Dissent because she has flash and can give our creatures haste, but a werewolf commander is definitely more flavorful.

That's All, Folks!

I hope you liked my take on Werewolf Tribal. Please let me know if I succeeded in convincing someone in giving the tribe a shot! You can expect me to get a win for the team in an upcoming Commander Clash!


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