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Budget Commander: Werewolf Tribal | Tovolar, Dire Overlord | Midnight Hunt


Finally!

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Two years ago I wrote my first primer on Werewolf Tribal, back when we only had two Innistrad sets worth of Werewolf support. Back then our only official Werewolf commander was Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, which despite being one of the best Werewolves ever printed was seen as a massive disappointment for not directly supporting the tribe. Werewolves were still quite strong despite its small card pool, stronger than most people gave it credit, but it lacked a key ingredient to push it over the moon.

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But now with the release of Midnight Hunt, not only did we get a bunch more powerful Werewolf support cards, we also finally got the Werewolf commander players were hoping for: Tovolar, Dire Overlord is here, and it's got Werewolf players howling with joy! This commander does everything the archetype wants: it draws a TON of cards like a cheaper Toski, Bearer of Secrets, it transforms ALL your werewolves with minimal setup like a better Vildin-Pack Alphaand it tosses in the iconic pump ability from Kessig Wolf RunAll for just 3 mana! With Tovolar leading the pack, Werewolves went from neglected beta to dominant alpha at the tables, proving once again that any archetype can gain a huge power boost if you put an undercosted massive card draw engine in the command zone!

Let's Make a Howlpack, Baby

Now that we've got an excellent commander and a third set's worth of Werewolf cards, it's time to brew a list! So, what are we aiming for? How does the deck play? How does it win?

Well, Werewolves have a pretty simple goal: we play a bunch of werewolves, transform them into huge beaters, and beat face. Our goal is to win with combat damage. Werewolves are naturally friggin' huge on their backsides (Dire-Strain Demolisher) and love pumping up your attackers too (Wildblood Pack), so all you gotta do is play werewolves, transform them, and beat face! Simple!

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But how you transform your werewolves (and keep them transformed) is the tricky part! Werewolves have different transformation requirements based on whether they're from Midnight Hunt or from older sets, which is a bit confusing but here's a quick rundown:

Old werewolves (e.g. Sage of Ancient Lore) can only transform to their backside if nobody cast a spell last turn, whereas new werewolves (e.g. Harvesttide Infiltrator) use a day/night mechanic, transforming to their backside when it's night, which happens if a player doesn't cast a spell on their own turn. So if you don't cast a spell on your own turn and an opponent casts an instant, old werewolves would not transform to their backside, whereas new werewolves will. Similarly, old werewolves transformed back to their front side when a player cast two spells on any turn, while new werewolves transform back when it becomes day, which only happens if a player casts two spells on their own turn. Basically, the new day/night werewolves are better since they transform to their backsides far more reliably.

How are we going to reliably wolf out? Simple: we're going to skip playing spells on our own turns! While that's generally a bad idea since most of our spells are sorcery-speed, we're going to lean on cards that grant our spells flash, so we can transform our werewolves on our turn and then cast our spells on opposing turns. Cards like Arlinn, the Pack's Hope and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds are essential to making this strategy work!

So our game plan is:

  1. Play a bunch of werewolves
  2. Transform them with either Tovolar, Dire Overlord or by skipping casting spells on our own turn and flashing them in on opposing turns with cards like Arlinn, the Pack's Hope
  3. Shred our opponents with huge undercosted beaters!

Simple, yet effective!

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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 into two categories: the absolute best and the decent filler/conditional options.

The Alphas

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 (Tovolar's Huntmaster), double as removal (Outland Liberator), or bring other powerful utility (Duskwatch Recruiter). 

Bonus consideration goes to cards that work well with Tovolar, Dire Overlord specifically. 2-drop Werewolves like Kessig Naturalist become even better in this deck since we can curve into our commander with them, casting a turn 2 werewolf, then Tovolar on turn 3 and immediately start drawing cards. Also cards that generate wolf tokens like Tovolar's Huntmaster get even better since Tovolar draws cards off them.

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The Betas

These Werewolves/Wolves aren't as good as the alphas, usually because they cost too much mana for what they do. However, you'll notice that because they're a little worse than the top options, nearly all of them are dirt cheap compared to the far pricier top dogs, making them strong candidates for budget builds.

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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 and the newly printed Arlinn, the Pack's Hope, are exceptional in this deck:

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Stopping Our Opponents From Casting

Now this is a bit controversial, but there's no denying that running ways to slow down our opponents will greatly increase the chances that our werewolves transform and stay 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. If we lean on being creature-heavy then we can take full advantage of noncreature hate cards like Thorn of Amethyst and Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. But the real anti-casting cards in Gruul have to be the artifact and land destruction. Cards like Vandalblast, 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 and thematic because werewolves love full moons!

Caution! While most playgroups are okay with blowing up mana rocks, many playgroups are not okay with you messing lands. Be sure to check with your playgroups before running something like Blood Moon! The sample deck lists contain these cards along with friendlier substitutes should you want to avoid them.

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Other Cool Synergies

Since Werewolf Tribal is an inherently creature-heavy archetype, I love to lean into "creatures matter" theme hard since it lets us pick up so many powerful payoff cards. If you skew your deck towards creatures, cards that you want to run anyway -- like Vivien, Champion of the Wilds, Arlinn, the Pack's Hope, and Ranger Class, all top Werewolf support cards  -- get even stronger. 

But take it a step further and you can run other big creature-heavy payoff cards:

It's really easy to have a creature count of 40+ in Werewolf Tribal, making these payoff cards extremely good.

Also one bonus synergy that I love in the deck is Kogla, the Titan Ape. Kogla is in my opinion one of the strongest standalone Green cards printed in the last year, killing a creature and then going to town on artifacts/enchantments, but it's even better in this deck since all Werewolves are also Humans on the front side, so you can use Kogla to save them from removal or give itself indestructible. I'd run Kogla in this deck even without that activated ability but it's a strong bonus on top of a great card.

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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.

$50 List

The first list is the cheapest I could make without compromising on the deck identity/power too much. With Commander more popular than ever and speculators going HARD on the format at a level never seen before pre-pandemic times, it's no surprise that all the best Werewolf staples have skyrocketed in price. Still, it's possible to make a good deck even if you don't have access to all the best pieces.

This is my intro budget level into Werewolf Tribal. It does everything the archetype wants to do: play werewolves, transform them, and smash face!

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$100 List

The $100 picks up more Werewolf staples like Ulrich of the Krallenhorde and Mayor of Avabruck. We're getting there!

Caution! This version runs a single stax-y card: Magus of the Moon. It's amazing in the deck, but if your playgroup hates it then replace it for Daybreak Ranger at a similar price point.

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$200 List

Finally, the entire wolfpack is here! We've got all the best Werewolf tribal support card now and have begun fleshing out the rest of the deck too. This is my personal favorite price point for Werewolf Tribal as you aren't priced out of anything specific to the archetype.

Caution! This list runs two stax-y cards: Magus of the Moon and Keldon Firebombers. They're amazing in the deck but if your playgroup hates it then swap them out for something else, like Howlpack Resurgence and Toski, Bearer of Secrets

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$400 List

We've fleshed out the rest of the deck now with the best stax-light cards, tutors, better everything.

Caution! This list runs four stax-y cards: Magus of the Moon, Keldon Firebombers, Blood Moon, and Thorn of Amethyst. They're amazing in the deck but if your playgroup hates it then swap them out for something else, like Howlpack Resurgence, Master of the Wild Hunt, Worldly Tutor, and Finale of Devastation.

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Further Upgrades

If you really want to bling out your Werewolf deck or have these cards laying around, then I'd suggest some of the following generic goodstuff staples: Cavern of Souls, Taiga, all fetchlands that get Forest or Mountain, Strip Mine, Worldly Tutor, Sylvan Tutor, Green Sun's Zenith, Finale of Devastation, and uhhh ... that's about it, honestly. Once your Werewolf deck has been filled with Werewolves, just add some of the best lands and the best tutors and you're basically done.

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That's All, Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this update to Werewolf Tribal! The archetype is much stronger now and should keep people satisfied until the next time we see a Werewolf set, which should be in about five years when we return to Innistrad ... or until Crimson Vow, which if true means I'm gonna feel silly and have another update coming soon. Thanks for reading!



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