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Budget Magic: Ghalta Gearhulk (Standard)


Mālō e lelei, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Standard to play a deck built around one of the most hyped cards from Rivals of Ixalan: Ghalta, Primal Hunger. While we've seen the Elder Dino show up in various GRx Monster decks as a beater, our deck is looking to take advantage of the fact that while we can often cast Ghalta, Primal Hunger for two mana, its converted mana cost is actually 12. Why is having a massive converted mana cost an upside in our deck? Well, instead of just beating down with Ghalta, Primal Hunger, we're also hoping to mill it with Combustible Gearhulk, which (when combined with another card or two) potentially lets us one-shot our opponent with direct damage! Can the combination of Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Combustible Gearhulk work in Standard? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Ghalta Gearhulk (Standard)

The Deck

The basic idea of Ghalta Gearhulk is pretty simple: we're trying to be the best Ghalta, Primal Hunger deck possible. The end result is basically a Dinosaur midrange deck with Combustible Gearhulk thrown in because it works so incredibly well with Ghalta, Primal Hunger. While we aren't as low to the ground as a true aggro deck like Ramunap(less) Red, we're still looking to kill our opponent quickly, before they get a chance to draw removal and ruin our plans.

The Combo

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Ghalta, Primal Hunger is the centerpiece of our deck, and we're looking to abuse the card both when it's in our hand and when it's in our library. Since we are playing a lot of big creatures, we can often cast the 12/12 trampler for just two mana, and it sometimes comes down with haste thanks to Regisaur Alpha, which makes it a huge threat, forcing our opponent to either have a hard removal spell like Vraska's Contempt or Cast Out or trade away their entire board to try to deal with the huge Elder Dinosaur. At the same time, with the help of Combustible Gearhulk we can also kill our opponent by having Ghalta, Primal Hunger in our library.

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Combustible Gearhulk is the perfect support card for Ghalta, Primal Hunger. When we cast our Combustible Gearhulk, we often put our opponent into a no-win situation. If they let us draw cards, they risk us drawing a Ghalta, which we should be able to cast, since having Combustible Gearhulk on the battlefield (all by itself) makes Ghalta cost six less, and combined with another creature, a Combustible Gearhulk typically makes Ghalta just two mana. On the other hand, if our opponent decides to make us mill cards with Combustible Gearhulk, hitting a Ghalta is a massive 12 damage, while combined with other cards, it's very possible that we deal 20 damage to our opponent's face with a single Combustible Gearhulk!

Of course, both Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Combustible Gearhulk have some risk involved with playing them. For Ghalta, Primal Hunger, the main downside is that if our opponent manages to kill all of our other creatures, we can get stuck with a 12-mana Ghalta, Primal Hunger rotting away in our hand. For Combustible Gearhulk, the main problem is that if we get too far behind on board, it doesn't really help us catch up, since our opponent can just let us draw the three cards, untap, and kill us before we can do anything with the cards that we draw. However, the explosive potential of Ghalta and Gearhulk makes playing both of the cards more than worth the risk.

The Dinos

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Regisaur Alpha is amazing with Ghalta, Primal Hunger while also being a solid card all by itself. Not only does Regisaur Alpha give us a total of seven power and toughness for five mana (making our Ghalta, Primal Hunger cost five, or two if we have any other creature in our deck on the battlefield), but it also gives our Ghalta, Primal Hunger haste, which gives us one of our nut draws. When we can play something like Drover of the Mighty on Turn 2 into Regisaur Alpha on Turn 4 and a two-mana Ghalta, Primal Hunger on Turn 5, we put our opponent to the test: either they have an instant-speed answer to Ghalta, Primal Hunger like Cast Out or Vraska's Contempt, or they risk dying on the spot to our massive board full of creatures.

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While not as essential to our Ghalta, Primal Hunger plan as Regisaur Alpha, Ripjaw Raptor is still very strong in our deck, giving us a big body that's hard for opponents to attack into while reducing the cost of our Ghalta and potentially even drawing us some cards in conjunction with Savage Stomp and Reckless Rage. As a 4/5, Ripjaw Raptor is a huge blocker against aggro, especially when it comes down on Turn 3 with help from our two-mana ramp, which helps us to stabilize and slow down the game long enough to take over with Combustible Gearhulk and Ghalta, Primal Hunger a turn or two later.

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Thrashing Brontodon is just a one-of in the main deck, but it's a really solid card in our current Standard meta. A 3/4 for three is already on curve, and having another main-deck way to blow up God-Pharaoh's Gift and Heart of Kiran is helpful. 

Ramp

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Considering that our deck is fairly expensive, our Turn 2 is dedicated to ramping into our bigger, more explosive plays. Drover of the Mighty has a huge upside and a huge downside. The upside is that it often ends up being a Watchwolf that also adds mana, which is a really powerful card, especially in a deck that's looking to reduce the cost of Ghalta, Primal Hunger. On the other hand, the downside of Drover of the Mighty is that it dies to pretty much every removal spell in the format, and we have some games where we cast Drover of the Mighty on Turn 2, our opponent immediately kills it, and we are left with a bunch of expensive stuff in hand that we can't play. 

Thunderherd Migration solves the dying-to-removal problem we have with Drover of the Mighty but never offers the upside of giving us a 3/3 creature to get in some damage and reduce the cost of Ghalta, Primal Hunger. This being said, the combination of Drover of the Mighty and Thunderherd Migration gives us a total of eight two-mana ramp spells, which means odds are in favor of us having at least one of these cards in our opening hand every game. 

Removal and Other Stuff

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Mouth // Feed probably looks strange, since it doesn't usually see play in Standard, but it actually fits very well in our deck. While making a 3/3 for three isn't exciting, it does help us fill out the curve. Then, after we get Mouth // Feed in the graveyard, we can aftermath it to refill our hand. Assuming we have a Dinosaur on the battlefield to pump Drover of the Mighty, every single creature in our deck has at least three power, with Regisaur Alpha making two creatures with three or more power, which means it's pretty common that we turn Feed into a Concentration at the very worst, and occasionally we draw an entire new hand of cards.

The other reason why Mouth // Feed is in our deck is because it works really well with Combustible Gearhulk. While we can cast Mouth // Feed for three mana and Mouth // Feed for four, as far as our Gearhulk is concerned, Mouth // Feed is a seven-mana card, which gives us a big chunk of damage if it's milled. Just Mouth // Feed and Ghalta, Primal Hunger add up to a massive 19 damage if we mill them with Combustible Gearhulk, which means any other non-land card is enough to kill our opponent from 20 life.

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Finally, we have a handful of removal spells. Savage Stomp and Reckless Rage work especially well with Ripjaw Raptor, because along with killing one of our opponent's creatures, both cards also trigger enrage to draw us an extra card, but this power comes with a downside: if our opponent can kill our creature in response to either spell, the entire spell fizzles, and our opponent gets to keep their creature. Meanwhile, Abrade gives us a way to deal with all of the early-game threats in the format while also giving us the upside of blowing up God-Pharaoh's Gift and random Vehicles.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished our video matches with a 3-2 record but technically dropped an extra match vs. Mardu Vehicles, bringing our grand total to 3-3. Probably the biggest issue with the deck is just how high variance it tends to be. When we get good draws, the deck feels absurdly powerful and runs over whatever is in its path. On the other hand, we sometimes run into the traditional ramp-deck problem of drawing all ramp and no action or all high-end finishers and no ramp. We tend to lose when this happens. The problem is exacerbated by Ghalta, Primal Hunger, which is either the best card in our deck and occasionally wins game all by itself, or its the worst card in our deck, sitting in our hand as an uncastable 12/12 for 12. So, how do we go about adding more consistency do the deck?

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After playing a bunch of games with the deck, the single card I want the most is Treasure Map. Not only does Treasure Map work well with our ramp theme, being a slow ramp card that eventually gives us a bunch of extra mana, but it's a ramp card that also helps to smooth out our draws, helping to minimize the number of games where we get stuck with all ramp and no action or all action and no ramp. While it's tempting to cut some of the other ramp cards to make room for Treasure Map, the best option is likely to trim back on some of the Mouth // Feeds and maybe a couple of non-Abrade removal spells. Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with how the budget build of Ghalta Gearhulk turned out.

In sum, Ghalta Gearhulk is a really fun, really explosive deck, although it loses to itself a bit more than I would like. Hopefully, the addition of Treasure Map will smooth over some of these rough edges and make the deck even more consistent. If you like beating down with huge creatures while also occasionally combo-killing the opponent with 20 damage to the face from Combustible Gearhulk, give Ghalta Gearhulk a shot!

It's usually a bad sign when you have to start cutting back on a deck's namesake cards to get it to fit into the ultra-budget range, and that's where we find ourselves with Ghalta Gearhulk. The big problem with the deck is that two of the most expensive cards in our deck—Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Regisaur Alpha—are also two of the most important cards in our deck. To get Ghalta Gearhulk down near $50, we first strip back the mana base to the bare bones, playing Evolving Wilds over Rootbound Crag. Next, we switch Ripjaw Raptor (which is great but less essential than our other Dinosaurs) to Raging Regisaur, which has four power, so it still offers the same discount for Ghalta and has the upside of killing random x/1s when it attacks but is much less resilient than Ripjaw Raptor, since it lacks enrage. Finally, we cut one each of Combustible Gearhulk, Ghalta, Primal Hunger, and Regisaur Alpha and add in some more ramp in the form of Ranging Raptors. The end result is a deck that is very similar to the one we played for the videos but even less consistent, which is especially scary, since the biggest problem with the budget build was a lack of consistency. As a result, I'd really want to at least upgrade to the full four copies of our main combo pieces (Gearhulk, Ghalta, and Regisaur Alpha) before taking the deck to an FNM, although this build should be fine for practicing on the kitchen table while you are waiting to make the upgrades.

The non-budget build of Ghalta Gearhulk looks essentially the same as the budget version, with slightly better mana and a handful of improved sideboard cards. Otherwise, we add in the Treasure Maps we talked about during the wrap-up and a single copy of Rhonas the Indomitable, since it works really well with Ghalta, Primal Hunger and gives us another way to trample over for lethal when we don't have access to our Elder Dinosaur. 

While we stuck with the Dinosaur plan for our upgrades, it's worth mentioning that another possibility is just playing Combustible Gearhulk in the GR Monster deck that is popular in Standard at the moment. The problem is that the most common build of the deck has been cutting back on Ghalta, Primal Hunger and doesn't really have any ramp, which means it will get some clunky draws. Still, some sort of rebuilt version of GR Monsters with Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer is another appealing shell for Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Combustible Gearhulk

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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