60 to 100 - Gruul Invades the Invitational!

(Nikya of the Old Ways | Art by Ryan Pancoast)

Not Gruul? Then Die!

Hello yet again and welcome to 60 to 100, where we take all the newest and hottest 60-card decks and bring their strategy and playstyles to Commander! This week we're converting one of the angriest decks ever: Gruul Stompy!

The recent Arena Mythic Invitational tournament brought together 64 of the best Magic players from around the world and literally threw them into the Arena arena to battle it out in the biggest tournament Magic has ever had. Needless the say, the decks that everyone brought to the table were great.

The decks were almost as varied as the players themselves: Esper control decks slowing the game down and grinding out victories all the way to the mono-red aggro decks trying to burn everything to the ground as quickly as possible. One deck that stuck out to me, though, was a red/green Gruul Stompy list that several of my favorite players brought to the tournament. Check out the list:

Not much flash, but so much style. The deck goes big, toppling over the little guys, and even puts down some Ghalta, Primal Hunger beats for good measure. Gerry Thompson, who brought this list to the tournament, may not have done too well, but his deck was a fun one to watch for sure. Whenever you have a chance to only pay two mana for a 12/12 with trample, I highly recommend you try it out.

The deck itself functions like a fairly typical green Commander deck as well. Play some early ramp spells like Llanowar Elves or a Pelt Collector, then watch as they propel you into something more, like a Steel Leaf Champion on turn three, or the Pelt Collector becoming a 5/5 before long and is too big for the other aggro decks to beat. To top it all off, you have some sweet utility creatures like Thrashing Brontodon to keep any Search for Azcantas and Treasure Maps off the battlefield, so the green player can keep right on truckin'. It's a beautiful thing, folks.

The other side of this coin is a more red-centered stompy deck that Andrew Ellenbogen brought to the tournament. His deck took some emphasis off the quick starts and more on the early game interaction, with some haymakers to finish of the game.

Another big deck that makes it hard to answer any of its big threats with just one card. Well, except for the Kaya's Wraths that just happened to be everywhere, but as they say, you can't win them all. Even the tournament champion Andrea Mengucci dropped a game or two!

Here we are now, two similar decks that are just begging to get swapped into a singleton format. Sadly we don't have much use for cards like Growth-Chamber Guardian; even though it did present some thrilling moments over the weekend, it doesn't take long to realize it's probably not a card that had Commander in mind when it was created. As great of a mana sink in the late game as it was for Gerry, it's not going to do too much here. Regardless, there is some great brewing to be done here, so let's jump into it!

Finding the Gruul Packleader

Since there aren't too many noncreature spells featured in either deck, we find ourselves in an interesting situation. In the last two blocks featuring the Gruul guild on Ravnica we've seen some legendary creatures that enable some powerful creature-centric strategies. Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Nikya of the Old Ways both discourage casting noncreature spells, albeit in very different ways. Ruric Thar is a known quantity for shutting down spellslinger decks and whatever else those self-proclaimed "sophisticated" magicians would do, preferring instead to smash now and ask questions never. "Why ask questions when smash more later too?" Mr. Thar comes in as the third most built Gruul commander, showing that he's a fairly popular... Ogre.

Now that Ravnica Allegiance is out, we have another Gruul commander with a similar feel. Nikya of the Old Ways doesn't punish other players like Ruric Thar does, but she enables a huge upside if we play by her rules. Nikya already has over 200 decks built in her name which already puts her ahead of other powerful Gruul commanders like Dragonlord Atarka. Her payoff intrigues me as well, seeing as how she plays very well into the types of decks that Gerry Thompson and Andrew Ellenbogen gave us: play lots of creatures and worry about the rest later. With only 13 noncreature spells in both of their decks combined, I'm going to assume they would approve of Nikya taking the helm here.

Playing Like the Pros

When we take a look through the cards that are currently being put into Nikya decks so far, we see an emphasis on creatures that have either an 'enters the battlefield' ability or some sort of activated ability that replicates the effect of a noncreature spell. Cards like Reclamation Sage or Acidic Slime fill the role that a Naturalize might in other green decks. In the same way, we see Wood Elves and their pals Farhaven Elf showing up instead of Nature's Lore-esque ramp effects. It might cost an extra mana to put the effect onto a body but when our commander is doubling our mana production, that's oftentimes not a big worry. Gerry Thompson had Thrasing Brontodon in his Standard deck for that very reason: a way to put an important creature on the battlefield without sacrificing answers in the deck.

I mentioned above that Growth-Chamber Guardian was a mana sink for the 60-card decks. This scaly man-fish thing was the only real way to spend spare mana in those decks, but here in Commander, our mana sinks thrive. Since Nikya of the Old Ways doesn't allow us to cast noncreature spells with all of our excess mana, we have to find some other way to maximize how much mana we spend each turn. Creatures like Biogenic Ooze might seem costly - four mana to create just one token - but with Nikya in play, that becomes a virtually two-mana ability. Spearbreaker Behemoth can now essentially turn two creatures into indestructible monsters by just tapping one land, and Polukranos, World Eater can take everyone to the Sizzler! Half-priced abilities are a buffet anyone can get behind.

Another type of creature I'm surprised isn't getting more love in Nikya of the Old Ways decks are the Spellshapers from back in Mercadian Masques days. These creatures took cards in a player's hand and "shaped" that card into a different spell. In Commander in general, I feel like these cards don't get the love they deserve. At first glance they might seem a little counter intuitive - "Why would I want to discard a card to do this?" - but the way I see it, and the way our Mythic Invitational companions would too, is that these take otherwise dead cards and turn them into something that can affect the game instantly. Maybe you're stuck on mana and the Woodfall Primus in your hand won't be cast anytime soon. Discarding it to Greenseeker to ensure hit your next land drop might be the play. Or maybe you draw that Greenseeker when there's a Breya, Etherium Shaper player at the table about to combo off. Discard Greenseeker to Hammer Mage and you have the best spell you could have hoped to top deck!

The versatility of the Spellshapers and their constant sources of fuel makes for some incredibly underrated roleplayers in the right deck. Since our commander won't let us hold up cards too often, it makes sense that we play creatures that happen to fill those roles. Sometimes all you need is a Fireball, and what you have is Latulla, Keldon Overseer. It's like rain on your wedding day. Isn't it ironic?

Now, let's get into the list!

Nikya of the Newest Ways

Commander (1)
Creatures (51)
Planeswalkers (1)
Sorceries (2)
Artifacts (3)
Enchantments (5)
Lands (37)

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A Gruul deck worthy of play at the highest levels!

After running through some early drafts of the deck, I'd like to quickly note how well it can play the card advantage game. The newest Ravnica sets have given green some amazing tools when it comes to card draw. Beast Whisperer and Guardian Project make sure that even our lowly Elvish Mystics are going to at least cantrip and replace themselves in our hands. Combine that with Experimental Frenzy which is a potentially insane draw engine. I know you don't need me telling you this, but if you didn't watch the Mythic Invitational, you really did miss out of some good Magic. When we can build our own Experimental Frenzy with Courser of Kruphix and Vizier of the Menagerie, it gives us some excellent sources of card advantage and manipulating the tops of our decks. Nikya decks even make some otherwise forgotten cards like Primordial Sage into powerhouses, as we can cast them ahead of the curve and in almost every situation immediately follow up with a creature spell to start drawing cards.

All told, we've got a fun deck that overcomes its downsides and comes ahead in a powerful way.

Is there a Nikya of the Old Ways all-star that I'm missing from the deck? Has anyone given her a try yet and found that the downside of only casting creature spells is too much to overcome? Let me know in the comments!

Matt is a member of the EDHRECast, representing the 60-card formats and the Timmy's alike. He appreciates bad wordplay as much as a good alpha strike. A diverse nerd, you might also see him maining Lux support in League of Legends as well or on the deadlift platform at the gym.