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Evasive Maneuvers — Skulk
Skulk: The Furtive Path to Victory?
Greetings, sleuths, saboteurs, and skulkers! Welcome to another installment of Evasive Maneuvers, where we examine keywords and strategies that help get our creatures through during combat.
While in our last installment we sought to evade our opponents’ blockers by simply running over them, this week we’ll have to be a bit more devious, as we’re
tackling lockpicking one of Magic: The Gathering‘s most (the most?) under-supported evasive mechanics: Skulk. Skulk states that creatures with Skulk cannot be blocked by creatures with greater power. Simple and flavorful in design, yet like a dough that’s too sticky, or that one group member that your instructor or manager paired with you, it’s difficult to work with.
The keyword was designed with the intent of it being an evergreen evasion ability, with the idea that it would reward you for going ‘under’ opponents’ creatures that are suited up with Equipment or Auras. Turns out, it proved much more difficult in playing than it did in design, and sits pretty squarely at a 7 on the Storm Scale, meaning that it’s unlikely to return outside of the right circumstances. Apparently, those circumstances were satisfied in the Secret Lair: The Walking Dead crossover’s . Outside of that, only 13 cards have been printed with the Skulk keyword, all of them from the Shadows over Innistrad block (Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon).
Skulk, Where Less Is… Well, Less.
Okay, so a keyword with only 14 cards to its name isn’t a great start. Heck, if creatures with the word “Skulking” in the name are any indication of Skulk’s power level, we’re in for some trouble.
Let’s start off with our color breakdown of cards that have or grant Skulk:
So outside ofand , Skulk is essentially limited to the Dimir color pairing.
Skulk requires us to be smaller than our opponents’ creatures – we literally are going underneath them. Let’s see how the typical creature with Skulk looks, and then we’ll compare it to popular commanders and creatures as scraped by EDHREC:
So the typical Skulk creature is small — typically a 1/3 like — but how does that compare to popular commanders and creatures? Even with that 1 power, are we still likely to encounter some blockers? Let’s look at the distribution of power values by popular creatures as well as all format-legal legendary creatures/commanders. Note: I am excluding some of the wonkier ones like since it’s tricky to know exactly where their value would end up.
Since our Skulkers are small, this means that smaller creatures and commanders will pose a threat (more red), whereas bigger creatures won’t be able to block us (more green). This shows that roughly 30% of popular creatures will be able to block us if we have aout, and roughly ~60% will be able to block us if we try to swing in with a .
The good news is, it looks like most commanders have a power greater than one (~90%). Yet, these don’t even cover the many 1/1 tokens these commanders can produce (looking at you,).
The bigger problem, of course, is that even after all this work, we are getting in for one measly damage when our opponents have cumulatively 120 life. Even if our opponents chip away heavily at each other, or tap theirs and storm off with and , chipping in for one damage just isn’t going to cut it. In a 100-card singleton format with less than 15 total cards to choose from, building around Skulk simply isn’t going to work well, at least not until we return to Even More Shadows over Innistrad (or some other LGS-circumventing product…). We have to think if we want to make Skulk work.
Another Brick in the Wall Tribal
We want to have smaller power than our opponents’ creatures, but still need to scale that into damage somehow. So why not deal damage with our toughness instead?
, , , and mean we can begin swinging in with the most
sleuthy imposing Skulkers of all — Walls. What Walls lack in power they make up for in toughness, which is perfect for us utilizing Skulk evasively, but scaling damage in a more impactful manner. (451 decks, 63.34%) and -variant decks have long used to make their Treefolk, Walls, and other big-booty brethren sneakily punch through.
But since Skulk is primarily limited to Esper colors, let’s think of who we can use to enable a Skulk + Wall tribal monstrosity. Someone who can also fetch up our, , or consistently…oh I know!
Look, we’ve probably all played against one of those Zur decks. Heck, by now many have even played against “it’s not that Zur deck, it’s Zur cycling with!”, which has become its own other Zur deck at this point. I’m usually not an advocate for commanders that come with a lot of memory-laden baggage that screams “remove me,” especially when we have such an under-supported strategy that likely won’t hold up to those people who just won’t trust you. But on the other hand, we kind of do need a powerful commander in Esper colors to get our otherwise janky strategy rolling. The fact that he’s a 1/4 is gravy for our Skulk toughness matters build.
Pleased to Meek you
Aside fromto fetch pieces for our Walls to attack, he can grab things like to help our other Skulkers boost in power after evading blockers, as well as and to scale damage even more, or removal pieces like . We’ll be running a slew of Skulkers (at least, not the actively bad ones like ), as well as to help spread Skulk to our Walls in a pinch.
and are some neat (albeit janky) options to try and get Skulk to work, as they provide an anthem effect to all creatures, so our smaller guys can grow in power, but still meet the threshold for Skulk. was designed with blocking in mind, but if our Walls can attack, things get funny, fast.
, , and can help cull our opponents’ creatures if they get too out of hand, while minimally affecting us.
Finally,can be our ultimate blocker and closer, as we can swap his power and toughness after having him Skulk through, either through his own ability or through a , assuming we have no out. Just keep track of your Islands and anthems so he doesn’t die after swapping!
Similarly,‘s lack of power and high toughness will actually come in handy here. Even if just and attack, Zur’s attack trigger can fetch out , which means we will be gaining Zur’s four toughness in life points, and 12 from ‘s, for a total of 16. Assuming we haven’t lost too much life, there’s a real potential for to be a win condition here, what with all the toughness matters and evasion.
Putting it all together:
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You’ll notice that I did not include arguably the best Skulk creature,. Frankly, it’s an awesome card and something I personally would build, if it weren’t solely made available the way it was, and the current price tag is nothing to ignore either. But I’m curious: of those of you who did purchase the Secret Lair, have you built Glenn? If so, have you found success or any neat tech to making Skulk work in the command zone?
For everyone else, have you had luck with Skulk, and if not, why? Do you hope we get more support for the mechanic in the future? Sound off in the comments below!