Heart of the Cards – Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
(Ilharg, the Raze-Boar | Original Art by Filip Burburan)
Hello, and welcome to another Heart of the Cards, the series where we pick a commander, build a shell with all of the supporting, goodstuff, staple-type cards you just can’t do without, and then build a few different core packages that could each potentially act as the heart of the deck, defining its unique flavor and personality.
This month you voted to look at Ilharg, the Raze-Boar.
Before we talk about Ilharg, let me just say that holy crap, was this challenging. Ilharg is really cool but his strategy is very linear, so it took me quite a while to figure out how to make the deck feel unique with its different packages. I ended up deciding to lean into that linearity, pushing into Ilharg's Sneak Attack-esque ability to do one thing, and one thing only.
So, what one thing is that? Dragons. Ilharg was built to cheat in some big slabs of meat, and nothing says "big slab of meat" like several thousand pounds of leather, claws, scales, and fire. Okay, the deck isn't just dragons: Ilharg gets plenty of value out of several other big creatures in this deck, but the build has a greater-than-average number of them and seeks to win with big, evasive creatures dealing combat damage.
Before we dive into different ways we can define the deck’s personality, we need to take a look at the cards we just can’t play without.
Why do I want to build this park so bad?
As far as combat-oriented commanders go, Ilharg is relatively inexpensive at five mana. Once he drops, however, we can start Sneak Attacking some beaters in. This is part win con, part distraction: Ilharg is not going to remain as an unanswered threat, and the deck will need to start using the mana it initially used to crank him out to hard cast some of the expensive creatures in hand. If all goes well, this is a mid- to late-game strategy.
One Step Ahead of You...
Historically, mono-red has had problems with card draw. Though WotC has taken great strides towards remedying red's deficiency, this deck doesn't want new cards like Light Up the Stage or Honor the God-Pharaoh, preferring to lean on Ilharg's strength and rely mostly on creatures to get the job done.
I haven't always talked much about lands in my articles, but today I need to. Graveyard hate is an essential aspect of EDH, so my lists always include Scavenger Grounds. Even if the deck is a graveyard-centric deck, it never hurts to have a panic button. In a two-color deck I would have to think twice about running extra Deserts to get more value from the Grounds, but since mono-color decks have more room for utility lands we can get away with running a few more Deserts. Blast Zone helps the deck remove enchantments without taking up a slot for Unstable Obelisk or Scour From Existence. The rest of the package is mostly centered around dealing with problem creatures and artifacts, though Meteor Golem mercifully allows the deck to deal with anything.
It Sounds Like an Unhealthy Relationship: Enablers
Like Vaevictis, Ilharg wants to get out and do his combat thing right away. To do that, we're going to want haste enablers. Lands are great for this since they don't take up a spell slot. Winding Canyons lets you flash in a needed body and grants pseudo-haste when you do so with a big bad in at the end of another player's turn. A few other cards of note are Strionic Resonator, which lets you double up on Ilharg's attack triggers; Cloudstone Curio, which lets you get an ETB without endangering an attacker with combat damage; Sneak Attack, as a second Ilharg; and Conjurer's Closet, which will let you keep any creatures you sneak out by flickering them at the end of turn, so Ilharg's end-of-turn trigger will no longer apply to them!
Time to Cut Loose
The rest of what the deck wants to do is just some good old-fashioned romp 'em, stomp 'em. I went with mostly Dragons for flavor, but there are tons of good, big bodies that Ilharg wouldn't mind running. (I don't run Blightsteel Colossus because I don't find it very original, but it's one among many terrifying creatures the Boar God can summon.)
I chose Lathliss, Dragon Queen over Utvara Hellkite only because Ilharg circumvents the Hellkite trigger by bringing into play already attacking. Fanatic of Mogis and Spawn of Thraxes feel like old-school big burn. My favorite find for this list is by far Dragon Tyrant, the card is an absolute monster: a flying, trampling, double-striking and firebreathing 6/6 is a force to be reckoned with, but he costs ten mana and dies to Doom Blade, and thus sees play in only 543 decks. In Ilharg, your threats are only open to removal and board wipes during your turn since Ilharg's delayed trigger pops them back to your hand, making Dragon Tyrant slightly less vulnerable.
The Heart of the Cards
With the underlying skeleton now built, let’s check out some different strategic directions we could take our deck. This is where the EDHREC’s Theme Pages really shine.
Mass Land Destruction
Well. I did it. MLD. RIP your playgroup. Mass land destruction has a reputation as a poor or unsporting way to play the game. It's usually either associated with a blisteringly fast pubstomp, or the play is timed poorly and the game drags out needlessly as the table is reset to turn one. This package aims to do neither of those things: it's not designed to go really fast, and as to the timing, well, that's up to you. I've included a few extra mana rocks so the deck can stay afloat after wiping most of your opponents' lands. This should allow Ilharg to continue to advance even if he's disrupted. Also, apart from hardcasting Decree of Annihilation, I haven't included any cards that wipe the whole board, so that may make your playgroup a little less leery about the deck stalling the game out.
Oh man, what? Prison? I just can't seem to help myself but play unfun archetypes, right? Well, maybe. This particular prison deck is just designed to make the other decks at the table play fair. There's no Static Orb, Tangle Wire, or Winter Orb to be found here. This package revolves around shutting down greedy mana bases, stopping opponents from casting spells on your turn or from casting an obscene amount of spells in a turn, stymieing mana rocks and mana doubling, and making sure that extra creatures keep their nose out of Ilharg's business; one attacker or blocker per player, thank you very much. Some of our all-stars are Smoke, Mudslide, Damping Engine, and Possibility Storm. This deck is going to be annoying for opponents whose decks just want to go fast.
We're getting a Netflix Show about Planeswalkers!
Planeswalkers? Planeswalkers! Didn't we just build Planeswalkers last month for Nicol Bolas? Yes, yes we did, but in mono-red they function a bit differently than they did in Bolas's employ. In this deck, the planeswalkers act as card draw, ramp, and removal engines, with the dream being to beat everyone's face in with thirteen 4/4 flying Dragon planeswalkers, courtesy of the new Sarkhan the Masterless. That's right, the planeswalker package is even more in line with the deck's draconic premise than the other packages. The new Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Chandra, Fire Artisan are two of my favorite value pieces as they can quickly rip through the deck to find your important pieces. Make sure you check out the Planeswalker Theme Page, as it becomes increasingly more relevant to EDH and Magic as a whole.
So, what does it look like when we put a heart into the skeleton? I’ve put the Planeswalker package together by bringing the land count to 37. All that’s left to do is shuffle up and start swinging with a deck that curves out at 4.84 average CMC (Yikes!). This is my ideal form of battlecruiser Magic: combat, Dragons, burn, and planeswalkers. I hope you enjoy!
Let me know which package you picked, or if you have a totally different take on the deck, by tweeting @GrubFellow, and be sure to tell me how your games go!
Dragons Say Oink