Rally the Ancestors - Ogrekill

(Heartless Hidetsugu | Art by Jung Shan)

It's Ogre When I Say It's Ogre

Welcome to Rally the Ancestors, a series all about giving a modern coat of paint to classic or underplayed commanders. For our third article, we're revisiting one of the more unique commanders in Magic's illustrious history and a long-time favorite of mine, Heartless Hidetsugu.

At the time of this writing, Heartless Hidetsugu is the 35th ranked mono-red commander on EDHREC. So, not as low as some of the others I've written about, but since Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty has shone the spotlight on him as a character again, I think it's a great time to give him a better look. Plus, there's no shortage of sweet new tools to put to use with this commander.

Why Heartless Hidetsugu?

While Hidetsugu's stats are nothing earth-shattering (his low toughness can be a liability), he has an effect unlike any other. While a five-mana creature that could cut each player's life in half isn't super impressive in 60-card Magic, it's game-changing in Commander. By simply tapping Hidetsugu, you can have a huge impact on the game. The key aspect of playing Hidetsugu is that this ability actually deals damage rather than simply causing life loss. That opens up a lot of combos and fun deckbuilding options. While you can certainly build Hidetsugu focusing on a single combo...

Tap and Win, Baby

...we can have a little more fun than that! Now, this combo is very strong and will potentially win the game on the spot, provided your opponents are at an even life total (Hidetsugu's damage rounds down, meaning odd life total opponents will go to 1). But this is Commander, and we don't have to be that linear. I find that pure combo decks aren't the most fun to play time and time again in casual Commander games. If I want to make a deck with longevity, I want some variance in how it can play out. We can still run this combo (and similar cards for some redundancy), but I prefer to run Hidetsugu as more of a punisher/group-slug deck to speed up the clock on decks that like to durdle around. Will the deck have game-ending combos? Yes, of course. Do we have other ways to win and/or end the game too? You betcha. Let's go.

Confession time: I had a Hidetsugu deck years ago. However, it never really performed all that well. Why? Well, I built it before red had "rummaging" (discard then draw) effects, which limited its ability to dig through the deck well. There are plenty of those effects now, so our deck can be quite consistent for a single color that isn't known for its card draw.

When I went searching for more cards for this deck, I was very happy to see these cards.



Yeah, this is the right time to build this deck.

Deck Goals

Let's dive in to what this deck is trying to do:

  1. Tap our commander! At five mana and as a big target, this can be easier said than done. Haste helps. We also want to make sure that activating this ability is going to be worth it.
  2. Do more hurt to our opponents than ourselves. Lifelink on Hidetsugu is the easiest (and most hilarious) way to do this, but as long as we're taking better advantage of our symmetrical damage effects we're doing our job.
  3. Close out tight games. In the event we don't have one big game-ending swing, we'll need some ways to push those last points of damage through while staying alive (you won't be making a lot of friends with this one, so this is easier said than done).
  4. Speed up the clock! This is the ultimate anti-durdle deck; we can essentially turn a 40-life format into a 20-life one with a single tap.
  5. Keep our nuclear option in our back pocket. If we can't win, we can embrace our inner troll, throw down a damage-doubler and draw the game with Hidetsugu, provided that everyone has an even life total. Hopefully your group is chill enough and you won't lose any friends over it!

What I really appreciate about this deck is that win, lose, or draw, we're more than likely to have had a meaningful effect on the outcome of each game.

It bears repeating: I try to avoid cards at the top of EDHREC's top Salt Score list for the sake of fun. Easier said than done when building a deck like this, but it's possible. If you're feeling like introducing a little more sodium into your opponents' diet, Dockside Extortionist and Blood Moon fit nicely here.

Tips for Building and Playing Hidetsugu

Tip #1: Redundancy is key. While we're not just building around a single combo, we ultimately want to use Hidetsugu's ability to win the game on the spot or shortly thereafter. Sometimes it's fine to just tap him a few times and whittle away at everyone's life, but there are plenty of ways to abuse his ability. Try to include a lot of them! More on that later.

Tip #2: You're probably not going to make too many friends with this deck, so don't try. You'll likely have to police the board a bit. Don't be afraid to use damage-based sweepers, like Earthquake, to take creatures out instead of saving it to eke out those last few points of damage to win. With that in mind, don't rush Hidetsugu out. At five mana, recasting him multiple times turns painful quickly. Set up your turns smartly and shoot your shot.

Tip #3: Make sure you can close games out. The biggest problem I had with initial builds of this deck was getting an opponent down to five or less life and being unable to seal the deal before they turned the tables. I think this has been remedied with more direct damage, so if you're putting your own spin on the list below, keep that in mind!

The Deck

Key components of our deck include:

Amplifying Hidetsugu's damage
Still strong: Dictate of the Twin Gods, Gratuitous Violence
New hotness: Solphim, Mayhem Dominus, Auntie Blyte, Bad Influence

While there's nothing wrong with Dictate of the Twin Gods or Gratuitous Violence whatsoever, Sophim and Auntie Blyte are even more insane here. Solphim saves us from ourselves entirely, and Auntie Blyte can similarly take out multiple opponents quickly after a Hidetsugu swing; no lifelink required. I'll still play all four, but it's nice not having to run risky things like Furnace of Rath anymore.

Protecting ourselves from Hidetsugu
Still strong: Platinum Emperion, Shadowspear, Basilisk Collar, Glacial Chasm
New hotness:Witch's Clinic, Atraxa's Skitterfang ...wait, what?

Yes, you heard me. I said Atraxa's Skitterfang. It's not something I'd typically play in Commander, but being able to give Hidetsugu lifelink for no additional mana is definitely worth a try. Witch's Clinic is also an upgrade to the Equipment method as well, since it can be done at instant speed and lands are more difficult to interact with. Still, we'll also be running Goblin Engineer to help find (and recur if needed) our Equipment. Preventing damage is also an option, and both Glacial Chasm and Platinum Emperion do the job very well.

Group slug/symmetrical burn effects
Still strong: Manabarbs, Ankh of Mishra, Spellshock, Sulfuric Vortex, among others
New hotness: Descent into Avernus

This is where you might get some hate from the table, but you'll have to embrace it. Descent into Avernus is just plain mean. There haven't been a lot of effects like this printed lately, so it surprised me to discover this one. I guess they're trying to soften the blow with Treasure tokens? Still, if I die to my own copy of this card, it'll be with a smile on my face. That said, old-school cards dominate this category. Sulfuric Vortex is still the gold standard, and the others punish Commander players for doing what they love to do: spend lots of mana, play lots of lands, and cast lots of spells. In most cases, our deck will be doing less of that than others might.

I want to quickly shout out Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and the brand-spanking new Mechanized Warfare as well. These two make the above effects much more advantageous for us than our opponents. They're great additions to this game plan.

Additional burn/aggro to close out the game
Still strong: Lightning Bolt, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Rolling Earthquake, Obsidian Fireheart, among others
New hotness: Chandra's Incinerator, Chandra, Awakened Inferno, Quakebringer

It's nice to have some big bodies and direct damage to help finish things off. Chandra's Incinerator should be coming down super cheap with Hidetsugu out, too. Obsidian Fireheart deserves special mention here for having repeatable damage that opponents can only get rid of if they have a way to destroy their own lands. Chandra, Awakened Inferno does one better by producing emblems. She's just plain mean.

I should mention, for a few years there's one card I've been trying to find a home for: Knollspine Invocation. It's not particularly efficient, so I never quite found that home until now. This deck definitely has some situational cards. In the late game, if you're just looking to burn an opponent out, Knollspine Invocation helps turn those less-than-relevant topdecks into damage. I stopped short of playing Seismic Assault as well, but I may give it a shot in the future.

Red ramp/cost reduction
Still strong: Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Ruby Medallion, Seething Song
New hotness: Cursed Mirror, Sceptre of Eternal Glory, Defiler of Instinct

We're playing enough red enchantments to take advantage of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx (and Nyx Lotus), perhaps more than other monocolored builds. Still, it's hard to leave home without them in single-color Commander decks. I predict we'll be saying the same about Sceptre of Eternal Glory soon. Sure, it's just a conditional Gilded Lotus, but the gap between 4 and 5 mana can feel huge at times. I think it's much better in monocolored decks. The Defiler cycle is great as well, and Defiler of Instinct does everything our deck wants to do.

Other stuff

I mentioned rummage effects earlier, and Bitter Reunion is as good as it gets for our deck; giving Hidetsugu haste is very helpful. I think Bag of Holding is worth a try here as well. We're discarding enough that it could generate serious value late game in addition to being a good mana sink on its own.

Alright, deck time (sorted by mana value).

Commander (1)
Planeswalkers (3)
Creatures (17)
Instants (9)
Sorceries (9)
Artifacts (15)
Enchantments (10)
Planeswalkers (3)
Lands (36)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

You can also check the deck out on Moxfield, all tagged for your convenience.

Hidetsugu is never boring to play, and you'll almost never fail to have a meaningful effect on the game. Unless you get mana screwed, of course. C'est la vie!

How I Used EDHREC to Build This Deck

EDHREC provided some great tools for me to round out this build. As I mentioned , I had a deck like this previously so I had a good idea of where to start, but there was a lot of new stuff I was missing. Hidetsugu's EDHREC page was the obvious place to start. I uncovered a lot of the new cards here, as well rediscovering a few old ones, like Glacial Chasm. In addition, I used the theme filters to hone in on the burn and group slug themes to see how I could refine from there. I also used Scryfall's "EDHREC rank" sort almost exclusively while using their advanced search to help speed up my process. For example, doing so to search through rummage effects made comparing all the options quite easy.

That's all for this week! As always, let me know in the comments what you think of the deck and any other feedback you may have.

Dallas is a communications professional, writer and nearly life-long Magic player from Canada. Commander is his format of choice. When not playing or writing about Magic, you can find him skiing or biking in the mountains he calls home.

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