Shape Anew – Flash Matters with Surrak

(Savage Punch | Original Art by Wesley Burt)

A Flashy Deck

Greetings, fellow EDH addicts. Welcome to another iteration of Shape Anew, where we create a decklist around popular commanders but must use at least 40 cards not featured on their EDHREC page, allowing us to explore different and new original strategies. This month, it’s time for none other than:


Get SurREKT

I think most of us have wanted to build a Werewolf deck at some point in our lives. I know I did when the original Innistrad set was released. Unfortunately, I could never get it to work in Commander. The multiplayer dynamics give you very little control over the state of your Werewolves, as only one of your opponents has to cast two spells to keep your good dogs down.

However, what if we utilize Werewolves as a tool, rather than the core strategy? Werewolves require a very ‘draw-go’ deckbuilding approach to flip on your turn, and they are far from the only cards that benefit from this kind of strategy. ‘Draw-go’ uses opponents’ turns, rather than our own, to cast spells, utilizing instants and spells with flash. Holding up instant-speed effects allows us to transform our Werewolves on our turn, take advantage of their abilities, and then still cast spells in response to other players casting lots of spells that would un-transform our army. Blue is the color most associated with draw-go, and Werewolves are found in red and green. This combination leads us to the flashiest commander of them all: Surrak Dragonclaw

His EDHREC main page shows that Surrak is most often built as a goodstuff Temur deck, probably because his set of abilities isn’t quite specific enough to push him in any particular direction. Having Surrak in the command zone with enough lands untapped to cast him is a very political move. Nobody wants to attack into a possible 6/6 early in the game; I’ve found that the question “Are you going to block with Surrak if I attack?” can best be answered with an eerie grin.


Instant Gratification

As mentioned, Werewolves are the first reason to build a deck like this. The Werewolves that work best are those with additional transform triggers. Ulrich of the Krallenhorde might be a disappointment for some as a commander, but he does some serious work in the 99. Triggering two or three flips per round provides us with devastating board control. Huntmaster of the Fells is another of the usual suspects, gradually building up an army for us over time. Afflicted Deserter helps us getting rid of some pesky artifacts, and it can also be used to conspire with another player in triggering the artifact-destroying ability to handle a common threat.

Aside from just Werewolves, lots of cards benefit from draw-go. The best example is probably Rashmi, Eternities Crafter, which triggers for the first spell we cast each turn. Over the course of the game, this gives us an enormous advantage. Similarly, a few counters on As Foretold makes everything free for us.

Instead of just making our lives easier, we can also aim to make our opponent’s life harder. Cards like Arcane Laboratory and Conqueror’s Flail make it difficult for other players to cast multiple spells a turn. For us, that poses no problem, as we can comfortably cast a single spell each turn, but our sorcery-based or more interactive opponents could struggle to get their board set up properly.


Interaction

In true Surrak fashion, we plan to win the game with big creatures. The main requirement for each of them is their ability to be flashed in so that they won’t interfere with our draw-go strategy. These kinds of creatures often have the advantage of tacked-on interactive abilities that reward us for utilizing their flashy nature – just think of Dream Eater or Cloudthresher. This interaction is often found on smaller utility creatures like the all-time-favorite Mystic Snake.

Plenty of spells reward us with board interaction when we use a patient draw-go play pattern. We can interact en masse, with cards like Aetherspouts or Starstorm, or interact with specific permanents, such as by using Beast Within or Chaos Warp. A special shoutout goes to Electrodominance, not only because it can straight-up off another player, but it can help us cast other spells at instant speed, as well.


Protection

We don’t have a lot of creatures, so to grind out a victory, we have to protect our threats, and our protection spells are most often instant spells. The most notorious of these are the counterspells, loved by the those who cast them and hated by everyone else. Unwind and Rewind do great work in this deck, as the lands they untap can then be used to cast something else. Additional counterspells are mainly chosen based on their ability to replace themselves, with my favorite example being Exclude.

Another form of protection is a little more acceptable: making our creature or ourselves invulnerable. Heroic Intervention for our team, or Blossoming Defense for our individual friends. Another favorite of mine is Arachnogenesis and its ability to completely flip an alpha strike to our advantage.


Card Advantage

Draw-go as an archetype is built on the idea that we are able to do something useful even if we have nothing to interact with during our opponents’ turns. This is most often in the form of card draw, so perhaps that means that a better name for the archetype would be ‘draw-go-draw-again.’

With the exception of some Cycling cards, the card draw should do more than just replace itself. A relatively new addition that has truly surprised me is Chemister’s Insight, which even after being cast gives the opportunity to ‘super-cycle’ one of our cards. Pulse of the Grid is similar, provided we have an opponent with more cards in their hand. Momentous Fall is also great to get some final utility out of a departing creature. Casting it on Surrak Dragonclaw alone gives us 6 cards!


Ramp

There’s a lot of instant-speed utility to be found in ramping. Although we are running some standard ramp cards, like the Signets, there are a few cards that interact quite well with the commander or deck theme. Here are a few highlights:

  • Victory Chimes can practically provide a mana per person. Since we can cast our spells during each opponent’s turn, the untap trigger can be utilized each time!
  • Scorned Villager and Duskwatch Recruiter are additional Werewolves to add to the pile. Since we have the possibility to flip them during our own turn, we can use the mana (reduction) they provide during an opponent’s turn, even if they would flip back after that turn.
  • Shefet Monitor is not only great because it ramps us land at instant speed, but also because the Cycling does not count as casting a spell, thereby still making it possible to let us flip our Werewolves.
  • Awakening and Wilderness Reclamation can provide tremendous amounts of mana. Although Awakening is a global effect, our deck can surely make the best use out of it.
  • Braid of Fire is awesome: each turn, we gain additional mana that we have to spend during the upkeep. However, since almost everything can be cast during our upkeep, we’ll be able to make great use of it.

Lands

There are a few lands that enable us to play our spells at instant speed. Although the largest part of our deck already has that ability, it is still nice to grant it to the few creatures and enchantments that don’t. These lands are Alchemist’s Refuge, Winding Canyons, and Emergence Zone. Holding up these lands with a sufficient amount of mana can really deter an opponent from messing with you.

Another fun bunch of cards that are further utilized in a draw-go deck are Cycling lands. Although they come into play tapped, they do help prevent mana flooding at the end of the game. Mid-game, they provide a nice alternative for us when we have no useful spell to cast that round.


The Lists

I love Werewolves and feel like this deck brings what I like most about them: flipping them. Of course, the density of Werewolves isn’t that high, so if you’re a die-hard Werewolf fan, this might not be for you. But if you feel as I feel, a draw-go deck with big stompy creatures does work better than expected.

These 45 nonland cards in the deck don’t appear on Surrak’s main EDHREC page:


The deck’s biggest strength is in being ready for everything. For most of the game, the deck has the mana open to persuade anyone to attack somebody else. Let them whittle each other down, then suddenly drop a bomb or two to finish them off. The deck does not win in one grandiose turn, but will finish up the game with a few individual, resilient creatures.

I Have a Response

Commander (1)
Instant Gratification (8)
Interaction (19)
Protection (11)
Card Advantage (9)
Ramp (15)
Lands (37)

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Your Turn

I’ve got the feeling that Wizards of the Coast is diving more into the possibilities of cards interacting within an opponent’s turn, and the number of new cards this deck uses to provide instant-speed interaction really showcases that, and not just in blue, either; many colors are getting their share of that pie. For example, one could make a white Werewolves deck instead of a Temur one, using Samut, Voice of Dissent and taxation or restriction effects like Eidolon of Rhetoric, as another method of the draw-go approach.

So, for those interested, here’s an intriguing challenge:

“Construct a draw-go Werewolf-inspired deck without blue”

I really want to see what you can come up with. If you have any result you’d like to share, you can send it to me via twitter or reddit (@ellogeyen and /u/ellogeyen). I’m open to any comments and discussion!

Next month, we’ll be visiting a more lightweight deck! See you then!

Willem-Jan is a true Melvin; nothing is more beautiful than the mechanical interactions of the card on the battlefield. The scarcer the better. His favourite interaction? The one where he beats his opponents. Willem-Jan can be found on twitter @ellogeyen