Tovolar: Are We There Yet?

Commander Clinic is meant to be a light read or little five minute diversion about the commander format to get you thinking about improving your game. Deck Techs are more in depth and can take additional time to digest the entire article. Feel free to read the strategy in one sitting. It covers concepts in building the deck and how it will be built. IN another sitting read from The Key Three on. This is the nuts and bolts of the deck that covers specific interactions and pet cards that makes a deck unique.  Do not forget to check out the full deck list on Archidect.

This is a Standard Deck Tech using a commander currently in the Standard Format. It should show up more often in “the wild” than other older commanders.

Tovolar begs the question “Are we there yet?”

With the release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, many players were excited to see the cards that would boost werewolves and turn it into a viable commander deck. I think there is some excitement much like a child in the back seat of the car going to Walt Disney World who is constantly asking “Are we there yet?” The release of Tovolar, Dire Overlord made those patiently waiting for a real werewolf commander excited and ready to brew their beloved werewolf tribe. Tovolar is viewed as the answer to werewolf tribal woes. Commander Clinic has some concerns about the state of werewolf tribal. 

Every tribe has a theme or a mechanic that boosts and synergizes with each other. For werewolves the design team put together flip cards. In and of itself playing a card and then flipping it for a more powerful version is not a bad idea, if you can build some exciting synergies into flipping the card or to have the backside of cards work together. The battlefield does not appear threatening and then the cards flip. All of a sudden your opponents are in dire straights. It’s a great concept as long as it is properly executed.

Is This So? 

Unfortunately, over the three visits to Innistrad we have different story arcs and different themes that run throughout the werewolves limiting design space. IN many ways it limits the synergy as well. Avacyn Restored saw that werewolves could not transform back into their human form and we lost design space to wolfirs. Shadows block saw werewolves transform into eldrazi. Usable spaghetti wolves don’t excite most that want to play werewolf tribal. Now in Midnight Hunt we are back to flip werewolves but with an updated daybound/nightbound mechanic. This mechanic makes older transform cards like Moonmist obsolete for these new werewolves. Such divergences for a tribe that primarily appears only in Innistrad makes the card selection rather limited. Tovolar fixes that right?

The Difficulties with Tovolar

Tovolar will transform werewolves despite any mechanic. Now to transform them the card wants wolves and werewolves on the battlefield. One would assume there are still not enough werewolves in Magic’s history to fill a deck with just werewolves, So Wizards of the Coast designed to add wolves to the werewolf tribe. The difficulty is tribal cards want you to specify a tribe. Adding wolves into werewolves waters down the effectiveness of these cards. Which do you choose when you play your Vanquishers Banner, the wolves you have already played? What if your board is wiped and then you draw werewolves?  You can’t choose the best of both worlds. You need to build werewolves and sprinkle in some wolves to taste. 

It’s very flavorful that Tovolar comes with its own Kessig Wolf Run (KWR) on the back of the card. But let us think about this. First Tovolar wants us to create combat damage and a swing first mentality so that way we can draw more cards and play cards. The KWR effect, while it can be used on multiple creatures, is mana inefficient in doing so. Used optimally, the KWR effect helps us connect an opponent with one creature. It also will pump up that creature to massive damage proportions. So while Tovolar suggests we go wide to draw cards it also suggests we should go tall to ensure the damage goes through. 

The commander is pulling the build in two directions. Add in the understanding that the tribe is bland in mechanics other than the transform mechanic and you have a rather bland and vanilla deck build. The deck does not meet the hype of the commander. The deck howls for something more to impact the board.

A Quick Recap  

A Tovolar build has many difficulties to put together. Small tribe, vanilla creatures, a commander that asks too much, losing tempo to flip your werewolves are all problems. For the deck to be much more than casual it really needs a concept that has some zip to it. It needs something to power it up. A design choice must be made to either go tall or go wide. Unfortunately the deck colors are red and green.

 If you want to smash mouth then this is the deck for you just don’t expect it to rise above a seven in deck power.

Commander Clinic

These are the colors of aggessive attack and play. It also allows burn and big creatures and the occasional deck that swarms. Landfall is a possibility but no matter how you slice it, the deck will want to attack. Additional strategies in the deck is more efficient with a different commander. For this reason, Commander Clinic believes Tovolar will be limited in power and is a deck to round out the bottom of your arsenal. The commander rates around seven in power level. Therefore, card choice should consider the cost of the individual cards in the deck. Spending a significant amount of money with limited return on the build is inefficient. It also feels bad to invest in such a deck and not get positive results.   

The Solution 

We will start with a shell of werewolves that are low mana value. Then we will go wide early and we will exploit commanders’ slower format to draw cards. The deck wants to dig for the cards it will be using to be aggressive and end the game. We will want to be drawing cards on turn three with Tovolar. As for mana ramp, we will forgo it until the midgame when there is less advantage to attacking. We will also use this time to build some defenses and synergies with tribal cards. Finally, late in the game we create an alpha strike situation to smash in to take out our opponents by denying them the ability to block. Again the deck could use Cratehoof Behemoth; however, there are better decks than werewolves that do that. If you want to use the Behemoth then consider building an elfball deck.

The difficulty then becomes that the deck has a lot of moving parts. The deck is hard pressed to provide enough cards in each category in order to accomplish what it wants to do. Every deck wants to draw cards, ramp and remove things. This deck also wants to play a lot of werewolves, power them up, and prevent blocking, and create an alpha strike that may last more than one turn. We can’t do all of that consistently. Some packages are going to be quite small and we will have to fall back to drawing cards and the occasional tutor to make it happen. 

Going Tribal 

The deck will contain 23 werewolves and 4 wolves. These numbers are low for a tribe, but it will have to do. Cult of the Waxing Moon while not technically tribal counts as tribal as every time we transform will make a wolf token. These tokens will help us with an alpha strake late game. 

Most of the tribal creatures are three mana or less. We really want to get creatures out early and fast to draw cards. One of the most important parts of playing this deck will be taking proper mulligans for a fast start. You will want three lands and a wolf or werewolf at two mana value or less in your opening hand. Additional card draw is beneficial. Mana ramp is unnecessary in your opening hand.  

Herald’s Horn, Vanquisher’s Banner and Door of Destinies are useful tribal cards for werewolves. They allow us first to draw extra cards and then buff our creatures. The Celestus will also help us keep our werewolves flipped and Immerwolf will also prevent our werewolves from flipping back to their human form. Gruul aggression demands that our werewolves flip and stay flipped.

Draw Our Way Into Ramp 

Card draw is the focus of the deck. We were able to jam in 20 cards that draw cards or play cards off the top of our library. We are going to need them because this is one of the ways we will mana ramp. First is by making sure we do not miss a land drop. Second we included Mina and Denn, Wildborn and Azuza, Lost but Seeking to play extra lands per turn. This will allow us to draw into lands and play them. Radha, Heart of Keld lets us play lands from the top of our deck  

We have Cryptolith Rite and Song of Freyalise for the midgame when we can not attack. We can tap our creatures for mana to play more spells. The rest of the ramp package rounds out with mana rocks. Again, since our target is to play them mid game we loaded up with rocks that cost a little more but generate more mana.   

Preparing for the Alpha Strike

The Alpha Strike is coming

Our Alpha strike consists of two parts. The first part is buffing our creatures. We have mentioned some tribal cards that do that already. We will also include Unnatural Growth. This card is a beast and the art is on theme. Since we are on a budget for the deck, Dragon Throne of Tarkir makes an appearance. We will spend the money on God-Eternal Rhonas though. It’ll give our werewolves vigilance so that our shields do not go down when they attack. Doubling our creatures power is it’s first priority. Vigilance is a bonus. 

The second part of our Alpha strike is making sure our creatures get through. For this we chose to add cards to the deck that prevent your opponent from blocking. Cosmotronic Wave is a favorite at the clinic as it also will take out little 1/1 utility creatures. Bedlam is an old enchantment that will have no one blocking on attack. You are built for this type of game your opponent is not and that breaks parity. Glaring Spotlight adds some utility but also makes your creatures unblockable. Finally, a potentially colorless Ruthless Invasion rounds out this suite of cards.  

The Key Three

Here are three cards that help the deck run smoothly. Tovolar is a given as he is our commander. HIs ability to give trample  to a creature of ours is important as we go tall and attack. He also helps us draw cards despite having many ways to do so in the deck. If you want a visual spoiler of the deck you can find it here.

God Eternal Rhonas 

Of the cards that will let us Alpha strike our opponents this is the best one. For five mana we get to double the power and toughness of all our creatures. Then if God-Eternal Rhonas is killed or exiled we can put it third from the top of our library. If played right we will only ever use him once but things do go wrong from time to time. The other nice thing about the card is that it gives vigilance. We would prefer haste but vigilance has it’s uses. If you can’t get the power high enough to take out all your opponents then this card allows you to protect yourself so that you can alpha strike and avoid the crack back. Then you can amass your resources for the win. 

Champion of Lambholt 

This card is surprisingly good in a deck with lots of low mana value creatures. The more you play the bigger Champion of Lambholt grows and the less creatures can block your entire team. He synergizes well with Unnatural Growth to create a situation where you can alpha strike your opponents. The Champion’s trigger is for all creatures. Any aggressive deck is a good home for him as his effect is continual. The Champion is reusable and is one of the best pieces of evasion in the deck.

Alhammeret’s Archive 

Alhammeret’s Archive can be useful in the right deck.

Often Alhammeret’s Archive can be a trap. Taking a turn off for a card that does nothing can cause you to fall behind and you will count on this card to make it up for you. Tovolar is a little different. There isn’t much lifegain in this deck but there is a lot of card draw. The ability to double up on your card draws can be significant. If you draw three extra cards off of the Archive you are almost breaking even. Every card after that provides a mana savings. When you play this card you should have enough of a board state that you can take a turn to play this support card and not fall much behind if at all. 

Pet Cards 

Commander decks often contain many staples in them. These cards are very strong. Despite this there are always cards on the fringes that synergize well in a deck that replace these staples. Sometimes they are just some cards that a particular player has a preference for. The following are a few pet cards that are included in the deck and why.


This card smooths out your draws. If you need a land you got it if another land just floods you you can assure that you will not “draw” one. It also combos with Sylvan LIbrary. Abundance is a replacement effect so when you draw cards with the Library you choose land or nonland for each draw and put them in your hand and the lose four life does not trigger. In an aggressive style deck like this one anything that helps you get to a state where you can be agressive and “swing away” is quite beneficial. 

Werewolves want to “swing away” like Merrill in Signs

Genesis Wave 

Board wipes happen. The deck has little protection from them all you can do is draw lots of cards and rebuild. Genesis Wave helps you rebuild. It is the type of card that will allow you to have an explosive turn with just one card in hand. Your deck curves out at five with only Chromatic Orrery and Blasphemous Act having a mana value above five. If The Wave is in your hand then there are only eight non permanent cards at most in your deck. A Genesis Wave can be for twelve but even a wave for six will explode your battlefield enough to take over a game by putting five or six permanents onto the battlefield. . 

Chromatic Orrery 

In Battlecruiser magic Chromatic Orrery is awesome. In faster combo sorts of games the Orrery falls flat due to how long it takes until you can cast it. This card just clogs up your opening hand if it ends up there. Yes there is an argument that you get five mana back immediately and it effectively costs two mana. It just loses power because you can not play it until mid game at best. 

This deck is a little different. You don’t want to play your rocks early. Whether it is a two mana signet of an orrery it should be clogging up your hand in the early turns.  Since we are going to be playing our rocks midgame, the Orrery becomes desirable for the mana it generates and a mana sink to draw a card. If you are desperate and need another card or have to draw past a land for an Experimental Frenzy effect, then The Orrery works just fine as card draw.

Lifeblood Hydra

Again this card is a pet card in the deck because it is board wipe protection. The lifegain is incidental. What really matters is that you will be drawing cards when the board is wiped. Even a Lifeblood Hydra at four power will refill your hand and allow you to drop several creatures next turn. .

Cult of the Waxing Moon

This card was mentioned above. Still we need to take a look at Cult of the Waxing Moon. It’s a pet card in this deck. At five mana it does not fit what we want to do with our wolves and werewolves. We want “fast to play creatures,” but is there room for a five mana card that furthers our hit ’em for a card strategy. 

By the time we can generate mana for it the board should have werewolves on it. If anything, we are KWR up an expandable wolf and swinging him in for damage. Realistically this is a stalling maneuver as we’re at the point of the game where we are preparing for an alpha strike. As our opponents play spells they flip our werewolves back into human form. Then on our upkeep we will transform them back using Tovolar creating more wolves. We can create three or four tokens a turn and sometimes more. This will flood our board so that we will have creatures to swing with when we are ready. If we have The Celestus out it gets even more gross as we will get additional night flip triggers. 

A Final Word about Blasphemous Act 

Blasphemous Act is great as it’s a board wipe that often can be cast for 1 mana. In fact it is the only board wipe that hits creatures in this deck. Our deck is creature centric and we have few ways to protect from board wipes. We also want to build fast to start the game which will create a situation where a board wipe for the first time in a game is quite harmful for us. Instead our goal is to sandbag some werewolves for a board rebuild. 

For this reason the best way to use Blasphemous Act in this deck is after the board has been wiped. If you are low on cards, then let your opponent deploy to the battlefield. This deck commits minimally if at all allowing your hand size to grow. Then wipe the board and you will have the advantage in the next race to build the battlefield.

Cost… Because Sometimes It’s About Money

You can sink more money into this deck, but the ceiling isn’t that high with an all attack only strategy. So the question becomes, “How much do you want to spend?” For this reason we did not optimize this deck build. The cost of the deck currently resides at approximately $313. Six cards are over $10 and Sylvan LIbrary is in the list at approximately $44. We left the Library in the list because of the power of Sylvan Library and Abundance working together. Both cards could be removed for less expensive draw spells. 

If you own cards like Burgeoning and Oracle of Mul Daya they belong in here. The deck wants to ramp by playing extra lands. Commander Clinic isn’t convinced you should invest in them for this deck only. Guardian Project and Finale of Devastation would be on a short list of cards to include as well. A 10 X mana Finale of Devastation fetching God-Eternal Rhonas is enough to end any game. If you are going to invest in any upgrades, then these are the two cards to purchase.

Finally Xenagos, God of Revels was supposed to be in the deck but I could not justify the $20 price tag if you don’t own him. Tovolar and Xenegos work well together. The wolf run on Tovolar gives an indestructible creature trample.  You can always use Tovolar first pumping Xenagos up to ten power and then doubling it to twenty. Since it is not a tap ability you can even use this on Tovolar himself to take someone out via commander damage. There are shadows of possibilities for this deck if you want to invest in them. . 

Summing it All Up

Werewolves are not there yet they need more cards and some interesting ways to interact with our werewolves. Many werewolf fans must feel like the infamous little boy after the 1919 World Series where the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the series. Legend has it Shoeless Joe Jackson was accosted by a child fan and he said to him “Say it ain’t so Joe.” In this case it is so.  Hopefully more cards that make the deck stronger will be released in Crimson Vow.

Say it aint so Joe!

What cards would you use to power up werewolves? What cards are you hoping for to come out in Crimson Vow? I want to thank Ben for his input to help round out the deck including the Burn at the Stake suggestion. If you want to find out what Burn at the Stake does, then check out the deck on Archidekt. Leave any comments below and as always feel free to email us at

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