Last updated on May 20, 2022
Omnath, Locus of Rage | Illustration by Brad Rigney
Every color combination in Magic does something unique, but none do creature decks quite like Gruul (). Gruul doesn’t have access to the cantrips or proactive cards of blue, the removal of black or the protection and lifegain of white. That leaves it with one clear strategy that can function without those things: playing huge creatures.
Most players chalk creature strategies up to mediocre new player ones, and they die too easily to board wipes or removal. But with the right commander you can easily rebuild after wipes, present multiple threats that don’t die to single target removal, and overrun your pitiful enemies who have nothing but their copies of Rhystic Study to defend them.
Today I’d like to introduce you to the Gruul Clans, go over why you should play Gruul right now, rank the best commanders in the combo, and provide a great Xenagos, God of Revels decklist for you to sweep your friends with next Friday. Let’s get started!
Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge | Illustration by Chris Rahn
Gruul is a simple color combination that players of all skill levels can enjoy and play effectively. Nearly every Gruul strategy can be chalked up to “play big thing, kill.” But that simple strategy doesn’t mean that Gruul decks aren’t incredibly fun to play.
The average game consists of you ramping out, playing some kind of theme-driving commander, and then playing huge creatures that no other color combo can match. The biggest creatures are in Gruul and so are the cards that make them great, like Rhythm of the Wild and Unnatural Growth.
If you like killing players in a single combat step, you’ve found the colors for you.
Starting off the list today is none other than Hans Eriksson in the #22 spot. When Hans attacks it pulls creature cards off the top of your library, puts them onto the battlefield tapped and attacking, and then fights it. Hans only has one power so you’ll almost never kill what comes out if you build the deck right. Ideally it’ll kill Hans.
Obviously you want to fill your deck with huge creatures that have devastating effects if they come in attacking early. Things like Kogla, the Titan Ape and Terastodon. But don’t forget some fight synergy. Cards like Anara, Wolvid Familiar to keep Hans alive, Neyith of the Dire Hunt to draw extra cards, and even cheap fight spells like Pit Fight to act as instant-speed removal.
In the #21 spot is the Tarkir dragon, Atarka, World Render. Atarka is a pretty straightforward dragon tribal commander that gives your attacking dragons double strike. That’s a pretty effective boost and a great thing to have, but the seven mana value cost and lack of other abilities are why Atarka isn’t higher on the list.
Dragon tribal is pretty simple to build and pilot. You want to start off with some discounts on your creature’s mana costs from cards like Dragonspeaker Shaman and Goblin Anarchomancer. These help you get your mid- and end-game bombs like Old Gnawbone and your commander out sooner.
Big dragons with double strike should win you the game on their own. But if you find that you need a little boost I’d recommend running a powerful enchantment like Fires of Yavimaya to apply more pressure.
Next up is Gallia of the Endless Dance, a 2/2 satyr that gives all of your other satyrs +1/+1 and haste. Gallia also lets you discard a random card to draw two more if you attacked with three or more creatures in a single turn. Satyr tribal isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Gruul, but hey, here we are.
Satyrs aren’t known for being the biggest creatures but they’re pretty efficient overall. Most are two to four mana, have decent stats, and have some kind of bonus ETB effect like destroying an enchantment or dealing some damage. They’re not too scary on their own. It’s when you get upwards of a dozen of them paired with Door of Destinies that they become monstrosities capable of killing the entire table.
In the #19 spot is Borborygmos Enraged. Borborygmos is a massive 7/6 cyclops that puts lands in your hand when it deals combat damage to a player then lets you discard them to fling Lightning Bolts at your opponents and their creatures.
Landfall just makes sense with this commander. You’re already going to get plenty from your commander later on to feed your landfall engines, and having the lands around is a great way to push more damage with your commander. That damage does not counter as commander damage, only combat damage does. Don’t get any bright ideas.
Next up in the #18 spot is Grumgully, the Generous. Grumgully is a simple +1/+1 counters commander who gives your non-human creatures an extra +1/+1 when they enter the battlefield. Gruul already doesn’t have a lot of humans so this hits just about everything you’d want to play anyway.
Like any +1/+1 counter deck you want as many targets and ways to get +1/+1 counters as possible. Going tall on a single creature over going wide is the biggest mistake and leaves you open to single-target removal knocking the wind out of your sail. You’ll still be open to the occasional board wipe if you go wide, but that’s still a rarer threat than Doom Blade.
In the #17 spot is Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient. Klauth is a great dragon tribal commander since it generates incredible amounts of mana to play more creatures each turn.
The most important part in any Unrivaled Ancient deck is quickly ramping into your dragons and commander. If you stall out early and just play six lands in a row, you’re doomed.
Discounts on creature costs are the best and can be found on Goblin Anarchomancer and Dragonspeaker Shaman. These go great with your typical mana dorks (Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, Birds of Paradise) to get into the meat of things by turn 4. The faster you can cast your commander, the faster you can build an unstoppable flying force with cards like Thunderbreak Regent or Terror of the Peaks.
In the #16 spot is Phylath, World Sculptor, a 5/5 elemental that creates a 0/1 Plant when it enters the battlefield and has a landfall keyword that gives one of your plant creatures four +1/+1 counters. If the landfall keyword wasn’t a big enough clue, Phylath is a lands commander all the way.
There’s actually a good number of plant creatures to take advantage of Phylath with in case your 0/1 gets blasted. Avenger of Zendikar is the first to come to mind, making a dozen plants that can all be buffed by both your commander and the Avenger. Cultivator Colossus would love to have some extra counters. And don’t forget about the little guys, like Jaddi Offshoot and Vinelasher Kudzu.
Klothys, God of Destiny is up next as the Theros god on today’s rankings. Klothys lets you exile a card from any graveyard on your pre-combat main phase in exchange for mana or to drain each opponent for two damage. This is a pretty tricky card to navigate, especially in Gruul, because it doesn’t do very typical Gruul things.
Land destruction is one of the more fun ways to go with God of Destiny. It offers great mana ramping over the course of the game while also seriously inhibiting your opponents’ game plans. Land destruction can be found on a lot of different red cards, like Impending Disaster, Ruination, and Boom // Bust. These are difficult to play around and have devastating effects that a lot of decks just can’t recover from.
Next up is Hallar, the Firefletcher, an elf archer commander that loves +1/+1 counters. Gruul is a great color combination to mess around with +1/+1 counters. Green has great support for the mechanic while red has amazing creatures, some card advantage, and removal.
Consistent counter distribution and proliferate triggers are what make +1/+1 counter decks so good. Not only does it ramp up the pressure, it also rebuilds after the inevitable board wipe or spot removal. Halana and Alena, Partners is great here since it provides multiple counters per turn and gives more if you give some of its own. Evolution Sage is also super important. You’re going to get at least four or five triggers out of this in an average game, which means you could have upwards of 20 to 30 +1/+1 counters distributed in the long run. How great is that?
In the #13 spot we’re greeted by Chishiro, the Shattered Blade. This commander has quickly grown in popularity after being released in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Commander, and for good reason. Chishiro creates a 2/2 Spirit whenever an equipment or aura enters the battlefield then gives every modified creature a +1/+1 counter on your end step.
Shattered Blade is so strong because it helps go wide in an equipment deck and prevents you from being weak to spot removal like you normally would be. If you just add in some more +1/+1 counter support and cheaper equipment you can have an army of modified creatures that grow on your end step. That becomes really scary very fast and you won’t be far off from killing your opponents in a single swing after turn 5 or 6.
Radha, Heart of Keld is in the #12 spot today as an excellent lands commander that gains +X/+X, where X is the number of lands you control with its activated ability. Radha also lets you look at the top card of your library and play it if it’s a land. This is a very aggressive lands commander which fits great in Gruul since it aligns well with your general creature-aggro strategy.
With any lands deck you want the triple threat that is Azusa, Lost but Seeking, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, and Ramunap Excavator. These take your land game to the next level, giving you multiple extra lands per turn and ways to get them. Pair that excavator with some fetch lands and it’s over for your opponents!
In the #11 spot is the legendary snow creature, Svella, Ice Shaper. Svella creates mana rocks and casts spells from the top four cards of your library for free. This is a classic big mana commander that wants to be in a deck full of green’s ramp and Gruul’s massive creatures and spells.
Ice Shaper offers some nice ramp in the mid- to late-game, but don’t neglect your early game acceleration. You still want to play the average number of rocks (Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Gruul Signet), but also as many dorks as you can. The deck will consist of mostly top-end spells like Artisan of Kozilek and Etali, Primal Storm, so you want the full array of acceleration to get you to that end-game point before anyone else.
In the #10 spot is Neyith of the Dire Hunt, which is interestingly a commander all about using your creatures to fight others. I don’t mean through regular combat, but through the fight mechanic on cards like Ulvenwald Tracker. Neyith’s second ability is essentially the fight mechanic, but it forces it through the combat step as opposed to whenever a spell is cast. Neyith also lets you draw a card whenever your creatures are blocked, which gives excellent card advantage for a Gruul creature deck.
Your creatures are often the biggest ones in the game so your fight spells are basically removal spells that draw a card. But sometimes your opponents are playing green or have some other big creature and you need some ways to buff your creatures ahead of time. Not only is this good for the fight mechanic, it’s just good practice when playing creature decks.
We’re into the single digits now, and Nikya of the Old Ways is here to greet you as a great Primal Surge commander. The basis of this strategy is to exclusively fill your deck with permanents and Primal Surge. At worst Nikya’s mana ability lets you ramp into bigger threats quickly. At best, you eventually cast Primal Surge and flip your entire deck onto the battlefield!
Resolving Primal Surge is usually just the end of the game. You have creatures in your deck like Craterhoof Behemoth and Urabrask the Hidden that make an unstoppable army that deal hundreds of damage to each player when paired together. If you somehow manage to not win resolving your Surge then you were made to lose.
#8. Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients
In the #8 spot today is Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients. Vrondiss is the best dragon tribal commander to appear on the rankings today. It creates a 5/4 dragon whenever it takes damage, which can easily be triggered through cards like Chaos Dragon, Component Pouch, and Shivan Hellkite.
After you’ve got your dragon-making engine up and running it’s only a matter of playing your bigger bomb creatures like Atarka, World Render and Terror of Mount Velus. Just don’t overlook some of the more powerful tribal artifacts that may be of use, like Herald’s Horn and Urza’s Incubator.
Up next is Wulfgar of Icewind Dale, a 4/4 human barbarian with melee and the ability to double the number of triggered abilities that happen as a result of a creature attacking. With the melee keyword, three opponents, and the ability to double triggered abilities, Wulfgar is basically a 10/10 for five mana.
This combination of abilities and the overall Gruul theme makes Wulfgar of Icewind Dale an excellent extra combat commander. One extra combat and you can successfully kill an opponent with commander damage in a single turn. Make that more than one extra combat through Wulfgar’s ability or cards that give you them and you’re looking at multiple fatalities.
In the #6 spot is Wort, the Raidmother, a little goblin shaman that lets you tap untapped creatures to copy your instants and sorceries. This is a little out of place in Gruul, but I’m not complaining.
Red is the main supplier of the instants and sorceries here as along with the cards that synergize with them. As for the spells you’re going to copy, draw spells like Unexpected Windfall and Thrill of Possibility make for great targets. So do high mana value green spells that get exponentially better, like Second Harvest.
And don’t forget to include some synergistic creatures, like Young Pyromancer, that supply more tokens to use for your conspire triggers if your original goblins drop dead.
Starting off the top five today is Halana and Alena, Partners. I think Halana and Alena is a super underrated commander and I’m honestly shocked it doesn’t see more play. Giving something haste and two +1/+1 counters each turn is great, especially when you run some other power-increasing effects to add to the counters.
Green has plenty of support for +1/+1 counters and so does red to a lesser extent. As long as you occasionally toss some towards the Partners then you’re going to see great returns. Proliferate also goes a long way in this kind of deck. As the game goes on and you’re spreading your counters onto different creatures, a single Smell Fear can make things nasty.
In the #4 spot is good old Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. Ruric Thar is your classic creature beatdown commander that strongly dislikes noncreature spells. You’re literally just running 50+ creatures, some lands, and a few mana artifacts and calling it a day. Gruul isn’t exactly known for its sweet cantrips or board wipes so you’re not missing out on much.
Ramping into the Unbowed gives excellent returns if your opponents are short on hard removal. Six damage is no joke and either delays their game plan or save you some time killing them. Either way you’re happy.
There are some worthwhile enchantments to run that you can play before casting Ruric Thar (or that are worth losing six life over). Warstorm Surge is just amazing and you’d gladly pay six life for this if the rest of your deck are midrange creatures. Garruk’s Uprising is another great inclusion that can be played earlier in the game to dodge the toll. If you want to get really spicy with things you can try running Fiery Emancipation, which makes just about every big creature a one-shot threat.
#3. Tovolar, Dire Overlord / Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge
In the #3 spot is Tovolar, Dire Overlord. I think this commander is sort of overhyped and the representation of it online is thanks to its recent release. But Tovolar is by far the best werewolf commander, and overall one of the most powerful in Gruul.
Werewolf tribal became much more potent with the release of Midnight Hunt, which supplied us with excellent new werewolf creatures to enjoy like Tovolar’s Huntmaster and Geier Reach Bandit. Combine these with some of the O.G. classics like Huntmaster of the Fells and tribal-supporting artifacts like Herald’s Horn and Vanquisher’s Banner and you’ve got yourself a sweet tribal deck.
In the #2 spot is Xenagos, God of Revels from Born of the Gods. This Gruul god gives another creature haste and +X/+X where X is its power. Xenagos is a pretty simple beatdown commander that excels at executing your opponents one player at a time. Since its ability triggers at the beginning of combat you can go with an extra combat theme to maximize value and damage.
There are plenty of extra-combat cards in Gruul to make it a consistent occurrence in your deck. You can get it on sorceries like Seize the Day, World at War, and Relentless Assault as well as enchantments like Aggravated Assault. Once you have that out of the way it’s just a matter of filling your deck with great attacking creatures like Ilharg, the Raze-Boar and Hellkite Charger.
In first place is big daddy Omnath, Locus of Rage. This version of Omnath is yet another amazing landfall commander, making a huge 5/5 elemental every time a land enters the battlefield. If you manage to ramp out and quickly take advantage of this ability then you’re bound to run over all three opponents shortly after.
Naturally you’ll be running cards like Azusa, Lost but Seeking, Lotus Cobra, and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove to help you deploy Omnath, Locus of Rage as soon as possible. This is when the deck really comes online. Landfall triggers from other enchantments and creatures are good, but none stack up to making a 5/5 with each land.
If you’re really into Omnath and landfall, be sure to check out our Omnath, Locus of Creation deck guide here.
Xenagos, God of Revels | Illustration by Jason Chan
Archetype of Aggression
Archetype of Endurance
Atarka, World Render
Birds of Paradise
Drakuseth, Maw of Flames
Etali, Primal Storm
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Inferno of the Star Mounts
Kamahl, Heart of Krosa
Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient
Scourge of the Throne
Selvala, Heart of the Wilds
Soul of New Phyrexia
Terror of the Peaks
Urabrask the Hidden
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
I’ve chosen Xenagos, God of Revels for today’s sample decklist because I think it’s a commander that players of all skill level can enjoy and pilot effectively. This Xenagos list is a simple beatdown deck that looks to start out strong with fast mana and snowball into an unstoppable killing machine.
This is a high power level deck bordering on cEDH with powerful mana rocks like Mana Crypt and Jeweled Lotus. While these are the most powerful cards in the deck, they’re also the first to go if you’re interested in chopping at the price or power level.
A pretty simple strategy works well with this list: play big creatures and make your opponents’ life total zero or lower. This can be done by overrunning your opponents with big bodies or one-card kills with Tooth and Nail fetching Craterhoof Behemoth, Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient, and a few dorks.
Halana and Alena, Partners | Illustration by Jason Rainville
That’s everything I have for you today! Gruul is one of my favorite color combos in Magic, even if it doesn’t have my all-time favorite color (blue). I really enjoyed researching and writing these rankings up, and I hope you enjoyed reading them!
If Gruul isn’t your cup of tea, may I interest you in the commanders from the other 2-color combos?
Were there any commanders listed (or not listed) today that you wished were placed differently? Let me know in the comments or chat about it in the official Draftsim Discord.
Thanks again for reading. Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: