Gladiator Deck Tech: Naya Werewolves

With the release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, players all across the world eagerly awaited the return of Werewolves to greatness. Imagine, then, the collective disappointment when we were told that not only did Werewolves suck in Draft, but that Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope wasn’t even better than Organ Hoarder. Well, have no fear, we can still try to make things work in Gladiator!

The Deck List

Werewolves

Creatures (41)
Instants (11)
Sorceries (3)
Artifacts (2)
Enchantments (2)
Planeswalkers (4)
Lands (37)

Why Werewolves?

Do you know how cool Werewolves are??? Next question.

Why Naya?

While Werewolves are primarily concentrated in Red-Green, there is one Werewolf outside of those colors that is reasonably worth splashing for. Sorry Suspicious Stowaway, but we’re actually referring to Brutal Cathar. This Banisher Priest effect is repeatable if we can flip between Day and Night often, and joins a suite of unconditional White removal spells – Swords to Plowshares, Declaration in Stone, and Fateful Absence – to deal with the big threats a Red-Green deck would normally struggle with. However, the biggest pull into adding White is a card that has demonstrated itself good enough to be banned in multiple formats – Winota, Joiner of Forces. Since each Werewolf is a Human on the Daybound side and a non-Human on the Nightbound side, we can easily trigger Winota’s attack condition even though over 75% of our creatures are Humans. Furthermore, due to how double-faced cards interact with the Day/Night rules, when our non-Human Nightbound Werewolves attack with Winota out, they can put any revealed Werewolves into play (as they are Human on their front face). That’s not all though – they will enter the battlefield as their much scarier Nightbound counterparts!

Notable Cards

Prosperous Innkeeper

If you liked Magda, Brazen Outlaw and her ability to both ramp and fix your mana in the early game, this unassuming 1/1 performs that role just as well. In an aggressively slanted three color deck, it’s even more important not to stumble on mana, since we don’t want to give our opponents time to catch back up. Being a creature rather than a spell like Into the North is valuable because it can also attack and trigger Winota, Joiner of Forces. As a result, I’m playing quite a handful of these any-color ramp creatures – even some less popular, temporary choices like Servant of the Conduit.

Powerful Commands

Both of these commands are cheap but powerful spells that are worth the difficult mana cost requirements. As mentioned in ​​Gladiator Staples Part Two, there is a great amount of power in the modality of each of these cards, even if the alternate modes are not the primary use case. In one match, I had both of these commands’ shine in corner-case applications – I used Atarka’s Command’s +1/+1 and Reach mode in response to an Electrolyze to save my creature and deal three damage to the opponent and used Dromoka’s Command in response to an Expansion // Explosion copying Cathartic Pyre for lethal – the +1/+1 counter mode put my Bonecrusher Giant out of range of the first Pyre and the damage prevention mode stopped the copy from killing my Robber of the Rich.

Only 9 Werewolves?

Okay, first off, Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope definitely counts.

Secondly, the Werewolves I’m not playing fall under one of two groups:

  • Blue and Black Werewolves – most notably Suspicious Stowaway and Graveyard Trespasser
  • Werewolves with under-statted front sides – examples include Bird Admirer and Harvesttide Infiltrator. While these cards are great when they transform, I did not think it would be Night consistently enough to justify playing them over stronger creatures with abilities. Give us Immerwolf already Wizards! That being said, if you include all 15 Werewolves in Naya colors in this deck, you have about an 82% chance of drawing one by Turn 4 (85% on the draw). So this definitely could be a fun and viable strategy, especially if you include supporting cards like Obsessive Astronomer!

That type line doesn’t say “Werewolf”, does it?

Joking aside, I wanted to keep the deck’s overall mana curve fairly low, and I believe that for an aggressive deck, there is more room to be flexible at the top of your curve. When your primary game plan is to apply pressure, there is not that much difference between a Glorybringer and a Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves – both creatures provide a big threat that can also act as removal. Glorybringer does also get to immediately attack for four damage though, so I don’t think I’ll be cutting it from many other Red decks in the future.

How Does the Deck Perform?

After playing about 25 games and one league with this deck, I can confidently say that the deck is solid and can hold its own against a variety of Aggro, Midrange, and Control decks. Here are some more specific reflections I have with regards to matchups, play patterns, and individual cards:

You have a pretty good game against Aggro…assuming your mana cooperates.

The deck has its roots in a Red-Green Stompy list, so it often plays a less powerful turns one and two in exchange for ramping to large four and five mana plays. In this list we’re running nine mana accelerants – all of them non-Humans – to foster these quick starts. This type of deck usually performs quite well against Aggro because it can produce high-statted threats that outclass smaller, more aggressive creatures as early as turn three. However, in my testing I found that the Naya mana base often lost me more games than the traditional Red-Green Stompy route would – either by drawing too much White mana or too little. If I wanted to make some changes, I might start by rethinking the mana base – right now only about 18% of the deck’s nonland cards contain White pips in their mana costs, while 43% of its lands can produce White mana.

You might want more top-end.

One thing I realized in my testing was that there’s a bit of an awkward tension between playing a fair number of mana accelerants (two one-drops and seven two-drops) and playing a high density of impactful three-drops. Yes, curving Gilded Goose into a turn two Reckless Stormseeker is great, but it does feel like a missed opportunity when your accelerant is Paradise Druid instead, and your hand is full of three-drops. In the future, I think I would try either trim down the three-drop slot and move some of those creatures into the four and five-mana slots or replace the two-mana accelerants like Incubation Druid, Prosperous Innkeeper, and Servant of the Conduit with better standalone creatures like Kargan Intimidator or Thorn Lieutenant.

Burly Breaker is Gargaroth-esque
Turns out passing the turn is the natural counter to Red wraths

Okay, before you get your pitchforks out, I’m not suggesting that the two cards are of the same power level. However, I found that Burly Breaker overperformed in my games, filling a similar role that Elder Gargaroth does in most Green Midrange decks. Against Aggro, it stone-walled the opposing attackers, and against Control, it provided a threat that ended the game in short order if it wasn’t immediately answered. I played two matches against URx Control decks where this card shined: one had their hand of two and three damage removal spells blanked by the combination of five toughness and Ward 1, and the other went digging for answers, but their best board wipe (Hour of Devastation), was rendered futile after I simply attacked and passed the turn to flip into Dire-Strain Demolisher. Of course, these are also many of the reasons why Elder Gargaroth is so good, so I don’t think I’ll be making the swap in my non-themed decks any time soon.


Signing Off

I started playing Magic around Return to Ravnica, but the first kitchen table deck I fell in love with was Innistrad Werewolves headlined by Mayor of Avabruck and Immerwolf. So the process of building and playing this deck made me feel incredibly nostalgic – I even dusted off my Ulrich of the Krallenhorde and Huntmaster of the Fells to build the same style of deck for Commander with my buddies. Regardless of whether you have the same nostalgia for Werewolves as I do, I hope you’ll give the deck a try. I guarantee you’ll be lycan it.