Commander Deck Inspiration: Hythonia the Cruel

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Tribal decks abound in all formats. The flavor of Standard often lends itself to whatever tribe has been most supported in the latest sets, but we find merfolk, goblins, eldrazi, and others lurking in Modern, Legacy, Pauper, and Pioneer. The question about which tribes to build isn’t as straightforward in Commander. You play the tribe that you feel most connected with, rather than the tribe that connects with your opponent’s life total most efficiently. I’m here to talk about a sight not often seen: The Gorgon Tribal Deck. It’s not just because gorgons are the last thing people see before becoming statuary.

Hythonia the Cruel has a decent casting cost. She’s only six mana for 4/6 deathtoucher. That’s OK, but not awesome. Luckily her gorgon monstrosity ability enables us to have one-sided board wipes for an untaxed 8 mana. This ability can make her a lightning rod for removal, yet there’s plenty more to consider than just protecting Hythonia.

Why gorgons? Well, for one thing, people do not see them coming, and if they do, they get stone statue scared. Okay, Okay, I’ll stop with the gorgon jokes and keep things stone faced from now on (that was the last one, I swear). Seriously, people don’t expect you to run gorgons, and so when you do, they won’t expect the spicey inclusions, the odd-ball synergies, or any of your other shenanigans. If you are running a popular mono-black commander like K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth or Marrow Gnawer, then they generally know what you are up to. Meanwhile, Hythonia the Cruel is one of the least popular Commanders. I don’t just mean for a mono-black deck either. According to EDHREC, Hythonia, in the last two years, ranks as everyone’s 1595th favorite Commander. That means she’s extremely low on the list of popularity. A whole 11 decks are registered with her as the commander, so using her is definitely going to be a way to buck the trends. Enough about the statistics already, let’s get to why she’s a cool choice for your latest tribal monstrosity!

A tribal gorgon’s deck isn’t a tribal deck without cards that make gorgons matter. Our commander already does this, but we can do even better than that. We are also running the “7x Undisputed Multi-verse Staring Contest Champion”—Archetype  of Finality. They broke the mold when they made her. She even helped inspire hermits like Gorgon Recluse. Meanwhile, the wall makers, Xathrid Gorgon and Basalt Golem heard this was going to be a tribal conference to remember. It is just really fun to make things into stone statues.

The hardest part of choosing Hythonia the Cruel to helm the deck is that we lose out on green. Sure, we could’ve run Sisters of Stone Death, but where’s the originality in that? The biggest loss is in the inability to run most versions of the snakey-hair planeswalker: Vraska. Thankfully, the most gorgonny? gorgonnist?—the most flavorful version of Vraska, for this deck, is actually available to us—Vraska, Scheming Gorgon. She kills creatures, pumps the team, and her ultimate grants our team the player-killing Gorgon-touch (they deal damage to a player and that player loses the game). Overall, not a bad card to include, and we also get to run Vraska’s Scorn as a Vraska tutor.

The good news is that when we go mono-black, then we get access to some seriously cool lands. You know, like swamps, and cards that like swamps. We’re talking cards like Cabal Coffers, Cabal Stronghold, Lake of the Dead, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. These lands offer ramp and in the case of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, enable shenanigans with cards like Filth. That’s just the tip of the swamps matter iceberg: Corrupt, Defile, Lashwrithe, Nightmare Lash, Liliana of the Dark Realms, Magus of the Coffers, Mutilate, Strands of Night, and Tendrils of Corruption help round out a few mono-black synergies.

Corrupt, Tendrils of Corruption, Defile, Liliana of the Dark Realms, and Mutilate are all solid removal tools. They help us focus on eliminating multiple or singular threats with high efficiency. Corrupt and Tendrils both help us gain back life, and that can be a huge bonus for any deck that might get a slower start. I highly suggest running these in your gorgon tribal deck. Meanwhile, Magus of the Coffers, Cabal Coffers, Cabal Stronghold, and even Liliana of the Dark Realms help to offer some serious ramping options.

There’s plenty of interesting equipment worth running. Mirror Shield is a sweet play on our theme, so I would suggest using it for thematic purposes. Meanwhile, Shadowspear is pretty amazing at keeping Hythonia and the gorgo’s safe. Quietus Spike can also be a neat include as you’ll likely be running several pieces of evasion, so it will hit super hard. We should also drop in the ubiquitous Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves. I would also like to suggest using Cloak and Dagger and Whispersilk Cloak. Both are spicy and effective additions. Also of note are cards like Nightmare Lash and Lashwrithe. Our gorgons get seriously scary with these pieces equipped—plus we get extra value our of our heavy swamp mana base.

Let’s talk about the dedicated Gorgons. Gorgon Recluse helps a combat only style of deathtouch, but we’ll take it for the bonus madness ability. Infernal Medusa is MTG’s OG gorgon, but she is pricey, so I guess I can forgive you if you choose to cut her from your list. Keepsake Gorgon has built-in spot removal, and Pharika’s Spawn does a great Fleshbag Marauder impersonation. Visara, the Dreadful is Hythonia the Cruel’s best competition for the commander slot, but having her tap to destroy ability not cost mana and be repeatable makes her a higher tier commander. We’re trying to use the least popular, and Visara is touch more popular than Hythonia. Another powerful gorgon we will be running is Xathrid Gorgon. Xatharid Gorgon helps make statuettes out of your opponent’s creatures, so she’s an excellent one to include in the 99. The rest of the gorgons just fill out any tribal synergies we have.

Speaking of tribal synergies, we need to build in a bunch of our own, because this is gorgons and not elves or goblins. There aren’t gorgon lords or gorgon enablers or gorgon tutors. We need to do it the hard way, and that’s OK. We’re gorgons, we’ve got an eye for this sort of thing. So, what ubiquitous cards shall we run to fill out our gorgon synergies? How about the following: Adaptive Automaton, Belbe’s Portal, Bloodline Pretender, Brass Herald, Cover of Darkness, Crippling Fear, Door of Destinies, Haunting Voyage, Herald’s Horn, Icon of Ancestry, Kindred Dominance, Metallic Mimic, Mirror of the Forebears, Obelisk of Urd, Pact of the Serpent, Raise the Draugr, Return from Extinction, Species Specialist, and Urza’s Incubator. Utilizing these universal tribal enablers helps us play a dedicated gorgons deck without all the powerhouse and unique effects that a goblin or merfolk or wizard deck might have access to. So, we can also try utilizing a few changeling creatures to fill things out a bit as well. Venomous Changeling and Moonglove Changeline are pretty close, considering the whole deathtouch angle. Graveshifter works well enough, and so does Changeling Outcast. Meanwhile, Cairn Wanderer has potential to be fairly powerful in the late game, but it is still decent enough early on to justify running it as an extra gorgon.

Overall, I really enjoyed brewing this medusa inspired Gorgon tribal deck. I’m looking forward to taking my own version for a few more fine-tuning test spins this weekend. It is a bit of a “good-stuff” shell with gorgons to fill it out, but that’s why I’ve been adding extra spice to it as well. Most of the more flavorful or Vorthosian cards are Golgari, so it makes things a bit tough. However, I love any excuse to use cards like Slaughter, Strands of Night, and Withering Boon. These spicy includes usually catch people unaware. Getting our opponents to stare us in the eyes unwittingly is a key to success for gorgons (I regret nothing).

I hope I’ve inspired you to consider gorgons for your next tribal build. They are inexpensive, odd, and interesting to play. I’m going to be highlighting several more unsung commanders as I continue to delve into under-used and yet still highly fun commander options. The goal is to inspire us all to seek out the unknown, the underused.  Until then, may your mirror shields and the cards be ever in your favor.

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