Let’s talk about Leovold, Emissary of Trest first; I’m glad he’s done away with. Sure, there are plenty of commanders who are degenerate but very similar to Animar, Soul of the Elements, all of his abilities combine to make him incredibly toxic to deal with. If you target Leovold or anything the Leovold player owns that player draws a card. This makes the “Simply kill it” argument somewhat weaker. It doesn’t help that he has a 3/3 body and is a elf while having three incredibly powerful colors to include cards from. If any of improvements were not included with his ability to “not let people draw more than 1 card per turn” then I would consider him much less un-fun.
Most games I’ve played against a Leovold deck have turned into me focusing the Leovold deck and somehow beating them through their ability to draw more cards than me or fast mana starts where they play Leovold, play one of the many wheels available to blue/black/green or cards like Teferi’s Puzzle Box, and then make everyone discard their hand. On following turns these plays are often sequenced with more discard to ring home the truth that you are basically dead in the water and even if you top deck removal to kill Leovold the damage has already been done. In a format where lifetotals oftentimes don’t matter unless you are about to die, Leovold was the king of card manipulation and mass discard synergies.
Protean Hulk is a unbanning I can’t wrap my head around. I see it as another “I win” card somewhat similar to Boonweaver Giant that is included in many combo decks. Protean Hulk needs a way to die in order to trigger, but there are so many sac outlets in the game combined with cheap kill spells or wrath effects that Protean Hulk is going to be an incredibly easy card to trigger (especially in green).
I know that “I win” cards are a part of this format but there is a spectrum. Maze’s End is a card that can pull an Exodia win for you but that usually takes some time to setup and requires 10 specific cards from your deck – Maze’s End also does not find all of them instantly. Omniscience is often referred to as a “I win” card but I actually really like it as a win condition – you need a lot of mana or a stalled out game to cast and resolve it, and you also need a few cards to propel you to victory once it resolves.
The problem I have with Protean Hulk is that if there is a single inkling of someone wanting to abuse Hulk they will and it will end games the vast majority of the time Hulk makes it into play. Whenever I loose to combo sequences involving Karmic Guide, Reveillark, drawing tons of cards, or many other combos I don’t usually feel bad because at least there was usually some build up to the end of the game: people were tutoring, there might have been exchanges of resources or life totals, there’s time for conflict to occur before the end comes and I have a hint that someone might be close to winning the game because of context clues. With cards like Protean Hulk and Tooth and Nail there is a very low threshold of development that has to occur beyond mana development where the game ends right on the spot. I know I am going to loose tons of matches because I let a Protean Hulk player survive with at least 1 life to untap, cast, and sac Hulk to win the game and it won’t matter at all what I did or what type of pressure I had on them because of that singular card with all the possible combos contained within its triggered ability.
I’m not a fan of the “Just run Sadistic Sacrament” argument because I think it is too similar to the “Dies to doom blade” argument and also a very large portion of Sad Sac style of effects are in black and I want to play other colors (like red!). The “People can choose to not abuse it” argument feels really loose to me. I’ve watched people cast Tooth and Nail and not threaten a lethal boardstate on me and I almost want to say that I feel insulted when that happens. It makes me feel like I’m playing Dark Souls but right before I die to the first Boss they stop their combat animation and say “hey, you should be dead but let’s just let you live!”
I think Sheldon’s casual nature is showing with this Protean Hulk unban.
We feel as though it’s time to let Protean Hulk off the leash. A number of factors led to this decision. Support within the community has been tilting toward Protean Hulk for quite some time. Inside the Rules Committee, we have been leaning in that direction for a while as well, but didn’t have enough of a consensus. Now we do. We acknowledge that the card will be strong, but are of the opinion that it won’t be the centralizing factor it once would have been. Back when Protean Hulk was banned, both creatures and graveyard control were nowhere near as strong as they are today. We know combo possibilities exist with the card, but they need to be specifically built around, so to us it becomes a great value card instead of a dangerous combo piece in casual environments. We suspect that Protean Hulk will be much like Kokusho, the Evening Star when it was unbanned: powerful but not broken in the current Commander landscape. – Sheldon Menery
The problem I have with this is the “We know combo possibilities exist… so to us it becomes a great value card instead of a dangerous combo piece in casual environments” part. This type of suggestion makes me feel like Sheldon doesn’t care at all about people who are not playing purely casually (dare I saw the word competitively, which is its own wormhole of ideas and assumptions).
Also Protean Hulk and Kokusho, the Evening Star are incredibly different cards with Kokusho being a typical “when I die I get modest value” and Protean Hulk being “when I die I can combo kill, value chain, initiate an aggro kill, or basically do anything.” Kukusho is a modestly fair card that requires a modest amount of setup and mana to be abused. Protean Hulk – with anything good in your deck – can threaten to win the game right when it triggers.
Sheldon did write an article awhile back on Starcitygames.com where he talked about possibly unbanning Protean Hulk:
We did a broader, but still closed, test a while back… in which we asked about a dozen of our best regulars to just put it into their decks with no other modifications (and only play it within the closed group). The trial went on for a few weeks, and I personally didn’t participate in very many games in which it showed up. The feedback we received—even from people who were hoping to bring it off the list—was that it was broken in nearly every deck in which it got played.
So Sheldon asked people to just throw it in decks and it appeared to be busted… seems like its good to go right? Just fire it off and let’s see how many tears it causes.
There are answers for this card; I’m not saying its unbeatable. Most of the time you will need to stop the dying trigger of Protean Hulk in order not to get combo-ed to death on the spot. Cards like Rest in Peace, Grafdigger’s Cage, Leyline of the Void, Disallow, and Voidslime can stop the trigger. While I’m saying “run graveyard hate” it has to be specific graveyard hate. Tormod’s Crypt can stop your opponents from fetching Karmic Guide to immediately resurrect Protean Hulk depending on when you fire it off, but it won’t stop your opponent from getting initial use of Protrean Hulk’s trigger. Depending on how they build their deck they could play around graveyard hate and depending on when you fire off your graveyard hate effects they can have different combo options. If you don’t exile Protean Hulk with its trigger on the stack, they could grab a body double and start to chain value and pressure you into cracking your graveyard hate, then respond and start another combo sequence. Against players who know how intricate Protean Hulk combos can be the options are so abundant that you will need some of the best graveyard hate in the game and impeccable timing to not die immediately. Adding a skilled Protean Hulk player will make things only tougher.
Anyway, let’s see how things pan out! Be sure to come back soon to Commander Society for Amonkhet EDH Commander decks, podcasts, videos, and more!