When considering what high mana cost cards to put into your deck, you have a ton of things to consider: Does it fit the strategy? Does it have an immediate impact? Does it help close out the game? Today’s focus is on a card that doesn’t have an immediate impact on its own but can get out of control quickly if left unanswered.
If you bought the Wade into Battle preconstructed deck from Commander 2015 or Commander Anthology II, then you’re going to be familiar with Hamletback Goliath. This giant wants two things from you: play large creatures, or play lots of creatures*. Something as simple as Raise the Alarm puts two +1/+1 counters onto him. Add in an anthem effect like Glorious Anthem and you will have the largest threat on board in no time. Slap down an Inferno Titan for six +1/+1 counters or just let your opponents play creatures and watch the Goliath grow. Your options are plentiful, so let’s see what we can do with each.
*Editor’s note: Porque no los dos?
Let’s Make Some Tokens
Surprise! Two of my favorite cards make a return! If you’re ever going for a token strategy, I highly recommend Panharmonicon and Impact Tremors. They synergize well together, and Panharmonicon triggers our Goliath’s ability twice every time it triggers. If you cast Raise the Alarm with these cards on the battlefield, Hamletback Goliath gets 4 counters and you deal 4 damage to your opponents. Purphoros, God of the Forge should always get mentioned alongside Impact Tremors because it’s two Impact Tremors in one, and it’s indestructible too.
Alliance of Arms essentially lets you pay X and one white to put a number of +1/+1 counters on your Hamletback equal to X times the number of players in the game. If anyone else decides they’d like to join in on the fun, you get an even better benefit. So if X is ten, and there are four players in the game, Hamletback will get forty +1/+1 counters. Also, remember that if you have a card like Glorious Anthem in play, then your creatures enter with that buff. That means Hamletback would get fifty counters instead!
I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. If you’re not in the colors to support a Propaganda or Ghostly Prison effect, Kazuul is the closest thing you’ll get. He’s fun with the Goliath because it essentially forces your opponent to pay three generic mana for each creature they attack with unless they want your Goliath to grow by three for each creature they attack with. And on top of that, you get a blocker for whatever they’re attacking with that they didn’t pay the three for. If you resolve Alliance of Arms with Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs on the battlefield, it’s very unlikely that those soldiers will be headed your way.
As mentioned, Hamletback gets bigger no matter who controls the creatures that enter the battlefield. That means if you can give creatures to your opponents, they will help you grow your giant! Cards like Genesis Chamber and Dual Nature put extra creatures onto everyone’s battlefield, meaning your Hamletback will be enormous in no time. The “hunted” creatures are another way to grow your giant in a hurry; Hunted Dragon and Hunted Troll each put twelve power worth of creatures onto the battlefield, and you never know how much power Hunted Wumpus will bring out.
I Like Big Creatures
If token strategies aren’t the way to go for you, then your other option is to drop some hefty boys and make Hamletback extremely large. Typically, the less mana you pay for large power the better. This makes Phyrexian Dreadnought one of the best plays for your deck. For just one mana you can give your Goliath twelve +1/+1 counters. Pairing this strategy with Pandemonium or Warstorm Surge allows your deck to throw haymakers and end games quickly (more on that in a bit).
Paying one mana for twelve counters is hard to beat, but Ilharg, the Raze-Boar can give that strategy a run for its money. It allows you to recur any creature you want every time it attacks. It has minor resiliency with its God ability, and it’s a 6/6 with trample which makes it a daunting foe. Being able to just throw out an Inferno Titan every combat is nuts on its own, and giving Hamletback Goliath six +1/+1 counters every time you do is just the cherry on top. Panharmonicon makes it a ton of cherries since the Titan will trigger twice as well. And if you’re running green you can continually recur Terastodon to blow up a bunch of stuff, plus every elephant adds three counters to your Hamletback. I imagine we’ll write an article about Ilharg very soon.
On the opposite end of the power spectrum, we find Norin the Wary. In a four-player game of Commander, Norin will typically exile himself and return roughly three or four times per round. This means Hamletback will grow by six or eight counters every round of turns. That’s pretty good if you ask me. The obvious pairing with Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant shouldn’t be ignored either.
Smile and Be the Villain
Anytime Pandemonium or Warstorm Surge gets played in my playgroup the game ends rather quickly. Fellow author Bob runs both cards in his Maelstrom Wanderer deck, and the last time that deck was played we had a 30-minute game (of Commander!). I don’t think they need much explanation: play creatures, sling damage, laugh maniacally, and move on to the next game.
To Fling or Not to Fling?
The ultimate goal is to get our Goliath to deal damage to players. We can throw in Archetype of Aggresion or Primal Rage to give him trample, and that absolutely will allow us to connect… Or we can be true to the spirit of red and just throw him at the face of an opponent. Whether it’s Thud, Fling, or Brion Stoutarm, you will find red has many ways to hurl creatures at your opponents. Ideally, you can two-for-one your opponents with the Goliath; if he’s large enough and connects in combat he can kill one opponent, then during your second main phase (or in response to something like a board wipe), you can chuck him at another opponent. You could also cast Overwhelming Stampede and use the few creatures you have to kill everyone at once. The choice is yours.
When your Goliath dies, you can make sure his power doesn’t go unused. Reyhan, Last of the Abzan allows you to distribute his counters onto another creature upon death. Since this is in green, you can utilize Hardened Scales or Doubling Season to either increase or straight up double the number of counters your Goliath had.
If all else fails, like your opponents having too many blockers or they have hexproof so we can’t throw our Goliath at their face, there’s always Simic Ascendancy. Unless your opponents are playing zero creatures in their decks, Hamletback will grow rather quickly. Since he’s so expensive to cast, odds are your opponents will also be casting large spells or making multiple creatures (or both). With a Simic Ascendancy out, you get to both draw attention away from your Goliath and potentially win one or two turns later.
The Goliath Hath Power
Hamletback Goliath is a fun card that can get out of hand over the course of just a single turn. The Wade into Battle preconstructed deck does a good job of playing large creatures to make the Goliath scary, but in typical pre-con fashion only makes decent use of such a large creature. Employing the above strategies most likely will get hate sent your way, but the good news is that you should be able to respond swiftly with your absurdly large Goliath, often ending games sooner than later.