I’ve shown you Blue based Infinite Mana combo with Nin. I’ve shown you a build of Ad Nauseum with Zur. Now I take you to the third pillar of the competitive metagame – Hermit Druid. Hermit Druid is the most feared creature in all of Commander and the decks that it stars in tend to be extremely fast and have great consistency. While there are many different flavors of Hermit Druid, this article is going to focus on a creature control version based around Worldgorger Dragon. While the final combo is more vulnerable in some aspects, it has its advantage as being a stronger and more interactive deck when the combo doesn’t work. So let’s get a look at this list and then see what makes it tick.
5 Color Hermit Druid Rock featuring Sliver Queen
Enter the Hermit
Hermit Druid scares (or upsets) people so much that some will just walk away from a game as soon as it shows up. So what makes this crazed looking tree dweller so dangerous? For a single Green mana Hermit Druid will send cards to your graveyard until you reveal a Basic Land card. If your deck doesn’t contain a Basic Land then your entire library will be put into your graveyard. For most decks this would be a horrible turn of events, but Hermit Druid decks want this to happen. This allows them to set up one of a few different combos that will result in the game ending nearly immediately.
All of the Hermit Druid combos tend to have similar focal points. For this brand, the pure graveyard combo, the most important is Dread Return. Dread Return lets you return a creature from your graveyard to the battlefield. When the graveyard is full there will be lots of targets to choose from and usually one of those will end the game. The reason why Dread Return is so crucial is that rather than paying mana, or using a card from your hand, you can sacrifice three creatures to cast it from your graveyard via Flashback. This mana free option means you can use your otherwise limited mana to do other things on the turn you combo such as cast one of the creatures you will need or use a cheap counterspell to protect the Dread Return. When you have mana instead of creatures, Flashbacked Unburial Rites can be used instead of Dread Return.
So the question of how to pay for Dread Return’s Flashback is the next logical issue. Usually Hermit Druid will be in play, ready to offer himself as tribute. Assuming you have at least one other creature then you would only need one more additional creature. The trick is to produce those extra creatures while not expending extra resources. Thankfully we have a few oddball creatures to work with from Magic history. Narcomoeba is a no brainer as it would be put onto the Battlefield for free following a successful Hermit Druid mill. Bloodghast gets onto the battlefield after a land drop and that is also easy to manage. Fatestitcher gives us another “free” creature out of the graveyard as you can untap the land that paid for its Unearth cost. Dryad Arbor is another creature that can be put in to play out of the deck with Fetch Lands and Green Sun’s Zenith is an option to grab before the Hermit Druid activation.
So at this point we have milled ourselves, got a couple of extra creatures out of our graveyard, and are ready to cast a Dread Return. So the question is what do we get? While there are a few different options, my favorite version includes the Worldgorger Dragon kill. But that’s not where we start…
Sun Titan is one of the heroes of this build. It does everything. It can reuse Strip Mine and Wasteland to fight your opponents’ mana. It can reuse Qasali Pridemage to control artifacts and enchantments. There are just so many things it can do, but it also ties your combos together. Once you set up your self-mill via Hermit Druid and cast your Dread Return, you will be targeting Sun Titan. Sun Titan will come back to play and return Animate Dead to the battlefield and set up your win.
Worldgorger Dragon + Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead or Necromancy
Worldgorger Dragon (WGD) is one very strong Magic card despite appear terrible. The card has almost no value when played fairly outside of being a risky variant of Ghostway. However, WGD is broken when used with Animate Dead and the other reanimation auras. What happens is that Animate Dead brings WGD back onto the battlefield. This triggers WGD’s ability to exile all other permanents you control. Now that Animate Dead leaves, it has a trigger that forces you to sacrifice WGD. Now that WGD has left the battlefield, it has a trigger to return all permanents you exiled with its previous trigger to the battlefield. This means Animate Dead returns, ready to grab WGD and restart this loop. So what benefit does this loop bring? Each time your lands are exiled, they are returned untapped so you can float mana. Any other creature you have in play will have a chance to trigger its ability so you can get a bunch of activations of stuff like Sun Titan or Acidic Slime.
Grove the Burnwillows + Punishing Fire
One of the well-known interactions from Legacy is Punishing Fire with Grove of the Burnwillows. Many of their friends (Intuition, Entomb, and Life from the Loam) are present, but Grove and Fire serve a larger purpose than just a steady stream of card advantage and board control. When you have the Animate Dead/Worldgorger Dragon loop in progress, you can use Grove of the Burnwillows to get Punishing Fire back into your hand. Then cast it to ding one of your opponents. Since you get to repeat your WGD loop as much as you want, you will be able to keep using Punishing Fire on your opponents until they are all dead. The best part of this combo is that you don’t even need to draw any of it. When you mill yourself with Hermit Druid, it all gets dumped to the graveyard. Then you return Sun Titan. Sun Titan sets off the Animate Dead/WGD combo. After the first loop, Sun Titan returns and gets another trigger. This can return some Red Duals or Grove of the Burnwillows. The means you will be able to cast Punishing Fire and use the Grove of the Burnwillows interaction to return it to your hand during each loop, causing an opponent to net a loss of 1 life per WGD loop. Given enough loops, that will end the game in your favor.
Enabling Hermit Druid
If that is what Hermit Druid can enable, how do we get all that nonsense to start? That’s where the excessive amount of tutors and various engines come in. Some of the tutors grab Hermit directly and others set up some of your special plays. There are also enablers like Lightning Greaves and tutors for that. Snapcaster Mage is very useful in this deck mostly as it grants additional access to your tutors and card filtering spells.
Yisan, the Wandering Bard + Sylvan Safekeeper + Hermit Druid
Yisan makes an appearance here and is one of the most frustrating plays for the opposition to handle. Thanks to the excessive amount of mana creatures, this deck can consistently cast Yisan on turn 2. Sylvan Safekeeper is the first creature Yisan will search out most of the time. Sylvan Safekeeper provides extra protection for both Yisan and your next target, Hermit Druid. This means that you will probably have access to 5 mana by the time you get to activate Hermit Druid. This matters as you can mill yourself and also have access to flashback on Unburial Rites even if your Dread Return gets answered.
Survival of the Fittest + Anger + Hermit Druid + Mountain Based Dual Land
Survival of the Fittest is one of the most powerful Enchantments in the game. It’s a good target to grab early and often as our deck is built to take advantage of it with various tricks like Anger and Genesis. Anger is the key card here as it strips away someone typically seen as Hermit Druid’s weakness. Many people assume they will have a turn to kill Hermit Druid before you can activate it, but the haste granted by Anger removes that window. While it may seem difficult to grab one of the few Mountains the deck has to offer, the many fetch lands this deck runs enables it quite easily.
The Backup Plans
Any combo deck worth its salt will have at least one fall back line of play if not multiple. This deck is designed to be the backup plan. By focusing on having a steady stream of utility creatures, we have the ability to just attack for lethal. While that may be difficult, the deck is loaded with recursive elements so that it won’t run out of gas to accomplish that brash plan.
Having a combo that requires multiple reanimation plans lends itself to just having more traditional reanimation strategies as a backup. Animate Dead, Dread Return, and Unburial Rites don’t just work on Hermit Druid or Sun Titan so we have a few extremely potent options to turn wayward games into our favor. Iona, Shield of Emeria is everything we want from a Reanimation target. It can end the game against big Blue decks, shut out Black decks, or just provide us with another big body for the beat down plan. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is the real superstar though. One of the issues with combo decks like these is that we normally have to choose between having solid mass removal as a backup plan or putting more big creatures into our arsenal. Elesh Norn satisfies both of these desires. She actually makes our cruddy mana dorks into a somewhat serious army too. As our two big power plays are Legendary, Loyal Retainers makes a great appearance here.
Sliver Queen is quite a strong option as the Commander. While it is odd that the Commander, typically the selling point of any deck in this format, is a fallback plan that is the plan we have. Fortunately, the Queen is mighty as it has decent stats, can end the game in a few swings when unopposed, and the token ability is quite relevant. This deck has a few interactions that make the tokens more impactful like Aura Shards, Necrotic Sliver, and Harmonic Sliver. This small package of Slivers (and Aura Shards) can let you dominate a board when the game starts to drag on. The tokens are also no joke when Elesh Norn shows up and gives them a boost. Skullclamp also just lets you turn the tokens into cards, like a makeshift Divination.
Skullclamp, Lightning Greaves, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Stoneforge Mystic
Skullclamp is key in this deck as the card advantage it offers can make up for the sheer amount of utility creatures that you will draw sometimes. You can get the effect, then clamp it up, and draw. Now this deck prides itself on having an excessive amount of Mana creatures, but if a quick combo kill doesn’t work out then being able to eat them with Skullclamp should keep your cards flowing so you don’t have to look at a board of Elvish Mystic, Llanowar Elves, and Noble Hierarch while your opponent is lobbing down Avenger of Zendikar, Terastodon, or whatever giant nasty they prefer.
Lightning Greaves shows its worth as haste and shroud are useful in all stages of the game. Umezawa’s Jitte is one of our flex cards. I like the Jitte in this deck as it has a cheaper cost to play and equip and can be more flexible for what this deck wants compared to one of the Swords (like Swords of Fire and Ice or Sword of Feast and Famine). Umezawa’s Jitte can deal with problematic hate creatures, opposing mana creatures, and sometimes gives you a crucial life boost when you are getting targeted by the rest of the table. Stoneforge Mystic ties this package together by grabbing what you need. It doesn’t hurt that the Mystic is super easy to search out thanks to our tutors. We also have plenty of ways to reuse the Mystic with Volrath’s Stronghold, Genesis, and Sun Titan.
Playing Against Hate
Sometimes it is challenging to deal with the hate cards that come your way. More broad graveyard hate tends to stay on the battlefield, like Leyline of the Void and Tormod’s Crypt. Those type of graveyard hate cards are easier to handle as you need only tutor up an answer of two like Harmonic Sliver. The harder to handle cards are Faerie Macabre and Ravenous Trap. The things you can’t see until you have exposed your combo. Fortunately, we do have some counters to handle most spells that would irk us, but Faerie Macabre is one of the few cards we can’t handle. If you think your opponent has one, then avoid doing the main combo and just lure it out with the Iona or Elesh Norn reanimation ploy.
Counterspells can also be a doozy to burst through. It’s very possible to do so and they type of repeated disruption this deck can offer via Aura Shards, Harmonic and Necrotic Sliver, and the tutor packages means that few players can both defend against all the threats we have while protecting their own assets. In a situation like this, when all players are trading important cards and removal spells, random damage from all the small creatures can add up and that is an advantage we seize upon.
The other major weakness is spot removal mid-combo. This is why some people advocate using alternate kills with packages like Angel of Glory’s Rise + Laboratory Maniac + Azami, Lady of Scrolls, or The Mimeoplasm + Triskelion + Lord of Extinction to try an end the game without being vulnerable to Swords to Plowshares or Cyclonic Rift. I’m not too concerned about those types of responses. Most people don’t have the will power to let you activate Hermit Druid and get your deck into your graveyard. Furthermore, the veteran players who would have the will to go with such a high risk, high reward play are aware that if you happened to pack a different type of kill than they were anticipating, then they would lose. So most of the time opponents will just go after the Hermit and the risk is thus reduced.
So one of the most important aspects of play an All-In type of combo deck is to not pull the trigger unless you think it will work. You have to set up a situation in which your opposition has little wiggle room and can’t fully realize what your plan is. That’s the real problem with Hermit Druid, as people are exposed to it they become more prepared for crazy stuff like Hermit Druid. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed with Hermit Druid, but you may start to shift cards around to favor various strategies. My current style of Hermit Druid that I’m testing has cut most of the utility spells and creatures for counter magic. I’m not sure I even like it, but I was wondering, “What If?” and went down that path. That’s what I would encourage aspiring Hermit Druid players to do.
While this may not be the definitive guide to all things Hermit Druid, I hope that you have come to understand what makes this strategy tick. It is through understanding that we can learn how to adapt and overcome the boogeymen of the format.
Thanks for reading and feel free to hit me up through email or below if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.
alextobriner at gmail.com
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