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The Field Report – How Does the Wolf Run?

It’s a core element of received Magic wisdom that we all don’t focus on sideboarded games nearly enough. We don’t test them, we don’t consider them, we throw in some solution cards to a main deck and call it a day. This is especially dire when you think about just how many sideboarded games you’ll play in a typical tournament.

That’s all true.

However, while you’ll definitely play a lot of sideboared games, you’ll always play one “game one” per round, every round – your main deck against your opponent’s main deck. Especially in the early rounds, you’ll fly in pretty much blind, keeping hands that “look good” in general, and desperately trying to figure out what archetype to put your opponent on based on that first land they just played. Much more than in your sideboarded games, you are likely to need to run a very tight ship, because you simply don’t have an optimal deck for the opponent you’re trying to face.

In fairness, their deck probably isn’t optimized, either.

This week, I’m going to focus on what game one looks like for a deck that continues to hold onto a big slice of the metagame. Yup, it’s Wolf Run time.

So what is a Wolf Run deck?

Categorization can be really misleading.

I’ve touched on this before, and it’ll surely come up again. When you throw something into a category, it lets you easily make all kinds of rapid assessments…but it also lets you mush items together that are actually fairly dissimilar.

For example, what if someone asked you how many SUVs you could pack into a C-130, you’d want to be careful about jumping to an answer. Did they mean a Subaru Forester (about 1. 5 tons) or something like a Cadillac Escalade (about 2.6 tons)? You could squeeze four Foresters into a modern C-130, end to end, but would be doing a good job to get just three Escalades in there. We won’t ask why you’re jamming SUVs into military transports (maybe you need to rescue some hostages). The point is that categories are useful, but they tend to blur out important specifics.

Intuitively, a Wolf Run deck is a base green deck that features some mana acceleration as well as the combination [card]Primeval Titan[/card], [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card], and [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]. It generally wins by accelerating into a giant threat or by being able to make any of its smaller creatures into a giant threat via a Kessig Wolf Run.

So the Wolf Run basic game plan is “go big, stay big, kill you by attacking.”

But we’d like to know more if we’re going to take down game one.

Cluster, cluster

To learn more, we’re going to turn yet again to clustering, which I last used to examine top eights and the presence or absence of CawBlade decks. With that scourge behind us, it can be turned to nobler pursuits, such as figuring out what we mean when we say “Wolf Run.”

As a quick refresher, clustering is a method by which we take a set of things — Magic decks, for example – and examine their traits. We then try to group them based on those traits.

For example, if you did end up having to cluster the cars in your nearest parking lot, you might end up looking at things like their type (SUV, sedan…), color, make, model, presence or absence of a radio, or any number of other traits. The cars with matching traits are grouped together using various mathematical tools.

For today’s analysis, I’ve collected a wide swath of recent Wolf Run decks, harvesting from large paper Magic events as well as MTGO Premier Events and 4-0 decks from Standard Dailies. I’ve then clustered them based on their card composition (for those of you who are interested, they were clustered using Cluster 3.0, with views presented here done via TreeView).

Here’s what I learned.

The big divide – to dilute or to remain pure?

So, here’s what the overall clustering data looks like in a chart called a dendrogram:

Basically what you’re seeing is what happens if we start with all the decks (on the left) and then group them together by similarity as we head over to the right. Notice how you can always go into smaller and smaller groups, just like with any sorting process. At some point, though, it’s just not useful – just like a metagame report for a Pro Tour would be pretty worthless if we insisted in describing metagame categories consisting of 1-3 decks each. We’d have hundreds of categories and no greater understanding of what happened at that PT.

One thing should jump right out at you, even without any labels on this chart. We very, very clearly have two major groups of Wolf Run decks, and that marks our first major divide in the archetype.

But what is it?

We can also view this clustering process in terms of individual decks and their constituent cards. That gives us a different kind of readout, that looks like this:

That’s the exact same clustering grouping, just showing us which cards are being used in each deck. You can see cards across the top, and decks across the right. For a given deck, if there is no color there in a card’s column (the column space is black), it has no copies of the card. Otherwise, the relative abundance of the card is noted by that green color. More green means more copies of the card.

One thing is immediately apparent – there are some cards that basically all Wolf Run decks have in common. Unsurprisingly, they are:

[card]Forest[/card] [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] [card]Primeval Titan[/card] [card]Rampant Growth[/card]

The Wolf Run decks also all, quite naturally, have copies of [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]. However, they can vary between 1 and 4 copies, whereas decks tend to max out on Forests, Titans, Growths, and Zeniths…at least compared to how often other cards are used.

But let’s return to that big divide we saw in the dendrogram. It splits out into two chunks.

The green team

Yes, it’s a color divide. Do you commit to some extent to a second color, or not? All proper Wolf Run decks splash a little bit of red, since you need to power those [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]s. Some, however, stick heavily to their green base. This is the larger of the two groups, and it looks like this:

Cards that are more prevalent in the very green versions of Wolf Run (marked in blue) include [card]Acidic Slime[/card], [card]Batterskull[/card], [card]Birds of Paradise[/card], [card]Dungrove Elder[/card], both Garruks, and Swords. Curiously, despite the color purity of the deck, we see no copies of [card]Ghost Quarter[/card], and fewer copies of [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card]. The Elders are kind of a gimme, since its not an effective cards without a lot of Forests, which we will only see on the “mono-green” side of the Wolf Run pool.

Here’s a typical “green side” Wolf Run build:

Wolf Run Green (Bernie Marko, Baltimore Open)

[deck]1 Batterskull
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Acidic Slime
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Dungrove Elder
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Primeval Titan
1 Viridian Emissary
2 Beast Within
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
20 Forest
1 Mountain
2 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Kessig Wolf Run
Sideboard:
1 Batterskull
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Act of Aggression
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Autumn’s Veil
2 Naturalize
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Rolling Temblor
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Inkmoth Nexus[/deck]

So, the general take-home so far here is:

That actually breaks down into more detail, but we’ll leave it there for now.

The color team

Here’s how the color section breaks out on a card-by-card basis:

The “color group” of Wolf Run decks really splits out into two categories, which you’ll probably see really quickly if you look at the cards. There are decks that make a major red commitment, and others that make a major white commitment.

So what do you get for that color shift?

Although there are the occasional color cards such as [card]Arc Trail[/card] and [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card], the defining cards are these:

[card]Day of Judgment[/card] [card]Slagstorm[/card]

That’s it.

Basically, when Wolf Run players have gone into other colors, its explicitly to be able to main deck a sweeper. As a consequence, if you see an early [card]Razorverge Thicket[/card] or [card]Copperline Gorge[/card] from your Wolf Run opponent, it’s time to start thinking very carefully about how you’re committing your team to the battlefield.

Here are two good examples of color-splashing Wolf Run builds:

Wolf Run G/W (Kevin Dulin, Kansas City Open)

[deck]3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Acidic Slime
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Primeval Titan
4 Viridian Emissary
3 Beast Within
1 White Sun’s Zenith
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Gideon Jura
4 Day of Judgment
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
7 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Plains
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove
Sideboard:
1 Acidic Slime
3 Mirran Crusader
1 Sun Titan
3 Celestial Purge
2 Naturalize
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

Wolf Run G/R (Joshua Adams, Baltimore Open)

[deck]3 Solemn Simulacrum
3 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Acidic Slime
1 Birds of Paradise
3 Primeval Titan
4 Viridian Emissary
3 Beast Within
1 Garruk Relentless
3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Karn Liberated
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
3 Slagstorm
8 Forest
2 Mountain
4 Copperline Gorge
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
Sideboard:
1 Batterskull
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Acidic Slime
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Beast Within
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Creeping Corrosion
1 Slagstorm[/deck]

Here’s how we’d summarize what it means to see a heavy color splash in a Wolf Run deck:

But the big take home, at least for now, is “color equals sweeper.”

The three branches of green

I mentioned above that all green Wolf Run builds are not the same. In fact, if you look at the green portion of the dendrogram, you’ll see that they pretty clearly batch together into three major groups:

Each has a fairly distinct identity, and each probably demands a somewhat different approach.

Team resilience

This is the first green group above. Here’s how it breaks out internally:

This slice of the green deck pie is defined by an attempt to build a Wolf Run deck that can fight through a certain amount of opposition. Decks in this group tend to have more copies of [card]Beast Within[/card], a somewhat higher [card]Batterskull[/card] count, and a full suite of all the basics.

To achieve this main deck tilt toward resilience and removal options, these decks sacrifice some of their offense. They tend to have fewer copies of [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and [card]Dungrove Elder[/card], and a notable lack of Swords and [card thrun, the last troll]Thruns[/card].

Resilient Wolf Run (Zach Krizan, Kansas City Open)

[deck]3 Batterskull
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Acidic Slime
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Dungrove Elder
2 Llanowar Elves
4 Primeval Titan
3 Beast Within
3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
20 Forest
1 Mountain
3 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Kessig Wolf Run
Sideboard:
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Wurmcoil Engine
3 Acidic Slime
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Blasphemous Act[/deck]

Team offense

You knew this would be coming next, right? Check it out:

We’re looking at the mirror of the resilience-oriented builds in this case. There are almost no copies of [card]Beast Within[/card] and few copies of [card]Batterskull[/card]. There are also more copies of [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and a big cluster of Swords and Thruns.

This take on Wolf Run clearly plans to overwhelm all opposition, and has nearly no recourse if the opponent gets the upper hand.

Offensive Wolf Run (Yunhao_Wu_CHN, Standard Daily)

[deck]19 Forest
3 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Mountain
1 Acidic Slime
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Dungrove Elder
2 Llanowar Elves
3 Primeval Titan
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Batterskull
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
Sideboard:
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Arc Trail
1 Batterskull
2 Blasphemous Act
1 Karn Liberated
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Wurmcoil Engine[/deck]

Team Garruk

If one option is offense, and the other is resilience, what does that leave?

Right. Garruk!

This small cluster of decks sacrifices a certain amount of “traditional” offensive power in favor of running lots and lots of copies of Garruk – both [card garruk relentless]Relentless[/card] and [card garruk, primal hunter]Primal Hunter[/card]. These decks tend to run a 2-4 or 3-4 mix of the two planeswalkers, almost always erring on the side of having more of the Hunter than the Relentless variation.

Perhaps in line with the choice to run additional copies of removal ([card]Garruk Relentless[/card]) and card advantage (both Garruks), these decks tend to have a reasonable number of [card]Beast Within[/card] copies. The Garruk variation is, in a sense, a different take on the challenge of building a resilience Wolf Run main deck.

Garruk Wolf Run (Forrest Ryan, Kansas City Open)

[deck]1 Batterskull
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Acidic Slime
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Dungrove Elder
2 Llanowar Elves
4 Primeval Titan
2 Beast Within
4 Garruk Relentless
3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
18 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
Sideboard:
1 Batterskull
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Acidic Slime
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Beast Within
2 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Karn Liberated
2 Genesis Wave[/deck]

How fast can you call it?

So, what’s our picture of game one against a “typical” Wolf Run deck after all that? How fast can we go from “probably Wolf Run” to “probably packing Day of Judgment?”

Here’s your quick cheat sheet to bring it all together, and give you the best chance to take down every variety of Wolf Run during your first game.


As always, remember that whenever we look at the metagame, we’re looking at what people did and using it to guess what they will do. Even so, these trends in Wolf Run design give you a good opportunity to get a leg up on the opposition, take down game one, and then sideboard into those cards you really wanted to use to shatter your opponent’s trampling, poisoning dreams.

***
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