Heroic Intervention - Hush, the Shapestealer
September 5th 2020 by Flynn Davies
"Who is Tommy Elliot? There are many ways to answer that, Doctor. Tommy Elliot is a cipher. A ruined shell, a lost child, a distorted shadow of another man... a whisper barely heard amid the shrieks and laughter echoing through the halls of Arkham. The House of Hush."
Hello, and welcome to Heroic Intervention, a biweekly article series aiming to take a pop culture character and turn them into a commander deck. Each year we are gifted with a range of legendary creatures to use as our potential commander. The deck I have for you today features a creature that wasn’t the "face" of its release. I give you Volrath, the Shapestealer.
Volrath, the Shapestealer is a legendary creature from the “Faceless menace” Commander deck which I have recently fallen in love with, because of his ability to become a copy of a creature with a counter on it. This makes him a strong enabler of any number of combos and combat tricks. In this deck, Volrath is our Hush. If you are unfamiliar with the character, Hush also known as Tommy Elliot is a supervillain appearing commonly as an adversary of the superhero, Batman. Hush is a master of disguise, using plastic surgery to alter his appearance and take on the identity of others. The villain’s genius-level intellect in combination with his mastery of deception and manipulation make him and fearsome foe, which I wish to represent with this deck.
Link to decklist:
Make It Count
This deck needs to see creatures have counters put upon them for Volrath to best function. Volrath can do this himself, but beyond his potential, other cards are simply needed for speed. Master Biomancer is a card that allows us to put counters on our creatures entering the battlefield, which gives Volrath free reign to copy them. This is important because the more creatures Volrath can copy, the stronger he can function. The same can be said of Tetzimoc, Primal Death, which reads “B, Reveal Tetzimoc, Primal Death from your hand: Put a prey counter on target creature. Activate this ability only during your turn.” As Volrath does not care what kind of counter is placed on a creature, Tetzimoc allows us to place a counter on any creature on the battlefield for a cheap cost. If we are in a position of vulnerability, Tetzimoc also allows us to destroy each creature our opponents control with a prey counter on it when Tetzimoc enters the battlefield. In addition to these creatures, Loyal Guardian is a very affordable inclusion to the build, which at the beginning of combat on our turn, allows us to put a +1/+1 counter on each creature we control. This ability is amazing as it instantly allows access for Volrath to copy any of our creatures in combat. Finally, Corpsejack Menace provides immense value in that it doubles the amount of +1/+1 counters we place on our own creatures, allowing us to strike twice as hard, twice as fast.
Parallel to our creatures that create counters I have included cards to generate value from counters being created. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons can create a 1/1 green snake creature token with deathtouch whenever we place a -1/-1 counter on a creature, generating intimidating blockers for our side of the board. In addition, Nest of Scarabs will create an additional 1/1 black insect creature token whenever we put one or more -1/-1 counters on a creature. Evidently, there is a multitude of creatures in this deck, but how are we going to ramp, and draw into them?
The House of Hush
Hush has spent most of his life honing his skills enough to be a match for the Dark Knight. One of the finest surgeons in Gotham City, hush has an incredible, genius-level intellect and is also a master planner, operating from the shadows and building power until it is time to strike. Principally, our mana ramp and card draw is pretty straight forward as are most decks in our colours. However, there are a few cards in each category that shine amongst the others. Cold-Eyed Selkie is a 1/1 Merfolk Rogue for 1G/U G/U that has islandwalk and says, “whenever Cold-Eyed Selkie deals combat damage to a player, you may draw that many cards.” In combination with Volrath, we can copy the Cold-Eyed Selkie and swing in for 7 damage to draw 7 cards. Another great source of card draw within the deck is generous Patron, which is a 1/4 Elf Advisor for 2G that has supports to and reads, “Whenever you put one or more counters on a creature you don’t control, draw a card.” Generous patron does not care what kind of counter, only that a counter of some sort placed on a creature we don’t control. This ability synergises perfectly with our commander because when both are on the battlefield, whenever we place a -1/-1 counter on an opponent’s creature with Volrath’s ability, we draw a card.
Looking towards our standout choices for ramping, Gyre Sage enters the battlefield as a 1/2 however due to it evolve ability, whenever a creature enters the battlefield under our control, if that creature has greater power or toughness than it, we place a +1/+1 counter on Gyre Sage. In turn, Gyre Sage taps to add G to our mana pool for each +1/+1 counter on it, enabling us to generate enormous amounts of mana. A final two cards that ramp us in this deck that we see extra value out of are Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter which both allow each creature we control with a +1/+1 counter on them to tap to add 1 mana to our pool.
Out of the Shadows
Hush was a brilliant strategist, tactician, manipulator and deceiver, using the abilities of other villains and his opponents in order to win. Just as Hush would, this deck operates from the shadows until we are ready to swiftly eliminate an opponent in a single turn. Gruesome as it is, Volrath is an intimidating force when paired with infect creatures, which we will be running in this deck. Beware this may be frowned upon, but after all, Hush was a super villain. It is important to note, Volrath is able to become a copy of different target creatures at different points in combat. For example, on attack we can use Volrath to copy one of our creatures with unblockable, such as invisible Stalker, then after blockers are declared but before damage, we make Volrath a copy of a creature with infect to sneak through poison damage and eliminate an opponent in a single turn. With this in mind, some very strong infect creatures to note for this build are the following. Blighted agent is 1/1 creature with infect and can’t be blocked, which when copied by Volrath, means we get to swing in for a minimum of 7 infect damage. Provided we have at least three +1/+1 counters on Volrath, copying blighted agent or any other creature with infect knocks eliminates and opponent in one hit if left unblocked. Among our other infect creatures within the deck, we have Viral Drake and Flesh-Eater Imp, each having flying as a form of evasion, making them difficult to block. Flesh-Eater Imp is able to pump itself +1/+1 until end of turn for the price of sacrificing a creature, enabling us to deal more damage should it not be blocked. Conversely, Viral Drake enables us to proliferate for 3B, meaning we may choose any number of permanents and/or players with counters on them and then give ach another counter of a kind already there. This includes poison counters! Should we not have a creature with infect on the battlefield for Volrath to copy, tainted Strike is an instant spell that serves as backup, giving target creature +1/+0 and infect until end of turn.
Man of Many Faces
Perhaps the most notable of all Hush’s skills is his ability to grant himself the appearance of someone else, using only a long series of planned surgeries on his own face. Whilst Volrath perfectly embodies this description with his ability to shapeshift, I have included an additional array of creatures which also carry the ability to enter the battlefield as a copy of other permanents on the battlefield. One such card is Altered Ego, a creature that can’t be countered and may enter the battlefield as a copy of any other creature on the battlefield, except it enters with additional and additional X +1/+1 counters equal to the mana payed for X in its converted mana cost. This card is amazing in both flavour and function, being able to match the largest threat on the board, whilst having additional power and toughness. Evil twin serves as another shapeshifter within the deck, which I have included as a reference to one of Hush’s most sinister operations, in which he alters his appearance to that of Bruce Wayne. We can also tap Evil twin and pay UB to destroy target creature with the same name as this creature, allowing us to copy an opponent’s creature and destroy it the next turn. Finally, perhaps the most powerful of all creatures in this category is Spark Double, which may enter the battlefield as a copy of a creature or planeswalker we control, except it enters with an additional loyalty or +1/+1 counter, and it isn’t legendary if that permanent is legendary. This means we can use Spark Double to copy our own commander Volrath and use both to quickly close the game.
"Ah, but we both know our play isn't over. And ultimately, I will emerge as the hero of our bitter comedy."
- Hush to Batman
There are plenty of Sultai commanders that care about putting counters on creatures, and in parallel, Dimir commanders that care about copying creatures, but none of them have the flavour or style that Volrath, the Shapestealer offers. I really enjoyed creating this deck list and want to thank you for taking the time to read my article. There are many ways to build around Volrath, but his is the path I chose. I would like to hear back from you! What did you think of my build? Was it on theme? Feel free to contact me @mtg.rapture on Instagram with your thoughts. That is all for this issue of Heroic Intervention. Join us again in two weeks for our next fusion of pop culture and commander.