The first thing I do every morning when I get to work is pull up MTGStocks. As of recently there hasn’t been much movement in the market, with a few anomalies here and there. Kabira Evangel went up when the Allies deck did well at an SCG open, Ugin went up because it was super underpriced at $25, and then Protean Hulk shot up more than 40%.

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I was intrigued and scoured the internet to find out why this was the case. After a solid two minutes of google searching I found these posts on r/spikes:

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Apparently this dude named Clinton Whitehurst spiked a PPTQ with this Protean Hulk combo deck and then top four’ed an RPTQ two months later. Protean Hulk put this guy on the Pro Tour. I strongly recommend reading his article on Modern Nexus for a detailed primer on the deck, individual card choices, and a sideboarding guide. My plan today is to offer up an overview of the deck and get into the real question on everyone’s mind. Is this even good? Is Bubble Hulk a real deck?

First things first, here is Clinton’s deck:

Clinton Whitehurt's Bubble Hulk—San Antonio RPTQ 10/31/15—Top 4

Creatures (16)
Protean Hulk
Body Double
Viscera Seer
Mogg Fanatic
Simian Spirit Guide

Spells (25)
Makeshift Mannequin
Izzet Charm
Lightning Axe
Pact of Negation
Footsteps of the Goryo
Faithless Looting
Serum Visions
Taigam's Scheming
Lands (19)
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Bloodstained Mire
Steam Vents
Watery Grave
Blood Crypt
Gemstone Mine

Sideboard (15)
Leyline of Sanctity
Swan Song
Grave Titan
Murderous Cut
Steel Sabotage
Echoing Truth
Lightning Axe
Pithing Needle
Slaughter Pact

In case you don’t remember the Legacy Flash deck, which used Hulk to power out turn one instant speed wins and got Flash banned immediately after, here is the gist of the deck:

  1. Get Protean Hulk in the graveyard. This deck can discard it with Faithless Looting, Lighting Axe, and Izzet Charm or mill it via Taigam’s Scheming.
  2. Reanimate Protean Hulk. The deck plays Footsteps of the Goryo and Makeshift Mannequin as ways to put the bubbly beast into play.
  3. Kill Protean Hulk. Footsteps will do the work for you, Mannequin just needs something to target, and Viscera Seer is always glad to help.
  4. Get Body Double and Viscera Seer off the Hulk trigger. Body Double becomes Protean Hulk.
  5. Sacrifice the Hulk Doppelganger and retrieve Reveillark and Mogg Fanatic.
  6. Sacrifice Mogg Fanatic to ping and opponent.
  7. Sacrifice Reveillark to get back Body Double (as Reveillark) and Mogg Fanatic.
  8. Repeat steps 6 & 7 until the opponent is dead.

Despite the convoluted nature of the combo, it is very resilient as the hulk chain can be modified to play around several pieces of removal. For example if you’re worried your opponent can kill a Viscera Seer, you can repeat step four twice, for a second copy of Viscera Seer. You can add another Reveillark to this to have all three copies of Viscera Seer out to play around just about everything.

So for sure the deck is sweet, and once it gets going it’s pretty resilient to one-for-one removal. The question for me centers around if and when the deck is a better choice than the other reanimator deck in the format, Grishoalbrand a.k.a. the Goryo’s Vengeance deck. Let’s go ahead and discuss the pros and cons of Bubble Hulk over Tin Fins. Here is Bob Huang’s Grishoalbrand list from GP Charlotte:


Lands (19)
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Temple of Malice
Verdant Catacombs

Creatures (14)
Simian Spirit Guide
Worldspine Wurm
Borborygmos Enraged

Spells (27)
Desperate Ritual
Goryo’s Vengeance
Nourishing Shoal
Noxious Revival
Through the Breach
Faithless Looting
Night’s Whisper
Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Lightning Ae
Pact of Negation
Inquisition of Kozilek
Boseiju, Who Shelters All

Bubble Hulk

+Wins when it goes off, no chance of fizzling—Though the Grishoalbrand deck has a lot of redundancy, I’ve seen low life totals restrict a player’s ability to go off. Sometimes you have a Griselbrand, draw a bunch of cards, and don’t find a Nourishing Shoal. Once you start digging there’s a good chance you can win right away but it’s not a lock. With Bubble Hulk,  once you sacrifice a Protean Hulk, unless something goes very wrong and you have multiple combo pieces in your hand that you couldn’t discard to charm/looting, you’re winning on the spot. Through multiple pieces of removal.

+ Cheaper to Build—Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know budget discussions shouldn’t factor in to deck choice for competitive players. Decks should be chosen by viability not price tag. Yet, it’s worth noting that MTGGoldfish estimates Grishoalbrand to be around $760 whereas Hulk is more than $100 less at $635. Futhermore, the bulk of the cost for the Protean Hulk deck is in the manabase as it plays Scalding Tarn, Polluted Delta, Bloodstained Mire and a handful of shock lands. These cards are staples of the format and are played in a variety of decks. Grishoalbrand has $32 Goryo’s Vengeance‘s, $22 Through the Breaches, and $10 Nourishing Shoals.

+Rogue factor—Though Whitehurst won an RPTQ and there are a couple of articles floating around about the deck, it’s fair to say that not a lot of folks have played against Hulk. While the deck is resilient to removal in the first place, if your opponent has no idea what you’re doing they are less likely to play optimally against you. Maybe they tap out, thinking the coast is clear, only to have you exile a Simian Spirit Guide and Makeshift Mannequin in a Hulk. Game over.

Harder to kill an opponent at instant speed—If you’re opponent goes for the Splinter Twin on their Deceiver Exarch, the Grishoalbrand deck can often Vengeance in response, draw most of the deck, put Borborygmos in play via Through the Breach and then throw enough lands at them to win on the spot. Bubble Hulk however, has to play Makeshift Mannequin in response to Twin, then have a sacrifice outlet out already or additional mana to target Hulk with Izzet Charm. Most of the time when you’re winning it’s on your own end step after Footsteps triggers.

More Graveyard dependent—Lets get it out of the way now, Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void wreck these decks. Though Jund/Grixis have adopted some Leylines, for the most part the meta isn’t very hostile to graveyard shenanigans right now. However, if Grishoalbrand/Bubble Hulk got significantly more play, I would expect more sideboard slots to beat it. People really hate losing to graveyard-based combo and if there is a pretty straightforward way to beat it, Rest in Peace for example, sideboards will adjust. Having said all that, Grishoalbrand seems like it could actually beat a Relic of Progenitus, whereas this Hulk list would struggle quite a bit. Even if you adjust the Hulk deck to include Through the Breach, you still rely on the graveyard to combo.

Ultimately, I think Bubble Hulk is worth picking up and giving a spin. While the deck has had limited success so far, a win and top four in very small settings (two tournaments with less than 40 players), it’s really sweet. Being able to win through multiple pieces of removal with counter backup seems really good, especially against a bewildered opponent who just became acutely aware of their impending demise. I just picked up my $3 Protean Hulks so expect more words on this convoluted combo in weeks to come.

In terms of Magic, Shawn Massak is a Modern enthusiast, with a penchant for tier two decks, counterspells, and pre Eighth Edition frames. In terms of life, Shawn lives in Brighton, MA where he works as an employment coordinator for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and spends his free time reading comics, complaining about pro-wrestling, and wishing his apartment allowed dogs as pets.

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