Today, Travis looks at Human Tribal in EDH, including an evaluation of the Ruthless Regiment deck from Commander 2020. 

As of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, there have been 2,453 Humans in the game of Magic. Perhaps unsurpringly, that makes Humans the most well-represented tribe in the game. They have seen play in Standard, Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, and even Vintage, with an Esper Humans brew that SaffronOlive played in Vintage Super League turning heads.

Across the competitive landscape, people are happily attacking with a massive Champion of the Parish, or making their combo opponents scoop to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. However, Commander is a place in which Humans have fallen short. They join the likes of Werewolves, in that though they’re an immensely popular tribe, they have yet to make a foothold in the format. But why is that?

Today, we’ll explore what has held Humans back in Commander, and where it can go from here.

Why aren’t there more Human tribal decks in Commander?

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben by Magali Villenueve

Lack of support: It’s a bit wild to say, but Humans haven’t gotten much love in Commander. Up until now, only Sigarda, Heron’s Grace and Morophon, the Boundless cared about the Human tribe, with the latter a stretch at that.

The Sigarda deck can play most of the hits that saw play in Standard, but loses out on three colors worth of creatures; cards like Xathrid Necromancer and Venser, Shaper Savant are off the table. The built-in security blanket of Sigarda is pretty good, though, and can help keep your Duskwatch Recuiter safe. That said, it’s a high cost to protect a few two to four-drop creatures. Even with cards like Heron’s Grace Champion, the deck lacks finishing power. The deck often pairs up with top end cards like Akroma’s Memorial or Craterhoof Behemoth, or it relies on +1/+1 counters from Cathars’ Crusade or Shalai, Voice of Plenty.

Morophon, the Boundless allows you to dip into all five colors, which is a plus. You can now run even more hatebears, like Kambal, Consul of Allocation or Lavinia, Azorious Renegade, and support your strategy with more interaction. It can play more like the Modern or Legacy variants, but faces a few challenges all of its own. For being aggro in nature, it’s likely that Morophon will be cast once, maybe twice in the course of a game. That leads it to be more of a placeholder to gain access to five colors, in a format where most Commanders come out well before that. But, in spite of having all five colors, Humans face another key shortcoming in Commander.

Lack of closing speed: In other formats, Humans decks are playable for their speed, disruption, and overall synergy. The Human cards used will hover at or below three power, and rely on a critical mass to overwhelm the opponent. A well-timed Thalia’s Lieutenant can secure the victory, but games of Commander play out in a drastically different fashion. The starting life total of forty means that a turn three Mantis Rider barely makes a dent like it does elsewhere. While this is an inherent challenge for aggro in general, the Human tribe exacerbates this issue. A combined life total of 120 is a long way to go, especially when your creatures are generally small.

So, what can be done to change that?

Humans could use more haymakers that are attached to creatures. Heron’s Grace Champion is a start, but there is more area for growth in this space. Simply giving your team +1/+1 and lifelink doesn’t cut it in Commander, especially when players are doing things like casting Torment of Hailfire or Expropriate.

Bringing more high-cost, high-impact Humans will help begin to cover this gap. That gives players a late-game mana sink, and allows them to make bigger moves at a table when the game is concluding. Angrath’s Marauders is a recent example of this, being a one-sided Furnace of Rath on a stick. But we still need more.

We don’t need to go out right away and create the human form of Bane of Progress, but some growth in the upper ends of the curve would go a long way. Cards like Angelic Skirmisher or Aurelia, the Warleader, but with tribal synergy for Humans, would be a boon.

Restoration Angel, by Johannes Voss

From a flavor standpoint, there are some unique challenges in design. Creatures with big stats are typically some kind of massive, imposing monster—Phyrexian Colossus or Progenitus. There’s no human creature equivalent to Ant-Man, so high-stat humans are usually represented as groups of people. However, this can vary pretty wildly, since you have things like Unruly Mob as a 1/1, and Fireflux Squad as a 4/3. One way that Human tribal has handled this has been through pairing with other creature types, like Angels. Ikoria has further pushed this notion, with cards like Fight as One and One of Mind. These represent Humans enlisting the help of others to fight for their cause.

Humans in general suffer from a lack of focus. Merfolk become evasive, Elves generate tons of mana, Goblins multiply exponentially, and Zombies keep crawling out of the graveyard. All the while, they’re getting lord effects that stack on top of each other. All of those tribes have a general identity to their playstyle. Granted, Humans stretch into all five colors, so they have far more flexibility to interact with different game states. What other tribe has cards as polarized as Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and Tomik, Distinguished Advokist, all under one roof? And yet, their lack of cohesion means that this dilutes their strategy in Commander. Human tribal decks can look like a sort of “greatest hits” album of what’s possible on creature design, while lacking a unifying feel.

Ruthless Regiment

Ruthless Regiment leans on victory through combat damage, with an aristocrats backup plan. This backup plan is found in cards like Silvar, Devourer of the Free and Species Specialist. When doing their review of the stock list, the Command Zone podcast wholly nixed the combat damage approach, and went heavier towards the creature sacrifice angle. That, in my opinion, is a telling sign that Human tribal is still not strong enough to compete with combat damage. They need more of a game-breaking way to gain value, especially when the other tribes have more streamlined game plans.

Perhaps simple lord effects are the only real through-line we can draw here, between five colors-worth of creatures. And yet, I’m still wanting for some better glue to put everything together. Pushing Humans towards an artistocrat strategy is interesting, even if there are plenty more established aristocrat decks out there. Many of these don’t rely on having a unifying tribe, and so they can play cards like Murderous Redcap alongside Butcher of Malakir for more combo-style wins.

Human tribal has dabbled in some “Legendary matters” themes in the past, and this is another potential area of growth. Captain Sisay and Reki, the History of Kamigawa are two examples. Some of the strongest human cards are legendary, and while we’ll never have Karakas to use with them, there is still some toolbox value to be had. Captain Sisay and Thalia’s Lancers let us grab cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Konda’s Banner, or Eiganjo Castle. General’s Enforcer is a nod to this strategy, and it’s another direction that the human tribe can grow. Human characters are frequently used to push a set’s story, so there has always been a steady stream of legendary humans to support this play style.

A challenge that Wizards R&D faces in general is that they can’t make a human card too pushed for Standard-legal sets, because then it can run rampant in Modern. Each plane we visit usually has humans in some form, so they have to be careful. Cards like Knight of Autumn and Deputy of Detention were designed when Humans was the deck to beat in Modern, so we can only speculate if they might have otherwise been Human. However, with Commander products not going through that pipeline, it allows for some more flexibility in design.

Suggestions for Ruthless Regiment

As we discussed before, this Mardu Humans deck doesn’t have the consistent punch to win through combat. We have to explore different angles, which can be tough because of how far the tribe is stretched. The lord effects aren’t frequent enough as in other tribes, even with Adaptive Automaton and Metallic Mimic, and so Humans will continue to struggle on their identity in Commander. There are more consistent Aristocrats decks to play, such as Teysa Karlov, that don’t rely on Human tribal at all.

But that doesn’t mean this deck, or Human tribal in general, is a lost cause. I myself plan to pick this one up, and will tune it as a creature combat deck to play in low-power games. Since The Command Zone handled the aristocrats approach, here are some quick edits that can be done for a creature combat angle:

Heirloom Blade, Bonder’s Ornament, Dearly Departed, Titan Hunter, Bounty Agent, Thraben Doomsayer, Shiny Impetus, Martial Impetus, Crackling Doom, Nahiri, the Harbinger

Insurrection, General Kudro, Queen Marchesa, Palace Jailer, Boros Charm, True Conviction, Kambal, Consul of Allocation, Metallic Mimic, Cauldron of Souls

However, if you really want to take a walk on the wild side, then you can play for a combo win by adding green. Saskia, the Unyielding gets you access to Hermit Druid. You can check the decklist here, but in short, the combo plays out like this:

1. On your turn, activate Hermit Druid with two other creatures out, and put your entire deck into your graveyard.
2. Flash back Dread Return by sacrificing your three creatures in play.
3. Bring Angel of Glory’s Rise out from the graveyard, getting your entire deck’s-worth of Humans onto the battlefield.
4. Sacrifice your entire team to Cartel Aristocrat, and drain your opponent’s life to zero with Zulaport Cutthroat. Judith, the Scourge Diva is the backup payoff here.

If you need to aim higher to win, you can still make it happen on your combo turn. Chainer, Nightmare Adept gives Whisper, Blood Liturgist haste, or you can grab Swiftfoot Boots out with Renegade Rallier. Either way, this allows you to loop the entire combo over again, since Whisper is Dread Return attached to a creature. And while this combo can be interrupted with Cyclonic Rift, you always have to go for it anyway, you know?

Even if you’re not comboing out, Saskia is a great Human leader who gives access to powerhouses like Samut, Voice of Dissent.

Final Take

There is a lot to look forward to with Ruthless Regiment, and Ikoria as a whole, but there are some key areas that need to be addressed. Human tribal needs to get more scalable cards that work for multiplayer, as it’s not as simple as just opting to plug-and-play the greatest hits of Modern. With this in mind, it can make for a tribal deck that will almost always see new cards each set release. That makes for great replay-ability over the years, and keeps the deck from getting stale. For another take on a splashier Human from Ikoria, check out Kristen’s article on Winota, Joiner of Forces.

For my next article, we’ll take a deeper dive on potential cards that could support the Human tribe. The next time you see someone complain on Twitter, “As if Humans needed any more support…”—well, now you know that in this case, we do.

Travis is a Virginia-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Legacy, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t making people pay the Thalia tax, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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