Vorthos Vortex: Who Let the Dogs Out?

Justin Fanzo • January 18, 2023

Tolsimir Wolfblood by Donato Giancola

Greetings, Commander players! For today's edition of Vorthos Vortex, we are going to build a Dog-themed EDH deck in celebration of man's best friend. I wanted to tackle the challenge of building a Dog-themed deck for a while now, as building Dog tribal or Dog-themed decks in Magic have been notoriously difficult, but I think that we have finally reached a point where we have enough cards to make the deck work.

The thing that has made building Dog-themed decks difficult is that, in the early days of Magic, Dogs were generally given the "Hound" creature type, and some of them still are. On top of that, there are many Wolves in MTG, but Wolves tend to exist within their own separate category, and many Wolf cards specifically synergize with other Wolves. Because Dogs have been split between different creature types and don't have the same card volume as Cats and other popular tribes, one generally has to combine creatures of different types in Dog-themed decks. This means that when you're building a deck, you can't usually rely on the typical tribal synergy cards, such as Kindred Discovery, Kindred Summons, and Vanquisher's Banner, as they'll be far too inconsistent with having multiple tribes in our deck, and those tribes won't see each other (there is an exception to this rule that we will talk about later) when looking for tribal triggers.

The question then becomes, how do you build a Dog EDH deck, and is it even viable? The answer to the latter question is absolutely yes, and the answer to the former is that rather than focusing on tribal synergies, you mostly focus on general creature and color synergies; that way your cards will synergize with one another more consistently and your deck will still pack a decent punch.

As a quick reminder, this column offers spikier players fun choices for more casual decks (we are mostly building decks at a power level of 5 or 6 out of 10 on the power scale) when they're playing in low-to-mid-powered matches or playing with new players. Instead of focusing only on strategic choices, I want to offer newer and more casual players flavor and Vorthos considerations that will give their deck aesthetic pizazz and will resonate with them. I emphasize that because this deck will not run as consistently as a finely tuned tribal deck with consistent synergy, but that's the fun thing about Vorthos decks: they may not be quite as finely tuned as very competitive decks, but they are fun and flavorful, and that's why we play them!

The Commander

Today's commander is Tolsimir Wolfblood, and it's worth mentioning that deciding the commander for this deck was difficult, as there aren't any dedicated Dog commanders. You might be asking, why not Rin and Seri, Inseparable or [elJinnie Fay, Jetmir's Second[/el]?! At a glance, they seem like natural choices for a Dog deck, but in the case of Rin and Seri, the deck is really all about Dogs and Cats. For that deck to be most effective, you'll want to have a pretty even distribution of both to get the most out of the deck, so it's not a great choice for a dedicated Dog deck. In the case of Jinnie Fay, players can choose between Cat and Dog tokens when creating tokens, though the issue is that haste as a mechanic tends to be incredibly powerful, so more often than not players will be tempted to create the Cat tokens instead of the Dog ones. In short, both of those commanders tend to draw attention away from Dogs, and that makes for a poor Dog-themed commander.

One other commander that I considered was the Partnered pair of Anara, Wolvid Familiar and Yoshimaru, Ever Faithful, and while those two certainly succeed in the flavor department,  they simply don't synergize well with the rest of the deck. Yoshimaru in particular ends up being rather ineffective, as most Dog and Hound creatures are nonlegendary, meaning that his ability won't be activated very often, if at all. With that said, I did include both of these creatures in the deck because they work wonderfully for this Vorthos build.

The Strategy

Our strategy for this deck will be to assemble an army of powerful canines that we will pump with our lords and other spells. Tolsimir Wolfblood himself will pump all of our green and white creatures, making him an excellent choice for this deck, as he doesn't discriminate based on creature type. In fact, the only creature in our decklist that he won't pump is [elWatchdog[/el], as it is a colorless artifact. As a side note, Watchdog is still very much worth running in the deck because it is not only a flavor win, but it discourages players from attacking you because it gives creatures attacking you a -1/-0 debuff.

While our deck does have a few moderately heavy hitters, such as Greater Tanuki and Hound Tamer, we will primarily be relying on the buffs granted by our deck to be able to deal lethal damage to our opponents. Let's then talk about some of the key cards to our deck's success.

Key Cards

[elAnara, Wolvid Familiar[/el] will help protect Tolsimir from fatal damage and board wipes, which will be very important as Tolsimir is one of the most important buffers in our deck.

Elven Warhounds is a fun form of pseudo-removal: when it's blocked by a creature, that creature is placed back on top of its owner's library. In most cases, your opponents will probably just let the damage through, but once it gets buffed and is swinging for 4, 5, 6, or more damage, they will likely be forced to block.

Encampment Keeper is one of several cards that offer game-winning buffs. Encampment Keeper can be sacrificed to give all of our other creatures +2/+2 until end of turn. To make the most of this effect, we will want to wait to use the ability until we have a critical mass of creatures and other anthem effects on the board.

[elPack Leader[/el] is the quintessential Dog tribal card, as it gives all Dogs +1/+1, and while it is true that not every creature in this deck is a Dog, I am also including Maskwood Nexus, which will give all of our creatures all creature types. Even if you don't have Maskwood Nexus out, Pack Leader will still provide plenty of value for all of the Dogs that are in our deck.

[elSupply Runners[/el] can be played late in the game to put a +1/+1 counter on each of our other creatures, providing a permanent buff to all of our other creatures. This is particularly important in multiplayer matches, where we have multiple opponents to take out. The problem with one-off anthem effects is that they are great at taking out one opponent but then leave us unequipped to handle other foes. This card doesn't have that issue.

Werewolf Pack Leader allows us to draw a card whenever we attack with creatures totaling power 6 or greater. In this deck, we'll be attacking with quite a bit of power on most turns, meaning that we should be drawing cards the vast majority of the time. It's also worth noting that this card has a mana ability to turn it into a 5/3, which almost gets us to the 6-power threshold all by itself.

When it comes to instants, Akroma's Will is important in protecting our creatures from board wipes, though it can also be used as a game-ender by granting double strike to our creatures, making it a very flexible and multifunctional card. Setessan Tactics can be used as an anthem effect to end the game, but it can also be used as a pseudo-creature board wipe with its fight-granting ability.

Flexibility is a bit of an underlying theme with this deck, as we will see with the sorcery Camaraderie, which can be used as an anthem effect to buff our team to swing out for the win, or it can be used to gain life and draw cards. It's worth noting that both effects will always trigger whenever the card is played, but in most cases, we will only be using it to either draw cards or buff our creatures. The cool thing about the card is that in multiplayer matches it can replenish our hand as we are taking out one opponent, thus hopefully giving us the ammunition we need to take out the others.

[elOverrun[/el] and Overwhelming Stampede are two of the key game-finishers in our deck. They both provide a substantial buff to all of our creatures while also granting trample, which will be important in getting around our opponents' blockers.

There are also two enchantments that grant anthem effects: [elCathars' Crusade[/el] and Mirari's Wake. Each card offers its own advantages as well, with Cathars' Crusade offering +1/+1 counters instead of a temporary or one-off anthem effect, and the effect will trigger each time we play a creature. Mirari's Wake gives all of our creatures +1/+1 as long as it's in play, but it also doubles the mana that we generate from lands, which is immensely powerful. Along with card draw, Mirari's Wake provides a game-winning engine that will allow us to play hordes of creatures and pump them with our anthem spells.

Final Thoughts

I hope that all of your Dog lovers out there find this deck to be endearing and uplifting, as we can never be reminded too often of the happiness and companionship that Dogs bring to our lives. One other suggestion that I wanted to make is to consider getting custom-made Dog tokens--or proxies if you use them--with your furry friend on them to make the deck more meaningful and personal to you and your canine companion. Sites such as Etsy have plenty of talented artists who offer services to turn your pet into a Magic card, and many of them will even draw a stylized version of your pet for the card! It's something to consider if you want to build a deck that has emotional importance to you; also, such personalized decks make a great gift, so if you're looking for a Valentine's Day or birthday gift for a special someone, building a personally catered EDH deck is an excellent choice!

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Vorthos Vortex. I'll be back in a few weeks with more Vorthos content for EDH, and in the meantime, happy gathering, Commander players!


I'm an avid gamer with a passion for game design and both critical and creative writing. I've been playing Magic: the Gathering for over 15 years, and I've been playing the Commander format since its official adoption by Wizards of the Coast in 2011. My articles focus on vorthos deck building, designing decks for overlooked commanders, and designing commander cubes.