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The Comprehensive Shuffle Hulk Primer

Thrasios and Tymna go on a flashy adventure

Shuffle Hulk, aka Horseman Hulk, derives its name from the main combo line that it utilizes, which has a superficial resemblance to the legacy 4 Horseman combo deck (even though our combo is absolutely 100% guaranteed to work, and is legal at all levels of play), which involves having a way to mill your library, while having Narcomoeba and an Eldrazi Titan in the library, to loop sacrificing the Narcomoeba. This also coincidentally includes a lot of shuffling, which is where we get Shuffle Hulk.

The primary reason why you would play Shuffle Hulk is because it is a very efficient and consistent Flash + Hulk deck, which makes it one of the fastest decks in the format just because of how mana and card efficient the main combo is. Aside from this, there are three main reasons you would specifically play Shuffle Hulk over any other Protean Hulk combo deck.
  1. Shuffle Hulk can win at instant speed with no prior setup.
  2. The extensive combo package allows you to win with a protean hulk in almost any zone, excluding exile.
  3. With available post-flash, the deck can combo through any single-use hate piece, such as removal like Abrupt Decay, or even grave hate, like Faerie Macabre, by using Memory's Journey.
Shuffle Hulk is very good in a lot of ways, but there are still places where I would not play the deck. There are two main reasons for this.
  1. You play in a very hulk/grave-hostile meta. If every other deck is playing a Cursed Totem and a Grafdigger's Cage, this deck probably isn't for you, as even with such a powerful combo, targeted stax can still make your life needlessly difficult.
  2. You play in a meta where games tend to go into the super late game due to large amounts of interaction. Shuffle Hulk can still win in the late game, but generally it will get harder and harder as the game goes on, as decks like Paradox Scepter Thrasios, Kess Consult, and Razakats are decks that just naturally grind better than Shuffle Hulk can, so if you can't fully take advantage of the speed of the Flash Hulk combo, it may not be optimal for you to play Shuffle Hulk.

Aside from meta considerations, I'd avoid playing Shuffle Hulk if you have qualms with dead combo pieces. The deck plays fair number of dead draws, and it is expected that you are going to draw them some games, so if looking at a card in your hand that hasn't done anything since you drew it is going to drive you crazy, this may not be what you're looking for.

The combo can be a bit complicated the first time we run through it, so bear with me here. The entire combo starts with getting Protean Hulk from the battlefield into the graveyard (we’ll cover exactly how we do this in more detail later).
  1. Once we get Protean Hulk’s death trigger, we are going to go grab the following cards: Sacrifice Outlet + Blood Artist + Cephalid Illusionist + Nomads en-Kor

  2. Activate Nomads En-Kor's ability, targeting Cephalid Illusionist. This will trigger Cephalid Illusionist, milling 3 cards from the top of your library.

  3. Repeat step 2 until you mill either your Eldrazi Titan of choice, or Narcomoeba

Then, depending on which one you milled over first, continue to one of the following:

  • If you mill Narcomoeba first, let its trigger resolve to have it enter the battlefield, then sacrifice it to your sacrifice outlet, triggering Blood Artist to ping a player of your choice for 1 damage. Once Narcomoeba is in your graveyard, and you have resolved your death trigger, keep milling your library until you get to your Eldrazi Titan of choice, and shuffle your graveyard into your library. You’re now at step 2, and can repeat.

  • If you mill your Eldrazi Titan first, hold priority with the shuffle trigger on the stack, and continue to mill your library until you mill Narcomoeba. Let Narcomoeba ’s trigger resolve, then with the shuffle trigger still on the stack, sacrifice Narcomoeba to your Sacrifice Outlet, triggering Blood Artist to ping a player of your choice for 1 damage. Once this has happened, let the shuffle trigger resolve, and shuffle your graveyard into your library. You’re now at step 2, and can repeat.


WHY IT ISN'T SLOW PLAY

Now that we’ve walked through the main combo of the deck, you might be thinking “But wait, isn’t this just like legacy 4 horsemen? And isn’t that not ok? Why is this any different?”. Well, there’s one major difference here, and that is: No matter what the order of combo pieces is in our library, we are guaranteed to get a Blood Artist trigger every time we loop, 100% of the time. Now, keep in mind that even though this combo is legal, it is not technically a loop, which means it's not technically shortcuttable. This is because every loop iteration, we must make a decision depending on whether Narcomoeba or the Eldrazi Titan is milled first. Not being shortcuttable generally doesn’t matter, because 99% of the time, players will concede once you resolve a Flash, but it is important to note that you can be required to play out the combo if somebody doesn’t want to concede.

Before getting into our big 'ol chunk of combo lines, I'm going to explain what a big strength of our combo line actually is: Memory's Journey. Once we have our main combo rolling, Memory's Journey allows us to dodge single pieces of hate by putting our Narcomoeba and Eldrazi Titan back into our library, then continuing the combo on top of the hate card. This is super useful, as gives us baked-in resiliency to both one-shot grave hate and removal in a single card, for only .

Now that we got that over with: a large part of the power of Shuffle Hulk, aside from the core hulk package, is the diversity of options which get us to a hulk trigger, as opposed to other hulk options which only really utilize Flash. In Shuffle, we have 3 to 4ish main ways of getting a hulk trigger.


Flash

The obvious one, Flash + Protean Hulk is the big boi combo that makes any hulk deck tick; it’s no surprise that we’re playing it here, a 2 card, 2 mana combo that wins at instant speed is just about everything you could ask for.


Academy Rector

Including Academy Rector, Pattern of Rebirth, and Natural Order, this is the package of cards that do the bulk of the work in guaranteeing that we can convert pretty much any set of tutors in the deck into a win. The combos here involve one of the above + a sacrifice outlet + any creature (Green creature for Natural Order ), where Pattern of Rebirth and Natural Order both get Protean Hulk, while Academy Rector gets Pattern of Rebirth, which then gets Hulk.


Reanimation

The tertiary option for cheating Protean Hulk onto the board is abusing Entomb, which lets us take advantage of Necromancy, Apprentice Necromancer, and the optional Footsteps of the Goryo, to increase our wincon density even further. This package also allows us to combo more easily if hulk gets put into grave through some other effect, say a Targeted Discard or Wheel effect.


Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest could be classified under Reanimation, but it really deserves its own section here, just because of the doors that it opens when you have access to it with a creature in hand. The primary use of Survival of the Fittest in the deck is, predictably, getting Hulk into your hand for flash, but Survival is so much more than just a creature tutor; it allows you to get Hulk into the graveyard to reanimate easily, it lets you tutor and discard the Shuffler to put pieces back in your library, and even tutor them off of the same activation that discarded the Shuffler (More on this later).

Remembering that Natural Order puts Hulk directly into play, meaning that killing it then and there will get us to a win:
  • Any one creature allows us to cycle Hulk into the graveyard, then get Apprentice Necromancer and set up a win for the next turn
  • Any two creatures allows us to get Apprentice Necromancer and hold it up, allowing us to then, at any time, cycle the other creature in hand into Hulk, and then reanimating the hulk. This line specifically allows us to win without casting another spell once Apprentice Necromancer and Surivival of the Fittest are both in play. This is a very important line to remember in blue-heavy games, as opponents might not recognize the threat that it poses until Apprentice Necromancer has already resolved, and it's too late
  • Not necessarily a combo, but remember that by discarding an Eldrazi titan, you shuffle your graveyard into your library, and then search with Survival of the Fittest which can allow you to save a mana on creature chains. (Also, tutoring and then discarding an Eldrazi titan to put combo pieces back in your deck to combo with)
Aside from just looking for a Protean Hulk trigger, we have access to a couple of backup combos in case things go awry:
  1. Firstly, we have the primary backup plan of Bloom Tender + Freed from the Real, which makes infinite of any color of permanent that you have except for blue (which we have to feed back into Freed). This might seem like a bit of a forced combo and may seem weird to just be sitting in the deck, but I assure you I have good reason: Bloom Tender is frankly an insanely overpowered mana engine in a deck where your commanders allow you to get it up to tapping for consistently. That's a free Thrasios, Triton Hero activation every turn! I was playing Bloom Tender as a standalone mana engine without Freed from the Real even in the deck, and I still would, which means that for the low low price of a single card slot, we get access to a compact combo that gives us options to win through Grafdigger's Cage and Rest in Peace without having to remove them, giving us way more flexibility than we would normally have.

  2. Our second backup combo is one that takes advantage of cards that we are already playing: Blood Artist / Altar of Dementia + Necromancy + Leonin Relic-Warder. By reanimating Leonin Relic-Warder with Necromancy, then targeting the Necromancy with Leonin Relic-Warder's enter the battlefield ability, we can loop Necromancy to destroy Leonin Relic-Warder with the leaves the battlefield ability to produce infinite death triggers and kill with Blood Artist or Altar of Dementia by sneaking in a sacrifice to it while the Necromancy leaves the battlefield trigger is still on the stack.

First of all, before properly getting into the craziness that is Protean Hulk ’s death trigger, I’m going to define a term that will be crucial to understanding how Shuffle’s hulk piles work:

Multihulking - /məltēhəlkɪŋ/ - Noun
  1. The act of retrieving Body Snatcher or Academy Rector in tandem with a sacrifice outlet from a Protean Hulk trigger to reanimate and gain access to an additional death trigger of said Protean Hulk.


Now, why is Multihulking useful? Simply put, it allows us to fit more than just 6cmc worth of creatures into our hulk combo, by utilizing the extra 2 cmc that Body Snatcher and Academy Rector (Hulk Doublers) give us access to when they are fetched by a hulk trigger. This allows us to do things like getting a Leonin Relic-Warder or Gilded Drake off of our hulk before going into our main combo line, usually to deal with a problematic permanent. Multihulking also allows us to, most of the time, combo with a combo piece in hand or in graveyard, which helps to mitigate the main problem that Protean Hulk decks have in drawing their hulk pile pieces.

Now that we've established Multihulking as a concept, let's look at some of the uses that we have for it:


Comboing with Blood Artist / Cephalid Illusionist in hand or graveyard, for no additional mana:

  • First Hulk trigger: Viscera Seer + Nomads en-Kor + Hulk Doubler
  • Second Hulk trigger: Remaining hulk piece + the other Hulk Doubler
  • If the combo piece was in your hand, discard it to Body Snatcher's trigger, then use the final Hulk Doubler to reanimate the missing hulk piece.


Comboing with Shuffler or Narcomoeba in hand for no additional mana:


Comboing through Cursed Totem with a Sac Outlet in play


Comboing through Cursed Totem with a Blood Artist or Cephalid Illusionist in play


Comboing through a Deathrite Shaman without access to Memory's Journey with a Sac Outlet in play


Comboing without access to main combo with a Sac Outlet in play


Comboing through a Cursed Totem or Linvala, Keeper of Silence without a Sac Outlet in play at sorcery speed

Starting from the beginning of the game, this will be a rough breakdown of how turns 1-3 should look with this deck:


Turn 1

Turn 1 is almost always going to be dedicated to developing a mana dork, either to power out a turn 2 Tymna, or just to have more mana to set up for a turn 3 win. The exception to this sequence is having one half of the Flash + Hulk combo, as well as a tutor, or even a piece of the combo and a good cantrip that has a reasonable chance of hitting the other piece. These are the most common first turn plays, but obviously there are going to be games where you just cast a fast mana piece into a Sylvan Library or Survival of the Fittest.


Turn 2

Turn 2 is a lot more open; on one hand, this is generally going to be the earliest turn to assemble a win on, typically consisting of casting a Flash. Usually though, you’re going to spend turn 2 casting a tutor, or setting up a value engine, including Tymna! Tymna is a great turn 2 play, because our combos are so efficient much of the time, that we just get to spend turn 2 casting our commander to get down to drawing some cards. Note that this turn is also when you’re going to be looking to get down a sacrifice outlet or something like Survival of the Fittest if you’re looking to win on turn 3 or 4.


Turn 3

Turn 3 is the average turn that you’re going to be threatening a win on. From this turn on, people are going to be pretty scared of you just having Flash Hulk whenever you have 2 mana up. This is when the game really starts to open up, you probably have a dork and some card advantage or hand sculpting going, and everybody else is terrified, so from here the world’s your oyster!

Due to the diversity of options in how we can get hulk onto the board, we have the natural advantage of being able to disguise the route that we will be taking to the win. Of course, it should be obvious to anybody playing against Shuffle that we are going to eventually be trying to win through Protean Hulk, but that doesn’t mean they have to know whether we’re going to be assembling Flash + Hulk, Necromancy + Entomb, or any of the other options available to us. Because these options tend to have different countermeasures required to beat them (try Dispel-ing an Academy Rector) aside from the typical Cage or RIP, disguising or making the path you are taking to the win ambiguous can make it difficult to judge:
  • What your combo requirements are (mana, creatures on board, instant speed or not)
  • When you are going to be threatening a win
  • How many tutors you require to need to put together a win
  • What combinations of stax and interaction you are going to be able to win through

To take advantage of this, remember to only use tutors that show your opponents the cards ( Mystical Tutor, Worldly Tutor, etc.) as late as you need to, to take away any small amount of information that could be gleaned from your tutor target. This can be the difference between having someone burn their Swords to Plowshares early because they assumed you were going to go for a Memory's Journey -protected win attempt v.s. holding it because they saw you tutor a Necromancy, and realized that they could stop your win attempt with it.

The other half of abusing hidden information that is a key to playing Shuffle Hulk effectively is to remember to use your Countermagic sparingly. Your countermagic is just that, yours. Meaning that unless absolutely necessary (countering an opposing win attempt at the very last attempt, or making sure a back-breaking Grafdigger's Cage doesn’t resolve), you should be hoarding and holding onto your countermagic as much as possible. Personally, I have seen entirely too many new Shuffle pilots get lured into being the interaction police at the table, spending countermagic and removal continuously without having the time or resources to set up a win of their own, when they could have let other players bear some of the burden of holding off win attempts. Now, let’s be clear here, I’m not endorsing refusing to cast your Flusterstorm at the Ad Nauseam on the stack while every other blue player is tapped out because you “might need this one for later, and who knows, maybe they completely whiff?”, I’m saying that you generally shouldn’t be burning your extremely valuable protection on a Sylvan Library or Rhystic Study when you are probably going to end up needing that same protection to force through a win attempt of your own a few turns down the line.

Using the previous section as convenient segue, the concept of “Sandbagging” a win attempt can be a very useful tool in the arsenal of a Shuffle Hulk pilot. “Sandbagging” a win attempt is delaying casting your game-winning card, even when you have all the required pieces available to you, to dodge interaction from the rest of the table. Usually sandbagging in most other decks can feel pretty bad, as you’re basically just accepting that you aren’t going to be comboing that turn, and you’re just going to spend your mana that turn doing something else or holding up countermagic to try to assure that you get another chance. The advantage that Shuffle has over other decks in this regard is that our primary win condition costs 2 mana and can win at any point in time that we want, meaning that instead of having to concede the ability to attempt a win for a turn cycle, we can have our win attempt ready to go at every point, while also holding up interaction should someone else try for some funny business. The mana efficiency of the Flash Hulk combo means that we can even use some of our mana developing a mana or card advantage engine (like, say, maybe the one in our command zone? ) while still having the ability to threaten a win. This doesn’t even just apply for Flash Hulk, Necromancy and Apprentice Necromancer can also be used on our opponent’s turns to punish a greedy win attempt on their own turn, or an end-of-turn tap out from another blue player.
Now that we’ve covered being nice and patient with our win attempts, hoarding our interaction like a greedy dragon, and just overall being a disciplined motherfucker; let's forget all of that for a second. We must remember that we’re still playing a Flash Hulk deck, which means that we’re liable to make the rest of the table have a real bad time as early as turn 2 (yea, yea, turn 1s are possible, they’re insane when they happen, let’s ignore that for a second). The pure power of our core combo means that we need to always be ready to take advantage of an opening, which in turn, means we need to keep our eyes open for possible win lines as soon as we can get our hands on them. The ability to read the signs of interaction is a bit out of scope for this primer, and tends to be fairly reliant on how well you know the people you’re playing with. That being said, generally, when you’re thinking about if you want to jam out your combo on turn 3, make educated guesses about the state of people’s hands off of their sequencing through the game so far, and get comfortable with taking that risk if you think it’s in your favor. You can’t hold on to a win forever just because someone might have a Force of Will. At some point you just have to accept that if they have it, they have it, and the odds of winning now are going to be the best you’re gonna get. Continuing this point, it can be correct to attempt a win, even if the chances of being successful are low if you think that it’s not going to get better for you over the rest of the game. Use your thinker, pay attention to learning these concepts, and it will eventually develop into a useful skill for piloting all decks.
In this section, I'll be covering matchup advice and mulligan suggestions based on pod composition. Keep in mind that most pods won't fit one of these categories exactly, but by using your best judgement to apply this advice in pods that you think fit the reasoning will stand up in, you'll be well on your way to building your own understanding of the needs of specific metas.
All-in combo decks such as Mono-Black Sidisi, Doomsday Grenzo, and to an extent, Godo, are a bit beyond what we're really looking to be fighting with Shuffle Hulk. We still have game in full-race pods due to the pure speed of Flash Hulk, but a lot of the card choices that are made for resiliency aren't going to pull too much weight here. The key to surviving in fast pods like these, where nobody is looking to interact, is to not feel pressured to be the interaction police. As soon as you take on the role of stopping everyone else from winning as your primary responsibility, you've lost, as Shuffle isn't built to bear the brunt of three, or even just two people trying to slip wins past. You're in the business of looking to win, and win fast here, so you shouldn't be too worried about telegraphing your plan, or holding onto your combo for value, just look at what will get you to the win first.

To that end, look for hands with a decent amount of acceleration, and a clear game plan. Value engines like Bloom Tender and Dark Confidant aren't going to be doing much in these pods, so don't be baited by their presence in a hand.

Consider the following cards for a fast meta:

  • Null Rod or Stony Silence to buy time against artifact-based fast combo
  • Extra removal for creature-based fast combo
  • Lotus Petal can help with getting faster wins if you find yourself lacking in mana
Good Hand Although light on backup plans and interaction, this hand is a perfectly reasonable 7 for a fast and interaction-light pod, it has a clear gameplan in turn 1 Vampiric Tutor, into turn 2 Demonic Tutor, into turn 3 win. This is going to get you there on turn 3, and even leaves you with a up to dodge some of that pesky spot removal that we know fast combo decks like to play sometimes.
Bad Hand In a fast pod, this hand isn't great. It has a lot of a mana and a defensive piece of interaction, but you're looking at probably a turn 3 Tymna if you even get to a black mana source, and otherwise you're going to end up being stuck with Thrasios and Bloom Tender, which isn't always a bad place to be, but it's not what we're looking for in these pods.
Dependent Hand This hand is a bit in the middle; it has access to some good value, a nice piece of interaction, and a combo piece, but there's no guarantee that you're going to get to the Hulk any time soon. This hand really hinges on the ability of Mental Misstep to effectively interact with a win condition at the table to buy you time to find the rest of your combo. (As well as how lucky you're feeling about ripping the Hulk off the top)
This is where Shuffle really starts to shine, other interactive decks at the table allow us the time to get our Tymna engine going, and start sculpting a resilient hand. These pods are where Survival of the Fittest really starts to become its own card, and where the Sac Outlet + Rector engine starts to give us the power and consistency that we're looking to get out of them. Generally these games are ones where you're not always going to be able to win early, due to the counter magic that is now present, but you will have ample time to make them know the terror that is facing down Shuffle Hulk with 7 cards in hand and two mana up in the mid game.

The hands for interactive combo pods are a lot more diverse and keep-able in general than those of either the all-in combo side of the meta or the control side of the meta (And they should be, this is the pod composition that we're built to succeed in). We're looking for a somewhat readily available combo at least, with some amount of mana acceleration, and preferably a counterspell, although we can dig into one later if needed.

Consider the following cards for a midrange meta:
  • Cyclonic Rift as a catch-all to clear boards in end step, then untap and win.
  • Null Rod or Stony Silence for Paradox Scepter Thrasios varations or non-green decks.
  • Boseiju, Who Shelters All + Crop Rotation if you find that it's consistently difficult to get a Flash to resolve and you're not much worried about interaction post- Flash.
  • Aven Mindcensor is extremely good in the hulk mirror, as it both shuts off their combo and also protects itself by neutering the ability to tutor for an answer to it.
  • Misdirection can be very good at opening up early windows to wins if you find that a constant difference between winning the game on an early turn is the one mana to back it up with a counterspell.
Good Hand This is a pretty great hand, at its base level, it allows for a turn 1 Tymna, with access for a potential turn 2 win if you draw a land. This is just about what you want in any pod, but specifically in an interactive combo pod, it allows for speed when needed, but if you judge that it is too dangerous to go for a win at that moment, it still has a turn 1 value engine to fall back on and stay in the game with.
Bad Hand This one isn't so good, it's got a Mystic Remora and that's about it. To make matters even worse, in order to use that Necromancy, we somehow need to get that Protean Hulk out of our hand and into our graveyard. This hand is a lesson in not tunnel visioning on having a good card with a playable number of lands, as against many savvy players, you're not going to draw enough cards off of the Mystic Remora here to dig yourself out of this hole.
Dependent Hand This hand's a bit weird: it has the ability to go for a turn 3 win through Mystical Tutor and Demonic Tutor, but if that fails (and it very well might, as we don't have the extra land in hand to hold up our Memory's Journey), we're stuck with a lot of tutors, without great mana acceleration or even guaranteed land drops. I'd probably keep this hand if I'm on the play, as it makes the turn 3 win more likely, and maybe if I'm ok with spending some turns on cantripping and playing out my tutors before going for a win, otherwise, ship it.
Control is getting to a bit of uncomfortable territory for us again, but it's certainly within our range, and we're built to handle it well with correct card swaps and play style adjustments. First of all, winning early is effectively off the table here, control decks are more than well-equipped to handle a turn 2 Flash, and we pretty much just have to accept that and look toward the long game. The bulk of the work going into a win in these pods is going to come from starting your value engine early, and spending the game sculpting your hand and trying to get the fun police to go shields-down at the right moment.

The mulligan decisions here reflect that play style, devaluing early fragile wins, and moving more toward hands that might not necessarily have immediate access to a combo attempt, but have the ability to start the Tymna train early, or produce a large mana advantage to feed into Thrasios.

Consider the following cards for an interaction-heavy meta:
  • Boseiju, Who Shelters All + Crop Rotation should be self-explanitory.
  • Compost as a secondary value engine in black heavier metas.
  • Misdirection as an additional free counterspell against opposing countermagic.
  • Runic Armasaur as another additional value engine against green-based control decks.
  • Aven Mindcensor this can be less useful in control metas, but it still has a generically relevant effect, and offers an evasive body to help get Tymna draws in once commanders start coming down.
Good Hand This hand basically just shows the power of Survival of the Fittest in a long game, as well as the value of having a mana engine ( Carpet of Flowers ) and a card advantage engine ( Dark Confidant ). This hand has ready access to a combo with Entomb and Apprentice Necromancer which also happens to be pretty darn resilient to countermagic once Apprentice Necromancer is on the table, as well as the fact that Carpet of Flowers is a busted card against slow blue decks, and that Tymna is busted as always.

Stamp of approval on this one.


Bad Hand For exactly all of the reasons why this hand is good into all-in combo, it's bad into control. There's a serious lack of staying power and interaction here.
Dependent Hand This hand's a tad slow, and doesn't really have a ton going on, but it does have access to a turn 2 Tymna, and a Dark Confidant, which are haymakers against control if they stick. The one problem I have with this hand, is that against any sort of red control or a pod of control decks that have early bodies to put in front of Tymna, they might not stick, which is going to leave you super far behind. So what this one really boils down to is how many cards you actually think you're going to be getting off of Tymna and Bob before they get removed.

I will be the first to admit: this isn't a great matchup. A well-tuned stax deck that is built with hulk in mind is going to just be rough a certain percentage of games; no amount of politicking or crafty hulk piles are going to get you through a Grafdigger's Cage on turn 1. So what do we do to combat this? Well, first of all, stax's answers to your hulk are usually going to be visible (i.e. on the battlefield), so early win attempts are usually going to be successful if there's not already a hate piece in play to stop you. Another part of fighting stax is taking advantage of their mismatched answers; stax decks can't afford to just play one type of hate piece, they generally need to be able to cover multiple archtypes if they don't want to just auto-lose as soon as they see a deck they weren't particularly prepared for. We can take advantage of this by abusing stax pieces that don't hurt as nearly as much as they even hurt the stax player sometimes, these being Rule of Law effects and Sphere of Resistance effects. Because we basically just need to case a single card to win the game much of the time, these stax pieces can actually act as protection for us, as we can do things like wait until the other blue player plays their only card for turn under Rule of Law, and then Flash in their end step while they can't cast a counterspell for it. Similarly, Sphere of Resistance makes it hard for any interactive decks at the table to both progress their own board state and hold up interaction for you at the same time, meaning that you can pull ahead by threatening a win, while abusing Tymna to pull ahead in card advantage. Another tip, if you're playing against Blood Moon decks, make sure to think about if you can afford to fetch basic lands instead of duals, or even holding onto fetch lands to crack for a basic in response to a blood moon being cast, just being aware of those situations can save you from being completely locked out of the game by a poorly timed 1-2 punch of Cursed Totem and Blood Moon.

Hands-wise, we can't afford to be too greedy here, we need to be presenting some sort of clock to try and win before too many stax pieces come down and lock us out of the game. Interaction-wise, counterspells lose a lot of their value here, as a lot of them don't hit stax pieces, and we'd much rather just have removal spells, so don't be looking at them too highly when considering whether or not you're keeping a hand.

Consider the following cards for a staxy meta:
  • Cyclonic Rift as a catch-all to solve all your stax-related problems in a nice neat package.
  • Assassin's Trophy as an additional removal spell that will deal with anything you may need it to.
  • a set of basic lands to play around Blood Moon and Back to Basics (usually not a plains, as we're not extremely white-reliant, and we don't want to compromise our mana base too much in non- Blood Moon cases).
  • extra removal like Natural State or extra Pongify effects depending on what stax effects you are dealing with.
  • Toxic Deluge for hatebear decks and as a creature catchall.
  • Force of Vigor Is a great option for Blood Moon metas, as it can kill a Blood Moon and another stax piece without having access to green mana, just by pitching a mana dork stranded in hand.
Good Hand This is pretty great into a stax pod, we have a basic to hedge against Blood Moon, a Cursed Totem resilient win with Altar of Dementia, good mana acceleration, and a removal spell in case things go wrong. I'd be pretty happy keeping this.
Bad Hand So this looks like a fine hand at first glance, and it probably would be in some other pod compositions, but there are a couple of underlying problems here. First and foremost, we're not casting Tymna off of this hand, which means we're relying on the opening hand and our natural draws, not good when we don't have easy access to a win already. Secondly, Flusterstorm loses a lot of value here, it's probably not going to be countering early wins, and it's also useless for countering stax pieces that we want to stop from coming down. Lastly, no shuffle effect for Brainstorm means we have a very real chance of being stuck with this hand for a while, even if we do manage to get Thrasios going.
Dependent Hand This hand is a bit iffy, it can cast a turn 1 Thrasios into a turn 2 Tymna, but if we're facing a hatebear-based stax deck, that opening has the potential to lose steam very quickly. Paired with that last point, our most likely line to the win here is probably going to involve Necromancy if don't want to have to burn both of our tutors and one of our commanders to assemble Flash Hulk, and there are a fair number of stax decks out there still running one-shot grave hate so it has a very real chance of being shut down. I'd only be comfortable keeping this hand if there's at least one, probably two decks at the table that I'll be able to get Tymna triggers off of fairly consistently, and even then, I'd have to be weary of anything that might be looking to snipe Hulk out of my graveyard when I'm going for reanimation
Body Snatcher vs Reanimate + Spellseeker

Just to note before I get into this, Body Snatcher is pretty much always going to be my go-to default hulk doubler to run alongside Rector, and it generally takes specific cases to run another hulk doubler over it. Establishing that, Spellseeker + Reanimate is a package that has shown up in a few hulk builds, including Shuffle Hulk, and for good reason: it's just about the only way to fit 3 cmc worth of creatures into a hulk trigger, while also allowing you to access a second hulk trigger as well. This is primarily useful for the case of comboing through Cursed Totem or Linvala, Keeper of Silence during your turn, as the Spellseeker + Reanimate package allows you to get Sac Outlet + Leonin Relic-Warder / Gilded Drake + Spellseeker to deal with the hate without having to spend an extra spell. The problem that I have with the package outside of that case is the fact that: A. Reanimate is effectively a dead card in the deck, as you need a sacrifice outlet to pair with it to actually make it into a combo piece on its own, and B. Without Body Snatcher's discard effect, in order to deal with drawing into combo pieces, you generally want to also slot in Cabal Therapy to get them out of your hand, which just adds more slot inefficiencies where you really don't want them. Note: the reasoning for not just running both packages is due to the very large slot requirement to do that, for minimal benefit over just considering which one works better in your specific meta, and sticking to that one.


2 CMC Countermagic

Hoooo boy, this one's a doozy, so strap in. Ok, let's get this out of the way, yes, I'm not playing Mana Drain, probably a top 3 most broken counterspell in the format, get your disbelief out of the way now, because there are good reasons for this, and you're gonna need an open mind. Good to go? Okay, cool, moving on.

So, considering our typical role at the table as The Aggressor, we need to look at building an interaction suite that meets our needs, which are primarily: defending our own combo from opponent's disruption, doing so mana efficiently (remember, we're pretty mana-light, so we don't always have extra mana to spare), and, secondarily to all of this, keeping us alive from other peoples' combo attempts if absolutely necessary. To this end, we want to center our countermagic suite around cards that are cheap enough that we can have it available with preferably only a single mana open, cards deal efficiently with opposing countermagic, and not playing so many of them that they clog our hands, only enough that we can consistently have access to one, with the ability to tutor for more if needed. Now that I've established the goals of the interaction in this deck, lets look at what meets those goals:

This is around the density of countermagic that we're looking at wanting, 8 is a good enough number to have access to one fairly often, while not having too many that we get bogged down in interaction without having enough gas to win the game. So, while me might want to fit one or two more depending on the situation, we just don't really have the space/need for any of the more expensive countermagic that is seen a lot elsewhere (Not even mentioning the mana fixing issues that come up with trying to hold up both Flash and a Mana Drain or Counterspell, seriously, I'm not a good enough land base builder for that shit).


Alternate Wincons

Since this gets asked a lot, I'll any of the ones I've been asked about in this section

  • Auriok Salvagers + Lion's Eye Diamond This combo sees play in Breakfast Hulk and Razakats, but it's not super valuable here, as it's not easy to get off of Protean Hulk, neither of the pieces really do much on their own for us, and it doesn't really solve any problems for us, as it's a very fragile combo that loses to grave hate, artifact hate, and creature hate, which is even more than we usually have problems with in the first place.
  • Isochron Scepter + Dramatic Reversal I have actually tested this, and I found that it's also a bit rough for us to actually make good use of. It solves the graveyard hate problem, but it still loses to Null Rod and Cursed Totem, and even more than that, it's actually surprisingly difficult to actually assemble the mana sources required to win with it, as we don't play any big mana rocks like Mana Vault or Grim Monolith and we don't play any of the mana rocks aside from the moxen, Sol Ring, and Mana Crypt, so you have to have enough non-summoning-sick mana dorks in play to actually use it a lot of the time.
  • Laboratory Maniac Labman is a bit of a dead card for us, as he technically solves the winning through stax problem, but you'd like to be able to use him in a hulk pile with Nomads en-Kor and Cephalid Illusionists and that loses to everything that the main combo loses to, so to take advantage of him better, the idea would be to use the forbidden tutors like Tainted Pact and Demonic Consultation to empty your deck. The problem with the forbidden tutors though, is that they are effectively dead cards outside of comboing in Shuffle Hulk, due to the abundance of combo pieces that you really don't want exiled, which makes Demonic Consultation pretty much uncastable, and makes Tainted Pact super inconsistent, because of the possibility of having to stop after hitting a combo piece.


Entomb + Reanimation

Primarily, Entomb has one card combos with Necromancy, Apprentice Necromancer, and Footsteps of the Goryo if you choose to play it, as all of them can trigger hulk on their own. So aside from the one-card combos part, we would be playing Necromancy and Apprentice Necromancer either way because of Academy Rector and Survival of the Fittest respectively, so adding Entomb is really just a way adding more combo density to the deck, and opening up combo lines through tutors even more.


Sac Outlets & Academy Rector / Natural Order / Pattern of Rebirth

Sort of a similar reason to Entomb, but a bit more in depth here: The general idea with initially slotting in this package was that the Shuffle pile requires that you play at least one sacrifice outlet anyway, and I believe that it's worth it to use the three cheat into play cards as ways to turn those sacrifice outlets as productive combo pieces that you actually actively want to draw, as well as increasing the combinations of tutors that let us get to a win. Additionally, Academy Rector fills the role of being a hulk doubler in addition to a main combo piece, which allows us more flexibility in how we put together our hulk piles.

Arbor Elf

Arbor Elf tends to be less valuable the fewer and fewer Forest s a deck plays as a general rule, we're playing it for two big reasons here: first is that we need as high a density of 1cmc mana dorks as we can get, to turn on early Sac Outlet + Pattern/Rector/Nat Order wins, and secondly, with a blue-producing land and a Wild Growth, Arbor Elf can actually stand in for Bloom Tender when comboing with Freed from the Real.


Avacyn's Pilgrim

Probably the lowest quality mana dork in the deck, Avacyn's Pilgrim represents the bar for how bad a mana dork can be and still get played in Shuffle (sorry Boreal Druid ). The main reason I'm still on Pilgrim here is that white mana can actually facilitate a turn 2 Tymna the Weaver and cast Academy Rector, which is just about good enough for me.


Blood Artist vs Zulaport Cutthroat

This choice literally doesn't matter unless somebody is playing Leyline of Sanctity for some godforsaken reason.


Altar of Dementia

I've seen a lot of people take one look at Shuffle, and immediately ask why the hell we're playing a 2cmc artifact that does literally nothing anywhere else, so I'll explain in greater depth here: a big concept that may not be apparent for Shuffle is that our sac outlets are not actually bad to draw, they give us extra protection and open up additional multihulking lines to allow us more flexability. That being said, in addition to giving us an extra sac outlet to naturally draw, Altar of Dementia gives us a slew of other reasons to play it, it allows us to combo through Cursed Totem effects while also being a combo piece, so we get more card/tutor-efficient lines through that type of hate, it also stands in as a replacement for Blood Artist when needed, as it can be a death trigger outlet by milling out the rest of the table, and finally, it opens up lines with Enlightened Tutor that we wouldn't be able to convert into wins otherwise.


Dark Confidant

Yea yea, we play an Eldrazi Titan and a Protean Hulk, but if we look at our average cmc, it is actually exceedingly low, on average we only take around 1.7 damage per turn off of Bob, which is a fine rate for an extra card every turn with no condtion.


Kozilek, Butcher of Truth vs Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

Again, this 100% does not matter: I've cast my Eldrazi exactly 0 times ever (I'll update this if I ever do), and I've used a Pattern of Rebirth to cheat one out exactly once. That being said, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth is strictly better because it's the one that I play, and Ulamog players are literal scum.


Freed from the Real

I went over this a bit earlier in the Comboing in depth section, but Freed from the Real gives us a nice A+B backup combo with Bloom Tender that lets us combo through Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage where its other combo piece is an insanely good mana engine.


Wild Growth

No, it's not a dork that we can put a Pattern of Rebirth on, but it's a first turn mana accelerant, as well as being mana neutral if you cast it any turn after, which is more than good enough to deserve a slot.


Abrupt Decay & Assassin's Trophy

My generic removal pieces of choice, they answer anything that you need to a lot of the time, and it's very nice to be able to get out for any single piece that's keeping you down. Note that although Abrupt Decay is a staple here because of its uncounterability, I will sometimes drop Assassin's Trophy in metas where spot removal is less valuable, as the 2 mana and land refund can make it worse than either the next worse tutor or counterspell.


Eladamri's Call

This is just here for tutor density, we pretty much always want more ways to get to a win, and it just fills that role nicely. Getting a hulk at instant speed is also pretty nice, as it can make the win less telegraphed and let you hide your intentions more easily.


Flusterstorm

Usually we're using our counterspells when we are the aggressor, in which case, Flusterstorm is pretty much always going to have a copy for at least: our initial card, the opponent's response, and the Flusterstorm cast itself, which means we have at least a tax of 3, if not more, when used in this case, and the fact that it's basically uncounterable is icing on the cake.


Noxious Revival

Noxious Revival doesn't look super powerful on its own, but aside from being able to rebuy fetches on low-land hands, get back tutors to reuse them later, and get back win cards like Flash to try again, Noxious Revival also acts as a protection spell for us by being able to put our shuffler back in our library in response to disruption while we're comboing. It also has a use case of putting a stranded combo piece in grave back in to our library so that we don't have to go for less protected recovery lines.


Pongify vs Swords to Plowshares

I'm gonna be honest, I still end up waffling between these as I can't really figure out which one I like more, but I'll lay out the arguments for each so you can evaluate them yourself to see which one you like more:

  • The argument for Swords to Plowshares is that it's a generic answer to any creature, it doesn't allow something like a reanimation target to get reanimated in the future, and the life that it refunds doesn't matter 99% of the time in a normal cEDH game. This is the removal spell we all know and love.
  • The argument for Pongify / Rapid Hybridization is that, unlike Swords, it costs , which is much more castable than in our base- mana base, but also (and this is the one that gets me, and I'm not sure how to fully evaluate), it allows us to manually kill a stranded Protean Hulk, as well as giving us a win off of Natural Order + Mercant Scroll by being able to kill the hulk manually.


Summoner's Pact

Probably tied for the least valuable tutor in the deck with Merchant Scroll when we play it, Summoner's Pact is basically just our second copy of Protean Hulk for Flash Hulk. Usually when I'm making space for meta adjustments, this tends to be the first thing to go, but it definitely has a place in a generic list to just up your early combo rate.


Exotic Orchard

Sorta weird, I agree. I've always been less than excited to play Exotic Orchard, but I've found that in most metas, it will usually make 3 of your colors, at the bare minimum 2, which makes it no worse than a basic land or battlebond land, so I don't really have a real argument against it unless you're playing in a meta with very low BUG representation.


Ad Nauseam

A card of much discussion in the Shuffle Hulk community, Ad Nauseam is an extremely powerful card, and it demands respect just from having it in your deck. My primary opinion on this card after testing with it for many games, it is unnecessary due to the amount of pure gas that we run. Along with this, even though we can get our average CMC very low (Sub-1.65), there are 2 other problems: Number 1 is that we don't have anywhere near the amount of fast mana accelerants to consistently cast Ad Nauseam and win in the same turn. Number 2 is that drawing hulk pieces is actively bad for us, as we want them in deck to be able to get off of the trigger, and we're super likely to hit a hulk piece before hitting a win off of the Ad Naus. I've heard from other people that the card can act as a tutor by only using it to go until you hit just enough gas to get an A+B combo, but this usually has to happen at the end of another player's turn, and it's just not worth the telegraphing required to play it in my opinion.


Utopia Sprawl

I'm not currently playing Utopia Sprawl, as even though it has the same condition as Arbor Elf, with the same fail rate, it doesn't do a couple of crucial things: in Arbor Elf's fail case of not having a forest, it can still trigger Tymna and have a Pattern of Rebirth or Natural Order put on it, which are not things that Utopia Sprawl can do. Utopia Sprawl's fail case is just sitting in your hand until you draw a forest, nothing else.


Grand Abolisher

Due to our ability (and eagerness) to win at instant speed (ie on other player's turns) in Shuffle, Grand Abolisher loses a lot of value, as he doesn't do anything in that case. The other issue with Grand Abolisher is that even on our turn, we can't get him in the same hulk trigger like Breakfast Hulk can, so we're stuck trying to do multihulking and trying to fit him in somewhere there, which exposes Protean Hulk getting exiled as a line of attack vs us, and removes most of the reason you'd be multihulking for Grand Abolisher in the first place.


Toxic Deluge

While a very good card, yes, Toxic Deluge is actually not super super useful for us compared to other hulk decks due to our relatively larger reliance on our mana dorks and creatures being alive to use for our Academy Rector style lines and such. So, while I still encourage use of Toxic Deluge in metas where you need to permanently remove opponents' creatures, I would keep in mind that it is definitely a slot that can be played around with if you're not necessarily in need of mass creature wipes.


No blue shock lands

We're not super hard-pressed for white mana, only having around 5 mana symbols in the entire deck, and I'd rather use the space for rainbow lands, Morphic Pool, and space for basics if needed.


No Arid Mesa

Again, we really don't need white mana that much, and a white-only fetch isn't reaaaaaally where we want to be, I just found it unnecessary, and I wanted more space in my manabase to fit basics and flex lands.


Grim Tutor

No.


Misdirection

Misdirection is a great option for metas where you need to open up more early windows through interaction. It can function as a second Force of Will in these scenarios by retargetting a counterspell to target the Misidrection itself, fizzling the counterspell. Note that because it doesn't actually "Counter" its target, Misdirection can be used on uncounterable spells like Abrupt Decay! Neat!

  • Academy Rector actually has to exile itself from the graveyard to resolve the trigger, be sure to remember not to run it into a Deathrite Shaman by accident.
  • Remember that Academy Rector is deceivingly difficult to counterspell, and that it's fairly safe to cast it into a single blue mana, as there are no frequently run counterspells at 1cmc that can actually counter creatures
  • If you're comboing with Summoner's Pact + Flash, remember to cast Flash then hold priority and cast Summoner's Pact so you can't be Silenced in response to the Pact (I learned this one the hard way so you don't have to).
  • Similar to the last point, some decks run an amount of removal that says "Destroy target non-black creature", so when playing against a deck where this may be likely, consider targeting a black creature with Pattern of Rebirth instead of a mana dork to avoid being blown out.
  • Sometimes hardcasting hulk is just a thing that happens, make sure you're aware of just how much mana you have access to.
  • With a Sac Outlet in play, Body Snatcher can act like a 4cmc sorcery flash, as once it resolves, you can discard Protean Hulk and sacrifice Body Snatcher to get it back.
  • Body Snatcher's ETB ability is a triggered ability, not a replacement effect, so you don't have to pay the cost if Body Snatcher has already left the battlefield by the time it tries to resolve.
When do I switch to other hulk variants?

Shuffle Hulk's pretty optimized for blind and mixed metas, so while it has a fair amount of flex as far as playable metas and adaptation goes, as soon as a meta shifts too far in either direction of speed, I tend to switch off to either other hulk decks or other styles of decks entirely depending on how much hulk hate I'm seeing. For staxier metas, I'd recommend checking out Sacred Hulk, a super slot-efficient hulk deck that layers in Labman + Forbidden tutors to help out with targeted hulk hate, while still maintaining Flash Hulk's signature speed. On the other hand, if you're facing metas where you just can't keep up, I'd check out the tried and tested Breakfast Hulk, which takes advantage of using Hermit Druid to have access to tutor efficient and faster wins.


How would I go about budgeting down Shuffle Hulk?

To be completely honest, I wouldn't recommend budgeting down Shuffle Hulk too far, while it is definitely cheaper than some other hulk variants that require Timetwister, it still requires some fairly expensive cards to function at a reasonable degree, like Academy Rector and Survival. Basically as far as I would consider budgeting Shuffle down is replacing the ABUR duals with pain lands or fast lands, and replacing the following with flex slots:

Past this point, the deck really starts to lose consistency and power noticeably, and I'd consider looking at a more easily budgetable strategy/deck, and building a collection (Or just use proxies! Always the best answer to budget questions when possible).


Why not play two shuffle effects?

Ok, so: I get this question from two thought processes, the first is that the extra shuffle effect is a nice redundancy against the first getting exiled, which I don't think is at all necessary due to the alternate win conditions that we already have, the second is that it provides more resiliency, which is incorrect, playing multiple shuffle effects past the first titan+memory's journey doesn't provide any additional effect. To actually use additional shufflers to protect your combo, you have to run into the slow play rules that make actual 4 horsemen bad in the first place. (That's the depth I'll explain it in here, if you really want to hear more about this, track me down on the cedh or hulk discords and hop into a voice call, because I'm not gonna spend the time and space here going over the specific rules interactions that explain this).


Why is Shuffle better than DNV?

For those of you who haven't been following the developments of hulk decks religiously (pretty much everyone), DNV aka Definitely Not Varolz aka 4 Color Varolz, is the precursor in form of Shuffle Hulk, where the only change is that it uses the Blood Artist + Melira, Sylvok Outcast + Safehold Elite + Sacrifice outlet hulk pile. The reason Shuffle Hulk is better than DNV is basically just due to the fact that Shuffle can win within a single Hulk trigger, without a sacrifice outlet in play, as well as having Memory's Journey as built-in protection against hate post-Flash.

Big thanks to SleepyJackdaw for the hulk pile, as well as the hulk community at the cEDH Discord and The Official Hulk Discord

If you liked the primer, upvote and let me know!

If you're interested in gameplay of the deck, check some out here where I piloted it to a first place finish of the March 2019 cEDH Cockatrice tourney.

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