Some cards deserve more love that you’re currently giving. Maybe they came out before you started playing, and haven’t made it to the top of EDHREC. Maybe you drafted it, slotted it in your binder without a second a thought, and now it’s collecting dust. Maybe it’s always the first draft of your deck, but always ends up being your 101st card. No matter what, you should be playing: Daryl, Hunter of Walkers.

Gruul has always perplexed me in Commander. For a color pairing that is supposed to be all about impulse and aggression, there really aren’t a ton of unique Gruul decks out there. 

Sure, you can smashy smashy with Xenagos or Ruric Thar. And you can do the whole “lands matter” thing. But after that, what are your options? 

Don’t get me started on the Gruul staples. They’re just the same good utility cards you see everywhere else. If you’re playing Gruul, it seems you start with Kodama’s Reach, Cultivate, Eternal Witness, and Llanowar Elves. Sprinkle in some generic red removal spells, and you can call it a day. 

Every time I sat down and tried to brew a Gruul deck I passed out from boredom. That’s basically the least Gruul thing ever. 

But then I stumbled upon today’s card – Daryl, Hunter of Walkers.

Why You Want to Play Daryl, Hunter of Walkers

— first a quick aside — 

Before I get to why you should play Daryl, I want to acknowledge that there are plenty of reasons you might not. The Walking Dead Secret Lair was controversial. If you don’t want to play any cards from that set, there’s no judgement from this side. The art is weird. There are some socially problematic aspects for some characters. It’s not even set in a Magic universe. 

I’m with you on a lot of those topics. I didn’t buy the full Secret Lair, but when I saw how cheap and fun Daryl was, I thought it was worth giving him a shot. If you disagree, no big deal. We’ll catch you next time. 

— end aside —

The old axiom that card advantage wins games has never been not true. You like big board states with big monsters. You’ve always wanted to play a crossbow-wielding, redneck survivalist instead of some wimpy wizard or elf. You’re sick of seeing zombie tribal decks take over the game. Drawing 9 (or more!) cards for two mana is something you wrote about in your dream journal. 

Tech, Tactics, and Strategies

Daryl Hunter of Walkers is a bit of a chinese restaurant menu of a creature. He takes a couple bits from green and a couple of mechanics from red and forms a really weird, but synergistic package for a color combo that is generally just about beating face. Let’s break him down a bit:

  • 4/4 for four is a pretty standard stat line for a Gruul creature. Daryl is big enough to rumble, but he’s not going to be punching an Eldrazi in the face any time soon. In fact he’s probably a bit below curve if you want to get there with commander damage.
  • Red gives hima pretty sweet ping ability. Tapping to do two damage is much better than similar cards like Prodigal Pyromancer that only do one. 
  • Green gives us some conditional card draw. Tying it to zombies is thematic for the character, but kind of limited in scope. You might be able to run away with a game against The Scarab God, but I don’t think you can count on zombie tribal showing up for every game night. 

Then there’s that other piece of text on Daryl, “At the beginning of your upkeep, target opponent creates three Walker tokens.” Wait. What? 

So you’re telling me that my average-sized dude, with a medium damage ability, and some conditional card draw also gives an opponent six power worth of zombies EVERY TURN!?! 

Well, yes. And it’s the best part about the card. At level one, giving creatures to your opponents can often be a good thing. You want to make some friends, dish out some zombies. One player lagging behind? Keep her in the game with some zombies. One player getting out of control? Give the other players some zombies. 

Most of the time, a handful of 2/2s aren’t enough to swing a Commander game. OK, maybe you don’t give them to the Ghoulcaller Glissa player. And fueling an aristocrats deck is bad. But mostly, a couple 2/2s are just going to be chump blockers. Which means you get to draw cards. 

And Daryl likes drawing cards. 

The only thing worse than a horde of zombies is a horde of flaming zombies.

According to the Zombie Survival Guide, using a flamethrower on a zombie isn’t the brightest idea. But in Magic, I think burn is the way to go. 

Daryl has this really elegant ability to tap and kill one of his zombies. If that’s all you do, you’ve basically got a Gruul version of Azami, Lady of Scrolls. That’s not terrible as everyone likes a free card each turn. But we can do much MUCH better. 

Red has a long history of being able to kill small creatures. Sure, white got all the press with Wrath of God but Earthquake was still an early powerhouse. There are even a ton of tournament-staple cards that fit this mold like Anger of the Gods, Sweltering Suns, and Mizzium Mortars. Pyroclasm is the most iconic of all of these fits Daryl perfectly. Why wait until the end of your turn to shoot one zombie when you can kill at least three for two mana – and maybe even snag a mana elf or two as collateral damage. 

Pyroclasm, and it’s instant speed partner Volcanic Fallout, are the basis for the Daryl deck engine. Remember how we talked about 2/2s not being that threatening? Mostly they just build up and give you an extra card or two every turn. But eventually you’ll find yourself swimming in zombies. There will be eight of nine of the undead bastards on the table. And when you Volcanic Fallout you’ll turn them all into sweet, sweet cards. 

You don’t have to only do this with one-shot spells. Red gives us two enchantments that also play nicely. Pyrohemia is a color shifted Pestilence that lets you turn two red mana into at least three cards. It also gives you the ability to do the last few points of damage to an opponent, or wipe out larger, threatening creatures. 

But my favorite card in the entire deck is Aether Flash. In addition to the absolutely killer Ron Spencer art, Aether Flash locks down the board against small creatures and draws you three cards every turn. That kind of value is hard to beat. 

Turning Cards into Cash

Honestly, when you’re drawing an extra three cards a turn, it’s hard to lose. And drawing nine cards before the start of your turn can put you into a commanding position in the game. But sometimes we want to do more than just draw. 

That’s where cards like Psychosis Crawler and Irencrag Pyromancer come in. Every time you draw that extra card you are dealing passive damage. And that damage adds up. Even Jolrael Mwonvuli Recluse likes this party. Her cats will die from time to time, but your hand will often have 9-15 cards in it at any given time. Her activated ability will win you games. 

With this many cards flowing, we want to make sure we can do something with them. You can definitely play Maro’s and have giant monsters on the battlefield. I went with Empyrial Plate to turn everyone into a Maro. Venser’s Journal means you don’t have to worry about discarding your hand and gives you a great buffer once folks figure out what you’re doing. 

WIth all these draw-dependent effects, you want to make sure you keep the engine’s running even if you don’t have access to Daryl. You can play staples like Guardian Project, Sylvan Library, and Colossal Majesty to make sure you get an extra card every turn. I also like figuring out how to squeeze a little extra value out of my fundamentals like ramp. 

That’s why Edge of Autumn makes the cut instead of Arcane Signet or another 2-3 cost ramper. Two cost ramp is great in the early game, but by midgame you have significant diminishing returns. Edge of Autumn transforms into a new card – and can often get you an Irencrag Pyromancer trigger on an opponent’s turn.

An Enchanting Evening with Daryl

When you start putting together the engine cards in this deck a couple important pieces stick out:

  1. You can never draw too many cards, and
  2. Some of our most important cards are enchantments

And don’t you know it? Green has a very long tradition of turning enchantments into cards. Verduran Enchantress is the most famous version, but these days I like sticking with Setessan Champion and Eidolon of Blossoms. And to make sure you always have access to you important enchantments, you can bring along Dowsing Shaman

Knowing we’re playing some Enchantresses led me to swapping out some more staples for specific cards. Instead of Farseek and Cultivate, we get to play Wild Growth, Fertile Ground, and Khalni Heart Expedition

Even our creatures are getting into the enchantment game. Arasta of the Endless Web blocks zombies all day. Archetype of Aggression gives you a way to punch through in the late game. And Klothys, God of Destiny is a swiss army knife that also beats face.

Single Card Spotlight

One of the things I really like about Daryl, Hunter of Walkers is how open-ended he is. He creates massive resource engines, and then lets you take them in whatever direction you want. Because of this, I get to play a ton of cards I’ve always wanted to find a spot for, but that always seem to get cut. I want to share a few of those with you now:

Fractured Loyalty is a fun minigame for Tim decks. Slap it on an opposing commander or fatty, and Daryl will quickly persuade it to join your team. This is especially useful against creatures that don’t attack, or decks that are good at reanimation. 

Reap is one of my favorite pet cards. It’s almost always powerful, but every once in a while you sit at a table without anyone playing black. Daryl solves this problem for you. Even if you only get to trigger Daryl once, you are still returning three cards from your graveyard, for two mana, at instant speed. 

Genesis + Sneak Attack. Neither of these cards are underplayed, but here they give you a nice release valve for having all these cards in hand. Necropotence players from back in the day will tell you that when you draw a ton of cards, mana is your bottle neck. Sneak Attack means you never pay full retail for Etali and Balefire Dragon. Genesis just brings them back for more. 

The one hole this deck has is fliers. Your sweepers tend to only handle ground based guys. That’s where Silklash Spider comes in. Not only does she sit back and eat zombies like a champ, but she blocks dragons and can clear the skies if things start looking dicey. 

And finally we land on Compost. This is another card that probably should see more play. But that color restriction always leaves it on the cutting room floor. Not here. Compost doubles all your engines. Now instead of drawing three cards a turn, you get six. Your Pyroclasmsdraw you 18+. It’s hard to come back from that type of advantage. 

So What does a Daryl, Hunter of Walkers Deck Look Like?

Daryl, Hunter of Walkers is a self-contained engine. And it just takes a little push to transform him from your run of the mill sedan into a rocket ship. Take a look below and see how all these pieces come together to bury your opponents in card advantage – and then just bury them.

Daryl, Hunter of Walkers | Commander

Commanders (1)
Daryl, Hunter of Walkers

Creatures (34)
Spore Frog
Sakura Tribe-Elder
Jolrael, Mwunvoli Recluse
Scavenging Ooze
Eternal Witness
Skullwinder 
Setessan Champion
Rhonas the Indominatable
, Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Manglehorn
Oakhame Adversary
Eidolon of Blossoms
Arasta of the Endless Web
Anara, Wolvid Familiar
Silklash Spider 
Genesis
Indrik Stomphowler
Dowsing Shaman
Kamahl, Heart of Krosa
Terastodon
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Magus of the Wheel
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
Anax, Hardened in the Forge
Archetype of Aggression
Irencrag Pyromancer
Anger
Urabrask the Hidden
Etali, Primal Storm
Balefire Dragon
Klothys, God of Destiny
Mina and Denn, Wildborn
Psychosis Crawler
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

Spells (27)
Instill Energy
Wild Growth
Fertile Ground
Rampant Growth
Edge of Autumn
Khalni Heart Expedition
Compost
Survival of the Fittest
Sylvan Library
Kenrith’s Transformation
Reap
Colossal Majesty
Beast Within
Guardian Project
Finale of Devastation
Pyroclasm
Thrill of Possibility
Fractured Loyalty
Volcanic Fallout
Chaos Warp
Ghitu Firebreathing
Pyrohemia
Aether Flash
Sneak Attack
Sunbird’s Invocation
Comet Storm
Rhythm of the Wild

Artifacts  (2)
Empyrial Plate 
Venser’s Journal

Lands (36)
10 Forest
10 Mountains
Tranquil Thicket
Slippery Karst
Forgotten Cave
Smoldering Crater
Command Tower
Stomping Ground
Karplusan Forest
Copperline Gorge
Raging Ravine
Mossfire Valley
Pinecrest Ridge
Kessig Wolf Run
Reliquary Tower
Terrain Generator 
Command Beacon
Skarrg, the Rage Pits

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