Only One Bear Can Be King: Wilson/Noble Heritage in Commander

Is this the ultimate Voltron dream? A compact efficient package with disgusting defensive stats

The hunt for more violence

In my heart, Magic is not a game about assembling complex combos or using stax pieces to squeeze my opponents out of the game. I dream of violence, and only violence: since discovering in 2008 that I could turn Rafiq of the Many sideways for 21 in my first commander deck, my time in Commander-neè-Edh has been spent figuring out how to get to that number as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Voltron strategies have always been playable in Commander, but have some glaring weaknesses: you are only able to pressure only one opponent at a time, and it's rare to see commanders for less than four mana who can do the job well. That means if one of your opponents kills your commander, it will cost six, eight, ten... Applying pressure through removal or wipes is difficult, and surviving can be hard as well.

The deck's two commanders: Wilson, Refined Grizzly and Noble Heritage

At first glance, Wilson, Refined Grizzly presents an alluring package for two mana – vigilance (!)One of the most underrated keywords. Attacking without being attacked!, trample, ward 2 (!?), as well as reach and uncounterabilty. So which background solves my problems here best?

The surprising answer is Noble Heritage. This 'seemingly bad' enchantment is an efficient way to pile +1/+1 counters on WilsonWhich I think edges out equipment or other strategies that are not protected by his ward.. It does give them to your opponents too! However, that plays out better than it seems on first read:

Basic Loadout

...A grizzly bear's front claws measure about 51–102 mm (2–4 in) in length; a black bear's claws measure about 25–51 mm (1–2 in) in length...


Generally, you are (without fast mana) casting Noble Heritage on turn two and Wilson on turn three most games. This makes Wilson a 4/4 on turn three with one mana available, and a 6/6 on turn four with four mana available. Since Wilson is going to be bigger than other creatures on early turns, one mana fight spells function as consistent spot removal for many problematic commanders, and almost all two mana ones will do so with upside. In particular:

are good in most pods. (And Really Epic Punch if your playgroup is down.Ram through is the best of the "Bite" effects; I don't recommend the rest in most pods. They may be good if you play against enough deathtouch commanders, but you lose out on a lot of value otherwise. )

These spells give you the ability to answer cheap early creatures, and are available through the game to clip the sails of players who are not consistently taking the counters. Ram Through in particular is also player removal if Wilson is big enough.

Another powerful idea is the suite of green cards that draw you cards equal to the power of a creature you control:

In other decks, these cards can be disastrous if your opponent has removal. But your commander is huge early, and it has ward 2; These are the problems of lesser bears. If your opponents are holding less than three mana open, snap this off and draw twelve cards for ~5 mana. Even drawing six or eight cards is usually sufficient; if your hand is full, you are applying pressure.

There are a few other cards I would probably put in every build. These are good in almost every situation:


Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson

As mentioned before, the core idea of the deck is simple: Play Noble Heritage on turn two. Then cast Wilson on turn three. He comes in and becomes a 4/4; on turn four he becomes a 6/6 who's Rowdy to Howdy. From here, you should repeatedly attack until all of your opponents are bear chow.

Who do you attack? This could be a separate article its self, but there are a few ideas to keep in mind:

This may feel like an overwhelming series of factors. But the only mistake you can really make here is not attacking. Your plan is laser-focused on winning through combat, but given enough time, your opponents will keep Wilson off the board for a few turns and kill you. Don't let your opponents convince you to hold back, so they can winIf you find you're playing the deck, and you spend a lot of turns not able to attack — change cards in your deck to make it possible to attack as soon as possible more protection for Wilson, more combat tricks to make blocking him scary, or just more removal for your opponents' good creatures. This hasn't really happened to me though.


One of the things that attracted me to this deck is that it is 'batteries included': your two commanders together represent a game-winning threat with no other cards required. How you augment that with other ideas is up to you. I have tried several ideas, but ultimately this is a pod-dependent question: different strategies are better or worse depending on if you need speed, protection, or the ability to continue applying pressure a long way into games. I strongly recommend that you try to keep your mana curve low to the ground (like the decklists at the end of the article) as having activity in the first few turns of the game is critical to being able to outrace your opponents.


Your deck is incredibly focused on Wilson; It is very bad if he gets removed or if he can't make it through Sedge Scorpion. If your opponents are relying more on spot removal, white and green have a lot of ways to rely on this specific brand of bullshit. These ideas can also be extremely effective at getting Wilson through on clogged boards. Note that repeatable on-board removal here is not as bad for you as it is in some other cases— your opponents can collude to force their way through your Mother of Runes, but they are still both going to have to pay extra for it, which often means this interaction comes at the expense of advancing their own gameplan. Great Cards: Mother of Runes, Giver of Runes, Benevolent Bodyguard

Instant Speed Protection

It seems like instant speed protection is redundant with Mother of Runes. But many one-shot effects like Blacksmith's Skill are sometimes better. Why?

An on-board Mother stops your opponents from killing Wilson, but it also tells them clearly to not cast their removal into her. On the other hand, instant speed interaction that protects Wilson also forces your opponent to commit additional mana and cards, or simply lose their turn. For example, playing a Beast Within or Terminate that gets stopped by Blacksmith's Skill ends up costing your opponent 5 mana, which is more than twice as much as you paid for your commander! Thus, Reprieve is not just Remand- it's a special, brutal version of Remand that costs them two extra mana. Neither type of protection is clearly better than the other— but using cards in hand will give you a tempo advantage, which can help in faster games. Great Cards: Blacksmith's Skill, Apostle's Blessing, Mana TitheThe deck's combination of early pressure and mana pressure from ward will give you a useful Tithe almost every game.


Ward 2 makes auras on Wilson a lot less risky. You also have an enchantment in the command zone, meaning that you always have a little gas to feed your Argothian Enchantress. The goal here should always be to keep your hand full, and the pressure on- no need to add fragile 6-mana enchantments to an already working murder machine. Great cards: Snake Umbra, Bear Umbra, One with Nature,Unquestioned Authority


Being able to play these types of effects after two or even three opponents have given up their ability to attack you often gives you a guaranteed second trigger from them. Having them bouncing around also encourages your opponents to attack each other, which means the counters you give them are more valuable. And they are great hedges against board wipes- having the monarch on an empty board is a good way to rebuild from square one. Great cards: Palace Jailer, Court of Garenbrig, Seasoned Dungeoneer

Anti-Artifact Tech

If your opponents have a lot of mana they can use that mana to kill Wilson through wardIt probably sounds obvious to read. But it's an important structural consideration: as the game goes on ward 2 starts to have no rules text.. Treasures can be a source of persistent problems here; thankfully, these colors have the ability to brutally punish decks that rely on artifact mana, if you so desire. You also don't really need any artifacts to make the deck work; you aren't sacrificing much here, and some decks can be completely sent to the shadow realm by a 2-mana creature. Great cards: Null Rod, Kataki, War's Wage, Viridian Revel


It's not my thing, but your commander is basically up and running on turn three without the need to invest much more. If your opponents are playing a lot of combo-based threats and not a lot of creatures to attack each other, you can slow them down to a crawl and just hit them in the head. Abject mana denial like Winter Orb can be a deathblow to opponents looking to ramp into ten mana. Some are not a great fit -our spells are all very cheap, so effects like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are about as bad for you as they are for your opponents. Some less hateful hatebears are great at just slowing them down. Great Cards: Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Static Orb, Aven Mindcensor

Utility Lands

You are playing a two-color deck without double pips in the command zone: thus, you have many options for good lands that can fit in. Generally, you have the freedom to run a few taplands here: if you play a tapland turn one and turn three, you can still cast both of your commanders on-curve. That means that the deck still works pretty well on a heavy budget if those taplands help you cast your mana. On the other hand, your deck is aggressive—it falls off in the late game against people who are playing good cards. If you have your colors figured out, many utility lands are good:

Adding Money to the deck

Having more expensive cards in the deck makes it betterCitation needed.. In particular, the deck makes good use of fast mana— Lotus Petal or Elvish Spirit Guide allow you to untap on turn three with a 6/6. Jeweled Lotus makes casting both of your commanders possible on turn one: not surprisingly, you tend to win these gamesNot only do you get to speed your commanders out, the large draw effects in green will often give you even more fast mana, letting you snowball out of control..

Many of the other format's superstars shine in this deck in particular. Selvala, Heart of the Wilds is no longer a reward for playing huge green beasts: it's another must-answer threat in a deck that is often presenting a must-answer threat already. Sylvan Library is superb because your opponents are unlikely to be able to punish your aggressive card draw, and because Wilson is so effective at gaining life when he gets lifelink. Esper Sentinel is a rude place to drop 1/1 counters; Berserk is a great way to kill people who thought that they were going to live to old age. Choose options with an eye to mana cost — this is not really a deck for six mana bombs if your opponents are also playing good cards.

One thing to keep an eye on here is that if your deck is considerably more expensive than your opponents', they will have very hard time keeping up. The deck already presents a fast, consistent clock that is robust to interaction. Having that and a constantly full hand thanks to Sylvan Library means that there is not much chance for them to get a spell in edgewiseThis might just sound like a flex. But if you're curious, try goldfishing your favorite deck: How many opening hands are stone dead to a Wilson opener with six lands and Blacksmith's Skill?.

How do I beat this deck?

It would be rude to release this terror into the world without talking about how to beat it. One of the strengths of the deck is that there are many glaring pressure points to disrupt it. However, there are still ideas to consider:

Go Forth and Bear

It might be tempting to read this guide and conclude that Noble Heritage sucks and all my opponents are bad. At first, it looks like a fairOr just plain bad. Many people before playing against the deck just flat out said this card sucks. Give it a try before you knock it :) card. But Magic shouldn't be a 3v1: you and your opponents are out there, smashing each other in a battle to the death. This deck is good practice for honing a skill that I think many players lack: Seeing the flow of the game on board. Knowing who is winning and who is losing, who should be pressured and who can be allowed to cook for another turn or two; Getting a sense for this will let you know who is going to pop off before they do. With practice, patience, and a bit of Noble Heritage-based extortion, this deck will not only net you some exciting wins, but also teach you some skills about the game that you didn't know you were lacking. Get out there, cast some bears, and remember: Only One Can Be King!

Feel free to email me if you have questions: I am reachable at john@airza.netI am sympathetic to wanting to send me messages to argue about how bad the deck is and how bad my opponents must be. After all, arguing about Magic is almost as fun as playing Magic. But the deck has performed well on three continents and many different types of opponent. Thus, I am unlikely to be swayed by your argument.