Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Short history lecture
Over the years since it’s conception in 1993, Magic the Gathering has been constantly evolving. No matter the format, the players have been persistently coming up with new ideas, combinations of cards or whole new play-styles, which in harmony with Wizards of the Coast regularly releasing new cards for fans to tinker with, provides perfect conditions for these ongoing changes. This process however, takes toll on the META and causes cards (or in some cases entire decks or strategies) to fall out of favor with the players, or become entirely forgotten. Unfortunately, one of the cards on the verge of ‘extinction’ is The Gitrog Monster. As soon as this little (or actually not so little) frog was presented in Shadows Over Innistrad spoilers in early 2016, most creative players already started ‘crunching the combos’ trying to come up with the most efficient way to abuse Gitrog’s stacked set of abilities. And they’ve done it. Already in its early days, even despite seeing essentially no Standard, Modern or Legacy play, The Gitrog Monster has become a powerful commander – powerful enough to make it into the highest competitive EDH power-level tiers for quite some time. It’s popularity however has decreased significantly, and with Gitrog’s untimely demise in Duel Commander format, Leviathan Commander is one of the final two formats keeping the frog alive – with me being one of its last disciples.
My time with Gitrog – evolution of the deck
I have been playing Gitrog since the beginning of 2019 – more or less continuously – with a couple random “affairs on the side” with Hogaak and mono-black Sidisi. My time with Gitrog has been a steep learning curve, and even now after over two and a half years of perfecting the list and play-style, I’m still finding new details and angles to this commander that rekindle my initial interest in the deck. One of the things I love the most is the fact that a Gitrog deck can be built in at least three different competitive ways, all of which have unique strengths and weaknesses. For my first tournaments with the deck, I used the most basic, long game, high value, incredibly grindy version. At the time, I didn’t want to invest too much into a new deck (nor did I have the funds to toss a solid couple hundred bucks for it) so it lacked many core cards (such as Lake of the Dead or Bayou). Soon after however, it became obvious to me that Gitrog’s combo potential is too appealing to ignore it, so I soon started shaping the deck into an equally grindy, fuller version with an additional capability of finishing the game with an infinite combo loop. It allowed me to sacrifice a number of lands – for mana and card draw – using Squandered Resources, return them to the battlefield thanks to Splendid Reclamation, search my library for Seasons Past using an aptly mana-costed tutor effect (such as Dark Petition or Beseech the Queen), cast Collective Brutality to ping my opponent for two life points and top the loop off with casting Seasons Past, to return all other pieces back to my hand. If you’re interested, the current decklist can be found here.
Even though the value grinding and slow combo finish has its charm, I still felt the need for… more. I delved into a couple cEDH decklists and primers, and to my surprise I found all of the competitive lists are capable of finishing the opponents off as early as turn one, using a combination of Gitrog, Dakmor Salvage and a discard outlet (such as Putrid Imp). After performing a loop that allows Gitrog’s pilot to draw all the cards in their library, all that was left to do was to generate any amount of mana using a fully ‘shortcuttable’ infinite loop involving Lotus Petal and finally, finish the opponent off with – you guessed it – infinite number of Collective Brutality casts. Needless to say, I was instantly hooked and started putting together a concoction of cards that would allow me to use the same combo mechanism at the highest consistency and speed achievable in Leviathan Commander – a format which unlike EDH, disallows most of the fastest mana acceleration as well as a couple powerful additions to the strategy (such as Entomb or Necropotence). After countless hours of consideration, I finally came up with something I was ready to pay for and bring to my local LGS to test out. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I managed to combo off during my second turn of the game on the very first Friday Night Magic I played with this iteration of the deck. It definitely felt great but also surprising that a commander with such high mana value can achieve such supersonic speed. Naturally after a while, the local META adapted to the new strategy I was using and games became more challenging. While winning became more difficult, it also added additional skill expression possibilities which I absolutely love. After months of fidgeting with this combo and tweaking the decklist I am now sure that this is my favorite way to play Gitrog (Updated decklist and complete primer can be found here.
Currently, I am extensively play-testing a fresh reincarnation of the deck, that is to some extent a mixture of both previously mentioned play-styles, also infused with a couple fresh-print cards, like Unmarked Grave or Witherbloom Command, which – by the way – is yet another infinite mana outlet that allows us to kill the opponent. I’m experimenting with further lowering the mana curve (Ad Nauseam in Leviathan Commander might become a thing, and I’m being dead serious here), as well as increasing turn two consistency of the deck and cutting down on the deck’s ‘one-shot glass-cannon’ effect, which has sometimes been an issue with the original Dredge Combo list. So far the test results are looking promising and the list looks tighter than Yawgmoth’s grip on the people of Thran – packed with action and highest power-level cards. (In case you’re interested, here is the unfinished prototype list.
Crouching frog, hidden horror - playstyle
Even though both the slower Seasons Past Combo and the Dredge Combo versions are looking to finish off the game with an infinite combo, the path to it is very different for each of those. The latter aims at speed, attempting to finish the opponent off before they find an answer to it, which in itself is a pretty straightforward concept, though it’s by no means a straightforward deck to play. I’d like to talk about the more grindy version of the deck a bit more, since for me it’s play-style is as unique as it gets. First of all, access to multiple cards like Raven’s Crime or Oracle of Mul Daya allows Gitrog to out-value most other generals if the game goes long, which is a strong incentive to play conservatively, slowly chipping away on opponent’s resources, and – when the coast is clear – go for the combo finish, which brings me to the most fun part about this build: the combo line is very often not a guaranteed win and very highly depends on individual decisions made by the player while trying to ‘dig their way into the loop’. Taking into account the particular cards in your hand and on the battlefield, order of plays you make during the turn, number of lands in play and graveyard or your opponent’s possible answers, the probability of successfully finding all the pieces of the combo and executing it can change quite dramatically. One thing is sure though: to even think of starting the shenanigans, you need both Gitrog and Squandered Resources on the battlefield. Once you sacrifice a couple lands for mana and card draw, you can suddenly find yourself at a point of no return – a point where you either go all-in, hoping to find the combo or you’ll be too far behind on your next turns to come back into the game. The weight of each particular decision is huge, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s one of the deck’s biggest charms.
What do frogs eat and by whom are they eaten? – match-ups
Since the article so far has covered both Seasons Past Gitrog as well as Dredge Gitrog versions, the match-ups must be presented for both as well. There are a couple shared match-ups, such as generally speaking, aggro and burn decks. Seasons Past has access to tools like Glacial Chasm or multiple massive removal spells to slow down the opponent, as well as a couple viable ‘Wasteland locks’ which nowadays seem to work against aggro decks more than ever, considering the number of multicolored decks and amount of optimization taking place – less basic lands in the META means more tasty wins for Gitrog. Dredge Gitrog however, simply outraces aggro decks; Obviously this is a general remark, every match is different, but more often than not, with a wise starting hand keep the deck should be simply faster. I have found midrange and control mathups to be generally even for Seasons Past Gitrog, whereas the Dredge version might find it hard to defeat some of the classic control decks just because of how many answers those decks usually run and the ‘glass-cannon’ nature of the deck. Dredge Combo makes up for this lack by being faster than many other combo decks in the format, making those a generally favorable matchup. The discrepancies between particular matchups have made me even more eager to test the new build of the deck, hoping to find middle ground between speed and value grind potential.
An opportunity to write this article has been a great way of appreciating how fascinating Gitrog is, and hopefully, to encourage more Leviathan players to try this Commander for themselves. It is very fun to play and learn, it rewards skill to a high extent and I’m very sad to witness it dying out in format after format. For the time being, Gitrog stays strong in Leviathan when put together and piloted correctly and as long as it does, I’ll keep playing it, refining the decklist and nurturing this Legend for how unique and fun to play it is. Let me know what your thoughts about Gitrog are; Have you played it yourself? What is your favorite build? Or perhaps you’re an avid opponent of this commander – if so, why? The comment section below is yours for the taking.