Fail, Fail, Fail.
Faithful readers (both of you), I want you to know I tried. I pre-ordered this card. I spent three days pulling werewolves out of my collection. I pulled support cards out of my artifact and land bins. Everything was on track to build a great Werewolf EDH deck for you fine folks with a focus on flavor. I was excited! The problem was that the deck just played awful. Even when playing against a goldfish it was awful. So that's the story I'm going to tell today - one of caution and despair. Invest not in werewolves, EDH player - the time has not yet come.
Before the return to our beloved Innistrad, the Commander community had been begging for a werewolf commander. In his card-by-card stories for Eldrich Moon, Mark rosewater tells this story. Go here if you want to read it, but basically, In the first Innistrad block R&D realized far too late that a legendary werewolf was something the players wanted. Since they couldn't make changes to the current set, Mark slotted it at the to of the "must do" list for the return and fought for it all through the development of Shadows / Eldrich Moon. I love this story - which is why I don't get this card. It seems like we should have gotten a masterpiece - years in the making. Instead we got this guy.
Look... Ulrich is a great card. Dude is a house and can bring the pain when he transforms. He's just not a great Werewolf commander. Mark Rosewater has said that he wanted the card to be a great overall red/green commander, and while that's a fine goal, we have a lot of those. We needed a Werewolf General that strengthens the tribe (or pack, if you will). This is something Ulrich most definitely isn't. If people playing Werewolves in EDH, look at the card and say "Hey that's a great werewolf, but I'll keep Ruric Thar as my General" then the legendary Werewolf is a fail. Period. This card should have been a windmill slam replacement of your non-Werewolf General.
Howling at the Moon.
To understand the problem, let's take a step back. How do Werewolf cards work mechanically? Most Werewolves (excluding the new Eldrazi ones) have rules text on the front of the card that says "At the beginning of each upkeep, if no spells were cast last turn, transform <name>." The flip side then says "At the beginning of each upkeep, if a player cast two or more spells last turn, transform <name>." In short - to transform your Humans into aggressive beasts you need to pretty much sacrifice casting spells for a turn. Fair enough. In response, your opponent needs to figure out how to cast two spells on their turn to prevent getting steamrolled by your pack. This is flavorful and swingy. Perfect for a two player game. A fantastic mechanic and one of my favorites. It is also a huge problem in Commander.
In EDH, the cost to transform is still fine. Transformation is a big deal and it's worth it to the aggressor. The problem, common throughout all multiplayer formats, is that your Werewolves will almost never stay transformed so you can attack. Someone at the table is going to figure out how to prevent it. In a Commander game, it is even worse. The long form of the games means that there is an excessive amount of card draw and open mana. Everyone is casting a lot of spells, and that makes it tough for our furry friends.
This is why Werewolf players cling to Ruric Thar as their Commander - grasping desperately at straws to make the deck work. See, Ruric deals 6 damage to players who cast non-creature spells. That is not a trivial amount, even with 40 life, and it makes the Werewolf problem a bit more of a challenge to combat.
This is the issue a legendary Werewolf needed to shore up. Wizards R&D almost pulled it off - they had the card slot, they had the sweet art and even a perfect mechanic - check out Waxing Moon from Eldrich Moon. This is the ability (in some form) Ulrich needed on his "werewolf side". I'm no developer, so cost it however you want, but give us this effect as a repeatable ability on our General.
Instead we got a +4/+4 single target pump effect on his human side and a fight mechanic on his other. It's just so generic Gruul. It also makes him feel like he's a big dumb bruiser and not an intelligent leader of one of the three largest packs of Werewolves in the multiverse. Keep the high casting cost, whatever it takes, but give us a tribal buff and/or a limited way to control the transformation.
What's a werewolf to do?
If you love EDH and Werewolves are your jam, I have three solutions for you. None of which are perfect, buy hey - options. First, you can always keep running Ruric Thar. He's not a bad General. If it hurts you in the "flavor feels" though you could get an artist to do a card alter to make him look like a werewolf. That could be neat. Second, you could get your group's permission to run Arlinn Kord as your Commander. She "feels" like a leader, buffing your creatures when she flips. From my research it seems like a lot of Commander players are giving this a go. Finally... you can go completely off-the-rails, embrace the chaos and run Ulrich like Mark on GatheringMagic. It's crazy. It's chaotic, AND it (at least) sounds like fun.
Werewolves are a great tribe, and I think one day we will get that Werewolf General we deserve. Until then, I'll continue to collect Werewolves on-the-cheap and on the down-low until the day this is a reality. Maybe we will even get the legendary General in a future supplemental product and we won't have to wait until our next visit to Innistrad.
After all... we only find ourselves there once every blue moon.