Seedborn Musings – Switching Commanders: Karona into Karador

You never were as cool as Akroma or Phage, but you tried.

Why am I so excited about the upcoming Commander product?  It’s not just the Muse Vessel’s preview card this week.  It’s not just the chance to see how to build wedge decks that don’t involve green’s mana-fixing.  It’s the chance to anoint Karador, Ghost Chieftain the head of my first Commander deck, where he had a Karona, False God deck already waiting for him.  I basically had a B/G/W Karona tribal Spirit deck with soulshift and graveyard recursion themes.  Karador is a Spirit, and in playtesting my decks against each other (and one game where the table let me run the deck as Karador rather than Karona), the switch of a few cards and especially to Karador turned my deck from a loser to a winner.  I don’t know how the other new commanders play out, but Karador is absurd, and if you have an existing deck that’s can be turned into his deck, you ought to consider doing it.

That's more like it!

Before I get into the deck at large, a word about how Karador plays out on the field.  In my experience, there isn’t time for anyone to waste spot removal on him.  There’s always something bigger and badder than him you’re casting from your graveyard.  Is that an Artisan of Kozilek you’re casting from your graveyard to bring something else back from your graveyard?  Well, those take the spot removal precedence over a 3/4.  If you kill Karador, he’s just coming back anyway.  Then again, so are the creatures he’s recurring.  Outside of graveyard exile, it takes concentrated hate, the type of hate that would win any game, in order to deal with Karador’s recycling.  Karador’s gone green – and black, and white, and it’s tons of fun.

So what was the deck before, and what does it do now?

In October 2010 or so, I didn’t want to try EDH.  I don’t like singletons in decks normally; I have so many casual decks (around 50 at any given time) that I want consistency when I pick one of them out for a random game.  But I’d had a Karona, False God forever, and taking advantage of multicolor and a weird tribe always appeal to me when possible.  With that, 5-color Spirits came together, in part because of how many I had to choose from and in part from how easy it was to throw it together from Kamigawa block commons.  Granted, there was some power in it – Myojins look good anywhere – but it wasn’t high-powered; it was just a way to help get a game together for those who were inclined.

And then fun things kept happening, fun things that suited my playstyle and made me want to pimp the thing out.  I made a conscious decision to stick to a few primary colors – green/white with some black and touches of blue and red – for consistency’s sake (it’s nice to fix the mana, but it’s nicer not to have to) and was surprised by how many great creatures of old either were printed as Spirits or errata’d to Spirits.  Add in a Clearwater Goblet, a Genju of the Realm (where else is it going to look so good?), and a Crystal Quarry, and all sorts of fun were available.  Soulshift was a fun thing to get going, as were the Odyssey block Phantom creatures; not a lot of decks are well-suited to getting those annoyances out of the way.  I could play most of the game my favorite way: durdling around unnoticed on my side of the board until the time was right to kill someone out of nowhere.  I’d block with some small creature, trigger Promise of Bunrei to get four Spirit tokens, and then swing with them and Karona the next turn for 21.  Failing that, I could go political with Karona, swing at The Threat for 8 damage (Karona’s an Avatar if you want to pump her for Commander damage kill), and then pass Karona around the table to deal more 8s to The Threat.  This got me killed more often than it killed someone else, but it was loads of fun.

The deck wound up being less fun as time went on due to inconsistency and the emergence of my Radha and Sen Triplets decks.  But a friend pointed out to me early into spoiling season that Karador is a Centaur Spirit.  I was already his colors basically, and his abilities were tasty.  I didn’t think I’d want to switch, in part from my absurd and irrational love of Karona, but I goldfished my three decks against each other with Karador as commander along with a few card changes it implied (i.e. take out the cards in other colors and add more global pump to compensate for losing it from the command zone).  And instead of losing every game with Karona, I was winning every game with Karador.  I’m no Spike, but that had me sold.  I was hooked on Karador, and I’ve been waiting for several months to switch my deck over to him so I can lay some serious recursion beats.

Here’s a Gatherer visual spoiler for the deck as it is now, minus 4 mana-fixing artifacts and 11 nonbasic lands (and Karador, since he’s not loaded yet):

(If that has problems loading, here’s a .doc of it:

As you scroll through there, you’ll see a ton of enter-the-battlefield triggers that go perfectly with Karador.  It might surprise you, then, to know that those were in the Karona decklist already!  The only cards I included to compensate for losing Karona were Charge Across the Araba, True Conviction, Death Pit Offering, and Tribal Unity.  A couple minor changes aside, that was the Karona deck.  It looks much, much better as a Karador deck.  Here’s why:

Soulshift was trying to do what Karador reliably does.  If soulshift is a musket, then Karador is a sniper rifle.  Don’t get me wrong; soulshift is highly abusable if you know what you need for a given board state.  But now it’s the backup plan to my commander’s just bringing it out, which is much more where it belongs.  It doesn’t change graveyard hate being good against my deck.  I didn’t introduce any new weaknesses by switching commanders, but I gave more strengths.  Just look at the effects I can recur with Karador on my turns:

  • Recurring destruction with Celestial Kirin (this card seriously is nasty);
  • Recurring Disenchants with Kami of Ancient Law;
  • Recurring Holy Days with Kami of False Hope;
  • Recurring any creature for 3WW with Karmic Guide (just don’t pay the echo to send it to your graveyard and cast it with Karador);
  • Recurring life gain with Wall of Reverence;
  • Recurring discard AND recursion with He Who Hungers;
  • Recurring mass discard with Infernal Kirin;
  • Recurring counters for my phantoms with Jugan;
  • Recurring tokens with Sekki (you want to make combat depressing?  Block with an 8/8 that makes 8 tokens and then comes back next turn for 8 mana anyway);
  • Recurring Lure with Shinen of Life’s Roar; and
  • Recurring beatstick with Phantom Nishoba or Kodama of the North Tree.

That is a huge toolbox, and while soulshift got part of that going, it took a lot more pieces than just having a commander.  These were fine enough with Karona, but they’re a powerhouse with Karador.

Having fewer colors and special lands to fix those colors reduces my sprawl.  I’ve explained several times how I believe sprawl and finicky turns can make someone a disproportionate target by taking a disproportionate amount of attention from other players.  When I had Crystal Quarry and one Island and one Mountain and so on, I kept so many land piles that my board always looked cluttered and took up more space than it had any right to do.  Not anymore; I’m a lot more streamlined in the back to occupy less opponent brain space.  The less brain space I occupy to them is the more opportunity to sneak death onto their heads.

I don’t die to my own commander.  I hear that’s a good thing.

So that’s an awesome Karador shell with only Spirits.  I’m sure you could come up with all sorts of things if you branched out into other creature types.  But since I’m talking about my deck and its interactions, here are some things I love about some of the cards I haven’t mentioned yet and why they’re in here:

  • Aether Shockwave pretty much spells death in whatever combat you wind up using it.  The Threat suddenly finds his board tapped and three angry players ready to take advantage; you buy a turn for your board sweeper by not dying from that swarm over there; etc.  These are all good things.
  • Charge Across the Araba is similarly versatile.  It’s some of the best global pump in the colors, but it also can save part of your board from Armageddon in a pinch, which is something I am fairly certain no other pump spell can do so well.
  • Crib Swap/Nameless Inversion are Spirit cards.  As such, soulshift can bring them back.  I find this hilarious.
  • Eternal Dragon was a chase rare from when I was new at the game.  Plainscycling, flying beats, and a relevant creature type make it perfect here.
  • Kami of the Honored Dead is reasonable insurance against the players with one huge beatstick, but combined with soulshift 6 it’s more than enough to stay in here, even as it seems underpowered in the abstract.
  • Kirtar’s Wrath makes Spirits sometimes, which is cool of Kirtar to do when he’s mad.
  • Shining Shoal is scalable for the Kirins, according to the rulings; if you need Celestial Kirin to destroy permanents at a certain converted mana cost, just pump whatever you need into the Shoal and get there.  Also, if you pitch Crime and Punishment to it, you can choose the 5 side of Crime or the 2 side of Punishment should that matter.
  • Spectral Lynx like all the Spectrals is a Spirit now, and a pro-green regenerator is a rare treat.
  • Choice of Damnations is a solid way of harassing a player, but it goes one step beyond for being Arcane.  Nothing like Celestial Kirin destroying your 6-mana permanents before choosing a number.
  • Death Denied has surprisingly few analogs in the non-Arcane world, especially for being a common.  Instant speed is very relevant here.
  • Graveborn Muse is safe, reliable card draw and a fine writer to boot.
  • Hero’s Demise almost always has targets and is in-block with most of the deck.  Rend Flesh is in the same category but gets points for Arcane status.
  • Thief of Hope and Elder Pine of Jukai have reasonable repeatable abilities that get you subtle advantages, but they’re in here for soulshift curve mainly.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts with these two.
  • Arashi, the Sky Asunder sometimes sees play in big green Commander decks anyway, so his creature type just adds to the utility.
  • Pound for pound, Forked-Branch Garami and Kodama of the Center Tree have the two most useful soulshift abilities ever.  They also hit somewhat hard.
  • Like with Arashi, Kodama’s Reach was a fine play for being in G/x.  Add Arcane and I’m sold.
  • Phantom Centaur is the most useful of the phantom creatures in here by a mile.  Black decks hate when I have this guy out, but it’s not as though red’s fond of him.
  • Realms Uncharted can have its home here as much as anywhere, I suppose.
  • Spectral Force mostly just gets to swing at black decks, but there’s usually one at the table, and it doesn’t like 8/8 tramplers in the early game.
  • Time of Need, as with Eladamri’s Call, usually fetches Celestial Kirin first, but they have the added benefit of getting Karador back if he’s been put in the library, whether by Spin Into Myth, Condemn, or from turning it into a Cerulean Sphinx by somebody Mirrorweaving while Mindslavering my turn.  Sadly, these three are not equally likely possibilities.
  • Crime and Punishment, Pernicious Deed, Fracturing Gust, and Plague Boiler are common high-powered utility for the colors.  I’ve had a card-crush on Pernicious Deed for a long time, and it’s one of the only times I’ve ever spent in excess of 10 dollars on a single card.
  • Second to last and possibly least, Restless Apparition and Radiant Essence are surprisingly effective at beating down in the early game.  Again, assuming a normal prevalence of black at your table, Radiant Essence is straight-up a 3/5 for 3 mana, and that’ll do fine most of the time.
  • Baku Altar is a reasonable backup to Promise of Bunrei.  Unless someone’s playing Stronghold Discipline, Netherborn Phalanx, or Massacre Wurm, it doesn’t hurt to have extra creatures.

Again, aside from the cards I mentioned at the outset, this was my Karona deck, but it basically was waiting for Karador to be printed, as the Ghost Chieftain is precisely what this deck was looking for.  I had to go five-color to do something tribal in one of my favorite wedges, but now I don’t have to thanks to this month’s Commander product.  And while I have no idea how many people that end applies to, that more than anything is why I’m excited about the set release.

Okay, the upcoming preview card doesn’t hurt either.


About Brandon Isleib

Author of Playing for a Winner: How Baseball Teams' Success Raises Players' Reputations; sometimes-writer at GatheringMagic and Muse Vessel; card name/flavor text team for Magic 2015; Wizards of the Coast's first Digital Event Coordinator; directly responsible for the verb "create" on Magic cards; legislation editor for Seattle; voracious music consumer; Christian.
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