MTG: Karador and the Decisive Combo

Some Commanders create a robust structure around them, a sort of general-purpose space where you can use them to construct a solid but not unreasonable deck. Sometimes a Commander is a back-up plan, who can come in to bat clean-up after your deck has done its thing. Sometimes a commander enables a slow, grinding playstyle and sometimes they are the sword which you plunge into other players’ hearts.

Maybe we’ll talk about some of those soon.

Anyway, one of my favourite Commanders, a commander who helped really crystallise me as a Commander player on MTGO, is Karador, Ghost Chieftain.

I may just be a sucker for playing dudes with antlers.

The challenge of building Karador is this: it’s very easy to go infinite when you start tooling around in the graveyard.

Specifically in these colours, too. There are a lot of cards that you might put into a Karador deck for value that when you start involving replaying or whatnot result in infinite combos, combos that combine a lot of elements I don’t like. I don’t like when a combo needs a ton of explaining, I don’t like when a combo requires a ton of clicking on MTGO and I don’t like when a combo can fold to accidental hate like Bokuja Bog.

The challenge of designing Karador then comes in the form of making a deck that can run as value, rather than combo, without necessarily feeling like it’s wasting that value. It’s one thing to cut Reveillark because you don’t want to play a combo deck but it’s hard to see that deck as probably better with Reveillark.

That’s a challenge because it’s very hard to make a deck that wants something more than infinite winning on the spot at random points. It’s hard to beat ‘win the game’ as something your deck can occasionally, randomly do.

Nonetheless, it is doable, and I have been working on this list for – (checks dates) Jesus christ, a whole year? There have been multiple set releases that added to this deck. That’s a trip.

As per usual, I do an 8×8 model of deck building; I work out 8 things the deck wants to do, and then make eight piles, eight cards strong, of that effect. Cards can do things that might put them in a few piles, but the purpose of the piles is to make sure that your deck has a bunch of an effect in it – so if you build a deck for graveyard dickery, you don’t have half your deck accidentally doing graveyard dickery, you are aware of just how much of it you have, and how likely you are to draw more graveyard dickery.

Pile 1. Morphs.

Yeah, no, seriously. Morphs. The thing with morphs is that morphs give you a kind of utility effect you can book on lay-away. It’s a creature-based effect, and a bunch of them can hide their overall impact. Morphs are fine enough creature fodder to dump into sacrifice outlets. There is a weird interaction between morphs and Karador on MTGO though – you play a morph from your graveyard face-down, you pay their standard mana cost. Nice for Den Protector and Ainok Survivalist, but not so nice for Exalted Angel.

Hidden Dragonslayer, Ainok Survivalist, Den Protector, Grim Haruspex, Exalted Angel, Bane of the Living, Hystrodon, Nantuko Vigilante

Most of this pile is handy utility effects, but the thing is, if you have six morphs in your deck, why wouldn’t you add Exalted Angel to get the occasional Serve On Turn Four and try to run away with the game. Grim Haruspex is just a useful Aristocrats effect that you can play face down if you wanna play the shell game or get players to spend removal on a random cheap creature. The other beast is Bane of the Living, which is important to this deck because it’s a reusable Wrath effect, and we’re going to talk about Wrath effects.

Pile 2. Wrath Effects

Pick the eight wraths you like that are destroy rather than exile effects. I like Merciless Eviction and Descend Upon The Sinful a lot but they’re not cards that you can use alongside Karador’s want of a fill yard. Damnation would be good, but I didn’t have 3 dollars to spare on it right now.

End Hostilities, Fumigate, Planar Outburst, Phyrexian Rebirth, Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, Eliminate the Competition

I also like Fumigate and End Hostilities, because End Hostilities will occasionally pop important equipment that are normally chosen for their ability to avoid wraths. Also I have an unnatural love of Bontu’s Last Reckoning. I haven’t played with Eliminate the Competition in multiplayer yet and it might be a mistake.

Pile 3. Coffin Fodder

Now, you might think this is where we get Dredge cards involved. No. Dredge pulls you towards powerful effects that draw lots of cards and go for big powerful one-shot spells and hey look at that we’re at combo again (like with my Jund deck from this time last year). No, these are cheap creature cards that can put cards into the graveyard.

Stitcher’s Supplier, Lotleth Troll, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kami of False Hope, Carrion Feeder, Satyr Wayfinder, Cryptbreaker, Viscera Seer

With the exception of Cryptbreaker, these cards can instant-speed and mana free dump creature cards into the graveyard for some gain. Particularly of note, I like Stitcher’s Supplier and Satyr Wayfinder as cards that can plonk a reasonably large number of cards in the bin for almost no investment. You can also get some super bursty early turns with (for example) Stitcher into Carrion Feeder into killed Stitcher into Karador and now it’s turn four and you effectively have six more cards in your hand.

Pile 4. Utility Removal

Hey, you need to blow up some stuff your opponents do. Sometimes cheaply, sometimes you want something big and gross to do it and that’s how we do it here. There are so many effects in this vein you can price them big or small and you’ll be fine. Don’t forget we also have the Morph cards for some removal effects. I think I built this deck to be very hostile to artifacts and enchantments without necessarily including any global removal.

Qasali Pridemage, Thrashing Brontodon, Angel of Despair, Woodfall Primus, Reclamation Sage, Reaper from the Abyss, Noxious Gearhulk, Ravenous Chupacabra

You have your favourite creature kill cards. I want ones with toes, hence this lineup. There are ofther effects you might want depending on your playgroup. Things like the Brontodon and Pridemage are here to discourage people from playing broken enchantments, but the Chupacabra and Gearhulk are there to clean up on the creatures that already did.

Pile 5. We Who Are Born To Die

There’s a particular subset of creatures that, when played, can either die when they arrive, or die the turn later; these are great chump blockers, especially if they give you value on the way out the door. These creatures are mostly Echo cards, but there are also Exploit cards and the Edict-On-Feet creatures.

Vulturous Aven, Shriekmaw, Merciless Executioner, Fleshbag Marauder, Yavimaya Granger, Deranged Hermit, Bone Shredder, Karmic Guide

Hi Karmic Guide. You’re one of the most flexibly breakable cards I’ve ever played with. Karmic Guide is an obviously handy card worth playing in any graveyard deck running white, and much like Ghave, Guru of Spores, it just interacts with everything and that’s kind of amazing. It’s surprising how many cards you play with that make Karmic Guide better. In this deck, it’s your 5 mana way to play the really expensive cards in your bin cheaply rather than pay retail for them.

Pile 6. Graveyard Triggers

And here’s the Aristocrats! Or well, the opposite of those. Here are the cards that make all your wraths really good. These creatures want the board crowded. These cards want ideally to see people build up a clogged up board, then, as people start to get worried about big interactions, you wrath, blow up the board, re-re-re-play Karador, and start setting up this kind of nonsense again. Or you can just kill people by Wrathing away 30 creatures with a Poison-Tip Archer on the board.

Blood Artist, Zulaport Cutthroat, Poison-Tip Archer, Pious Evangel, Dross Harvester, Falkenrath Noble, Sifter of Skulls, Ogre Slumlord

This is the deck at its heart; it wants to avoid Combo in exchange for Value. After a wrath you’ll have creatures, you’ll have a bin full of creatures, and you may have swept a good 10 points of life off every player.

Also, Poison-Tip Archer is the best example of his effect. Better than the Zulaport Cutthroat.

Pile 7. Yard Draw

Get it? Get it? It’s like Card Draw, but it relates to your graveyard!

Okay, so the principle here is these are cards that ‘get you more cards’ and relate to your Karador-based creature wing. There isn’t really a ‘get a bunch more cards in hand’ cards in this deck, but these cards get you more cards while giving you bodies on the ground in some way.

Moriok Replica, Yavimaya Elder, Undderealm Lich, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed, Molderhulk, Ramanup Excavator, Shefet Monitor, Eternal Witness

I didn’t think I would like Molderhulk or Izoni, but they’re both really strong at what they do. Paying GB to get a land out of the bin and make a 6/6 blocker, untapping with it, serving for 6, sacrificing it then replaying it again is pretty sweet and gives you a lot of flexibility in other spaces.

Pile 8. The Abzan Value

Alright now here’s your big box of Hey That’s Neat. Jam in this pile a bunch of cards that are just Nice to have. You could go 4-and-5 drop bananas here and just pack down Ravenous Baloth, Spiritmonger, Arborback Stomper, Thragtusk and – wow, that’s all Beasts, isn’t it? Neat. Anyway, this is where I jammed a bunch of 3-5 Cards That Are Pretty Damn Good.

Siege Rhino, Aid from the Cowl, Pelakka Wurm, Mirari’s Wake, Loxodon Hierarch, Reaper of the Wilds, Nyx Weaver, Splinterfright

As with many of these cards, you can juggle the piles around to get a few more things you like and a few fewer than you like. I know full well there are cards I’d probably like more than Reaper of the Wilds (like Aryel, Knight of Windgrace, for example, who’s super neat, or Doom Whisperer that I don’t think I have a chance of playing with any time soon, or Josu Vess which is kinda neat).

You can juggle everything around, of course. The purpose here isn’t about making sure your classify Nyx Weaver and Splinterfright as ‘yard draw’ properly or whatever. Bane of the Living could be a Wrath and Grim Haruspex could be a Aristocrat, for example.

This is the Karador I like to play. It’s a value deck, but its value multiplies. You’re not spending your turns durdling around waiting on your opponents to give you your turn so you can sit back behind your dinky card game machine. This is a game where you can periodically blow everything up because hey, you don’t set the rules, I set the rules. It’s a deck that can end every turn, no matter how badly you wreck the board with at least two cards up and ready to defend you.

The final build (where I snuck in a Grim Flayer because I got one for cheap), as presented, here:

Value Karador

Commander (1)
Karador, Ghost Chieftain

Morphs (8)
Hidden Dragonslayer
Grim Haruspex
Bane of the Living
Ainok Survivalist
Den Protector
Hystrodon
Exalted Angel
Nantuko Vigilante

Wraths (8)
Day of Judgment
Bontu’s Last Reckoning
Wrath of God
End Hostilities
Fumigate
Phyrexian Rebirth
Planar Outburst
Eliminate the Competition

Coffin Fodder (8)
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Lotleth Troll
Kami of False Hope
Satyr Wayfinder
Cryptbreaker
Viscera Seer
Stitcher’s Supplier
Carrion Feeder

Utility Removal (8)
Woodfall Primus
Ravenous Chupacabra
Thrashing Brontodon
Reclamation Sage
Noxious Gearhulk
Angel of Despair
Reaper from the Abyss
Qasali Pridemage

We Who Are Born To Die (8)
Yavimaya Granger
Merciless Executioner
Karmic Guide
Deranged Hermit
Bone Shredder
Fleshbag Marauder
Vulturous Aven
Shriekmaw

Graveyard Triggers (8)
Sifter of Skulls
Ogre Slumlord
Falkenrath Noble
Poison-Tip Archer
Pious Evangel
Blood Artist
Zulaport Cutthroat
Grim Flayer

Yard Draw (8)
Moriok Replica
Yavimaya Elder
Underrealm Lich
Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
Molderhulk
Ramunap Excavator
Shefet Monitor
Eternal Witness

The Abzan Value (8)
Siege Rhino
Aid from the Cowl
Pelakka Wurm
Mirari’s Wake
Loxodon Hierarch
Reaper of the Wilds
Nyx Weaver
Splinterfright
Lands (35)
Stirring Wildwood
Shambling Vent
Hissing Quagmire
Woodland Cemetery
Sunpetal Grove
Isolated Chapel
Godless Shrine
Overgrown Tomb
Sandsteppe Citadel
Command Tower
Grim Backwoods
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
Plains
Forest
Swamp

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