Nearly Identical – Kardur or Karazikar?

(Disrupt Decorum | Art by Sidharth Chaturvedi

Striking Similarities 

Hello! Welcome to Nearly Identical, a series where I investigate two commanders that share similar designs and strategies, deep dive into what sets them apart, and help brewers decide who should be their next commander. My name is Josh and I’ve been playing Magic for about two-and-a-half years now. Even in that short amount of time, I’ve built a few too many commanders, and I’d like to talk about them. Today, I'm taking a look at two commanders that occupy the Rakdos Forced Combat archetype: Kardur, Doomscourge and Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant.

Going to Combat

With goad becoming an evergreen keyword, goading our opponents' creatures has become its own archetype called Forced Combat. Last year, we saw two new commanders be printed for this archetype, both in the Rakdos color identity. Before this, Xantcha, Sleeper Agent was the only commander in Rakdos that was in this archetype, as she forces our opponents to attack with her and suffer if she sticks around for too long, but she doesn't quite embody the spirit of Forced Combat.

Kardur and Karazikar have triggered abilities that goad our opponents' creatures and benefit when they go to combat. Kardur wants attacking creatures to die so that we may drain our opponents, and Karazikar encourages our opponents to attack elsewhere, as it'll give them (and more importantly, give us) card draw. Both offer a similar gameplan of ensuring the game is always moving forward and life totals are going down, but how we achieve that is what sets them apart. 

Kardur offers a slower-paced gameplan, as we'll need to use what creatures our opponents have in order to win. But what if they don't have that many creatures? Well... we'll just give them some! By giving our opponents small token creatures, they'll easily die and trigger Kardur once they enter the fray. Karazikar, on the other hand, speeds up our gameplan significantly. With everyone drawing two cards just for attacking, we'll have to find ways to control the board and ensure we're getting the most out of our commander. Whether our opponents attack each other by force, or by their own volition, the important thing is to get them to kill each other so that we may swoop in for the win.

Shall We Dance?

When we look at the average decklists for both of our commanders, we see that they share 68 cards in common! If we remove the Rakdos staples and mana base they'd obviously share, that still leaves 34 cards that are seen between both decklists. Not surprisingly, though, most of these cards are ones that either goad our opponents' creatures or care about them entering combat. We even see cards like Frontier Warmonger and Frenzied Saddlebrute that'll give their creatures benefits like menace and haste as long as they're not attacking us.

Plus, with an archetype so narrow in Rakdos colors, Karazikar and Kardur both show up in each others' average decklists, as they're both great creatures no matter if they're in the command zone or in the 99.

All-Out War

Kardur, Doomscourge's goad ability happens when he enters the battlefield, which is a one-time effect, versus Karazikar's ability, which can trigger each combat. However, Kardur goads all of our opponents' creatures when he enters. It's worth mentioning that Kardur doesn't actually goad, as the text doesn't specify that; it actually forces our opponents to attack with their creatures, not the creatures having to attack. So, if they have a creature that was flashed in or a creature with haste, they would still have to attack, even though they weren't on the battlefield when Kardur came down, making Kardur's ability technically better than goad (but it does not synergize with effects like Vengeful Ancestor).

Kardur's ability may be an ETB, but there's no shortlist of cards that'll help us trigger Kardur again and again on each of our turns. Conjurer's Closet is the most reliable answer, letting us blink Kardur at our end step. Sword of Hearth and Home will blink Kardur when we deal combat damage and ramp us, making it great utility in our deck, and Malakir Rebirth is one of many cards that'll have Kardur reenter the battlefield when he dies, whether through combat or through sacrifice.

Sacrificing our own attacking creatures is one of the best ways to trigger Kardur multiple times. From playing Kardur, one thing I've noticed is that my opponents will block bigger creatures with their small stuff and take damage from the small things. Whether they're intentionally avoiding Kardur's drain trigger or not, my opponents would rather take small amounts of damage from multiple creatures than block and kill their opponents' weaklings. So, being able to trigger Kardur ourselves will ensure that we're taking charge of their life totals.

Even though they're not letting attacking creatures die, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Damage is still getting through, and that's a huge part of what makes Forced Combat such a lethal strategy, so we're going to have cards like Genesis Chamber and Rite of the Raging Storm that'll give our opponents creature fodder that they can swing and do the killing for us. Tribute to Horobi is especially cool because the flipside will allow us to sac our own creatures during combat and draw us cards.

Some inclusions in Kardur's list that I'd recommend are Witch of the Moors and Veinwitch Coven. Both will bring back creatures we've lost in battle whenever we gain life from Kardur's ability. I'm also running some secret tech in the form of instant-speed board wipes. We can cast Starstorm and Vona's Hunger at the end of an opponent's combat to have all their attacking creatures die and get a ton of Kardur triggers, which synergizes well with all the tokens we've been giving them.

Kardur, Harbinger of Your Doom

Commander (1)
Creatures (25)
Artifacts (12)
Instants (12)
Sorceries (6)
Enchantments (8)
Lands (36)

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A Deadly Alliance

Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant has a different form of Forced Combat that lets us goad specific creatures that we want to enter the ring, whether to have them die in combat or to make sure they go somewhere else, and when they do, you and that opponent will draw a card and lose one life. Karazikar doesn't need to goad creatures for this draw to work either, so your opponents are more than welcome to attack each other to draw two cards each turn while we draw six before it even gets back to us.

The first step in this card-drawing madness is getting our opponents to attack in the first place. Most players, surprisingly, don't like attacking! I've been in games where someone had multiple X/X Hydras that were ready to stomp on everyone and they would just sit there. We need to get people to attack, and small evasive creatures, like Gingerbrute and Changeling Outcast, will allow us to hit our opponents while also goading their best creature. The lifegain from Nighthawk Scavenger is very important to our strategy, as we'll be losing as much as six life each turn on top of the card draw.

One thing about Karazikar's card draw ability is that it'll speed up the game for everyone. Other players are getting to draw two extra cards a turn for simply attacking with two creatures, which can get out of hand quickly, and the life loss just isn't as effective as Kardur's. Kardur's ability is part of the win condition of that deck, but we're more likely to die from Karazikar's life drain than our opponents are, so we'll need cards that'll pressure their life totals even harder. Dictate of the Twin Gods is a risky effect, since it can mean double the damage against us, but with all the creatures being goaded, we're hoping it'll be to our benefit. Deadly Tempest will help slow down any opponents with more creatures than we can handle while also draining a ton of life, and Court of Ambition is great for further draining our opponents or forcing them to discard the cards they just drew.

To take advantage of all our cards in hand, I'd recommend running Walking Atlas, since it'll help ramp out all those lands we draw into. Additionally, Dream Devourer will give us the chance to Foretell the spells that we'd rather save for later than have to discard due to hand size.

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Friend or Foe

At the time of writing, Kardur beats out Karazikar in popularity with over 1400 decks to his name, more than double the number of Karazikar decks, which is only 600. Does this mean Kardur is the superior Rakdos Forced Combat deck? Kardur came out in Kaldheim, which was only a few months, and two Standard sets, before Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, where Karazikar came from the respective Commander precons.

Kardur used to be an underplayed commander until more and more creators started singing praise for how strong the commander can be. Kardur does so much of the heavy work in my deck and all I have to do is find ways to retrigger his ETB. With Karazikar, however, the wincon isn't tacked onto the commander, and we're giving our opponents a huge advantage by drawing cards, but I think Karazikar can be more versatile than the Demon Berserker. What Kardur wants is quite simple and brutish, while Karazikar's success can come in the form of heavy interactions. We're drawing more cards than anyone else, so being able to always have answers will keep us relevant in games and help us come out on top. 

What do you think? Which Rakdos Forced Combat commander would you build? Let us know in the comments below!

Josh is a creative writer that started playing Magic when Throne of Eldraine was released. He loves entering combat and pressuring life totals, and to him, commander damage is always relevant. Outside of brewing many commander decks, he can be found daydreaming about all the fantasy worlds he has yet to write.