Recross the Paths - Karador, Ghost Chieftain

(Karador, Ghost Chieftain | Art by Todd Lockwood)

Dead Men Walking

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Recross the Paths, a series that helps commanders to be seen under a new light.

Today I'll be talking about Karador, Ghost Chieftain, but, as everybody knows that an ooze is a centaur spirit's best friend, it'll come along its dear Companion, Umori, the Collector.

Stage One: The Deck

Karador decks want to play a critical mass of creatures to take full advantage of their commander's abilities. In fact, a graveyard full of bodies means both avoiding commander tax and redeploying powerful threats that were previously removed. For this reason, while pairing Karador with Umori might seem a hazardous move, it also means that almost all the cards in our deck are actively propelling our commander.

Step One: Aggression

When thinking about which creature type would best suit this strategy, Humans immediately come to mind. In fact, given how popular this creature type is, they make for the perfect option for a toolbox deck that can adapt and answer to difficult board states. Being able to recur our creatures over and over again allows us to always be present in the game while hindering our opponents' strategies.

Before going over the interactive aspects of this deck, it's important to recognize the equally kaleidoscopic nature of its aggressive side. On one hand, it's able to carry out a standard aggression through cards like Champion of the Parish or Champion of Lambholt, which will continue on growing the more the game progresses. Even if they get removed, we can just play them again from the graveyard and start rebuilding.

On the other hand, Humans are also able to modify the landscape of the whole game, introducing mechanics such as the Monarchy or the Initiative, which, as a Pauper enjoyer myself, I'm extremely fond of. For this reason, Thorn of the Black Rose and Seasoned Dungeoneer are perfect tools in our arsenal, as they make combat steps asymmetrically difficult. In fact, our opponents will need to carefully plan their attacks in order to defend their bonuses, while we can be much more relentless, since we can just recast these creatures to regain control over the benefits.

Step Two: Ramp

One of the major concerns while playing a creature-only deck is being actually able to play said creatures, but, once again, we have just the right tools to ramp even while not playing the usual staples.

First, we can rely on cards such as Diligent Farmhand, Veteran Explorer, and Primal Druid, which reward us when they hit the graveyard. If we happen to need additional lands, we can just play them again and take advantage of their death triggers. Second, the number of mana dorks available is actually impressive, but two of them stand out from the crowd. Biophagus is an excellent inclusion that merges utility and incidental benefits, granting buffs to our creatures without any drawback, and I can't help but smile seeing it side by side with Humble Naturalist. After that, Somberwald Sage pairs an extremely powerful effect with a self-imposed limitation that has always hurt its inclusion rate. Nonetheless, it can finally shine when included in a list that includes more than 60 creatures.

Step Three: Card Draw

By now, it should be clear how this list is composed of two synergistic poles, one aggressive and one recursive. Our card-drawing options are no exception: we can rely on Tymna the Weaver and Werewolf Pack Leader to refill our hand while attacking on our opponents; then, we can benefit from our creatures hitting the graveyard through Species Specialist, Grim Haruspex and Morbid Opportunist before replaying them and starting this cycle all over again.

An interesting inclusion that falls in the middle between this section and the previous one is Yavimaya Elder. While usually not that good, it can be a cheap repeatable way of drawing cards and assuring we hit our land drops.

Step Four: Interactions

The peculiarity of our deck allows to exploit usually mediocre cards. In addition to the usual suspects, such as Bounty Agent and Palace Jailer, we also run Dokuchi Silencer, which is removal when it enters the battlefield and then becomes a must-block creature. Of course, the downside of discarding a creature card is fully nullified by our commander.

When dealing with artifacts and enchantments, Cathar Commando and Outland Liberator are our bread and butter, as they are cheap to cast and to sacrifice, meaning we won't have any problem at all removing our opponents' ramp and stax pieces.

Lastly, we get access to board wipes as well. Magus of the Disk is a Nevinyrral's Disk on a stick in this deck, meaning it will clear the vast majority of the permanents in play when it's activated, and we can re-cast it any time we need to hit the reset button. Some unexpected aid comes from Mageta the Lion, a repeatable Wrath of God that also actively fills our graveyard, de facto nullifying the discard cost.

Step Five: On-Type Synergies

There are several powerful effects that keep together this multitude of creatures. Cards such as Cavalry Pegasus, Cloaked Cadet, and Herald of War all reward our enterprising side, giving us easier attacks, buffed stats and discounts whenever we decide to swing all out with our creatures. Moreover, Torens, Fist of the Angels and Kyler, Sigardian Emissary repay us for going wide and playing multiple creatures, with the first basically doubling them and the second making them huge. Such effects can be exploited even more if paired with something like a Deranged Outcast, which will spread even more stats among our creatures.

What if everything goes wrong? Look no further than Angel of Glory's Rise, a card that can singlehandedly win us the game if things go long and our graveyard becomes crowded.

Step Six: Complete Decklist

Karador/Umori Humans

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Aggression (13)
Ramp (10)
Card Draw (10)
Interactions (13)
On-Type Synergies (15)
Lands (38)
Sideboard (1)

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Stage Two: The Data Room

We’re now on to the last part of this deck tech: the data room. Was this deck idea actually unique? Let's compare the list against both the average Karador and the average Human deck deck to see what we gained (and lost) in the process.

Step One: The Average Karador Deck

Leading armies of undead creatures allowed Karador to build its reputation as a premier Abzan commander. In fact, it is third in popularity within its color combination, 143rd overall, with 4143 decks registered on EDHREC.

Of course, Karador decks are all about putting creatures in the graveyard, so I wanted to see how the creatures we included perform when in a more usual environment.

The numbers here tell us quite a few thing about the habits of players piloting lists with our same commander. First off, Grim Haruspex is still a beloved option when thinking about card draw, given how well it synergizes with the plan of putting creatures in the graveyard. I was also surprised to see such a disparity in the inclusion rate of Cathar Commando and Outland Liberator. In fact, while the baseline is the same (being cheap ways to remove pesky artifacts and/or enchantments), people seem to value a lot more the possibility of casting Cathar Commando at instant speed. On the other hand, the idea of flipping Outland Liberator, which means being able to keep on removing said impediments, doesn't result as appealing.

Next, regarding our ramp options, Yavimaya Elder and Diligent Farmhand are the most popular (even if generally not really played) thanks to their ability to sacrifice themselves. By contrast, Veteran Explorer and Primal Druid, which serve the same purpose but cannot put themselves in the graveyard, get far less attention from Karador players.

Lastly, we can get an idea of how much people are interested in Human strategies looking at Species Specialist's inclusion rate. In fact, given how basically no one plays it, we can deduce that Karador is seldom built around any single creature type.

Step Two: The Average Human Deck

The most popular Human commander is Kyler, Sigardian Emissary, let's see how our Human-related cards perform in this different environment.

What's eye-catching in the graph is the absurd inclusion rate of certain cards, but I think they all have a precise reason behind it. In fact, I highlighted in orange the cards that were present in the Coven Counters preconstructed Commander deck. While said deck didn't feature Kyler as its commander, the card was present in the 99, and many decided to use it as a replacement for Leinore, Autumn Sovereign. Still, many of the cards present in the original list work perfectly even with this alternative general, which lead people to keep on playing them after the switch as well. This easily explains why Heronblade Elite and Sigarda, Heron's Grace are basically omnipresent when looking at Kyler decks.

A pretty similar reasoning applies to Katilda, Dawnhart Prime and Torens, Fist of the Angels. These cards were printed in the two Innistrad sets released in late 2021, Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow, which means that those who bought the Coven Counters deck could easily get their hands on these newly printed, highly synergistic cards. This temporal proximity made these cards auto-includes, while their powerful abilities allowed them to survive the test of time and still be pivotal pieces of the most played Human deck.

Lastly, we have a series of card that may finally have their time to shine in this list. Some of them, like Riders of Gavony or Herald of War, were among those that didn't make the cut when players started to tweak and improve the previously mentioned preconstructed deck. Anyway, our peculiar environment is based on an extremely high density of creatures, which will allow them to unleash their full potential.

Others, such as Hamlet Vanguard or Cavalry Pegasus, never really got much attention, but they may finally have their time to shine now. In fact, they are both extremelly aggressive cards, which rely on huge stats and a wide board presence respectively to pressure our opponents. This fits perfectly with our gameplan, as Karador's ability to play creatures from the graveyard pushes us towards a more relentless play style.

Finally, I wanted to talk about the inclusion of Rick, Steadfast Leader. Its history is controversial, and this combined with its low availability (and the consequently high market price) leads to an obviously low inclusion rate. Still, it's a powerhouse in every Human deck, so I couldn't help but include it in the final list.

Takeaways from Today's Article

  • Karador and Umori are a match made in heaven. The possibility of discounting all of the nonland cards in our deck in conjuction with the ability of replaying them from the graveyard is an extremely powerful value engine.
  • However, there are some obvious downsides to this strategy. By choosing this route, we deny ourselves the access to staples such Sol Ring and Rampant Growth as ramp option or Swords to Plowshares and Deadly Rollick for removal. While these limitation do not prevent us from creating a fully functional list, they do make us quite a lot weaker to mass removal and setbacks in general.
  • Humans received a lot of attention in recent sets. This brought along a lot of powerful creatures that are quickly becoming staples of their own decks. Still, this doesn't stop some old goodies such as Thalia's Lieutenant from being played in over 75% of the Human lists lead by the most popular commander in this archetype.
  • Since 'Human' is the most common creature type in the whole game, there are endless possibilities for thematic builds. This means that, even if there are some cornerstones that will probably see play in every dedicated list, most of the creatures will change depending on personal taste and preference, allowing each deck to be unique and different from someone else's.

That’s all from me for the moment. I hope you enjoyed this deck tech, but now it’s on to you! What do you think of it? Would you have changed anything? Is there something you particularly liked? Most importantly, do you believe this was a true innovation? Let me know in the comments below!

Jonathan is an Italy-based Magic enjoyer that has been playing, although with some pauses, ever since Mirrodin released. His passion for EDH bloomed in 2018 and, with it, the love for exotic and underrepresented builds. When he is not complaining about an “unfair” removal, you can find him fiercely defending his Delver of Secrets at a pauper table.

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