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Karlov of the Ghost Council: Commander 2015 Preview

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Commander (2015 Edition) is nearly upon us, and we couldn’t be more excited. Five enemy-colored decks featuring all manner of crazy designs and mechanics that are emblematic of those color pairs—what’s not to love? This product is particularly important for some color pairs that have traditionally had somewhat limited selection as far as commanders go.

This has been especially true for a combination like W/B. Sure, there are plenty of options, but how much difference is there between Teysa, Orzhov Scion, Ghost Council of Orzhova, and Athreos, God of Passage? The cards are different, but the decks built around these cards will often end up looking very similar to one another. Commander (2015 Edition) is an exciting opportunity for these color combinations to be redefined and reinvigorated with fresh takes on the themes and mechanics that make the enemy-color pairs unique.

So what kind of awesome designs can we expect from the Church of Orzhova in Commander (2015 Edition)? Karlov of the Ghost Council has a few ideas.

Uriah from CMDR Decks helped us dig into the flavor of where Karlov comes from:

Carlos and Alex are excited to bring you two different takes on Karlov in Commander, featuring all the life-gaining, counter-placing, creature-killing chaos you can stand. Won’t you join us as we find out what kind of power you can bring to bear when you have friends on the Ghost Council?


Carlos Gutierrez is an Associate Editor for Gathering Magic, an engineer-in-training, and a Commander and Pauper enthusiast. By day, he works as a STEM educator, but he spends his weekends hitting all his land drops and trying new board games, puzzles, and video games.

You can find all of him sharing Commander craziness, baked goods on Twitter, and complaints about graduate school at @cag5383.

Karlov forces us to ask a lot of interesting questions during deck-building because there are so many small themes you’re trying to balance. The most important question posed by Karlov is this one: How many sources of incidental life-gain can you build into your deck? The power of Karlov is twofold. First, Karlov is very cheap, which means you can get on the board early and start accumulating +1/+1 counters. Second, Karlov discourages your opponents from spending their removal on him, as you can just unload your +1/+1 counters to exile the offender’s best creature. Even if Karlov is killed, your commander is cheap enough that it just isn’t a big deal.

When I build around a new commander, I try to pick a theme and push on it hard. In the case of Karlov, I want to see just how many +1/+1 counters we can generate. Is it reasonable to attack for 6 or so and then present 21 points of Commander damage after your opponents decline to block? Can you gain enough life that Karlov can function as your primary source of removal? I decided to focus on three primary life-gain engines to find out.

Radiant Fountain
Zuran Orb
Claws of Gix

The first engine involves the use of life-gain lands like Glimmerpost and Radiant Fountain alongside Zuran Orb and Claws of Gix. These allow you to pump Karlov at will, and they combo especially well with the likes of Faith's Reward, Second Sunrise, and Planar Birth to let you grow Karlov to immense proportions, clear away opposing blockers, and still potentially get in for lethal. If you’re uncomfortable going all-in on a Second Sunrise, Crucible of Worlds lets you be a little more moderated. Similarly, Staff of the Death Magus lets you generate a crazy number of individual life-gain triggers, particularly with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth involved.

The second engine focuses on Scrapheap in combination with Salvaging Station, Sun Titan, and potentially Auriok Salvagers. This lets you cycle through cards like Wayfarer's Bauble, Executioner's Capsule, and Nihil Spellbomb, generating value, life, and counters along the way. This engine becomes particularly brutal when you throw cards like Basilisk Collar into the mix with Mortarpod and Triskelavus.

Speaking of tokens, W/B is a great color combination for token attrition. Cards like Attrition, Mortarpod, and Fell Shepherd let you keep them bouncing in and out of play to maximize the triggers you can gain off Falkenrath Noble, Blood Artist, and Soul Wardens. Ranger of Eos helps find Soul's Attendant and Deathgreeter, while Stoneforge Mystic and company can provide redundancy by tutoring up Sylvok Lifestaff.

Put those ideas together, and here’s where I landed for a first pass on Karlov:

Karlov of the Ghost Council ? Commander | Carlos Gutierrez

  • Commander (0)

There are just a couple of quick things to point out that jumped out at me as I discovered them during deck-building. First, Umezawa's Jitte is absurd. Instead of choosing an ability, Karlov allows you to just use all of them at once. Seems fair, right?

With another Pentavus or something, Tomb of the Spirit Dragon might be another repeatable source of life-gain alongside Pristine Talisman. These cards cost you very little to play but do a great job ensuring you can always make Karlov enormous when he hits the battlefield. Opal Palace makes big contributions to that plan as well, particularly in conjunction with Deserted Temple, Vesuva, and Thespian's Stage.

Last, don’t overlook the power of a card like Seraph Sanctuary, particularly when the likes of Archangel of Thune and Angelic Accord are in your deck. This land may seem unassuming, but it actually gains an astonishing amount of incidental life, particularly if you decide to push in a more tribal direction.

All told, I’m enormously excited to play with and against Karlov and find out what the ambition of the Ghost Council is all about.


Alex Ullman is Associate Editor for Gathering Magic, a renowned Pauper (cube and Constructed) player, and member of the victorious 2009 Magic Online Community Cup team.You can find him on Twitter as @nerdtothecore.

When I first saw Karlov of the Ghost Council, I thought, “Well, that’s my kind of Commander.” I love putting smaller legends at the helms of my decks and pursuing a Rube Goldbergian death-by-a-thousand-cuts model of play. This, of course, can have problems in a format in which many people decide to go over the top, but I relish the games in which casting Pilgrim's Eye ten times matters more than a single Insurrection, so I’ll take it.

Three things stood out about Karlov. First, it’s a dedicated life-gain Commander. Second, it’s an interesting board-control option. And third, the ability to pair this with Eldrazi Processors seems interesting. There are plenty of cards that care more about the first two listed elements, and there are only a few Processors, so my first build would trends toward gaining life and controlling the board. I also examined the ability to add +1/+1 counters to Karlov and friends and figured that the ability to repeat this effect might be good in the deck.

Now, Carlos and I share some proclivities for Commander, so it came as no surprise to see our decks had some cards in common. I was happy to see that my build shifted the focus to enchantments (seriously, people—these permanents are so good and hard to stop) and also toward counters. I decided to push a bit harder on the +1/+1 counters and see what I could accomplish.

To that end, here’s my first draft of Karlov of the Ghost Council:

Karlov of the Ghost Council ? Commander | Alex Ullman

  • Commander (0)

Because sometimes you really just want to kill everyone. One. Life. At. A. Time.

Blood Artist
Karlov actually prefers the Orzhov approach, as it helps to bolster his own strength. The ability to gain 1 life over and over is more important than gaining a huge swath of life. To that end, we have three of my favorite black creatures—Blood Artist, Falkenrath Noble, and Zulaport Cutthroat—to help feed Karlov. We’ve added Vampiric Rites to keep the cards flowing. Agent of Masks, Drana's Emissary, and Subversion all help to keep Karlov growing turn after turn. Razor Hippogriff can help retrieve a key artifact while gaining life.

What do we do with all this life? Why, we turn it into cards with Erebos, God of the Dead or Underworld Connections. Use it to make your creatures bigger with Unspeakable Symbol and then mow down your opponents with an Archangel of Thune–fueled Triskelion. Or just use it to stay alive while you maneuver key elements into place.

I’m very excited at the prospect of Emeria Shepherd in this deck. With such a high concentration of enchantments, the deck needs quite a few ways to find back key permanents. Sun Titan and Treasury Thrull manage this in some capacity, but Emeria Shepherd gives the deck another wrinkle.

One theme I eventually cast aside was a Auriok Salvagers package. With more Angels, I would have loved to include a Scroll of Avacyn for repeatable fun, but alas, there are only so many slots.

Karlov wants to bide its time. With a deck like this, it is hard to find any one card that is going to break the game in half. Instead, it is about keeping a low profile and assembling key pieces. Eventually, the final cog will slot into place, and then you have to turn the corner and start picking off enemies. Karlov should be nice and scary by that point, so make sure he’s wearing a Ring of Xathrid, and start going to town.


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