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Dragging Creatures to the Afterlife with Karlov of the Ghost Council


There is something fun, I think, about a build-around Commander. Sometimes raw power is a thing, and some Commanders are just good straight out of the Command Zone, but not every game is a cutthroat race to see who can win the fastest. If you take a more casual approach, having a Commander which requires some work can be a lot of fun - will you pull it off? Will you not? Let's find out!

Today's Commander, the last in my series of Commanders who murder things, is a great example of one which requires some work. The payoff might not even be worth it! But it's fun, cheap, has the potential to be quite powerful, and at the very least should be pretty fun. After all, you are playing with a rattlesnake.

Karlov of the Ghost Council

We get a 2/2 for two mana. That's not, y'know, great, but it's also not terrible. An early Commander is a thing, especially when that Commander can get big, and this one really can. Every time we gain life, we put two +1/+1 counters on Karlov. Then, even better, we can pay two mana and remove six of those counters to Exile a Creature. So, like I said, we'll need to do some work (Karlov doesn't gain life on its own), but decently built we should be able to keep some control of the board and probably wind up with a reasonably large Commander who might even be able to win some games for us.

Karlov of the Ghost Council | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Card Display

I like to follow my Top Five Deck-building Tips. They function in a number of ways: if you're building your first or second deck, or you have trouble building decks that work well, they are a good set of rules to follow which will make a cohesive (if not optimized) deck. As we move on in deck-building, we get better and learn where to deviate from the standard practices, but I still keep them in mind every time I build a deck. If I'm not putting 40 Lands in my deck, you better believe I have thought about it and have a compelling reason why. I this case, I don't, so I'm starting with 40 Lands.

Most of our Lands are here to help our rather intense color requirements (Black and White both seem to have a lot of cards which cost www or bbb), but we also have a fair few Lands which give us extra value. Vault of the Archangel, for example, gives all our Creatures Lifelink, which is a great way to make sure we gain life and put those counters on Karlov. Arcane Lighthouse and Detection Tower light up our opponent's Creatures, and Karn's Bastion Proliferates, adding more counters. Castle Locthwain and War Room both draw cards. All of these are good things.

In addition, we have 8 mana rocks. Again, most of them fix our colors (we're not ramping to Karlov, so it doesn't matter if they come down on turn three), and Pristine Talisman is well-worth it because we can tap it to gain life every turn. A few of them will also draw cards later, should we not need the mana.

I'm generally a fan of repeatable draw, and we have some here in the likes of Skullclamp and Well of Lost Dreams (which is great here, and a good use of excess mana). The Gaffer will often trigger. However, sometimes we just need a few cards and we need them now, and that's when Sign in Blood and Night's Whisper come in handy. Don't be afraid to cast these early. Also, the life costs on Castle Locthwain and War Room should be pretty negligible given how much life we'll be gaining, so when you have the mana, draw a card or two or three.

This deck is functioning as a control deck, so it doesn't really have a specific path to win. All our resources are poured into not losing. Probably our best bet is Karlov himself, because even after we've cleared the board of pesky enemy Creatures we'll still gain life and make him bigger, so if he can connect he can probably do a lot of damage. That said, we're also probably going to have a number of other Creatures kicking around which can attack and potentially win the game for us. Sunscorch Regent, maybe? I've honestly won a game off the Extort trigger on a Crypt Ghast. Pay attention and you'll figure it out.

On the other hand, we fully intend to not let anyone else have any toys. What we can't get rid of with Karlov we'll get rid of with other stuff. We've got Generous Gift and Stroke of Midnight. We've got Fracture and Despark. We've got Heliod's Intervention and Merciless Eviction. If someone has a thing, we're likely going to be able to take care of it. And while we're at it, we'll constantly be threatening to Exile stuff with Karlov. We should be able to keep the board pretty clear.

The thing we're primarily doing is gaining life, and we're mostly going to do it with the Soul Sisters. They are not as flashy as some other methods, but they draw less attention. We have a bunch of Creatures which say "whenever a Creature enters the Battlefield, gain 1 life" or something like it, and all of them stack and all of them count as different instances of gaining life, so each one will put two counters on Karlov. We want to play out a few of these kinds of things to get the party started. Additionally, we have things like Drana's Emissary, which drains for one on our Upkeep, Spectrum Sentinel which is a weirdly effective blocker but also counts when our opponents play nonbasic Lands (I suspect that will happen), and Wispdrinker Vampire, which will trigger for the vast majority of our Creatures, at least.

Additionally, we care about gaining life in other ways. Crested Sunmare is going to spit out 5/5 Indestructible Creatures for us. Witch of the Moors helps keep the board even more clear and gives us our stuff back. Amalia Benavides Aguirre Explores each time we gain life. And don't sleep on Case of the Uneaten Feast - the ability to buy back a few of our Creatures from the 'yard can be quite useful.

What's your favorite build-around Commander? Let us know on social media!

Thanks for reading.

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