Karona, False God by Matthew D. Wilson
Start with the end in mind. A classic statement in practical writing, and one applicable to today's tale. The entity you see above - Karona, False God - is the culmination of a whole host of events that make up MtG's Onslaught Block. Plenty of Legendary figures play part, many changing form, alliance, and even color alignment along the way. It's a long story, but Commander makes for the perfect stage for reenactment.
Commander allows us to recruit a general from Magic's history to lead a 99-card army. But what's the connection between these legendary cards and their actual legends? It is possible to build decks in such a way that we can see these stories play out in the course of a game? Or, if we prefer to take a more active hand, meddle with the fate of our heroes and villains? History need not be written in stone.
It can be written in ink.
Or in our case, cardboard.
Today, we'll delve into the ancient lore of Magic: The Gathering and fuse it with our deck-building. The resulting Frankenstein's monster will be a pair of fully playable Commander decks, complete with themes and synergies, that also recount a story from Magic's fabled past. All card and deck-building choices will serve to tell the tale, allowing you to regale your playgroup (while you simultaneously crush them).
So, join me, brave brewer, on this quest to recreate the past. And win while doing so.
We open on a healing world. One trying to move on from Apocalypse, both literally and metaphorically. The hope is to return Dominaria back to a semblance of peace. An effort that is unfortunately short-lived.
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa by Matthew D. Wilson
Raised around fire and blood, a remorseful barbarian quests for serenity in a savage world
Ixidor, Reality Sculptor by Kev Walker
Proficient in illusion, a lost wizard finds purpose and power under the crushing weight of grief.
One combatant connected to the Earth: Strength, Instinct, Nature
The other entirely cerebral: Intellect, Control, Illusion
Two polar forces about to clash! But first, some ground rules...
1. Function comes first
Our mission is to design playable Commander decks that not only detail story arcs, but also seek to win the game. For example, Kamahl's Summons is fitting in flavor, but not functionally aligned with what our deck is trying to do. As such, it's left on the cutting room floor. Stonebrow, Krosan Hero is a close friend and ally to Kamahl, but his Gruul color identity nixes him from inclusion in a Mono-Green build. Similarly, Akroma, Angel of Wrath is intrinsically linked to Ixidor within the lore, but separated by the rules.
2. Flavor still dictates card selection
A card's connection to Magic lore may disqualify it from this experiment. The notorious Cyclonic Rift is powerful, but also intrinsically linked to the Izzet Guild, with their logo literally stamped right onto it. Don't expect [card]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa" href="/p/Magic+The+Gathering/Kamahl, Fist of Krosa" href="/p/Magic+The+Gathering/[card]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa">[card]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa">Kamahl, Fist of Krosa" href="/p/Magic+The+Gathering/[card]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa">[card]Kamahl, Fist of Krosa to wield a Vorpal Sword. Cards can only reference planes/characters they're organically linked to. Depending on how much "narrative vs. competitive" matters to you personally, I leave it up to you to tinker with the builds as you see fit. Commander is all about creativity, after all.
3. That said, if a card could exist on another plane, it's totally up for grabs
Today's tale may not involve Amonkhet, but I see no reason something like Scavenger Grounds is out of bounds. Such an environment could feasibly appear in many worlds, and the graveyard hate it provides is an important tool for a Commander deck to have in its pocket. We're allowing wiggle-room when picking cards that could feasibly slide into any narrative. Monastry Loremaster and Stratus Dancer may hail from the Tarkir block, but can easily slide into Onslaught without impacting the story of either.
Our rules covered, let's get to the good stuff!
Onslaught by J. Robert King
After the failed Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria, the world is saved, but left in rough shape. The metallic armies of Yawgmoth caused devastation to the majority of the plane. One continent, the land of Otaria, was far enough away from the central battles to emerge with only minimal damage. As civilizations start to rebuild, Otaria finds itself in the best spot to do so. But that certainly doesn't mean the land is civil.
Grand Coliseum by Carl Critchlow
Marauding barbarians are common. Militant religious orders hold the north. And the vast majority of wealth and power lie in the hands of the Cabal, a shadowy organization who run Otaria's biggest moneymaker: The Pits. Gladiatorial bloodsport that attracts all manner of fighter from across the land. Then puts them through the proverbial meat grinder.
The first trilogy - The Odyssey Block - introduces us to this new land and our Conan-like protagonist Kamahl, Pit Fighter. He's a walking sledge-hammer with a huge anger management issue that'll haunt him later. And set the gears in motion for events in Onslaught. But for now, he's a barbarian on a mission. Something mysterious has been calling Kamahl to the pits. More than simple lust for bloodshed and fame. The object Kamahl discovers is the driving force behind the entire trilogy.
Onslaught begins after Kamahl has chosen to cast the Mirari aside (by impaling it through the body of Ambassador Laquatus, essentially a Merfolk Littlefinger) and seek repentance. During his time with the Mirari, it enhanced Kamahl's power immensely. Seeing as he started out with rage issues, you can imagine how much of a problem this became. Many were killed. Many more hurt, among them Kamahl's own sister, Jeska, Warrior Adept. The near-fatal wounding of Jeska was the last call, and after entrusting her to centaur buddy Seton, Krosan Protector for healing, Kamahl set out to dispose of the Mirari for good.
He returns a new man, one who's outlook has transitioned to a literal growth mindset. Kamahl leaves his life as a warrior and begins a monk-like study of nature. Barbarian becomes druid. Kamahl, Pit Fighter has evolved into Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. He returns to Seton's home to make amends with his sister and start a new life, one free of violence.
Naturalize (Onslaught version) by Ron Spears
Unfortunately, that happily-ever-after notion is woefully short-lived. Kamahl, Fist of Krosa finds his sister missing and Seton, Krosan Protector very much dead. While Kamahl was away, Cabal dementia-sorcerer Braids, Cabal Minion snuck into Seton's place and made Jeska a dark deal. She'd heal the warrior's wounds, but the transformation would change Jeska. At Seton's refusal, Braids killed the poor centaur and whisked Jeska away to Aphetto, capital city of the Cabal's empire. Kamahl smells treachery, so he immediately sets a course for Aphetto.
A short while later, we flash to the heart of the Cabal's city and meet duo Ixidor and Nivea. Both are veteran combatants in the gladiatorial pits and looking for turn their winnings into freedom. One last fight is all it'll take and they'll have enough money to start a new life. One of peace. On top of that, Ixidor's skill at illusionary magic helped add a bit more (counterfeit) coin to the wager that they'd win their next match. So yeah. You can already imagine how well this will go.
Their opponent is Jeska, now twisted into a vile creature known as Phage the Untouchable. Not only does Phage possess all the prowess of her former life as a warrior, but her very touch rots whatever living tissue it comes into contact with. Ixidor and Nivea put up a good fight, but ultimately Nivea is killed by Phage's touch and Ixidor exiled from Aphetto, his fake-money scheme coming to light after the defeat. Stripped of his love, his possessions, his entire former life, Ixidor now wanders the desert swearing revenge. Unbeknownst to him, Ixidor's grief unlocks the full potential of his brand of magic, allowing him to turn his illusions into real, corporal objects. And even living beings. In short time, the disgraced illusionist establishes a kingdom, Topos (Future Sight), made manifest entirely via his own willpower.
Once Kamahl reaches Aphetto, his first attempt to reach Jeska results instead in him meeting Phage in the Pits. Although now a different person, Phage has enough of Jeska's memories that she resents Kamahl. His injury put her there in the first place after all. Their first skirmish accomplishes little, with Kamahl retreating to the forest of Krosa for some bestial assistance. Since leaving the Mirari stuck in Laquatus-corpse, it's magic has warped the plants and animals of the woods into mighty beasts. Beasts Kamahl is all too happy to turn into an army and march on Aphetto. One lucky centaur gets some additional might-magic blasted into him and becomes Stonebrow, Krosan Hero, Kamahl's leuitenant. They make their way back to the Pits, ready for a rematch. Only for Akroma, Angel of Wrath, who bears the face of Nivea, to arrive with Phage's blood on her mind. It takes the combined effort of Phage and Kamahl to fend off the angel, who manages to retreat sans-legs. Despite their differences, brother and sister form a temporary alliance of Cabal and Krosan army to march against the rapidly growing illusionary forces of Ixidor.
Akroma returns to Topos and receives replacement jaguar legs from Ixidor (they'll become metal lances later). She informs her creator of the Phage/Kamahl duo and the kingdom prepares for war. The battle that follows sees Ixidor unleash his illusion magic onto the nightmares of his opponents, causing what they fear most to literally materialize in front of them. This tactic proves incredibly effective, until it get to Phage the Untouchable, who's fear manifests as an enormous death worm spawned for each life she's taken since her transformation. Which, as a Pit fighter, IS A LOT. One worm per murder = a whole swarm of death worms. Massive worms begin devouring all in their path, no matter the side. One even manages to devour Ixidor, with Akroma literally flying down the beast's gullet to rescue him. Neither reemerge.
Jeska, Warrior Adept by rk post
Stunningly, the release of all this darkness has reverted Phage back into Jeska, who's able to reconcile briefly with her brother before saving the day. The monstrous worms are manifestations of all the killing and darkness that helped created Phage, so the only way to remove them is to absorb them back into her body. Jeska would revert back to Phage, but the beasts would vanish. The tactic works, with Phage the Untouchable still hating Kamahl, First of Krosa, but the two armies holding temporary truce so they may both return home and heal.
Little do they know, neither side has seen the last of Ixidor or his Angel of Vengeance.
Quite the epic showdown, with forces of both life and death teaming up to take down a powerhouse of sheer illusion and willpower. In this battle of brawn vs brain, who will emerge victorious?
Get ready for battle - Choose your character!
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa | Commander | Matthew Lotti
- Commander (1)
- 1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
- Creatures (15)
- 1 Ambush Commander
- 1 Elvish Reclaimer
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Fierce Empath
- 1 Kamahl, Heart of Krosa
- 1 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Springbloom Druid
- 1 Stonehoof Chieftain
- 1 Tendershoot Dryad
- 1 Thunderfoot Baloth
- 1 Verdant Force
- 1 Wakeroot Elemental
- 1 Yedora, Grave Gardener
- Instants (11)
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Benefactor's Draught
- 1 Early Harvest
- 1 Force of Vigor
- 1 Fresh Meat
- 1 Harrow
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Kamahl's Will
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Natural Affinity
- 1 Worldly Tutor
- Sorceries (22)
- 1 Abundant Harvest
- 1 Animist's Awakening
- 1 Beacon of Creation
- 1 Boundless Realms
- 1 Collective Unconscious
- 1 Creeping Corrosion
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Emergent Sequence
- 1 Explosive Vegetation
- 1 Far Wanderings
- 1 Kamahl's Druidic Vow
- 1 Migration Path
- 1 Natural Order
- 1 Nature's Lore
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Ranger's Path
- 1 Recross the Paths
- 1 Rude Awakening
- 1 Shamanic Revelation
- 1 Splendid Reclamation
- 1 Sylvan Awakening
- 1 Three Visits
- Enchantments (9)
- 1 Abundance
- 1 Burgeoning
- 1 Earth Surge
- 1 Gaea's Touch
- 1 Life and Limb
- 1 Nature's Revolt
- 1 Overwhelming Instinct
- 1 Song of the Dryads
- 1 Vernal Bloom
Kamahl's journey is one about embracing the natural world around us, casting off human trivialities like fame and glory to become at peace. His druidic connection to the land is quite literal, marking him as Green's first animist long before Nissa, Vastwood Seer or any of her planeswalker iterations would go on to turn lands into creatures. In tribute, our Kamahl, Fist of Krosa deck will turn the power of the very land itself into an imposing army. Green is already adept at ramping lands, and Kamahl helps animate those lands into creatures, then enhancing them in true Mirari-warping fashion. Your opponents will come to fear that Dryad Arbor!
Tree Sluggers: With our main agenda set on ramping, we're gunning for three varieties of creatures. The first synergizes with a growing land/mana count, either animating lands directly or rewarding us for getting more and more of them. For this, we bring in Wakeroot Elemental, Ambush Commander, Springblood Druid, Lotus Cobra, Elvish Reclaimer, Seedborn Muse, and Yedora, Grave Gardener.
Group #2 takes advantage of all that mana we'll have at our disposal by deploying massive threats to apply additional pressure: Thunderfoot Baloth, Stonehoof Cheiftain (our stand-in for Stonebrow), Craterhoof Behemoth, and synergistic tutor Fierce Empath.
Finally, the third further adds to our land army by providing additional troops in higher numbers (Verdant Force, Tendershoot Dryad) or providing utility throughout the game (Eternal Witness, Scavening Ooze.
Ever-Growing Army: Backing up our creatures, a hefty portion of our spells serve to animate lands into troops. Kamahl, Fist of Krosa is able to do the job himself, but in addition, we run Sylvan Awakening, Nature's Revolt, Life and Limb, Kamahl's Will, Rude Awakening, Emergent Sequence, and Natural Affinity. The built-in Overrun effect of Kamahl, Fist of Krosa helps ensure that you're lands will smash in for maximum damage, and in the case of symmetrical effects like Nature's Revolt, remain the largest contenders out of the bunch. Earth Surge is also included to further ensure this, as is Overwhelming Instinct to generate some card advantage out of our plant-like army.
Of course, we can't attack with a swarm of lands without first ramping those lands into play! Green brings its typical cornucopia of ramp via Cultivate, Rampant Growth, Three Visits, Explosive Vegetation, Migration Path, Harrow, Nature's Lore, and Recross the Paths helping to ramp mana in the early-to-mid game. Later on, explosive mana accelerants like Boundless Realms, Far Wanderings (assuming Threshold), the perfectly-flavorful Kamahl's Druidic Vow, and Animist's Awakening are likely to turn the mana dial up to 11.
One of the typical challenges of ramp-style decks is having enough payoffs to ramp into. Here, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa is all the payoff we need, providing both bodies and pump effects to make a lethal army come out of nowhere. On top of that, we also include mana-heavy win cons in the form of Genesis Wave, and Tooth and Nail.
Supporting Sprouts: With so much of our acceleration coming from ramp spells, we're fairly short on Artifacts, so spells like Creeping Corrosion are sure to have minimal impact on our boards. Yes, Endless Atlas is brought in for card-draw, and the flavorful Mirari is sure to amp-up our ramp spells, but otherwise, we're artifact-free.
Further adding to the Artifact-hate, Force of Vigor, Song of the Dryads, Krosan Grip, and Beast Within are brought in to deal with problematic permanents. For card advantage, our lands-to-creature heavy theme makes Shamanic Revelation, Collective Unconscious, and Benefactor's Draught likely to pick up numerous cards. Tutors Natural Order and Worldly Tutor also help us ensure we'll summon up the most context-effective creature we can.
Finally, we'll want a defensive array of spells to keep ourselves and our permanents safe from opposition. On that note, Beacon of Creation can generate a wall of Insect blockers to shield us from harm, then go on the offensive later. When lands are animated, one of the biggest dangers is opening them up to mass removal, so Heroic Intervention is absolutely key to stopping board wipes. Finally, if an opponent is able to successfully wipe the board of our animated-lands, Fresh Meat is bound to punish them with a slew of 3/3 beasts for their heinous action.
Lands for Days: Finally, we get to the mana, itself. We run a number of basic Forests, allowing Vernal Bloom to maximize its doubling-capacity. We hope for ample mana at our disposal, so having land-based mana sinks like Blast Zone, Crawling Barrens, and War Room are all at their best in a build such as this. With multiple ways to animate our own lands, obtaining 10 total power is no difficult feat, so Mosswort Bridge is sure to net us additional value.
With Kamahl, Fist of Krosa at the helm, Green is doing what Green does best: ramping lands and smashing face. In this case, it's smashing-face with said lands. Couldn't be more fitting.
What dream-like defenses can the crafty Ixidor put up in defense?
Ixidor, Reality Sculptor | Commander | Matthew Lotti
- Commander (1)
- 1 Ixidor, Reality Sculptor
- Creatures (23)
- 1 Aphetto Runecaster
- 1 Archmage Emeritus
- 1 Brine Elemental
- 1 Chromeshell Crab
- 1 Dulcet Sirens
- 1 Fathom Seer
- 1 Illusory Angel
- 1 Ixidron
- 1 Mischievous Quanar
- 1 Monastery Loremaster
- 1 Riptide Director
- 1 Riptide Entrancer
- 1 Riptide Survivor
- 1 Stratus Dancer
- 1 Thousand Winds
- 1 Trench Gorger
- 1 Unblinking Bleb
- 1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 1 Voidmage Apprentice
- 1 Voidmage Prodigy
- 1 Weaver of Lies
- 1 Willbender
- 1 Wonder
- Instants (16)
- 1 Aetherize
- 1 Aetherspouts
- 1 Evacuation
- 1 Familiar's Ruse
- 1 Fierce Guardianship
- 1 Illusionist's Gambit
- 1 Ixidor's Will
- 1 Leadership Vacuum
- 1 Meddle
- 1 Paradoxical Outcome
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Rapid Hybridization
- 1 Reality Shift
- 1 Run Away Together
- 1 Supplant Form
- 1 Wizard's Retort
- Enchantments (7)
- 1 Day of the Dragons
- 1 Fall from Favor
- 1 Future Sight
- 1 Mystic Remora
- 1 Primordial Mist
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 The Mirari Conjecture
- Artifacts (12)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Cloudstone Curio
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Crystal Shard
- 1 Dream Chisel
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Sapphire Medallion
- 1 Sky Diamond
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Thought Vessel
While Kamahl makes no pretense about his plans - he's here to grab lands and beat you down with them - Ixidor, Reality Sculptor takes a trickier approach. Oh sure, he'll build an army. But your opponents will have no idea what strange abilities or stats said soldiers posses. At least not until the opportune moment to deploy them. A legend like Ixidor appears simple on the surface, obviously favoring a morph-heavy plan. But the mysterious nature of morph creatures and the flexible suite of abilities they offer makes this build a unpredictable blend. Ixidor, Reality Sculptor already acts as a Lord for our deck's main creature force. He further adds to that by taking expensive Morph costs and making them incredibly affordable.
Mighty Morphin' Commander Rangers: The hidden-ability mini-game of Morphs may be tricky, but the strategy of whom to include in our deck is not. We'll want the choicest Morph creatures Blue has to offer, so we look to controlling cards like Chromeshell Crab, Willbender, Mischievous Quanar, Dulcet Sirens, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Brine Elemental, Thousand Winds, Stratus Dancer, and Riptide Entrancer to manipulate the board and what our opponents can and cannot cast.
We'll also want to generate a steady stream of card advantage along the way, so the likes of Aphetto Runecaster, Riptide Survivor, Unblinking Bleb (Scry 2 is stronger than it looks), Archmage Emeritus, Monastery Loremaster, and Riptide Director do a lot of work. Speaking of Riptide Director, the plethora of Wizards (Ixidor, included) run in the deck make Voidmage Prodigy quite the countering-force.
Finally, Illusory Angel pays homage to Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Wonder easily takes all our morph-crabs to the skies, Trench Gorger is our take on a massively-hungry Death Worm from the story (who'll also help keep you drawing gas), and Weaver of Lies is happy to reset all those lovely utility-Morph critters discussed above. Quite a motley crew.
Fueling the Illusion: Our spell-suite continues with Manifest-heavy elements such as Reality Shift, Write into Being, and Primordial Mist. We also seek a host of elements that help us buy-back our morph effects, so Crystal Shard, Cloudstone Curio, Paradoxical Outcome, Evacuation, and Devastation Tide are brought in. The latter three cards also serve as nice defensive outlets or pseudo-board wipes in the right situations. Don't underestimate the power of flexibility.
Keeping all these creatures and effects morphing in and out requires a steady stream of cards, so Blue's natural strengths at card advantage are played up via Mystic Remora, Rhystic Study, Ponder, Solve the Equation, and the flavor-fantastic Future Sight and The Mirari Conjecture.
With Ixidor being a master of illusion, the concept of transforming one's entire team into mighty dragons sounds like an excellent military tactic, making Day of the Dragons a fun and perfectly in-flavor finisher.
Support your Dreams: Building an engine takes time, so we'll need to ensure enough protective elements are in place to keep us alive long enough. When it comes to dealing with enemy creatures, Pongify, Rapid Hybridization, Fall from Favor, Leadership Vacuum, Aetherspouts, and Aetherize all remove immediate threats, or in the case of Illusionist's Gambit, send them elsewhere. Run Away Together is also nice enough to bounce one of your own creatures, too. This allows for some nice Morph-effect recycled value.
Further, while Green does what Green does best with ramp, so too does Blue happily dip into its vast array of countermagic via Fierce Guardianship, Familiar's Ruse, Wizard's Retort, and Ixidor's Will. Meddle is also handy to send targeted removal spells elsewhere.
Morphs Need Mana: Sadly, while Blue is happy to draw all the cards and counter all the spells, its ramp potential falls short of its tree-hugging rival. Special tools like Dream Chisel certainly help, but our primary sources of ramp come in the form of mana rocks: Sapphire Medallion, Mind Stone, Commander's Sphere, etc.
Within our land base, we're heavy on the basic Islands, but do bring in some tricksy utility lands to add some versatility. Zoetic Cavern is a land that can beat-down (kinda), Thespian's Stage perfectly captures the illusory flavor of replicating other people's resources, and Mystic Sanctuary is highly likely to buy you back a key Instant or Sorcery with the large degree of Islands in the deck.
Finally, Wizard-tribal is a sub-theme of our deck, so expect Riptide Laboratory, now made even more affordable through its inclusion in Modern Horizons 2, to do a ton of work!
Otaria by Charles Urbach
We've taken our first step into the war-torn continent of Otaria, but as crazy as things seem now, the storm is only just beginning. A ripple-effect of conflicts, sparked in this very tale, will grow to more devastating ends.
Or will they? Will your games rewrite the tale and perhaps grant poor Otaria some much needed respite? We could all use a vacation every once in a while. Especially from killer plants and cybernetic crabs.
So wraps up another ink-etched adventure. We'll continue to explore new realms and legends in future installments, and if you've any recommendations or requests, feel free to let me know in the comments. What characters and stories would you like to see next?
Thanks for reading, and may your Mulligans always pay off!