Hello! This week on Fat Stacks I want to take a look at one of the new B/W legends from Commander 2015 – Karlov of the Ghost Council. We've already covered the other legend from the B/W release – Daxos, the Returned – but Karlov is vastly different from Daxos, so we will have a completely different build for the B/W spirit.
As always, I want to take a look at other legends in the same color identity as Karlov. There are a few legends that almost have the same CMC of Karlov, but he is still a colorless cheaper than all the other choices. I find Athreos, God of Passage doesn't make the best commander, and little Teysa, Orzhov Scion is a fine combo commander, but combo decks are not always fun. There are a few other options in B/W, but really I think Karlov might be the strongest B/W commander to represent the color identity.
What do I mean? Well, I would say B/W has a few major mechanics to me, two of them being life gain, and removal. A lot of the cards in B/W are dedicated to gaining life, so much so that a lot of the time the life gain is incidental.
Looking at the other two versions of the Ghost Council – Ghost Council of Orzhova and Obzedat, Ghost Council – they are focused on life gain, though time and again they prove to be third and fourth tier commanders at best. They are a little slow and, though they can create a lot of nice board states, they don't really do much in the clutch.
Not only does Karlov have an ability that synergizes with life gain, it makes him bigger! Each bit of incremental life gain will give Karlov two +1/+1 counters. Getting larger like this is a feature which is really only available to Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter at an additional five colorless mana. The amount we gain each time does not really matter, so whether we gain a single life point or 30, Karlov gets the same two +1/+1 counters.
|Karlov of the Ghost Council||
My first immediate thought when I saw Karlov was “Soul Sisters!” Play Soul Warden / Soul's Attendant turn one, Karlov turn two, and he will get two counters on him right away. Play another creature turn three, and now Karlov is 6/6. The sisters will be great in the deck whether they see play early or not, so we can put in Ranger of Eos to find them as well as Proclamation of Rebirth to get them back from the graveyard.
The Ranger of Eos opens the door to a lot of B/W staples, such as Mother of Runes or Weathered Wayfarer. Deathgreeter also fits into the one-drop section, and works pretty well in this deck. Sure, the Blood Artist is probably a better card in general, but it does not work alongside the one-drop package.
There is a definite attraction to making Karlov large in the first several turns, especially if we are talking about a deck designed for 1v1 play. I am going to assume that most people are not building this for 1v1 though and, in multi-player settings, a 6/6 on turn three just makes us the prime target for a dozen turns after. The Soul Sisters archetype definitely still works, but I think we need to plan for long games.
Cards that automatically gain life are our best bet for long games, like Pristine Talisman, Nyx-Fleece Ram, or Drana's Emissary. Every turn we will gain a life, and we don't really have to do anything we wouldn't normally do. Retreat to Hagra is pretty close to Pristine Talisman, though land drops are not always reliable, and we have the further option to give deathtouch instead. Palace Siege also gives us a different option over life gain, though it's more of a permanent choice.
Patron of the Kitsune will gain life as creatures attack; there is also an enchantment that does this – Righteous Cause – but I decided I wanted creatures in here. Sunscorch Regent will gain us life as the opponents cast spells, and will get larger for each one. If the Regent is on board with Karlov, the opponents will have to think pretty hard about casting anything.
Speaking of life gain as casting triggers, we have one of the main abilities of the Orzhov guild in here – extort. There are a few really amazing cards with extort on them, mainly Crypt Ghast, but in this case also Pontiff of Blight. Normally, the Pontiff is borderline, but the life gain is very relevant in this deck and we will have both cheap spells and extra creatures on board. I almost included Blind Obedience, but it was cut in the last rounds.
We are definitely focused on life gain and Karlov, but if we don't have access to him...well, we are spinning our wheels. There are a few cards that are similar to Karlov, so we can back up that ability and, if Karlov is in play at the same time, all the better. The best card for the job here is definitely Archangel of Thune, who will give a single +1/+1 counter to each creature we control. Cradle of Vitality will only boost a single creature but, unlike Karlov, the amount of +1/+1 counters gained is equal to the amount of life gained.
We are still pretty vulnerable to losing Karlov, so another option for this deck is an equipment package. For the sake of this deck, I will only deal with cards that gain life in some way, though I think there is a lot of room for other weapons as well.
The funny part about limiting to life gain equipment is...well, it doesn't really limit us much. Two of the infamous Mirrodin swords involve life gain – Sword of Light and Shadow, as well as Sword of War and Peace. We also have Umezawa's Jitte, which conveniently gains life as the traditionally less-powerful option. Loxodon Warhammer is not necessarily in every equipment deck, but I think it's a solid card. Not to mention the self-reliant life gaining option, Batterskull.
I put in Stoneforge Mystic, as well as the founder of their order, Nahiri, the Lithomancer. I will admit, I am a bit partial to both these cards and, while they might not be totally necessary, the equipment is important enough in this deck, and the tokens Nahiri makes will help trigger extra Soul Warden gains.
One form of life gain that we skipped over was probably the most obvious – lifelink. The thing about lifelink creatures is that they are usually small (so their ability to survive is questionable) or they are overly expensive. The equipment package changes this by giving them a boost, which in turn increases the life gained. Divinity of Pride is the big lifelinker in this deck, as well as the Blood Baron of Vizkopa. On the small side is Vampire Nighthawk, and smaller cards like Vault Skirge are also pretty tempting.
The best card in the deck when it comes to lifelink is the Whip of Erebos. It gives lifelink to all of the creatures, and the unearth-esque effect is also really handy. I put Obzedat, Ghost Council in here mainly for the awesome interaction it has with the Whip; the temporary exile effect that Obzedat has fulfills the Whip's exile clause, so the Obzedat will come back into play again as normal next turn. This also works with the first incarnation of Ghost Council of Orzhova, though it requires another creature in play to power its exile.
The last couple of cards in the list are really divided into two areas – finishers for multi-player, and finishers for 1v1. Cards that hit each opponent / combo-out are mainly for wiping out a whole table, while the quick, hyper-aggro plays are for the 1v1 game plan.
The main combo that comes to mind when I think life gain is the ultra-antisocial Exquisite Blood + Sanguine Bond trick. Once these two are on the board at the same time, it will simply take a single life loss for the opponent, or life gain for us, to kill off the entire table. The funny part is that these cards are both stellar in this deck on their own, so they will generate a lot of value while we wait to kill the table with a cascade of triggered effects. Vizkopa Guildmage is a nice stand in for Sanguine Bond, making Exquisite Blood the far more valuable part of the combo. It might be worth shelving Exquisite Blood if the opponent is running removal, and it is the better choice for Enlightened Tutor / Demonic Tutor.
The other multi-player win conditions are Exsanguinate and Debt of the Deathless. Exsanguinate in particular has ended more games than I can count (mainly because it fits into non-B/W decks), but Debt of the Deathless is technically stronger in the longer multi-player games. With the aggressive side of this deck helping to reduce the table's life, as well as the taxing cards like Palace Siege, most of the time it will be pretty easy to kill all the opponents at once.
Okay, now on the other side of the coin, there are some cool early game tactics we can use to boost Karlov to ridiculous levels early on. It mainly revolves around the card Zuran Orb, sacrificing lands to gain life / boost Karlov, then casting either Second Sunrise or Faith's Reward to get the lands back, only to sac them all again.
Even if we don't get it early on for the craziness, Zuran Orb is nice because it can push Karlov to huge numbers out of nowhere, though it won't kill multiple players. Second Sunrise and Faith's Reward are both great surprises for opponents after they try to board wipe, so I don't feel like they have narrow applications, even if they are mainly in here for early game turbo-beats.
Well, that is my take on Karlov of the Ghost Council. I like him because he gets to do everything Orzhov wants to, and can also pull his weight in most phases of the game. Thanks for reading!
- Cassidy Silver
Geneva Gaming Goat on TCGplayer