Dear Azami – Leading The Ghosts For Halloween!

Halloween is coming up, and the ghosts are out! Sean McKeown helps a reader with a Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck. Readers who write in have a chance to get $20 in store credit at the SCG store, so submit your EDH builds!

Hi Sean,

 I’ve been reading these articles for a while and wanted to submit my deck for some advice. I’ve been playing Karador for a while now, but I’ve started noticing that it’s a little slow, and that I might be a little short on ways to fill the graveyard.

The deck has a few roads to victory, either beatdown (Filth powered) or building up to a big Living Death. I’ve tried to stay away from really degenerate combos, but my playgroup doesn’t frown upon lower-powered ones like Reveillark.

There are some cards that I don’t like though:

Dust Elemental: When I added it, it seemed great, but in practice I never have mana up or enough creatures to play him.

Geth: Too clunky and not that good. If only he could target me.

Adarkar Valkyrie: Usually doesn’t last long enough to be used.


Ståle Lygre Hoff

Hi Ståle,

Karador, Ghost Chieftain is a whole lot of power to work with, and with great power comes great targetability. I say this not to dissuade you from your choice of Commander, but instead to note that you are likely going to have to expect to play games where whatever graveyard targeting is available will be pointed your way, and the table may be a little hostile with the presumption just sitting down that you are reasonably favored to win. Maybe not a lot ahead because you’re a combo deck or anything, but still ahead because the built-in recursion plus price-cutting ability on Karador makes him very hard to contain.

So a bit of a defensive stance is appropriate here, looking for a mid-game-ish semi-controlling stance, and we are going to try and build for that as well as focus on the rest of your game. Board sweepers that don’t hurt you too badly are worth considering, and loose slots have to be tightened down. You noted Dust Elemental and Adarkar Valkyrie just weren’t performing well, and that Geth wasn’t being as awesome as you expected him to be from your usual experiences playing him. We’re going to cut all three, and try and diagnose some of the problems you’re having with them, which to me looks like a glut of six-drops when you might want a few earlier-game cards. It doesn’t help that filling your opponent’s graveyard helps them out for Living Death more than Geth’s reanimation abilities are helping you, and we can add a few cards as well otherwise to make sure you can play Living Death without having to worry about it being bad for you because someone else has a stacked graveyard.

Starting with the lands, I think they just need to work a little harder, and you can take advantage of the fact that you have the Ravnica duals by adding some fetchlands to help out. Reliquary Tower doesn’t do very much without a lot of card drawing, and besides Greater Good you really aren’t doing that much to draw cards, so I would swap it out for a land that actually adds new capabilities to your deck. You don’t actually use Urborg/Coffers mana that much, so I don’t think you need a Vesuva to supplement the late-game mana capabilities, and since you already have easy graveyard recursion the addition of Volrath’s Stronghold doesn’t actually do that much.

Suggested cuts: Fetid Heath, Vesuva, Reliquary Tower, Volrath’s Stronghold, Swamp, Forest, 2x Plains

Suggested additions:

Sungrass Prairie — A B/W filter land wasn’t doing as much for you as Sungrass Prairie would, as it alongside a bunch of Swamps fixes both your other colors right up front at the same time, and even can let you cast two different spells off that same one color-fixing land. Powerful fixing, cheap, and just right for the deck to boot.

Grasslands — A nice, inexpensive fetchland to work with your Ravnica dual lands. Feel free to substitute with Windswept Heath if you have it, but I’m willing to suspect you’d be playing it already were that the case.

Marsh Flats, Verdant Catacomb — Recently in-print, on-color fetchlands that will help work your mana-base a little bit harder.

Bojuka Bog — A little bit of additional graveyard hate, to help your Living Death plans out and to just work as an anti-recursion tool in a very inexpensive slot. Getting your lands to work harder is always awesome.

Mosswort Bridge — A good inclusion for a creature deck to begin with, made all the more awesome by the tag-team it is capable of performing with Primeval Titan.

Yavimaya Hollow — My candidate for replacement of your Volrath’s Stronghold, instead of spending draw phases on recursion you can spend a little mana on preventing key creatures from dying in the first place. It’s true that your commander will tend to stay affordable even quite late in the game and after having been dealt with several times, but just because you can buy back resources later doesn’t mean there is no sting to losing them now. Yavimaya Hollow will take a little bit of strain off your recursion elements, by keeping things alive in the first place.

Winding Canyons — My favorite land in Commander it seems, and a useful addition to you as well, as you have a lot of tricky creatures and can do awesome and interesting things by playing them at instant speed. Winding Canyons and Greater Good are also very strong together, as you can draw new cards and play new creatures just before untapping and getting to attack with them, bypassing everyone else’s sorcery-speed removal that otherwise would get pointed your way.

Moving onto the spells, I only have a few cuts; Coalition Relic I thought was a possible hindrance when you could have more stable mana instead, even if it is awesome to help you accelerate to five- and six-drops and that is the sweet spot on your curve. I will also be dropping your curve a little to help out in that regards, and adding a few more mana-ramp effects or things that can simulate that effect, so what you lose in raw explosive power you will gain in overall mana-ramp frequency over the course of multiple games.

Day of Judgment and Damnation did not make the cut not because they aren’t awesome, but having a look at the fact that you have very few artifacts and enchantments suggests to me that more global sweepers would tack on a little bit of mana cost for a lot of added benefit. Return to Dust is a little less necessary for its exile effect now that you have the ability to remove graveyards from the game more easily, and thus again a more global answer can be to your benefit instead of the powerful pinpoint spell. Beacon of Unrest just doesn’t really impress me in your deck, you can recur things easily already, don’t have artifacts to really care about, and if you’re targeting your own creatures Unburial Rites would add the power of a second use right up front instead of shuffling back in for later use. If you’re targeting the opponent’s creatures, well, you already noted Geth wasn’t doing all that much for you, and I think Puppeteer Clique is the better version of this card for that purpose, so this is still not the ideal aspect of the card.

Making new additions, I switched the Coalition Relic over to Expedition Map, which can count as ramping if it helps assemble Urborg/Coffers or gets you Krosan Verge but is otherwise just a solid color fixer and one that doesn’t die to sweepers. Damnation and Day of Judgment get replaced with Akroma’s Vengeance and Austere Command — maybe not the most interesting of upgrades, but clear and definite upgrades. Turn to Dust was switched out here for Fracturing Gust, which should solve a whole lot of problems and provide some life benefits as well. The last change was to replace your Beacon of Unrest, and after looking at the deck as it is and some of the other suggested changes I was thinking of, I hit upon the fact that Green Sun’s Zenith would be excellent to find your best heavy hitters, as well as being good early in the game as mana ramping or even utility. Even better than having another card that can affect your graveyard is having another card that can find your most powerful cards but also has early-game flexibility, and with a little bit of work I was able to figure out how to get it to access good non-green heavy hitters as well for when it is an Angel of Despair that you truly need or a Sun Titan who would rock your world.

With those changes locked in, we just have the creatures to focus on, and like I said you have a lot to gain from dropping your mana curve a bit. Your least-favorite cards in the deck were all creatures, so this was where I spent most of my time trying to figure out what needed to go and what needed to stay, and make suggestions accordingly.

Dust Elemental, Geth, Lord of the Vault, Adarkar Valkyrie — Cut due to your note that they just weren’t working out. Cheaper creatures will be replacing these to help drop your mana curve overall, without really affecting your power level.

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter — Seven-mana sacrifice outlets are not as relevant to you as ones that can be returned to play with Reveillark. Vish Kal may have been the subject of Dear Azami not too long ago, but he doesn’t really fit your deck, he is more of a “good stuff” inclusion.

Kor Cartographer — Not as good as Solemn Simulacrum, who didn’t make your deck, four mana for a bit of ramping is just too much mana for not enough ramping.

Filth — Swampwalk with Urborg is cute, and even maybe effective, but not really worth the four-mana do-nothing it asks you to commit to.

Doomed Necromancer — As the endgame of the deck develops, this will have to survive a turn in order to save a little mana to get you the creature you really want anyway. Reanimation spells don’t excite me so much for your deck, so I am content to cut it and return to leaning on Living Death as your reanimation plan A.

Now for the additions:

Hermit Druid — I had only nice things to say about this evil little creature for Andy’s Savra deck, where it was put to work fueling Worm Harvest and other recursion elements of his deck. Karador happens to have recursion built right in, and might cost only three mana after a single activation of Hermit Druid, even though you still have a good number of basics so it isn’t being used as a combo card in your deck, just awesome card advantage that fills your graveyard. Hermit Druid here helps you get a steady stream of lands for your six-drops while he is filling your bin, and as noted I was trying to take some of the strain off your six-drops. Hermit Druid here is just a good way to get to six mana on the cheap just by playing a land each turn, because after turn two he helps make sure you have a land each turn.

Knight of the Reliquary — Another quasi-accelerant in that you can get a mana out of using the activated ability, in addition to tricksiness like instant-speed Bojuka Bog triggers. Knight of the Reliquary is also just a good, cheap creature with solid utility, and can work neatly as part of your Green Sun’s Zenith chain. Let me tell you, the first time you respond to a spell or the end of someone’s turn by tapping to put Winding Canyons into play and casting a creature spell, it will blow people’s minds. What’s better than Winding Canyons? More Winding Canyons.

Fierce Empath — A tool for Green Sun’s Zenith to be able to find you nongreen heavy hitters, the Empath also is just an extra chance to get Sun Titan or Angel of Despair in addition to increasing the number of games you will kill everyone with Avenger of Zendikar.

Diligent Farmhand — Now this is digging far back into the old-school cards, because I for one have never seen the Farmhand in any commander deck. However, you like the mana ramp but don’t want a permanent that can die to a sweeper providing it, and this lets a Green Sun’s Zenith for X=1 do something about your mana draw and colors without relying on the survival of a Bird of Paradise. Adding it here makes me start to wonder why I haven’t played it in any of my decks or written about it before, seeing how I have at least one deck and more like one and a half that plays Green Sun’s Zenith here in Commander.

Loaming Shaman — Not the most interesting or inspired of decisions, but he is Green Sun’s Zenith access to sweeping graveyard hate… for when Scavenging Ooze is good but requires extra mana than you can afford to solve the actual real problems.

Keeper of the Dead — A cheap inclusion that happens to reward you for doing what you want to do anyway, fill your graveyard with good creatures and control the board… somehow. Presuming you have the ability to keep up with creature deaths, the Keeper of the Dead can have a very cheap cost and very cheap price for the continued access to real and meaningful creature removal. Getting just a little ahead in the dead-creature department can grant you privilege to kill each of your opponents’ best creatures in turn one by one. Two-mana 1/2’s are not exactly attractive stats, but the Keeper of the Dead makes friends… dead.

Novablast Wurm — It would seem that Abe Sargent beat me to the punch on this one, but Novablast Wurm is a repeating creature-control mechanism that just wipes the board time after time and is downright tricky to actually block. If green and white’s shared ideal of how to go about crafting an evasion ability is to kill each and every single possible blocker in one fell swoop, I guess I can be convinced to take it for a spin.

Looking at the completed pass, I had the question whether Mortify and Putrefy were still doing a job that needed to be done enough to pay the mana tax that comes with that versatility. Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile would certainly be cheaper and considerably more permanent as answers, but I can live with it being very tough to fight a Blightsteel Colossus very quickly and pay more for the added versatility. With every other decision seemingly locked in, that gave us the following final decklist:

Karador, Ghost Chieftain
Sean McKeown
Grudge Match on 10-02-2011

As always, for your participation in this week’s Dear Azami, you will find in your email box a $20 coupon to the Star City Games online store, to potentially help pay for any replacements and substitutions you might want to make. The cards I suggested for addition to the deck have the following prices, for your consideration:

Looking back at the decks I have chosen recently, it came to my attention after writing this article that I have written now about five black decks in a row. So for the next edition of Dear Azami, or far more likely the next two or three, I won’t be taking any mono-, two-, or three-color black decks (five-color Commander decks are a whole nother animal, as they say) when I can pursue deckbuilding paths that I didn’t start to realize I had over-explored lately.

Additionally, as a little bit of a Public Service Announcement, I wanted to call attention to CommanderCast.com for a bit and point out that Andy from CommanderCast is putting together a charity auction of items for his ‘Gifts Given’ auction to support Child’s Play, a charitable organization brought to you by the authors of Penny Arcade that helps improve the lives of children in hospitals. I for one have decided to give generously and help out both children and Andy’s efforts to publicize the event, and he hasn’t gotten it yet so don’t spoil the surprise, but I have decided to do what part I can by sending him the most expensive Commander card I own… … …

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submission to consider for use in a future article, like Ben’s Zombie-tribal Grimgrin deck or Cassidy Silver’s Damia, Sage of Stone deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com Store!

Email Sean a deck submission using this link here!

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