Karn Seriously Scares Me

It’s a fine line between good and insane, and Karn just might be the latter! Dominaria’s most beloved Golem is returning to Magic once again, and Todd is already counting the ways it’s going to crush the competition!

Historically, colorless cards are some of the most powerful spells in
Magic. Making a colorless card too generically good often leads to boring
and repetitive gameplay, because each player is allowed to play up to four
copies of that card in their deck. We’ve seen this be true of one
particular nuisance in the last few years.

This card wasn’t banned because it was too good. In fact, if the exact same
card was printed with the casting cost of “1R” or “1U,” it would have been
more than fine. However, because there were no color restrictions on it,
virtually every deck in Standard could utilize Smuggler’s Copter. All you
needed was to play some creatures. And let me tell you, creatures are the
name of the game when it comes to Standard.

Smuggler’s Copter was the flagship vehicle for Kaladesh, giving us
a taste of how we could expect vehicles to function. Not only did it hit
hard for its paltry two mana cost, it could filter extra lands into spells,
which is exactly the type of thing a creature-based deck wants to do. This
is compounded by aggressive decks also wanting creatures with evasion, as
well as some amount of protection from sweeper spells, like Fumigate.

But Smuggler’s Copter isn’t the only colorless card that has gone on to
wreak havoc in its respective Standard format.

Colorless spells that break down a format are remembered as some of the
worst decisions the design/development process of Magic have ever made. For
me, every time I see an artifact-themed set come along, my first instinct
is that something is going to destroy the format. At some point, they’re
going to try to push the limits of the set’s mechanics and something’s
going to break. We’ve seen it numerous times before.

But a colorless card doesn’t have to be broken to see play. It can just be
“very good,” and have abilities that are relevant to multiple decks.
Colorless cards are generally a bit lower on power level because
any deck can play it. The problem is when those colorless cards are still
strong despite not being as powerful as a colored version could be. And
since colorless cards are usually artifacts, they’re granted abilities that
normal colored cards might not have access to.

And since they’re willing to print these colorless cards, granting unique
abilities that colored cards aren’t privy to, we see certain color
combinations start playing them because their piece of the color pie
doesn’t have an effect like that.

It’s no secret that both Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker have seen
play through dozens of archetypes over the last few years. A colorless card
with a varying casting cost that can reward you for drawing it later in the
game is certainly powerful, but what happens when you start giving U/B
Midrange decks a way to deal direct damage? What about a control deck that
plays Hangarback Walker so it can leave a few creatures behind after it
casts a sweeper effect? Neither Hangarback Walker nor Walking Ballista
broke the Standard format, but you can see the point I’m trying to make
just by looking at how many decks in Standard want a card like Walking

No, Walking Ballista isn’t in every single deck in Standard, but it sure is
a weird coincidence that so many decks want access to that type of effect,
even though they might not normally have access to it. Don’t get me wrong:
I love me some Walking Ballista. There is very little I like doing more in
Standard than using a Verdurous Gearhulk to make a gigantic, lethal Walking
Ballista. But my point stands that colorless cards can be dangerous and
especially so when they’re pushed.

And holy hell is this card pushed.

Let’s start with the basics. Karn, Scion of Urza is a colorless card that
any deck can play. There are no “colorless” restrictions like the Eldrazi
have now. There are no hoops you have to jump through to play Karn, so the
question becomes “how good is this card?” On an eyeball scale of 1-10, I’d
rate Karn around an 8. Now, you might be thinking that an 8 is not
particularly high, and I shouldn’t worry about it, right? Well, how would
you rate Walking Ballista? Because I have that one around a 7.

Karn, Scion of Urza isn’t just a colorless Planeswalker. It’s a colorless
Planeswalker than can protect itself, gain card advantage, and has a very
high starting loyalty. And most of the time, you’re going to be fighting
off a Karn that starts at six loyalty. That means, if you’re on the draw,
they’re likely going to draw two cards off Karn unless you put six or more
power onto the battlefield by turn 3.

And that’s the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario is that Karn gives new life to overlooked Standard
archetypes revolving around artifacts. Can you imagine how insanely good it
will be to play a Karn on the fourth turn and use it to create a 3/3 or
larger creature? What about the next turn when you make a 4/4 and the
original one gets bigger? Oh, and guess what, if you haven’t dealt any
damage to Karn, it’s still around after making two gigantic creatures.

My first instinct is to pair Karn with Whirler Virtuoso. Not only can
Whirler Virtuoso protect Karn, it also generates Thopter tokens which will
pump the Construct tokens. And since you’re playing Whirler Virtuoso, you
might as well have some sort of energy theme and play Harnessed Lightning,
and probably Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.

But that’s just step one. Step two is figuring out if Karn can make the old
Maverick Thopterist deck into some busted affinity-style deck. Again,
Maverick Thopterist can protect Karn while also generating artifacts to
pump up the Construct tokens. The artifacts that Karn generates will also
fuel Improvise. And in a pinch, on an empty battlefield, you can use Karn
to dig into your deck for bigger and better threats.

In the beginning, Pack Rat was thought to be a Limited bomb rare and
nothing more. It took the printing of Thoughtseize, Underworld Connections,
and a few other black cards to find a home, but ultimately it became one of
the most feared cards in Standard. If not dealt with immediately, a single
Pack Rat could generate threats that outclassed all other decks. Excess
lands became gigantic threats. Your entire gameplan revolved around making
more Rats.

Karn makes an artifact creature that is very similar to Pack Rat. The
caveat is that it’s made bigger by any artifact, which makes it much
scarier in my book. Not only is it effectively free to create the creature,
but it also has other abilities tacked onto it. Imagine if Pack Rat was a
one-per-turn effect where you just had to discard a card from your hand and
you could use your mana every turn to kill creatures, attack your
opponent’s hand, or find ways to draw more cards. While Karn is a
Planeswalker that can be killed via attacking, damage, or removal spell,
and the tokens it leaves behind can’t generate more copies of itself, I
think that the similarities are close enough that Karn needs a closer look.

Applications in Older Formats

The thing that got me started on Karn in the first place was something
Tommy Ashton said to me right before the Legacy Grand Prix in Seattle. He
was playing an artifact-based deck in Legacy featuring the likes of
Arcbound Ravager, Chalice of the Void, and Steel Overseer. In his words, he
wished Dominaria was legal that weekend, because he’d be jamming
four copies into his deck immediately. And even without access to Karn,
Tommy went 12-3 in that tournament. His deck looked something like this:

There’s something to be said about colorless cards in older formats because
they’re more likely to find a home than a card of any particular color. Any
colorless card printed needs to be tested meticulously, because decks like
Affinity or Lantern or even Tron can put them to good use. Artifact-based
decks have a history of doing some degenerate things, especially so when
they get a powerful new threat.

Colorless decks also get access to some of the most busted mana accelerants
in the game’s history. Lands like Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors are
great at pumping out big threats in a hurry. But since you aren’t forced to
play lands that tap for colored mana, you also gain the ability to play
more colorless lands that have awesome abilities.

Some Predictions

Karn, Scion of Urza will be a four-of in Modern Affinity by the end of

Modern seems like the perfect place to work on breaking Karn. Affinity
decks can generate four mana in a hurry and having a Planeswalker that
makes a bunch of large creatures is a big deal. On top of that, it not
being an artifact itself insulates it from the sideboard cards that
traditionally give Affinity problems.

Karn, Scion of Urza will have a new Modern deck built around it.

Not only will Karn be a major player in Affinity, I think it could spawn an
additional artifact-themed deck in Modern. After all, Affinity isn’t really
a true Affinty deck anymore. The only real card they play with Affinity is
Thoughtcast. Over time, it stopped playing Myr Enforcer, Frogmite, and
Somber Hoverguard and replaced them with cheaper artifact creatures that
had evasion and could pump their whole team.

I don’t think Affinity will evolve into something different. I think that
an artifact-based deck will be built around utilizing Karn in several ways.
It’s too powerful, and the artifact-based mana accelerants are too good to
leave it on the sideline. Maybe we’ll see a deck with Frogmite again, after
all. It’s true that Planeswalkers are generally better in older formats
because there are fewer spells that directly interact with them, so
anything is possible.

Karn, Scion of Urza will find a home in Legacy before the end of the

While Legacy is a bit harder to break into, Karn already has a deck that it
could fit into easily. For this prediction to come true, Tommy needs to
make good on his original statement. And we need some Legacy events where
people try out some new stuff.

The Future of Karn in Standard

It’s certainly possible that Karn will be overshadowed by existing Standard
archetypes. The Scarab God, Mono-Red Aggro, Sultai Constrictor, and
God-Pharaoh’s Gift keep floating to the top, and finding a shell for Karn
that beats all four of those archetypes will be extremely difficult.

And once many of those cards rotate out of Standard, so go a lot of
artifact-based cards that might have made Karn into a real powerhouse. I’m
conflicted on whether Karn would even make a dent in the current Standard
metagame, because you can do so much busted stuff on the fourth turn that
it makes casting an insane Planeswalker look paltry.

But this is Dominaria. A new set is coming out, and with it will
come new archetypes. So far, I’ve seen a bunch of sweet cards that I can’t
wait to try for myself. Some of them foil aggressive strategies. Some of
them create new strategies altogether. I mean, we have Llanowar Elves
coming back. It’s all up in the air.

Karn, Scion of Urza is a very powerful card, but it’s one that we will all
have trouble evaluating at first. It seems like one of those cards that
doesn’t look all that threatening on paper, but then you get to the games
and suddenly it dominates. If you have the tools to protect it, support it,
and ultimately abuse it, Karn will end up being a great Magic card. How can
it not be? It’s colorless. It’s a Planeswalker. It’s friggin’ Karn, for
crying out loud!

If I’ve learned anything over the last few years of “Gatewatch: the
Standard’ing,” it’s that any major character turned into a card is likely
much better than we originally thought. And right now, I’m thinking Karn,
Scion of Urza is pretty damn good.