A Karador Commander Deck Travels To Middle-earth

Sheldon Menery revives his underperforming Karador V3 Commander deck with new commander Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant and a dungeoneering theme.

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant
Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant, illustrated by Billy Christian

When you’re elbows deep in playing Magic and building decks, it’s healthy to do some off-the-wall stuff.  It’s easy to build the obvious deck with a particular commander or theme.  My mission is to build for myself the deck that people might not have thought of.  The win of deckbuilding is someone going, “What’s that card do?” when we play something, or appreciation of the way we’ve found to wring some synergy out of cards.  I’d much rather hear “Sweet deck!” from people than “You win.”

Karador, Ghost Chieftain

I have three decks led by Karador, Ghost Chieftain.  I have the regular, initial build, which has become one of my signature decks (of course behind You Did This to Yourself).  It does what you might expect a Karador deck to do.  I enjoy playing it but confess that it’s a little durdly.  The second one is from the Next 99 project.  It works off a +1/+1 counters theme. 

I don’t remember why I built Version 3.0.  It must have been from a fit of not wanting to file away a pile of cards or something, since it looks like just a good-stuff pile.  That said, it has some good and fun cards in it.  I rarely play it, since newer decks tend to get the spotlight.  It’s the one that I’m going to send to Middle-earth.


Some time ago I had considered taking apart Karador Version 3.0 into a budget deck (I’d like to have a few of those lying around) and using its cool cards for some other upcoming build(s).  The note I scribbled on my To-Do list was “Turn Karador V3 into a budget deck (and reclaim the good cards)?”  We’re going to do that.  Today we’re going to focus on that reclamation of cards. 

We want the commander to come from Middle-earth.  Unfortunately, the only legendary creatures with more than two colors are the four-color Aragon, the Uniter, which leaves out black, and the five-color Tom Bombadil, which pushes us into Sagas. I love Sagas as a type, but it doesn’t look like there’s a way to build an outside-the-box deck with Tom (a topic I’ll come back to). We can’t make Aragorn work, since we would really like some black cards. If we stretch our eye to The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander, we get Aragorn, King of Gondor in Jeskai colors; Saruman the White Hand in Grixis; Sauron, Lord of the Rings, also Grixis; Sauron, the Dark Lord, ditto; Eowyn, Shieldmaiden, Jeskai; Saruman of Many Colors, which has white and black but then adds blue instead of green; and Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant—Boom, in Abzan!

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant

Bilbo is a choice that we’d make simply because it includes all three colors of the cards we’d like to use.  The replacement effect of gaining one extra life is fine.  Being exactly at 111 life in order to activate the second ability is a dream scenario.  The advantage of taking Bilbo is that we can port most of the Karador deck straight over, keeping those desirable cards, then swoop in some of our cards from Middle-earth and go to town. It means that we can also include Karador, which will be just fine in the ninety-nine. That leaves us in the same place thematically as we had with Karador, V3. 

Cinematic Addition

Let’s take a look at what we might be dealing with as far as cards to put in, which might be able to capture something more coherent—like reclamation of the Shire, Spiders (Shelob secret commander!), or Bilbo’s other adventures (which would probably have to include red for Smaug; awkward).  I also had the thought of tracking with one of the films.  Alesha’s Mardu Second Breakfast already hits the first, The Fellowship of the Ring.  The Two Towers seems like the dark, spooky one that we might make something out of, save for the fact that we’d really want red to include the Eomer and the Rohirrim unless we focus more on the Saruman/Orthanc angle and the defense of Helm’s Deep.  

The Return of the King is a wide-open blockbuster with immense battles and little subtlety.  It would be a chance to feature all the heroes, but we would have the green for any of the Legolas variants.  Unlike Alesha’s Mardu Second Breakfast, which colors inside the lines of a Hobbit theme, we’re actually wide open here to do anything.  We might enjoy a theme, but we can just build an old-fashioned Commander deck. The latter is the one that’s speaking most to me. 

The Lifegain Line

If we do follow the Bilbo lifegain line, we have combos like Heliod, Sun-Crowned plus Walking Ballista that will get us to exactly 111 in order to activate Bilbo and then keep going for whatever absurd number we’d like to set our life total to.  We could play Aetherflux Reservoir with that, but that will offer a different threat to ending the game.  I like it for the increasing lifegain, but I can understand where opponents might be a little iffy on letting it (or me) survive. 

We’ll want to look at what we’ve labeled good cards to port over to the deck to see if there’s a direction.  To be honest, there aren’t that many.  There’s some of the usual graveyard deck nonsense and a splashy card or two, like Intervention Pact or Regrowth, but overall there’s no card or series of cards that are strongly compelling.  We’re going to use some of the cards and steal the whole manabase, but otherwise we’re not going to see much of the character of the Karador V3 deck coming to Bilbo.

That leaves us freer to explore whatever we want to.  I like the Shelob as secret commander angle, but I think we’ll send that more in the direction of Shelob as Plan B.  We’ll put some other Spiders in, but only if they’re good enough to otherwise make it into the deck themselves.  The lifegain theme seems useful and fun, especially if we use it to mitigate life loss from other cool cards.  That, of course, is leading us down the road that Bilbo wants us to walk.  A little lifegain will do, but only enough to consider it a sub-theme. 


The theme of Bilbo and friends exploring came to mind and was shortly followed by the idea that they would be exploring dungeons.  Venturing into the dungeon is a cool mechanic, so I started looking at cards, for the moment taking only dungeon cards and ignoring the initiative.  As I looked more closely, I could see that the initiative cards are pretty cool.  I’ve only played with the dungeon cards as part of my Sefris Dungeons Upgraded Precon and never with the initiative.  I cut the Spider theme to make space the adventurers. 

At that point, I was just staring at Bilbo.  Like in a movie, my head turned, realizing that Bilbo is a Rogue.  A Rogue is a great place for starting a party.  I looked at all of the creatures on the list to that point; most of the creatures had types that fit into a party.  Bearing the Ring and digging through dungeons is going to be good times. 

The last place to look was at the old Karador deck itself.  It definitely has some cards that’ll do things.  We can’t count on Karador to be able to cast them, but a number of them are good enough to warrant coming over to the new deck.  Here’s the list:

Blood for Bones Bojuka Bog Defiler of Faith Eternal Dragon Froghemoth Heart Warden Intervention Pact Isolated Chapel Karmic Guide Kitchen Finks Kodama's Reach Oblation Orzhov Basilica Overgrown Tomb Phyrexian Reclamation Pious Evangel Shriekmaw Solemn Simulacrum Sun Titan Suture Priest Tainted Field Tainted Wood Temple Garden Thrashing Brontodon Victimize Wall of Reverence Woodland Cemetery

The Deck

Everything to put into the deck should be lying around the house, so I’m ready to go.  Here’s the list I came up with:

The deck wins by protecting itself with lifegain, generating enough time to let our Shirefolk get into those dungeons.  Then we’ll generate lots of advantage, from life totals to card draw to buffing up the creatures. That’s not to mention what we could get out of those Ring temptations.  We could get an Aetherflux Reservoir kill, but as I mention above, that’s less the purpose of the card than the lifegain is. 

Going Infinite

We can get infinite life with Ratadrabik of Urborg, Boromir, Warden of the Tower, and Soul Warden, Auriok Champion, or Suture Priest.  With Ratadrabik and Boromir both on the battlefield, they generate the loop in the following fashion:

  • Activate Boromir by sacrificing it.
  • When Boromir dies, Ratadrabik triggers, creating a nonlegendary token copy of Boromir that is a 2/2 Zombie in addition to its other types.
  • Resolve the Boromir ability from step 1, causing the Ring to tempt you, and for the Boromir token to become your Ring-bearer, thus making it legendary.
  • Repeat.

This will give us infinite enters- and leaves-the-battlefield triggers, as well as infinite death triggers and sacrifice triggers.  We could set the deck up to kill this way with a card like Blood Artist, but that’s less interesting than getting the security of the life total and trying to win with a deck that’s not really focused on winning.  I suppose there’s one on the flip side of Pious Evangel, Wayward Disciple.  We might consider Gray Merchant of Asphodel as a win condition.  It likely will be if it’s part of the flip, but I’d say that it’s okay given all the work we’ve had to get there. 

This deck will be loads of fun to play.  It’ll have to react to the battlefield state while trying to set up the eventual end state of the game.  It’ll have to face the reality of being in trouble against go-wide decks. All in all, it’s going to want to tell the story of a few plucky Hobbits and their friends creeping through the dungeons.  I’m ready to get my ten-foot rope!

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