Commander Deep Dive: Carth The Lion

Carth the Lion just might tempt Bennie Smith into making a Superfriends Commander deck. What did he find when he made his latest Deep Dive?

Carth the Lion, illustrated by Donato Giancola

This weekend Modern Horizons 2 officially hits the shelves for selling, and no matter what Magic formats are your favorites, there’s a little bit of something for just about everyone to love here.  For Commander fans, the set has a whopping sixteen new legends you can potentially build decks around, and I’ve dug into a few of them already in the past few weeks.  Today, I want to look at one of two new Golgari legends, Carth the Lion!

Carth the Lion

If the name “Carth the Lion” sounds a little familiar, there’s a good reason for that: his descendent Jared Carthalion, True Heir showed up late last year in Commander Legends:

Jared Carthalion, True Heir

In this article from Wizards of the Coast (WotC) we get to know a little history on Carth:

In ancient Dominaria, centuries before the cataclysmic Brothers’ War, Carth the Lion took part in an uprising against the evil planeswalker Geyadrone Dihada. The uprising failed, and Carth was forced to watch as Dihada’s champion, Sol’kanar, murdered one hundred of his tribesfolk, including his mother and sister.

After escaping from Dihada’s dungeon, Carth summoned the cursed planeswalker Dakkon Blackblade and bound him to his mission of vengeance. Though the pair were unsuccessful in killing Dihada, they were able to escape from her clutches and form a bond of friendship. Leaving the corrupted land of Corondor behind them, they traveled to Terisiare, where Carth’s descendants, the Carthalions, played pivotal roles in important events throughout Dominarian history.

Mechanically, Carth’s partnership with planeswalkers appears with both his triggered and static abilities.  His triggered ability helps search up planeswalker cards, and his static ability makes each of them on the battlefield with Carth slightly but not insignificantly more powerful. The activation cost of loyalty abilities is carefully balanced when WotC are designing the cards, so having a way to tweak readily available from your command zone is pretty awesome.

From the release notes for Modern Horizons 2:

If a planeswalker’s loyalty ability normally has a cost of [+1], Carth’s ability makes it cost [+2] instead. A cost of [0] would become [+1], and a cost of [-6] would become [-5].

If you somehow manage to control two Carths (perhaps because of Spark Double), the cost-changing effect is cumulative. In total, loyalty abilities will cost an additional [+2] to activate.

The total cost of a planeswalker’s loyalty ability is calculated before any counters are added or removed. If a loyalty ability normally costs [-3] to activate, you do not remove three counters from it and then put one counter on it. You remove two counters at one time when you pay the cost.

If an effect replaces the number of counters that would be placed on a planeswalker, such as that of Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, that replacement happens only once, at the time payment is made.

Take for example one of the original cycle of planeswalkers, Liliana Vess:

Liliana Vess

If you’re interested in getting to Liliana’s ultimate ability, you’ll need four turns to do it: three turns to use the +1 ability to get up to eight loyalty, and then the fourth turn to -8 and put all creature cards onto the battlefield.  But with Carth on the battlefield, one activation of Liliana’s first ability will add two loyalty, up to seven – and next turn you can use the ultimate for seven. In this case, Carth is cutting your trip to ultimate in half.

Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter

How about Jiang Yanggu?  With Carth on the battlefield, Jiang’s one ability doesn’t cost any loyalty to use.

Garruk Relentless

With Carth on the battlefield, Garruk Relentless can increase his loyalty with either of his abilities.

So clearly in a Carth deck we’re going to want a healthy number of planeswalker cards. If we do the math: Carth digs seven cards deep, divided into 88 (99 cards minus seven for your opening hand, minus four draws before you cast Carth) you’ll want at least thirteen planeswalkers, though I would probably want more like twenty. Luckily for us, there are 62 planeswalkers available in Carth’s color identity, so finding a solid group that supports your overall gameplan should be pretty easy. 

I’m not lyin’ – this is the first planeswalker-heavy deck that I’m pretty stoked to build. Okay, let’s dig in and let the sparks fly!

Planeswalkers Matter

Interplanar Beacon Mobilized District Forge of Heroes Confront the Past Oath of Liliana Oath of Nissa Command the Dreadhorde The Elderspell Yawgmoth's Vile Offering The Eldest Reborn Aid the Fallen Deadly Brew

The more planeswalkers we run, the more we’re going to want to run cards that reward us for playing them. Oath of Liliana really does a lot of work here, generating a 2/2 Zombie token for each planeswalker that enters the battlefield ready to defend them against aggressors.  There are some nice ways to bring planeswalkers back from the graveyard too such as Aid the Fallen and Command the Dreadhorde. The Elderspell is also going to be a powerhouse here, letting you destroy several planeswalkers to rapidly accumulate loyalty on the planeswalker with the most powerful ultimate ability, and if you destroy any of your own planeswalkers with Carth on the battlefield, you’ll get some Carth triggers as the icing on the cake.


Karn's Bastion Sword of Truth and Justice Evolution Sage Yawgmoth, Thran Physician Plaguemaw Beast Pollenbright Druid Planewide Celebration Contagion Engine

Proliferate is another way to increase the loyalty of multiple planeswalkers on the battlefield, and we have a fair number of them available in Carth’s colors. There are a lot of planeswalkers in these colors that generate tokens, and if we’re leaning into that, Plaguemaw Beast is a great way to leverage the extra bodies.


Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider Doubling Season The Chain Veil Pir, Imaginative Rascal Settle the Score

There are other ways to increase loyalty too, with Doubling Season and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider the splashiest and most powerful.  Either one of them on the battlefield will have your planeswalker enter with double its loyalty, but Doubling Season will not double the activated ability because loyalty counters are put on as a cost, not an effect.  Vorinclex is worded differently and will double any plus loyalty ability on planeswalkers you control.

Planeswalkers as Removal

Garruk, Cursed Huntsman Garruk, Apex Predator Vraska, Relic Seeker Vraska, Golgari Queen Vraska the Unseen

Okay, let’s dig into some of the planeswalkers we could put in our deck.  One primary function of our planeswalkers will be as a removal spell.  Carth is particularly nice in this instance because most of the removal abilities of planeswalkers remove loyalty counters, so removing one less is going to be awesome!  Several of the Garruk and Vraska incarnations are perfect in this regard such as Garruk, Cursed Huntsman — his ability to destroy target creature and draw a card can be used twice before needing to tick up if Carth is on the battlefield.

Planeswalkers as Token Creators

Garruk, Primal Hunter Garruk, Unleashed Liliana, Heretical Healer Nissa, Voice of Zendikar Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury Garruk Relentless Liliana, Death's Majesty Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath Vivien, Monsters' Advocate Grist, the Hunger Tide Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools

Another thing that green and black planeswalkers are good at is creating creature tokens, and making tokens is quite helpful to make defenders for your planeswalkers (especially if you have Doubling Season out there).  I’m particularly excited about the first abilities of Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury; Vraska, Relic Seeker; and Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools which add a whopping three loyalty with Carth while making token creatures. 

Planeswalkers as Card Draw

Nissa, Vital Force Liliana, Dreadhorde General Ob Nixilis Reignited Liliana Vess Nissa, Vastwood Seer Vivien Reid Ugin, the Ineffable

Planeswalkers can also be card drawing engines, and since some of them are minus abilities Carth helps make those much better. For instance, you can use the ultimate from Nissa, Vital Force to immediately get that emblem for the rest of the game. Drawing a card whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Planeswalkers as Mana

Nissa, Who Shakes the World Garruk Wildspeaker Nissa, Worldwaker

Several of the green planeswalkers are great for making extra mana, and none stand better than Nissa, Who Shakes the World.  Nissa is another planeswalker which Carth changes the math on – one plus loyalty activation gives enough loyalty to fire off the ultimate the very next turn.

Good Blockers

Elder Gargaroth Grave Titan Poison-Tip Archer Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar Arasta of the Endless Web Silklash Spider Akroma's Memorial Gorm the Great Whiptongue Hydra Feasting Troll King Vorapede Honor Troll Darksteel Sentinel Sentinel Spider Skysnare Spider Thornweald Archer Deadly Recluse

Now I know a lot of planeswalker-heavy decks — also known as “Superfriends” decks — often have a ton of battlefield sweepers to destroy all the creature cards that may be able to threaten the planeswalkers, but that approach can make playing against those style of decks quite frustrating.  I think Carth changes that math quite a bit since the best things happen with your deck while Carth is on the battlefield. 

This means that we should invest in a lot more quality creatures that also serve as excellent blockers. Creatures with vigilance are particularly nice since you don’t have to choose between attacking or hanging back to defend your planeswalkers, and creatures with reach are super-valuable in defending your planeswalkers against flyers. The best of both?  Elder Gargaroth, of course!  Deathtouch is another great ability to wave away attackers, threatening to kill off the best attacker with something like Thornweald Archer or Deadly Recluse.

Planeswalker Defense

Heart of Kiran Silent Arbiter Kaya's Ghostform Cunning Rhetoric Spidersilk Armor Vow of Wildness Vow of Malice Vow of Torment Sandwurm Convergence Vengeful Pharaoh Arachnogenesis Tangle

Outside of creatures as blockers, there are other ways that can protect your planeswalkers.  Cunning Rhetoric is a heck of a Magic card for dissuading attackers since most players don’t want to give you free cards from the top of their deck.  The various Vow cards ensure that the most problematic threat on the battlefield won’t be attacking you or you planeswalkers. Fog effects like Tangle and Arachnogenesis are quite helpful in keeping your planeswalkers alive from a massive alpha strike. 


Bloodthirsty Blade Parasitic Impetus Predatory Impetus

Goad is another mechanic that can help ensure that an opponent’s most threatening creature isn’t attacking you or your planeswalkers.  Green and black don’t have too many options here but there are a few that are decent enough, including the new updates on the Vow cards Parasitic Impetus and Predatory Impetus.  I also really love Bloodthirsty Blade too.


Regal Behemoth Court of Bounty Marchesa's Decree Custodi Lich Thorn of the Black Rose Dawnglade Regent Entourage of Trest

The monarch mechanic is a great way to get games moving along with attacks and extra card draw, but what’s nice about putting these cards in your planeswalker deck is that they force your opponents to make a choice — attack you and gain the monarch or attack your planeswalkers and leave the monarch with you.  Entourage of Trest can even block an extra attacker if you’re the monarch, even if the opponent is trying to attack down your planeswalkers.

Re-Trigger Carth

Erratic Portal Conjurer's Closet Temur Sabertooth Kogla, the Titan Ape Nim Deathmantle Cauldron of Souls

We’ll get to take advantage of Carth’s triggered ability when he dies and we get to cast him again from the command zone, but we can leverage that ability further by figuring out ways to have Carth enter the battlefield over and over.  The best of the bunch is Conjurer’s Closet since it just blinks Carth each turn during your end step, but let’s also not overlook returning Carth to your hand with something like Temur Sabertooth and casting him again.  I also really like Kogla, the Titan Ape in this way since Carth is a Human — in response to something like Wrath of God, you can return Carth to your hand and make Kogla indestructible until the end of the turn.

What do you think?  Are there any other cards you think would line up great alongside Carth the Lion? 

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews.

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!