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Commander Top 10: Sarulf, Realm Eater

Sarulf, Realm Eater has Bennie Smith howling with delight. See how he built his latest Commander deck around the Kaldheim preview.

Sarulf, Realm Eater, illustrated by Chris Rahn
Sarulf, Realm Eater, illustrated by Chris Rahn

Since the holidays represent the spirit of giving, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has given us a few sneak peek previews into the upcoming Norse mythology-inspired set Kaldheim, including a handful of new legendary creatures to get our Commander brains spinning at the possibilities. My mind was immediately captured by a crazy carnivore, Sarulf, Realm Eater!

The Wolf… eats… realms!  How cool is that?  And a midrange Golgari creature that can live in your command zone is pretty much the sweetest of sweet spots for me. 

The mechanical tension in the text box is fascinating. To gain +1/+1 counters, you want permanents your opponents control to hit the graveyard, which happens from combat, being destroyed, or sacrificed.  But the ability that triggers at the beginning of your upkeep if you want to use it, removes all those counters, and exiles each other nonland permanent with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of counters removed that way.  Whether you want to keep Sarulf large with +1/+1 counters or sweep the battlefield and go back to being a 3/3 will shift constantly throughout the game, especially since, if you choose not to use the exile ability and Sarulf dies before your next upkeep, you’ve missed the opportunity.

Another deck design constraint is minimizing the collateral damage on your side from the exile ability. Don’t play all that many nonland permanents that haven’t already given you a benefit or can’t be sacrificed for profit before being exiled. As a result, you won’t be playing too many other must-destroy creatures to soak up removal spells from your opponents, and it’ll often be in their best interest to destroy Sarulf before your upkeep, so, let’s include various instant-speed ways to protect Sarulf from an early demise.

One thing I’d like to point out—Sarulf really benefits from one of the most annoying Commander cards ever printed: Smothering Tithe.

Sacrificing a token triggers Sarulf’s ability to put a +1/+1 counter on it, so it won’t take too many Treasures being used before Sarulf can just exile that pesky enchantment.

Sarulf won’t be an appropriate commander to bring to the most casual of Commander tables, which tend to play with a lot of nonland permanents and very little removal. Sweeping away their entire battlefield they’ve invested a bunch of cards and mana into casting them or forcing them to keep most of their cards unplayed in hand will lead to bad play experiences. If you’re bringing Sarulf to the table, make sure you’re playing with people who bring decks that can interact with you so that everyone has fun!

Okay, let’s get brewing!

1. Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

One of the first things I looked for were nonland cards that could still be played that were relatively immune to Sarulf’s exile ability, and then it hit me: the phrase “nonland cards” – Ashaya, Soul of the Wild makes all your creatures into Forests and thus lands!  So even if you remove five or more +1/+1 counters from Sarulf during your upkeep, Ashaya will stand firm on the battlefield and be large enough to crash into someone’s life total during combat.

Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi animates one of your lands and makes it a 9/9, so it’s another large threat that doesn’t get exiled by Sarulf’s ability, and since it uses +1/+1 counters, any synergies with counters could matter. Eternal Scourge can be cast from exile so it can keep coming back to the battlefield.  God-Eternal Bontu and God-Eternal Rhonas aren’t immune to the exile but have a triggered ability that lets you put them into your library third from the top, so they’ll be back.

2. Invigorating Surge

When looking for spells to support or synergize with +1/+1 counters, one that immediately jumped out at me was Invigorating Surge. At instant speed, you can add a +1/+1 counter to Sarulf and then double the number of +1/+1 counters on it, which can either surprise your opponents with how many nonland permanents you’ll be able to exile during your upkeep, or surprise one particular opponent during combat with a Sarulf is suddenly huge. Imagine Sarulf has eight counters on it and is attacking someone unblocked – Invigorating Surge adds a ninth counter and then doubles that to eighteen, plus Sarulf’s natural three power, adding up to 21 lethal points of commander damage.

It’s a challenge avoiding so many great +1/+1 counter synergy cards like Doubling Season and Corpsejack Menace, but I did find some other great instant-speed options:

Inscription of Abundance is a fantastic card from Zendikar Rising that I keep finding myself putting in all sorts of Commander decks. If you cast this card with kicker, you’ll likely end up with a third +1/+1 counter on Sarulf from the creature you fight and get a nice life boost as a bonus.

I doubt that I’d ever have enough creatures to warrant casting Decree of Savagery for a whopping nine mana, but cycling for six mana to get a new card and add four +1/+1 counters on Sarulf seems very reasonable.

3. Find // Finality

The Finality side of this split card will be an all-star creature removal spell with Sarulf—assuming no other +1/+1 counters, the two you put on Sarulf boost it to five power, which is just enough to survive the -4/-4 to all creatures, and each one that dies will add another +1/+1 counter. With enough deaths, Sarulf could still crash in for a lot of damage that same turn.

Here are other creature removal spells I’ve added to the deck:

Heartless Act is another new card that I’ve found to be great in Commander—most of the time it’s just as good as Go for the Throat, but sometimes it’s good to get rid of ability counters on creatures too. In this case, though, it can be used to trim counters from Sarulf prior to your upkeep in case you don’t want to exile one or two of your own higher-cost nonland permanents.

Ezuri’s Predation can potentially kill a huge number of creatures, especially if someone is playing a deck that generates a ton of small token creatures like Goblins or Saprolings. When the dust settles, it could mean your legendary Wolf is huge and there aren’t any small creatures around to chump block it.

Black Sun’s Zenith puts X -1/-1 counters on all creatures, but the +1/+1 counters Sarulf gets from all your opponents creatures dying will knock off those -1/-1 counters and hopefully provide extra +1/+1 counters when everything resolves.

4. Casualties of War

Sarulf’s ability triggers off any permanent going to an opponent’s graveyard, so we’ll include lots of ways to destroy things other than just creatures. Casualties of War is a great one here, since it’s not only destroying permanents, it’s adding that number of counters onto Sarulf, potentially up to six if you have all the available targets.  Come on, planeswalker!

Tribute to the Wild is a little imprecise, but it’s a cheap instant you can cast during an opponent’s end step that could add up to three +1/+1 counters to Sarulf, which could mean you have enough to exile everything else you were concerned about during your upkeep. 

And here’s another thing: does your opponent sacrifice something insignificant and risk that what they really care about will get exiled by Sarulf during your upkeep, or do they sacrifice the enchantment or artifact that they could get back from the graveyard later instead? If that’s the case, you could then just keep the counters and attack with a big Sarulf.

5. Imp’s Mischief

Due to the timing of Sarulf’s exile ability, there will be a lot of opportunities for your opponents to kill Sarulf so that they save their nonland permanents or life totals, so we’ll want a fair number of ways to protect it from an untimely death. The gold standard for this is Heroic Intervention and we’ll certainly include that too, but for me the number-one pick is Imp’s Mischief.

If you’ve ever seen Deflecting Swat in action these past few months, you’ll know that changing the target of a spell or ability to something else can produce powerful swings. Unfortunately, Sarulf’s color identity doesn’t include red, but black gives us something close: Imp’s Mischief! Changing the target of a destroy effect from Sarulf to one of your opponents’ permanents instead could give you that crucial extra +1/+1 counter you were looking for.

I’ve included some other instant-speed ways to keep our realm-eating Wolf on the battlefield:

I’ve include Miren, the Moaning Well in case someone tries to enchant Sarulf with something like Darksteel Mutation, or if we don’t have any way to protect Sarulf from a removal spell, so we can just cash it in for life. Rogue’s Passage is a way to push Sarulf past any large creature or something with deathtouch.

6. Thragtusk

When looking for creatures I might want to play, I first turned towards ones that had an enters-the-battlefield effect, and Thragtusk jumped to the top of the list because it also has a leaves-the-battlefield effect. So, you gain life, you get a 5/3 Beast, and if you’ve got to exile the battlefield with Sarulf’s ability, ol’ Swagtusk leaves behind a 3/3 Beast token.

Here are some other creatures I’ve added to the deck:

I particularly like Noxious Gearhulk and Kogla, the Titan Ape here; they both can generate an extra +1/+1 counter for Sarulf when they enter the battlefield, and their converted mana costs are high enough that Sarulf can exile the battlefield of smaller-cost nonland permanents and still leave these creatures behind. Then when Kogla attacks you can pick off an enchantment or artifact and grow Sarulf with a +1/+1 counter.

Oh, and don’t forget Eternal Witness is a Human, so you can return it to your hand with Kogla’s ability to recast and get back key cards from your graveyard for late-game inevitability.

7. Pir’s Whim

Pir’s Whim continues to impress as a ramp spell with extra removal oomph or political ramifications, but in this deck you’ll be able to ramp a land and get up to three +1/+1 counters for Sarulf if your opponents have an enchantment or artifact to sacrifice.  And much like I wrote about Tribute to the Wild above, if your opponents have multiple artifacts or enchantments and they’re worried about the ones they keep getting exiled by Sarulf rather than just destroyed, you may end up getting rid of the ones you most want gone.

The rest of the mana ramp cards are pretty much what you’d expect in a green deck:

The only permanent-based ramp card is Wall of Roots because I figured I’ll use it up for mana by the time I’m exiling anything with Sarulf’s ability.

Remarkably, I’m not including Sol Ring which is perhaps the first time ever!

8. Rishkar’s Expertise

A lot of card draw engines that’d I’d typically include in a Golgari deck like Sylvan Library or Guardian Project would likely get exiled the first time I used Sarulf’s upkeep ability, so I’m leaning much more heavily on sorceries, and one of the best is Rishkar’s Expertise.  Chances are pretty good that Sarulf will be of at least moderate size when you cast this spell, letting you refuel your hand and cast a spell for free along the way.

I decided to take a chance with Oakhame Adversary here. Odds are pretty good that you can cast it early for two mana and hopefully get a few extra cards from it before it potentially gets swept up by Sarulf’s exile ability. You can always keep it back as a lethal chump blocker due to its deathtouch ability, which will give you a +1/+1 counter on Sarulf.

The Great Henge does great work in nearly all green decks, but even though it’s a nonland permanent, the converted mana cost is high enough that I doubt it will be at much risk of being exiled by Sarulf’s ability.

9. Beacon of Unrest

Since we’re destroying opponents’ creatures along the way to grow Sarulf and we’ve got access to black, I thought one way to avoid exiling too many of our own creatures with Sarulf is to instead reanimate the best dead creatures that belong to our opponents. That way, if you have to pull the trigger and do a big exile effect, it’s an opponent’s best creature that’s forever gone. Beacon of Unrest is a good once since it can also nab an artifact if that’s something we want, and I really love that it shuffles back into your library to potentially draw again.

Here are a few other spells that do similar things:

10. Commander’s Sphere

Lastly, I hunted for some cards that self-sacrifice for profit, so if you’re going to pop off with Sarulf’s exile ability, these nonland permanents can be cashed in.  Commander’s Sphere has gone down in popularity in Commander these days but it’s perfect here, providing mana ramp and color fixing, and then later you can cash it in for no mana to draw a card. Here are some others:

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:


Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:

Sarulf, Realm Eater deck mana costs and production.
Sarulf, Realm Eater converted mana cost chart.

What do you think?  Are there any cards I’ve overlooked?  Keep your eyes peeled for Kaldheim previews and if you see any new cards that should find a home here, let me know! 

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.

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

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