The Anthology deck I’d like to spend some time on is Plunder the Graves, featuring Meren of Clan Nel Toth. Before Commander 2016 gave us Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice and Breya, Etherium Shaper, Meren was on course to surpass Oloro, Ageless Ascetic as the most-built Commander deck of all time. It’s not hard to see why she’s so popular; Meren gives you experience counters every time your creatures die, then turns that experience into powerful necromancy, reviving a creature from your graveyard. What’s not to love?
However, there’s another commander out there, in similar colors, who also lets you revive your creatures from the graveyard. His deck may not be reprinted in this Anthology, but he’s the most-built commander in his colors, and, as a ghost himself, he’ll make sure the past never dies. That’s right, it’s Karador, Ghost Chieftain.
Much like Gisa and Geralf, which we discussed last Showdown, Karador lets you cast creatures from your graveyard. Fortunately, he isn’t restricted to just zombies, like Gisa and Geralf. Unfortunately, you do still have to pay mana for those creatures, a cost Meren sidesteps by reviving creatures for free.
Still, Karador has many other upsides. First of all, he’s an additional color, which broadens the range of creatures he can resurrect. Second of all, he discounts his own mana cost for every creature in your graveyard. It’s possible that Karador could cost you only three mana even if you’ve already cast him twice. Lastly, Karador doesn’t rely upon experience counters. It’s difficult to prevent a Meren player from accumulating experience, since creatures dying is such a common part of the game, but if a Meren player can be kept off her experience, it can really slow her down. Karador doesn’t care about any of this. The first creature he revives could be an Acidic Slime for all he cares, so long as you have the mana.
Let’s get started by taking a look at the average Karador decklist:
For those familiar with Modern, this list probably looks similar to the “Birthing Pod” decks that were prevalent in the format years ago. Before the card was banned from the format, this deck featured the titular card Birthing Pod and a smattering of ‘toolbox’ creatures with niche effects that could be useful in a variety of situations, from Shriekmaw to Scavenging Ooze to Eternal Witness.
That’s exactly the kind of deck Karador likes to be. Since he can revive any creature from his graveyard, his deck can be filled with unique creatures, each of which provides answers to different threats. If an opponent has a nasty Doubling Season out, Karador can replay an Acidic Slime to shut it down. If an opponent has gone all-in on a voltron commander, Karador can replay his Fleshbag Marauder.
How about Meren?
Much like Karador, Meren has many of the same toolbox-y elements in her deck. Reclamation Sage for pesky artifacts and enchantments, Spore Frog for defense, and so on. It’s also important to note the presence of cards like Avenger of Zendikar and Grave Titan in her list, which don’t show up for Karador.
However, I think the best way to illustrate the differences between these two commanders is with a good ol’ Venn Diagram.
I’ve assembled a kinda-sorta Venn Diagram below, using the Top and Signature Cards for each deck, to see what cards overlap. The results are pretty interesting:
|Karmic Guide||Shriekmaw||High Market|
|Reveillark||Sakura-Tribe Elder||Bontu the Glorified|
|Saffi Eriksdotter||Fleshbag Marauder||Victimize|
|Ashen Rider||Skullclamp||Butcher of Malakir|
|Sun Titan||Birthing Pod||Caustic Caterpillar|
|Renegade Rallier||Sidisi, Undead Vizier||Merciless Executioner|
|Qasali Pridemage||Eternal Witness||Spore Frog|
|Swords to Plowshares||Acidic Slime||Primal Growth|
|Solemn Simulacrum||Wood Elves||Putrefy|
|Animate Dead||Reclamation Sage||Lightning Greaves|
|Demonic Tutor||Sheoldred, Whispering One||Dictate of Erebos|
|Fauna Shaman||Buried Alive||Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord|
|Disciple of Bolas||Viscera Seer||Ashnod’s Altar|
|Life from the Loam||Golgari Signet|
|Eldritch Evolution||Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest|
Karador’s column, however, tells us a whole lot about his playstyle. Unsurprisingly, many of those toolbox cards like Fleshbag Marauder and Acidic Slime show up in our “Both” column. Each of these provides an awesome amount of value when played multiple times, so they’re great fits for both decks.
Remember those Modern “Birthing Pod” decks Karador resembled so much? Well, he has something else in common with them too; many of those Modern decks were actually named “Melira Pod,” because they featured combos such as Melira, Sylvok Outcast + Kitchen Finks + Viscera Seer. Combos like this are bread and butter for Karador decks. At the very top of his column we find his combo pieces: Reveillark + Karmic Guide. Combine these cards with a sacrifice outlet and a Blood Artist and you’ve won the game. Saffi Erikdotter, Sun Titan and Renegade Rallier also show up in his column as additional avenues to Combo Town.
Birthing Pod isn’t Karador’s only tutor, either; his column also contains cards like Fauna Shaman, Demonic Tutor, and Eldritch Evolution, to find those combo pieces more quickly. These cards really solidify Karador as the quintessential toolbox commander with the potential to go infinite at the drop of a hat.
Karador players have also been known to run the “Boonweaver combo,” which utilizes Boonweaver Giant + Pattern of Rebirth + [insert sacrifice outlet here] to tutor out any and every creature in your library. These cards don’t show up in his average decklist above, but they’re still worth mentioning.
By contrast, Meren’s column shows us an emphasis not towards combo, but towards creatures. The standout is Dictate of Erebos. This, along with Grave Pact and Butcher of Malakir, are excellent forms of removal, but they do rely on how many creatures you have. Thankfully, we know that Meren loves having lots of creatures; remember, we saw from her decklist that she’s more likely to play those army-tastic cards like Avenger of Zendikar and Grave Titan. And speaking of armies, that Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest in her column makes her masses of creatures even more frightening.
Since Karador likes to combo, and defeat his opponents right on the spot, he has less need of effects like Dictate of Erebos. Meren’s goal is more gradual, and a bit more straightforward: crush you enemies by having more (and more powerful) creatures than they do.
This isn’t to say Meren can’t combo; I’ve witnessed firsthand a Meren deck that sacrificed and revived a Gray Merchant of Asphodel thirty times in one turn to win the game. In general, though, Meren decks tend to assemble legions, while Karador likes to assemble combos.
Now that we understand each of these commanders a little better, let’s take a look at some cards that aren’t very popular on their EDHREC pages, but should probably see more play.
Commander Anthology contains some amazing legendary creatures from years past, and I hope you get the chance to play with some of them. This is as good an opportunity as any to look back in previous sets for old favorites, and maybe give them a go, for old time’s sake. Some enterprising souls may tell you never to look back, or that the past is dead. If Karador and Meren have taught us anything, though, it’s that the dead pack a serious punch.
Until next time!