Commander Deck Tech: Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

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Today, I’m going to talk about my Dragon tribal Jund deck, led by Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. Big stompy creatures like Dragons are a big part of Commander, and I’ve been a huge fan of Dragons since my earliest days of Magic. The very first single I bought was a Fourth Edition Shivan Dragon from my local store for $20, which I still own today. I got a copy of From the Vault: Dragons on release day, and that convinced me I needed to build a proper Commander deck to take advantage of all those foily goodies. I originally looked at Scion of the Ur-Dragon to by my commander, but I decided I wanted to stick with the Jund dragons. Since then I’ve considered going 5-color a few times, but there’s no other Jund general that really interests me so I’ve stuck with Karrthus.

This deck is all about the Dragons. Every one of the meaningful creatures (25 of them in fact) are Dragons. There are a few random utility creatures to help the deck function but it’s pretty much all Dragons, all the time. I also tried to pick Dragon-flavored spells where I could as well, with the exception of the reanimation subtheme. Since there are only so many cards that cost six or more that you can cast in a turn, and you’re likely to have your Dragons killed by a sweeper effect or two along the course of the game, it’s pretty important to be able to recur them when you need to do so.

Notable Moments Playing Karrthus

Why Karrthus?

Since we’re going for Dragon tribal, why choose Karrthus over some of the other options? First of all, he’s a Dragon himself. To me, that’s important. If I’m going to build a tribal deck I want my commander to be a member of that tribe, otherwise it feels like a bit of a flavor fail to me. Second, Karrthus gives all my Dragons a bonus, and hasty dragons are much better than non-hasty dragons. I want to have a reason to play my Commander, not just leave him in the Command Zone forever. He also has haste himself, which makes him a big threat in the red zone all on his own (and even more reasons to cast him as soon as possible)! Finally, he gives us access to the colors we want the most: red for Dragons (obviously), black for some tutoring and reanimation effects, and green for a little acceleration and a few other powerful effects like Survival of the Fittest.

I have also tried both of the other possible commanders in this slot that fit the archetype, Darigaaz, the Igniter and Vaevictis Asmadi. Vaevictis Asmadi was actually the commander before Karrthus was printed. Darigaaz, while really awesome at doing silly amounts of damage, doesn’t really do a whole lot more than most of the other dragons I could play. He can be handy if you have players who are big on multicolored spells or mono-color decks, but he didn’t really excite me to cast most of the time.

Vaevictis has a cool name and is one of the original Elder Dragon Legends that spawned this whole format, but man is he disappointing in today’s world of threats and answers. I had fun making him into a one shot general damage kill a few times just with his native pump ability, but it’s really frustrating to pay his upkeep cost and then have him get killed before you can attack. Replaying him more than once or twice is really hard too. Karrthus was just the perfect fit.

Focus #1: Dragons!

As I said above, this deck is all about the Dragons, all the time. When I got From The Vault: Dragons I knew I was going to play every single one of them in here that I could. I was disappointed that I couldn’t run Nicol Bolas and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (Rith, the Awakener was already the Commander of my token deck at the time), but I slipped them into one of my normal multiplayer decks and all was well with the world. I still run all the Dragons from the set that are legal in this deck, even the terribly outdated Shivan Dragon. I know I should cut him, but it’s a nostalgia thing at this point. I do include a few changelings so I can play a “Dragon” or two before turn six, but it’s specifically the ones that are great in large multiplayer games.

The most important Dragons are by far the ones that do something when they hit the battlefield. Breath of Malfegor is an underrated sweeper. He’s not a great way to get your guys into the graveyard for a mass reanimation spell most of the time, but he does take out a lot of annoying creatures very easily and leaves a huge body behind. Thunder Dragon does a great Pyroclasm impression, which is very important when you’re looking to keep chump blockers out of your way. Ebon Dragon seems bad at first glance, but the discard actually works out quite well surprisingly often since by the time you cast him, your opponents are generally down to holding nothing but bombs. Bladewing the Risen gives you a lord effect and a friend all in one package – hard to say no to that.

When running a tribal deck, it’s important to make sure your tribe members do more than just beat for damage. With a multiplayer game, you will need to be able to interact with your opponent beyond just attacking – no playing out a bunch of guys and just attacking until he’s dead. Commander has too much life for that to work on more than one opponent. You need to be able to execute on your plan as well as disrupt your opponents’ plans. Finding members of your tribe that can help with that means you can run more creatures in your tribe and spend fewer slots on cards that just disrupt.

Focus #2: Graveyard Shenanigans

I love shenanigans, don’t you? The best way to make sure our dragons are getting in for damage consistently is to be able to pull a few shenanigans and get them back where they belong – on the battlefield and devouring helpless villagers (that is, your opponents). To that end, you need to make sure you’re in control of your own graveyard for as much of the game as possible. I only run two mass reanimation spells in here:Living Death and Patriarch's Bidding. Living End lets people see it coming and take advantage of it or stop me, and I’m not a fan. Liliana Vess is a tutor and a reanimation spell, so she also gets the nod.

Phyrexian Reclamation is a great card that should not be overlooked because it can save your important guys from instant speed graveyard removal. Last but certainly not least, we have Survival of the Fittest and a typical package you’d see to go with it: Ancestral Anger, Arachnogenesis, and Squee, Goblin Nabob. Squee thinks he’s a Goblin, but really he’s a card that says, “ {G}: Search your library for target busted card and put it into your hand. Use this ability only once per turn and only when you control Survival of the Fittest.”

I’ve considered cutting some of the other support spells for some single target reanimation effects from time to time. I eventually always decide I’d rather be able to accelerate my mana a bit and actually cast my Dragons rather than having to cheat them into play from the graveyard. A single reanimation spell lets me get one Dragon back, but having 7 or 8 mana available lets me cast a Dragon every turn. I’ve only rarely felt like I really wanted another reanimation spell, and I’ve always wanted another mass reanimation effect rather than a single target one, so Twilight's Call would likely get the nod over anything else.

Focus #3: Supporting Cast

Unfortunately, very few tribes are deep enough to do everything you’re likely going to want to do with your Commander deck, and Dragons are no exception. Dragons are really good at being big, flying, and burninating the countryside (read: killing creatures), but not so good at handling other types of permanents, or accelerating into playing other dragons. Thus, we fill out the rest of the deck with things that let us do this more effectively. I also elected to go for some high-flavor spells that fit very well with a dragon deck, like Ashes to Ashes and Mystic Melting.

For your acceleration, you want to stick to 2-for-1s as much as possible. Thankfully, green has a plethora of these effects, and they’re all fairly low on the curve, so you can generally play them without having to have a backup accelerator first (at least by Commander standards). I recommend running most if not all of them available.

Cards for Consideration

There are a few newer cards that I’m considering getting in here, but I haven’t had a chance to decide what to cut yet. Let’s take a quick look:

Moltensteel Dragon
This guy seems like a great choice because he’s a 4/4 for 4. I don’t like that he’s vulnerable to artifact destruction though, so he may or may not make the cut. I’m also not a huge fan of Dragons that just beat for damage as I have several of those already and this guy isn’t particularly better at that than the ones I’m already running.

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
I like him, but I feel the infect ability is almost a drawback in here since I’m so focused on trying to kill players via normal damage. I might give him a shot at some point, but it probably won’t be right away unless someone has a convincing argument in the comments.

Death by Dragons
This is a definite possibility for inclusion, especially since I can steal everyone’s Dragon tokens when I cast Karrthus. It’s just a matter of deciding what to cut for it and whether everyone will realize what I’m planning on doing with the tokens and attack me with all of them as soon as I cast it.

Mana-Charged Dragon
I want to cast this guy and swing at the combo player so very, very bad.

The Deck

One giant pile of Dragon-y goodness:

Untitled Deck

Until next time, go tribal and love it.

6 thoughts on “Commander Deck Tech: Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

  1. I’m pretty sure Kokusho is banned. That said props on the tribal them deck, I find themed EDH/commander so much more fun to build and play than the “good stuff” approach.

    A cheap dragon you might want to consider playing maybe over Dragon Whelp(although I love the old school coolness of whelp) is Fledgling Dragon, the 4cc threshold Shivan is a great cheap dragon. Rakdos Pit Dragon is another nice cheap dragon option.

  2. maybe it’s just my computer being a piece of junk, but the hyperlinks for cards in the deck don’t work. every other one works fine.

  3. CMDR Decks:
    I’ve never had it happen, but that may be because I almost always kill the guy playing blue first. 😉
    If they do clone Karrthus, it’ll kill mine and theirs, so they won’t have haste. If I’ve dumped a significant number onto the battlefield, I can just replay Karrthus next turn to get them all back.

    You are correct in that Kokusho is banned for normal play. However, my playgroup is alright with people playing him because we feel he shouldn’t be on the banned list, and have been playing with him for well over a year now. I meant to add a note to the decklist before publishing but I forgot.

    Fledgling Dragon was okay when I ran him in here, but I was always disappointed by the lack of firebreathing when I didn’t have threshold. The deck actually curves out very most of the time, and my graveyard usually doesn’t end up full if I’m not setting up some kind of shenanigans with a mass reanimation effect. I might give Fledgling another shot some day, but I wasn’t super impressed by him before. Dragon Whelp gets the nod because he was in FTV: Dragons. 😀

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