In the time since Commander became a recognized format, Wizards has provided players with several good five-color commander options to choose from. Access to every color allows players to make use of any card in the game to implement their preferred strategy: Morophon enables any creature type tribal, Golos can cast any big spells you want for free, and Ramos, Dragon Engine grows huge in a hurry while fueling your future spells, too. Those commanders’ abilities help players crush their opponents using all the best available cards… But Karona, False God is not one of those commanders.
Take One Down, Pass It Around
The first thing to note about Karona is that at the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player untaps her and gains control of her. We don’t get to keep our commander to ourselves! Admittedly, a 5/5 for six mana doesn’t seem like a very good deal, especially since the cost is color-intensive. Even with haste, on the surface it doesn’t seem sensible to cast Karona because our opponents get to use her for free once we’re done with our turn.
The value proposition is muddied even further by Karona’s second ability: Whenever Karona attacks, the attacking player chooses a creature type, then creatures with that type get +3/+3 until end of turn. Even if there are no other creatures on the battlefield, the player can name Avatar (Karona’s type) and she’ll become an 8/8 attacker. Essentially, once Karona hits the battlefield, she will start flying around the table and giving a big boost to every player’s attack step.
The gameplan for this deck is to set up some protections while our opponents build, play Karona, then hold on for dear life while our opponents kill each other.
In order to survive the game with all the extra combat damage going around the board, we’re going to need to discourage our opponents from attacking us. Cards like Propaganda, Ghostly Prison, and Windborn Muse don’t make it impossible for opponents to attack us, but with Karona’s +3/+3 buff they are more likely to smash into someone else rather than pay all that mana. Revenge of Ravens or Marchesa’s Decree also discourage attacks against you, without discouraging attacking someone else.
These enchantments aren’t the only ways we can deter attacks. Spike Weaver helps with this because we can threaten to negate all combat damage if we are attacked. Most players would rather take care of other opponents first than spend an entire combat step to remove one counter from our Weaver.
Orzhov Advokist is another great card to support our strategy; it makes our opponents more dangerous to one another, it protects us from being attacked, and it puts anyone who refuses to “sign the contract” behind opponents who takes our kind offer. Additionally, we get to use the Advokist’s trigger ourselves, meaning we can make Karona bigger or even replenish our Spike Weaver‘s supply of counters!
If all that deterrent fails and we get targeted with attacks, it’s important to have cards like Teferi’s Protection or Cyclonic Rift to protect ourselves. With Karona on their side, any tribal or token strategy becomes a HUGE threat and could easily kill us with a single attack, and having a panic button we can press is crucial to surviving.
A Solemn Vow
Commander 2011 included a cycle of five auras named “Vow of [color related word]”, with one in each color. Each Vow gives the enchanted creature a power/toughness buff and a combat keyword, and makes it so the enchanted creature can’t attack you or a planeswalker you control. Originally I put them in my Karona deck to enchant her, making sure that she couldn’t attack me while she made her way around the battlefield. What I found, however, is that these cards are much more useful when we use them to enchant our opponents’ most dangerous creatures. Since we’re only going to cast Karona when it’s safe to do so, it’s better to use these enchantments to stop our opponents’ big threats from hurting us before we can establish our pillow fort. Furthermore, if our opponents are using Karona’s ability to buff their own creatures, it doesn’t matter if she can’t attack us; the buff applies no matter who she is attacking. It’s better to protect ourselves against creatures that our opponents’ decks are built around.
Everybody but Me… CHARGE!
Sometimes our opponents will respond to our pillow fort and our migrating Commander by choosing not to attack, instead leaving their team on defense in case other players choose to attack them. If everyone has good defenses, no one will want to attack, and that’s a problem for our strategy. If everyone is holding back and trying to out-grow one another, we lose out in the long run.
To solve this problem, we play cards like Goblin Spymaster, Thantis, the Warweaver, and Warmonger Hellkite. Even an extremely aggressive deck will be thrown off by the mandatory attacks every turn, and with our enchantment-based protection we should be able to sit back and watch while other players make inconvenient attacks against one another. Our only challenge will be finding someone to attack with Karona (or Thantis) who can’t block and kill our creature.
I built this deck with slow, low-budget lands because part of its strategy is to seem innocent and under-powered until other opponents are taken care of (and because I don’t own many expensive lands). You can use whatever land base you prefer, but make sure you have a lot of color fixing, because this deck is extremely color-intensive. Chromatic Lantern is a must, and Scapeshift can get all the best lands from our deck while also thinning it out slightly.
Cyclonic Rift works as a panic button when things get tricky, but it’s also a great tool to close out a game when there is only one opponent left. River’s Rebuke functions almost identically for that purpose, and other cards like Sudden Disappearance, Plague Wind, or In Garruk’s Wake can stop an opponent’s momentum for long enough for us to finish them off.
If we don’t want to give Karona to our opponents anymore, we can play Teferi’s Veil; Once we attack with Karona, she will phase out, meaning that she’s treated as though she doesn’t exist. At the beginning of our next untap step, Karona will phase back in so we can attack again as normal.
If we’re not making the game weird enough for our opponents already, we can always play Dovescape and kick things into high gear. Dovescape will always turn a game on its head, but with Karona on the battlefield, each 1/1 flying Bird token becomes a 4/4 attacker. Karona’s ability changes Dovescape from a punishment for noncreature spells into an arms race, with players hoping for noncreature spells so that they can generate birds and rail into their opponents!
This deck won’t win any competitive tournaments, and it probably won’t make you a lot of friends at the game table, but if you want to feel like Emperor Palpatine during a game of Magic (“Let the hate flow through you”, “I’m too weak, don’t kill me, please…”, “UNNNNNNNLIMITED POWWWAAAAAAHHHH”, etc), this is the deck for you! Karona is a strange addition to any battlefield, and a very interesting character in Magic’s story as well.* Thanks for reading, and tune in next time when I donate Door to Nothingness and Ramos, Dragon Engine with at least five counters on it to an opponent while I have Hexproof.
* Keep an eye out for next week’s Lore Seeker, which will be all about Karona’s story arc!