Adam_the_Mentat's picture
Dec 11 2015 12:00pm
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CJB: +1/+1 Good ol' Fun. Not the kinda counters a blue mage favors.

Howdy folks!
Today's article is a trio of decks that rely on counters. You should know me well enough by now to know I'm not talkin' as a blue mage here.
+1/+1 counters have a storied history in Magic, and I'm hard-pressed to play a deck without green so I can use Doubling Season and Hardened Scales.
However the first deck in this article is just that. It's Orzhov, and it takes on counter-granting via life gain. I knew Karlov was going to be fun when I first saw him, but I had no idea how quickly he could really go.
Check him out:

Nyx-Fleece Ram 
Darien, King of Kjeldor 
Healer of the Pride 
Soul Warden 
Soul's Attendant 
Suture Priest 
Felidar Sovereign 
Divinity of Pride 
Vampire Nighthawk 
Angelic Skirmisher 
Rhox Faithmender 
Serra Ascendant 
Baneslayer Angel 
Linvala, Keeper of Silence 
Abzan Battle Priest 
Burrenton Bombardier 
Ashen Rider 
Angel of Despair 
Wall of Reverence 
Archon of Redemption
Wurmcoil Engine 
1 Bloodbond Vampire
1 Patron of the Valiant
1 Wasteland Strangler

Ajani, Caller of the Pride 
Ajani Goldmane 
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon 
Karn Liberated 
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad 

Other Spells: 
1 Righteous Confluence
Ajani's Mantra 
Sanguine Bond 
Exquisite Blood 
Illusionist's Bracers 
Sol Ring 
Mana Crypt 
Blind Obedience 
Vampiric Tutor 
True Conviction 
Whip of Erebos 
Basilisk Collar 
Ordeal of Heliod 
Palace Siege 
Demonic Tutor 
Citadel Siege 
Daily Regimen 
Austere Command 
Phyrexian Reclamation 
Utter End 
Toxic Deluge 
Council's Judgment 
Imperial Seal 
Merciless Eviction 
Phyrexian Arena 
Coercive Portal 
Staff of Nin 

Ghost Quarter 
Maze of Ith 
Ancient Tomb 
Vault of the Archangel 
Isolated Chapel 
Godless Shrine 
Caves of Koilos 
Tainted Field 
Strip Mine 
Encroaching Wastes 
Bojuka Bog 
Kabira Crossroads 
Orzhova, the Church of Deals 
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth 
Tectonic Edge 
Opal Palace 
Command Tower 
1 Mortuary Mire
Scoured Barrens 
1 Blighted Steppe
1 Command Beacon

I can't see Karlov's name, and that of his kin's Teysa, without thinking that this must be a blatant homage to Boris Karloff, one of the great classic Universal Movie Monsters actors from back in the day when even films were totally Orzhov. (Black and white. Get it? GET IT?!!?)

My mind then immediately wanders to the wonderful Tim Burton 90s movie Ed Wood, which itself, too, was filmed in Orzhov (I will beat this dead horse black and blue). One of the characters is Bella Lagosi, who has a rivalry with Karloff. He has some, um, questionable comments about Karloff and I can't help but hear Walter Matheau's Hungarian/Bella accent whenever I see Karlov. In fact, more so, I hear Bill Murray's character referencing the earlier tirade.

I digress, but I hope for those of you reading this that have watched Burton's Ed Wood, are now on the same page as me and you are stuck now making the same associations I do. Ultra-mega-bonus trivia, Boris Karloff is the one who narrates Dr. Seuss' Grinch cartoon which many of us have watched or will watch during this Holiday season.

Anyway, deck construction: First things first, we gotta have continuous life gaining effects throughout this deck to pump up Karlov. Then, we gotta have some fun, cool MTG inclusions that make use of all that extra life we have. On top of all of this, we need cards that grant extra +1/+1 counters to help Karlov get rocking even sooner. Step four is adding in Illusionist's Bracers, because with an ability like Karlov's how could you not?

I personally started by adding in the soul sisters duo of Soul's Attendant and Soul Warden with them adding Healer of the Pride and Suture Priest to the successful #squadgoals.

My next addition was (Ordeal of Helios), because it crosses the stratagems of additional +1/+1 counters and lifegain like the Ghostbusters cross streams. I opted out of Erebos' ordeal, because I don't rock a lot of discard-- but feel free to add it into your own build.

Then I continued on with the life gain aspect by adding in Ajani's Mantra, Nyx-Fleece Ram and OG Goldmane. Original Ajani even has a counter ability too, which fits in quite niftily.

Lifelinking came to mind, so in goes the Heretical Healer, Wurmcoil, True Conviction, Vampire Nighthawk, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, Whip of Erebos, Serra Ascendant, Divinity of Pride, Angelic Skirmisher, Vault of the Archangel, Basilisk Collar, Batterskull, Baneslayer Angel, Archon of Redemption (there's also a fair-to-midland amount of other flyers in here too), Wall of Reverence and Abzan Battle Priest.

Rhox Faithmender fits in quite perfectly here. I opted to exclude its partner-in-crime-Enchantment, Boon Reflection, but decided to add in the heinous combination of Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood. The goal of the deck isn't to get both of them out at the same time, though doing so can end a locked game or win you a game that seemed hopeless-- instead, both of these cards are very useful to the deck on their own rights.

Blind Obedience entered the fray ext, because it's controlling and punishing but also has Extort for added Karlov-counter-producing. Because BO was in here, Linvala fell into the deck naturally. It's not really on theme, but it works so well in any Commander deck with white in it.

For more counters, I added in Daily Regimen, Patron of the Valiant, Burrenton Bombardier (Reinforce), and (Ajani, Caller of the Pride). Three-CMC Ajani is awesome because the flying/double strike can be slapped on Karlov for a big ol' angry Ghosty, or the ultimate could drop a poopload of kittehs on the 'field.

Felidar Sovereign. I figured, heck, I already got some cheese in the deck with the Bond/Blood. Felidar is either lifelinking his way to a bigger Karlov, or winning you the game outright. Some peeps may call foul. I, in fact, will be taking this out and replacing it with a No Mercy (to make use of your big ol' life total) as soon as I can afford to pick one up.

Righteous Confluence: Just a fun inclusion which may gain you life, or may gain you knights, or may help 86 some pesky enchantments. Bloodbond Vampire makes use of your various life gain too-- but, alongside No Mercy, I'd like to take it out and put in an (Aurafication).

Reanimate, Darien, Phyrexian Reclamation, and Toxic Deluge are cards that usually hinder, but are made up for by all your life gain and fit nicely in the deck's nooks and crannies.

Wasteland Strangler is a nice lil' Processor from BFZ which can make use of Karlov's exiling ability.

Let's talk the two sieges. So much fun. Both can be extremely theme-oriented and useful, or just straight-up useful. Palace can do the gain-life jazz, or help with graveyard recursion. Citadel can either help tap-down problems and control the board, or, add counters to Karlov for exilin' shenanigans.

As far as the rest goes, I mean, c'mon, you should know by now. Batman's Utility Belt. This is all utility. Answers. Card drawing, removal, tutors, mana fixing, etc.

Now let's quickly touch on some fun lands that help round out the themes here. Kabira Crossroads, Scoured Barrens, Orzhova, the Church of Deals, Blighted Steppe, & Opal Palace.

Phyrexian Broodlings 
Menacing Ogre 
Mephidross Vampire 
Novijen Sages 
Cytoplast Manipulator 
Rage Forger 
Deathbringer Thoctar 
Oona's Blackguard 
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen 
Viral Drake 
Grimgrin, Corpse-Born 
Geralf's Messenger
Bloodflow Connoisseur  
Hellhole Flailer 
Simic Fluxmage 
Duskmantle Seer 
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch 
Murderous Redcap 
Thassa, God of the Sea 
Erebos, God of the Dead 
Flame-Wreathed Phoenix 
Dack's Duplicate 
Chasm Skulker 

Other Spells: 
Dragon Blood 
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker 
Unspeakable Symbol 
Power Conduit 
Ion Storm 
Spin into Myth 
Imperial Seal 
Blade of the Bloodchief 
Contagion Engine 
Contagion Clasp 
Spread the Sickness 
Tezzeret's Gambit 
Time Reversal 
Curse of Stalked Prey 
Ordeal of Thassa 
Hero's Downfall 
Armory of Iroas 
Vampiric Tutor 
Demonic Tutor 
Phyrexian Arena 
Sol Ring 
Mana Crypt 
Karn Liberated 
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon 
All Is Dust 

Reflecting Pool 
Volrath's Stronghold 
Underground River 
Sulfurous Springs 
Temple of Malice 
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth 
Graven Cairns 
Temple of Epiphany 
Strip Mine 
Bojuka Bog 
High Market 
Mishra's Workshop 
Temple of Deceit 
Blood Crypt 
Steam Vents 
Watery Grave 
Thespian's Stage 
City of Brass 
Command Tower 
Encroaching Wastes 
Ancient Tomb 
Mana Confluence 
Shivan Reef 
Underground Sea 
Opal Palace 
Volcanic Island 
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea 
Tectonic Edge 
1 Smoldering Marsh
1 Maze of Ith

So next up, we have yet another nongreen +1/+1 counter-infused deck. The Grixis-aligned Marchesa is a nice foil to Karlov. Both use counters, both really need their Commander around for the maximum use of their decks, but can totally thrive and persevere without them. Both make use of counters, but where they diverge is that Marchesa likes it when you have a lower life total.

Dethrone adds counters. Dethrone loves a lower life total then your opponent. That's why all the card-draw is Erebos, Greed, Phyrexian Arena and Necropotence despite the fact we are rocking blue. Marchesa's whole graveyard recursion shtick for counter-laden creatures is where the real Johnny fun lies, though. Also, really dig how much totally obscure stuff I can put in here.

So the first, most automatic inclusion is Unspeakable Symbol. This hardly-ever-used counter-givin' enchantment is perfect for this deck. It lowers your life total and allows you to slap a counter on Marchesa right away to let her own latent trigger save herself.

Armory of Iroas and Dragon Blood are some nice ways to eschew green to add more counters to your stuff.

Dack's Duplicate keeps up the Dethrone theme.

Now, let's get into some silliness.

Magmasaur: This one is great, it gets sacrificed, and does 5 damage to everything. Then everything of yours (presumably, since your stuff should all be laden with counters) come back onto the field, the Mamasaur included.
(Vebuild): Mitigates the attack sacrificing.
Menacing Ogre: A fun way to score a big Ogre and a chance to lose some life for Dethrone. 
Power Conduit: Drop your Vebuild, get a counter, put the counter on Marchesa because it's more important she lives and returns to play. Other counter-switching shenanigans can abound with this too, like removing counters from Geralf's Messenger so you can keep killing it for added results.
(Memphidross Vampire): Another way for your creatures to up their counters game.
Cytoplast Manipulator: Stealin' requires counters.
Novijen Sages: Card drawin' requires counters.
Necroplasm: Again, another sweeper than can rinse and repeat due to Marchesa. This one is fun to add a counter to when it's at three so it doesn't hose itself.
Ion Storm: Such an obscure and fun red card!
Rage Forger & Oona's Blackguard: Though we are not rocking Rogues and Shamans, having these out in a Grixis deck where every creature is swarming with +1/+1 counters is great (for you).
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch: I love getting a chance to use Exava.
Flame-Wreathed Phoenix: With Marchesa out, the Tribute makes it recursion-able and without the tribute cost, it is already

Next up, Grim-grin. He's a great sacrifice outlet and also grabs himself a counter in the process, ensuring his survival if Marchesa is out. Speaking of sacrificing-- let's talk Triskelion. This thing needs to be killed/sacrificed before its last counter is removed, so it comes back and can continually do damage. .

Murderous Redcap wants Dethrone counters to keep on keepin' on with its persist; Simic Fluxmage likes fiddlin' with counters, and Duskmantle Seer helps keep your life total down for Dethrone while gaining card advantage. Chasm Skulker is a fun one to build up and sacrifice, for tons of Squids and Thraximundar becomes waaaay more heinous with Marchesa out.

There's a host of Proliferate, and Curse of Stalked Prey for more counter adding fun. All the rest is removal and utility and answers. I went light on Planeswalkers, only opting to include the big baddie Nicol and the double colorless utility squad.

1 Karlov of the Ghost Council
1 Bloodspore Thrinax
Servant of the Scale
1 Liliana, Heretical Healer
Champion of Lambholt
Enduring Scalelord 
Rhys the Redeemed 
Abzan Battle Priest 
Avatar of the Resolute 
Avenger of Zendikar 
Flesh Carver 
Gyre Sage 
Corpsejack Menace 
Ivy Lane Denizen 
Scute Mob 
Woodfall Primus 
Kalonian Hydra 
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit 
Mikaeus, the Lunarch 
Juniper Order Ranger 
Daghatar the Adamant 
Dromoka, the Eternal 
1 Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest

Other Spells: 
Hardened Scales 
Doubling Season  
Mirari's Wake 
Mana Crypt  
Cathars' Crusade 
Citadel Siege 
Black Market 
Curse of Predation 
Death's Presence 
Primeval Bounty 
1 Retreat to Kazandu
Decree of Savagery 
Privileged Position 
Ajani Goldmane 
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes 
Vraska the Unseen 
Spread the Sickness 
Titania's Boon 
Bow of Nylea 
Natural Order 
Utter End 
Maelstrom Pulse 
Beast Within 
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon 
Sol Ring 
Phyrexian Arena 
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad 
Imperial Seal 
Demonic Tutor 
Vampiric Tutor 
Karn Liberated 

Murmuring Bosk 
Godless Shrine 
Isolated Chapel 
Overgrown Tomb 
Woodland Cemetery 
Temple Garden 
Sunpetal Grove 
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Krosan Verge 
Temple of Malady 
Temple of Plenty 
Temple of Silence 
Sandsteppe Citadel 
Reflecting Pool 
Opal Palace 
Command Tower 
Ghost Quarter 
Strip Mine 
Encroaching Wastes 
Volrath's Stronghold 
Gavony Township 
Llanowar Reborn 
City of Brass 
Mana Confluence 
High Market 
Mistveil Plains 
1 Canopy Vista
1 Command Beacon
Tectonic Edge 
1 Mortuary Mire

Ghave is undoubtedly one of my all-time favorite Commanders. He spits out Saprolings. He uses counters. He's a sacrifice outlet. He's a Johnny dream. He loves Cathars' Crusade and Doubling Season and so on. I've written about him before.

That article is over a year old, so I figured an update on a tried and true Commander was needed. The bulk of that article is still very relevant, or, if you're a Simpsons fan, cromulent. I've changed the deck fairly regularly over the last year, since Abzan first appeared upon the sandsteppes, but a few choices will always be included in the deck, the aforementioned Season and Crusade among them. 

I'm going to cherry-pick some of the cards I wanna talk about this time around, and leave the rest up to you fine folks to figure out (between the previous article and this deck build), and yes, technically, I call this deck Ghave 3.0.

I'm digging the seemingly innocuous common (Servant of the Scalelord). It's great if you can slap a few extra counters on it and then sacrifice it to Ghave. In one game I slapped out a Llanowar Reborn and then it, and had out a Hardened Scales. It got huge quick, and wound up seriously growing my Saproling army.

Karlov, the new Thrinax, and Mazirek really added some Johnny fun to the deck. Origins Lily works amazingly well with the deck too, and I'm really digging Bolster more than Outlast. I have a Timmy-Johnny-Vorthos-Nostalgia-Old Fart love of the Apocalypse Volvers, and took the opportunity to put in Necravolver.

With my acquisition of a Black Market, it absolutely has to include it. It makes for some epic turns if a Doubling Season is out. I can sacrifice a Sap to put a counter on another sap, which is actually two counters and gives me two black market counters too. Removing one counter gives me two Saps back. It becomes insane, quick.

I also went back to putting Death's Presence in the deck. I've had it in and out numerous times. I just really like the appeal of sacrificing a saproling to Ghave with it out. And, finally, again I find myself absolutely loving Flesh Carver. That was a weird sentence to write.

Thanks for joining me again. Did I miss anything you would've included? 

Lemme know in the comments below, or maybe shoot me a message in Twitter: @CmdrJohnnyBoosh.