Here’s my very scary Unpopular Opinion: Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood can be a fun Commander.
With Dimir safely in the rear view, I’ve moved on to Rakdos, and my selection came fairly quickly. Kazarov was a card I enjoyed casting in Dominaria limited, albeit in particular situations where a very slow seven mana win condition would be relevant. I spent a few brief minutes considering a Malfegor list, as it’s an iconic creature for me personally in terms of its badness, but I didn’t want to build a run of the mill madness deck, which is where I led myself every time I opened my deckbuilding spreadsheet. Instead, I latched onto Kazarov, which is in pole position in just 114 decks on EDHREC, ranking at #548 overall.
As always, I’d like to remind you of a couple of things regarding my budget articles:
- $50 has a different impact on different people, but given that it’s less than the price of a triple-A console game release, I think it’s a price many will be willing to pay for hours of entertainment, which a Commander deck should provide.
- I’ll be using prices from right here on ChannelFireball.com to track our costs. All prices were accurate when I wrote this – apologies if prices have changed or cards have gone out of stock since, but that’s just part and parcel of a budget article.
Examining Kazarov should lead us to an obvious theme, right?
Well, okay, it didn’t lead us to anything super obvious in terms of mechanics normally seen in Commander, but broadly, we’ll want to deal damage to opponents’ creatures. In fact, we’ll be dealing lots of damage all over the place, so we’ll need to find ways to keep Kazarov ticking (which is maybe an inaccurate metaphor for a vampire, since they don’t have heartbeats) while blasting the board with lots of global damage effects. Ideally, we’ll have plenty of ways to just hit opposing creatures to keep our own board around. We’ll also need a lot of mana to cast Kazarov in the late game. Ideally, we’ll grow Kazarov to hilariously large size and then attack for lethal Commander damage or use his high power to deal massive direct damage to an opponent. I know Kazarov starts at just 4/4 for seven mana, but I think we can do it.
This is also yet another entry in the scary month sub-series for Unpopular Opinion, because of course, vampires are part of the whole Halloween thing. I don’t really have a ton of good Halloween stories, which I’m sure is disappointing for everyone who enjoyed my sailing discussion last time around, so you’ll just have to settle for off-theme scary stories and the occasional Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. So, it goes. Let’s jump in!
These six creatures focus on dealing wide-angle damage across the board. Some, like Bloodfire Dwarf, are sort of a one-time deal, whereas cards like Pestilence Demon and Thrashing Wumpus can deal damage all day long, or at least until they run out of toughness. I’m always excited to play Thrashing Wumpus, as it’s both a reminder of fun times with friends in the old days of Magic and one of only three Wumpuses (yes, Wumpuses is the plural, as confirmed by the flavor text) in Magic. It’s not quite as famous as the Hunted variety and lacks the erroneous rhyming nickname, but it’s still a fun card. Well, as fun as Pestilence gets, anyway.
We didn’t sleeve up Bladebrand, but Dagger Caster is here to hit some opposing creatures and grow Kazarov. This dagger-throwing viashino is cut less from the road show magician cloth, instead coming more from the Pierrot le Fou mold (the Cowboy Bebop episode, not the Godard film). Apparently, the trick where a magician throws knives at a human target without hitting them is part of a discipline called “impalement arts,” which includes the whole William Tell family of apple archery stunts as well.
Sometimes opponents just don’t bring as many creatures as we’d like them to, and that’s when Akroan Horse is invaluable, providing a steady stream of 1/1s to us and a selection of opponents. Normally I’m against giving things away at cost to only us, but in this deck, I’d gladly play Forbidden Orchard if it were in budget. We’re not an Oath of Druids deck or anything, but we need opponents to have some board presence.
I couldn’t find room for Stuffy Doll, but Brash Taunter works just as well. An indestructible creature will keep our Pestilence around (spoiler alert: we’re playing Pestilence) while also funneling damage toward our opponents. If you like indestructible creatures that make a difference, or if you enjoy standing in that little room under the Hyrule Castle stage spamming Captain Falcon’s taunt, you’ll be excited about the moves this card can show you.
It’s a little bit of a bummer when opposing creatures die because they’re not around to damage anymore. These four take the sting out of that a little bit, providing some additional value when opposing forces hit the bin. Deathbringer Thoctar works at both ends of the equation, getting value from deaths it may itself deal, and of course, we have Basilisk Collar and some other deathtouch sources to make it even stronger.
When the Titans premiered in Magic 2011, they were the gold standard for game winning creatures. These days, they enjoy a comfortable retirement in the Commander format, where they’re still solid, if not the cream of the crop. Inferno Titan does what this deck needs – it’s a big threat, it can grow Kazarov, and it can really put the hurt on a player with no blockers. Oh, and check out the art – that beard is absolute fire.
Near-unconditional removal for seven mana that leaves a body behind? Sure, why not. If you prefer Scour from Existence, go for it, but I chose to play Meteor Golem here as this deck is fairly light on creatures.
It’s a shame that so many of the enrage creatures available to us are small, terrible, or both, as they’d be perfect for this deck. Silverclad Ferocidons makes the cut handily, though, as it can survive quite a few pings while winnowing opposing boards.
I said we needed ramp, and this card has enjoyed a drop in price due to being reprinted approximately 100 times in the last two years. A match made in heaven!
We’ve now spent $13.15 of our $50 budget, leaving plenty of room for ways to support Kazarov in the noncreature section. Again, I know seven mana 4/4s are not normally seen as Commander damage threats, but with enough help, Kazarov should be scarier than most of the cultural terrors of my youth, like the Goosebumps books or Y2K. I’ll never forget being at a friend’s house on December 31, 1999, when said friend snuck into his basement and turned off the power at the circuit breaker at midnight, which played into all the unfounded fears of a young, anxious RagingLevine (thanks a lot, Matt). Hopefully this deck can achieve that level of scareitude.
These nine cards provide us the ability to deal various amounts of damage to opposing creatures only, leaving our own board alive and unharmed. Most of them deal small amounts of damage, but some are stronger – for example, Mizzium Mortars can sometimes amount to a one-sided wrath when overloaded. Sudden Demise is red’s answer to Wash Out, but with damage, and Cerebral Eruption can wipe one player’s board or do absolutely nothing, though in those cases it has the courtesy to return to hand.
Sometimes what we need is just damage, and it’s okay to deal it to our own creatures. Pauper favorite Evincar’s Justice joins the original flavor of Pestilence on this list, representing infinitely repeatable effects. Volcanic Spray makes the cut by virtue of its flashback ability, while Wail of the Nim can keep our creatures safeish.
If this deck is going to wrath the board, this is the plan. Instant speed X-spells that leverage our extra mana are the answer here. You could also go with a Rolling Earthquake now that the reprint in Double Masters has made it significantly cheaper, but that’s a sorcery, so it lost its spot to these two.
Attackers beware! We won’t be attacking with small creatures, so I’m not concerned that our Caltrops will betray us, and Circle of Flame disincentivizes attacking us in a really bizarre way as long as Kazarov is around.
I mentioned earlier that we want opponents to have creatures, and between that need and my desire to play cards that no one has ever read in their entire lives, Infernal Genesis is the ideal candidate. Normally this card is about as playable as Infernal Spawn of Evil, but we might have actually found an excuse to try this one out.
This is a wild one with the amount of damage this deck deals – whether it ends up targeting our Brash Taunter or just a particularly large creature, it’s likely to cause a board wipe plus some huge changes in life totals around the table.
We need ways to leverage Kazarov’s power, and these are our main tools other than just attacking normally. Loxodon Warhammer makes that attack much more potent, while Gravitic Punch and Surestrike Trident take the fight directly to an opponent’s face. Kazuul’s Fury is great at finishing off your last opponent, and if it’s rotting in your hand, it can be played as a land – you’ll need plenty of those to recast Kazarov once commander tax starts ticking up.
Basilisk Collar is worth spending on due to the powerful interactions with cards like Deathbringer Thoctar, Inferno Titan, and Pestilence Demon, and it’s not bad on Kazarov himself either. Gorgon’s Head manages to just be a worse version of the Collar that’s still good enough to play – if you want another effect like this, try Gorgon Flail, though you’ll pay one extra mana up front for it.
You might be wondering how we’re planning to keep Kazarov alive – these cards are the answer. We can’t really afford Darksteel Plate on this budget, so some temporary indestructibility and regeneration will have to do. Shield of the Realm is a particularly weird card that only seems to be useful in decks exactly like this one.
We’re now in the less exciting part of the deck list, where we’ve got some point removal. Thanks to Feed the Swarm, we can now deal with one enchantment per game, and By Force can handle a board of artifacts alone. Hagra Mauling is here performing double duty as removal spell and one more land.
Card draw – you need it, you love it, you have to have it.
I said we’d need lots of mana, so I’ve found room for six copies of two mana accelerators. I know I’ve been putting more three mana rocks in the two-color decks so far, but on thinking some more I think that approach should be saved for the three-color decks and up. It’s also convenient that Rakdos Signet is one of the more affordable pieces of its cycle.
That’s a total of $23.10 spent on noncreature spells, bringing us up to a total spend of $36.25. That should leave enough room for our mana base. You might have noticed a smaller number of cards in the above sections than usual if you were counting along. Remember when I said this deck needed a ton of mana? I was not kidding. Our commander costs seven, and that number will go up when he dies – and he will die. I’ve chosen to run 41 land in addition to the two double faced spell/land cards you saw earlier, which should be enough for us to hit our land drops on a fairly regular basis. On average, we should see just about three lands (3.04, to be more precise) in any given opening hand, which feels about right.
These dual lands should be coming into play untapped, which can help us stay on curve. I’ve warmed up more to cards like Shadowblood Ridge recently as I’ve worked through building budget mana bases from scratch, though I don’t think I’ll be including them when we start working on three-color decks. Smoldering Marsh and Graven Cairns both benefit from recent reprints, and I saw Graven Cairns as a must to fuel our various Pestilence effects.
A few duals that enter tapped will help us with tough mana costs like that of Pestilence Demon, even if they don’t help our curve.
I’m a fan of the storage lands in mana-hungry decks such as this one, so it’s a shame that only allied colors have access to this cycle.
This deck has a lot of colored mana activation costs, so finding the right land at the right time can be very important. With that in mind, these slow fetchlands perform an important duty in this deck, helping to balance things out.
With such a high land count, I felt obligated to include four cycling lands to smooth out land-heavy draws in the mid-to-late game. Don’t be afraid to play these tapped early.
Finally, a little bit of utility goes a long way.
We’ll be playing 23 basics in addition to these nonbasics – specifically, 15 Mountains and 8 Swamps. That brings us to the proper number of cards for Commander and adding the $12.65 these lands cost to our total brings us to a spend of $49.25! That means we have 75 cents left over to put into one of those penny-flattening machines, which I’ll just have to hang onto because I’m not going anywhere with one of those machines during this pandemic. Don’t worry, I’ll invest it.
The full deck list is below, but before I go, I’ll mention two things. First, I’d love your suggestions for what to do for Gruul next time we come back to this series, so let me know in the comments. Second, for fans of all things Sengir (or just Commander,) Commander Legends is coming up in about a month, with a release date of November 20, 2020. You can preorder Commander Legends booster boxes right here on ChannelFireball.com, so if you’re excited about the new Baron Sengir, the 70 other legends in the set, or the sweet draft format, don’t wait – order your boxes today!