Karn, the Great Creator in Colorless Eldrazi

A year ago, Colorless Eldrazi Stompy received a potent new tool in Zhalfirin Void. I described the card’s potential for the archetype in detail, cursing Karn, Scion of Urza under my breath in the intro paragraph. In War of the Spark, the deck is all set to receive yet another potential game-changer, if a less certain one, in an updated, upgraded version of that four-mana walker: Karn, the Great Creator. This article assesses Karn’s implications for Colorless and proposes a preliminary decklist.

Karn in Colorless

From my seat, the most intriguing War card spoiled so far is Karn, the Great Creator. Karn has promising applications in Colorless Eldrazi Stompy, my competitive deck of choice, where the walker appears to solve a number of problems the archetype encounters.

Boundless Utility

Karn’s most obvious draw is the utility he provides. CES already runs a suite of niche-use artifacts in the sideboard to help with certain matchups; nonpermanent spells, often being colored, are rarely an option for us. The planeswalker affords us access to those bullets as early as Game 1 of a match. To run Karn, we’ll want to tweak the sideboard so it offers maximum versatility.

One of the juiciest targets to fish out is Relic of Progenitus. Relic has been a fixture of the deck’s post-Eye incarnation since I first brewed it three years ago, as it substantially disrupts graveyard strategies while recycling our own copies of Eternal Scourge. This latter function is more of a late-game one, and so gels with Karn’s hefty mana cost. Since we essentially have access to mainboard Relics with the new walker, we can finally nix the clunky Scavenger Grounds for better lands, and stand to further improve our already positive midrange matchups.

Modern features some strategies that are very difficult for us to defeat. Chief among those is Whir Prison, which sets up what amounts to a hard-lock with Ensnaring Bridge protected by Welding Jar. Since Karn shuts off activated artifact abilities, Jar no longer works, forcing Whir to search up Pithing Needle to counteract the Ratchet Bomb we now have access to before siding.

The flashiest Karn target, though, is Mycosynth Lattice. The walker’s static ability combines with the artifact’s to prevent opponents from activating abilities of their creatures or lands—including, yes, “T: add R.” With enemies locked out of mana for the rest of the game, overcoming whatever board state they’ve assembled should be trivial, especially with Karn helping get us to what we need. Opponents will therefore try to deal with the walker ASAP, taking pressure off us and perhaps baiting some otherwise suspect attacks.

Wishboard Options

So that’s Relic and Ratchet. But what other artifacts should we run in the sideboard? Since artifacts still don’t give us any head-turning sweepers, I think the wishboard package should be as small as possible, giving us space for ample removal spells. Spatial Contortion seems like our best option right now, with Gut Shot following close behind. But I definitely want at least one Gut Shot to randomly hit planeswalkers with, as well as one Surgical Extraction to blow out anyone discarding our Eternal Scourge or trying to reanimate Phoenix.

In other words, the artifacts we elect to run as wishboard targets should play multiple roles, and do so well. Here’s what I’ve auditioned so far, sorted by apparent usefulness.

Low-tier:

  • Tormod’s Crypt. While usually worse than Relic, Crypt does offer us the utility of Karn acting as Bojuka Bog when we need it to, or coming down and immediately nuking an opponent’s graveyard. But I don’t think we need this effect on turn three or four, which is when access to Crypt could ever matter; later on, we don’t mind paying to crack Relic for the cantrip. (I would probably play Zuran Orb were it Modern-legal.)
  • Liquimetal Coating. A sort of mini-Mycosynth Lattice, Coating turns enemy lands into artifacts so Karn can tick up to destroy them. It’s slower and less decisive than Lattice, but we don’t have to worry about finding the mana to cast it. Coating does monopolize our Karn activation, making it harder to find time for fishing out more bullets.
  • Darksteel Citadel. The purpose of Citadel would be to guarantee a land drop for next turn, specifically for Reality Smasher, regardless of whether Karn survives the turn cycle. We probably already have four lands for Thought-Knot, and as we’ll soon see, other options are better for setting up a late-game mana advantage.
  • Ghostfire Blade. A card I’ve considered before, Ghostfire turbo-charges our Scourges and manlands on the cheap. But it was hard to run main because of tension with Chalice of the Void. We can now search it when Chalice is off the battlefield, though I’m not sure it’s high-impact enough to warrant a slot.

Mid-tier:

  • Damping Sphere/Grafdiggers’ Cage/Torpor Orb. These hosers are all great in their respective matchups, but only when dropped early; a turn five Cage isn’t going to prevent many creatures from reanimating! Similarly, Sphere might prove too slow against Storm and Tron. But I can see Torpor Orb retaining late-game usefulness against Humans, and maybe our other disruption will buy us the time needed for these artifacts to do their job from the wishboard.
  • Spellskite. Similarly, Karn into Skite seems a tad slow against the aggro-combo decks that struggle versus the Horror. But I like its ability to protect our other lock pieces, such as Chalice, as well as Karn himself—or that killer Smasher we’ve sandbagged in hand.
  • Batterskull. Perhaps a solid anti-aggro option, my beef with Batterskull is its mana cost. And everything answers this card. With Karn resolved and active, we’re not going to have much mana to throw around bouncing, recasting, or equipping Skull, which makes me think the card might as well die to Fatal Push. That said, it’s possible Skull promises the tempo swing we need in aggro matchups. Wurmcoil Engine is another option, but I think it’s too pricey.
  • Lightning Greaves. The boots basically grant us “emblem of haste” for two mana, which could help us turn the tide in a mid-game tempo war or fade sorcery-speed removal on our critical creatures. Compared with Ghostfire, haste is better than +2/+2 on Scourge in many matchups, and costing 0 to equip is huge for us. I’ve made no secret of my affinity for Lightning Greaves, and am eager to try it in Modern again.

High-tier:

  • Relic of Progenitus/Ratchet Bomb. We’ve covered these two already, though I will mention that the single Bomb can be exiled by Relic and then recycled through Karn in longer games.
  • Sorcerous Spyglass. While Needle effects are occasionally great for this deck, they are also bad in multiples, and unreliable in small numbers. I even went so far as to cut Spyglass entirely from my Regionals list last year. But with Karn in the picture, Spyglass is all upside. Looking at the hand has applications of its own; we can now check for Settle the Wreckage or a stray counterspell before slamming Smasher for the win.
  • Crucible of Worlds. Crucible, too, is immensely powerful in the right scenario, but woefully anemic in others. Karn removes the guesswork and grants us access when we want it. Of course, the artifact’s chief purpose is to rebuy Ghost Quarter so we can decimate an opponent’s manabase or manlands to keep the pressure on. Still, there are some neat plays we can make with Crucible on the field, such as Quartering our own Temple and replaying that Temple from the grave to generate extra mana, or doing the same with Zhalfirin Void to net extra scry triggers. In fact, tutoring Crucible with Quarter in play guarantees that we’ll make land drops up to six without needing to draw more: turn four tap out for Karn; turn five drop Crucible, Quarter our land for a wastes, play that same land; turn six play Quarter from the ‘yard, slam Lattice.
  • Mycosynth Lattice. Enables the one-card combo we’ve heard so much about. Wurmcoil might be too pricey, but it also doesn’t end the game on most board states. The threat of Lattice pressures opponents to deal with Karn, and we need to be able to adequately punish those who fail to interact.

Strategic Impacts

Besides tutoring up situational sideboard cards when we need them, Karn alters our strategic profile. For one, we no longer have dead cards. Excess lands, Serum Powder, and Simian Spirit Guide help ramp us into Mycosynth Lattice, or else into whatever artifact we grab with a freshly-deployed Karn. Powder can even go on the offensive, as Karn’s +1 turns it into a Wild Nacatl for the turn cycle.

Some of our tougher matchups catch a break, too. The Karn-plus-Lattice plan is extremely threatening for UW decks, which can pose issues for us in the late-game.  And anyone relying on activated abilities of artifacts is in for a beating, as Karn doubles as mainboard copies of Stony Silence. Hardened Scales and Whir Prison are two major, difficult matchups that improve with this addition.

All that upside comes with one critical drawback: a less consistent aggressive plan. Karn doesn’t impact the board the way our other cards do, and is therefore worse in racing situations. Even when there’s a bullet in our sideboard for a given situation, that bullet will take quite a while to enter the battlefield. Matchup-wise, then, Karn hurts our odds against linear aggro, combo, and aggro-combo decks, unless those decks rely on activated artifact abilities. I imagine this caveat will make Karn sub-optimal in certain fields.

Attempting the Great Creation

With all that smoky exposition clearing, we start to see a decklist forming. No dead cards? No need for Smuggler’s Copter. Extra points in grindy matchups? Guess we can cut Matter Reshaper. Expensive permanent incoming? Let’s go back up to 23 lands. Aggro-combo becoming harder to beat? Cue a return to Endless One.

The math led me here:

Colorless Eldrazi Stompy, by Jordan Boisvert

Creatures (23)
Eldrazi Mimic
Eternal Scourge
Thought-Knot Seer
Reality Smasher
Endless One
Simian Spirit Guide

Planeswalkers (2)
Karn, the Great Creator

Artifacts (8)
Chalice of the Void
Serum Powder

Instants (4)
Dismember

Lands (23)
Eldrazi Temple
Gemstone Caverns
Zhalfirin Void
Ghost Quarter
Mutavault
Blinkmoth Nexus
Wastes
Sideboard (15)
Relic of Progenitus
Ratchet Bomb
Sorcerous Spyglass
Crucible of Worlds
Mycosynth Lattice
Torpor Orb
Lightning Greaves
Spatial Contortion
Gut Shot
Surgical Extraction
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I initially tried 3 Karn, which felt way too clunky. And I’ll need some testing against Tron to see if Damping Sphere is dearly missed there, but I think between Chalice and Karn shutting off their cantrip rocks (and the latter, Oblivion Stone) and the set of Quarters, that matchup shouldn’t be too tough. For now, Orb and Greaves are the sideboard flex spots, and may just be replaced by the fourth Spatial and another Gut if no other artifacts impress me. Finally, I went with Gemstone Caverns as the 23rd land; I always did like having a third copy, and casting Karn early is another perk of starting on the play, one way or the other.

Oh, I Just Karn’t Wait to Be King

Izzet Phoenix? Dredge? London Mulligan? And now Karn, the Great Creator? 2019 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for Colorless Eldrazi Stompy. Which War cards have you brewing? Drop me a line in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Karn, the Great Creator in Colorless Eldrazi

  1. Ok I got some spicy stuff for you (in order of coolness):

    1) witchbane orb. Leyline was always a “nice to have” effect that nowhere near made the cut for CES. But being able to nab one to disrupt a combo player in game 1 that you slowed with a TK, or neutralise a PW effect, or close the door against a player with reach seems interesting in some metas.

    2) Trinisphere. Want to just stop any velocity decks and make drawing a bunch of cards (which we can’t do) pretty meaningless? This might do the trick.

    3) My favourite – Hex Parasite. The way you die to control is a PW that gets out of control. This can shut it down fast, even without attaching. It also has niche applications, like messing with an arcbound ravager’s stack or wrecking an engineered explosives. Bonus points that if they have path to exile, Karn just puts it back in your hand!

    Honorable mention – don’t you love how
    Karn auto-recurs your relics ?

    1. Karn already prevents Jar from activating, so searching Bomb should be enough there. Don’t think we want Dismember vs. Whir Prison for that niche interaction; we only run 2 Karn anyway. Plan would be to lock them out with Mycosynth and then let their hand fill up and attack through Bridge. Think we already beat the velocity decks and don’t know against whom we’d want Witchbane, what were you thinking?

      1. Ad Nauseum and Valakut decks are two l applications – both decks that have the same speed as Eldrazi.
        If there’s was a flex spot it seems like a handy thing to bring out – and as a 4/4 pseudohaste that can’t get hit by sweepers or bolt, it may have a meta.

  2. Great article as always. At first I thought this might be too cute (and certainly I wouldn’t pepper my sideboard with quite the same range of wish targets), but I think you’re right that Karn’s a big addition to the deck. The key is that we don’t have to cut all that much to make him fit. I play Leyline as my sideboard gy hate with Endbringers over Relics for the grindfests, but with Karn I can see going back up to 2-3 sideboard Relics. I’m inclined to try 4 Leyline, 3 Contortion, 2 Ratchet (so you can board one into the main in the matchups where you need it as a sweeper), 1 Spyglass, 3 Relic, 1 Crucible and 1 Lattice. And then see how that goes. I love Endbringer and have found Warping Wail useful in this meta but the Karn plan seems to trump them.

    What I wanted to ask though: what’s playing with Endless One like? I’ve always been on the 4 Reshaper plan so I don’t really have a sense of how powerful Endless One is (assuming the list has enough backup grind). When is it good outside of non-creature spell combo decks that you want to Mimic out of the game?

    1. Just try EO and see what you think! He’s amazing against anyone racing you on axes that don’t care about Reshaper (with fliers, with a combo, etc.), and a much better mid- to late-game draw than Reshaper (not to mention topdeck) in most matchups. If you’re on multiple Endbringers and 2 Karn, I might consider a Bridge in the side 😉

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