The Brothers’ War has given us multiple new Retro Artifacts to play in Historic.
Naturally, the first place you look at to take full advantage of them is a deck that truly leans on Karn, the Great Creator.
The deck could be called colorless ramp, colorless splash black, maybe midrange, or even prison. I prefer calling it a Karn deck, because that’s what it truly is. Its previous iterations played more top end than I do, but I have come to the conclusion that the majority of your pay-offs may be patiently waiting in the sideboard rather than be clunky draws throughout the game. Thanks to trimming on the expensive stuff, I found more room for early interaction to stay alive.
This deck really preys on black-based midrange decks where their removal is lackluster and they cannot deal with our top-end. Creature decks that aim to amass an army or turn on synergies like Angels or Heliod Combo will also struggle. It’s a great choice in a tad slower midrange-y metagame.
Let’s start off with the backbone of the deck – Karn, the Great Creator.
If any card can be called a Swiss Army Knife, it’s this one as it’s essentially a tutor that stays on the battlefield. The great thing about it is that we don’t have to play narrow effects in our deck to have access to them as Karn allows you to choose cards from your sideboard. With that in mind, you can compose your perfect arsenal of silver bullets that you will have access to every single game. Later in the article, I will go through every single Karn wish target I play, so you know exactly what’s there and why.
On top of the tutor ability, which adds a ton of complexity to the game play already, Karn has got a plus ability. Most often, you will use it to animate some artifact on your side of the board to be able to start attacking. Bear in mind that it says ‘up to one’, so in practice, you don’t have to animate anything.
Last but not least, Karn has a passive ability. You would be surprised how often it comes up and sometimes wins games on its own. It shuts down Witch's Oven, Parhelion II, Treasure tokens, Food tokens, Clue tokens, Goblin Charbelcher, Retrofitter Foundry, artifact lands, and many more.
Historically (pun intended), ever since Ugin, the Spirit Dragon was printed, it’s been the biggest thing you could do. It is supremely rare for a deck to be able to beat a resolved Ugin. One of the main reasons why that’s the case is that, even if you’re holding up anti-planeswalker removal like Hero's Downfall or Fateful Absence, the Ugin player has priority and can wipe your board clean with Ugin’s -X ability. After that, you can indeed destroy it, but your battlefield has been turned into smithereens. To make matters worse, you may not have removal at the ready, at which point Ugin will be ticking up, dealing 3 damage to each subsequent threat you play, walking up to the ultimate. Then, of course, the ultimate may as well read ‘win the game’.
While it’s a bit tough to cast at 8 mana, it does not have to be rushed into play. It’s our late game insurance that, if all else fails, it can come and basically reset the game.
A Retro Artifact that is strong enough to premiere into the main deck with the full four copies. Lodestone Golem is a sizeable threat that will often come online as soon as turn three. By that time, it will frequently be the biggest threat on the board. However, it’s its passive ability that I am most interested in. It taxes each nonartifact spell which is especially relevant against decks that want to cast multiple spells in a single turn. Wizards or Arclight Phoenix decks now cannot cast triple one drop on turn three – they will cast a single spell only. The more spells the opponent had planned to cast, the more the tax effect compounds.
Thanks to our mana base being so lax in terms of mana requirements, we play a lot of utility lands – lands that do something in addition to adding mana. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim can tutor out whatever we may need, be it life gain to stabilise with Radiant Fountain or Blast Zone to sweep the one-drops.
However, there is one proactive line with it as well, and that’s to find Cascading Cataracts. The goal here is to have enough mana available to actually activate Golos’s ability with the colour requirements being irrelevant as Cascading Cataracts can filter it to the appropriate colours. I’ve had games where Golos flips over Karn and Ugin, at which point an immediate concession followed. From the opponent’s perspective, Golos is a super scary threat with Cataracts on the battlefield and is an absolute must-answer. If you’ve activated it at least once, they have to deal with Golos still and whatever you flipped off of it.
The deck has to have some early interaction so that it does not get outmatched too much in the early turns. As of now, I play discard spells as they are the most versatile. Thoughtseize is a classic catch-all that can poke holes in the opponent’s hand. It’s very effective after the opponent has mulliganned as we’re messing with their already imperfect opener.
When I trimmed the top end and had a few more slots left, I decided to add Inquisition of Kozilek to complement the Thoughtseizes. Currently, I play six copies of main deck discard to disrupt the opponent. In most scenarios, it’s going to be the same as Thoughtseize as you want to disrupt their early game plays anyways. However, Thoughtseize is going to be more important when you want to interact with opposing control, ramp, or combo decks. For example, Inquisition cannot target Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Emergent Ultimatum, Mizzix's Mastery, or Karn, the Great Creator.
Depending on the metagame, you could play 4 Fatal Push 2 Inquisition of Kozilek if it’s very creature heavy, and relegate Thoughtseize to the sideboard. If you keep seeing Wizards and Mono Red, I highly suggest you start playing Fatal Push. For now though, I don’t play it.
Let’s talk about the ramp aspect of the deck as there are four different mana rocks in the deck. Let’s start with the ones that can be played on turn two.
Mind Stone is the best compared to the other two for two reasons. The first is that it can be cashed in for another card. Ramp decks historically have had a problem of drawing too many mana sources and not enough things to use that mana. In this case, for a mere one mana, you can sacrifice it to draw a fresh one.
Additionally, it can immediately be used for mana. It allows you to set up chains like turn four double Mind Stone into Guardian Idol. That’s also why you should prioritise playing out the tapped mana rocks first when you have nothing else to play that turn.
Guardian Idol‘s upside, in addition to being a mana rock, is the fact that you can animate it. A 2/2 Golem won’t swing games, but I’ve found that it has two uses that happen the most:
- Chump an attack
- Attack opposing Planeswalkers down
Those two actually do occur frequently, so be on the lookout for it. There may be games where you attack with multiple Idols and, say, Lodestone Golem – then the clock is indeed pretty fast.
The only mana rock that provides you coloured mana. You always name black with it, even if you have multiple black sources. There is no real upside in naming anything else, and I doubt you will ever get to manual activation of Golos by having access to all five colours. Black is the best default. The fact that it provides snow mana is irrelevant in this deck.
In theory, when you have four mana, you don’t need to ramp further. However, Hedron Archive fits nicely into our play patterns. First, it can be cast on turn three if we’ve played a two-drop mana rock already. Then on turn four, after the land drop, we have access to seven mana! On top of that, Archive adds two mana which is precisely enough to play another mana rock. If we’ve ramped enough, it has an effect similar to Mind Stone – it can be sacrificed to draw, but in this case it’s two cards, not one.
It’s a useful card, but I can fully imagine cutting it the more we lean into Karn. Gaining life helps stabilise games. Additional ramp is great if we want to be able to multispell expensive threats such as Karn, the Great Creator immediately into a 5-7 mana pay-off. The creature buff won’t come up much as there aren’t many creatures to be buffed in the first place. However, having 4/4 Guardian Idols can really change the dynamic of the game.
Let us breeze through all the cards I currently play as a part of the Karn’s wishboard.
Wurmcoil Engine is a difficult-to-remove threat that stabilises the board very well. A single attack or block that gains us 6 life might be the difference between winning or losing. Its biggest weakness are creatures with flying, but if the board contains mainly on-ground threats, you’re good. If the opponent does not present a formidable board, you can yourself close the game in just a few attacks.
Arguably, our best anti-combo piece. Platinum Angel can lock some decks completely out if they are uninteractive shells. Even if the opponent can possibly stitch something together, the 3-4 turns it buys you is usually enough to win the game via other means.
A new replacement for Meteor Golem, and a much better replacement. It triggers upon cast so it does not matter whether it’s countered or not. Additionally, it’s a huge body that closes games in just a few attacks. Last but not least, the powerstone it creatures don’t do anything as long as Karn is on the battlefield, thanks to its passive.
Mystic Forge is a card advantage engine that’s great if you know that a single threat won’t be enough or you are mana stuck and have to take a relatively cheap effect. Forge will snowball heavily if left unchecked.
You will most likely tutor for it if you want a considerable mana boost or need a way to gain life immediately. You would take Monument, play it, and cast one or more spells on the same turn.
Great against graveyard strategies and Collected Company.
Liquimetal Coating is a tool also used in Modern Karn decks. When you make something an artifact, it cannot be used due to Karn’s passive. You can upkeep Coating their land and essentially cut them off mana. Another trick is to change their land into an artifact and then use the Karn’s plus ability on it, hence destroying it as it becomes a 0/0 creature.
A Pithing Needle effect. Great against Planeswalkers.
Lights out card against combo decks or shells otherwise revolving around one card like Arclight Phoenix, Dragonstorm combo, Greasefang, etc.
This is our Time Walk. While Karn itself does not get protection and may die, you are sure to untap. Buying one more turn may be the difference between winning or losing.
I like it for its modality. Its always a ramp spell which is either Dismember or Divination.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
This deck does not sideboard much. The only decision is whether to side in Heartless Act or not. If you don’t, the deck is resubmitted.
Game one is pretty rough, but gets much better post board with quadruple removal in addition to our discard and Radiant Fountain. They will usually not disrupt us a lot, but you should expect an occasional Spell Pierce post board. While Wurmcoil Engine is a great threat, it doesn’t do anything in the light of Symmetry Sage.
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Karn, the Great Creator can carry the matchup on its own by turning off opposing lands and we also go over them. The best tip is don’t get caught by Metallic Rebuke! I don’t side in Heartless Act as it does not tag Ingenious Smith and the other creatures are not that scary.
Heartless Act can really stop them in their tracks when they just deploy a creature a turn, especially if you kill a three-drop. Their Skyclave Apparition will interact with most of our permanents, but once you play a 5+ drop, it should be safe.
Mono Red Aggro
Very similar to Wizards. Here, Wurmcoil Engine is much better as all their threats stay on the ground. In most cases, I will go for Wurmcoil or Forsaken Monument and follow up with a spell to gain a bit of life immediately. Platinum Angel is fine, but be careful as it may get one-shot by Static Discharge.
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We can try to overload their countermagic by playing a threat turn after turn. If they don’t counter our mana rocks, we will get to turns where we double spell. Discard is our way to clear the coast to resolve a threat. You should hold on to your Thoughtseizes and fire them off on a key turn where you can, say, play double discard into Karn.
Tips and Tricks
- Karn, the Great Creator allows you to take cards from the sideboard, but also the exile zone. It means that you can take cards exiled with Mystic Forge, or The Stasis Coffin and The Stone Brain which exile themselves. You can also take cards exiled by opposing Leyline Binding or Portable Hole.
- Don’t use Karn’s plus ability on artifacts that are key – they might get exposed to creature removal.
- Cityscape Leveler‘s trigger is a cast ability so it does not matter whether Leveler itself resolves or not – the ability will work.
- If you want to start pressuring the opponent, you may use Karn’s plus ability on Guardian Idol instead of paying to animate it.
- Ugin, the Spirit Dragon‘s minus will never affect your board.
- Use your Energy liberally. If you have a discard spell to be cast, it’s better to use up Energy than pay life with Spire of Industry.
- Scavenger Grounds does not have to sacrifice itself. You can sac Ifnir Deadlands to use Grounds ability.
- Lodestone Golem cares about spells being artifact or not; it does not look at whether a spell is colorless. Therefore, Karn, the Great Creator or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will cost more.
- If you use Golos, Tireless Pilgrim‘s ability to play spells for free,Lodestone Golem‘s tax will still apply to nonartifacts.
- As Coldsteel Heart produces colored mana (usually black), it won’t benefit from Forsaken Monument‘s passive to produce more mana.
- If you tap Hedron Archive with Forsaken Monument on the battlefield, Archive will produce three mana, not four.
- Mystic Forge does not allow to play lands using its ability.
- The Mightstone and Weakstone won’t help you cast the planeswalkers.