Karlach best backgrounds in EDH

Don’t Sleep on Karlach, Fury of Avernus | EDH

Kristen GregoryCommander, Strategy

Karlach, Fury of Avernus is a powerful extra combat Commander from Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Kristen takes us through five colors of Karlach, with her Background recommendations and strategies in EDH. 


Karlach, Fury of Avernus is a powerful Magic card. You can tell because the rate at which you get its extra combat effect is a lot better than it has been in previous years. Aurelia comes down with haste and untaps your creatures for six mana. Godo only untaps all Samurai you control, but the trade off is you get an enter-the-battlefield “search for an equipment and put into play,” as well.

Karlach, meanwhile, costs one whole mana less and gives you an extra combat that not only untaps the team, but gives them first strike. For five mana, that’s pretty damn powerful. Karlach’s base power of five is also a game-changer. When combined with buffs from equipment and other effects, it turns Karlach into a one to two turn clock on average, which is a lot quicker than the likes of a non-comboing Aurelia or Godo decks. 

Now, Wizards of the Coast has learned enough from previous card designs that having this read “the first time Karlach attacks each turn” would break it pretty quickly. As such, it’s only the first time you attack in general. Still, that’s plenty good enough for me — particularly because the Aurelia-we-have-at-home can come bundled with any Background you like, allowing us to taste the rainbow.


Before we get onto the best backgrounds to run with Karlach, I want to cover the best Red tools. These cards are accessible in any build and are some of the best ways to turn Karlach into a lethal threat. 

First up, one of the main reasons to run Karlach with cheap Backgrounds in the first place: Jeska’s Will. This card counts our Background as a Commander (because it is), which means we can curve from a two mana Background into Jeska’s Will for both modes with ease. This is huge, especially given how explosive our deck must be to press the advantage. 

Similarly, though, watch out for cards like Commander’s Plate, which count Partners and Backgrounds when calculating a Commander’s color identity – which means Karlach will always be more than just red if you pick a different colored Background. 

Double Strike is one of Karlach’s most important assets. Getting to apply damage twice per combat brings us ever closer to one-shot-kills, and thankfully, we have plenty of options outside of white. 

Embercleave is the most powerful, as it will bump our Commander to lethal on its own. A 6/6, Double Strike creature attacking twice is 24 damage, and we only need 21 to take out a player. Lizard Blades is cheap alternative that comes down early while Two-Handed Axe is one of my favorite cards from Battle for Baldur’s Gate. It’s deceptively powerful. 

One option that’ll be sure to confound opponents is the instant speed trick Uncaged Fury, which grants +1/+1 and double strike for three mana. Combat tricks are playable in EDH when they win the game. 

Extra combats are the other angle in red, and I believe the best ones for Karlach are those you can enjoy multiple times per turn. With any luck, your Karlach will be at least seven power, so getting three combats a turn is very useful. Seize the Day and Port Razer both set us up for turns that allow Karlach to attack many times, which is perfect for occasions when the first attack is chump blocked. Aggravated Assault is worth a mention here, too, as it’ll combo with Sword of Feast and Famine or Neheb, the Eternal for an infinite combat win condition. 

Sometimes, you just need to kill a player. That’s where Jeska, Thrice Reborn comes in. Giving Karlach triple damage ensures we can kill a player with two combats provided there are no blocks. However, if you somehow have Karlach at seven or more power before using Jeska, that’s enough to take out two players. 

Karlach can throw a lot of damage around, and Kediss also really loves that. Sometimes you won’t even need Commander damage if life totals are coming down, and Kediss takes advantage of that. 

Komainu Battle Armor | Bloodsworn Steward

There’s nothing like a little goad to get life totals moving, and Komainu Battle Armor gives us that while also granting that very important buff to help Karlach reach seven power. Likewise, haste is super important to a combat deck: Bloodsworn Steward gives us haste and the +2/+2 we so desire. Even Hero’s Blade is a great, cheaper alternative to Commander’s Plate when it comes to buffing our Commander. 

The final tools you’ll want in any Karlach deck are ways to protect your Queen. Deflecting Swat and its cheaper alternative, Bolt Bend (which I’d run alongside it even if I had access to Swat) will form the basis of your interaction package. 


Boros Karlach’s options for Backgrounds aren’t quite as potent as some other options. Folk Hero asks us to play creatures that, on average, just aren’t that great, while using mana we’d otherwise want for extra combats or protection the turn after we play Karlach. Flaming Fist is, likewise, not worth putting in the Command Zone when we can access that effect on equipment or Duelist’s Heritage. Noble Background is the pick here, as it puts Karlach to seven and then nine. The thing is… what we care most about in Boros is access to white cards, and so our Background actually matters very little.

Being in Boros grants access to some incredible creatures that help us with our extra combats/voltron hybrid deck. Stoneforge Mystic and Fighter Class find our best equipment; Deep Gnome Terramancer, Archivist of Oghma and Archaeomancer’s Map provide bonkers levels of consistency; and Selfless Spirit is just one of many ways to protect our board Commander. 

Boros is the color of multiple combats and of equipment voltron, so Boros Karlach gets access to the best Boros cards of all time. Aurelia and Waves of Aggression are excellent ways to keep attacking, and the former opens us up the Helm of the Host or Sword of Hearth and Home combo, too. Akiri, Fearless Voyager is card draw and protection on a body, and it’s just one of the many great cards Boros Karlach can play.

Boros Karlach wants to amp up the damage, make Karlach lethal on her own and run the best in slot protection like Teferi’s Protection and Boros Charm


There’s not really any competition here: Captain Karlach it is, thanks to Sword Coast Sailor. This Background is everything we want for the Karlach strategy. Notably, for our second combat, we can attack whoever we like, as Karlach is granted unblockable after going through the first combat.

Izzet is another color combo that helps us protect Kalrach with some cheap pieces. Much like how White’s evasive, early drops like Selfless Spirit wear equipment well, so, too, does Siren Stormtamer

Blue has some great pieces for Karlach, too, despite not being an equipment focused color. Thieving Skydiver and Fumble can both take key pieces from an opponent that might help us convert to lethal damage. They are also, otherwise, great disruption – as even stealing a mana rock with the former is technically ramp. 

Portal Mage is also a card I want to try. It’s cute and can redirect our attack once we have gained unblockable. Sometimes the player on the most life isn’t  the threat, after all. 

Removing blockers is something we can do in blue in a tempo way. Aetherize keeps us alive and clears a path for Karlach; Baral’s Expertise removes blockers while giving us a free spell; March of Swirling Mist can both protect Karlach and remove blockers. 

What I really love about Izzet Karlach, though, is that it lets us play my favorite, underrated uncommon from Conspiracy: Marchesa’s Smuggler. Tell me this card doesn’t excite you.

Time Warp | Nexus of Fate

The real reason to be in blue, of course, is the abundance of extra turn spells. These are better in (nearly) every way than extra combats for us, as they give us an extra upkeep, draw step and precombat main phase, as well as the two combats we’d ordinarily get with Karlach. This is the reason to play Izzet Karlach and it’s the color combination I’m brewing right now. 


While Agent of the Shadow Thieves is perfectly playable, I see no reason not to go all-in with Rakdos Karlach and pick Cultist of the Absolute. The buff it grants is very, very good for one mana, and it can come down on a turn where most players play a tapped land (unless they’re lucky enough to have Sol Ring). 

First up, we’ll need ways to get around the sacrifice clause. Bloodghast is probably going to be the best option, as it’s free value once you get it going. Bitterblossom is on the pricier end in terms of real-life cost, but Dreadhorde Invasion can do just fine, especially if you run Field of the Dead along with it. 

Bringing Karlach back is just as reasonable an option with cards like Reanimate, Grim Return or Animate Dead all working just fine provided you have Anger in the graveyard. The best part here is we can also play with cards like Whip of Erebos, as sending Karlach to exile isn’t a bad thing given we can just put her back to the Command Zone anyways. 

Playing in Rakdos gives access to black’s incredible draw power, which can really work for us with our strategy. Florian, for example, is basically a free tutor every time we attack, given we’ll see so many cards. Speaking of which, we can also just run Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, which can dig out our Swiftfoot Boots or our Relentless Assault

Lucille helps us get in for damage, especially as adding menace and an edict to a Flying, Deathtouch First Striker that attacks twice means it’s very likely you’ll get through. Vorpal Sword is also open to us, given we are in black. If you have Cabal Coffers or make a lot of treasure, I see no reason you can’t run it. 

Why not try Pact Weapon, too? When you present a threatening board like Karlach does, player removal is sometimes the only option for your opponents to take. Lean into it and don’t lose the game. 

Removing blockers is pretty easy given all of the edict effects in black, but we don’t have to use only those. Karazikar has been super popular in Isshin decks, and I see no reason it can’t work here — especially if we lean into goad. 

One option I’d like to bring up is you can, quite happily, run this deck with an Obosh companion. Is it harder when giving up Lightning Greaves and Lizard Blades? Undoubtedly. Does it still open up an interesting deck that can pile on the pressure? Absolutely. 

Rakdos Karlach is explosive and dangerous, and friend of my discord BalefulStrix has been beating us up with his list recently


Is there any other option than Raised by Giants? Not one I’m interested in, at any rate. Raised by Giants curves perfectly after dropping Karlach and it ensures you’re just one point of damage away from annihilating an opponent. 

As we’ve already seen, it’s not difficult to get that extra point of power. So what does the rest of Gruul Karlach look like?

Well, it looks a lot like Wulfgar of Icewind Dale, actually. First up, we’ll want to include other ways to buff our attackers and give them haste. Rhythm of the Wild is often an auto-include for Gruul, but here it gives Karlach the +1/+1 counter she needs to clean up. 

Anyway, attack triggers. I think more than any other combination, Gruul Karlach wants to go wide. You don’t need all of the voltron baggage when your Commander is a base 10/10, and green is best placed to use that large power as a basis to draw cards, make mana and buff other attackers. 

Gruul Karlach is a big mana deck, and the one best suited to running Aggravated Assault. Klauth, Old Gnawbone and Savage Ventmaw can trigger it on their own, and Grand Warlord Radha, Selvala, Heart of the Wilds and Kessing Naturalist help get us there.

Drawing cards is easy in a build like this, with Karlach benefitting from the +1/+1 counter of The Great Henge or being able to discount its cost. Momentous Fall is a neat trick, too, with Karlach as a likely constant target. Finally, Return of the Wildspeaker does everything we want in this deck, as well. 

Inscription of Abundance | Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Playing with huge power creatures is what this deck will do, and there are plenty of tools that help with that. Inscription of Abundance is removal, life gain and an increased clock if we dump counters on Karlach. 

Ghalta will almost always be just two green mana, and Ghalta coming at you twice in one turn is terrifying. With all of the ramp we have access to, top end Eldrazi like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will be great finishers. 

We can also protect the Queen in Green, too, with Tamiyo’s Safekeeping and Blossoming Defense being two great options. 


Karlach is a force to be reckoned with. Whenever Wizards releases a new extra combat card, it demands evaluation. Karlach is going to be a bomb inclusion in the 99 of decks like Chainer, Aurelia, Godo and more. But more than that, Karlach is going to helm some seriously potent brews. 

Everybody loves extra combats, and, for the first time, it’s possible to choose a color combination you identify with most to take the strategy to the max. Personally, I’m most excited about Izzet Karlach, as I would love to have an Izzett deck that speaks to me. 

How are you brewing Karlach? Have any spicy cards I missed? Let me know on Twitter, where I’ll be posting about my finalized list once I have a solid first draft.