The Top Shelf
Syr Carah, and why bolt is playable in every format (Commander)
09 Aug 2020 - 15 min read
Oof, what week is it? Why are my shoes gone? Is that a satyr chasing an animated brownie? I tell ya, they know how to party on Eldraine. Anyway, I was supposed to come here and interview one of the ‘Syrs’ for a TTS I think. I feel like I have some notes from when I arrived… Oh yeah! Here we go, Syr Carah, the Bold Notes:
The rest of the page appears to be completely blank… So, I guess I’ll go find her to see if she has anything to share about how to build her decks. Mono red would certainly be a challenge… Her ability to exile cards whenever a player is damaged definitely makes more offensive strategies pay off. Generally the combat step is where your damage is done, especially in less competitive pods. For the first build, I would probably go with something like a budget voltron deck. Using Syr Carah’s ability to exile cards as pseudo draw whenever you land an attack, then pairing red’s love of artifacts with powerful equipment could have something going. In a more competitive vein we don’t want to rely on being able to get attacks off. In reality it would be much better to never even need to tap her, given her lack of haste. That has me leaning toward a storm deck, where we can use burn spells to exile a lot of cards at once. A lot of rituals could keep things moving in terms of mana, then you just burn out your opponents with some of the artifact storm cards. Alright, I guess we should start by heading off to see the lady of the hour!
As always I think we’ll be starting with the budget version of the deck. This will run you under $250 and be a great jumping off point for any future voltron decks you want to build. I thought the easiest place to start would be with the damage machine herself, Syr Carah, the Bold , so I got pointed to Carah’s room in the castle. I figured I would find her there, and be done with this article in a hot minute. Turns out, she left. But I did find some cool stuff here that seems to indicate I was on the right track. Her room appears to effectively be just an armory. There’s an Assault Suit sitting in the corner. Passing your commander around the table like this can help stack on commander damage and may even discourage others from killing her. Who doesn’t want a turn to swing the big stick? Hammer of Nazahn is just kinda sitting under her pillow. I can’t imagine it being very comfortable, but I am happy to swerve all the equip costs given that we don’t have a ton of ramp in mono red. Also, there’s a Grafted Exoskeleton sitting in the corner. Which is pretty menacing given its power to oneshot people.
In the corner is a box labeled “Do NOT Open”, but I think she wouldn’t care… Well, I’ll be! Looks like our girl was hiding a few swords from us in her secret stash. Sword of the Animist is a great choice. Ramp is always nice to have in a deck without green. Sword of Vengeance gives us trample, which is always good to help bust through token decks and chump blockers. I don’t get what was so special about all this though, there’s only room for one more sword in here and so far I’m not particularly impressed… Sword of Feast and Famine ! This woman realizes we’re on a budget here right? This thing is an absolute power house, but definitely can’t just get tossed around. This card can give you an instant win, so hold out on playing it if you can, but if you find the right way to use it, slam it and take the W.
How does she even find the time to put on half this stuff in the middle of battle? Oh look, it’s a little Brass Squire . That thing has to be nice when you’re running a bit low on mana. It can also help snag a piece of equipment one of your underlings was just holding onto for you. Magnetic Theft can do the same, but has the added benefit of letting you borrow someone else’s equipment if you just so happen to be missing your copy of Swiftfoot Boots . It also looks like there was a Treasure Nabber in here earlier too. It dropped off three sol rings and a bunch of artifact ramp we can borrow for a turn. This will help us equip all this and play it out in a timely fashion. Anyway, let’s go back out and look for Syr Carah.
Well, her room turned out to be a bust. Let’s head out to the training grounds to take a look for her. I do see a lot of Embereth knights here, but not her. We’ll watch for a while to see if we can figure anything out about how she likes to scrap. Well, I can tell you some of these squires are getting a straight up Savage Beating . Either half of that card can turn a game around and if you entwine it, you’re in for quite the reward. In addition to all the bonus damage you get, Syr Carah, the Bold will flip you four cards off the top for the turn if she manages to hit a player with every attack. Oooh, that’s not even training anymore, that is just Aggravated Assault . When paired with Sword of Feast and Famine from earlier this can give you infinite combat steps, but even without, you can get a lot of value from repeatable extra combat steps. Hellkite Charger falls into a very similar niche both in terms of repeated use and infinite combats. Not quite as permanent, but World at War and Seize the Day do have the chance to get you multiple additional combat steps for the price of a single card.
Even if Syr Carah isn’t here let’s take a look at some other soldiers we can include in the deck. Voltron decks are quite weak to targeted removal, so let’s look for some other creatures who can take charge while she waits in the wings. Inferno Titan benefits a lot from extra attack steps, which allow it to blow up some smaller creatures with it’s triggered ability or just beat face even harder. This is one creature we certainly wouldn’t mind lending that Grafted Exoskeleton out to. Plague Myr already has infect, so any of our regular buff equipment will suit it quite nicely. As an added bonus in the early game it can act as a nice mana dork. Like any Infect creature, you should wait to play it out to dodge any potential hate. Finally, Steel Hellkite does great work with all those extra combat step spells allowing us to destroy permanents controlled by all the players we hit this turn. This makes for some very efficient removal on an already scary creature.
A Personal Punch
This doesn’t quite feel like a Syr Carah deck yet though. Her ability to draw cards is very powerful in red, where actual draw is at a premium. Looking back on what I do remember from my week here, Syr Carah at one point just went off about Rain of Embers and Volcanic Spray , which was weird in the moment, but now I’m glad she talked about it. These let you potentially clear some dorks off the board and flip four more cards off the top to keep the turn going. Price of Progress falls into a similar vein, but can actually deal some serious damage to greedier players. Thankfully it will barely hurt us, if at all, given that we are a mono colored deck. However, we are hoping for most of our activations to come from attacking. In order to clear the way for these attacks, we can make use of cards like Disrupt Decorum and Mob Rule . If our opponents have large enough boards this may even allow us to end the game when combined with a strong swing from our commander.
Retracing Our Steps
Looking back through everything we’ve learned thus far, we aren’t any closer to actually finding Syr Carah, but we did pretty much reconstruct the first deck for her. The voltron shell is looking strong, so let’s run through your ideal opener then move on to our second deck. In this deck you are going to want to start with 3-5 mana sources in hand. At least two (probably three) of them should be lands. Given how much we are banking on Syr Carah for card advantage, it is going to be important to get her out ASAP. Once she is on the field we’re hoping to land some protection or powerful equipment on her right away. So keeping 1-2 pieces of equipment in your opener can be a great start. We would ideally like to round out our hand with one of our substitute beaters or a burn spell for once Syr Carah is on the field, but this last spot is pretty flexible and might change if you know you’re up against control or aggro mainly. Against aggro we would prefer some removal for their ramp or a way to turn their creatures against them. Against control we should be mulling reasonably hard for a way to ensure Carah can stay on the field for a bit once we play her (e.g. Pyroblast ). The full deck list is below. Onward, to the next deck!
A Storm is Brewing
This version of the deck is about as high powered as I could get it. On commander tier lists I have seen this commander listed in the same tier as Atla Palani, Nest Tender , our first Top Shelf subject. I feel like she may fall just slightly short, but don’t tell her I said anything. Not that anyone could find her right now to tell her. At this point we’ve searched her quarters, the training ground, and I’m running out of ideas. The last part of the castle left is the basement, so let’s take a look and see if I was right about building it as a storm deck for our more competitive option. Well, at a first glance I’m seeing an Aetherflux Reservoir and a Sentinel Tower . So I think we were right on with that guess. As we try to move through our deck with Syr Carah, the Bold ’s triggered ability, these will help us close out games and kill our opponents.
Well, there are plenty of classic storm cards that we can include here, even without the use of blue or other traditional storm colors. Grapeshot is an actual storm card that has huge synergy with Syr Carah. Each of the individual copies will trigger her ability, exiling another card and allowing us to see more of our deck at once. Mizzix’s Mastery and Past in Flames will allow us to recur some of our more potent damage spells as well as the rituals we can use to fuel them. These should be saved for some massive turns where you think you might be able to kill a player or even wipe the table. Bonus Round is another card that should be saved for your all-in turns. However, it can be even more of a gamble as you’re often relying on lucky top decks or Carah exiles to keep you going after you start. This is the main weakness of the deck: sometimes you’re forced to go all-in because your opponents will win given another turn cycle.
On Rituals and Reductions
Now that I’m looking around more, there’s some sketchy stuff down here. Sure, the giant death machines and powerful spells are spooky, but the guy on Desperate Ritual is freaking me out, I mean just look at his face. It’s a great card for our deck though, so I guess he can stay. Casting this from our hand to ramp out our commander or just ripping it off the top to keep our storm count climbing is going to be worth looking at his mug though. Seething Song is just a grown up version of the ritual, giving us enough mana to cast Syr Carah by itself. There are also a few less traditional rituals we can run too, including Runaway Steam-Kin and Vessel of Volatility . These don’t immediately proffit you mana, but can be used to store up mana for big swing turns. Neheb, the Eternal can be the biggest ritual of all if we are able to land him before passing through combat. The damage we deal in the first half of our turn can all get refunded for hopefully an even bigger second half of the turn.
These ritual effects will be great for keeping us going, but we can make that mana stretch a lot further if we reduce the cost of our spells. I’m sure I saw some cool looking artifacts sitting around down here. Ruby Medallion jumps to mind as an easy include. As a mono-red deck we’ll get a lot of mileage out of that one mana reduction. Cloud Key asks us to be a bit more picky about what we are reducing, but it shouldn’t be too hard of a choice. Given how key our commander is, creature is a totally viable choice, but once she’s down I would pretty much always pick instant or sorcery depending on what was in my hand. Helm of Awakening sits at the other end of the spectrum. We’ll reduce the cost on pretty much every card in our deck, but we’ll be doing the same for our opponents. We just have to hope we can capitalize off it better than they can, or that they’re dead by the time our turn is over.
BURN BABY BURN
You saw the article title, we’re all here for it. There’s Lightning Bolt ’s down here! It can be used as spot removal for a lot of high value creatures or it can be a free cantrip that lets us peek at another card while continuing our burn plan. Fiery Confluence and Skullcrack both have other potential utility, such as getting past damage prevention or clearing key creatures off the board, while still letting us cycle further through our deck. Molten Psyche is a great wheel effect (don’t worry we’ve got the OG Wheel of Fortune in here too) that also deals some pretty healthy damage to our opponents. Plus it highly discourages anyone who might want to play a Notion Thief . Speaking of burn versions of other spells, Mage’s Contest is a whacky counter spell, where you’ll pretty much always win the life bet. Nobody else is running burn spells (hopefully) and other decks are likely to play shocks and use their life total more freely than us. You can even try to push them to the limit of life betting, then back out and just use a Red Elemental Blast instead, you’ll deal a ton of damage and it’ll be hilarious.
We don’t want to cast these spells just once though; two spells (like heads) are better than one. Reverberate targeting a Molten Psyche can deal an insane amount of damage, while reloading your hand or just juicing up your Past in Flames . Thankfully, a lot of copy spells are also part of some strong combos. I really enjoy the versatility of combo pieces that also help push your general gameplan forward. So, running Dualcaster Mage is a great way to copy more spells, but alongside Heat Shimmer and Twin Flame it can make infinite hasty 2/2 creatures. These creature copying spells don’t always have to go in the combo, we can use them to make copies of any of our other value generating creatures as well. Increasing Vengeance is another great example of this versatile type of combo. For this combo we need any burn spell, Increasing Vengeance in the yard, and any other copy spell. By casting the burn spell and copying it with Increasing Vengeance , then copying Vengeance we get two copies of Vengeance and two burn spells. We then recopy vengeance and recopy the burn spell and repeat until everyone is dead. Every card in this combo is useful outside of it, which makes it very easy to run.
Don’t Mind Us (Please)!
Alright, well Syr Carah wasn’t down in the basement either. I’ll finish this up with a mulligan guide then I really gotta figure out what happened last week. This deck, much like our previous one, is all about mana generation. We want to see Syr Carah levels of mana in our opener ideally, but at least 3 repeatable sources of mana could be good enough to hold. Do not, for example, keep an opening with Fire Diamond being your only source of colored mana and just hope to draw mountains. You will get your Fire Diamond destroyed by a trigger happy control player and be very sad. Trust me. After the mana, we’re looking to have a few good burn spells which we can use to start the cycle. The perfect hand would also have an artifact tutor or one of our big artifact payoffs for the storm. Well, here’s the deck list. As always I’ve tossed a few of the possible sideboard options in if you want to tech for your meta. I’ll have to update you with where I found Syr Carah next week… Oh my god, she was passed out in the Assault Suit in her room. And it seems like we got matching tattoos of the Eldraine crest. But there’s… like a third missing? I hope this bender didn’t involve any run-ins with the Ardenvale knights…
More Entries in The Top Shelf:
- 06 Sep 2020: Chulane Steals the Show! (Commander)
- 23 Jul 2020: No More Ms. Nice Azorius (Commander)
- 16 Jul 2020: On the Hunt for Combos (Commander)
- 06 Jul 2020: An Eggcelent Start (Commander)