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Foxglovelass from Command This! here, presenting secret knowledge I’ve gleaned on the new Adventures in the Forgotten Realms ‘Planar Portal’ commander preconstructed deck. There are four different commander decks in this set, with Planar Portal being the Black/Red deck with themes of playing cards from exile, treasure, thievery, and a little bit of chaos.
The deck introduces 17 new-to-Magic cards and is chock full of fantastic reprints of great commander staples. Following on from the Strixhaven commander decks, we once again have a great selection of cards in each deck and perhaps the best mana base yet seen for a preconstructed deck. But before we get into the nitty gritty of the contract before you, let’s talk a bit about the commanders of Planar Portal.
The two commanders for this deck are Prosper, the Tomebound and Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant. Prosper is the face of the deck – and I was most excited to see he’s a tiefling warlock. Like many cards in the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms main set, Prosper and several other cards in the deck have ‘flavor text abilities’ where their unique abilities are given flavor text keywords.
Prosper’s Mystic Arcanum gives a functional card draw every turn, while Pact Boon generates a treasure every time a card is played from exile. Yes, that’s right, the word ‘played’ means if we play a land from exile we get a treasure too. This can lead to some pretty crazy ramping situations which typically means Prosper will be slinging spells all over the battlefield. Both of Prosper’s abilities are extremely powerful, and throwing deathtouch in on a pretty decently defensive body is really just icing on the cake.
The alternate commander, Karazikar, has a very different theme which actually only comes across as a relatively minor theme in the deck – that of goading opponent’s creatures to attack other opponents. However, like Prosper, Karazikar has an innate card draw ability that can trigger multiple times in a round if multiple opponents attack one another.
This means that the wily beholder (which, by the way, is a new creature type in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms) can actually draw more cards than the face commander if built right, though one will be throwing some card draw around the table as incentive for your foes to keep punching one another. Karazikar’s first ability also taps the creature you goad, which can have some interesting implications for rearranging combat to your advantage and in building a deck for this commander – menace gets a lot better if you also get to take out a blocker every attack.
Playing cards from exile
Planar Portal is a bit counterintuitive in that the main theme of almost all of the cards in the deck is actually just playing cards from exile. The deck makes use of a lot of different Magic mechanics in achieving this goal – cascade, rebound, suspend, hideaway, and functional draw effects from cards like Theater of Horrors or Outpost Siege, all excel greatly with Prosper’s Pact Boon to keep your coffers brimming and the mana flowing. This actually means the deck is much more flexible than many other themed decks because so many cards interact with exile in some way or another.
Unfortunately the treasure aspect of the deck is not built up as a major theme – beyond Prosper’s Pact Boon we also get Shiny Impetus, Bucknard’s Everfull Purse, and Grim Hireling. Bag of Devouring can be used to turn treasure into more cards and Marionette Master is a wonderful way to immediately end the game if one has a stack of treasure, but for the most part it seems one is meant to just cash in treasure to make rapid, explosive plays early on in the game capitalising on all of the additional card draw in the deck.
There are quite a lot of effects that steal cards from other players which again often serves as functional card draw, such as Fiend of the Shadows, Dead Man’s Chest, and Fevered Suspicion. Although I do quite enjoy playing cards like these, I feel it best to run these sorts of cards by a pod first before starting a game, as some people feel very strongly about others handling their cards. They can also complicate streaming somewhat if one is playing over something like Spelltable. So, be prepared with a bunch of blank cards to write on if you are thinking of playing the deck in this way.
The final theme I just wanted to briefly touch on are chaos effects where the exact nature of the effect is left to random chance, such as with the cards Chaos Wand, Chaos Warp, and Throes of Chaos (I swear I didn’t just choose all the cards with chaos in the name – there are more). These cards can be really exciting to play, if unpredictable, and are enhanced by the rolling of dice that is part of the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set.
In fact, this set of commander decks takes dice rolling a step further by having cards in each deck that use four-sided, six-sided, eight-sided, ten-sided, and twelve-sided dice in addition to Adventures in the Forgotten Realms’ usual twenty-sided dice. I personally love this choice, though it does mean that one should have a set of Dungeons & Dragons dice (or a dice rolling app) available when one plays these decks.
By the Numbers
There are a number of different categories of cards one should always look out for when analysing a commander deck. It’s a bit difficult to settle on exact counts, especially as different archetypes will want them to be slightly adjusted and the overall meta has an impact on what players generally find desirable at any given time. However, the following is a very rough guide of what one might find desirable in a commander deck:
- 50 mana sources, as a combination of land (36-40) and ramp or mana rocks (10-14)
- 2-4 board wipes
- ~10 draw effects
- ~10 targeted removal (includes removal for different kinds of permanents, and counterspells)
- 2 graveyard recursion effects
- 1 graveyard hate effect
- 1-2 finishers that can end the game relatively quickly
The full list for the Planar Portal preconstructed deck is available here.
In this particular deck we have:
- 53 mana sources – 39 lands and 10 mana rocks plus 4 cards that make treasure, including our commander.
- 5 board wipes, depending on how one defines this as Disrupt Decorum isn’t technically a board wipe but often ends up removing most of the opposing boards from the equation, and Hellish Rebuke requires one to take a hit to punish one opponent.
- 16 targeted removal!
- 20 card draw effects including any cards that yield two cards with no significant set up or requirements.
- 6 graveyard recursion effects.
- 2 graveyard hate effects.
- 1 finisher in Marionette Master.
That’s a lot more in almost every category than one would expect for most decks, let alone preconstructed decks! Quite a few cards serve multiple roles in the deck, which is always great to see and generally suggestive of synergy. I’m quite convinced the reason this particular deck so easily reaches and often exceeds each of these categories is because of the flexible nature of the ‘play from exile’ theme which means we can allocate a lot of slots to generally good cards that fill a number of roles but still meet the major theme of the deck.
Going forward with the deck I’d perhaps trim a few lands but otherwise I’d be happy just replacing cards in the different categories with slight upgrades where possible that still fill the same roles. Because of this the deck seems like it would be quite easy and flexible to upgrade with Prosper as the commander – but what about if we were to challenge ourselves and build around the commander that has very little support in the deck, Karazikar?
Unlimited Upgrade Guide - Planar Portal To War
Don’t get me wrong, Prosper is an absolutely fantastic commander that has a lot of flexibility – I hear there are even some cEDH decks planned for him currently. However, Karazikar has a set of very interesting, unique abilities including making use of the goad mechanic which is actually pretty underrepresented in the format at the time of writing. I’ve wanted to build a goad deck for a while and had intended to with Kardur, Doomscourge from Kaldheim as the commander, but Karazikar could be even better than the demon.
Also, because Prosper and Karazikar generally don’t prioritise the same cards this means one could even split the Planar Portal preconstructed deck into two separate functional decks, with a bit of additional input. But for now let’s have a look at what converting Planar Portal to serving the warmongering beholder will entail.
Karazikar thrives on making opponents fight one another, and partially enables this with both his goad trigger and the card draw incentive he gives for opponents to attack one another. This means that for our deck we want some way to force opposing creatures to attack a player that is preferably not us, either by deterring attacks by means of some kind of pillow-fort or deathtouch, or by playing into the goad theme.
There aren’t a lot of cards currently that use the goad mechanic, but they all belong in this deck alongside the Vow cycle (Vow of Lightning, Vow of Malice, and Vow of Torment) which make creatures attack players other than yourself. We could further incentivize players to attack others using cards like Curse of Opulence, Frontier Warmonger or Emberwilde Captain, and effects that make all creatures attack like The Akroan War, Total War, Warmonger Hellkite and Fumiko the Lowblood play directly into our strategy
As mentioned earlier, creatures with menace are particularly effective with Karazikar’s tap-and-goad trigger, so we may want to consider cards like Stormfist Crusader and Pyreheart Wolf to minimize our own losses. Harvester of Souls, Rise of the Dread Marn and Ogre Slumlord reap the benefits of creatures dying in the war effort from any side. Finally, it may be beneficial to give opponents some creatures to keep the war going or to play politics on the side – cards like Hunted Dragon, Hunted Horror and Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor all play into this very well.
For a step-by-step suggested replacement guide, please have a look below:
Vow – Similarly to goad, this cycle of enchantments means the enchanted creature can’t attack us. However, this cycle means the creature can never attack us, even when it’s 1 v 1. Danse is good but we generally aren’t so keen to sacrifice our creatures, and it can allow an out for opponents to sacrifice their goaded or Vowed creatures.
Taunt – Total War works really well with our goad effects and Vows to force entire boards into attacking while not necessarily making us commit to the field. Phthisis is a really expensive removal spell that wants to hit big creatures, but we’d generally prefer to keep big creatures in play hitting our enemies.
Don’t Attack Me (Carrot) / Menace – This unusual card buffs our opponents’ creatures (and our own) if they attack opposing players and not us, meaning more safe attacks if we’re not being attacked. Izzet Chemister is a slow-ramping value engine I don’t think we can afford to run.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) – Brash Taunter is a fantastic deterrent to keep people from attacking us, though that won’t save them as it has a fight activated ability to whittle down life totals. This replaces the finisher for the Prosper build, Marionette Master, which is far less useful without Prosper’s treasure.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) – Stuffy Doll does a good impersonation of Brash Taunter, though it only redirects to the named player (so if they lose Stuffy gets a lot less useful) and pings instead of fighting. Pontiff of Blight has a good defensive body too and some minor life drain, but I generally prefer the durability and deterrence Stuffy provides.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) – The Captain makes us the monarch which is a form of card advantage as long as we don’t get hit (which is an objective of this deck). It also has a built-in repellent by burning our opponents when they dare attack us. Theater of Horrors is a slower exile-draw effect which we benefit from less without Prosper.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) – Kazuul is a fantastic way to stop enemy attacks, unless they have a large amount of mana to spend on each attacking creature or don’t mind us spawning an army of ogres. Etali represents fantastic value but I’m less keen on the chaos theme in this version of the deck.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) / Lifelink – Nighthawk Scavenger has a few really great keywords that makes it a good pick for the deck – deathtouch to discourage attacks, lifelink to mitigate the life loss from Karazikar, and flying to get in in the air and trigger Karazikar’s goad. Gonti has just the deathtouch and although card stealing can be fun it’s not as effective here and can be a difficult effect to demonstrate over video.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) – This effect is a bit pricey – ideally we’d want this to be [[Maze of Ith]] – but it’s still serviceable to discourage attacks or save ourselves from singular large attackers. In strange cases one can save our own creatures from bad attacks. Zhalfirin Void is probably the worst land in the preconstructed deck, so I’m happy to cut it here.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) – This is slightly worse than Labyrinth of Skophos as we might reset ETBs and it can’t be used to save our own creatures, but it still does give an incentive not to attack us and can be a terror for tokens or stolen creatures (looking at you, Prosper decks). Mortuary Mire is a bit slow and unexciting – I like to limit the tapped lands I run in my decks.
Don’t Attack Me (Stick) – Royal Assassin is a personal favourite that wards off attackers in our direction and can still continue to snipe off dangerous threats once they have served their purpose attacking other players. I’d recommend using the ability sparingly or only when provoked as this Assassin is a lightning rod for removal. I feel we can replace an extra land from the deck with this.
Keep The War Going / Politics – The Hunted cycle means we can spawn in more enemies while getting a big threat ourselves. We can use these gifts politically to help out players struggling in the war, or give them to a player who is already taunted and hope for the best. The preconstructed deck has slightly too many lands so I’m happy to cut one here.
Keep The War Going / Politics – Again, we can spawn tokens for our opponents. Here we get a truly massive threat for very little mana, but watch out for the centaurs as Karazikar cannot goad them. Share the Spoils is very fun but also very chaotic. Hunted Horror shares some of the risk but is more thematic to me.
Keep The War Going / Politics – This is perhaps the weakest suggested inclusion of the deck. Again we get to give out some tokens, but this time we present the table with a sacrifice outlet in exchange for some life and card draw. This does not gel well with the Vows or goad effects but the card draw and life gain can mitigate life loss from Karazikar, while the tokens again represent political offerings. Wild-Magic Sorcerer is an all-star for Prosper but unfortunately far less relevant in this build.
Keep The War Going / Tokens – Varchild is probably going to get through blockers quite easily with all the taunts, goads, and Karazikar’s tap ability. I’d expect her to generate a large number of survivors that are effectively Vowed into not attacking us and revert to our control when she leaves play. The tokens can then be used to chump or trigger Karazikar’s goad as required, or just discourage attacks. You Find Some Prisoners is a nice flavourful card but unfortunately the second mode is less appealing without Prosper.
War Into Profit / Tokens – Rise of the Dread Marn is a fantastic card to keep up one’s sleeve with foretell until after a sweeper resolves, or after a large number of creatures die from being taunted or goaded. This means we can quickly repopulate the board and again choose to use these tokens for Karazikar triggers, chumping, or just overwhelming other players. Apex of Power is a great value engine too but at 10 mana we’re unlikely to ever cast this spell without Prosper fuelling us into it.
War Into Profit – Harvester of Souls gives us a free card every time a creature dies, not just our own. This plays into our aim to get our opponents’ attacking one another and profiting off of it. Commune with Lava is a good exile-draw effect too but again less appealing without Prosper’s abilities.
Menace / Draw – This cheap knight gives everyone a bit of free card draw that thematically ties in with Karazikar’s drain-draw while also being quite likely to attack in for free hits using Karazikar’s goad ability to tap down a blocker. Dark-Dweller Oracle is the same mana value but less appealing without Prosper and we’re unlikely to want to sacrifice many creatures in this build.
Lifelink / Graveyard Recursion – Whip gives us a great passive lifelink bonus that takes away the penalty from Karazikar’s life loss and means we can surge ahead of the group by participating in combat. The graveyard recursion is also welcome as we cut a few other recursion pieces in this upgrade. Chaos Wand is really fun but completely unpredictable, and more a value engine to be exploited than a reliable way to achieve our goals.
Deathtouch / Token Generation – This new card works wonders for our deck by buffing the equipped creature with deathtouch when it attacks and generating a bunch of zombies when it hits a player, something that should happen a lot with the deathtouch and Karazikar’s tap-and-goad. Bag of Devouring is a really fun card, though we don’t really play into the sacrifice theme much and won’t have as much treasure to give to this card as the Prosper version would.
Token Generation / Doubled Triggers – Helm of the Host is a commander staple that gives us a non-legendary copy of the equipped creature every turn. I’d love to put this on Karazikar to double and triple his triggers (usually attacking with any number of creatures to a single player only taps and goads a single creature, but with two Karazikars we can tap and goad two creatures). There are some other great targets in the deck too, like Kardur or Vengeful Ancestor. Warlock Class is a lot of fun but it is also quite a mana sink with the first ability only triggering on our turn (when we’re hoping creatures will not be dying). The last ability is great but overall I’d prefer something more on-theme.
Land Upgrade – Graven Cairns is a nice way to fix one of our colours into whichever pair we need, which may be particularly relevant with all of the new double-colour cost spells in the deck. Cutting a swamp as the deck is now much more red-skewed than previously.
Land Upgrade – Shocklands are always great and have relevant typing for [[Tainted Peak]]. More double-colour lands means less mana issues down the line. Again replacing a swamp due to more red costs in the deck.
Land Upgrade – Our checkland upgrade again gives us access to both colours at a small requirement to enter untapped.
Land Upgrade – Although I’m not big on tapped lands this one gives us both of our colours and can animate later on for surprise Karazikar goad-and-tap triggers or defensive saves.
This upgrade sees us through to the version of the deck I’ll be playing on the Command This! Unlimited Upgrades episode. To view the deck please click here.
Note that not all of these individual replacements are completely necessary and most are actually budget cards worth $1 or less. One could easily cut most or all of the more expensive cards to come up with a pretty powerful budget upgrade of this deck. And if your interests lie with Prosper’s powerful abilities instead, please do check out TinStreet_EGG’s article on her Planar Portal upgrade with Prosper as the commander.
I am once again highly impressed with the quality of the preconstructed decks produced for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. I had mistakenly been under the impression that after the fantastic Strixhaven commander decks (please refer to our other reviews on this site for more information there) we would be getting some lower-tier decks for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, but I am quite pleased to be proven wrong.
None of the new cards stand out as insanely overpowered commander staples, but there are certainly a lot of new options available to us. I love some of the new creature types we’ve gotten, and rolling dice is always fun. As an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and Dungeon Master I’m also a huge fan of how many iconic spells, classes, characters, and abilities have been translated into the setting.
The Planar Portal preconstructed deck itself also allows a lot of different avenues for upgrades and expansion, which I hope I have demonstrated here by building around the alternate commander to a path less taken. I’m really looking forward to my future games with this deck, and hope that you will tune in to the matches made available on Easy Gaming Group’s Twitch account and YouTube channel. I’ll see you on the battlefield!
Easy Gaming Group