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Pinball Karona | Political Combat | $50, $100, $200 | Budget Commander

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Pinball Karona 2.0

Friends, today I'm sharing with you a redesigned version of one of my oldest decks: Pinball Karona, a deck I first developed seven years ago! The entire deck concept was built around a unique oldschool legendary commander Karona, False God. Even after decades of power creep, Karona is still a powerhouse of a commander, coming out of the gates swinging as a hasty 5/5 avatar with a pseudo-Overrun attack trigger that can either pump up Karona into an 8/8 attacker or pump a bunch of creatures that share a creature type for even more damage. After smashing your opponents' faces on your turn, Karona gets handed off to each of your opponents, where she will continue to dish out disgusting amounts of combat damage. Assuming a typical 4-player game of Commander, with just Karona herself attacking on each player's combat as an 8/8, you're dishing out a whopping 32 commander damage per turn cycle. That's insane damage potential, but there's a teeny-tiny catch: your opponents can (and most likely will) agree to team up and use Karona to attack and kill you if possible. Dying to our own commander would be rather embarrassing, so we'll run cards that prevent that from happening.

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The original Pinball Karona list used the Vow cycle to stop Karona from turning on us. These junk cards from the original Commander precons that nobody played with ended up being key cards in the deck, as suiting up Karona with any of these ensured that Karona could never be used to attack us. Plus they beefed her up so she was less likely to die to blockers. These cards were alright for their time, but this year we got a massive upgrade to the Vow cycle with its spiritual successor, the Impetus cycle.

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You know the Impetus cycle from Commander 2020? Those three cards in each precon that I kept telling you to be your first cuts when making room for upgrades? Yeah, that cycle of worst cards in their respective precons end up being the best cards in our Karona deck! Just like the Vows, suiting up Karona with any of the Impetus cards pumps up our commander and prevents our opponents from attacking us with her. But unlike the Vow cycle, the Impetus cycle forces them to attack with the enchanted creature, even if they might not want to. And as a cherry on top, most of the Impetus cards come with a powerful attack trigger, such as Shiny Impetus generating a Treasure token each time the enchanted creature attacks. Since Karona can attack four times per turn cycle in a 4-Player game, we get four Treasure tokens per turn cycle, four times the amount that we'd usually get.

And this, friends, is Pinball Karona: our deck's primary game plan is to set our commander loose on the table, letting her bounce bashing in all our opponents' faces for incredible amounts of damage while preventing her from ever being used against us!


Political Combat

My previous versions of Pinball Karona was an Enchantress deck. Most of the deck's best ways to prevent our opponents from attacking us with Karona are enchantments, be it the Vows (Vow of Lightning) or Pillowfort cards (Ghostly Prison), so I leaned in on our high enchantment count and just went full 5C Enchantress. Over the years the deck's focus shifted from Karona to Enchantress, until eventually I swapped the deck over to Tuvasa the Sunlit when Adaptive Enchantment was released.

This time, however, I'm rebuilding Pinball Karona as a Political Combat deck: the goal here will be to manipulate our opponents to kill each other through combat damage while we remain untouched. Basically we're forcing our opponents to do the dirty work of winning the game for us while we get to relax on the sidelines sipping a mojito. If that's not an ideal deck goal then I don't know what is!

Our deck's goal can be split into two categories:

  1. Combat Incentives. Cards that encourage our opponents to attack each other, either by forcing them to attack (Bloodthirsty Blade) or rewards them for doing so (Curse of Verbosity).
  2. Beatdown Ammo. Cards that give our opponents creatures to attack each other with, such as Xantcha, Sleeper Agent and Tahngarth, First Mate.

The majority of our cards will fit either of these categories, so let's go into a bit more detail on each of them.

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Combat Incentives

First we have cards that encourage our opponents to attack each other. There are a bunch of ways we can accomplish this, and a mix of all of them will yield the best results.

Combat Rewards. If our opponents hit each other for our amusement, then they get a treat, such as ramping with Curse of Opulence, drawing cards with Curse of Verbosity or Edric, Spymaster of Trest, or giving them a damage boost with Gahiji, Honored One.

Forced Combat. Our opponents might be shy about killing each other, so we'll give them a little push. We can remove the option of blocking with Bedlam or force them to attack with Fumiko the Lowblood. Even better, we can force them to attack our opponents with goad cards like Marisi, Breaker of the Coil and Disrupt Decorum.

Pillowfort. Cards that only prevent our opponents from attacking us but don't encourage them to attack each other, like Ghostly Prison, are less useful in this deck. However, a few of these cards can be useful to our strategy, such as Orzhov Advokist and Thaumatic Compass.

This is a quick n' dirty list of some of my favorite Combat Incentive cards:

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Beatdown Ammo

Now that our opponents are primed and ready to kill each other; we'll provide opponents with additional creatures to attack each other with. Since these creatures aren't coming at us, they're essentially extra damage against our opponents. Our commander, Karona, False God is our best creature that we'll be gifting our opponents, but there are other similar cards like Tahngarth, First Mate and Xantcha, Sleeper Agent which attack on your opponents' side of the battlefield, or Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor, which gives your opponents tokens that can't block or attack you.

If our opponents still aren't killing themselves at the pace that we'd like, we can speed it up by taking control of our gifts and killing them ourselves with cards like Insurrection or Mob Rule.

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$50 Deck List

The $50 list shows off the primary goal of the deck, which is to cast Karona, suit her up with any of our Impetus cards, and let her loose on our opponents. Even if we aren't suiting up Karona, we can enchant any of our opponent's scary threats with an Impetus to have that creature work for us. We're also giving our opponents other threats to kill themselves with, like Rite of the Raging Flame and Tahngarth, First Mate, plus have plenty of rewards and forced combat for when they do our dirty work.

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$100 List

The $100 list further expands our Political Combat theme, giving the table zombies as a reward for killing the victim of Curse of Disturbance and handing them powerful beaters like Xantcha, Sleeper Agent. Our manabase gets much better with the inclusion of the three Forest Triomes (Indatha Triome) which we can fetch with ramp cards like Farseek and Wood Elves.

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$200 List

The $200 list has basically all the Political Combat cards I'd want to run in the deck, save for maybe Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist, but that's just a bad Edric, Spymaster of Trest anyway. This tight, focused list will force our opponents to kill themselves for our amusement, or else we'll show them how it's supposed to be done with a timely Insurrection. Our manabase got a lot better too with the inclusion of staples like Arcane Signet, Sol Ring, and City of Brass.

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That's All, Folks!

It was a special treat for me to go back to one of my oldest Commander decks and redesign it. Seven years, man ... it was a good reminder at how long Commander has been a major part of my life, and how the format -- and my brewing within it -- has changed over the years. As always, thank you for reading, and I'll be back soon with another brew!

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