The Spirit of EDH – Kaervek Makes No Friends


Hello everyone! I’m Literally a Ghost That Pushes Over Candles and welcome back to The Spirit of EDH. Today we’re going to be talking about an exciting Rakdos legends: Kaervek, the Merciless. The deck I have is a big mana deck, owing to the expensive cost of our commander, and so we run artifact-based ramp into massive Red and Black bombs. So, let’s take a look at the deck we’re working with:

Spells (41)
1 x Basilisk Collar
1 x Fall of the Titans
1 x Skullclamp
1 x Sol Ring
1 x Vandalblast
1 x Dreadbore
1 x Exsanguinate
1 x Mind Stone
1 x Night’s Whisper
1 x Rakdos Signet
1 x Talisman of Domination
1 x Scythe of the Wretched
1 x Coalition Relic
1 x Commander's Sphere
1 x Everlasting Torment
1 x Hero’s Downfall
1 x Last One Standing
1 x Phyrexian Arena
1 x Underworld Connections
1 x Victimize
1 x Worn Powerstone
1 x Ancient Craving
1 x Fiery Confluence
1 x Hedron Archive
1 x Silence the Believers
1 x Thran Dynamo
1 x Whip of Erebos
1 x Chandra’s Ignition
1 x Consume the Meek
1 x Gilded Lotus
1 x Gratuitous Violence
1 x Liliana’s Contract
1 x Mind’s Eye
1 x Painful Quandary
1 x Promise of Power
1 x Stolen Strategy
1 x Word of Seizing
1 x Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering
1 x Grave Upheaval
1 x Sunbird’s Invocation
1 x Blasphemous Act
1 x Kaervek, the Merciless

Creatures (20)
1 x Grenzo, Havoc Raiser
1 x Azra Oddsmaker
1 x Magus of the Wheel
1 x Magus of the Will
1 x Xantcha, Sleeper Agent
1 x Gonti, Lord of Luxury
1 x Mogis, God of Slaughter
1 x Olivia Voldaren
1 x Rakdos, Lord of Riots
1 x Solemn Simulacrum
1 x Garna, the Bloodflame
1 x Kumano, Master Yamabushi
1 x Hoard-Smelter Dragon
1 x Archetype of Finality
1 x Noxious Gearhulk
1 x Reaper from the Abyss
1 x Sower of Discord
1 x Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood
1 x Lord of the Void
1 x Archfiend of Despair
Planeswalker (1)
1 x Ob Nixilis, Reignited

Lands (37)
1 x Arcane Lighthouse
1 x Bloodfell Caves
1 x Blood Crypt
1 x Bojuka Bog
1 x Canyon Slough
1 x Cinder Barrens
1 x Command Tower
1 x Dragonskull Summit
1 x Evolving Wilds
1 x Graven Cairns
1 x Luxury Suite
1 x Mage-Ring Network
1 x Molten Slagheap
8 x Mountain
1 x Myriad Landscape
1 x Rakdos Carnarium
1 x Shadowblood Ridge
1 x Smoldering Marsh
11 x Swamp
1 x Temple of Malice

The cards in the deck that aren’t devoted to basic deck needs, like card draw or ramp, either help our commander become more powerful or are game-ending threats in their own right. We’ll talk about the synergies with our commander then talk about the different card choices for our threats.

Kaervek’s Servants

Kumano, Master Yamabushi — Kumano, in addition to being both a decent mana sink, works very well with our commander. Whenever Kaervek’s triggered ability would kill a creature, you can respond to it by pinging the creature beforehand with Kumano and, instead of dying, the creature ends up exiled. With the amount of recursion in commander, the ability to make sure something never comes back is very worth the price. In addition, he can always pick things off on his own, making sure that Eternal Witness never comes back.

Archetype of Finality — While removing deathtouch from your opponent’s creatures can be a strong boon, the ability to give your commander (as well as any other pingers you have) deathtouch is brutal. This means any spellcast by an opponent turns into a dead creature, regardless of the mana cost of the spell in question or the toughness of the creature. Basilisk Collar is another, similar ability.

Scythe of the Wretched — Combined with Kaervek’s ability to sling damage and mow down creatures, Scythe of the Wretched is a brutal card to play against. It becomes risky very quickly to cast spells into Kaervek without killing him as Scythe will let you reanimate anything he burns down.

Everlasting Torment — Indestructible creatures or creatures too tough to die to a single trigger from Kaervek beware. Kaervek’s damage, as well as all other damage, can’t be prevented and is dealt as though its source had wither. Even if a spell isn’t expensive enough to let Kaervek kill something, he can whittle it down. In addition, it prevents lifegain and in a brutal Rakdos deck like ours, it quickly becomes a problem as they can’t lifegain themselves away from our painful cards.

Whip of Erebos — This isn’t particularly more powerful with our commander than another, even though we do gain life from his triggers, but the ability to gain some incremental life to pay for our blood tithes from our card draw is strong. As well, the ability to whip back an attacker can be a powerful way to end a game.

Gratuitous Violence — Doubling all damage that would be dealt by your sources is backbreaking. Kaervek’s ability quickly wipes any threats off the board with its damage doubled and, as well, ends games quicker when you start throwing the damage at people’s faces.

Arcane Lighthouse — While we do need to activate it before the spell that triggers Kaervek’s ability is cast, the ability to kill things people thought were otherwise safe is well worth the land slot and extra steps. Wiping away hexproof during someone’s upkeep when you know they want to cast some sorcery-speed spells can be a very brutal deterrent.

Big Mana Threats

Magus of the Will — Even if you can’t give him haste with Garna, as this deck lacks another way of giving haste, this card is the epitome of value. Magus of the Will, like Yawgmoth’s Will before him, essentially allows you to draw every card in your graveyard until the end of turn. The ability to recast threats gone by will set you from a defensible position to a game-winning one immediately.

Xantcha, Sleeper Agent, Olivia Voldaren, Kumano, Master Yamabushi, Hoard-Smelter Dragon, and Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood — When playing a big mana deck, similar to Green ramp decks, you need to make sure you have something to do with your mana. All of the mentioned cards are strong in their own rights but have the added ability to dump a ton of mana into. Xantcha is early game pressure that lets you drain and draw cards, as well as enticing your opponents to do the same. Olivia, Kumano and Kazarov all allow you to ping things to death if you have an excess of mana and Olivia also allows you to mind-control creatures away from your opponents. Hoard-Smelter Dragon is artifact removal that can also act as a mana sink when you just want to chew through your opponents treasures.

Sower of Discord and Archfiend of Despair — Two high-end demons that drain away your opponents life in different ways, but both play very similar. They essentially double the amount of damage you cause with attacks and Kaervek triggers, one by duplicating the damage between two opponents and the other by duplicating the damage they take on their end step. Archfiend of Despair also prevents lifegain from your opponents, making him a threat that must be answered or despair will set in, indeed.

Fall of the Titans and Exsanguinate — These spells are similar in function as well, being a late game mana dump that can also end your opponent’s lives. Exsanguinate can set you far enough ahead with the life^drain effect even if you don’t win and Fall of the Titans can also kill creatures if need be.

Sunbird’s Invocation — One of the strongest Red cards printed in the last few years, Sunbird’s Invocation is nuts. Card advantage and pseudo-cascade in one on every spell you cast from there on out. Just amazing. In addition, 6 mana isn’t much for us, seeing as we’re trying to hit our commander’s cost of 7 reliably.

Cards to Consider

Lord of the Void — One hit from this demon can set you so far ahead. A free creature from among their top seven, exiling the rest.  Considering you have multiple opponents to choose from, there is less of a chance of you having an opponent who isn’t playing creatures you want to steal. One opponent may be playing a spellslinger deck, but more than likely at least one person is playing fatties you can steal!

Silence the Believers — The aura exiling clause can sometimes turn people off, as they focus on that and how little it will come up. This is very true! The reason we play it is exile, in black, that also allows us to throw mana into it to exile more than just the one creature while not being a board wipe so we can keep our creatures.

Stolen Strategy — When I said that Sunbird’s Invocation is one of the strongest Red cards printed in the last few  years, the other card I was thinking of was Stolen Strategy. Card draw in Red, one from each of your opponent’s libraries, allowing you to steal cards from out of your color identity and cast them regardless of color. Stolen Strategy is an amazingly unique card and a powerful one at that.

The Spice Corner

Azra Oddsmaker — Repeatable card draw in Rakdos is solid and a 3 mana 3/3 is a decent rate. While it does come with its own risks, such as the chosen creature dying before it gets to connect, the fact that the entire ability is optional is quite strong. Azra Oddsmaker has proven herself so far in this deck and it could preform even better if you have more access to Double Strike.

Last One Standing — A three mana board wipe seems strong, even if it has the possibility of really biting you. The good news is you can often play it to wipe most of the creatures off the board, stopping the players from going wide. In addition, you also have the ability to keep one of your own creatures if you’re lucky. So far the mana discount from something like Damnation has been somewhat helpful, allowing you to cast it then replay some other creatures afterwards. It is possible that this card could just be better done if your meta includes more go-tall decks, as opposed to go-wide ones, so keep that in mind.

Painful Quandry — A punisher type card. These types of cards are usually much weaker than they seem, as you will always get the worse of the two options since your opponent gets to choose. However, Painful Quandry, combined with the damage that you can output with Kaervek, will quickly strip away your opponents hands. As well, if they can’t discard a card, it will quickly drain away their life at the cost of 5 ^per spell.

Other Considerations

Kaervek is one of the more popular commanders for the punisher style deck. If the playstyle of Painful Quandry seems fun to you, there are plenty of cards that force your opponents to hurt themselves to continue playing. As he already punishes your opponents for playing spells as is, cards like Polluted Bonds, Underworld Dreams, Torment of Hailfire, Zo-Zu, the Punisher, or Spellshock play into this theme. You can absolutely change the deck around by moving some of the bombs that the deck I have plays and replacing them with some of these types of cards. You could also include Possibility Storm which will allow Kaervek to trigger twice off every spell your opponents try to cast from their hands. It all depends on how quickly you can kill your opponents though, as the ability can really bite you in the butt if you’re not careful.

Parting Thoughts

Kaervek is the quickest way to not make friends. Knowing that your commander will attack them for casting spells is a threatening thing indeed. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive with this deck and if you have the opportunity to knock someone out of the game do so. Your ability to stop spells is limited, as you don’t have access to blue, and some enchantments can also really mess you up since you can’t really remove those either. You need to take advantage of the pressure that your commander creates and take people out of the game.

So tell me, what did you think? Did I offer information you thought was helpful, raise some insights you might not have thought of, miss stuff you thought I should mention, or any other thoughts I didn’t call out? Leave a comment below to let me know, or you can haunt me directly on Twitter (@FrigglishTGhost) or spook my email (
Make sure you join me next week, where I’ll be talking about Archangel Avacyn, one of my most eclectic decks!

Until then, may the Spirit of EDH possess you with creativity.
— Literally a Ghost that Pushes Over Candles

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