Breaking the Rules: Kari Zev and Ragavan
Hello, Sheepwave here! While many of you may know me for my presence as an artist on Twitter, this is the first in a series of articles I will be writing! I'll be focusing on playing EDH decks that are not legal according to the official rules, but with a bit of talking, can be played via use of the wonderful Rule Zero. In addition to discussing how one might play a "Rule Zero" deck, I will also examine both why you might do so, and how you can maximize your chances that your playgroup agrees and has a fun time. Welcome to Breaking the Rules!
Rule Zero Partners
Magic: the Gathering is more than just a card game; It is a highly expansive multiverse of stories that are extremely important to some players, myself included. One of the interesting aspects of Commander decks all being led by specific characters in the Magic canon is that many have existing relationships and connections with each other. In some cases, a pair of deeply linked characters appear on two separate cards, such as Saffi Eriksdotter and Hans Eriksson, Chromium and Piru, and several others. Ever since the Partner mechanic was printed in 2016, players have been creating decks that treat a pair of legendary creatures as though they had the mechanic on them, in order to play them together.
Now that Modern Horizons 2 has been released, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and her monkey Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer have joined the list of such pairings. Kari Zev is a fairly unique card released all the way back in Aether Revolt. When she attacks, she creates a legendary 2/1 monkey token that is then exiled at end of combat, representing her pet dashing out and running back to safety.
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer takes the concept and runs with it, having a Dash cost the same as Kari's original mana cost, and a trigger on dealing combat damage to an opponent that makes a Treasure and exiles the top card of the defending players library, letting you cast spells hit.
Adding Partner to any given pair of cards makes both cards strictly better. The pairings that are often Rule Zero partnered are not exactly powerhouses-- Saffi Eriksdotter and Hans Eriksson are both fine on their own, but truly shine when able to synergize with each other. The individual sisters that make up Brisela, Voice of Nightmares are among the weaker options for mono-white individually. In these cases, the power level increase of adding Partner does not significantly push the pair into concerning territory.
This is not the case with Ragavan specifically. Ragavan is powerful enough to lead a mono red deck entirely on his own, and a deck that can cast Ragavan normally, that also has access to Kari, is sort of boring. Kari Zev, on the other hand, is far from particularly powerful-- Her ability to attack and create a Ragavan token is certainly interesting, but not particularly viable nowadays. For the first entry of Breaking the Rules, I've decided to split the difference by adding Ragavan to Kari Zev, but in a way that isn't as powerful and plays with the unique properties of Kari Zev as a commander.
Added Special Rules
The change is simple; Ragavan Nimble Pilferer is treated as though he has partner with Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, but Ragavan cannot be cast normally. However, if Kari's token would be created by her attack trigger, instead he moves from the command zone into play with the same conditions. He is not a token, and deals commander damage normally. If he would be cast for his Dash cost, it works exactly like it typically would, increasing commander tax on the dash ability by 2 each time.
This level of rules modification is unusually complicated among decks I play. Some people are less comfortable with anything resembling custom cards, which is something worth keeping in mind! While some people would be fine with me just playing them as standard partners, the unique gameplay of having one of my Commanders create the other, having Kari's monkey dash out and steal cards and treasures, is the kind of strangeness that excites me. To be honest, if I had the ability to just cast Ragavan for a red, I probably wouldn't play Kari from the zone at all. So with that established, how do we build the deck and how does it differ from Kari and Ragavan separately?
Strategy and Spicy Includes
This deck will have a lot of instances of enter-the-battlefield triggers and combat damage triggers from Pirate sources, as Kari Zev's attack trigger causes Ragavan to enter play every time she can attack. Breeches, Brazen Plunderer gives redundancy to the effect of stealing other players' cards to play from exile when connecting with Pirates. Ragavan, unlike his original token counterpart, has the creature type of Pirate, so he synergizes with Coercive Recruiter to steal even more stuff. Finally, the extra combat steps from Port Razer both flickers Ragavan when a new token is created, and enables even more treasure making and card stealing.
Getting through for combat damage with small creatures can be tricky. Due to the fact that Kari has three toughness, it is possible to activate Pyrohemia twice before combat. This can help clear out small tokens that are clogging the board so Ragavan can get in for damage. Marking all creatures with damage also allows her to win more combats than you might expect thanks to her having first strike! Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner can make both Kari and Ragavan unblockable for one mana each, and allows the deck to refuel when it runs out of cards in hand. Lantern of Insight takes the guesswork out of who to steal cards from, as Ragavan's trigger exiling lands you can't play off the top of a library is a huge whiff. Lantern is usually what the deck wants to grab off of Urza's Saga's third verse.
Beyond my pirate tribal theme, i decided to go heavy on Faithless Looting effects and a few discard-matters cards like Surly Badgersaur. Looting synergy is largely because I cannot resist puns, but discarding and drawing is a good form of card selection, and even card advantage when copied, such as with Pyromancer's Goggles. The long term game plan is to win by piling up treasures, and then cashing them in to cast other player's biggest spells. This reliance on theft makes the deck scale well to play with a fairly wide range of decks. If you want to build this deck, it can be a fun shell for mono red goodstuff, spellslinger, exile synergies, or aggro strategies, without the immediate ticking time bomb that a commander like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell represents.
Sometimes people say "No"
As much fun as it is to play rule zero decks, not everyone wants to do so. What's the backup plan for still being able to play the deck if someone doesn't want to play with the modification? While the easy answer is "play something else", I always make sure that my Rule Zero decks are able to pivot into a legal decklist, if required. This particular deck happens to have a very easy answer, as both of the partners are mono red, and can just move Kari from the command zone into the 99.
However, people saying no is something you do have some control over! Manabarbs and Burning Earth were both among cards I decided to cut. When playing Rule Zero decks, remember that you should go to more effort than you usually would to not leave people with a bad taste in their mouth. I chose to run Mox Diamond in the deck for the potential of getting Kari out turn 1 and some discard synergy, but not Sol Ring, as a deck having multiple instances of fast mana starts to reduce the variance and dynamism that makes commander fun in the first place.
The best words to use during a Rule Zero talk to put people at ease and feel excited to play against it are going to be "flavorful" and "unique". Exploring the new twist on gameplay that this modification brings to your game is likely to excite most players you ask! I don't imagine it will be that hard to sell a playgroup on letting you do this as long as you don't make them regret it by building some kind of pubstomping Kari Ragavan EDH stax deck.
While they may exist, I cannot immediately think of any other sets of legendary creatures that might be paired in this particular way. The nature of Kari Zev's attack trigger is that she is uniquely suited to be modified in this manner. Effectively adding Ragavan's rules text to her token gives her the ability to be so much more than the pure burn and aggro she is relegated to when alone. This gives her access to the ramp and card advantage red needs, without sacrificing her flavorful mechanical uniqueness. Are there other similar pairings in Magic lore that might one day be completed? Let me know what to keep an eye out for next time on Breaking the Rules!
Finally, here is the decklist I decided to go with, though I encourage anyone who does try this combination out to get creative and focus more on one of the subthemes I used, or experiment with some new ones!
Kari Zev and Ragavan
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