Carth the Lion - Illustration by Donato Giancola

Carth the Lion | Illustration by Donato Giancola

Planeswalkers are among the strongest card types in the game. Their structure makes them at minimum 2-for-1s in most cases; even in the scenarios when they eat a Bitter Triumph in response to activation, you get a removal spell and another ability for your mana. Some of Magic’s most fearsome cards are planeswalkers; Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Wrenn and Six all have format-defining pedigrees to their name.

But planeswalkers falter a bit in Commander. With three players capable of attacking them, it’s much harder to defend a planeswalker, especially if that one friend gets the rest of the table to agree to always attack all of your planeswalkers so they can never become a problem while their deck amasses tons of cards because they’ve redirected all the pressure and—okay, that’s maybe too specific. But planeswalkers are harder to defend in Commander, so you need tricks to handle it, like a dedicated commander like Carth the Lion.

Let’s figure out how to unite planeswalkers for this deck!

The Deck

Evolution Sage - Illustration by Simon Dominic

Evolution Sage | Illustration by Simon Dominic

This deck has many features you’d expect. You’re in Golgari , so there’s plenty of grind. The commander has “planeswalker” in its text box, so there’s plenty of those. This list straddles the line between midrange and control. You’ll rarely play fast games, but that’s a feature in a deck focused on a card type that accrues value over time. You’ll notice plenty of wraths to protect your planeswalkers, but there’s quite a bit of token generation as well; chump blocking is quite effective, especially with cards that churn out creatures turn after turn.

Because the deck leans so heavily on wraths, it’s light on creatures by necessity. The creatures that made the cut either offer incredible impact for their mana value, accelerate your game plan, or sacrifice themselves for value to skirt the wrath issue. One way this influences deckbuilding is by naturally pushing you away from most mana dorks and towards enchantment– and land-based ramp à la Wild Growth and Rampant Growth.

This deck is casual to mid-powered and potent against creature-heavy midrange piles that can't handle a flurry of board wipes alongside the perpetual value engines of your planeswalkers. The million fans of The Rock-style decks will love this.

The Commander

Carth the Lion MH2

Carth the Lion isn’t the only planeswalker-centric general. A couple of other choices include Commodore Guff as a hyper-planeswalker-focused card or various proliferate commanders like Atraxa, Praetors' Voice. But Carth is my favorite.

First up, its stats align well with your strategy; 3/5 is an excellent body to defend planeswalkers. Additionally, there are lots of good 5-mana planeswalkers, making a curve of ramp on turn 2, Carth on turn 3, and planeswalker on turn 4 pretty natural and easy to achieve. Carth’s first ability replaces it (always great to see in the command zone!) and provides a little insurance for your planeswalkers: Even if your opponents form a coalition, each planeswalker they take down sprouts another ally.

The second ability is the pièce de résistance, however. The templating takes a moment to get used to, but it lets you get your planeswalkers to their ultimate abilities quickly. Nearly every planeswalker in the deck can activate its ultimate the turn after coming into play, assuming that you control Carth the Lion both turns and uptick the planeswalker the turn it comes into play. This speed gives your opponents very little time to respond to your threats; the extra loyalty also provides a powerful buffer to keep your planeswalkers safer.


These are the bread-and-butter of the deck, the cards you want to win the game. I’ll note the planeswalkers that do not ultimate the turn after coming into play later; if I don’t mention it, they can. Not every planeswalker is here to win the game; some are grindy value engines that let you outlast your opponents until the closers show up.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General

One such closer is Liliana, Dreadhorde General. Arguably one of the strongest Lilianas, this ultimate wraps up games. There’s more to this planeswalker than a killer finishing move, though. The -4 provides acute board control. The deck’s mild aristocrat subtheme makes excellent use of the static ability, even if it's only by drawing a bunch of cards post-wrath. The deck does plenty with Zombie tokens.

Liliana of the Veil Liliana, Waker of the Dead

A few other Lilis made the cut: Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, Waker of the Dead. The latter has the better game-ending potential with its potent emblem, but I’m interested in the discard abilities. Your card advantage is board-focused, with planeswalkers spitting tokens like sunflower seeds. You can empty your hand quickly. The uptick also aids you against blue decks that like to amass cards in hand, a strategy your wrath-heavy, pressure-light game plan can struggle with. Liliana of the Veil gives you a great emergency eject button for a threatening player. Finally, Liliana of the Dark Realms provides a bit of acceleration and card draw; this one’s more of a bit player than a starring act.

Garruk Wildspeaker might be my favorite planeswalker. It feels pitch-perfect in terms of power and flexibility without being as overwhelming as something like Oko. The Overrun ability is a perfect finisher in this token-centric deck, and untapping lands synergize with the enchantment ramp. You get another Overrun from Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, which is very notable as a planeswalker that can ultimate as soon as it comes into play if we control Carth. Garruk, Primal Hunter rounds out the Garruks with a purely threatening card that creates your biggest tokens.

Grist, the Hunger Tide

Grist, the Hunger Tide constantly overperforms in any deck I play it in. Token production, self-mill (irrelevant here), a sacrifice outlet that doubles as removal; Grist does it all. You can even use Reanimate to return it to play!

Wrenn and Realmbreaker

Wrenn and Realmbreaker has one of the juiciest emblems in the deck. About 80% of your cards are permanents, so you aren’t lacking cards to replay. This card can dominate a late game. Getting 3/3s isn’t terrible protection, either.

Vraska, Golgari Queen Vraska, Betrayal's Sting

I’ll admit that Vraska, Golgari Queen is more of a pet card than an amazing one, especially since it can’t ultimate the turn after playing it, but I can’t resist playing it in a deck with so much token production. The emblem also plays well with your Overruns. The other Vraska, Vraska, Betrayal's Sting, provides a much more powerful source of card advantage and stronger interaction and finishing abilities.

Nissa, Ascended Animist Nissa, Vital Force

Nissa, Ascended Animist synergizes well with Carth the Lion. Not only does your commander’s loyalty buff offset the downsides of compleated, but it also makes your Phyrexian Horror tokens grow much faster. It’s also a redundant finisher. Nissa, Vital Force grants you another planeswalker that ultimates the turn it comes into play with the added benefit of 5/5s if it sticks around.

Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury

Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury just ticks all the boxes. Mana, token production, interaction (this deck is light on artifact/enchantment removal specifically because so many of your planeswalkers destroy that card type/permanents), and a burst of card draw. None of Freyalise's text is exceptional, but it's all welcome.

Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools

Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools also can’t ultimate the turn it comes into play. You’re playing it for the Thrull tokens. They’re excellent chump blockers and, as the various Overrun and sacrifice abilities above demonstrate, this deck can do plenty with two additional bodies each turn.

Planeswalker Protection and Support

This deck’s primary means of “supporting” its planeswalkers is protecting them to get all your ultimates, but you have a few cards beyond Carth that boost loyalty counts, so the deck doesn’t rely on its commander alone for speed.

Heart of Kiran

Heart of Kiran is a 2-mana 4/4. It’s that simple. You often have the loyalty to spare to crew this vehicle for “free.” A solid vehicle that’s not reliant on creatures is an excellent card in this wrath-centric deck.

Ophiomancer is fragile as a 3-mana 2/2, but the Snake token is one of the strongest attacker deterrents you can produce. Since the token gets created each upkeep, your opponents can’t agree to have somebody bite the bullet. That also makes for a source of renewable tokens to sacrifice to various planeswalkers; Bitterblossom and Dreadhorde Invasion made the list for similar reasons, plus they provide board presence post-board wipe.

Kaya's Ghostform and Tamiyo's Safekeeping provide the most literal protection. Obscuring Haze contends with them here; a free Fog is more effective than it might look since combat damage tends to be your opponents’ primary means of interacting with planeswalkers.

Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider Pir, Imaginative Rascal

This deck doesn’t run Doubling Season, primarily because I’ve never loved it as a design or a card. I get that it translates into won games, but playing a 5-mana enchantment with so little impact on the board has never sat right with me. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider plays a similar counter-doubling role; a 6/6 with trample and haste does impact the board, and its ability can be a surprisingly strong stax effect with the recent surge in saga support and the ever-present payoff of +1/+1 counters. Pir, Imaginative Rascal doesn’t quite double but can still provide counters before being swept away.


One of my favorite cards from 2023 is Cankerbloom. I love dorky little role-players. This creature works well in decks that care about sacrificing small creatures or proliferation, and it’s not a mere proliferation spell since it doubles as artifact/enchantment interaction. It’s much better suited to this strategy than Reclamation Sage because it goes to the graveyard anyway so you can pop it before a wrath with no harm done.

Oath of Nissa Oath of Liliana

Oath of Nissa and Oath of Liliana provide reasonable support. The second line on Oath of Nissa is irrelevant as the deck has excellent mana, but it cantrips. Oath of Liliana is certainly stronger, providing board control and presence in one package.

Now for the wraths! Languish is the weakest, making the deck only because I wanted another wrath that dodged various indestructible effects. The Meathook Massacre does the work of two cards, protecting your planeswalkers and providing the aristocrat subtheme with teeth. Damnation is perfectly on-rate for a board wipe, which makes Toxic Deluge well above rate as black’s best board wipe.


These are the non-mana glue holding the deck together. It’s primarily interaction and card advantage, but there are a couple of other cards here.


Endurance provides instant speed and potentially free graveyard disruption. A surprise 3/4 blocker also defends planeswalkers reasonably well.

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse has everything this deck could want from a creature. It’s hugely impactful; just sitting in play for two turn cycles before a wrath deals 16 damage and gains you 4 life, so you don’t mind sweeping it away. Its immense stat line plus deathtouch make it a perfect blocker. Lots of utility comes from taxing card draw as well.

Orcish Bowmasters

Orcish Bowmasters similarly opposes your opponents’ card draw. Creating two bodies at flash speed provides another “combat trick” to defend your planeswalkers.

Veil of Summer

Veil of Summer is a must-have for a deck like this; playing a bunch of sorcery-speed threats that often cost 4 or more mana leaves you vulnerable to countermagic, making the protection very nice.

Eternal Witness

The only scenario when I wouldn’t want Eternal Witness in my deck would be if my list was chock-full of Torpor Orb effects.

Being in Golgari gives you some excellent removal options. Bitter Triumph is a recent entry that’s made my staple list as a better Infernal Grasp. Tear Asunder and Assassin's Trophy make for excellent pieces of flexible spot removal. This list has less dedicated spot removal than I normally run because you have a bunch of board wipes, and many of your planeswalkers can destroy creatures, artifacts, and enchantments.

It’s hard for me to leave home without Night's Whisper and Sign in Blood as highly efficient card draw spells. Sylvan Library provides bursts of card advantage; even when you can’t afford the life loss, Carth provides a kind of shuffling effect, and getting to see three cards regularly aids consistency.

Vampiric Tutor Demonic Tutor

Speaking of consistency, I’ve included Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor to help things flow smoothly. They’re far from necessary, but having two additional looks at a wrath or finisher does a lot.


Skullclamp is the final card draw entry. With so many cards producing 1/1s and ways to sacrifice other creatures, it would be crazy not to run one of the best artifacts in Commander. It also helps offset the card disadvantage of an unwieldy board wipe.

The Mana Base

This deck has so many sweeps that running mana dorks becomes awkward. Damnation looks much worse when it clears away half your mana sources. Because of this, I’ve turned to other sources of mana ramp. Artifacts are an excellent source of mana production, so the list has the omnipresent Sol Ring along with the on-color Signet and Talisman. Utopia Sprawl and Wild Growth let you accelerate from turn 1 and work well with your planeswalkers that untap lands. And you have a suite of Rampant Growth variants, including the OG, Three Visits, and Nature's Lore.

The deck still has a few creatures that generate mana. Sakura-Tribe Elder goes to the graveyard anyway, so you lose no value. Steve's better than the fourth Rampant Growth because it provides a body to sacrifice later in the game. Tangled Florahedron and Devoted Druid are the only traditional mana dorks. You don’t often see Devoted Druid in non-combo lists, but a 2-mana dork that can tap for 2 mana once is a really good card! Florahedron’s here because I love MDFC cards; Malakir Rebirth, Agadeem's Awakening, and Turntimber Symbiosis also grace the mana base.

Thirsting Roots

Thirsting Roots provides niche value. I’m a fan of these Lay of the Land variants we’ve been getting. This is effectively a tapped land early or a planeswalker ultimate late.

The other value and utility lands include Boseiju, Who Endures and Takenuma, Abandoned Mire as more gas in the mana base, and Karn's Bastion. I doubt you’ll find the spare mana to activate Bastion often, but your mana base can support one colorless land, so there’s a very low opportunity cost. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth enhance your mana while synergizing with Liliana of the Dark Realms and Nissa, Ascended Animist, respectively.

Beyond this, it’s all dual lands and basic lands to fix your mana. Your mana is rather demanding since most planeswalkers have double pips, but this mana base is quite solid, so you shouldn’t have many mana issues. You could even improve the mana base by ditching some basics in favor of cards like City of Brass or tapped lands like Golgari Rot Farm.

The Strategy

Play slow and hunker down! While you can have explosive starts (typically fueled by a fast Liliana of the Dark Realms emblem) a planeswalker-centric deck plays slow. It doesn’t have much of a choice since it takes time to uptick and ultimate—though cutting down on said time is the primary reason you’re running Carth the Lion as your commander.

This deck has an ideal curve: Play a 2-mana accelerant on turn 2, Carth on turn 3, then a 4- or 5-mana planeswalker, preferably one that can ultimate the turn after you cast it. This gives your opponents a small window of time to build enough of a board state to pressure your planeswalker, especially since Carth is such an effective blocker. Most of this deck’s accelerants cost 2 mana to facilitate this start as consistently as possible.

Once you get into the games, it’s all about patience. Your planeswalkers can dominate the late game, and all your wraths give you tools to reach that stage. Focus on spending the early turns ramping and deploying planeswalkers. Casting a bunch of them is useful; once you have two or three in play, you’re generating enough value to progress your board state, but you’ll often churn out enough tokens and other defensive measures your opponents will struggle to handle them.

The win condition is pretty much that of a token deck: You want to amass a wide board, then throw out an Overrun to finish things off. You’ll utilize planeswalkers as enablers; cards like Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, Garruk, Primal Hunter, and Grist, the Hunger Tide provide the bodies while Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, and Nissa, Ascended Animist give them the claws needed to win. Playing tokens and sweepers seems a little discordant, but that’s the beauty of planeswalkers: You can cast Damnation, then rebuild your board within a turn or two since the source of the creatures sticks around.

As a final note, I want to bring up the planeswalker count. You might think 15 isn’t a lot, and you’re right. But you want quality over quantity; plus, too many planeswalkers can become unwieldy if they clutter up your hand. Carth the Lion’s triggers will whiff from time to time. That’s okay; you’re mostly interested in its stats as a defender and the speed its second ability provides.

Combos and Interactions

This deck has no infinite combos, but it has some interesting interactions.

Carth the Lion MH2

Carth the Lion’s templating took me a moment to get used to when I first saw the card, so I want to take a moment to explain it. When you activate a planeswalker’s ability, adding or subtracting loyalty counters is a cost you’re paying to activate the ability. Carth modifies that cost by adding 1 loyalty counter to it. An ability that costs 0 or more loyalty counters adds an additional loyalty counter; abilities that require you to remove loyalty counters cost one less because you’re adding a positive balance to a negative one.

Liliana of the Dark Realms

This is what enables your planeswalkers to ult within a turn. Let’s take Liliana of the Dark Realms as an example. Upticking Liliana with Carth in play adds two loyalty instead of one, bringing it up to five loyalty. Because the ultimate costs one less, that five loyalty lets you create the emblem. This interaction is why Carth the Lion is the commander.

Kaya's Ghostform

The other card I want to highlight is Kaya's Ghostform. While it’s generally a protective piece to slap onto a creature or planeswalker you want to defend from your opponents, it’s strong in coordination with your planeswalkers that sacrifice cards. You can put it on Carth the Lion, then sacrifice it to Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools to draw three or four cards. You could put it on any planeswalker you’re about to ultimate to get it back; that also lets you recur planeswalkers you sacrifice to Vraska, Golgari Queen.

Rule 0 Violations Check

You should be good here. This is a fundamentally fair Golgari deck with a straightforward game plan, and it’s not like your opponents can’t interact (though you make it tricky). Some tables might not like Orcish Bowmasters because it’s incredibly powerful, and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider could rub players who dislike Doubling Season effects the wrong way, but I doubt much else in the deck could raise eyebrows.

Budget Options

My first bit of advice to save on decks always looks to the mana base. Cut fetch lands, shock lands, and the like for gates and other tapped lands, turn MDFC lands and channel lands into basics, and so on. This deck could get away with a mana base of 17 copies of each basic plus a few Evolving Wilds variants if you wanted a cheap mana base. You could also look to trim some of the more expensive cards.

Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor might be the most replaceable cards in the deck. Any cheap card draw effect works here; Read the Bones is a good option; the deck has enough tokens to support Deadly Dispute as well.

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is irreplaceable, but I’d start with Elder Gargaroth. It fulfills the role of “over-sized creature that blocks well;” the anti-draw tech is much harder to find. Orcish Bowmasters is in a similar space as a multi-format staple with an astronomical price. Ravenous Chupacabra could be an okay creature, or maybe Tendershoot Dryad for more token tech.

Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider provides lots of acceleration but could be contentious; another way to bolster your counters should Carth be unavailable gets this spot, like Contagion Clasp.

Endurance could be any form of graveyard hate. Relic of Progenitus and Stone of Erech are fine starting points.

Damnation and The Meathook Massacre (and to a lesser degree Toxic Deluge) are all pricy wraths, but black has an abundance of budget-friendly options around the 5-mana mark, including Crux of Fate and Deadly Cover-Up.

Call of the Ring makes a good alternative to Sylvan Library.

Other Builds

Carth the Lion needs planeswalkers to matter, but this isn’t the only build. An alternative build could lean hard into superfriends, jamming in more planeswalkers and wraths and abandoning all else to put the most planeswalkers into play possible; that would likely make this list more casual.

Another alternative would be to lean harder into a creature-based midrange deck. Cut back on the wraths in favor of efficient or disruptive threats like Glissa Sunslayer and Collector Ouphe to clutter the board, pressuring your opponents and protecting your planeswalkers. It would put the onus on your opponents to have the wraths, which would leave your planeswalkers untouched as a sort of insulation.

Commanding Conclusion

Kaya's Ghostform - Illustration by Johan Grenier

Kaya's Ghostform | Illustration by Johan Grenier

I’m a big fan of The Rock-style decks, so I feel a strong affinity for Carth the Lion as a commander. Playing Golgari superfriends cuts out some of the most fearsome planeswalkers, but it makes your choices more interesting in the trade-off. This deck looks to go long and bring the collective power of the planes to take out our opponents!

What’s your favorite planeswalker? Do you enjoy playing with or against superfriends decks in Commander? Let me know in the comments below or on the Draftsim Discord!

Stay safe and keep walking!

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