Or at least, you've already met the creature behind the card.
The creature of which I speak shows up in Flight of the White Cat, the comic that explores how Ajani became a planeswalker.
Today's preview card is not a leonin, one of Ajani's pridemates that shows up in Part I or Part II. Today's preview card is not one of the humans who pursues Ajani, or one of the goblins he meets on Jund, or one of the nightmarish creatures that took Jazal's life that fateful night.
Today's preview card is a dragon.
Go ahead, check out Part III of the comic—I'll wait.
ENOUGH WAITING! I'm impatient (just like today's preview card).
Today's preview card is a dragon, a massive hellkite native to Jund, and a king among dragonkind. While all of Jund's dragons command the respect of the rest of the food chain below them, today's preview card commands the respect of his fellow dragons.
Hey. It's good to be the king.
So, Karrthus is impressive—but when do we cast him?
The Two Karrthus Situations
A planeswalker would only summon Karrthus in two situations. The first situation, which comes up pretty frequently—almost every game of Magic, handily enough—is when the planeswalker wants to kill his or her opponent, thereby winning the game. Karrthus is a hasty 7/7 flyer, you see. We were going to name him Karrthus "You are now one third of the way there" Tyrant of Jund, but it did not fit on the card. If you are interested in destroying enchantments, look elsewhere. If you are interested in manipulating the top three cards of your library, try another preview. If you are interested in killing opponents, well, Karrthus is there for you. Karrthus is a tool for killing opponents. Summon him, and he will kill them for you.
The second kind of situation comes up less frequently, but has far, far more potential for grim hilarity. Ask anybody who knows me, and they will tell you—I am a man who enjoys grim hilarity. Grim hilarity happens when your opponent realizes that they have brought a knife to a thermonuclear warhead fight. It happens when your opponent realizes not only that they had been operating on a few bad assumptions, but that their entire familial bloodline has redefined wrongness by the sheer logic-disintegrating vastness of their incorrectitude. And there's an element of enjoyment in grim hilarity—your own. It's not just an experience of chuckling at their misfortune—it's an extended, almost embarrassingly tearful guffaw at the smoking corpse of what they had proffered forth as their "strategy." For "winning" the "game."
Not everyone digs on the grim hilarity. (If you are not that person, thank you for indulging the rest of us, and you may click away whenever you find it convenient.)
You see, the second kind of situation in which a planeswalker would summon Karrthus is when an opponent controls another dragon. Get your hanky ready, because this is when it gets so, so, tear-duct-engagingly good.
The hilarity is borne of the fact that they thought they were going to use that dragon over there to—get this—kill you! They had invested all that time, deck manipulation, and effort to get that big ol' dragon to appear on their side! They had paid all their mana, sacrificed all their devour victims as appropriate, and after plunking it down, had breathed a sigh—seriously—of relief!
You and the Karrthus in your hand have my official permission to indulge in a devilish, conspiratorial, mutual wink right before he makes his dramatic entrance on the field of battle (actual Dramatic Entrance optional).
And—should your opponent have mustered up more than one dragon (maybe your foe was involved in the care and feeding of a Dragon Broodmother and her brood, or perhaps he was attempting to get jiggy with a Kamigawa-style air force of a Keiga, the Tide Star and a Kokusho, the Evening Star), then the situation is even more ripe for hideous laughter (actual Hideous Laughter optional). Karrthus, you see, isn't a Petty Middle Manager of Jund. He's not even a Legitimately Elected Official of Jund. He's the Tyrant. He gets all them dragons.
Getting Tricky with Karrthus
That's probably plenty; having one amazing game in which you steal and attack with all your opponents' precious dragons will be enough to fuel your stories for generations. Your grandchildren will never tire of the Tale of the Karrthuspocalypse (Karrthusaster? Karrthastrophe?), I promise you. But should you be interested in getting a little clever, Karrthus has some fun additional rules interactions. All aboard the Johnny Train.
Of course, our first stop is Creature Type Depot. Karrthus's domineering ability is essentially a tribal mechanic, which means he steals all of your opponents' changelings and activated Mutavaults for free. For a more proactive approach, you can use creature-type-changing effects like Amoeboid Changeling, the perennial Johnny favorite Unnatural Selection, or (the grimly hilarious) Standardize to prepare the board for Karrthus's arrival. Congratulations, nasty creature, you're a Dragon until end of turn! Now get over here. Forever. (Karrthus's stealing ability doesn't end at the end of the turn, even if the creatures he steals stop being Dragons.)
Rafiq of the Many: I—I was a dragon for a little bit, there. But I'm me again. Why am I over here?
Karrthus: Hush, human, and give me double strike.
Or you could get even weirder. If you were to somehow give Dragons, or changelings, to your opponents, Karrthus could take them back again. Has that Crib Swap token been a thorn in your side? Have you done something nasty with an Avarice Totem or Chromeshell Crab, donating a Woodland Changeling to your opponent's board for the price of his best critter? Karrthus will bring all these prodigal "Dragons" back home—and give all your homebound changelings haste in the meantime.
There's also some tricky stuff you can do with Karrthus's triggered ability on the stack—the Johnny Train rolls into some fun territory here. Let's say you had both Amoeboid Changeling and Karrthus in your graveyard, and you've just cast Patriarch's Bidding naming Dragons ....
Amoeboid Changeling: I'm a Squid Advisor!
Karrthus: I have arrived on the battlefield as well.
Amoeboid Changeling: I'm a Giant Ooze!
Karrthus: I've put my ability on the stack. Prepare, my dragon minions, to rejoin your king!
Amoeboid Changeling: I'm an Elder Goat!
Karrthus: Ahem, little blue Dragon. Is there anything you wanted to do before my ability resolves?
Amoeboid Changeling: Um, boss, I have to tap to do my thing.
Karrthus: You are a Dragon, are you not?
Amoeboid Changeling: I'm a Graveborn Minotaur!
Karrthus: And a Dragon.
Amoeboid Changeling: Of course!
Karrthus: You have haste.
Amoeboid Changeling: Ohhhhh.
Karrthus: Now you see.
Amoeboid Changeling: Uh, hey, you over there, Godsire! You're a Dragon!
Karrthus: Thank you.
Godsire: Huh. Good to know. Okay, that resolves.
Karrthus: Now my ability resolves. I GAIN CONTROL OF ALL DRAGONS.
Godsire: Yes, my master! I am your servant forever!
Amoeboid Changeling: And I'm a Phoenix Ninja!
Amoeboid Changeling: Yes, boss?
Karrthus: You untap.
Amoeboid Changeling: Wheeeee!
Note, incidentally, that Karrthus actually gains control of, and untaps, himself. I'm not sure how you can abuse that—that's off the Johnny Train's beaten tracks, if I can so mangle this extended metaphor. Maybe you could tap Karrthus with Glare of Subdual with his ability on the stack, tapping down the one Birds of Paradise that would block His Hastiness, then let him untap himself to crash over for 7. Or if you somehow traded Karrthus away to an opponent with his ability on the stack—I don't know, some sort of Confusion in the Ranks thing, with the triggered abilities stacked carefully—you could get His Thievingness back with his own ability.
But I think that's the last stop on the Johnny Express. (Express trains generally only have one stop anyway? But the Johnny Express has as many as Johnny wants.) Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund has a lot of brute power, and a bunch of surprisingly subtle tricks. I hope you open Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund at the Alara Reborn prerelease this weekend, and enjoy appeasing a tyrannical dragon (actual Dragon Appeasement optional)! But wait—you can find Karrthus in even more places than that.
Karrthus is more than just a force on the battlefield; he's also a player in the Alara storyline. I've mentioned that Karrthus appears in the web comic, Flight of the White Cat, Part III.
But he also appears later in the story of Alara's converging shards. In the block novel, Alara Unbroken, Sarkhan Vol acquires the power to summon this tyrannical brute personally. The two of them together form a fearsome force, wreaking havoc on the jungles of—well, you'll have to see what they wreak havoc on when the book comes out on May 5th. (I know, I know. I tease and I plug, and you can't even buy the book yet. I'm excited, is all—expect to see me fire off the Plug-o-Matic 3000 a few more times.)
Letter of the Week
Today's letter comes from Keith, who not only displays great creativity regarding planeswalking vis-à-vis deck building and an artful in-character discourse on the flavor of retrace, but also demonstrates the power of a planeswalker's ability to call upon magics from more than one world.
Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Vorthos Award Results and Keyword Flavor":
I am one of the new wave of planeswalkers, and I know little of what happened before the Mending. I have been told that I am a Vorthos, though I am not entirely sure what that means. I first travelled to the plane of Lorwyn, drawn there by my love of Welsh mythology. There I heard the tales of Rhys, Ashling and the event that transformed the plane into Shadowmoor. I wished to acquire some elvish spells, but discovered that I could no longer obtain spells from Lorwyn or Shadowmoor. I was advised to visit the broken plane of Alara instead - specifically the jungle-shard of Naya, where another race of elves, the Cylian, lived. I met these elves and their "gods", the mighty behemoths. I also encountered an intriguing race of cat-people called the Nacatl, and became friends with the planeswalker Ajani, who agreed to assist me in my endeavours.
Then I heard a rumour that I could acquire some Eventide spells after all, so I travelled back to Shadowmoor. One of the spells I acquired whilst there was a sorcery spell called Raven's Crime, which has the power to strip away one of my opponent's memories. I have always been fond of ravens, so I studied this sorcery carefully. I discovered it had an unusual mechanism called Retrace. If I have already cast Raven's Crime, I can discard a land spell, retrieve Raven's Crime, and cast it again.
At first this did not make much sense to me, so I researched the word retrace. I discovered that it meant "to go back over again". This can be literal, as in retracing your steps along a path in order to return to where you started. It can also be figurative, to retrace over events in your mind, your memory. I thought about this for a bit, and the mechanics of the spell became clearer to me. In my mind, I see myself at a fork in a path. To one side, the path travels though a new land where I have not travelled before. I know that travelling that way will expand my mana pool, which could aid in summoning large creatures like my behemoths. To the other side of the fork is a very familiar path. I have travelled down that path before, and know that it leads to a place where my raven minion awaits. I need only travel down it again, and order my minion to strip away another memory. But if I do so, if I travel down the old familiar path, then I am discarding the chance to travel along new path, and gain more mana from that experience. It was especially satisfying that I could use my own memory to remove the memories of my opponents.
So, I was fond of Raven's Crime, but I could not see a use for it alongside my Cylian, Nacatl and behemoth followers. So I travelled back to Naya and practised summoning another Eventide spell, Wickerbough Elder. My followers were not impressed (which is understandable - they know nothing of Esper's deadly artifact creatures).
I did not think of ravens again, until I met a planeswalker who mentioned that one of his followers was the legendary elf warrior, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. It seems that every time I cast or re-cast Raven's Crime, Nath can summon an elf warrior. This was an interesting concept, which I hope to explore further at some stage. But I have little time for it now. The Conflux has begun and Naya is invaded on two fronts. I care little for the warriors of Bant and their ridiculous ritualistic duels. The creatures of Jund, however, intrigue me. My Cylian and Nacatl followers believe that dragons and wurms are new species of behemoth. That suits me perfectly. I think I will need a few dragons on my side if the rumours about Grixis are true...
I very much enjoyed your letter, Keith—I love seeing this kind of thought devoted to the planeswalker viewpoint. This really got me thinking—what other magics from other worlds could help in the plight of Alara's various shards? A planeswalker who knew how to summon an Eventide Wickerbough Elder or a Nemesis Woodripper or an Urza's Destiny Viashino Heretic would be a huge force against the forces of Esper. Similarly, a mage who imported knowledge of Coldsnap's Deathmark, Dissension's Pure, or (heaven forbid) Tempest's Perish would represent a devastating power against the behemoths of Naya.
This really drives home the power of planeswalkers—they're the only beings who can "combo" with spells drawn from different worlds. Pre-Aurora Nath of the Gilt-Leaf plus post-Aurora Raven's Crime is just the beginning. Just imagine if planeswalker-Keith traveled to Ravnica and learned to summon Abyssal Nocturnus to go with his recursive Raven's Crime, or if he visited Mirrodin and got a glimpse at Geth's Grimoire for further discard-comboing. Make a deal to summon up the notorious Liliana Vess, and you're really taking advantage of the power of many worlds' magics—a tapestry woven of such exotic spellcraft that a simple Naya shaman could never imagine it. Now, if you need a suggestion for a Jund dragon to summon, Keith, I have a personal favorite in Alara Reborn ....