Constructing Flavor: Barinellos’ Planeswalkers

Constructing Flavor focuses on Magic decks built around a particular flavor or lore theme. These can be focused around a particular tribe, storyline, character, or concept; if it’s flavorful, we wanna see it! If you have a themed deck you’d like to see featured in this column, send the list to

Kiora Atua by Scott M. Fisher, Ral Zarek by Eric Deschamps, Karn Liberated by Jason Chan All Images © 1993 - 2013 Wizards of the Coast, LLC

(left to right) Kiora Atua by Scott M. Fisher, Ral Zarek by Eric Deschamps, Karn Liberated by Jason Chan
All Images © 1993 – 2013 Wizards of the Coast, LLC

When Michael H., a.k.a. Barinellos, isn’t busy posting on the Wizards forums or being an administrator on the MTG Salvation Wiki, he’s hard at work accomplishing his dream: to construct a deck based around every single Planeswalker character who has been given a card. A noble goal! I took a look at some of them and found them to be extremely well-designed; while not tournament-level competitive, they are representative of the characters and feel like about the same power level as the Duel Decks. We’re going to look at three of his decks today, get a little commentary on how and why he assembled them in this manner, and explore what it means to make a flavorful Planeswalker deck.

Kiora Atua’s Deck: “Hidden Depths”


2 Shimmering Grotto
2 Slippery Karst
7 Forest
11 Island

3 Rampant Growth
4 Prey Upon
2 Mighty Emergence
2 Savage Silhouette
1 Lurking Predators
2 Thrive
2 Research the Deep
1 Mysteries of the Deep
4 Kraken Hatchling
2 Fathom Seer
2 Riftwing Cloudskate
2 Man-o’-War
3 Ætherplasm
2 Harbor Serpent
2 Benthicore
1 Denizen of the Deep
1 Trench Gorger
1 Deep-Sea Kraken
1 Stormtide Leviathan

We’ll start with a deck that, according to Michael, was “a b**** to assemble. The fact that there was so little green to Kiora’s basic nature was one of the most difficult things to overcome, but given some squinting and creative reinterpretation, I think I’ve managed to nail down some resonant aspects.”

Personally, I see Kiora as the “Garruk of the Sea”; they both make a thing out of bonding and fighting with the huge and ferocious beasts of their respective environments. So it makes sense that this deck sort of looks like the Garruk deck from Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. A little ramp, a little creature acceleration, and a ton of fatties to drop once you hit that crucial mana threshold. This deck is both functional and flavorful, but if I was making improvements I would add some soft removal towards the bottom of the curve. Ramp decks can take a few turns to get going, and tapping down or unsummoning attackers buys Kiora the time she needs to properly introduce her real friends. Also, in a creature-heavy deck like this that wants to drop big blue creatures, we may have finally found a home for Quest for Ula’s Temple.

Ral Zarek’s Deck: “Sturm und Drang”


2 Izzet Boilerwork
1 Izzet Guildgate
7 Mountain
7 Island

1 Ral Zarek

4 Lightning Bolt
2 Staggershock
2 Electrolyze
2 Mystic Retrieval
1 Homing Lightning
1 Elemental Appeal
1 Prophetic Bolt
1 Leyline of Lightning
3 Spark Elemental
2 Sparkmage Apprentice
2 Izzet Guildmage
2 Wall of Air
2 Gelectrode
2 Nivix Cyclops
2 Primal Plasma
2 Air Servant
1 Djinn Illuminatus
1 Maelstrom Djinn
1 Lightning Serpent

2 Courier’s Capsule
2 Izzet Cluestone
1 Izzet Signet
3 Thunderstaff

Barinellos showed a little bit of the Firemind’s Foresight with this deck, since he built most of it way back when Ral was first premiered. Without the benefit of the Secretist novels or Ral’s cards in the Return to Ravnica block, Michael simply made do with what he imagined Ral’s combat style to be like, and he was right on the money.

Thunder and lightning are abound in this deck, as well as the Izzet’s trademark elementals. “Ral is best characterized as brilliant, arrogant, and impulsive,” Barinellos explains. “Cards like Spark Elemental and Maelstrom Djinn show the immediate and callous way Ral uses other beings, and he relies on things like Mystic Retrieval and Thunderstaff to cover his shortcomings.” Ral is perfectly at home in this midrange/burn deck. The only improvement I would make is the replacement of the two Izzet Guildmages with the newer Nivix Guildmage. Nothing against the original, which is a great combo engine in other decks, but in this one its only valid target for spell copying is Lightning Bolt. The Nivix Guildmage has free range on Instant/Sorcery copying, and his looting ability helps you dig for the spell you need most.

Karn’s Deck: “Clockwork World”


3 Swamp
3 Island
3 Plains
3 Mountain
3 Forest
1 Urza’s Tower
1 Urza’s Mine
1 Urza’s Power Plant
1 Urza’s Factory
1 Academy Ruins

4 Myr Servitor
2 Gold Myr
2 Silver Myr
3 Alloy Myr
3 Myr Galvanizer
1 Precursor Golem
1 Platinum Emperion
1 Karn Liberated

2 Shrine of Loyal Legions
2 Rusted Relic
2 Gemstone Array
1 Legacy Weapon

3 Clockspinning
2 Otherworldly Journey
3 War Report
2 Telling Time
1 Distant Memories
1 Time Reversal
1 Time Warp
2 Vigil for the Lost
1 Cast Through Time

Last and certainly not least is my absolute favorite deck of the bunch. Karn’s deck is a flavor knockout, and it was no accident. “Originally Karn was a triple-color deck with the five types of mana, as Karn had been shown to use a number of electrical spells, but I decided that something just didn’t settle well with his personality in using such violent spells,” Michael reasoned. “Karn’s deck is built around the kind of massive power an oldwalker can wield, and that’s why the infinite mana combo was the foundation of the deck from the outset. Inclusion of cards such as Legacy Weapon are really serendipitous given the kind of raw mana you can generate.”

The combo he is referring to is generated by Karn’s little Myr buddies; any two mana Myr, plus two Galvanizers, leads to an endless chain of tapping and untapping that eventually produces an arbitrarily large amount of mana, which can be made into any color thanks to Gemstone Array. This mana can then be channeled into massive life gain via Vigil for the Lost, a Myr army courtesy of Clockspinning and Shrine of Loyal Legions, or simple mass destruction of permanents through the aforementioned flavor gem that is Legacy Weapon. In the midst of all that, we also have shades of Karn’s other powers of time travel and teleportation through cards like Otherworldly Journey and Telling Time. Karn’s Golem family of Precursor Golem and Rusted Relic also show up for the battle.

My absolute favorite thing about this deck, though, is how well the win conditions match Karn’s personality. Karn is a well-established pacifist who is very rarely moved to violence, so I love that the end games of the Legacy Weapon lock and the infinite life gain don’t actually straight-up kill the opponent. It’s the same reason that the abilities of Karn Liberated also have nothing to do with reducing your opponent’s life to zero. Forcing a concession, rather than a loss, feels like an extremely “Karn” way to win. I wouldn’t change a single thing about this deck; you just don’t mess with perfection.

There are many more decks that Mr. Barinellos has built, so I highly doubt we’ve seen the last of him in this column. If you’d like to talk to him about what it takes to assemble a character-based deck, he’s always happy to chat on the Wizards forums or on his User Talk page at the MTG Salvation Wiki.

2 Responses to “Constructing Flavor: Barinellos’ Planeswalkers”
  1. Aroni Hipperson says:

    I love themed decks and I hate pulling them apart to borrow creatures. I had a cute vampire deck led by Sorin, Nissa Elf deck, Jace the Zombie Milling deck and Gideon’s Soldiers. All of them were very balanced and made for some very interesting matches.

    Q. Who came up with the Maori name, “Kiaora Atua”? I’m half Maori. That means “Hello God”. And recently I found an old card named “Taniwha”, Maori for River Dragon. Check it out:

    Taniwha on

    • You should submit some of your theme decks to be featured in this column! Barinellos told me that he has a “distinct feeling most people wouldn’t approve of my Nissa deck because it isn’t elfy enough,” so he probably won’t let me see it.

      As for Kiora’s name, her Salvation Wiki entry confirms its Maori origins. Doug Beyer, MTG Creative, would probably know why they chose that name; if you’re inclined, you can ask him about it on his Tumblr.

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