It’s easy to see why Kaervek the Merciless can be found in a lot of midrange, Burn, or in the 99 of other decks: he gives you triggers whenever your opponents cast spells. These triggers don’t require mana input and because they can target a creature or player they allow you to be either interactive or aggressive. This deck was designed on a budget for MTGO (it costs about 44 tix).
I choose to build a Black/Red storm deck with Kaervek because I wanted a plan B that was interactive and could buy me time through sniping creatures. There are also strange starting hands that enable you to spend your rituals early to cast Kaervek. While its totally possible to have him die to spot removal there are some pods where people are not running much spot removal at all.
The Main Strats
Kaervek’s really not the point of the deck. As with any storm deck the main goal is to cast a bunch of spells (netting mana and card advantage) and winning via a card that cares about how many spells you cast during the same turn. These cards are usually Tendrils of Agony, Ignite Memories, or Aetherflux Reservoir. This deck usually wins by turn six if left unchecked but its not uncommon for the deck to win earlier.
While cards with the Storm mechanic are what occur at the end of your combo turns the real win conditions are Yawgmoth’s Will, Mizzix’s Mastery, and Ad Nauseam. They allow for you to build massive storm count from your graveyard or hand. You can also include Past in flames if you want but I think having three cards that facilitate flashing back spells from the yard is too much overlap – if we were not in black and didn’t have access to the best tutor-to-hand effects in the game I would strongly consider Past in flames.
With Ad Nauseam, you cast it and use your life total to draw a bunch of cards. Because we have 40 life we can reveal a bunch of cards. The highest CMC in the deck is 5, but beware of dropping below 10 life or so – if you plan on using Mizzix’s Mastery to win the game you are forced to cast all legal instant or sorcories in your graveyard. Some of the spells in your deck require you to loose life so you can actually die if your life total is too low.
Yawgmoth’s Will and Mizzix’s Mastery are probably the primary win conditions in the deck. This Black/Red storm deck runs a lot of spells that allow you to loot or draw a bunch of cards. Through looting or overdrawing you can easily fill your graveyard over time or in a single turn. Yawgmoth’s Will lets you ‘play’ any card from your graveyard – this includes hyper-efficient mana rocks or lands. Mizzix’s Mastery is special because it lets you cast spells for free. They just have to be instants or sorceries. Cards like Skirge Familiar and Putrid Imp allow you a easy way to cheat cards into your yard if need be.
When you are entering your storm turns usually you are balancing mana production (colored mana matters) with card draw. Eventually you’ll find Yawgmoth’s or Mastery and you’ll be able to recast all the spells you just cast on your turn to net tons of mana and card advantage. Because we also run several tutor effects like Demonic Tutor, Grim Tutor, and Diabolic Tutor we can often find the half of the deck we need, send it to the graveyard, then recast those tutors to find more of whatever we need to keep our storm engine going.
Playing Through Counterspells
The way this deck plays against countermagic is two fold. You either draw a bunch of cards and hope to overwhelm through the sheer number of cards you can cast or use Duress and Raven’s Crime to deplete counterspell shields. Raven’s Crime is awesome because if we get a really high card count in hand we can discard lands to cast it over and over – piercing counterspell shields as well as giving us super high storm count. Rakdos’s Return is another spell we can use to target the player most likely to counter our win conditions and force them to interact if they have anything. Mind Twist or Thoughtseize are other cards you could play if you wanted. If most of your opponents are playing blue counterspell decks Defense Grid could be a viable inclusion.
Playing Through Graveyard Hate
Graveyard hate can be very good or not effective at all against us – it really depends on what route the deck is taking. There are a lot of games where you loot aggressively and fill up your graveyard. If your opponents play Rest in Peace or something similar to Tormod’s Crypt you could be out of luck because you might have already committed essential parts to your combo turn to the graveyard.
The best way to play around graveyard hate is to play as if you didn’t have access to a graveyard. In order to do this you need to combo out from your hand alone. Ad Nauseam can win games by how much card advantage it can provide you. Because you can cast it at instant speed its also very versatile versus blue decks. Resolving a moderately large Diabolic Revelation can fetch you all the tools you need to win the following turn.
Lands like Cabal Coffers and Reliquary Tower are crucial for when you face these elongated games where you require more setup before initiating your combos. Boseiju, Who Shelters All is a playable land you could choose to run but I honestly think that it only net benefits the Mizzix’s Mastery line of play and hurts the other lines – the life loss is a greater cost to us than it is other decks.
Playing Around Hatebears or Artifacts
Some people will run effects similar to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Sphere of Resistance, or Eidolon of Rhetoric. We have Shatterstorm to answer artifact hate cards. We have Flame jab to kill Thalia. Wrecking Ball can kill a hatebear the turn before we want to combo out. Don’t forget that Kaervek the Merciless himself can come into play and snipe hatebears.
Other Set Combos and Cute Tricks
We have combos that don’t involve Tendrils or other cards with the “Storm” mechanic.
Aetherflux Reservoir allows us to both gain life and give us a alternate way to use our storm count to kill opponents.
You can cast Shatter Storm while you have artifacts in play (like mana rocks) to cast them later in your combo turn via Yagmoth’s Will – giving you more mana and higher storm count.
Paradox Engine nets you mana with every spell cast as long as you have mana rocks.