Magic: The Gathering’s ongoing series of creative crossovers, Universes Beyond, has turned fan-favorite characters from intellectual properties such as The Walking Dead, Street Fighter, and Stranger Things into Magic cards for both casual and competitive play. The latest venture into an established and beloved IP introduces the lore and carnage of Warhammer 40,000 to Magic players in the form of five new preconstructed decks ready to play right out of the box.
Fans of Warhammer can expect a variety of characters from the game’s history to appear in the upcoming release, including a certain three-armed gunslinger that’s designed to power up cards in his preconstructed deck, along with a ton of classic Magic staples that more enfranchised players can build entire decks around. Say hello to Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph.
There’s plenty to unpack about this card, both in its relationship to Warhammer’s history and its applications for ongoing Magic play. To help put this card into creative perspective, Ethan Fleischer, senior designer at Wizards of the Coast, shared some insights into this card’s design process and role in the upcoming Warhammer 40,000 release.
“Normally, when we design a Commander preconstructed deck, we emphasize mechanical themes over creative consistency,” Fleischer explained. “For the Warhammer 40,000 Universes Beyond Commander decks, our priorities were different. While each deck has a mechanical theme, we focused more on making sure that each of the decks is strongly creatively themed, with every creature belonging to one of Warhammer 40,000’s factions.”
Unlike previous Universes Beyond releases, which were primarily small assortments of several cards released in limited runs, the Warhammer products arrive in 100-card, ready-to-play Commander decks. Commander is a traditionally casual format that doesn’t receive sanctioned support from Wizards of the Coast for high-level competitive tournaments. While most of Magic’s other formats consist of 60-card decks with up to four copies of individual cards, Commander decks are only allowed to have one copy of a card, apart from the five basic lands. Likewise, each Commander deck’s makeup is dictated by the deck’s “general,” aka the commander whose colors determine the parameters for what type of cards are allowed in the deck.
In the case of Ghyrson Starn decks that feature him as the commander, cards can’t include colors other than red and blue, since his casting cost relies on red and blue mana. However, he’s not the actual face card of his preconstructed deck.
According to Fleischer, “Each of the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks contains two mythic rare legendary creature cards that were designed to operate as commanders for the deck. They each also contain several other legendary creatures. Many of these legendary creatures were designed to be usable as commanders for a different style of deck. Ghyrson Starn is one such card. He doesn’t tie into the main theme of the Tyranid Swarm deck, which is ramping into large creatures and +1/+1 counters. However, he is functional in the deck, turning the numerous 1/1 tokens that players can establish in certain game states into more credible threats.”
Fleischer adds, “Ghyrson’s true utility lies in his power as a commander in his own right. He combos powerfully with popular cards that deal 1 damage, such as Immolation Shaman, Raid Bombardment, and even truly ancient cards from early Magic expansions such as Prodigal Sorcerer and Quicksilver Dagger.”
If it’s 1-damage pingers that Ghyrson Starn is meant to combo with, deck designers will find a plethora of classic and perhaps even forgotten tools to design a new deck around. Fleischer pointed to Prodigal Sorcerer, a card that’s been reprinted several times but first appeared in Magic’s original release 30 years ago. Since then, similar creatures and additional combo pieces have joined the fray that can round out an entire Ghyrson Starn deck.
Putting together a 100-card deck that functions against other strategies requires equal parts creativity and consistency, but since Commander decks are limited to one copy per card, one of the simplest ways to ensure some amount of strategic consistency is by including multiple cards that do the same thing. While Prodigal Sorcerer was the first of its kind, newer versions have been printed in both red and blue colors.
Cards such as Gelectrode, Thermo-Alchemist, and Cinder Pyromancer take the Prodigal Sorcerer ability and make it repeatable, allowing you to leverage Ghyrson Starn’s power to turn 1 damage into 3 into a faster clock that can potentially destroy an entire battlefield of opposing creatures.
Likewise, attaching equipment artifacts or aura enchantments to these 1-damage pingers can generate extra value from their innate abilities, creating some added utility even if Starn isn’t in play.
Gorgon Flail and Basilisk Collar, for example, give your creatures deathtouch, meaning any damage dealt to another creature instantly kills it, even if a single point of damage wouldn’t normally be enough. Attach a Flail to one of our tappable creatures, and you can start mowing down an opponent’s board without relying on a dystopian, futuristic machine gun.
As long as you’re putting a bunch of creatures that tap for damage into your deck, why not close out games even faster with an infinite combo? With Illusionist’s Bracers and Aphetto Alchemist on the board, you can activate your creatures as many times as you want in a single turn, since the Alchemist untaps creatures and Bracers lets you copy this ability to untap one other creature too. Tap your old Prodigal Sorcerer to deal one or more damage, activate the Alchemist to untap the Sorcerer, copy the Alchemist’s ability with Bracers to also untap Alchemist, and pew-pew to your heart’s content (or until the game ends because you’ve won).
Ghyrson Starn might not be central to this combo, but since he’s the reason you’re putting a card like Prodigal Sorcerer into your deck, Starn will be pleased to see you’ve blasted your way to victory with or without his help.
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph will appear in the red/green/blue Tyranid Swarm deck, which comes out alongside three other Warhammer 40,000 decks on Oct. 7.