When some Magic the Gathering veteran players first read Sarulf, Realm Eater, they saw an effect very similar to Ratchet Bomb, except with +1/+1 counters. The Ratchet Bomb was a powerful card in Magic the Gathering in multiple competitive formats, allowing you to charge it up, then destroy each nonland permanent with the same converted mana cost as the number of counters on the Ratchet Bomb when it was sacrificed. However, Sarulf is closer to a much older Enchantment called Pernicious Deed, and in fact, is strictly better than both the Bomb and the Deed.
Sarulf, Realm Eater is a three-mana Wolf with a 3/3 body, who costs 1 colorless, 1 Black, and 1 Green mana to cast. His first ability reads “whenever a permanent an opponent controls is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, put a +1/+1 counter on Sarulf, Realm Eater.”
Already, this is a very good creature. Green and Black decks love blowing things up, of course. But, the second effect is where things get especially interesting.
“At the beginning of your upkeep, if Sarulf has one or more +1/+1 counters on it, you may remove all of them. If you do, exile each other nonland permanent with a converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of counters removed this way.”
Talk about a board reset! But, you may notice that Sarulf’s second ability reads ‘exile’ and not ‘destroy.’ That doesn’t seem to work very well with his first ability, which it doesn’t. Of course, if it did, you’d just blow up the entire board every turn, which is extremely silly and broken.
That being said, Sarulf, Realm Eater is actually better than both Ratchet Bomb and Pernicious Deed, and somewhat hilariously, may actually want both of those cards in a deck alongside him in Commander. But, since we don’t have Pernicious Deed in Standard or Modern, and no Ratchet Bomb in Standard currently, how does this guy work in a Constructed deck, especially in Standard?
First, let’s look at Pernicious Deed and Ratchet Bomb.
Like Sarulf, Pernicious Deed costs 3 mana to cast, but its ability requires you to pay X mana to get the same effect. Also, the Deed only hits artifacts, creatures, and enchantments, whereas Sarulf can also hit planeswalkers. That’s because the original printing of Pernicious Deed came back in Invasion, long before Planeswalkers were even thought of existing. Again, unlike Sarulf, Pernicious Deed destroys, not exiles, and also must sacrifice itself rather than remove counters.
Ratchet Bomb is much more specific in how it goes about its job. You actually have to tick it up by tapping it to add a charge counter. However, it only hits nonland permanents of a specific converted mana cost, meaning you can play around it with your own stuff. You can’t do that with Pernicious Deed or Sarulf, both of which just take out anything that’s not a land with that mana cost or less.
So, how do you build around a Legendary Creature like Sarulf? The issue is that he exiles everything, rather than destroys it. One line of thinking is to focus around cheap mana dorks and tokens that you don’t really mind getting exiled. There are also cards that interact with cards in exile, such as Kaldheim’s Kaya the Inexorable. Perhaps some sort of three or four color control deck could play around with Sarulf.
What Else in Zendikar Rising Standard Works with Sarulf, Realm Eater?
There’s a Planeswalker in White from Magic 2021 Core Set that interacts well with Sarulf. That’s Basri Ket, who has a plus ability that puts a +1/+1 counter on a target creature and an emblem that not only gives you a 1/1 Soldier token for free at the beginning of each combat, but also puts a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control. Since the emblem sticks around all game no matter what, you have continuous fuel for Sarulf, plus tokens that will come into play after you use Sarulf’s ability.
Magic 2021 Core Set also has the Conclave Mentor, which makes it so whenever a creature would get a +1/+1 counter it gets an additional one. It’s just two mana, one Green, one White, so it would seem to fit with the three-color deck that would best suit Sarulf in Standard.
If you want to venture into Blue, as well (yikes, four colors!) there’s Eutropia the Twice-Favored. This Human Wizard has a Constellation ability where whenever an enchantment enters the battlefield under your control, you get to put a +1/+1 counter on a target creature and give it flying until end of turn. Sarulf seems like a strange choice for an Enchantment-heavy deck, but the synergy is there.
Speaking of Enchantments, there are two Sagas that work nicely with Sarulf. There’s The First Iroan Games, which can even give your Sarulf three additional +1/+1 counters. Also, there’s Kiora Bests the Sea God, which you can happily play after Sarulf goes off, and get an 8/8 Kraken, as well as prevent your opponent from really being able to stabilize with chapters II and III of the Saga.
White also has some nice interactive cards like the instant Feat of Resistance which both puts a +1/+1 counter on a creature and gives it protection from the color of your choice until end of turn. It’s a nice way to both pump Sarulf and potentially protect him from a revenge kill. Felidar Retreat, an Enchantment from Zendikar Rising, also has the ability to create a 2/2 token or put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control whenever you put a land into play. The Enchantment is four mana, so if you decide to activate Sarulf with 3 counters, the Retreat would survive, although the tokens (being 0 converted mana cost) would not.
One card that actually does work well with Sarulf is The Great Henge. It’s a 9-mana Enchantment that can be cast for much less thanks to costing X less to cast where X is the greatest power among creatures you control. It will very easily survive most activations of Sarulf, and while the Great Henge doesn’t often interact directly with Sarulf, it’s worth considering simply because it will help you rebuild faster thanks to putting a +1/+1 counter on each nontoken creature you play and draws you a card, too.
There are other cards that would seem to interact with Sarulf, Realm Eater in Standard, but they depend on things dying and going to the graveyard. Heliod, Sun-Crowned has proven his worth in Standard, putting +1/+1 counters on creatures or Enchantments whenever you gain life. But, his best feature, which is indestructibility, doesn’t stop him from being exiled. So, we’ll see what Kaldheim has to give Sarulf. If we move into Modern, though, there are plenty of other cards that could work with Sarulf. We’ll explore Sarulf in Modern at a later date, as that exploration could be an article in and of itself.
Sarulf, Realm Eater in Commander
In Commander, there are so many ways to interact with +1/+1 counters that being able to manipulate how many counters Sarulf has on him at any given time is rather easy. That’s even without having White or Blue in his own deck. Of course, a Legendary Creature with that sort of ability, especially one that has to stick around for your next upkeep step at the beginning of your turn, is going to draw a lot of hate. So, protecting him will be a huge deal, and many of the things that will protect him get exiled with his ability, which is rather annoying.
One very good suggestion for Sarulf is to make him a Voltron-style Commander. Tomer Abramovici talks about this in his “Analyzing Four New Kaldheim Commanders” video on MTGGoldfish. Since Commander is a format full of fetch lands and plenty of cards that sacrifice either themselves or others for value, Sarulf can grow on his own rather quickly. Depending on Sarulf to beat opponents down threatening Commander damage (it takes only 21 damage for a Commander to take down a player) seems like a better bet than focusing on his ability to take out most of the board in one shot.
It seems to me that Sarulf, Realm Eater will be in the 99 for many Green/Black focused Commanders who don’t mind having things on their board exiled. But, I can see him being a very powerful, if easily hated, Commander in his own right. Decks led by Sarulf will have to act fast, though, since he’ll easily be the first target in a multiplayer game. I think that Sarulf best lends himself to a competitive 1vs1 EDH deck for that reason.
How would you play Sarulf, Realm Eater?
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