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. Ratchet Bomb was a powerful card in Magic the Gathering in multiple competitive formats, and still sees some play in Modern today. It allows you to tap it to charge it up on each of your turns, then you can sacrifice it; when you do, you 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; 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. Somewhat hilariously, you may actually want both of those cards in a deck alongside him in Commander. 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.
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 that have made their way through Standard, but most of them 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, for Sarulf to make much of a move in Standard, it was going to need a few other cards to synergize with him.
Sarulf, Realm Eater in Standard, Pioneer, and Legacy!
While Sarulf, Realm Eater is a pretty good standalone card, he didn’t break into many Standard decks. There were Golgari Aggro decks like this one and Sultai Midrange decks like this that ran a single copy. Essentially, he was seen as a “good stuff” card and players didn’t play him all that much after the early days after Kaldheim release. Throughout 2021, Sarulf popped up in the odd multi-color Aggro or Control deck, even at the occasional two copies.
Interestingly, Sarulf, Realm Eater has seen even Pioneer and Legacy play in addition to his fringe Standard action. This Sultai Midrange deck got top 4 in a Legacy Challenge event on Magic the Gathering Online running a single Sarulf, and a similar Sultai Yorion Midrange deck piloted by the same player got third in the next month’s Legacy Challenge running that same one copy. A Brazilian player got second in a Legacy event with a Maverick deck running a copy of Sarulf, too.
In Pioneer, there was a MTGO Pioneer Challenge won by a Niv Yorion deck running a copy of Sarulf, Realm Eater. Sarulf makes sense in a Niv-Mizzet Reborn strategy, thanks to having two colors of mana in its cost, which Niv can tutor up with his enter the battlefield effect. Being a potentially big beater that can double as removal is a nice toolbox piece for the powerful Niv Bring to Light decks that are so powerful in the Pioneer format. Unlike in Standard, where it became a nice tech in certain decks, future Niv to Light decks continued to run that one Sarulf for the next few months.
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.
Sadly, Sarulf, Realm Eater has gone mostly overlooked as a Commander in the year since his release. EDHREC ranks Sarulf just outside of the Top 400 Commanders as of February 2022. The +1/+1 counter strategy has been adopted by most of those who have bravely built a Sarulf EDH deck, which can make him quite the beatstick. Unfortunately, there are just much more exciting Commanders in these colors. While many EDH pundits surmised that Sarulf best lends himself to a competitive 1vs1 EDH deck, that simply hasn’t happened.
It seemed that Sarulf, Realm Eater would be in the 99 for many Green/Black focused Commanders who don’t mind having things on their board exiled. Indeed, Sarulf has appeared in many Commander decks, but never as a staple for any one Commander. It’s possible he’s simply been overlooked, since how can you sneeze at a card that has seen play in top Legacy and Pioneer strategies? In a multiplayer setting, you’d expect Sarulf to be even more of a rattlesnake, and perhaps, a Commander will one day be released that will welcome the Realm Eater with open arms.
How would you play Sarulf, Realm Eater?
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