You Lika The Juice? Unpacking The Heavenly Inferno Commander Deck

Bennie Smith takes the Heavenly Inferno Commander deck with Kaalia of the Vast at the helm and upgrades it with new additions. See what changes he’d make and suggest your own!

About every other week I’ve been going over each of the new Commander decks, “unpacking” the cards and explaining how I might go about updating the deck with additional cards. Keep in mind this will be different from how I’d go about building a deck around the Commander from scratch—the goal is to start with keeping the best cards in the deck and then replacing the other cards, basically trying to power up the deck with minimum new cards to buy or trade for. Naturally, as time goes on you’ll want to tweak and adjust the deck with more powerful and fun cards as you acquire them, but I hope this provides a good base for people just getting into the format!

Previously I’ve unpacked Counterpunch, featuring Ghave, Guru of Spores as the Commander; and Devour for Power, featuring The Mimeoplasm as the Commander.

This week I’m going to do Heavenly Inferno, which is a really cool deck that presents some very interesting practical challenges. Kaalia of the Vast is the Commander, and here’s the decklist out of the box:

The concept behind the deck is pretty straightforward—attack with Kaalia of the Vast and put a huge Demon, Dragon, or Angel into play for free and attacking as well. Let’s see what cards we have to work with right out of the box.


These are the cards that nearly any Commander player will be thrilled to have in his card stock to build decks around. The beauty of the five Commander decks is that they are high on the staple count. Once you tire of playing a few games right out of the box and decide to cannibalize them for cards there is a treasure trove of good stuff here. Heavenly Inferno has a large number of great staples!

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls and Oros, the Avenger

The other Black/Red/White legends in the deck are both high-quality creatures that fit well in any deck that can support the mana. While you can certainly build decks around them as Commander, they also work fine in the other 99.

Basandra, Battle Seraph

Terese Nielson’s gorgeous artwork aside, Basandra is a great card to get Commander games moving along if you find too many players at your table “turtle up” and play almost exclusively defensively as they dig to set up their winning combo. She also makes sure that combat is relatively straightforward, with no instant tricks coming down to spoil the assault—again, encouraging aggression.

Akroma, Angel of Fury

While Akroma, Angel of Wrath is strictly a better card (and if you have a copy, I can’t blame you for putting it in your Kaalia deck), the red Akroma plays a very nice role here. Either you can put her into play attacking with Kaalia, or if she’s been knocked out of commission you can play Akroma easily as a morph to get early board presence. Having two ways to play an expensive card is quite handy.

Malfegor, Reiver Demon

The two best Demons in the deck, both hit hard and wreak havoc on your opponents’ defenses whether put into play by Kaalia or played from your hand.

Archangel of Strife, Angelic Arbiter, Voice of All, Serra Angel, Angel of Despair

The better Angels in the deck, the all-stars here are the defensive Voice of All and the utility Angel of Despair. Archangel of Strife offers some fun multiplayer flavor, and Angelic Arbiter exemplifies white’s ability to “make new rules” that your opponents find unpleasant to live under. Serra Angel is a classic, and while she’s not nearly as good as she used to be “back in the day,” vigilance is a very good ability to have in a multiplayer game, and a 4/4 flier is not irrelevant.

Bladewing the Risen, Mana-Charged Dragon

The best Dragons in the deck, though Bladewing the Risen is best if you have a fairly high volume of Dragons in the deck, which may or may not be the case in a Kaalia deck. Mana-Charged Dragon is probably one of the best six-drop Dragons ever printed, with trample giving its firebreathing particular potency, and the Join Forces firebreathing offering a great way to take a massive bite out of the top threat at the table (assuming that’s not you).

Syphon Flesh, Path to Exile, Soul Snare, Terminate, Orim’s Thunder, Mortify, Wrecking Ball

White, black, and red offer up some of the best removal in the game, and Heavenly Inferno provides quite a few staples. Path to Exile and Terminate are removal spells nearly without peer, and many of the other ones give you very nice flexibility that is ideal in one-for-one utility spells. The new Syphon Flesh is the perfect way of taking out the sort of hard-to-deal-with creatures that often stand alone (like say, Uril, the Miststalker) while also providing some great defensive creatures.

Akroma’s Vengeance

Removal spell par excellence! Any copies of Akroma’s Vengeance you own should never be riding the bench so long as you have a Commander deck built with white. For when you absolutely, positively must destroy nearly every damn thing on the board, it’s hard to do better than Akroma’s Vengeance… and when you don’t want to destroy nearly everything… it cycles. Awesome!

Vow of Duty, Vow of Malice, Vow of Lightning

I really love the cycle of Vows in the Commander decks; they are really well designed. Auras are traditionally pretty lame, but there are certainly some good ways to find and reuse them if you have Auras you want to play with. I just love how these can neutralize threats to you while beefing up those threats for other opponents. Like, how many times have you had to kill something you wanted to keep in play because it was a threat to the big bad at the table, but you ended up having to kill it because if it turned your way you were just dead to it? It’s just a fantastic multiplayer design.

Lightning Greaves, Mother of Runes, Anger

I’ve lumped these together as great format staples that also tend to make your Commander much more effective. Kaalia is very powerful and scary for all your opponents, but she’s also very fragile and really needs cards like Lightning Greaves and Mother of Runes in order to survive long enough to make an impact on the game. Similarly, Anger in the graveyard assures that you can at least make one attack with Kaalia before someone can respond with a sorcery-speed answer.

Congregate, Syphon Mind

Easily splashable staples that scale up considerably in power the more players you have around the table.

Command Tower, Sol Ring, Darksteel Ingot, Boros Signet, Orzhov Signet, Rakdos Signet

Some of the best color-fixing and mana-accelerants in the Commander format, you’ll want the Tower, Sol Ring, Ingot, and the appropriate Signets in just about every Commander deck you build.

Rupture Spire, Boros Garrison, Orzhov Basilica, Rakdos Carnarium, Vivid Meadow

I consider these some of the best affordable color-fixing lands in Commander, with the lone drawback of costing you some tempo when you play them. Rupture Spire rewards that drawback by providing pain-free mana of any color, while the Ravnica bouncelands let you squeeze additional virtual lands into the single land slot. However, there are some Commander playgroups that play a very cutthroat style, and these sorts of lands are like catnip to those players, who won’t be able to resist pouncing with pinpoint land destruction and pressing that temporary advantage to try and take you out. I’d say most Commander players would find that sort of play distasteful and will generally save LD for specific threats like Gaea’s Cradle, Maze of Ith, and Cabal Coffers, but be aware that your mileage may vary depending on where you play.

Forgotten Cave, Secluded Steppe, Barren Moor

I personally don’t use cycling lands too much because I always seem to draw them when I need to play them instead of cycling, in which case they are generally pretty bad. However, if you’re playing things like Life from the Loam or Crucible of Worlds the utility goes up dramatically. Other people swear by them. Regardless, it’s good to have these in your toolbox.

Bojuka Bog

I personally don’t use cycling lands too much because I always seem to draw them when I need to play them instead of cycling, in which case they are generally pretty bad. However, if you’re playing things like Life from the Loam or Crucible of Worlds the utility goes up dramatically. Other people swear by them. Regardless, it’s good to have these in your toolbox.


These are also cards that nearly any Commander player will be glad to have available in their card pool to build decks from, though I think the cards are too narrow to be considered “staples.”

Kaalia of the Vast

The only reason you’d play Kaalia is if you want to cheat huge Demons, Dragons and Angels into play; otherwise she’s a spectacularly mediocre 2/2 flier for four mana. She’s a very narrow card that offers a powerful effect you have to build your deck around to take advantage of.

Master Warcraft

I have found this card to be surprisingly good a lot of times, and any Commander deckbuilder should keep this in mind when considering how their decks might play out. Sometimes you want creatures to block; sometimes you don’t want them to block; and Master Warcraft lets you call the shots.


When this card was printed, many Commander players around the world pumped their fists in joy (while others cursed their bad luck). Stranglehold is designed to negate two of the most annoying effects in the game—tutoring, which can often slow games to a crawl as someone goes searching through 80 or so cards for the single copy of the card they need, or even longer if they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for; and taking extra turns, which I’ve gone on at lengths as to how bad those are for the game (and have even called for the banning of all Time Walk effects). What’s particularly insidious about Stranglehold is that it’s “all upside”—meaning, while you put the brakes on everyone else using those annoying effects, you’re free to use them yourself. Do you want to be the hero or the evil villain? Stranglehold has you covered either way.

Dread Cacodemon

Dread Cacodemon offers up a pretty potent ability tied to a really large body—that’s also a Demon! So it’s really strange that the card really doesn’t fit well in a Kaalia deck, since if you’re playing a card like Dread Cacodemon you’re going to want to cast it from your hand rather than cheat it into play with Kaalia—in which case it’s just an 8/8 vanilla ground pounder. And yet its mana cost is a whopping ten mana, so you really don’t want to pay full cost for the thing! It’s going to be hard to find a good home for this ten-mana creature, but it will probably involve serious mana-ramp like Cabal Coffers or an alternative way to cast it like Fist of the Suns.

Avatar of Slaughter

This is a powerful and awesome card that nicely embodies red’s lust for blood and battle. Sadly, it’s an expensive creature that’s not a Demon, Dragon, or Angel so I don’t think it fits very well in a Kaalia deck. I could totally see him in an aggro Stonebrow, Krosan Hero, or Borborygmos deck.

Death by Dragons

A pretty cool multiplayer card that can certainly “rally the troops” against one player who’s pulled ahead. I don’t think it’s a good fit for Kaalia though since it’s not an actual Dragon—for six mana, I want a creature I can cheat into play with Kaalia.

Fallen Angel

The perfect threat to have when you’ve built a deck that can provide lots of cannon fodder. A Kaalia deck is nearly the exact opposite; it’s trying to churn out fatty-boom-booms.

Duergar Hedge-Mage, Return to Dust, Sulfurous Blast, Comet Storm, Evincar’s Justice, Earthquake

These are some decent removal options to have in your toolbox, but you’ll find there are better ones in the format. Duergar Hedge-Mage is good in a red/white deck but is less good the more colors you add (unless you happen to own all the dual lands and all the shocklands).

Armillary Sphere, Evolving Wilds, Molten Slagheap

Decent but suboptimal mana/color-fixing.


Like Pestilence, this is a card I rarely find makes the cut in my decks, but also like Pestilence it does offer a powerful effect that might be the perfect addition one day… likely involving Stuffy Doll.

Bathe in Light

While I’ve never played this in Commander before, I could see it as a helpful spell both in keeping Kaalia safe from pinpoint removal and possibly being able to get her to attack through blockers that might otherwise kill her.


Orzhov Guildmage, Boros Guildmage, Gwyllion Hedge-Mage, Lightkeeper of Emeria, Razorjaw Oni, Dragon Whelp, Furnace Whelp, Shattered Angel, Oni of Wild Places, Righteous Cause, Cleansing Beam, Diabolic Tutor, Akoum Refuge, Zoetic Cavern

I was originally going to call this “the chaff” as in what’s left behind once you harvest the usuables from the deck, but honestly, in Commander, just about any card can make the cut in the right circumstances. Perhaps the card plays into the theme you’re building around, or perhaps you’re going for style points. I have to admit, dropping a Razorjaw Oni against a mono-black player has to feel pretty good on the style points.

If you want to know more about why certain cards ended up in one of these categories feel free to ask me in the comments below, and I’ll explain my reasoning.


Okay, so I’m going to walk through how I’d go about updating this deck with my own collection. Here are the cards I’d keep from the original build:

1 Path to Exile
1 Soul Snare
1 Mother of Runes
1 Sol Ring
1 Terminate
1 Bathe in Light
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Boros Signet
1 Orzhov Signet
1 Rakdos Signet
1 Orim’s Thunder
1 Mortify
1 Vow of Duty
1 Vow of Malice
1 Vow of Lightning
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Kaalia of the Vast
1 Voice of All
1 Wrecking Ball
1 Anger
1 Syphon Mind
1 Basandra, Battle Seraph
1 Serra Angel
1 Syphon Flesh
1 Oros, the Avenger
1 Malfegor
1 Mana-Charged Dragon
1 Akroma’s Vengeance
1 Tariel, Reckoner of Souls
1 Archangel of Strife
1 Angelic Arbiter
1 Angel of Despair
1 Akroma, Angel of Fury
1 Reiver Demon
1 Command Tower
1 Rupture Spire
1 Boros Garrison
1 Orzhov Basilica
1 Rakdos Carnarium
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Bojuka Bog

With the cards I’m keeping, the mana curve is pretty flat. I typically look heavily on the mana curve to figure out what mana cost holes I need to fill as I select cards to add to the mix. A deck built around Kaalia is going to be different, and more challenging—you want to have enough large, powerful creatures to cheat into play and have a big impact on the board, but you also don’t want to sit around with nothing to do if your opponents prevent Kaalia from doing her thing. You want to have early plays that follow principals of good mana curve, but you’re also going to have to include a fair number of creatures that will blow your mana curve considerations all to hell. So there are a couple things we want to keep in mind:

  • Protect Kaalia and make sure she can attack
  • Make sure we have ways to keep large Demons, Dragons, and Angels in hand to take advantage of Kaalia’s ability
  • Make sure we have alternative ways to play the cards in our hand if Kaalia can’t work her magic

Here are the new cards I’ve added to the deck:

Make no mistake—people are terrified of Kaalia because each of your attack steps could drop disaster into play, tapped and attacking. As such you are likely to get attacked much more often. I selected these cards to help protect against or offset the damage from your opponents’ attacks.

These are the cards that will help Kaalia attack without getting blocked and likely killed. Glory (in your graveyard) will also help protect Kaalia from targeted attacks.

In addition to Glory, these cards can also help keep Kaalia alive and attacking for more turns.

A little extra removal never hurts. I chose Seal of Doom here as more of a rattlesnake card, to wave people away who might otherwise want to sweep in and send random damage your way before Kaalia goes bonkers.

I chose these cards to enhance Kaalia’s strategy—providing some additional quality Demons and Angels (including Aegis Angel that can protect Kaalia), ways to make sure you’ve got a handful of boom-booms, and then alternatives to Kaalia when she’s indisposed (Quicksilver Amulet and Cauldron Dance).

More mana is always useful, and I chose a few more two-mana artifact color-fixers to improve the chances of casting Kaalia on turn 3. Mana Geyser is an explosive spell that can help you hard-cast your expensive creatures late game if you need to.

Changing the colors of permanents works wonders with a surprisingly high number of cards in this deck (and Scuttlemutt also offers color-fixing and mana-acceleration as a bonus).

This deck is pretty color-intensive, so I think the Vivid lands (plus Reflecting Pool) offer more for this deck than the cycling lands.

Here is the final decklist:

I’m pretty happy with how the mana curve panned out, even with the high-end fatty boom-booms. If you have them, obviously Plateau, Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author], Badlands, Sacred Foundry, Godless Shrine, and Blood Crypt would help smooth your mana considerably along with a few fetchlands.

If you’re feeling bold, there are two cards I’m tempted to try in this deck… The first is Hellcarver Demon, the infamous Rico Suave! His ability to cast free fatty boom-booms from the top of your deck can finish off a player if it’s the last opponent you’ve got to deal with (though you may want to add a Sensei’s Divining Top or Scroll Rack to make sure there’s gas sitting there). Another card is Rakdos the Defiler, whose attack trigger can be avoided with Kaalia’s ability while still wrecking havoc on the defending player. Pair that up with an Erratic Portal to keep doing it each attack step.

So what do you think? What would you do differently?

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend everyone!

Take care,

starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!

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New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus: