Commander Deep Dive: Queen Kayla Bin-Kroog

Queen Kayla bin-Kroog offers an intriguing path for Boros in Commander MTG decks. Bennie Smith lays out many of the possibilities raised by this legend of The Brothers’ War.

Queen Kayla bin-Kroog
Queen Kayla bin-Kroog, illustrated by Cristi Balanescu

The Brothers’ War Prerelease weekend is in the books, and it’s our first opportunity to get our hands on some sweet Commander goodies!  The various incarnations of Mishra and Urza have nabbed people’s attention, but there are a lot of other really nifty legendary creatures to build around.  One card in particular that’s raised my eyebrows is Queen Kayla bin-Kroog!

Queen Kayla bin-Kroog

I’ve been praising the Gruul commander designs of late, but this is a home-run design for Boros.  Firmly outside the typical combat or Equipment themes that we see so often, Queen Kayla gives us another “archaeology” style design in the spirit of Lorehold like Osgir, the Reconstructor. In fact, I could see Queen Kayla going in the 99 of Osgir and Osgir going in the 99 of Queen Kayla.

Mana Value Math

Queen Kayla costs three mana to cast, and her ability costs four mana, so that works out perfectly, assuming you’re playing enough land to guarantee a land drop the turn after you cast her. The activation cost is rather steep, and you have to activate as a sorcery, but assuming you hit one-, two-, and three-mana-value artifacts or creatures to put onto the battlefield, you’re actually coming ahead by two mana. If you miss on the one-drop you’re still ahead by one mana, and if you miss the two-drop you’re even on mana. Meanwhile, you’re churning through your deck and filling up your graveyard, seeing a lot more cards than Boros typically does. 

Sol Ring, Boros Signet, and other mana rocks usually fill out the lower end of the mana curve for a non-green deck, and we’ll want plenty of them in this deck to fuel Queen Kayla’s ability and get ahead on mana to cast other spells.

Queen Kayla has a very cool commander ability to build around, so let’s dig in!


Thousand-Year Elixir Anger Crashing Drawbridge

Haste enablers might sound a little strange given that Queen Kayla costs three to cast and four to activate, but I’m mostly interested in giving haste to the creatures you’re putting onto the battlefield with Kayla’s ability.  Once Kayla dies, if you have enough mana, paying the commander tax and playing the ability right away is quite viable. Anger is an easy discard right into the graveyard; just ensure you’re playing enough basic Mountains to turn on its ability.

Card Draw Matters

Psychosis Crawler Irencrag Pyromancer Mad Ratter

Most “card draw matters” cards tend to be in blue, but red has two of them with Irencrag Pyromancer and Mad Ratter.  Getting a free Lightning Bolt and two 1/1 Rat tokens when you activate Queen Kayla is value too good to pass up, and Irencrag Pyromancer even costs just three mana, so you can put it onto the battlefield from Kayla’s ability. Psychosis Crawler’s ability to drain all of your opponents for each card you draw is a potential win condition if it sticks around a few turns alongside Kayla.

Discard Matters

Containment Construct Surly Badgersaur Conspiracy Theorist Brallin, Skyshark Rider Currency Converter Glint-Horn Buccaneer Change of Fortune Mishra, Excavation Prodigy

Now here is where things really get wild, with many effects that care about discarding. Surly Badgersaur finally has a home to really shine in here, generating tokens, getting huge and fighting creatures for each Kayla activation. Containment Construct is a nice way to keep making your land drops without playing them from your hand. Brallin, Skyshark Rider might not have a Shark to ride in this deck, but it can get bunches of +1/+1 counters and deal damage to each opponent each activation of Kayla.

Change of Fortune might be a little too cute, but the thought of drawing it after you’ve activated Kayla and being able to cast it to refill your hand sounds like too much fun to pass up!  The “kid” version of Mishra from The Brothers’ War, Mishra, Excavation Prodigy, is exciting here, giving you back two red mana when you activate Kayla, which should let you cast a spell too.

Play from Graveyard

Underworld Breach Crucible of Worlds Emeria Shepherd Metalwork Colossus Trash for Treasure Late to Dinner Invoke Justice

In the normal course of a Commander game, your graveyard will be filling up with cards, but in a Kayla deck it’s going to happen much more quickly, so why not use all that as a resource?  There should be plenty of escape fuel to cast spells from a late-game Underworld Breach. Emeria Shepherd is expensive but totally worth it; even if the land you play isn’t a Plains, bringing a permanent back to your hand is totally fine when Kayla wants you to have a full hand.

Boros has some “reanimation” options that we might consider here, like Late for Dinner and Trash for Treasure, but especially Invoke Justice, which can boost your creatures with some +1/+1 counters at the same time.

If we’re playing enough noncreature artifacts, Metalwork Colossus is a strong consideration. It can be discarded early to Kayla’s ability, and odds are pretty good you’ll be able to bring it back later.  In a pinch, you can return it to your hand to increase the number of cards in your hand when you want to dig a little deeper with Kayla.

Fill Your Hand

Magus of the Wheel Wheel of Misfortune Reforge the Soul Land Tax Ruin Grinder Mighty Servant of Leuk-o Alhammarret's Archive Temple Bell Squee, Goblin Nabob

Kayla’s ability wants you to be extremely stingy with the cards in your hand, but as you make land drops and cast the occasional spell, your hand size will eventually diminish. Luckily for us, Boros has access to lots of ways to refill your hand.  The gold standard is obviously Wheel of Fortune, but if you’re not fortunate enough to already own this crazy expensive card, there are lots of other options, such as Magus of the Wheel and Reforge the Soul. If an opponent ramps out more quickly than you, Land Tax becomes a sweet option, letting you add three basic lands to your hand. Even if you keep making land drops, you’ll still have a full hand for Kayla.

I’m a big fan of Mighty Servant of Leuk-o, which hits hard and draws two cards; if you put two creatures onto the battlefield with Kayla’s ability, it should be pretty easy to crew Mighty Servant with them.

Let’s give a shout-out to the O.G. discard-and-then-bring-back-to-your-hand card, Squee, Goblin Nabob!  You could put it onto the battlefield as a three-mana creature with Kayla if you need to, but most of the time it’s just going to be a nice way to “draw” an extra card during your upkeep.

More Mana

Jeska's Will Mana Geyser Ashnod's Altar Myriad Landscape Gilded Lotus Thran Dynamo Worn Powerstone Rousing Refrain

Past the mana rocks that you can deploy for free with Kayla’s ability, we’ll probably want other ways to generate even more mana to cast our larger spells.  Jeska’s Will and Mana Geyser are high-octane one-shot mana boosts, but I’d also consider Rousing Refrain to keep coming back for a big turn. Taking a turn off from Kayla to cast Thran Dynamo means that you’ll be able to pay three-quarters of the activation cost on subsequent turns.

One-Mana Artifacts

Library of Leng Sensei's Divining Top Brainstone Skullclamp Soul-Guide Lantern Gerrard's Hourglass Pendant Dispeller's Capsule

Dust off the Library of Leng you’ve had gathering dust in the back of your box of random artifacts. We finally have a fantastic home for it!  One downside to Kayla’s ability is the fact that you have to discard your entire hand, and there might be one particular card that you really don’t want to pitch away.  Well, Library of Leng to the rescue!  Just take any card you don’t want to discard and put it on top of your library instead to draw back into it.

Brainstone is a one-shot way to do something similar, putting two cards you want to draw with Kayla’s ability back on top of your library.  You can use Sensei’s Divining Top to set up your draw with something you don’t mind discarding, and if you don’t otherwise have a one-mana artifact or creature to put onto the battlefield with Kayla’s ability, you can tap the Top to draw a card and put Top on top of your library before activating Kayla.

One-Mana Creatures

Mother of Runes Esper Sentinel Reinforced Ronin Goblin Welder Weathered Wayfarer

Here are just a few of the awesome one-mana creatures we might want in our deck.  Reinforced Ronin is kind of wild—you can put it on the battlefield as a one-mana creature with Kayla, and then bring it back to your hand at the end of the turn to keep your hand flush.

Two-Mana Artifacts

Illusionist's Bracers Scroll Rack Ichor Wellspring Prophetic Prism Golden Egg Spare Supplies Sleeper Dart

For two-mana artifacts, we’ll want to consider Illusionist’s Bracers, which we can equip to Kayla, which will copy the activated ability. Scroll Rack can manage what cards are in your hand and what cards you’ll draw into when you activate Kayla. I also like having a good number of cantrip two-mana artifacts like Ichor Wellspring and Golden Egg which will draw you a card when they enter the battlefield.  Keep the hand full!

Two-Mana Creatures

Spirited Companion Wall of Omens Humble Defector Dockside Extortionist Selfless Spirit Remorseful Cleric Oswald Fiddlebender

Cantrip creatures like Spirited Companion are awesome to fill out the mana curve here.  Humble Defector can draw two extra cards before or after you activate Kayla. I’m a big fan of the utility sacrifice creatures Selfless Spirit and Remorseful Cleric.

Three-Mana Artifacts

Battlemage's Bracers Rings of Brighthearth Desecrated Tomb Horn of Greed Skyscanner

Like Illusionist’s Bracers, Rings of Brighthearth and Battlemage’s Bracers lets us double up Kayla’s activated ability. Each time you put a creature card onto the battlefield from the graveyard with Kayla’s ability, if you’ve got Desecrated Tomb on the battlefield, you’ll get to create a 1/1 Bat token with flying, which sounds hilariously fun!

Three-Mana Creatures

Zirda, the Dawnwaker Grinning Ignus Mila, Crafty Companion Welcoming Vampire Rumor Gatherer Inspiring Overseer

Zirda, the Dawnwaker shaves two mana off Kayla’s ability and definitely seems worth a slot.  Grinning Ignus also shaves two mana off the activation in a round-about way:  spend a red mana to bring it back to your hand and get your red back and two colorless mana you can then spend to activate Kayla, and it gives you an extra card to discard that you can also put back onto the battlefield as your three-mana creature if you’d like.

Finish Them!

Blightsteel Colossus Serra Avatar Kozilek, Butcher of Truth Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer Surge to Victory Ascend from Avernus Reaver Titan

Obviously, Kayla’s ability and the cards that support it can grind out some incredible value, but how are you planning on winning?  Since we should see a bunch of cards over the course of the game, we should eventually draw into a big haymaker spell that should help to win the game. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (assuming at least three artifacts) should pump up your small creature team to lethal levels. Surge to Victory exiling a big instant or sorcery in the graveyard can do a similar game-ending maneuver.  

Blightsteel Colossus, Serra Avatar and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth are nifty inclusions for finishers, since if you draw them early and have to discard with Kayla, they shuffle back into your library.  Kozilek’s trigger will shuffle your whole graveyard into your library, but you’ll still get your one-, two-, and three-mana-value creature or artifact cards put onto the battlefield before Kozilek’s trigger goes on the stack.

What do you think of Queen Kayla bin-Kroog?  Are there other cards you think synergize awesome that I may have overlooked here? 

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