Showdown Of The Skalds Is Set To Be A Multi-Format All-Star

Showdown of the Skalds has Patrick Chapin singing its praises. Check out his early brews featuring the Saga for Kaldheim Standard.

Showdown of the Skalds, illustrated by Steven Belledin

Preview season is upon us. Kaldheim’s Norse mythology angle has been one of the most popular custom card settings for 25 years, so it’s pretty exciting to finally see the potential realized.

The Saga mechanic makes a ton of sense in this world, and one of the first previewed is a big game, not only because of the promise of finally tapping into multicolor Sagas, but also just on rate.

Showdown of the Skalds

Isn’t this card really strong? Like, just compare it to currently banned card Escape to the Wilds.

Escape to the Wilds

Doing four cards this way for four mana is better than five cards for five mana, as revealing extra cards this way has diminishing returns, whereas additional mana costs get more expensive as you go up. Beyond that, Escape gives you one extra land drop, which is worth maybe half a card in this context.

Showdown of the Skalds, on the other hand, leaves you with an enchantment that on your next two turns should give you somewhere from several to a lot of +1/+1 counters. While things you have to wait for are generally worth less than things you get immediately, this effect is so impactful, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to consider it to be worth at least as much as Escape’s land drop (and frequently will be more impactful).

As if this wasn’t enough, Showdown of the Skalds also has plenty of synergies that can be used to get even more bang for your buck. For instance, despite not having the same vulnerabilities to enchantment removal as most enchantments, it being an enchantment is highly abusable with cards like Yorion, Sky Nomad.

Yorion, Sky Nomad

Yeah, I know. What isn’t good with Yorion?

Still, Showdown of the Skalds is especially great with Yorion, digging you hard to more Yorions and stuff to blink. While you do want to be careful to not just blink away all the +1/+1 counters you just earned, it’s easy enough to stack them on one creature if needed. Besides, sometimes you’ll be getting so much out of Yorion it doesn’t even matter.

There’s also no reason you have to stay two colors. I mean, we’re already talking about a list with Fabled Passage and Triomes, right? 

Omen of the Sea Negate

Splashing blue might just be for Omen of the Sea and a light touch of permission, but it’s not like Negate is even synergistic with Showdown of the Skalds anyway.

Hengegate Pathway

The opportunity cost isn’t actually that high, either, though. The printing of Hengegate Pathway further increases our ease of mana.

Black gives us a lot more on theme action (and of course the usual mix of black removal options).

Elspeth's Nightmare Treacherous Blessing Doom Foretold

While we only have so much room for these card advantage enchantments, they’re all pretty good in context and their proactive nature works well with Showdown anyway.

Green doesn’t give us a Triome; however, we do get Lotus Cobra and Cultivate, so it’s not like there’s any issue there.

Lotus Cobra Cultivate

The addition of green’s mana acceleration kind of takes over the deck’s structure, and unlike the previous two, it’s not even clear we want Yorion. However, Llanowar Visionary and Phylath, World Sculptor are both great targets, along with all the aforementioned enters the battlefield triggers.

Llanowar Visionary Phylath, World Sculptor

First, though, here’s a 60-card build for a baseline, which is actually a pretty decent Jegantha deck (so it’s not like we’re completely losing out on the companion value).

A Yorion build doesn’t actually look that different, kind of just playing more of everything and gaining access to cards like Elspeth Conquers Death and sideboard Shatter the Sky.

There’s something really interesting to building around both Showdown of the Skalds and Felidar Retreat, particularly in Naya.

Felidar Retreat

Having two different high-power-level enchantments that give us tons of +1/+1 counters could potentially be an angle we build on. Phylath, World Sculptor uses +1/+1 counters too, of course, but I wonder if we might be able to build around Conclave Mentor, and it’s not clear such a direction would be able to go as high up the curve anymore.

Conclave Mentor

Once we start going down this path, it kind of seems like we might want Retreat and Showdown to actually be our top-end. I’m also not sure how much we actually need to get out of the +1/+1 synergies beyond the Mentor. Maybe Swarm Shambler and The Ozolith?

Swarm Shambler The Ozolith

I kind of imagine we should be thinking more in terms of a tokens deck with a light +1/+1 counters theme, rather than the other way around.

Luminarch Aspirant Grumgully, the Generous

A couple of the other sources of lots of +1/+1 counters look pretty solid in this context and only further the case for a tokens theme.

Showdown of the Skalds is also a compelling option for aggro decks, whether maindeck (where you’d probably have to value the +1/+1 counter chapters) or as a sideboard for overcoming attrition-centric matchups, sort of in the Experimental Frenzy space.

Experimental Frenzy

When splashing Showdown of the Skalds in a red aggro deck, you don’t need to change much, though you might have an increased appreciation for cards that can have an immediate impact on Turn 5, like Rimrock Knight, which do a little more when exiled off Showdown than most two-drops.

I tried making a base-white version, but there just aren’t enough tournament-viable white cards for a white aggro deck. White’s basically just about Yorion and a few enchantments like Felidar Retreat and Elspeth Conquers Death, at least in the old format. Hopefully Kaldheim shakes that up; and the printing of Showdown of the Skalds might help a little (even if it is yet another Yorion card).

Kaldheim has already revealed a bit of a tribal theme, with changelings and rewards for Angels, Elves, Dwarves, Giants, Berserkers, Shapeshifters, and Warriors so far.

Kargan Warleader

Kargan Warleader looks like it could be a fine role-player in a Warriors deck, and there’s already at least a fair bit of architecture built in for such a strategy.

Kargan Intimidator Seasoned Hallowblade Kor Blademaster

We’ve already got some pretty respectable two-drops, particularly if the Equipment subtheme alluded to pans out.

Goma Fada Vanguard

While Goma Fada Vanguard is another potential two-drop with tribal implications, it’s probably unlikely to perform well with so few quality one-drops and haste creatures. Fireblade Charger is a Warrior and on-theme Equipment-wise, but there’s nothing very appealing beyond that yet, so the printing of a strong one-drop is likely to make or break this archetype, and a second one might really help set the pace for aggro in the format.

Fireblade Charger

The Equipment theme doesn’t need to be pushed all-in or anything, but it’s not clear where the line should be yet. For instance, consider the following list:

Embercleave is a potential easy start for Equipment, but so far, it just doesn’t stack very well with most of the Equipment incentives.


Maul of the Skyclaves don’t take much justification, but the real addition here is Halvar, God of Battle.

Halvar, God of Battle Sword of the Realms

As a piece of equipment, Sword of the Realms is fairly attractive, albeit deceptively mana-intensive. Needing to spend two each equip along with spending whatever mana is necessary to recast creatures that died while equipped with it can all really add up.

Halvar himself could be an amazing threat, if enough of the right kinds of Equipment and support get printed. Sadly, like Kor Blademaster, he’s not exactly all that great with Embercleave, however. He’s also not synergistic the way you’d want with Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients.

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

This might not be a big deal, as there are just so many other four-drops, but if Nahiri ends up being something we want anyway, that is another strike against Halvar. At the end of the day, we might just be better served by one of the “traditional” Boros four-drops, Winota, Joiner of Forces or Haktos the Unscarred.

Winota, Joiner of Forces Haktos the Unscarred

Obviously this list isn’t looking to “break” Winota (unless we see something crazy from the new set), but it’s such a strong card, it’s not out of the question to just run fair. I’m kind of just trying to figure out how much more it’s gonna take before we get to take advantage of Akiri, Fearless Voyager:

Akiri, Fearless Voyager

One last note on Showdown of the Skalds: while my focus has been on Standard today, the card totally has the raw power and potential for synergies to show up in Historic and Pioneer (and Modern isn’t off the table). Finding the right homes for it isn’t just as simple as “what’s the best deck with Boros mana.” It’s a really cool design that gets a lot stronger if you set it up in game, can create major power spikes, and incentivizes making the next two turns really dynamic and exciting. Obviously we’ll need to see it in context (so hopefully it’s not busted), but I’m optimistic that it will be a player in the days to come.