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Commander Top 10: Kalamax, The Stormsire

Bennie Smith breaks out of his Commander comfort zone for a sizzling Instant Tribal deck led by Kalamax, the Stormsire!

Kalamax, the Stormsire, illustrated by Nicholas Gregory

For a couple of weeks I’ve been digging into Ikoria: Lair of BehemothsFirst I built a sweet Abzan deck with Nethroi, Apex of Death at the helm; last week, I wrote an oddly terrifying Rakdos deck featuring Obosh, the Preypiercer.  This week I’m digging into Commander 2020 with Instant Tribal featuring everyone’s favorite Temur Dinosaur, Kalamax, the Stormsire!

What I really love about this card is that it pulls me out of my comfort zone.  In Magic generally, but especially in Commander, I am all about permanents that generate value.  Having an awesome Dinosaur that pushes me into loading my deck up with instants is a cool new deckbuilding challenge.

I’m also not a huge fan of Voltron strategies, where you try to assemble one gigantic, unstoppable threat; in Commander these days, there is very rarely going to be nothing your opponents can do about one very obvious threat.  But since most of your “Voltron” pieces are going to be instants that you keep in your hand, I imagine most lines of play are going to be meticulously planned out and executed as a big surprise, potentially eliminating an opponent out of nowhere.  So, a full two steps outside of my comfort zone?  Let’s do it!

Before we begin, let’s take a look at the fairly extensive game notes on Kalamax:

  • If Kalamax becomes tapped as a cost to cast your first instant spell in a turn, its first ability triggers.
  • Kalamax’s first ability considers the entire turn. If you cast an instant spell before Kalamax becomes tapped, its first ability won’t trigger when you cast your second.
  • A copy is created even if the spell that caused Kalamax’s ability to trigger has been countered by the time that ability resolves. The copy resolves before the original spell.
  • If the spell that’s copied is modal (that is, it says “Choose one —” or the like), the copy created by Kalamax’s first ability will have the same mode or modes. You can’t choose different ones.
  • If the spell that’s copied has damage divided as it was cast, the division can’t be changed, although the targets receiving that damage still can. The same is true of spells that distribute counters.
  • You can’t choose to pay any additional costs for the copy created by Kalamax’s first ability. However, effects based on any additional costs that were paid for the original spell are copied as though those same costs were paid for the copy too.
  • The copies that Kalamax’s first ability creates are created on the stack, so they’re not “cast.” Abilities that trigger when a player casts a spell won’t trigger.
  • An ability that triggers when a player copies a spell resolves before the copy. It resolves even if that spell is countered.
  • If an effect copies an instant spell multiple times, Kalamax’s last ability triggers that many times.
  • If an effect copies a card rather than a spell (such as that of God-Eternal Kefnet), this doesn’t cause Kalamax’s last ability to trigger.

The main takeaways here:

1. Instants we cast with convoke or conspire work like we want to!

2. Modal spells don’t work the way we’d want them to, so we’ll need to be careful about the modes we choose.

3. It’s a bummer about God-Eternal Kefnet.

Okay, let’s get brewing!

1. Twinning Staff

It’s no surprise that the face card of the Arcane Maelstrom Commander deck would have a brand-new artifact custom-made to be awesome in a Kalamax deck.  Let’s say you cast Twinning Staff on Turn 3 and then Kalamax on Turn 4.  On Turn 5 you attack with Kalamax, and then cast Lightning Bolt.  Since Kalamax is tapped and it’s the first instant you cast, you get to copy the Bolt, and Twinning Staff lets you copy it again.  Now let’s copy the original Lightning Bolt with a Reverberate and get yet another copy from Twinning Staff.  So, if my math is correct, that’s four +1/+1 counters on Kalamax and five Lightning Bolts.  I mean, just look at the electricity cracking along its back spikes and you know this is what you’re supposed to be doing!

We’ll want plenty of other ways to copy instants so we can keep piling extra +1/+1 counters on Kalamax.  Narset’s Reversal is a tricky card that you can use to bounce your own instant off the stack and put it back into your hand if you want to cast it again for some reason. 

Mirrorpool is one of my all-time favorite cards. It does some nice work in Commander, especially as a way to copy your actual commander if someone is trying to steal it or otherwise neutralize it, but it’s even better in this deck since copying spells has such a payoff.

I totally expect untapping with a Thousand-Year Storm sharing the battlefield with Kalamax will feel incredible, even though the mental calculations are going to be monumental. Make sure you’ve gotten plenty of sleep, had nutritious meals, and are plenty hydrated before playing this deck.

2. Wort, the Raidmother

The rules of Magic give us a great way to naturally tap Kalamax thanks to the combat step, but we’ll definitely want some other ways to tap Kalamax that don’t involve combat, especially if we don’t have a way to punch through a dangerous battlefield.  Wort, the Raidmother is a great choice here since we can tap Kalamax to copy an instant that we’ve cast, and Wort comes with a few extra creatures we can use to conspire other spells. 

The convoke spells Gather Courage and Sprout Swarm are sweet since you can tap Kalamax to help pay for the spell and get the bonus copy if it’s the first spell you cast that turn. Gather Courage is particularly nice as a surprise combat trick if your opponent thinks they can crash in on you while you’re tapped out and your Kalamax appears too small to block.  Cryptolith Rite is nice because you can tap Kalamax to help pay for any spell.

3. Baral, Chief of Compliance

Having big turns in a Kalamax deck will require a flurry of spells, and that can get expensive, so Baral is awesome since it can shave a mana off each spell you cast. Since we’re playing blue, we can sprinkle in some counterspells too and take advantage of the second ability to filter through some cards you don’t need.

We’ve got a variety of other “spellslinger” support cards we can choose from, and I feel these are some of the best. Primal Amulet shaves mana off your instant and sorcery spells, and once you’ve gotten four or more charges on it you can remove the counters to transform it.  As Primal Wellspring, it gives accelerates your mana and copies any spell you cast with that mana.  Charmbreaker Devils is a great way to keep your hand stocked with spells, and the trigger ability can quickly add up to a large amount of power if you need to smash.

Even though God-Eternal Kefnet doesn’t work like we’d like it too, I think it still makes a worthy inclusion as a sticky threat with evasion, and if we can copy utility spells for a discount as we draw them, we can save the actual spell cards for a big turn later.

4. Colossal Might

Plan A for our deck is to make Kalamax huge enough to kill players out of nowhere, and Colossal Might is an incredible way to do just that.  Cast it while Kalamax is tapped and attacking and that’s an extra nine points of damage plus trample!

I’m including some other instant-speed ways to pump Kalamax.  Berserk is a pretty easy way to get to lethal power trampling at the cost of destroying the attacking creature at the end of the turn.  And if you have a stocked graveyard Become Immense can get out of hand very quickly.

5. Fumble

Blue has some nice instant-speed removal spells, and if Kalamax is copying one they’re even better.  The best of the bunch is Fumble since it’s a way you can potentially bounce multiple creatures, take control of the Equipment attached to them, and equip them to Kalamax, all at instant speed!  That’s going to lead to a seriously epic turn!

6. Shadow Rift

The Temur color combination has some nice ways to interact with your opponents, but sometimes you don’t want to interact at all. That’s why Shadow Rift is nice; odds are pretty good your opponents won’t have creatures with shadow, so your attacker can get through unblocked and you get to draw a card for your trouble, or more if you’re getting any free copies.

Veil of Summer is a bit of a risk, but odds are pretty good that at least one of your opponents is playing black or blue spells, in which case Veil of Summer can lead to some blowout turns.  Even if nobody is playing black, it’s still an instant you can copy for free with a tapped Kalamax for a +1/+1 counter. 

7. Mystic Confluence

Mystic Confluence is a modal spell so those modes will be locked in by the copy created by Kalamax’s trigger, but the flexibility of this spell is just fantastic even in the most ordinary of circumstances, much less when copies are being made.  I do see most of the time this just being a five-mana instant that gives tapped Kalamax a +1/+1 counter and draws you six cards.

Speaking of drawing cards, we definitely want to keep the cards flowing, and the Temur color combination gives us some of the best in the business.  Expansion functions as another copy spell while the Explosion side can dish out a lot of damage and draw a lot of cards with enough mana.

Backdraft Hellkite’s ability triggers when it attacks, so if you’re also attacking with Kalamax and have a graveyard stocked with instants, get ready for some serious fireworks!

8. Mortal’s Resolve

Your opponents will surely do their best to stop your Kalamax shenanigans, so we’ll want some ways to stop them from stopping you.  I was going to reach for cards like Swiftfoot Boots, but then I remembered—am I serious about Instant Tribal or am I just going through the motions?  Mortal’s Resolve lets Kalamax shrug off any destroy effects, targeted or not, and provides an extra +1/+1 boost in case you get a free copy along the way. You never know if that extra boost could push through the last bit of damage!

The “commander free” spells Deflecting Swat and Fierce Guardianship do some serious heavy lifting here. You’d hate to use up all your mana in a flurry of spells pumping your commander, only to get it knocked out by something like a Swords to Plowshares.

9. Soulbright Flamekin

Let me sing a moment the praises of this little red gem.  A two-power creature for two mana can come down early and do a little beating down if needed.  A little later, the activated ability can give a bigger creature you control trample—say, your commander Kalamax.  And if you have six mana available, you can give a creature trample three times and then add eight red mana into your mana pool. Given some of the really cool copy spells and effects cost red mana – say, Repeated Reverberation – this can lead to an epic flurry of spells.

Since a spellslinger deck is always going to be mana-hungry, I’ve included lots of ways to ramp our mana:

10. Lightning Bolt

Ah yes, direct damage!  Remember I talked about Lightning Bolt early in this column?  Well it definitely demands a slot in this deck, and with all the copying and recursion available, it can translate into a ton of damage to kill a bunch of creatures or just burn someone out.

I still find it hard to believe that Wizards of the Coast created Ram Through. It looks just like an upgraded Fall of the Hammer, but if you’ve pumped up a large creature and given it trample, you can make Ram Through into a burn spell by targeting a tiny creature and dishing out the rest of the power in damage directly to an opponent’s life total. 

Here’s an example: you’re attacking with a 15/15 Kalamax, but your opponent confidently moves their Lord of Extinction in front of it since it is easily much larger that Kalamax. You give Kalamax trample with Soulbright Flamekin, and then hit Lord of Extinction with Rapid Hybridization. Now they have no blocker for the trampling Kalamax, but they have a 3/3 green Frog Lizard that’s standing on the sidelines looking confused, so go ahead and cast Ram Through on your Kalamax and the Frog Lizard. Now your opponent is taking fifteen points from Kalamax and twelve points from Ram Through.

That whistling sound is your opponent’s rapidly dropping life total.

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Kalamax, the Stormsire
Bennie Smith
0th Place at Test deck on 05-08-2020
Commander


Here’s how the deck shakes out graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:

What do you think?  Are there any cards I’ve overlooked?  If you see any new cards from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths or Commander 2020 that should find a home here, let me know!

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do a deckbuilding stream every Monday evening, and pepper in some other Commander-related streams when I can.  If you can join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

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