All of the cards previewed so far from Kaldheim have jumped out as at least worth considering to me. Something like Kaya the Inexorable isn’t assured to be a Standard all-star by any means, but after a few minutes of puzzling it out you can determine the card will be good if you want a Vindicate with high upside.
Two are ahead of that mark, into the blatantly good category.
One of those is Showdown of the Skalds, and Patrick Chapin put a bunch of work into that card last week.
The other is Magda, Brazen Outlaw, and there’s a real chance she’s the better one of those two cards.
I’m over here hyped about a Dwarf lord? Yup. There are four Standard-legal Dwarves prior to Kaldheim, and even with minimal context of what the future holds, I’m ready to build around Magda.
Magda isn’t quite the level of what we saw a year ago in Throne of Eldraine and Theros Beyond Death, but it shares a lot of characteristics with the egregiously broken cards of that era.
The McDuck Vault of Treasure
Let’s start with the least-specific line on Magda, Brazen Outlaw: making Treasure tokens.
Magda is a Dwarf, so at the least whenever she attacks or becomes tapped for other reasons you make a Treasure. What can we do with that?
At a bare minimum, Magda is a mana creature that attacks. The same could describe past failure Captain Lannery Storm, even the part where both cards produce a Treasure token starting on Turn 3. But costing two mana is a completely different scale from costing three mana. Magda makes a Treasure on Turn 3 and you have mana open to cast a four-drop with it. You can cast Magda and another relevant spell in the mid-game much more easily without having to push Magda into a sub-par combat.
Basic math: two is less than three. That’s the insight Cedric pays me to deliver.
Treasure tokens as the mana output on Magda is super-relevant, because the Standard mana these days is a bit sketchy. Pathways are pretty good lands at ensuring you hit one of their two colors at some point, yet are really bad at splitting your costs up the curve. Gruul Adventures has to be really precise every game and take risks to support Embercleave and Kazandu Mammoth, and yet another source of multicolored mana is going to be a big help in stitching together double-color commitments – or even better, the black-black-red-red on something like Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger.
The mana boost from Magda attacking plays well with interaction out of aggressive decks. The typical issue with trying to kill things when you’re playing aggro these days is that the next threat up the curve is such a huge problem.
You’re best off ignoring the speed bump and just spamming the battlefield, because the second you spend a turn to kill something in the way, you have just ticked the clock to a turn where your opponent took a chip of damage but played something even bigger and more problematic. Your opponent casts Lovestruck Beast, and if you spend a turn killing it they just fire back with Questing Beast, and this all happens before the more aggressive side can get down enough threats to transform that turn of exchange into enough damage to matter.
With bonus Magda mana you can afford to kill things in your way and make relevant plays in the same turn. Interacting with opposing blockers becomes tempo-positive.
One difference between making a Treasure and a creature simply tapping for mana is that you can accumulate Treasures if you don’t spend them. A Turn 2 Magda lets you cast a four-drop on Turn 3, but it can also ramp up to a six-drop on Turn 4 – or cast a five-drop without needing to hit a fourth land drop, which I think is a much more likely scenario. You can throw a Chandra, Heart of Fire into your 24-land deck and feel fine about it, but Magda makes you feel like it isn’t a stretch.
Treasures are also permanents and artifacts, where mana creatures are just a single creature. A quick search for the artifact-specific payoffs in Standard came up a bit short, with Shimmer Dragon as probably the best one, but generic permanents that sacrifice themselves are well-supported. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is the obvious card in this category, and somehow the second Throne of Eldraine Brawl deck Dragon I’ve mentioned in this paragraph, but I’m excited to try some Slaughter-Priest of Mogis again. It might be ambitious to play that card with the number of Bonecrusher Giants these days, but basically a lifetime ago in late February, I enjoyed the raw clock that card provided to Theros Beyond Death-era Rakdos Sacrifice.
But you can do a bit more than just cast Magda and attack with her.
Nobody Tosses a Dwarf
What about the fact that Magda is a Dwarf lord? What stout nonsense can we get up to?
Without the rest of Kaldheim, Standard is a bit short on Dwarves. Rimrock Knight is an acceptable card, but that’s about it. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell is playable, but boosting the effectiveness of Torbran once it untaps and declares attacks is certainly not impacting how playable it is. Maybe it hits some decklists as the four-drop you want to curve into, but it isn’t a relevant Dwarf for building synergies.
Seriously, there are four total Dwarves in Standard plus Dwarven Mine, and the two I didn’t mention are Staunch Shieldmate and Seven Dwarves. You are definitely waiting on some new hits to drop in that department.
But even with that shortage, I’m high on the prospects. I was talking up how good just having Magda was as a 2/1 that generates a Treasure a turn, and if you control another Dwarf you get that effect without risking Magda in combat. And if you’re attacking unopposed, that effect gets wild in multiples. You don’t even need a… uh… whatever the term for a group of Dwarves is; just the second trigger a turn puts it over the top.
Maybe it’s a gaggle of Dwarves? Let’s go with that one for now.
At the least, we have the changeling mechanic to look forward to. Even if real Dwarves are a small mechanic or color-specific, Kaldheim will have some flex built in with fake Dwarves to make Magda work out.
Magda also triggers to make a Treasure on any Dwarf tap. The easy way is to get a Dwarf into combat, but you could also do something like crew a Vehicle. Again, there’s a shortage of Vehicles right now, but the early Kaldheim previews are promising in that department as well. At the least it is going to be a minor theme of the set, and if Kaladesh taught us anything, it was that your deck doesn’t really want the second unique Vehicle if the first one is good enough.
Vehicles also let you tap excess power or crew the same Vehicle multiple times, so even if multiple Dwarves are stalled out of combat, you can build up mana for a large X-spell. At the minimum that surplus lets you pump mana into Shatterskull Smashing or another Zendikar Rising mythic modal DFC, so it’s not even a real cost to put a high-end payoff into your deck to funnel extra Treasures into.
If you’re looking to older formats for Dwarf support, I’m unsure you’ll find it. Kaladesh had a couple of Dwarves and the specific duo of Magda and Toolcraft Exemplar is cute, but beyond that duo I don’t love the odds of success in Historic or Pioneer.
Maybe this is a slight bump to the Pioneer Jeskai Ensoul Artifact decks that floated around this year in the full-blown Lurrus of the Dream-Den era. Those decks already played Springleaf Drum, and those decks play X-costed creatures to funnel mana into, and maybe this lets you maximize Mutavault in the shell. Here’s my best guess at what that deck might look like these days.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 2 Hope of Ghirapur
- 4 Gingerbrute
- 4 Stonecoil Serpent
- 2 Magda, Brazen Outlaw
I mentioned that Magda reminded me of the overpowered designs of recent sets. It isn’t just that Magda is an efficient and scaling mana engine; it’s that Magda gives you a way to “spend” that excess mana. Five is a lot of surplus Treasures to stumble into, but the Dragons and Equipment in Standard are one category that Magda doesn’t need to wait for future previews to fill in.
The most impressive part might be how well putting these high-end cards in your deck is already rewarded by playing Magda. The good Dragons in Standard sit at the five-drop slot of the curve, and I already mentioned how Magda makes that a very reasonable cost for an otherwise aggressive and lean deck. Embercleave is the best artifact you could find and Magda attacking is effectively a double attacker for cost reduction there.
I don’t think you want to dive into the lower-quality “playable” artifacts and Dragons for search flexibility in a deck with Magda. That’s similar logic to putting a random creature into your Gruul Adventures deck as a tutor target for your Garruk, Unleashed emblem. You’re way more likely to draw your subpar card and regret putting it in your deck than run into the scenario where you trigger Magda a ton and need that specific card to win the game.
That means don’t play Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge. Really, really don’t play Gadrak. It isn’t a good card.
Lists for the Road
We’ve established the parameters for a good Magda deck: wants to attack, some four- and five-drops to cast ahead of the curve, more interaction than you would expect, and probably Rimrock Knight and a Dragon or Embercleave.
Where does that leave us for Kaldheim Standard?
Dwarves aren’t Humans. Again with the hard hitting analysis. (CEDitor’s Note: I’m putting in my request for your end-of-year raise now.)
Really, there isn’t a more obvious shell than Naya Winota for Magda. Cheap non-Humans are at a premium, and the deck was already playing Lotus Cobra in a desperate attempt to fix its mana. You can cast a Turn 3 postcombat Winota or Basri’s Lieutenant with Magda’s Treasures, but more realistically the payoff is being able to cast multiple non-Humans in the turn leading into Winota.
The issue for Winota without Raise the Alarm or Lazotep Reaver is accumulating enough attackers and Winota triggers to make a single combat game-ending, and mana to cast the cards you draw is the best we have right now. The deck was already an Edgewall Innkeeper deck, so Rimrock Knight isn’t even a stretch. It might even be a boon to condense the early drops into Gruul colors, and Treasure tokens are more ways to activate the Dimir abilities on Kenrith, the Returned King.
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 2 Giant Killer
- 2 Kenrith, the Returned King
- 4 Edgewall Innkeeper
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 3 Rimrock Knight
- 4 Winota, Joiner of Forces
- 4 Basri's Lieutenant
- 3 Magda, Brazen Outlaw
As a former proponent of Mono-Red Aggro, I’m morally obligated to update the deck for Magda. Even if Magda ends up as merely fine, the utter lack of quality one- and two-drops in Standard was the biggest issue facing Mono-Red Aggro in Standard. Okay, maybe second-biggest behind Lovestruck Beast.
At the least, this is the final notice you have no more excuses for including Kargan Intimidator in a deck ever again.
- 4 Robber of the Rich
- 4 Fervent Champion
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
- 4 Rimrock Knight
- 4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge
- 4 Akoum Hellhound
- 3 Magda, Brazen Outlaw
What about Jund Sacrifice? Jund gets two more Pathways in Kaldheim, which makes Korvold a complete freeroll.
- 4 Gilded Goose
- 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 3 Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 1 Wicked Wolf
- 2 Bonecrusher Giant
- 3 Mire Triton
- 3 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 2 Magda, Brazen Outlaw
The Jund Sacrifice lists of Zendikar Rising Standard didn’t play Gilded Goose out of necessity, but Kaldheim Pathways make the mana good enough to go back to last Standard’s Jund Food lists. I might be a green source or just a land in general short, but the difference between the last Bonecrusher Giant or two and a modal DFC like Bala Ged Recovery is fairly slim.
- 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 2 Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
- 3 Woe Strider
- 2 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 4 Slaughter-Priest of Mogis
- 4 Archfiend's Vessel
- 4 Skyclave Shade
- 3 Magda, Brazen Outlaw
The lack of good one-drops in this format strikes again, but unless Kaldheim floods the format with low-curve goodness, I don’t think a companioned Lurrus is better than all the available high-drops. I just want to move the curve down a bit and play something a little better than Archfiend’s Vessel. Maybe if we get a better higher-payoff sacrifice outlet, Whisper Squad is back on the table, but the current Standard sacrifice cards are more about setting up profitable churns with specific materials than just converting raw bodies into sacrifice payments.
The two cards I want to ramp into with Magda, Brazen Outlaw but haven’t quite pinned down are Garruk, Cursed Huntsman and Terror of the Peaks. Garruk has found itself in an awkward squeeze under effects like Embercleave and Genesis Ultimatum, but it’s really powerful and asks for a bit less than those cards. A good midrange deck is one upward-punching interactive spell away from finding its footing.
Terror of the Peaks on the other hand has seen fairly consistent play as a finisher with Genesis Ultimatum, but it’s also fine to just cast. Magda has high upside in this shell, but I’m wary of ramp spells that die to Bonecrusher Giant in a true ramp deck. Maybe a more efficient kill setup with Terror of the Peaks that doesn’t need seven mana lets you bridge the gap here.
Regardless of which shell ends up being best for the card, Magda, Brazen Outlaw is a high-upside mana creature. Going up against the still-legal Thone of Eldraine cards is always a lot to ask, but Magda is almost a lock to find a home in the future of Standard.