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First Looks: Snow’s Impact On Commander

Sheldon Menery examines more than a dozen Kaldheim previews for Commander and introduces a new format variant: Snow Battles.

Frost Bite, illustrated by Caio Monteiro

The second week of Kaldheim previews was another teaser, this time with a fistful of cards revealed this past Thursday on the Magic Twitch channel.  They also previewed all the new mechanics in the set, which I’ll cover more fully when I review it in its entirety; for now, I’ll give brief notes about the two that I think are most significant.  Today I want to talk about the cards they revealed in a Commander context as well an exciting new idea from the minds of my fellow Commander Rules Committee (RC) members. 

First, the cards.

An excellent combat trick in white, flashing in Sigrid, God-Favored in the combat step gets you potential two-for-ones.  I’ve been waiting to see protection from God creatures for a while and may have even looked in that direction during design.  There will be some play in the idea of whether or not Theros Gods are turned on or not, so pay attention with what you exile. 

We knew there’d be more Modal DFCs coming when we saw Halvar, God of Battle in the initial previews.  What’s cool about Alrund, God of the Cosmos is that you can first cast the back face, Hakka, Whispering Raven, which has the ability to return itself to your hand, and then cast the front face.  The effective card draw from Alrund’s triggered ability plays right into the scry from Hakka. 

The keyword foretell had been previously revealed, but not the rest of the mechanic.  Now we know.  Having played some of these cards already, I can tell those of you who might be ambivalent about foretell that it’s even better than it seems.  For one, it protects the card from anyone attacking your hand, which was my favorite part.  I’m also really happy with the trend of exiling extra turn spells, and suspect that it’s going to continue.

Foretell also lets you spread out the cost of a spell over multiple turns.  While not as spicy in regular Commander, in Boxing League or other Limited formats, Turn 2 foretell, Turn 3 cast a 3/3 flyer seems okay. 

Drawing two cards for four mana as an instant isn’t all that bad; doing it for two mana in a tricky spot is most excellent, especially when you get to scry 2 first.  I’m warning you, foretell will be a thing in the format.

Getting the scry 3 on the enters-the-battlefield trigger is decent.  Drawing three cards when Inga is one of the victims of a battlefield sweeper is all kinds of hot. 

I’m not 100% down on blue getting to exile any kind of permanent at a relatively cheap cost, although I suppose it’s a somewhat natural progression from getting to exile spells, like with Dissipate.  At least it’s not an instant.

A modal DFC that’s a legendary creature on one side and a planeswalker on the other means you can have effectively a planeswalker as your commander (more on that in a moment).  This planeswalker is pretty strong.  We’ll probably most often see the line of play using the +2 to ability to exile the top of everyone’s library and then playing the best of the cards.  Getting up to the -8 and exiling all graveyards isn’t going to happen that often, but when it does, you’ll like what you get to pick from and cast. 

Valki is the front face of the card, meaning Valki is the actual commander of your deck.  It’s merely a semantic point, which some day may have other implications.  Valki’s ability is insanely good.  You know you’re casting it on Turn 2 just to (at least temporarily) strip the best creature from everyone else’s hand.  Valki will be a little awkward in webcam play, but it’s certainly not going to stop folks from playing it.

Varragoth features the other cool new mechanic from Kaldheim, boast.  In the playtests that I was involved in, boast became an extremely significant mechanic.  Note that while it might seem combat-oriented, you can activate the ability later in the turn in your second main phase, the only condition being the creature having attacked.  Varragoth offers a method of getting multiple tutors over multiple turns from the same card, which will end up being very strong.

Our first snow spell, Frost Bite might not see that much play in Commander, but it’s a herald of exciting things to come.

Kaldheim Elves are dark and dangerous.  Elvish Warmaster makes their army grow ever faster, and then later gives them deadly combat capability. 

Changelings being a part of Norse mythology, seeing new ones printed in Kaldheim is only natural.  This one in particular trades a creature card in your graveyard for permanent removal of an artifact or enchantment an opponent controls.  Note that while you have to target what you’re going to exile from the other player, you don’t choose what to exile from your graveyard until the ability resolves.  This means two things.  First, you don’t have to tip your hand on what you’re getting rid of.  Second, it means that someone with graveyard removal can make your choice more awkward or even invalidate it completely by removing everything. 

There’s a good deal going on here.  First, it’s a three-mana 4/4 with trample.  Then, when it dies, it becomes an enchantment that you put on one of your Forests to either make it produce extra mana or sacrifice it and get back the token version of Old-Growth Troll (which doesn’t later do the enchantment trick). 

Like any great journey, this card begins simply and ends with a great deal of action.  Initially, it’s just searching up a basic land to put into your hand.  Later, however, you gain life, draw cards, drain an opponent, Shock a creature, and make a Bear.  The card is a flavor win.

Because of the card draw, this one will see some play.  Again, in Boxing League and Limited, it’s a solid Turn 2/Turn 3 play. 

We already knew Sagas were coming back, and we would have been surprised and disappointed if they didn’t.  Act I might be the strongest part of it, and then II and III just add some value.  It seems more like a mid-turn play than just dropping it on Turn 3 (with ramp) or 4.  A few turns later, it sets up the third act since you’ve had the opportunity to build up a larger creature base. 

The artificing Dwarves are coming with a vengeance.  Koll gives you the opportunity to be a little more loose in your attacks with enchanted and equipped creatures, making simple trades more viable for you.  Equipping creatures with good enters-the-battlefield abilities means getting them a second time (or more).  I’m not sure what in Koll’s story makes only tokens get the buff, but I’d like to find out. 

Niko is a new planeswalker with a new kind of token, Shards.  There’s no big ultimate on Niko, just three simple but useful abilities.  It’ll be interesting to see what other cards in the set synergize with Niko.  My simple thought is that the +1 ability is just a finisher, making that lethal creature unblockable. 

You knew there would be some Loki-esque stuff happening in the set, and here’s the Saga for it.  Swapping creatures in Act I is pretty straightforward.  You get something good and give away something less so.  In Act II, you have more choices, being able to swap artifacts, enchantments, lands (not being able to give away a basic land is why the nonbasic clause is in there), or even planeswalkers.  You could even give away the Saga itself to get an enchantment that’ll stay around longer. 

Imagine someone ticking up a planeswalker thinking they’re going to ultimate it next turn, only to have you grab it and do it right away.  The thing I’m likely to do with it in RC games is snag Scott Larabee’s Maze of Ith; I might even play Sorrow’s Path to do it (and here’s where the narrator comes on and says, “He had no intention of playing Sorrow’s Path.”).  The third Act is useful but maybe a bit of a letdown after the tomfoolery of the first two. 

A major part of the reveal was the ten-card cycle of two-color snow lands:  Alpine Meadow, Arctic Treeline, Glacial Floodplain, Highland Forest, Ice Tunnel, Rimewood Falls, Snowfield Sinkhole, Sulfurous Mire, Volatile Fjord, and Woodland Chasm.  They have both basic land types (as opposed to simply making both colors of mana).  They’re all snow lands, and the biggest downside is that they enter the battlefield tapped. 

That’s hardly going to diminish the excitement for them.  I suspect they’ll be some of the most sought-after cards in the set.  It’s another nod towards our friends in Studio X (what  we used to call R&D) trying to make good mana bases not so costly, especially for Eternal formats like Commander.  While the haters will call them “strictly worse” than OG dual lands, they’ll also run you strictly less than $200+. 

Snow Battles

The other part of the preview was showing the art for the new Snow-Covered lands.  That reveal plays right into an idea that the RC has been chatting about for a few weeks. 

The success of Boxing League has gotten us thinking more about “formatting” Commander; that is, considering other kinds of variants.  One of the anxieties of sitting down to games with players you don’t know is mismatching power levels and play styles, even when players believe they’re being honest about their decks.  As we saw with Boxing Leagues, smaller card pool variants go a long way in evening the playing field.  There’s not really a Rule 0 discussion after “we’re all playing Boxing League decks.”  Everyone is starting on basically the same page and power level. 

The RC is going to make the next evolution of the idea into something we’re calling Snow Battles.  In its simplest form, it’s a build-your-own-block format featuring the sets from the lands of ice and snow:  Kaldheim, Coldsnap, and Ice Age.  Otherwise, it’ll be normal Commander rules. 

This won’t be a Boxing League, where we open product; it’ll be normal Constructed Commander with a significant limitation.  We’ll pick a legendary creature from one of the sets and go to work.  We haven’t figured out too many other details, like if you’ll need to include a certain number of cards from each expansion into your build.  If not, Ice Age, being an older set, might get left behind, which would be a real tragedy. 

There are some definite hidden gems in there, as well as some cards you well familiar with.  In the abstract, here are my Top 10 cards from Ice Age.

Honorable Mention: Pyroblast / Hydroblast

10. Orcish Squatters

Who cares if you don’t get to do two damage?  You get to steal land!  It’s no Herald of Leshrac (from Coldsnap), but in a closed environment, it’ll do.

9. Spoils of Evil

Want to fuel up a big finisher in the late game?  Spoils of Evil will get you there and gain some life for you while it’s happening.

8. Mystic Remora

The first ever “Did you pay?” card, Mystic Remora has made its bones at the high-powered end of the format, and there’s every reason to play it in more casual games as well. 

7. Merieke Ri Berit

The commander of a deck that I put together when the Time Spiral Timeshifted version came out and still have together, Merieke might need some help from cards that untap stuff, but she’ll still get some very heavy lifting done.  Played that deck on stream last week and came out on top.  Here’s the latest list

6. Fire Covenant

Some pesky creatures got you down?  Basically pay the life that they’d deal to you once so that they don’t keep doing it.

5. Swords to Plowshares

By appearing in more than half of the decks on EDHRec that it could possibly go in, Swords to Plowshares qualifies as a format staple.  It’s still only a one-for-one, which means I value it a bit less in open Commander, but in the closed environment, it’s going to carry a much bigger load.

4. Zuran Orb

Combos with Orcish Squatters and keeps you alive in desperate times.  There was a time—back when interrupts were a thing—that you could cast Armageddon and wait to see if someone countered it.  If they didn’t, you still had the opportunity to sacrifice your lands.  The interrupt window was weird.

3. Reclamation / Flooded Woodlands

Reclamation goes down as one of my most hidden of gems and no one is playing it.  With more green creatures battling, Flooded Woodlands might be even better.

2. Order of the Sacred Torch / Stromgald Cabal

Obviously, color hosers were more of a thing in the elder days of Magic.  You want white to be better?  Giving it counterspells is the clear answer, right?  This card has kept lots of nasty things off my face over the years.  White hasn’t been as historically strong as black in the format, but I predict that there’s Stromgald Cabal value in the Commander future.

1. Necropotence

You didn’t expect anything else, did you?  Probably super-busted in a closed environment, but that will remain to be seen.

The RC will likely first play a few weeks of Kaldheim-only Boxing League before moving into Snow Battles.  By then, I’ll have a complete write-up of the variant, along with whatever monstrosity I’m going to build.  It might even involved Goblin Snowman

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