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Kaldheim Commander Set Review: Part 1

Sheldon Menery thinks Kaldheim is one of the best sets ever printed for Commander. In Part 1, he reviews single-color cards, artifacts, and lands.

Battle Mammoth, illustrated by Jesper Ejsing

Cold winds are blowing through Commander, bringing a bunch of new hotness to your decks.  The Kaldheim Prerelease is on us, so it’s time for a review of what’s going to be a high-impact set for Magic’s most popular format.

Remember that this is a set review for Commander only.  There are plenty of cards that will be stars in other formats that won’t quite have the same impact in ours.  I’ll talk about noteworthy cards and those I expect to see play in each color, pick a Top 3, and offer a rating. 

White

The latest Pacifism variant locks down non-mana abilities and, significantly with this set that has Vehicles in it, the ability to crew.  The cost is one additional mana above the original, which is well worth it.

A card that’s left some heads scratching, Divine Gambit has already been called some pretty bad names.  I’m a little higher on it, considering that it’s not an early-game play, but a less expensive later one.  Exiling is powerful in Commander (although I notice it can’t hit a planeswalker), and while it’s risky, I think you can judge the situation well enough to keep the odds of getting rid of something extremely good and replacing it with something less so. 

Foretell Day of Judgment will have an impact.  Pay the two mana on the early turn and have a cheaper battlefield sweeper later, letting you have the resources to take the advantage on building your own battlefield again.  There are mind games to be played with foretelling cards early; certainly, some of them are going to be more popular than others, and players can make educated guesses on which cards might be there (I’m sure we’ll get a running joke of “it’s always Willbender”), but you have all the info and they only have speculation.  Strong card.

Glorious Protector can flash in and save the rest of your team from a sweeper if you need.  You can also protect them from a combat that has turned out to be disadvantageous.  As an offensive weapon, it can get you a second instance of each of those cool enters-the-battlefield abilities that you have on your creatures.   

In general, I don’t like exiling stuff from my own graveyard, but there’s room here for Master Skald to be part of the recursion engine in an enchantress deck.

Anthems are fine, especially when you get to pick what they buff.  I like that this one works in decks that have white but the strongest part of the tribe might be in another color.

It’s not a hugely splashy ability, but at the relatively low cost of three mana (and the eventual exile of a creature card), makes it worth at least looking at for your Angel or Warrior tribal decks.

A straight drop into your Angel decks, you’ll have your team getting +2/+2 in no time.  This one certainly goes into my Trostani and her Angels deck, since life gain is a big part of the strategy. 

Excellent exploration of design space with the Runes throughout the whole set. The card replaces itself and gives you a strong ability at a low cost.  How could you say no?

This one is going to lead to some strong combos, making casting Runes cost only a single generic mana.  The triggered ability is spicy, since you can get one out of your library or your graveyard.  We’ll see which Rune decks develop; if there’s a good one in white, Runeforge Champion will be a key player.

We know snow will be a thing, so tutoring for any snow permanent, a legendary card, or a Saga (and gaining up to three life) will get you where you’re going.  I’ll probably look to pull up Firja’s Retribution with this one.

Mana rock get blown up?  Suture Priest get nuked?  Shepherd of the Cosmos will be there for you.  In fact, with the foretell cost paid, it might just be waiting before it ever happens.

Big combat tricks are coming along with Sigrid, who will not only remove an attack or potential blocker, but will be available for defensive duty as well.  Protection from God creatures is a pretty significant ability, both in closed Kaldheim-only environments and in the broader format.

If you don’t have ramp, making things cost less is effectively the same thing.  In fact, cost reducers can occasionally be better than an extra land, since they’ll affect every relevant spell you cast, netting you two, three, or more mana in a turn.  Casting Sensei’s Divining Top for free seems just a little cheaty.

A potential late-game finishing move. You can foretell it early, go about the rest of your business, and come off the top rope with an army of Angels later on.  Nice use of the foretell mechanic.

Top 3:

Grade: B+

The top cards are pretty good, but nothing that gets my pulse pounding too quickly.  Density is on point.

Blue

No one really cares about the Birds. It’s all about the extra turn.  The value here seems to be in being able to foretell is so that it’s out of your hand and safe from discard effects. 

Basically Figure of Destiny on a snow creature, Ascendant Spirit is a nice mana sink and combat trick.  It should be very good in Kaldheim Boxing Leagues. 

A nice piece at common. Having some inexpensive draw tucked away for a tricky situation will better help you navigate it.

Taking a big creature’s damage once instead of a bunch of times is a pretty good idea.  That’s also not commander damage, which can often be significant.  Another fine common. 

Likely a linchpin in foretell decks, Cosmos Charger lets you keep up mana until the last minute before foretelling.  End of turn foretell, next turn cast whatever.  Nice theming on the fact that you can also foretell Cosmos Charger.

Very happy that you can’t just blink this one for value. I think the folks in Studio X are doing a nice job of looking at Cyclonic Rift variants that aren’t just easily splashable auto-includes.  I’ll be looking at Giant tribal for sure.

I’ll say it one more time:  fine common.

Impact cards in Commander frequently cost four or more.  You will be getting lots of mileage from Disdainful stroke, which you can even splash into a deck light on blue.

In an all-snow deck, Frost Augur is basically one-mana card draw.

A clever Impulse variant that you can get an additional use from. With just three mana you can do it twice, getting the best two of your top six cards.  Note that you’re looking at the cards, not drawing them, so you sidestep nasty things like Nekusar, the Mindrazer.

Most often, this will be scry 5, draw 3.  Pretty reasonable for a five-mana instant.

We suspected we’d see Krakens, and here’s a biggie.  With just six snow lands, you can cast this monstrosity, locking down already-tapped artifacts and creatures from a single opponent.  This will be an impact card in battlecruiser Commander. 

Board sweepers happen in Commander, and Inga will see everyone else heading to the graveyard with her, so you’ll be drawing those three pretty often.

Littjara Kinseekers is already one of the creatures you need, so you’ll only need two more to fulfill the requirement. 

This is a Commander card.  It will cause many shenanigans to happen.  The one people have been talking about already is casting Mystic Reflection targeting Avenger of Zendikar with its trigger on the stack, multiplying the number of Avengers you’ll have.  A single landfall will then get completely ridiculous.  Deranged Hermit is another answer I’ve heard.  There are also defensive uses, like screwing over someone’s big Genesis Wave, guaranteeing they’ll get jank instead.  The Timmy in me wants to cast it in response to my own Storm Herd, targeting the biggest, baddest nonlegendary thing on the battlefield. 

Another card that’s going to cause some crazy battlefield states, Orvar plus Mirage Mirror will give you the ability to get a permanent token copy of nearly anything on the battlefield.  And if someone happens to make you discard Orvar, no biggie, you still get a token of the best thing around.  Very strong.

A excellent card to foretell early so that you can cheaply get rid of a large monster, Ravenform continues the trend of playable commons in blue.

Be careful with doubling up your legendary creatures, since one of them will go away.  Of course, if you’re casting cards like Keiga, the Tide Star, that’s not a terrible choice.  Otherwise, doubling up on every tribal creature you cast is completely bonkers.  This is a build-around card that will be very popular.  The nice part is that it’ll be doing something different for everyone, so even if it’s in every blue deck, it won’t be just another boring auto-include.

I can’t imagine where you’re not choosing both modes, but I suppose situations might exist. 

Simple, straightforward, and valuable.

While the name is clever, there are likely better counterspell options in the wide-open format. 

Top 3:

Grade: A+

The best cards are super-spicy without being broken, and the destiny of playables, especially those commons, is super-high.

Black

If you’re playing this, you’re playing all snow lands, so you’ll return a creature or planeswalker with six CMC or less.  That’s a pretty nice restart after a sweeper.  Sure, you only get something from your graveyard, but you’re playing great cards anyway.

Rune-Scarred Demon’s bigger sibling plays right into your graveyard recursion decks, as you’ll be able to reanimate whichever of the two gets tossed into the graveyard.  It’s also on a pretty healthy body.  Of course, you can just straight go for your two win condition spells, giving the opponent an choice of which way they want to get wrecked.

Your tribe survives.  A good portion of everyone else’s eats it.  You’re going to see some Elf decks come out of Kaldheim, so this might be a nice weapon against them.  It also probably ruins the day of Goblin and Sliver players.

I couldn’t care less about the power buff, I’m all on board for bringing back something that I’m about to sacrifice, like Kokusho, the Evening Star.

I’ve already talked about how good this card is.  The intervening time only has me appreciating it more.  I still can’t wait to see what happens in a game when two players are running Draugr Necromancer.

The boast cost might be too high to be useful, but I’d take it out for a spin to verify.

There’s one of these Equipment in each color, but this is the first one I think is playable.  The others are a little spendy for what you get.  With Draugr’s Helm, you get a 4/4 with menace for five mana.  Seems legit. 

I’m not sure this will see much play, but I have to mention it alongside Syr Konrad, the Grim (like he needs any more help).

This is a thought-provoking card.  You can put anything on layaway and spend the rest when you want to cast it.  You might consider comboing it with a card like Mindslicer.  Your hand will be empty (save lands) at some point, which then mitigates the damage to you while stripping off everyone else. 

If it had only the first line of abilities, Eradicator Valkyrie would be a good card at a great rate.  The boast ability makes it kind of absurd.  Yes, you’ll need to sacrifice a creature.  That’s what Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools is for. 

Holy moly!  You know I’m foretelling this thing and filling up my graveyard for later.  Sure, it’s expensive, but the blingiest things in life are.  Can’t wait to go on this voyage.

Don’t sleep on the Jarl.  Flash it in and get rid of someone’s huge creature that just got chump blocked.  Alternately, finish off a planeswalker that got hit for just one damage.  I think it’ll be quite useful.

The important part of this one is that it’s an instant, unlike most cards with similar effects.  It can save a creature, or two if they share a type, from targeted graveyard hate.  Alternately, you can just use it at end of turn of the player to your right, setting up your next turn.

Holy Hannah, the Zombies are coming.  Sure, do your Wrath of God.  It’ll get a Zombie army, thanks.  Note that you get one for every nontoken creature that died, not just yours. 

Runes keep being fine cards.  Not too splashy, but useful.

People will try to kill your Elves, so you might as well get something for them.  Just be careful it doesn’t kill you in the process.

Clearly, Golgari Elves will have win conditions that might not involve overrunning you in combat.  The lose-life mode is likely the one we’ll see most, with the gain-life version used only in the most desperate situations.

This boast ability would be busted if the relatively small creature didn’t have to attack to use it.  As is, you risk losing it every time you send it into combat.  Varragoth having deathtouch makes it a little more awkward for potential blockers, but most players will take that trade to keep you off repeated tutors.  Of course, if you only need one card to win the game, there you go.

One mana to sacrifice a creature that’s already going to die (like in a sweeper or chump block situation) to draw two cards is solid value. 

Top 3:

Grade: A

Strong top cards, with even a few more vying for Top 3, decent density. 

Red

Arni is going to deal some damage.  Mix liberally with Malignus in a mono-red deck, some Eldrazi, or any of those immense green things, like Apex Devastator in Gruul or Jund. 

The argument for this Giant Wizard to be in an otherwise all-Goblin deck is strong. 

Aesthetically, I find the tribal damage doublers, like Calamity Bearer, preferable to the just blanket doublers like Furnace of Rath and Dictate of Purphoros.  I don’t mind having to work a little harder to get there.  That said, in a Giant deck, big things doing twice the damage will be savage.

This will likely see play in some Boxing League builds, or if you’re really going to lean into that Calamity Bearer.

Obviously, this goes in a Dragon deck, but what it made me do is scroll down to the artifacts to see if there (and there’s sadly not) an Equipment that gives boast.  That’d be cool.

Copying small stuff isn’t usually all that useful.  Maybe foretelling it and then adding onto a ramp spell? 

We might finally be on the way to making Dwarf tribal a thing.  I’m in.

We won’t likely see this outside of Wolf tribal, but it’s adorable.

Lightning Bolt is back in snow form!

Even if you’re not battling with the Goldspan Dragon, doubling up on your Treasure value is outstanding.  The cynic in me wants to mention that we seem to be leaning kind of hard into Treasures in the last several sets, but we’ll let that go for now.  This is an excellent card.

Dwarf tribal is indeed becoming a thing, and it might have a new leader.  I might head more down the artifact direction with Magda than the Dragon one.  Some nice Equipment and Reyav, Master Smith will get you where you want to go.

Listen, I’ve been a personality on the internet for more than 20 years.  I can tell you that provoking the trolls isn’t worth it.  Although the card mentions Trolls, it might be more useful with Dinosaurs that have enrage, like Polyraptor or Ripjaw Raptor.

You already had me at “Your opponents can’t gain life.”  The card seems templated a little weirdly, but it’s clear. 

Sometimes, the downsides of equipment can be not having creatures left to equip and having to pay those costs.  Reckless Crew will solve both of those things in one easy step.

Haste kills people.  Sure, Rune of Speed is basically adding two to the cost of a creature to give it haste (and draw you a card), but out of nowhere, that could be a winner.

Okay, Tibalt’s Trickery is a wall of text that is effectively Chaos Warp plus for a spell rather than a permanent.  I like it.  You can counter an important game-winner from an opponent with it, or you can cast some little nonsense of your own and try to find something that’ll get you out of a tricky spot.  The mill is obviously about not being able to set up a guaranteed winner for yourself.

Top 3:

Grade: C

The best cards are fine, but not that exciting on the whole, and the playable density is low. 

Green

Remember when a five-mana creature would never be a 6/5 with trample, let alone have a very useful ability?  Those days are long gone.  Battle Mammoth will especially see play among the RC members because Scott Larabee is overly fond of Maze of Ith and its cousins.  Very, very strong card without being anywhere close to broken.

Two cards in, and green is already better than red.  I might play these even without the counter distribution.

I’ll murder your creature for one green, thank you very much. 

Flexibility is good, and tacking one mana onto Naturalize to add flying creature to the mix is well worth it.  I predict this card will be an MVP in Boxing League.

Sure, the power is limited by the fact that it can only trigger once a turn.  Of course, when you have activated abilities that can create Elves on other players’ turns, it’s a bit less limiting.  The final Overrun is just icing on the cake.

Not only does it bring its own crew, but Esika’s Chariot creates more friends to crew it and other Vehicles with.  Pair with Orvar, the All-Form for some real hijinx.

The first question folks will ask is if we’re changing the number of poison counters in Commander.  We have no plans to do so, and the presence of a single card isn’t likely to change that calculus.  Still, paired with Bow of Nylea and/or Ohran Frostfang, Fynn will make your team pretty deadly in short order.

I’m reasonably sure this isn’t busted because the conditions are pretty specific.  Still, I get leery every time I see “without paying its mana cost.”  You can certainly do some upkeep tricks with Sensei’s Divining Top and In Search of Greatness’s trigger on the stack.  The word “other” in the ability keeps it from being too broken as a Turn 2 play.  Nonetheless, this is a card with some legs.

King Harald’s Revenge targeting Harald, King of Skemfar has to be the desired play, right?  Trample on commanders is deadly, and this one is no exception.

You know I’m not much on exiling cards from my own graveyard, but I’ll make an exception for Masked Vandal.

There’s a lot going on here.  First of all, a three-mana 4/4 with trample is already good, maybe even pushed.  Then, add onto it the fact that when it dies it still becomes useful, and it becomes super-good, even if it’s not game-breaking. 

I’ve talked before about effective card draw, which means that you’re getting access to cards without taking the action defined by the game as drawing.  Realmwalker is a good example, as it gives you access to the card on top of your library if it’s the right creature type.  I’m a fan.

When I first read the text of this card, I got to power or toughness 6 or greater, started to get twitchy, and then relaxed when I saw that you put it in your hand.  Still, a big, bashy monster that will replace itself with a bigger, bashier monster is all good with me. 

Simple and valuable.  Big creature, now tramply.  Oh, and draw a card.  Things don’t have to be complicated to be excellent.

Getting bigger with every land drop, Spirit of the Aldergard will be a pretty big Bear in the late-game. 

I like that the cost to foretell and later cast is less than the cost to just hard-cast the card.  Tucking this away for later (note to self: remember that it’s a sorcery) seems like it’ll pay great dividends.

I’ve already been pretty effusive about Toski, so there’s no reason to repeat myself.  It’s exciting, plus it’s adorable as all get-out.

The strongest part of the card might be giving all your Elves the ability to make black mana.  The emblem is really good, but by the time you get there, most Elf decks are going to have either overrun the table or gotten blasted into oblivion. 

I said quite a bit last week about Vorinclex, and some of it bears repeating.  It’s the most pushed card in the set.  It’s a card that you’re going to have to prepare for since it has broadly relevant abilities.  It’s not ban-worthy, but it’s without a doubt the kind of card you keep an eye on. 

Top 3:

Grade: A+ (or maybe F for being too good???)

Great top cards, lots of desirable and playable cards in the color, probably more than any one of us can cram into even large suites of decks.

Multicolored and Modal DFCs

We’re going to do something different for this review.  The multicolored cards of Kaldheim are so good that they deserve their own article, which will follow next week.  Although they’re not all multicolored, the Modal DFCS also fit into the category of being worth more expansion.  For completeness, I’ll offer up my Top 3 and obvious grade, but they really do merit special attention.  I’ll also flash a little preview that one of them reminds me that some words will be added to Rule 11 on tomorrow’s update on the official RC website.  It’s not a functional change but it will add some clarity. 

Multicolored Top 3:

Modal DFC Top 3:

Grade: A+

Dripping with flavor and playability. It will be obvious why we’ve chosen to break out the cards into their own piece.

Artifact

The selection of artifacts is a little low to give a Top 3 and grade to, so I’ll simply mention the noteworthy ones.

Whatever your tribe, Bloodline Pretender will be one of the team.  A large member of the team.

The crew cost might seem steep, but the mana acceleration is worth it.  My only regret is that its toughness is low enough that it will eventually get outclassed in combat, so maybe a Rogue’s Passage or Thassa, God of the Sea will help keep it around. 

Pretty simple, but it pays for itself pretty quickly.  In relatively slow environments, you might even start getting benefits with one of the lifegain lands and casting Cosmos Elixir early.

Maskwood Nexus makes every deck into a tribal deck.  It will take great advantage of the Kaldheim cards that count each creature of the type you control.  You can use it in some of the same ways you do Arcane Adaptation to make your diverse tribe unified.

A less broken version of Birthing Pod—although you can turn it into one with Maskwood Nexus.

The mana rock that was built for proliferate decks, Replicating Ring might get out of hand there pretty quickly. 

Ugh.  In the tradition of Grafdigger’s Cage, this is a beating for my three Karador, Ghost Chieftain decks.  Still, a viable and necessary card family for there to be in the format.

Land

I won’t mention all the snow two-color lands by name, but we’re happy to have them.  I’ll also group all the guild-colored lands into one family.  The extra ability to sacrifice them later in the game makes them not a dead draw.  I’ll also say that Gnottvold Slumbermound is one of the best card names ever.  There are a couple of lands that merit individual mention.

Having your legendary creatures ascend to godhood is all kinds of flavor win.  In practical matters, the line I see most here is putting an indestructible counter on your now-God commander, making it that much more difficult to deal with. 

Okay, cool, all your lands can eventually make any color.  Pretty useful in a five-color deck.  Then it’s off the top rope with the double WUBRG activation, slamming all your Gods onto the battlefield.  A good portion of them are going to be indestructible, so it’s likely bad times for your opponent.  Will it win games?  Sure.  Is it a format-warping card?  No way.

Kaldheim is the kind of set dreams are made of.  It’s an A+ from both a playability and a flavor perspective. It contains many good cards, and very few of them raw auto-includes.  That gives deck brewers the opportunity to stretch their legs and really dig deep into their craft. 

The ideas are plenty, and the payoff will be marvelous.  Even taking recency bias into account, Kaldheim will go down as one of the greatest sets for Commander we’ve seen so far. 

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