fbpx

Kaldheim Themes And Build Strategies For Commander

Where will Kaldheim take your Commander deck? Rules Committee member Sheldon Menery offers signposts for 100-card fun with the upcoming set.

Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, illustrated by Daarken

With a good portion of the Kaldheim card list already previewed, we’re getting a good sense of what kinds of new decks will shape up once we’ve seen them all.  Today I’ll discuss some potential routes you might consider going with some of the set’s mechanics and themes once you get your hands on this very spicy set.  In no particular order:

Legendary Modal DFCs

Before we get to the strategizing, I just want to give you some rules reminders on modal DFCs.

This is what we posted on mtgcommander.net:

If a Modal Double-Faced card has a legendary creature on its front face, the card can be your commander. You may cast either face from the command zone. Command tax is applicable to the card itself, regardless of which face you cast. For example, if you cast Valki, God of Lies and it then dies, casting Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor will cost 7BR and recasting Valki will cost 3B. If both faces are creatures, both faces will deal commander damage in combat.

This means that you’ll have the possibility of casting noncreatures from the command zone.  Even if you’re casting the side that’s not your commander (which is the front face, even if both faces are creatures), command tax applies.  If both faces happen to be creatures, the card deals combined commander damage in combat.  And yes, if you animate Sword of the Realms, it will deal commander damage.  Commanderness is an attribute of the card, not its form.  A face-down commander (having gotten that way with something like Ixidron, for example) will still deal commander damage, just like Akroma, Angel of Fury does.

Some folks confuse modal DFCs with transforming DFCs.  They’re not quite the same; check out rule 711 for all the salient details.  One way in which they are similar is that their color identities are determined by both sides off the card.  The color identity of Jorn, God of Winter (the front face) is Sultai (blue, black, and green).  Nothing stops you from playing it as a mono-green deck (or Dimir for that matter), although there are probably better choices (note that you can’t transform a modal DFC, per rule 711.1). 

Squirrel Tribal

Ever since we’ve seen Toski, Bearer of Secrets, folks have been dusting off their Acorn Catapults. Okay, there really isn’t actual support for Squirrel tribal, with Deranged Hermit, Squirrel Wrangler, and Liege of the Hollows being your best bet for now.   Squirrel Nest will get you some action, but at six mana, Nut Collector may not be your best bet.  Putting Druid’s Call on the indestructible Toski might be a way to bump up your Squirrel count since it has to attack every turn.  After that, you might have to rely on green changelings like Chameleon Colossus, Changeling Titan, and a few from Kaldheim.

Realmwalker is the best of the green Shapeshifter bunch we’ve seen so far, which includes Gladewalker Ritualist, Guardian Gladewalker, and Masked VandalRealmwalker plays into whichever tribal strategy you have involving green, not just our beloved Squirrels.  There’s also the green-adjacent Moritte of the Frost, which can still lead a Squirrel deck and give you the additional blue for whatever tomfoolery you want to get up to.  Playing Moritte as the commander gives you access to Arcane Adaptation, which can turn all your monsters into Squirrels.    

The best news about Toski is that when your creatures deal combat damage, you draw cards.  Creating Squirrels or other creatures to swing with is particularly engaging when you add Bow of Nylea or Ohran Frostfang, giving all your attackers deathtouch.  Players won’t want to trade their much better creatures for your 1/1s. 

Moritte of the Frost

Speaking of Moritte, it opens a wealth of possibilities that don’t involve Squirrels.  It doesn’t just copy creatues, but any permanent you control.  The obvious choice is Clone tribal, but the more interesting option is to find noncreature permanents you want to copy. 

You can turn Moritte into an off-brand Yarok, the Descrator by copying something like Path of Discovery.  If you want to create an environment hostile to creatures, copy Dingus Staff.  To get players grinding through their decks, copy Forced Fruition.  Or simply copy something with cool activated abilities, like Rings of Brighthearth or Strionic Resonator.  Get really saucy and copy Zendikar Resurgent

While I expect a fair amount of heading in the obvious direction with Moritte (and to be fair, it’s still a fun one), I look forward to seeing the jank folks come up with, some involving Mirror Gallery.  Doing so and having it be viable is one of the best parts of Commander.

Snow

One of the big features of the set is the snow supertype.  If it hadn’t been there, we would all probably consider is a huge flavor fail.  At the moment, we’ve seen just over a dozen nonland snow permanents.  The snow two-color lands (at common, no less) have been a big hit already; I just don’t understand the folks who think that anything that isn’t an OG dual is terrible. 

At this juncture, it looks like snow is more of a sub-theme than all-encompassing.  Snow Zombies get my Skyrim vibe up, so cards like Draugr Necromancer are right up my alley.  First of all, it provides excellent creature control, exiling them so that there are no recursion tricks.  If you want them to come back, great.  If not, they’re gone for good.

I also want to point out the clever wording on Draugr Necromancer.  If your Necromancer exiles things, dies, and comes back, you can still cast the exiled cards with ice counters on them — the ice counter being the only qualification.  What’s even cooler is that we might have dueling Necromancers.  If two players have Draugr Necromancers and the creature card belongs to a common opponent, the first one to priority at the appropriate time can have it, because the card isn’t tied to a particular Necromancer.  It’s just out there in exile with an ice counter, waiting to serve.

The aforementioned Jorn, God of Winter is likely to lead your snow-themed deck.  There are other legendary snow creatures, like the also-aforementioned Moritte of the Frost, but Jorn really cares about the snow permanents.  You’ll want to build your deck with Snow-Covered basics and duals, getting that frosty untap every time you battle with Jorn.  You might choose to use that mana for combat tricks or save if for later in the turn for more permanents, big spells, or getting counters off your Dark Depths

Of course, Jorn does more than just untap lands; he untaps all your snow permanents.  This effectively gives your creatures vigilance, since they’ll be untapped if they survive the combat.  You’ll get extra activations of Scrying Sheets if you want them. 

In the Sultai colors, you have some pretty saucy choices from previous sets.  There’s Abominable Treefolk from Modern Horizons, the underappreciated Blizzard Specter from Coldsnap, and Ohran Frostfang from Commander 2019, just to name a few.  Because you’re playing black, Phyrexian Soulgorger is a fine choice, since you’ll be able to reanimate whatever you sacrifice.  Narfi, Betrayer King, previewed by our Commander Advisory Group’s (CAG) Olivia Gobert-Hicks, is one that can bring itself back.  Unfortunately, you might have a tough time getting value out of Centaur Omenreader, since it’ll be tough to keep tapped.

Giants

Although we haven’t seen that many of them yet, Giants are clearly a thing in Kaldheim.  It’d be another flavor fail if they weren’t. 

Surtland Elementalist is suitably gigantic at 8/8, and when it attacks you can cast an instant or sorcery from your hand for free.  Note that you don’t have to choose what to cast until the triggered ability resolves.  Unfortunately, there aren’t free counterspell tricks to do.  You attack, putting the Elementalist’s trigger on the stack.  Then other players get priority.  Anything on top of that trigger, like a Swords to Plowshares, will resolve before the trigger.  Obviously, you can just put a counterspell on the stack in response, but even if you don’t, the trigger will still resolve and you can cast something for free. 

Giants are mentioned in the Saga Invasion of the Giants as well, although it’s not so much an invasion but a hint that the Giants are coming.  There will certainly be more stories to tell.

Sagas

Sagas continue the set’s frost-dripping flavor.  As they’re multicolored, it’ll be difficult to pack a deck with them.  They’re instead destined to be a sub-theme or support cards. Right off the top, Binding the Old Gods is worth Chapter I by itself at four mana, destroying a nonland permanent an opponent controls.  Ramping up a Forest in Chapter II is solid. I’m not sold on the flavor of Chapter III’s giving all your creatures deathtouch, but it’ll certainly be useful. 

Harald Unites the Elves will get deadly in short order.  Reclaiming an Elf or Tyvar (a new planeswalker) is an excellent beginning.  Putting a +1/+1 counter on all your Elves starts turning up the heat in Chapter II.  Chapter III can turn into a massacre, with your Elf army capable of mowing down creatures via -1/-1 counters.  If you want to build a Golgari Elves deck, Harald seems like a pretty good friend to have.

Third on the Saga hit parade is The Trickster-God’s Heist, just the kind of chaotic card Commander loves (when it’s not being played via webcam).  In Chapter I, you trade your small creature for something larger and better.  Your choices for exchange are narrower in Chapter II, since you have to swap nonbasic, noncreature cards.  Trading a Treasure token for a really good artifact will be a nice hit.  The sauciest use might be swapping for someone else’s planeswalker that’s about to go ultimate.  It’d be hard to up the ante in Chapter III, which is just a little Drain Life

Waking the Trolls is an aptly named card, as it destroys a land first, and then puts a land card from any graveyard onto the battlefield under your control.  Someone else have a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx that you want?  You can have it by Trolling for it.  Then Chapter III comes off the top rope, rewarding you for out-ramping someone with 4/4 trampling Troll Warriors equal to the difference.  Savage.

Gods

Gods were previewed early on, so we knew they’d be around, and if The World Tree is any indication, they’re coming back with a vengeance.  Double WUBRG to put all the Gods from your library onto the battlefield is just insane.  Sure, it’s a ten-mana win condition that still needs to do the winning, but it slots directly into five-color God decks already, like my Child of Alara.  I’m still not grasping from a flavor perspective why it’s not legendary, but that’s just a Vorthos thing.

I’m liking the guaranteed ramp of playing Kolvori, God of Kinship as the commander and then casting The Ringhart Crest on Turn 2.  Of course, it’s not like green is really hurting for ramp, so maybe it’s just an early/late choice as 1 of the 99. 

We got the Thor equivalent in Toralf, God of Fury backed with Toralf’s Hammer, and folks are already jazzed about it.  They’re talking about how Blasphemous Act or Star of Extinction can deal lots of damage to someone’s face on a field of small creatures.  Toralf is definitely a build-around in red, but it seems like it’s leading you in a pretty straightforward direction. 

Boast

We’ve seen just the tip of the chest-thumping iceberg on cards with boast, but some of what we’ve seen in thrilling.  Boast is obviously an aggressive mechanic, so you’ll want to consider it part of your aggro strategy.  Like some of the other of the set’s mechanics, it’ll be a useful sub-theme. 

Eradicator Valkyrie is pure fire:  flying, lifelink, and hexproof from planeswalkers on a 4/3 body for just 2BB.  The boast ability is great at getting potential blockers out of the way.  You have to sacrifice a creature, but then every opponent has to sacrifice one as well.  Remember that while there are combat-worthy boast abilities, you’re not restricted to activating them in combat.  The condition is only that the creature attacked this turn.  There will be plenty of scenarios in which it’s better to wait for a more opportune time. 

Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire is getting lots of chatter.  The ability to Vampiric Tutor (for no life) every turn can be pretty degenerate.  I’m not sure this is a card that needed to be made, but there it is. 

Foretell

We have a pretty good glimpse already at the cards with foretell.  The idea is pretty simple — pay part of the casting cost now to exile it (only during your turn) and have access to it later.  It’s a great way of hiding cards from hand destruction and could be a way to leverage cards that care if you have fewer cards in hand, like Damia, Sage of Stone.

Rise of the Dread Marn caught my eye right away.  When someone casts a sweeper, you can be back in business right away.  Unlike Caller of the Claw (which could see action in those Elf decks we’ll no doubt have to face in a post-Kaldheim world), with Rise of the Dread Marn, you get Zombie Berserkers for all players’ nontoken creatures that died this turn. 

I doubt we see decks built around foretell.  It’s more of a supplementary mechanic that will augment other strategies.

Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider

It seems fitting to wrap on an individual card that’s going to see lots of play.  The Phyrexians have invaded Kaldheim, and everyone’s (least) favorite Praetor is leading the way.  It also reveals that Phyrexian will now be a creature type, and if that doesn’t make you shudder, you’re not afraid of much. 

This Vorinclex does what his cousin does — double up on a thing for you, halve a thing for your opponents.  In this case, it’s a further argument to why you don’t want planeswalkers as commanders.

This Vorinclex also makes poison a bit more viable in Commander.  Hitting someone for five infect is enough to kill them.  I doubt that it’s format-warping enough to warrant any action, but this is already a card that’s worth keeping our eyes on.  At six mana for a 6/6 with trample and haste plus abilities that will impact games even if you haven’t built around it (really, when was the last game you saw with no counters in it?), it’s the kind of card that merits our attention from the start. 

Kaldheim already has brewers and builders excited about some of the possibilities.  Whether it’s punching up existing decks with the supplemental mechanics like foretell and boast or building around one of the evident themes, you’ll have plenty of directions to take your creativity. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my Signature Decks, the Chromatic Project, and more!

Decklist
Database