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Kaldheim Commander Set Review: Black and Red

With Kaldheim’s tabletop release now very much imminent, I’m ready to share my thoughts about how the set will impact Commander! Instead of using a numerical scale, I put the cards I review into categories that I think encapsulate their roles in Commander, as a numerical scale wouldn’t make much sense. Here are the categories I use.

 

Header - Categories

Commander: You want this card in the command zone at the start the game. Its best use is to lead the charge as the cornerstone of your deck, but it can probably fit into your 99 as well.

Build-Around: This card can be a huge player in the theme of your deck. It either enables the theme by itself or is something you’re looking to take advantage of over the course of your ideal game. It’s probably worth dedicating other slots in your deck to cards that work with a build-around.

Powerhouse: This card’s not really about synergy, but it’s good all by itself.

Role Player: This card might not be the cornerstone of a deck list, but it’s an important part of the engine or strong enough on its own to merit potential inclusion. This category also covers cards that look good enough to try out but don’t seem like obvious winners.

Tech Card: Counterplay is important, and if a card doesn’t fit into one of the above categories but is good enough at countering other strategies, it’ll be included here.

Niche Inclusion: This card might make your deck if you have a deckbuilding restriction, whether it’s self-imposed based on theme, a power level consideration or a card availability concern. 

 


 

As a reminder, my focus is on social Commander rather than competitive EDH. That means you’ll be hearing about cards largely from that more relaxed perspective. My goal when playing Commander is for everyone to have fun but also for me to have a good shot at winning the game, so if that’s your mindset as well, these ratings will probably resonate with you. I won’t be reviewing reprints, so you can just assume I feel the same way about Disdainful Stroke as I did before we found out it was in this set. When you inevitably disagree with a rating, please feel free to tweet at @RagingLevine with your thoughts!

I should also note that there are plenty of cards in this set that are unexceptional but are also snow. I won’t be talking about those cards, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoehorn them into your all-snow deck – it just means they’re probably not useful in any other context but will see play regardless because of the lack of a critical mass of snow cards. Perhaps in ten more years we’ll have enough snow cards to really get something done.

 

 

Header - Black

Blood on the Snow

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

One of the worst things about Wrathing the board is that you end up behind everyone else for the good of the table. Then everyone forgets about the nice thing you did and kills you. Not so with Blood on the Snow – simply return something sweet and you’ll make up the tempo loss. If you pay full snow retail for this and have an eligible six drop to return, you’ll be at a huge advantage.


Burning-Rune Demon

Rating

Commentary

Powerhouse

Put your opponent in a bind by grabbing your favorite creature and a reanimation spell. Better yet, make that reanimation spell a Dread Return or Unburial Rites and watch the opposition squirm. The possibilities don’t end there, but that’s a pretty strong beginning for a six mana 6/6 flier.


Crippling Fear

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

Reverse Witch’s Vengeance is more in line with what tribal decks themselves want, but with cards like Kindred Dominance at the top end, Crippling Fear’s role is limited to a midsized midgame massacre. That said, it can be just what you need to push through some damage and secure an early elimination.


Draugr Necromancer

Rating

Commentary

Powerhouse

Draugr Necromancer doesn’t require you to dust your mana base with snow, but it offers a nice bonus if you’re willing to do so. If you can already generate whatever colors of mana you might need to cast the creatures you end up killing, you don’t need to worry about it, but there’s really snow downside to upgrading your basics other than sacrificing your favorite art (though I suspect many groups wouldn’t mind if you just said “These beautiful basics are snow. Cool?” before the game). Any card that lets me play with the opponents’ resources screams powerhouse to me – my only concern is keeping this necromancer undead long enough.


Dream Devourer

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

Giving the cards in your hand foretell is an interesting, if not necessarily super-powerful, ability, but if you’re looking to go hellbent while still having some options available to you, Dream Devourer is an interesting way to achieve that. I don’t put much stock in boosting this card’s power by foretelling in this format, but I think there’s an edge to be gained by using cards like Duplicity or Moonring Mirror alongside this Demon. 


Egon, God of Death // Throne of Death

Rating

Commentary

Commander

Egon was the subject of my newsletter a few weeks back, and I think he makes a great cycling commander – fuel him with some low-grade cyclers, then smash opponents with commander damage while cleaning up with synergy from Archfiend of Ifnir, Tormod and more. As with most Commanders, this isn’t the only sweet build and there are plenty more out there.


Eradicator Valkyrie

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

This won’t often get blocked in the midgame, so feel free to boast turn after turn and force opponents to deal with Eradicator Valkyrie directly. Hexproof from planeswalkers isn’t as valuable in this format, so it’s nice that the boast’s value goes up to compensate.


Feed the Serpent

Rating

Commentary

Niche Inclusion

A little exile removal is always nice. That said, better answers exist at the same mana cost, though they may not come at the same dollar value.


Haunting Voyage

Rating

Commentary

Powerhouse

A one-sided Patriarch’s Bidding that just needs to be foretold at some point in the game? Yeah, that seems totally reasonable. Time to dust off my copy of Noxious Ghoul and rebuild my Zombie deck. Of course, this works for any tribal deck that can support this mana cost, but it’s at its best when you can fill your graveyard by doing more than just letting your creatures die in combat.


Rise of the Dread Marn

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

Caller of the Claw, but it’s a black instant that also counts nontoken creatures that you didn’t control when they died. Plus, it has foretell! There’s some value to the original version being a creature, but I’ll be happy to slot this into a Zombie deck or anything that wants to sacrifice a board full of actual creatures in a single turn. It’s also a decent piece of Wrath recovery.


Skemfar Avenger

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

Golgari Elves decks got a huge push in Commander Legends, and that push continues in Kaldheim with cards like Tyvar Kell, Harald and this one. It’s easy to offset the life loss with cards like Essence Warden and Wellwisher, so don’t worry about Nadier spitting out a million tokens that make you lose all your life when they die. Tribal decks need reliable card draw and this is a great piece of the puzzle.


Skemfar Shadowsage

Rating

Commentary

Build-Around

This is very similar to Shaman of the Pack or Gruesome Scourger, but it hits all of your opponents, which seems like a huge improvement to me. While it has to choose between hurting and healing, I can see a comparison to Gray Merchant of Asphodel here, and that’s a bit scary.


Tergrid, God of Fright // Tergrid’s Lantern

Rating

Commentary

Powerhouse / Commander

I’m pre-emptively tired of this card, as it brings Grave Pact effects to the next level at a price much lower than It That Betrays, Grave Betrayal or other similar cards. Even worse, it also keys off discards – and then it has a second side you can pump mana into to punish opponents for being low on resources.


Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor

Rating

Commentary

Commander

I think Tibalt is going to be a really fun Commander when Magic can be played in person again, but in the webcam era, it’s a bit harder to access the fun of playing other peoples’ cards. Valki is a cool early game option, but be mindful that casting the front side still increases the commander tax for Tibalt. This is my preferred form for planeswalker commanders – no unnecessary “this card can be your commander” text, but with all the benefits. Tibalt also starts at a very high loyalty, which is a great attribute for a commander-walker to have.


Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

If you’re into tutors, this can be fun if you can help it survive combat. If you’re me though, you see a way to trigger Ob Nixilis, Unshackled, which is just terribly rude. Following up with something that uses the top card of an opponent’s library to do something evil – like maybe Tibalt – is also an interesting proposition, but I think you’ll usually be better served tutoring for something yourself unless you’re in the Unshackled zone.

 

 

Header - Red

Arni Brokenbrow

Rating

Commentary

Commander

If you’re up for a “power matters” deck, you can play some Ball Lightnings, give Arni trample and have a boasting good time. Arni and Alena, Kessig Trapper are two variants on the same theme, so it’s likely they end up in the same decks, regardless of which one is in the command zone.


Birgi, God of Storytelling // Hanrfel, Horn of Bounty

Rating

Commentary

Commander

I’m excited to play this card alongside Goldspan Dragon, but honestly any amount of cantripping (or just cheap) red spells can fuel a fun storm engine. I see the boast bonus as mostly trinket text in Commander, as there’s not quite enough good instances of that ability to really make anything happen. Harnfel is the kind of card that makes me wish it was easier to have it in play alongside Birgi, but if you have other ways to generate large amounts of mana, you can certainly play a large chunk of your deck all at once as long as you have some cards in hand. Perhaps this is another Braid of Fire synergy – if you can go off in your upkeep, anyway.


Calamity Bearer

Rating

Commentary

Niche Inclusion

I’m a sucker for Furnaces of Rath, especially one-sided ones, but when you tack on the Giant-related requirement, I start to lose interest. That said, this goes well with Inferno Titan, Tectonic Giant and even Brion Stoutarm, not to mention new entrant Quakebringer. This is still a niche, but it’s an interesting niche to explore.


Dragonkin Berserker

Rating

Commentary

Niche Inclusion

This looks like fun in any deck full of changelings (tribal tribal, anyone?) where you can get the boast off early. That said, this is so fragile that I’d prefer something like Dragonmaster Outcast – that may be fragile too, but at least it doesn’t have to attack. All of these boast cards have me thinking about Dolmen Gate of course, but don’t forget Bubble Matrix, my favorite terrible card.


Dwarven Hammer

Rating

Commentary

Niche Inclusion

Loxodon Warhammer is to this as Double Dare is to the home game version I had where most of the gameplay seemed to be “walk around with a weird plastic stick on your head” and “be confused why no one wants to play this terrible game with you.” That said, there’s a deck somewhere that needs this to go along with Meteoric Mace.


Goldspan Dragon

Rating

Commentary

Powerhouse

You get a Treasure when Goldspan Dragon attacks, which is almost as good as getting one right when it enters the battlefield. This card is going to be a powerhouse in Standard, and I expect it to be a popular midgame threat in Commander. It’s a Dragon, after all, and it’s likely to refund you at least one mana of its cost, if not much, much more. In the canon of five mana red Dragons, I think it’ll live at or near the top – a sequence of turn two mana rock, turn four Goldspan Dragon, turn five first main phase an Utvara Hellkite, attack with Goldspan Dragon and make a 6/6 is a fairly new dream of mine. Zada, Hedron Grinder players will also love this alongside cards like Fists of Flame as well as simple pump spells like Brute Force and Titan’s Strength. As long as you’ve got enough mana (Birgi?) or cards (Harnfel?) to keep things moving, you should be all right.


Magda, Brazen Outlaw

Rating

Commentary

Commander

I wrote a whole article about Magda, and though there weren’t too many more Dragons added to the pool in this set, she’ll be happy to add some of the low-cost Dwarves in this set to her army. Reckless Crew seems like a perfect fit in particular.


Quakebringer

Rating

Commentary

Role Player

This card is threatening enough to merit multiple pieces of point removal – first at it, then at subsequent Giants – but not threatening enough to pull graveyard removal away from where it’s really needed in most cases. I expect Quakebringer to trigger three or four times a game on average if you have a critical mass of Giants, even if it expires immediately.


Reckless Crew

Rating

Commentary

Niche Inclusion

If the Dwarves were really as reckless as they claim, they’d have haste. That said, I hope to use them for crewing purposes or, at worst, support them with some sort of Fervor effect. Is this really better than Start Your Engines outside of Magda decks, though? It leaves the Dwarves behind for future turns and synergizes with Equipment, so I’d say yes, but the margin may not be as large as it appears. When do you really have four or five Equipment and nothing to attach it to? 


Tibalt’s Trickery

Rating

Commentary

Tech Card

It’s a lot harder to build a deck around this in Commander than it is in Modern, so I encourage you to look to Frank Karsten for any mathematical modeling regarding Violent Outburst and Emrakul. Instead, I expect this to be something more akin to Chaos Warp, albeit sometimes worse since you have to have it at the right time. Chaos Warp has a higher chance to whiff, as it can just straight-up miss on a non-permanent or nearly miss by hitting a land. Tibalt’s Trickery skips lands and casts non-permanent spells, meaning the best fail cases are mana rocks, counterspells, X spells and cards no longer impactful to the current board state. I’ll definitely give this card a try for the memes, but no matter what Tibalt’s upturned palms may indicate, this isn’t a “diamond hands to the moon” situation.


Toralf, God of Fury // Toralf’s Hammer

Rating

Commentary

Commander

Lee Livingston wrote a delightful article on Toralf already and as a fellow burn aficionado, I’m excited by this card’s prospects. I’m particularly happy that the Hammer side can return itself to your hand, making it easier to stomach casting that half without worrying about overextending on commander tax.

 

Discussion

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