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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jan 28 2021 12:00pm
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The Nords have arrived in the latest Magic set, as we have reached the snowy shores of Kaldheim. Unnecessary incursions by Phyrexia aside, it appears we’re back to the era of complex Magic sets, with a ton of mechanics, a Morph analog, a ton of mechanically-relevant tribes, and more. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started with the mechanics:

 

Mechanics:

Snow:

This is a surprise return, especially after the snow cards in Modern Horizons broke multiple formats. While the snow cards aren’t nearly as powerful here (with the exception of the new duals), it’s a bigger part of the whole, especially in its main colors of green and blue (with a secondary theme in black). The payoffs seem relatively weak given the number of picks you need to spend on snow lands (especially since you’ll get fewer “free” lands since other colors will naturally pick duals), but we’ll see where they end up compared to the other archetypes.

 

Foretell:

Spell Morph is finally a thing, and it results in one of the most interesting mechanics in a while (especially since it doesn’t seem unfair). Most of the “average” cards don’t cost anything to foretell (other than a turn), and being able to split the cost over multiple turns is a huge benefit, as it lets you use your mana more efficiently. I’m sure the knowledge portion will be very important as the format develops (especially in colors like green with fewer foretell cards), but for now the most important cards to know are the instant removal spells (Iron Verdict, Demon Bolt, Poison the Cup) and the pump spells (Kaya's Onslaught, Warhorn Blast, Mammoth Growth).

 

Boast:

I appreciate a good combat mechanic as much as the next design-focused Mel, but even considering that most of these don’t seem great. Then again, if you’re getting the Boast ability as a benefit on a card that isn’t awful to play anyway (more Hagi Mobs and fewer Duskwielders, it’s a fine mana sink, though I wonder how much extra mana you’ll have if Foretell lets you optimize your mana each turn.

 

Sagas:

Can we just make Sagas deciduous already? They aren’t doing much new here (the main “new” thing is multicolor Sagas, and they’ve even reverted to all of them being only three chapters), and they don’t play a mechanical role like they did in Dominaria (historic) or Theros (enchantments-matter). Instead they’re “just” value machines and signposts for the archetypes. I worry that between Sagas and Foretell there might be too much delayed gratification, but that might just be the sign of a slower format.

 

Tribal/Changeling:

Each of the ten realms of Kaldheim corresponds to a different color pair, and each color pair corresponds to a different creature type. Some care about their creature type much more than others (as we’ll get to in the archetypes), but so much tribal means we need the Changeling glue to hold it together. They’re mostly in the Simic, but that’s mostly where the heavy tribal stuff is, so it works.

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Foretell

How much tempo can you afford to give up waiting a turn for all your spells? That’s what the Azorius are asking this go-around, and Vega the Watcher and Niko Defies Destiny give you a ton of value for heading that direction. The problem is that almost all of the Foretell cards are already off the charts-powerful—every white deck will play Iron Verdict and Shepard of the Cosmos, while all the blue decks want Augury Raven and Ravenform. Furthermore, adding Foretell doesn’t suddenly make an effect you don’t want good—Depart the Realm is still a minor effect, and Kaya's Onslaught is still conditional (and not great in the control archetype Foretell points towards). As such, I don’t know how good the archetype is in terms of build-arounds, even if the Foretell cards are great.

 

Blue/Black: Snow Value

This archetype is strange, as The Trickster God's Heist isn’t a build-around at all (but is probably good—keep in mind you can swap this for someone else’s Saga) and Narfi, Betrayer King pushes in multiple directions. Clearly it’s focusing on the snow aspect, and there are plenty of payoffs in Dimir for doing so. However, most of the good snow cards are at higher rarities, while at common you’re left with mediocre cards like Frostpeak Yeti, Grim Draugr, and Berg Strider. The main payoff is Priest of the Haunted Edge, but that requires a heavy commitment that doesn’t seem practical. I’d stay away at first, until we see how heavily snow lands get drafted.

 

Black/Red: Suicide Aggro

Another deck with a clear direction but not clear build-arounds, as neither Kardur, Doomscourge nor Kardur's Vicious Return point in a direction beyond “aggro.” The cards are good, particularly the high-quality removal, but my only concern is that there isn’t much to build-around. You do get to combine Shackles of Treachery (the first three-mana Threaten effect in a while) with efficient sacrifice outlets like Village Rites and Tergrid's Shadow (though not creatures), but that seems like a side-effect for an aggro deck at best. Draft the good removal, but don’t focus on building an archetype.

 

Red/Green: Ramp

We’re back to traditional archetypes, as Svella, Ice Shaper is a great payoff for hyper-ramp while also enabling it. The only question is how practical it is to get up there, as most of green’s ramp is snow-biased, while red doesn’t get much from it other than a minor upgrade on Frost Bite. Red does have some ramp, but other than Vault Robber and maybe Seize the Spoils they’re on bad effects. On the other side, you have a pair of good common ramp targets with Ravenous Windwurm and Cinderheart Giant (though the latter is hurt by much of the good common removal not triggering it), even before you get to the bombs. Still, I like this deck, especially since there shouldn’t be much competition for Snow-Covered Mountains.

 

Green/White: Wide Aggro

Another aggro deck, though this one is a lot clearer on getting a bunch of creatures and buffing them, though Maja, Bretaguard Protector feels a bit expensive. There are a lot of token producers (Beskir Shieldmate, Elderleaf Mentor) and pump spells (Battleshield Warrior, Warhorn Blast), so this deck should be good—maybe that’s why the signposts are a little weak? Still, this deck feels like it’s in a good place.

 

White/Black: Second Spell Value

On raw power this might be one of the most powerful decks: cards like Clarion Spirit, Codespell Cleric, Bloodsky Berserker, and Firja, Judge of Valor are extremely strong payoffs, and Foretell means it’s pretty easy to cast multiple meaningful spells in a turn. The only question is how much card flow you can have without the signpost, as you’ll quickly run out of spells. Is it worth it to play cards like Revitalize that have little value beyond being a spell? Village Rites seems particularly important, and Boast abilities give you a mana sink when you run out of cards as well. Overall this feels like one of the best decks on day one, at least until people learn how to fight it.

 

Blue/Red: Giants

The fundamental problem with giants since their original appearance in Lorwyn is that even though they’re big, they’re expensive, and thus your curve is a mess. While three-mana Changelings (and Aegar, the Freezing Flame, which probably should have been rare) help, you also get Foretell and Glimpse the Future (another card that’s normally rare) to smooth out your curve. The payoffs are enormous too: Squash, Basalt Ravager, and big rares. This seems appealing if the format is slow, but be wary of the faster decks.

 

Black/Green: Elves

Speaking of Lorwyn, here’s a direct port, but surprisingly I’m unimpressed. The problem is that there are almost no payoffs: Harald, King of Skemfar is good (and Binding the Old Gods is great but doesn’t point towards Elves at all beyond the tiny creature angle), Skemfar Shadowsage is fine, and Return Upon the Tide and Roots of Wisdom are mediocre at best. The meat and potatoes creatures are fine, but the only reasons to be in this deck are rare and mythic (or were quarantined from Limited in the Theme Boosters). That means it’s in the lower half of decks, but the best case is still fine.

 

Red/White: Auras/Equipment

The augmentation theme in Boros isn’t that new, but it seems decent here. There are a ton of tokens to attach stuff to, cheap Equipment (Tormentor's Helm is a star and Goldvein Pick is fine), meaningful equipment (Runed Helm is nice even with a single rune, while Dwarven Hammer turns any creature into a threat), and okay Auras (the Runes have a fine floor—remember worst case you can enchant a land and cycle them—and Spectral Steel gets some value too). The build-arounds aren’t great, but in a slower format the aggro deck could work.

 

Green/Blue: Snow Power

This is another strange snow archetype, as while Moritte of the Frost and The Three Seasons are both strong cards, there’s no real reason to go full-snow other than random strong cards. The amount of snow you need varies, as Boreal Outrider is crazy with only a single snow source, while Frost Augur is one of the few cards that requires a full commitment to snow to be playable. The problem is that there isn’t much of a benefit to going full-snow, but it’s not practical to do so. Overall it feels like snow is something you’ll splash rather than something you’ll go fully into. Just focus on the good cards (even ones that aren’t snow, like Sarulf's Packmate) and this deck will be fine.

 

Other Important Cards:

The main note is that the removal seems a lot stronger than average here: Bound in Gold is common, Iron Verdict is an instant, blue gets Bind the Monster, Icebind Pillar, and Ravenform (which is much worse in Limited than Constructed, but still not awful), red gets both Demon Bolt and Frost Bite, green gets Struggle for Skemgar (one of the few spells cheaper overall when foretold), and Binding the Old Gods is uncommon, just to name a few. The lands are also going to be important: beyond fighting for snow, the uncommon spell lands (Gates of Isfell and the others) are all crazy, and their only cost is a tapped land. All of this points to a very slow format where each threat matters. And of course, if the format is slow, does that mean five-color good stuff has a shot? Path to the World Tree is clearly hinting toward that being possible, and it might be the best way for ramp and/or snow to go.

 

Conclusion:

Kaldheim is going to be a very interesting set, and while the power creep is real, nothing seems completely broken out of the box—though I assumed Omnath being four colors would hold it back last time. Of course, if things don’t end up well, we have a known quantity coming back soon afterward with Time Spiral Remastered. My design for that is mostly done, and I’ll get that article up soon. The latest Arena State of the Game says Pioneer Masters has been pushed back beyond Strixhaven, so we won’t have to worry about that until later (and Historic Anthology 4 is coming before that), so I won’t need to update that for a while either.

 

One other note related to stuff I used to write: The treasure chests got a massive overhaul, with a ton of Standard-legal boosters being added to the pool and most of the non-promo cards being dropped. Obviously I’m not up on the MTGO economy, but I’m assuming this is an attempt to counter-act the lack of Standard play on the client, and instead of, say, putting a ton of Uro’s on the curated list, WotC is increasing the rate of Standard cards overall, and as a bonus it encourages draft of Standard sets. I’m not sure what it means for the EV of chests overall, but I’m assuming the boosters are worth more than random one-ticket cards that are more difficult to sell, so it could work—though the whole point of chests was to not tie prize support to the worth of a booster, so this could backfire. Either way, it’s interesting. Until next time.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter