Conditions Allow - Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas
(Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas | Art by Jason Chan)
The Boros Experience
Hello everyone, and welcome to Conditions Allow. In this series we take a look at legendary creatures with drawbacks and try to turn them into strengths. This week I'm building with a powerful warrior who often fights alongside Giants, Dragons, and even Angels: Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas.
Hailing from Commander 2015, Kalemne is often overlooked in favor of the more popular experience commanders like Meren of Clan Nel Toth or Ezuri, Claw of Progress. Kalemne lags much, much farther behind her contemporaries from Commander 2015, helming only half as many decks as Daxos the Returned in the EDHREC database. Hers is often regarded as the weakest effect of the bunch. Let's see if that holds up to closer inspection, nearly five years after her original release.
With Kalemne in play, you get an experience counter any time you cast a creature spell with a converted mana cost of five or greater. Unlike Meren, who tends to sit in the middle of her deck's curve, or Ezuri, who is usually one of the more expensive creatures in his decks, Kalemne represents the bottom of our curve. In order to consistently acquire experience, we'll want the majority of the deck to be full of expensive creatures.
This could be a bit of a problem, though, since the most common advice you'll hear when improving a deck is to lower the mana curve. Casting more spells generally makes you more likely to win, especially if you can play two or even three in a single turn. Because Kalemne is focused around expensive cards, Kalemne will sometimes struggle to cast a single creature in a turn. Despite this, I think this Giant Soldier has promise. Double strike and vigilance on a 3/3 body for only four mana is nothing to sneeze at, and red and white have access to some of the best aggressive beaters in the game. Let's take a look at what we have to work with.
Open the Armory
It should come as no surprise that Kalemne’s EDHREC page is dominated by large creatures. Many of her High Synergy cards are Giants, suggesting she is the head of a number of tribal decks. Most of her Top Cards, on the other hand, are pieces of ramp and a couple powerful non-Giant creatures. Before getting into the creature segment of this deck, though, I want to go over a set of cards that do not feature as heavily on this page as I expected.
Another commander that wants you to include lots of big, expensive creatures is The Ur-Dragon. While not as fast as Scion of the Ur-Dragon, the Ur-Dragon regularly surprises me with its speed, and a big part of that comes from its Eminence ability. Reducing costs is powerful, and it lets us simulate a much lower curve for our deck. Both Hazoret’s Monument and Oketra’s Monument should be much higher on Kalemne’s page, alongside Pearl Medallion and Ruby Medallion.
Meanwhile, Urza’s Filter and Semblance Anvil are both entirely absent from the page. The Filter is in a slightly awkward place, competing with Kalemne in the four-drop slot. It does, however, make it possible to cast Kalemne and a high-cost creature on the next turn, which is exactly where we want to be. Semblance Anvil can do the same, but it also serves another important function: it lets us make use of our expensive creatures in the early turns of the game.
One of the dangers of a deck constructed from a large number of 5+ mana spells is the risk of drawing all of them in your opening hand. Being stuck with three lands and four seven-drops means we won't be doing anything while our opponents ramp, draw cards, and develop their game plan. This is why it's worthwhile to play spells that toss away the uncastable cards to grease the wheels. Pitching an Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to a Semblance Anvil won't feel great, but being able to play God-Eternal Oketra or Ilharg, the Raze-Boar two turns early certainly does.
Red card draw achieves the same thing. Thrill of Possibility, Tormenting Voice, and Wild Guess all let us filter past uncastable creatures to find the cost reducers and mana rocks we need to get in the game. In the late game, they let us ditch extra lands to find those huge creatures. Tectonic Reformation and Hazoret's Monument are also vital sources of filtering that ensure the deck runs the way we need it to.
Raise Each Other Up
Although we're pitching creatures to the graveyard, that doesn't mean they have to stay there. Feldon of the Third Path won't give us an experience counter, but he can put token copies of our best creatures into play every turn. Likewise, Emeria Shepherd returns our biggest threats from the yard to the field. Normally, you hope to have a Plains to put the creature right back into play, but having the option of returning it to our hand instead gives us a little extra utility in this case. Remember that Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas wants us to cast creatures, not just have them enter the battlefield.
Reya Dawnbringer can't put creatures back into our hand, but by the time we're casting her, we should have plenty of experience counters, anyway. Reya also fits into the spot that Sun Titan fills on Kalemne's EDHREC page. Most of the permanents in this deck are well out of range for Sun Titan, and while it is certainly a powerful card, I was a little surprised to see it among the top cards for this particular commander. A card I was not surprised to see, however, was Bruna, the Fading Light. Bruna is very good as a one-time revival effect, especially since her ability triggers on cast, making it very hard to counter or prevent.
Two more Angels that help us reclaim monsters from the graveyard are Karmic Guide and Adarkar Valkyrie. Adarkar Valkyrie is probably better described as board wipe protection, since her ability is proactive rather than retroactive. Karmic Guide, on the other hand, is very straightforward, and well-known for enabling combos with Reveillark. In this deck, however, these two Angels form a combo of their own. Every upkeep, you'll have to pay Karmic Guide's Echo cost or let her go to the graveyard. By responding to the trigger with Adarkar Valkyrie's ability, you can return the Guide to play, reviving another creature as it re-enters the battlefield. We can even use the same trick in response to a board wipe, allowing us to rebuild a powerful position much faster than our opponents expect.
Bring the Hammer Down
So what are all these cards protecting? Just a collection of the best, most aggressive creatures Boros has to offer. I've already mentioned Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, God-Eternal Oketra, and Avacyn, Angel of Hope, but that is far from the end of the list.
Aurelia, the Warleader is of course present, alongside Godo, Bandit Warlord and Scourge of the Throne for all of your extra combat needs. We've also got Stonehewer Giant and Thalia's Lancers to get you the right answer when you need it, along with Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer to take full advantage of all the artifacts in the deck. If you really want to deal a lot of damage, however, you need look no further than Drakuseth, Maw of Flames and Inferno Titan. Alongside Balefire Liege and Urabrask the Hidden, these creatures are the real backbone of this deck's aggressive game plan.
We are going to be attacking a lot. Some of our creatures have flying, and we have a couple of ways to give either flying (Victory's Herald) or trample (Haunted Cloak), but none of that matters if there are no creatures to block in the first place. Drakuseth, Maw of Flames, in particular, is exceptional at burning creatures to the ground or simply pointing his extra damage at players if they don't have any creatures left. Inferno Titan has a smaller form of this ability, although being able to split three damage among potential blockers is often more useful than you might expect. Urabrask the Hidden is also an often-overlooked card, but causing opposing creatures to enter the battlefield tapped delays new creatures from blocking for a turn cycle, giving us an extra round of attacks.
Protecting the Supply Line
Extra rounds of attack sound great on paper, but they won't get you anywhere in the face of the Wrath of God. Protecting our creatures on the field is just as important as getting them there, and we have plenty of ways to keep the army alive. Boros Charm is excellent, as is Teferi's Protection. Both these spells, and the aforementioned Avacyn, Angel of Hope, keep our field safe from board wipes.
We've also got access to more pinpoint protection from a couple of Equipment, most notably Hammer of Nazahn. Hammer is great for this deck: auto-equipping helps us save on mana when we cast it, and for any future Equipment we play as well. Equipment represent card draw from Mask of Memory and the ability to Proliferate experience counters with Sword of Truth and Justice, and Hammer of Nazahn makes sure we can play and equip all these cards in the same turn, while protecting important creatures like Kalemne or Drakuseth.
With the final piece of the puzzle in place, let's take a look at the full decklist.
Kalemne, Disciple of IroasView on Archidekt
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This deck came together really easily. I've recently seen a lot of discussion around how to play aggro in EDH, and I think this deck demonstrates how it should be done. We're not trying to end the game quickly, but instead to dominate the combat phase throughout the mid-game to establish a fast clock from turn five or six onward. Big creatures like Drakuseth, Maw of Flames are key to this, while Avacyn, Angel of Hope and Reya Dawnbringer give us the reach to push through board wipes and counterspells.
There is, however, a lot of tension between the large creatures and Kalemne herself, which I find very interesting. The most efficient way to play big creatures is to dump them into the graveyard and reanimate them for much less than their casting cost. This deck can do that with Emeria Shepherd and Feldon of the Third Path, but it doesn't really want to, because Kalemne benefits most when we cast those creatures. Kalemne is very strong, and she stays very strong as the game progresses because she's buffed by experience counters rather than +1/+1 counters. But that does make us want to play in less efficient ways with colors that are not great at getting the mana necessary, nor drawing the cards necessary, to continually cast these huge spells, which is what I think really holds Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas back, instead of just being focused around expensive creatures.
But what do you think? The deck can certainly be explosive and dish out a lot of damage with the right setup. Is there something I don't see? How would you build around Kalemne? Let me know in the comments and, as always, thanks for reading.