Kaldheim Set Review - Black
(Eradicator Valkyrie | Art by Tyler Jacobson)
From Karfell to Starnheim
Whether it be a land of battle and Demons, a land of undead Vikings, a land of judgy Angels, or a land of woods so deep and mysterious that it holds clans of Elves devoted to the shadows, Kaldheim isn't skimping when it comes to places devoting themselves to all things black. To go with your more mundane-yet-Norsely-unique black effects, there are also Gods all over Kaldheim tied to massively powerful artifacts and places of magic. Finally, snow returns in the icy realms of Kaldheim, with black taking a front seat in the entire icy endeavor.
In other words, there's a lot to be excited about all over Kaldheim, with black being no exception, so let's dive in!
Every set has its chase mythics, and Kaldheim is no exception. Burning-Rune Demon, on the other hand, appears to be the type of card that may eventually fit more in the category of 'dollar mythic'. Which isn't a bad thing, mind you. It can certainly be argued that EDH is built out of more budget decks than otherwise, and dollar mythics do a lot of work in that area. Down the line, especially after it's released and packs get opened, this card may find itself as a cheaper alternative to Rune-Scarred Demon, both in mana and money. It will also have some niche playability in graveyard decks, given that it does tutor two cards up. For graveyard decks, that means grabbing two great value pieces and essentially having access to both of them, or grabbing two parts of a combo like Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion and not really caring (or perhaps even being actively being happy) that half of it is going to end up in your graveyard for all sorts of Reanimate effects.
In other words, I wouldn't expect to never see Burning-Rune Demon. In fact I quite like the effect as a "fairer" tutor that might have a few decks in which it's situationally better than the usually unbeatable Demonic Tutor. I also, however, would not expect it to replace the original Rune-Scarred Demon, as most decks playing it don't really care that it costs seven mana and do care that they might not get the exact card they want or that it won't be a surprise if they do.
Speaking of chase mythics, however, I would expect Eradicator Valkyrie to see demand similar to the efficient big green word-soup creatures we've seen over the last couple years.
Hexproof from planeswalkers might seem a bit tacked-on, but that doesn't mean that you wouldn't be playing a 4/3 flying lifelinker that lets you Plaguecrafter every turn anyhow. The fact that Vraska and Chandra also can't kill it is really just gravy. As for which decks will want this in EDH, any kind of deck playing an army of Fleshbag Marauders and Dictate of Erebos effects will at least be giving this thing a look for its Boast ability, as will the Orzhov lifegain brews of the world for its four lifelink damage a turn. I also wouldn't discount this showing up in the budding aggro builds that are starting to show up at more and more tables, although admittedly those usually aren't coming from black's neck of the woods.
Among the multitude of "what's wrong with white in EDH" discussions (which I'm sure that many of you have been taking part in, just like I have), I often argue that it's not hard-to-acquire bombs that make a color good, but rather a huge quantity of easily-acquired niche playables. Haunting Voyage is yet another example of exactly that in the wrong color, as it's certainly not going in every deck, but is absolutely something that will see play. Whether or not it should is another conversation, as you do have to sink nine mana into it to bring your whole tribe back from the dead, which is a lot. I imagine for a lot of brewers, however, they will see the tribal reference and stick it in their deck anyhow, from Zombies to Dragons to Demons to Vampires and more. That may not be entirely the wrong move; Patriarch's Bidding is, after all, way too expensive to be reasonable for everyone, and tribal decks love a good recovery card. I know for myself, my thoughts are basically "well, it might get me into less trouble than Living Death sometimes does in my Zombie build; only way to know is to try it out!"
Blood on the Snow
Right off the bat, Blood on the Snow reminds me of two existing cards that I already play in a few of my decks, which has to be a good thing, right?
Even at six mana, Flood of Tears routinely does work in my Will & Rowan Superfriends deck, as it can wipe everything but lands off the board and then put a huge planeswalker right back onto the battlefield for a second activation. As for Dead of Winter, in any mono-black deck with snow in it, it can occasionally compare to the black staple #1 Toxic Deluge, for the same three mana cost.
The only problem is that Blood on the Snow reminds me of those cards, but isn't those cards. Six to wipe the board of creatures is a lot of mana, and as nice as it would be to also hurt a Superfriends deck or get rid of a particularly problematic planeswalker, I think most times I'd much rather just be playing a three- or four-mana board wipe like Dead of Winter, Toxic Deluge, or Damnation. The fact that it can't actually kill indestructible creatures like the spells that cost half as much mana is also a bit of a bummer. While it does bring a threat back to the table, it's not going to be a particularly pricey one under many circumstances, as you won't necessarily have paid six snow mana to do so with the amount of non-snow utility lands you're going to have to include in the deck. Combine that with the fact that this only takes care of non-indestructible creatures or planeswalkers, unlike Flood of Tears acting as a pseudo-Cyclonic Rift, and I'm really not sold on it. Blood on the Snow feels like the kind of card you get excited about putting in a deck, only to find yourself wondering if you've ever actually been happy to see it six months later when you're trying to make future cuts. So why not save yourself some time?
Kaldheim is looking to be the best Standard tribal set since Ixalan, or maybe even Lorwyn, and cards like Crippling Fear are exactly why. While normally four mana to give a bunch of creatures -3/-3 is the kind of thing you'd expect from a Standard- or Draft-only kind of card, the ability for a tribal deck to turn this into a one-sided early board wipe or an unexpected late alpha strike is exactly the kind of thing you hope for when you're stuffing a deck full to the gills with Vampires and Warriors. While there are certain to be times that you wish it was a bit more effective at wiping out big creatures, it's sure to impress just as often by getting rid of a bunch of utility creatures and tokens at a crucial moment, or by just being enough to take a locked board state and turn it to your advantage.
In a way, I was glad to find that, upon deeper inspection, I wasn't a huge fan of Blood on the Snow, my reason being that it meant I didn't have a temptation to take more decks in a snow direction. Unfortunately, Draugr Necromancer undoes all of that. As an efficient four-mana 4/4 that acts as incidental graveyard removal, it's already decent enough that the folks out there playing Withered Wretch and Scavenging Ooze might have their ears perked up. Combining that graveyard removal with the ability to go full Gonti, Lord of Luxury in your Aristocrats deck, however, is just plain good. Keeping in mind that you're playing black, the fact that Draugr Necromancer marks the cards with Ice Counters means that if someone does remove this little Zombie Cleric while you have a stack of your opponents' cards, you can bring it back from the dead and still reap all that sweet, sweet card advantage.
In other words, folks, I imagine I won't be alone in picking up a few Snow-Covered Swamps, nor that I'll be the only one who's not entirely happy about it.
As I've looked through more and more spoilers, I've ended up liking Foretell more and more, so Dream Devourer giving it to every card in your hand seems pretty huge. Even better, rules specialist @WotC_Matt has gone on record saying that you can cast the cards you've exiled with Foretell even if Dream Devourer is no longer in play!
Egon, God of Death
Our first black Kaldheim God is a recipe in curving out, but not necessarily when it comes to EDH. Throne of Death can easily come down on turn one, mind you, and self-mill decks will be happy that it does so as a sort of second Stitcher's Supplier. Standard and other four-of formats can then easily follow that up on turn three with a second copy of Egon, God of Death, allowing for a three-mana beater we haven't seen since suicide black was laying down Phyrexian Negator. The only problem is, in EDH you can only play one copy. Even if Egon is in the command zone, you have to wait until you can sacrifice Throne of Death, or you have to rely on someone else destroying it, as you likely won't have the means to do so in mono-black. In other words, if you're playing Egon, God of Death in the command zone, you're probably building the deck around Throne of Death and its consistent self-mill, not around a cheap 6/6 death-toucher that will likely quickly kill itself. Then again, who knows? People love a challenge, and a Voltron deck where you have to constantly fill the graveyard would be exactly that!
Nah. Most likely where we'll be seeing a lot of Egon is in the 99 of Syr Konrad, the Grim, where this thing is a monster of mill and exile triggers. Elsewhere, it's going to be difficult to find a deck that both wants self-mill but doesn't mind eating up the same graveyard for card draw or aggro. In other words, outside of Syr Konrad, this is most likely a second copy of Stitcher's Supplier with some situational upside. Which, all in all, isn't really that bad of a deal, provided the price of this doesn't get pumped through the roof by other formats.
Rise of the Dread Marn
We've been seeing more and more "number of creatures that died this turn" effects in black lately, and this one might be one of the best. For its full cost, it's almost a word-for-word color shift of Caller of the Claw, only on an instant rather than a creature with flash. Given that Caller of the Claw is still seeing play in almost 2,000 decks, however, there are worse cards you could be compared to, especially given that black likes to kill its own creatures quite a bit more than green does.
What really makes Rise of the Dread Marn exciting, however, is just how cheap you can hold this thing at the ready. Holding three mana up for a possible board wipe can be really clunky and can actively hold back your gameplan. One mana, however? That small pittance is easy to keep around just in case, and can take you from what would be an empty board to instead being able to immediately swing in before others can rebuild. Or even better, you can have a board full of creatures with a sac outlet and some kind of Blood Artist effect, spend a turn getting ten triggers and whatever benefit from your sac outlet, and then just do it all again for a single mana!
Just when I thought we'd finally hit market saturation when it came to three mana "if a creature dies, draw a card" cards, Wizards went and printed a two-mana tribal one!
That's exciting, if not all that interesting to ramble on about. It's pretty simple, honestly. If you're in black and Elves, you play this card. Bonus points if your Golgari Elves deck likes to sacrifice creatures (Hint: It does).
Tergrid, God of Fright
As brief as the thoughts on Skemfar Avenger are, the hot takes across the internet have more than made up for it with the sheer quantity of long diatribes about Tergrid, God of Fright. While I thought that maybe my personal thoughts on this card might cool a bit after mulling things over, they really haven't. In my opinion, this is yet another example of an over-powered card that was designed from day one to be put in every black deck that wants to optimize itself, and I think it succeeds at doing exactly that.
My initial reasoning for believing that Tergrid should be an "auto-include" in every black deck is simply that it's It That Betrays, but better, and not 12 mana. Sure, it doesn't have Annihilator, but it's not like It That Betrays really gets to attack that often anyhow.
For those that haven't experienced how much of a problem It That Betrays is just being in play, let me give you an idea of what I'm talking about (while furthering my personal Top 10 addiction/brand):
Top 10 Lands That Sacrifice or Discard:
- Evolving Wilds (153495 Inclusions)
- Terramorphic Expanse (124281 Inclusions)
- Myriad Landscape (89002 Inclusions)
- Fetches (Median 56656 Inclusions)
- Fabled Passage (38433 Inclusions)
- Prismatic Vista (37176 Inclusions)
- Strip Mine (34782 Inclusions)
- Ghost Quarter (31471 Inclusions)
- Buried Ruin (31123 Inclusions)
- Ash Barrens (30476 Inclusions)
Top 10 Non-Land Cards That Sacrifice or Discard:
- Commander's Sphere (88668 Inclusions)
- Mind Stone (81552 Inclusions)
Smothering TitheSakura-Tribe Elder (70706 Inclusions)
- Wayfarer's Bauble (51825 Inclusions)
- Ashnod's Altar (46488 Inclusions)
- Burnished Hart (45979 Inclusions)
- Mystic Remora (44001 Inclusions)
- Windfall (41331 Inclusions)
- Faithless Looting (36690 Inclusions)
- Harrow (32798 Inclusions)
That's a neat little cross-section of cards from across pretty much every strategy and power level that basically says "Yes, Tergrid will be absolutely busted in any Pox, sacrifice, discard, or wheel deck that already can capitalize on this strategy, but it's also going to interfere with, shut off, or just grab enough incidental value in general from any random table that there's really no reason that any deck with reasonable access to black shouldn't be playing her."
Put simply, Tergrid, God of Fright is a card that absolutely has to be answered the second it hits the battlefield, only that might actually be too late. Which, given that it's a card that doesn't actually do anything on its own, is saying something.
Also, you'll note that not a single word of this diatribe mentioned Tergrid's Lantern, which is a real tragedy, given how cool a card it is. It's unfortunate that this particular card will basically never get pulled out of the sleeve to get flipped around unless the controller has an infinite-black-mana combo lined up at the ready.
Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire
While it's tempting to declare "auto-include" status for two black rares in a row, I'm glad that I don't have to do that with Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire. As good as casting a Demonic Tutor every turn sounds, Boast does require that your 2/3 attack, an action that will often kill it despite it having deathtouch. Combine that with the ability being more of a hybrid of Demonic and Vampiric Tutor, and what you're actually looking at here is five mana to search for maybe one card, two turns later, and that's only if it doesn't get removed before you even get to swing with it.
Which means that if your deck doesn't care about combat in some fashion, you're probably better off just running a Diabolic Tutor. It's cheaper, faster, and more of a sure thing.
Uncommons & Commons
RAVENOUS RATS HAVE GONE CLERIC. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!
But seriously, having a second copy of Burglar Rat is good enough, but having it with relevant creature types is absolutely going to make a difference for a lot of decks. Elves are getting more and more multicolor all the time, and Clerics are not only incidentally in everything, but are also part of the Party mechanic that we're sure to be seeing more of come Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures of the Forgotten Realms later this year.
Priest of the Haunted Edge
This snow creature isn't blowing anyone away at first glance, but the more I do think about it, the better I think it is. Having a Murder on standby that also hits indestructible creatures is pretty darn good, even at sorcery speed. That's before you even get into the fact that you can recur it in your average Aristocrats deck.
They were careful not to make this the next Gary, but Skemfar Shadowsage is nonetheless a solid tribal option. At 2/5, it's a solid body even at four mana, and its two options for enter-the-battlefield effects are both relevant across a large swathe of decks that might also have a tribal package. It's certainly not going in everything, but lifegain decks that inherently have a lot of Clerics would be wise to peek in this direction, as would just about any tribe that wants their opponents to have less life or themselves to have more.
Barter in Blood isn't as popular as it once was, but for decks that are high on tokens or light on creatures, it's still quite a powerful effect. Getting the same thing at instant speed for an extra mana doesn't immediately wow me, but throwing in the Foretell option gives this card just enough flexibility that I'd seriously consider it. Sure, you'll have spent six mana by the time it actually makes anything happen, but it also won't have gotten discarded and will always be an option you just have floating around whenever someone starts looking in your direction.
2020 was a firehose of new Commander cards, and even with less sets specifically designated for Commander in 2021, it already looks like we're not in for much of a reprieve. I know for myself, I've started designating decks as "good enough", and am no longer updating them as new and better options become available. Even with those, however, when the perfect new card drops, it's hard not to pay attention. Kaldheim is scratching that itch time and time again, often with additional snow requirements, and I'm honestly not even mad about it. These are cool cards, and I can't wait to play them.
I just might be having to go deeper and deeper into themes to keep some lower-powered decks available, that's all.
Hoping you're doing some of the same alongside the constant optimization!