Kaldheim Set Review - Commander Deck Cards
(Lathril, Blade of the Elves | Art by Caroline Gariba)
A Premonition of War
Unlike the preconstructed Commander decks for Zendikar Rising and Commander Legends, the two decks released beside Kaldheim each have eight brand new Magic cards in them. From noble Elves to the ever-watchful dead, there are some great cards in these decks. Let's dive right in to the new cards from the preconstructed decks, Phantom Premonition and Elven Empire.
Ranar the Ever-Watchful
Starting off, we have Ranar the Ever-Watchful. Moving past Foretell for a moment, Ranar has some very clear similarities to Brago, King Eternal. While Brago is a flicker engine in the command zone, Ranar is the payoff. Whenever you exile one or more cards from your hand or permanents from the battlefield, Ranar will make a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying. Significantly, that isn't a token for each card you exile, but one token for every batch. No matter how many permanents you can flicker with Brago, King Eternal or Eerie Interlude, you'll only get one token.
Ranar the Ever-Watchful's triggered ability isn't limited to permanents you control, however. Exile a Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger with Path to Exile? You get a flying Spirit token. With all the snow support in Kaldheim, this makes On Thin Ice an excellent card in any Ranar the Ever-Watchful deck. It also makes Felidar Guardian a powerful utility creature. Using the Guardian to flicker an Oblivion Ring will net you two Spirit tokens, once for your own permanent being exiled, and once for the permanent you exile with Oblivion Ring.
Which brings us to the other half of Ranar the Ever-Watchful's effect. Each turn, the first card we Foretell costs zero mana to do so. Foretell is a new ability in Kaldheim that functions as a combination of Morph and Suspend. Once, at any time on your turn, you can pay two mana and exile a card with Foretell from your hand face-down. Then, on a later turn, you can cast it for its Foretell cost. Foretelling a card will trigger Ranar and give you a 1/1 Spirit. This could form the core of a solid value engine with Mentor of the Meek, and it lets you play a control game while still pressuring life totals. Empyrean Eagle and Kangee, Sky Warden give your flying tokens a significant power boost, while Coastal Piracy refills your hand.
Ranar the Ever-Watchful is designed to lead decks built around Foretell, but he's a decent payoff in Blink decks, too. If you want to fit Ranar into a deck, rather than use him as a commander, Esper is a great color combination for it. Esper Blink is a well-established archetype, but an Esper Foretell deck could be very interesting as well. Not only does the extra color expand your options for cards with Foretell, it lets you play Dream Devourer to give every spell in your hand Foretell. This makes it nearly impossible for your opponents to predict what you have face-down, and much easier to assemble an army of tokens with Ranar the Ever-Watchful.
Speaking of Dream Devourer, here is another card that can give cards Foretell. Ethereal Valkyrie feels a lot like Sun Titan, providing value whenever it enters the battlefield or attacks. Foretell becomes a much more threatening ability when your opponents have no way to predict what your face-down cards might be. Just remember that you have to make it clear which cards were Foretold through their own ability and which of them that Ethereal Valkyrie has exiled. Ranar the Ever-Watchful decks will obviously love this card, but it also fits into any deck already running Dream Trawler.
Any Azorius deck that wants to attack with flying creatures will appreciate Ethereal Valkyrie as an extra source of card advantage stapled to a decently sized flying body. Shabraz, the Skyshark and Brallin, Skyshark Rider, in particular, will appreciate the full scope of what this valkyrie does. One valuable aspect of Foretell in Commander is its ability to save cards that you don't want to discard. In Wheel decks, in particular, this lets you save removal or counterspells while still being able to cast Windfall and Wheel of Fortune.
Finally, any card you Foretell with Ethereal Valkyrie's ability will have its mana cost reduced by two when you cast it from exile. This could be used as a pseudo-Jhoira of the Ghitu, reducing the cost of your spells by setting them aside for a turn. Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage is probably the best commander for this trick, since he lets you cast any historic cards you Foretell during your opponents' turns.
Faith's Reward only shows up in 2% of decks that could run it, and that number is far too low. It rewards you for not overcommitting to the board and generates tons of value with cards that can sacrifice themselves, such as fetch lands. That goes doubly if you can search for it with Sunforger. Cosmic Intervention is just as good, if not better. Holding up four mana isn't always possible, so having the option to cast Cosmic Intervention for two from exile is a huge advantage. Just remember that you have to cast Intervention in response to Blasphemous Act in order to save your creatures.
You can also play Cosmic Intervention proactively. If you cast it and then sacrifice Evolving Wilds or Ghost Quarter your own land they will return to play during your end step. Then, still in your end step, you can sacrifice them again and they will return to play during your next opponent's end step. Alternately, cast Intervention and then sacrifice Archaeomancer along with your lands. In the end step, Archaeomancer returns to play and puts Cosmic Intervention back into your hand. It is still your turn, so you can Foretell Cosmic Intervention again, ready to be cast on the next player's turn.
Hero of Bretagard
Hero of Bretagard is the latest in the line of creatures that grow as the game progresses. Every time you exile one or more cards from your hand or permanents from the battlefield, Hero of Bretagard will get that many +1/+1 counters. As it gets counters it gains extra abilities and creature types. Note that unlike Ranar the Ever-Watchful, the Hero of Bretagard will get a counter for each card you exile, so Eerie Interlude can make it into an 11/11 flying, indestructible, Human Warrior Angel God with relative ease.
Hero of Bretagard also doesn't care what kind of counters it has, just how many. Just remember that Hero of Bretagard doesn't gain any power as it ascends from Human to Angel to God. Kathril can make this hero into a God with one trigger, but it wouldn't gain any power. Admittedly, it would be a very talented 1/1, but one power is only one power. A better home for it would be Yorion, Sky Nomad or a cycling deck built around Astral Slide, to quickly put counters on Hero of Bretagard through its own ability. Alternately, a token deck playing Cathars' Crusade could add it as a threat resilient to board wipes.
At first glance, Stoic Farmer seems like a strictly worse Kor Cartographer, but the ability to Foretell it adds an interesting wrinkle. By Foretelling Stoic Farmer on turn two, you could cast this on turn three before playing a land for turn, but I don't think that's correct. If you do, you lose the ability to bluff a Ravenform, Saw It Coming, or Doomskar. I think Stoic Farmer is going to be more useful as a bluff early, and a cheap method for ensuring you make your sixth or seventh land drop, than as strict ramp unto itself.
Sage of the Beyond
Sage of the Beyond was clearly designed to reward you for casting Foretold cards, but it has much wider applications in Commander. Any deck that can cast spells from the graveyard should consider running Sage of the Beyond. A Kess, Dissident Mage deck focused around reanimating big creatures can use this to make Zombify and Ever After easier to cast from the graveyard. Brokkos, Apex of Forever costs only three mana to Mutate with the sage in play. Surrak Dragonclaw will enjoy the cost reduction when casting creatures from the top of the deck with Vizier of the Menagerie. And of course this cost reduction applies to your commander as well, negating one instance of Commander tax.
Similar to Doomskar, Spectral Deluge is a board wipe you can cast for three mana. This will be strong in mono-blue, or any two-color deck that skews heavily towards Islands. If your deck is already playing Engulf the Shore this will be worth finding a slot for too. Sea monster decks, like Lorthos, the Tidemaker or Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep will be able to take advantage of the fact that Spectral Deluge only returns your opponents' creatures, leaving them wide open to a big swing from your Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents. If you can Foretell it early, Spectral Deluge can also be used to clear away mana dorks and early attackers, perfect for a control deck aiming to extend the game.
Tales of the Ancestors
Tales of the Ancestors is a great in a deck full of cards with Foretell. Exiling some cards, and casting others, will quickly leave you empty-handed. Tales of the Ancestors is a great way to catch back up to the other players without drawing any of the ill will that a Windfall can. In the same way, Tales of the Ancestors helps when one player starts to pull ahead of the rest of the table. Everyone else will get to draw towards an answer, hopefully letting you use your cards to try and win instead.
Lathril, Blade of the Elves
Elves, much like Goblins, are famous for their ability to swarm the battlefield with creatures, so getting to the ten Elves required to activate Lathril, Blade of the Elves' ability wouldn't take much effort even if she didn't make tokens on her own. Once you can activate her ability, cards like Illusionist's Bracers and Lithoform Engine can double it, dealing 20 damage to each opponent at once. Then you can sacrifice the tokens, dealing even more damage with Poison-Tip Archer and Elderfang Venom.
If you prefer a slightly slower gameplan, consider adding Great Oak Guardian and Seedborn Muse instead.
Or you can opt for the direct route. Elf lords like Canopy Tactician and Ezuri, Renegade Leader will pump Lathril and all of the tokens she creates, quickly putting a lethal amount of damage into play. If the board gets gummed up with blockers, Lathril, Blade of the Elves gives you the ability to pivot and deal damage to each opponent directly. Creatures like Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel give you some resiliency against board wipes and also reward you for sacrificing all those Elf tokens.
Like many tribal commanders, Lathril can just as easily be a part of your deck. The best deck to put Lathril in is probably Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Nath decks can struggle to end the game once each opponent is Hellbent, and Lathril, Blade of the Elves provides a solid, on-theme win condition. Jund decks led by Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel and Tana, the Bloodsower can also take advantage of Lathril's ability to turn tokens into direct damage.
Here we have another card designed very specifically for Elf tribal decks. Both lines of text on Elderfang Venom apply exclusively to Elves. I do like giving your Elf tokens deathtouch. It makes your opponents less likely to block. Dealing damage when an Elf dies also makes it much harder to wipe the board once we have a dozen or so Elves in play, and it gives us an avenue towards victory that doesn't require attacking. That may come up more often in decks helmed by Nath of the Gilt-Leaf or Abomination of Llanowar, since Lathril, Blade of the Elves already has a very good source of non-combat damage.
Pact of the Serpent
This is a great tribal payoff card. Similar to Distant Melody, Pact of the Serpent will draw you a card for each creature you control of a chosen type. You will also lose that much life, however, so this sorcery might also be compared to Necropotence or Ad Nauseam. It has the potential to draw you a lot of cards, but leaves you vulnerable to retaliation if you can't immediately take advantage of those cards. But you don't have to be the one losing that life. Similar to Rakdos Charm, Pact of the Serpent can be used to punish a token deck for going a little too wide, with Storm Herd for example.
Ruthless Winnower feels like Anowon, the Ruin Sage, but is subtly different. Triggering on each player's upkeep instead of just yours gives Ruthless Winnower a more immediate impact that could make it more popular than the Vampire Sage. However, Elf tribal decks are generally focused on overrunning your opponents quickly instead of slowly grinding them into the ground. Ruthless Winnower will perform best in attrition style decks like Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Karador, Ghost Chieftain, or Mazirek, Kraul Deathpriest. They don't necessarily run a lot of Elves, but they also don't mind sacrificing a creature or two every turn.
Serpent's Soul-Jar is an oddly specific card. It only interacts with Elves, limiting its usefulness to Elf Tribal decks. It could be played in a Tribal Tribal deck, but I'm not sure its worth it. Phyrexian Reclamation doesn't restrict you by creature type, and it won't strand your creatures in exile when it's destroyed. Also, keep in mind that Serpent's Soul-Jar specifies you can cast a creature spell from among those exiled, meaning you can't then recast that creature if it dies again in the same turn.
Bounty of Skemfar
Another possible choice for Tribal Tribal decks, Bounty of Skemfar seems pretty good. In a dedicated tribal deck you are likely to find a land and an Elf among the top six cards of your library, so this should usually get full value. Even if you just find the land, that's still as good as Search for Tomorrow, and you probably smoothed out your next few draws as well. Bounty of Skemfar doesn't specify Elf creature, either. You can grab Eyeblight's Ending, Elvish Promenade, or Crib Swap, depending on your colors and strategy.
Crown of Skemfar
I like Crown of Skemfar in theory. It will almost always provide a sizeable power boost, and you can return it to your hand if the creature it is enchanting is destroyed. In practice, however, I feel like this card is unnecessary. If you have enough Elves for Crown of Skemfar to be dangerous, I'd usually rather play a lord. Elf decks care about Elves first, and creatures second. Crown of Skemfar is neither of those.
This card, on the other hand, seems great. Wolverine Riders is an Elf, so it benefits from Elvish Archdruid. It also creates a token during every player's upkeep, powering up Marwyn the Nurturer. Even outside of Elf tribal decks, the tokens provide some incidental life gain. This could easily slot into a token deck next to Tendershoot Dryad and Verdant Force, perhaps lead by Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King.
An Excellent Batch of Precons
And that's it, all sixteen new cards in the Kaldheim Commander decks. What do you think? Overall, I'm more interested in the Foretell mechanic than the Elves, but I know a lot of people are excited for Lathril, Blade of the Elves specifically. What cards have you most excited though? Let me know in the comments.