Underdog's Corner - Valduk, Keeper of the Flame
Say It Again For The Legends in the Back
Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of the Underdog's Corner, where we shine a light on the legends that aren't getting the spotlight they deserve. If you have never read one of my articles, welcome to the show! If you enjoy this one, I have plenty more for you to check out. If this is not your first time reading my articles, I want to thank you so much for reading! It means the world to me, and I appreciate you all. For those returning, this is the fourth article in our Dominaria-focused mini-series, and we are staying with the trend that I first noticed last week. I somehow have unintentionally managed to go around the color wheel in order, from white to blue to black, so why stop now! It's time to tackle red!
For this week, I am covering one of the newest champions of Equipment and Auras, Valduk, Keeper of the Flame! At the time of writing, each of our previous entries have all fallen into the bottom 50% of legal legends from Dominaria. Valduk, however, does not fall into that category. On the contrary, Valduk currently is in the Top 25% of commanders from Dominaria. So why am I spending an article on him? Let's find out.
Valduk, Keeper of the Flame
If you've never been to Valduk's EDHREC page, you'll see that he currently has 66 decks on the site. As we mentioned earlier, that is good for the 11th most played commander from his set. If we go to the list of mono-red commanders, we'll see that Valduk is currently the 34th most played commander of his colors. That is where I draw the line. Compared to the commanders in front of him, that is way too few decks for a commander that is this powerful and unique for the colors. That's why we're here. So what makes Valduk so worthy of this praise?
"At the beginning of combat on your turn, for each Aura and Equipment attached to Valduk, Keeper of the Flame, create a 3/1 red Elemental creature token with trample and haste. Exile those tokens at the beginning of the next end step."
Phew. That is something. Let's recap what we've read. Valduk cares about two subtypes: Auras and Equipment. More specifically, he cares about attaching a critical mass of Auras and Equipment to himself. Next, for each of those, he creates a token at the beginning of combat, and those tokens don't get exiled until the end of the turn. Those two key points are vital to the deck, and we'll cover how to take advantage of them in greater depth later on. Oh, and Valduk only costs three mana. Not only can he come down early, but he can also be replayed with ease if he dies. All of this adds up to a powerful package sitting in the Command Zone.
The obvious comparison to Valduk is Kemba, Kha Regent, but our fantastic writer Joey Schultz has already covered that comparison in his Commander Showdown series so we won't reiterate it. Actually, the EDHREC writers are big fans of Valduk as a whole. Hopefully our collective enthusiasm can push his popularity over the edge.
Before we move on, I want to highlight what is arguably the best part of Valduk's toolkit:
"At the beginning of combat..."
These few words are what sell me on Valduk. There is no clause requiring him to attack. There is no mana investment to use his ability. There is no waiting-a-turn-to-gain-advantage like Kemba. This is raw speed from Valduk. Once he is equipped or enchanted, he starts to make tokens, and he will during each of your combat steps. You read that right, each of your combat steps. Combined with Relentless Assault or any other extra combat spells, Valduk amasses an army of swarming Elementals. Now, how do we create this army?
Armed to the Teeth
Just like his mono-white counterpart, Valduk's ability cares about the number of Equipment and Auras that are attached to him. Just like Kemba, Kha Regent, each of these yield a token. From here, we need to consider what kind of cards we're going to attach to our commander. While Voltron is always an option, I actually think that will be a secondary goal of the deck as we focus on reaching a critical mass of Equipment. This means that we not only need to take the casting cost of Equipment into account, but also their equip costs. This deck can be very mana-hungry, and we're going to want to reach that critical mass as soon as possible. With this perspective, viewing Valduk in the same light as Sram, Senior Edificer may be a good way to get some ideas. With all of that said, what do we include?
Protecting The King
For decks whose primary strategy is based around having their commander in play, it's important to keep them on the board for extended periods of time. Having your linchpin removed in this type of strategy can be crippling, so it's important to protect our investment. However, the trade-off for these protections is a valuable card slot in our deck. For each of these that we include, we reduce the number of cards that can help us move closer to winning. Drawing a hand with both Swiftfoot Boots and Champion's Helm is usually less than ideal; redundant protection is great, but as we touched on above, it comes at the cost of another card.
Luckily for us, Valduk doesn't suffer from these issues. In fact, he actually becomes stronger because of them. If we draw redundant Equipment, we can play them both out and attach them to our commander. The overlapping effects don't matter, because it still creates more and more tokens. This allows us to go deeper on our protective Equipment and Auras for an even greater amount of consistency. For example, giving Valduk multiple instances of indestructible with Darksteel Plate and Hammer of Nazahn is perfectly fine, as it advances our game plan further.
Coming Out Swinging
While Equipment offer us a degree of consistency - as they, unlike creatures, avoid most board wipes - equipping them over and over can become incredibly mana-intensive. Luckily, while digging through the fantastic search engine Scryfall, I found a few Equipment than can help us curb these costs. While many of these are "low impact" in the buffs that they provide, the important part of them is that they curve nicely into Valduk. Sai of the Shinobi and Stormrider Rig are nearly identical cards, the only difference being their converted mana costs. Either way though, both of them can be played the turn before Valduk. This is important because it means that when Valduk (or a replacement creature) comes into play, we can automatically attach them to that creature. This lets us skip out on paying the equip cost and helps us to produce Elementals faster. Notably, this is a 'may' ability, unlike Ronin Warclub, so while we could equip the Sai or the Rig to out tokens as they come into play, we aren't forced to do so.
Next on our list of auto-equipping artifacts is the tribal Thornbite Staff. This is another Equipment that curves right into Valduk, and it even lets us spend mana on pinging. While this is the definition of low-impact, it still gives a bit of value. Luckily for us, the Staff and Elemental Mastery (which we'll get to in a second) form an infinite loop for infinite haste tokens with a free sac-outlet. Watch out!
The Rest of the Kitchen Sink
After those inclusions, I really think the rest of your Equipment suite can be based around your preferences, meta, and budget. The cycle of Swords of X and Y (such as Sword of Feast and Famine) are as fantastic in this deck as any, but if they're out of your budget, there are still plenty of other options. For my approach to the deck, I leaned towards utility artifacts that could either ramp, like Sword of the Animist and Explorer's Scope, or cards that provided card advantage or evasion. These choices were mostly based on the combination of both low casting cost and low equip costs.
One of my favorite things in and about Magic is consistency. The art for Moxen, the completeness of cycles, splashy mythic artifacts... all of these contribute to a sense of cohesiveness for the game. Another example that is especially relevant for this deck is Magic's handling of Elemental tokens. While there are different types of Elementals, a common theme for these fiery critters is that they are sacrificed or exiled at the end of a turn, from Elemental Mastery to Sparkspitter. Just like his predecessors, Valduk, Keeper of the Flame's Elementals follow this pattern. However, Valduk is the first legendary creature to produce these temporary creatures, so with him sitting in the Command Zone, we can take a different approach to these tokens.
Despite always having access to Valduk, there will be times where we won't be able to cast him, and times we will not want to. We can alleviate some of that burden with several cards that are available to us. Hailing from Rivals of Ixalan is a personal favorite of mine, Tilonalli's Summoner. By paying one red and X mana, we can create X Elemental tokens. Those tokens, like most Elementals, are fleeting things... unless we have the City's Blessing. Rather than casting spells, we can pour our mana into the Summoner to create an attacking army each and every turn. While the Summoner is only a 1/1, we've already talked about Equipment that buff our creatures and make combat a little bit safer for us.
Chandra, Flamecaller is another great option. While a favorite use for her will be to her middle ability, which can produce card advantage, Chandra can also put pressure on the board by creating her own Elementals. This is a pet card for one of my closest friends, who absolutely swears by her power and utility. Creating two tokens that only exist for a short amount of time may not seem like the best use of her abilities, but the additional pressure will add up.
Speaking of pet cards, let's talk about Elemental Mastery. I have always wanted a home for this card, but I've never been interested in any of its most obvious commanders, like Omnath, Locus of Rage or even Uril, the Miststalker. Now we have Valduk to lead the charge. The more Elementals, the better.
I've mentioned a creature, a planeswalker, and an enchantment that make Elementals, so let's now discuss a sorcery: Tempt with Vengeance. This is a sorcery-speed equivalent of Secure the Wastes, but with massive upside. If any player decides to take the offering, we double up on our tokens, and that number only increases if more players take the Tempting Offer. If we cast this for five mana, we get four Elementals. That's fine, but if the board state forces an opponent or two's hand, we could end up with eight or twelve or more. Instant army. Even if we don't have any takers, in the late game this spell becomes an army in a can.
Preparing for War
While Valduk can slowly but surely accumulate an army, a bunch of 3/1s and a swarm of other Elementals will only go so far. Here's the next phase of our war: making those tokens go further.
One of the easiest and most popular ways to make the tokens go further is by allowing them to do damage without even swinging. Purphoros, God of the Forge is infamous as one of the premier finishers in many decks, and his inclusion in 14500 decks should speak for itself. Even if we can't have the God of Burn, we still have access to the value-brand version, Impact Tremors. And that's not all! For the low, low price of six mana, we have the incredible Warstorm Surge. That's three sources of pre-combat damage that we can pound our opponents with!
After that, we have the actual combat step, and our plan is to make it as painful as possible. If you didn't make the connection earlier with my zealous love of Elemental tokens, check out Shared Animosity. Valduk creates his tokens at the beginning of combat, rather than putting them into play already tapped and attacking, which allows the Elementals to receive the Shared Animosity trigger. Going from a couple of 3/1s to a swarm of 5/1s, 6/1s, or 7/1s is a daunting force to face down. While the tokens from Tilonalli's Summoner may not get the buffs themselves (because they're already tapped and attacking), if you stack your triggers correctly they will still help buff the rest of your Elementals. We're not done yet though, as In the Web of War and Ogre Battledriver also crank up the damage for our tokens. These massive buffs not only make blocking painful, but it makes it that much more important for your opponent to block the incoming damage, thus losing their best creatures.
Speaking of painful blocking, say hello to Vicious Shadows and Outpost Siege. These two cards actively punish our opponents for blocking. While Outpost Siege's damage may not be much, a few points here and there add up, and its versatility doesn't make it a dead card. Vicious Shadows almost makes combat damage the lesser of two evils. If you're looking for another version of this effect, check out Stalking Vengeance.
The Spoils of War
Combat is now over, and our tokens are about to disappear into the aether. However, we're going to squeeze every last drop of value from them if we can. So how do we give our tokens one last hurrah?
First, let's start by sacrificing them. They were already on the way out, so what better than getting a little extra bang for our effort? Goblin Bombardment is one of the best sacrifice outlets not just in red, but in the game. Trading in our Elementals for an extra point of damage makes them deadly for both opposing life totals and opposing creatures. If we're able to amass a swath of tokens to sacrifice from our various sources, we can machine-gun down a lot of smaller creatures. If an opponent blocked with a creature, we have have the resources to burn down its remaining damage. Either way, it's a versatility that will be sorely wanted.
Other sac outlets like Ashnod's Altar and Thermopod are self-explanatory, but let's look at Spawning Pit for a second. Not only is it a "free" sac-outlet, but we can also cash in our creatures for more tokens later on. That utility will go the distance in this deck if we need that extra push to take out an opposing player. Imagine creating four Elemental tokens with Valduk while you have Purphoros in play. That's eight damage from the Valduk tokens, and then another four damage with Spawning Pit. Don't leave it at home.
Remember how I mentioned Valduk's ability doesn't require mana to use? Well, since we have some mana free, what do we do with it? Skullclamp. We get to convert each token into two cards for the low price of one mana. Skullclamp is still insane, and Valduk makes great use of it.
Lastly, we have the last stop before our tokens begin to disappear. There's not much that we can really do at this point if we haven't already sacrificed our tokens, but we do have a few options. If you thought Valduk was jank at any point in time while reading this article, get ready, because we're about to peak.
To start, we have our first lesson in end-of-turn triggers. Let's review a small sliver of Valduk's text box:
"...Exile those tokens at the beginning of the next end step."
This creates a series of delayed triggers at the beginning of your next end step. Well, what do we do with that? Say hello to Throne of the God-Pharaoh. Both the Throne and the tokens' end-of-turn triggers will go on the stack at the same time, and since you are the active player (it is your turn after all), you get to choose the order in which those triggers resolve. This means that you can gain full advantage from your tokens before they disappear forever... or do they?
Enter the headlining card for all jank strategies far and wide: Sundial of the Infinite. If you've played against this card before, you're probably groaning, and if you've used it before, you're grinning ear-to-ear. If you've never seen this master-class in jank before, let me explain how it works. At the beginning of our end step, the game will try to exile our tokens. We touched on it above, but the game does this by putting a trigger on the stack to exile those tokens. At this point, the game rules have set things in motion, and they stop paying attention to whether or not those triggers actually resolve. This is where Sundial shows up. In response to those triggers, we activate Sundial to end our turn. There's a long list of things that this encompasses, but the only one that we're concerned with is that it exiles triggered abilities currently on the stack. What does this mean for us? Like we said, the game already attempted to exile those tokens, and it won't attempt to again. We get to keep our tokens forever. Yes, forever.
The Fire Fades
That's it for this week, everyone! I hope you have enjoyed witnessing the warring ways of this Keldon, and I hope this has inspired you to give him a try. Valduk, Keeper of the Flame is vastly different than anything mono-red currently has, and I think this unique playstyle is sure to shake up a meta that isn't prepared for him. Honestly, Valduk is one of my favorite legends from Dominaria, and I hope that he continues to get the spotlight that he deserves. As always, here's a decklist for your consideration!
Valduk and his Furious Flames
Thanks for joining me in the Underdog's Corner!