First Impressions of Kaldheim

weathered old viking shield in rural house

Hey Commander enthusiasts! Hope you’re having a safe and peaceful new year so far. With a new year comes a new Magic set, and I’ll be doing spot reviews for cards soon enough. But today, I’m going to look at the mechanics, flavour and such. The bird’s eye view, as it were. Will that bird transform into a powerful new god creature? Yes. Will it be metal? Hmmmm. We’ll see.

Metal – I’m not feeling it. I’m feeling Ice Age or even Modern Horizons with some alternate looks that bring me more to the incomprehensible visual nonsense of Amonkhet Masterpieces than to album covers. A lot of the artwork is too small and detailed for the tiny, busy frames surrounding it. I would much more love cards that are easy to enjoy from across the table. The metal aspect most missing for me would be music. Lots of opportunity for cool axes, war drums, and what-have-you.

Snow This article by Jim Davis points out how little downside there is to snow, and how that negatively affects players’ ability to play cool non-snow basics. Want to compete hardest, or just have a bunch of enablers for a snow card or two? Well, yeah, you should play an all-snow manabase. The single snow-hoser (clearly a Canadian card) is Reidane, God of the Worthy and that’s pretty laughable if that’s supposed to penalize snow players in any format. Snow is powerful, and will be in a lot of Commander decks going forward. It’s supposed to be in Modern Horizons 2 this summer too, and some high-powered snow cards are very likely in that mix.

Modal Double-Faced Cards – These things again. I wish they would give them a rest, as they require special sleeving requirements, or else the usage of the insufficiently abundant helper cards. Great for Arena, however, if not for the tabletop. New MDFC gods with non-creature backsides mean there can be non-creature cards in the Command Zone for the first time. Not sure that’s a good idea. Certainly a slippery slope. My biggest draws to Commander in the first place were the unique deckbuilding restrictions and pool of cards designed for 60 card formats. Now we can have an MDFC Commander that flips into a mana rock or vehicle, and a Companion too. Command Zone creep is real.

Foretell – When I first saw the ability, I missed that the foretold card stayed face down in exile. Face up would be considerably better. Why? Face down means it’s essentially still in your hand, except immune to discard/wheels/etc. You can bluff with it… but that’s not really different than pushing any one of your hand cards forward and saying, ‘Guess if this is a Wrath.’ There aren’t enough Foretell cards to make guessing which one into much of a game, either. If they were face up in exile, we have a whole different kind of threat. Take the wrath-type, Doomskar, which is probably the card most will assume has been foretold. If this was face-up in Exile, it changes if to when, and keeps a reset button out of the reach of all but the most diligent Eldrazi Processors. Is Cryptic Cruiser poised to become a Commander all-star? Probably not. But an opponent who knows a Doomskar is coming is going to play differently. Hold back. Play cautiously. That’s a real advantage you can leverage. It can be slowing like a Kismet effect, and even stifle creature deployment altogether. You might not ever have to cast the spell. Otherwise, foretell gives you a sort-of mana discount, but we can do that with mana rocks and more efficiently-costed cards from other sets. I foretell a shrug.

Boast – I quite like boast. It’s not going to wreck any formats, but it seems like a logical, intuitive ability that offers some timing flexibility. Many players get a lot out of creatures that do something when they deal damage to an opponent, and having that changed to an attack trigger makes it more reliable. No benefit from double strike, though, but that’s not always the be-all-end-all. The boast trigger can fire any time after the creature is announced as an attacker, which is cool if it changes combat math. It can be done at the end of the turn as a mana-sink, or if plans changed. Like ‘raid’ before it, boast will probably be a popular mechanic.

Changelings – Changelings are extremely welcome to Commander players, as they help enable obscure tribes that don’t have enough cards to fill out a deck. Tribes like horses, crabs and spiders. Some of those decks are likely more changelings than anything else, but a deck builder can dream. In more focused tribal lists, the occasional changeling can be an important player. The more changelings there are, the more tribal lists in general benefit. I personally have a changeling deck that employs all sorts of wacky lords. That deck is salivating at some of the more text-heavy changelings, as some of what I’m playing is pretty vanilla. Maskwood Nexus is excellent for a lot of tribal concepts, bringing Arcane Adaptation to any deck. Very exciting.

Giants, Berserkers and Angels – All things that cowards can block. Along with horrors, dragons, etc. Giants aren’t much as a group, but this is another step forward for them. Some of the new giants-matter cards can be applied to changeling decks, or else be heavily propped up by them. Berserkers are definitely different enough from warriors, soldiers, barbarians, knights, mercenaries, pirates, rebels, and even survivors to be justifiable. Or maybe not. Serpents and snakes definitely need to be different things, though. What about angels? I can’t get excited about angels. For the people that love them, this should be a good set. There are your standard 4/4 vigilance angels, and your wacky black berserker angels, and even a pile of token generators.

Textbox Flapjacks – You’ve heard of keyword soup? Like on Questing Beast or Akroma, Angel of Vengeance? How about textbook flapjacks? That’s what we’ve got on things like sagas and planeswalkers. Stacks of mini-textboxes. Except they’re not really mini-textboxes. Each one is more than what’s on all the vanilla creatures out there. 2 to 3 times more per saga/planeswalker. I’m gobsmacked by this. Magic sets are pushed out at a furious rate, so the frequent use of cards that need 2-3 mini-designs, plus some measure of unity, must be extremely taxing on the design team. And there’s no reason for it. We just had sagas. Even if they fit the flavour of the earth region they’re basing the plane on, it’s not like everything has to be the same. You’re allowed a small measure of creative license in a fantasy game. Anyway, these cards eat too much design space for what they bring to the table. Looking at you, most planeswalkers.

New Lands – Wow. Didn’t expect the sheer volume of lands coming in Kaldheim. Snow basics, snow duals, MDFC duals, a land that makes gods, and a ten-card cycle of lands that have powerful effects stapled onto coloured mana production. Plus the The World Tree and a derpy snow creature-land. Almost all playable. Great stuff here.

The Early OP List – These are the cards I think will make the biggest Commander splashes. Not in any order. I’ll go into detail during the set review, but watch out for Toralf, God of Fury, Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, Esika, God of the Tree/The Prismatic Bridge, Orvar, the All-Form, Koma, Cosmos Serpent, Reflections of Littjara, Tergrid, God of Fright, Birgi, God of Storytelling, and In Search of Greatness.

The Flavour Fail – the most face-palmingest card of 2020 was Pursued Whale. Why? Well, it was a complete flavour fail for the story it was meant to echo. Is there a more appropriate reference to this card than Moby Dick? It’s a pretty substantial cultural reference regardless. It’s a story about a singular white whale, pursued by a singular captain with a single-minded purpose. It’s a story worth building around, right? Being a Commander option would at least justify a 7 CMC creature that’s not playable in 60 card constructed. You’d think Pursued Whale would be, well, legendary, but no. Somebody thought this would be more than a single copy in a Standard deck. Fail.

It’s only January, but 2021 has an early favourite for Magical flavour fail. Check out Sigrid, God-Favored. As a hedge against many of the strong creatures in Kaldheim, including changelings, Sigrid is a mighty force. However, as written, Sigrid has protection from gods. That means no blocking, no damaging and no targeting by gods. Any god that would like to favour Sigrid simply can’t. Which god in Kaldheim is the only one that targets legendary creatures with a useful, favourable effect? That’s right, Halvar, God of Battle. The white one, the likely patron of Sigrid. Fail! Bad flavour!

Overall, I’m not really wowed by Kaldheim. I won’t be getting any sealed product this time around, and will give myself a small budget to get some of the new lands and changelings. Even despite the set seeming a little cold and barren, I’m sure there are plenty of unique and beautiful snowflakes to catch on our tongues. Thanks for reading! Your life matters. Black Lives Matter!

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