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Around the Wheel: Kaalia of the Vast


Recently, fellow CoolStuffInc. writer and all-around cool guy Bruce Richard wrote a column on fun in Commander. I could fill up this article with links to other articles like it, but he said it most recently and, I think, very well: there is too much competitiveness in this game. On a 10 point scale, where 10 is the most competitive, winningest deck out there, there are too many 7s and 8s, says Bruce. There should be more 3s and 4s. Quit optimizing and start having fun!

And he's right. I've dedicated this column in large part to decks which are more fun than powerful. Heck, my two most recent decks are both designed to be fun. Neither one will win a cEDH tournament, but they'll play, and they'll make for a great time at a table. I'm with Bruce - this is how the game should be. Nine times out of ten, sitting down at a table where none of the parties are known, the decks should be fun to play with and against, and no one should leave feeling bad about the game.

But today, I say - forget that. Let's kill some people, and let's do it fast.

Kaalia of the Vast

Kaalia's a neat girl. Her power is unquestionable, but she's never quite risen to the ranks of Sharuum the Hegemon or Rafiq of the Many. She puts free spells on the battlefield, which is always really powerful, and the spells she puts down are generally really powerful ones - Demons, Dragons, and Angels aren't often chump blockers, after all. There are probably ways to build Kaalia such that it's not terribly mean (one could run only vanilla Angels, or something), but honestly, there's not a lot of point in that. If we're running Kaalia, we're running to win, so we may as well lean in. Just pack a few extra decks, make sure most of them are 3s or 4s, and don't lead with this one at a table you don't know.

A quick note. Today's column will include two decks. The first is a super-powered version with absolutely no consideration toward budget (except for not running original dual lands, I suppose). With the perfect hand it can kill an opponent on turn three, and with a normal hand opponents will be dying starting around turn five with some regularity. But most of us can't afford to spend the cost of a reasonable used car for a Commander deck, so the second deck will be a strong version that cuts out a large number of the most expensive cards. It also cuts a few of the least-fun cards in the first deck. It's still not cheap, of course (Kaalia herself will run you around $35), but we can drastically reduce the cost by putting in $1.50 Demons instead of $15 ones, and by slightly slowing down the deck with a cheaper mana base. Feel free to swap in and out based on your own budget, collection, and needs, but know this - while the first version will be faster and rather stronger, the difference will be pretty small. The cheaper deck will still come out of the gates roaring.

The mana base is designed mostly for speed. We want to lead with a ramp spell, so almost every land we have comes into play untapped. We've also got a whole bunch of ways to fix our colors - fetches and shocks, plus a bunch of duals and both triple lands. We're running 38 lands, which like last week is fewer than my usual 40, but we're once again in a rare place where 40 is too many. We're running 10 mana rocks, so our deck is still nearly 50% mana, and really we want to get to four and then just draw action. So the goal is landing a rock on turn two, followed by Kaalia on 3, then dropping bombs on turn four. The couple of lands specifically worth mentioning are Hall of the Bandit Lord (and other Haste-granting lands, though this one is best), because giving Kaalia Haste is really excellent, and Rogue's Passage, because she's rather small and dies a lot to blockers. We've also got a few mana sinks in our lands, because lots of times we won't spend much or any mana to cast spells, and using it to boost some of our creatures can be useful.

We're both drawing and tutoring here. We need big creatures in our hand for this deck to work, so we want to have cards coming in (Phyrexian Arena, Read the Bones) and specific creatures when we want them (Demonic Tutor, Razaketh, the Foulblooded). Kokusho, the Evening Star is a good target for a tutor in a vacuum, because he scares the crap out of everyone.

Our threats are pretty obvious - a smattering of Demons, Dragons, and Angels. We want high-impact here, so most of them are pretty brutal to the table. Scourge of the Throne gets us additional attack steps (more free stuff!), Avacyn, Angel of Hope makes all our stuff indestructible, and Lord of the Void eats away at our opponents' libraries while giving us their stuff.

One particular threat is important because it's a key combo with Kaalia: Master of Cruelties. Feel free to skip this paragraph if you already know the combo. Master of Cruelties, if it hits, will set your opponent's life total to 1. Because it can only attack alone, that's normally where it stops. But Kaalia gets around the "attack alone" clause by dropping it into play tapped and attacking along with Kaalia. So, the Master hits, sets the life total to 1, and Kaalia hits for 2, killing them. In a perfect world, turn one is Sol Ring and Lightning Greaves or another mana rock. turn two is another rock or Greaves, or heck, Swiftfoot Boots. turn three is land, Kaalia, equip, swing, drop Master of Cruelties, kill an opponent.

We've got a suite of answers. This color combo has the advantage of being able to answer just about anything, so we get some of the strongest answer cards in the game in the form of Anguished Unmaking, Utter End, and Crackling Doom (that thing is always really effective). We've also got some great rescue cards like Flawless Maneuver and Tefiri's Protection; surviving a Wrath of God we don't cast can spell doom for the rest of the table, so a few ways to do so are worth it. Speaking of Wrath of God, we have a few: Hour of Revelation, In Garruk's Wake, and Merciless Eviction join the new Ruinous Ultimatum. Finally, we've got Armageddon.

Don't get me wrong: Armageddon is a jerk of a card. The thing is, it wins games, and we're trying to win, not make friends here. Armageddon the turn after Kaalia gets dropped will likely mean the rest of the table scoops; if they don't, they'll have a very difficult time recovering as we drop Demon after Dragon. Feel free to replace it with a different spell, but let me tell you, if you run it, you'll win games with it.

We've got the Greaves and the Boots, plus a Whispersilk Cloak and Darksteel Plate to help Kaalia get in without worry, and a Strionic Resonator because it gives us a second Kaalia activation when she attacks. I looked at Helm of the Host, and while it's basically Resonator number two, it's way more expensive and didn't seem worth the slot. That'd be a good one in place of Armageddon, if Armageddon is a jerk too far for you.

Fast Kaalia | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

To get to our second deck, we drop the vast majority of the creature base and mana base and start over. We still have 38 lands, but now most of them come into play tapped. We keep all 10 mana rocks, and we'll still be able to reliably hit Kaalia on turn four and sometimes on turn three, which is all we want.

It's also astonishing to me how potent $1 cards can be. Tariel, Reckoner of Souls is awesome in our deck, allowing us not just to hit in the air, but after attacking with Vigilance it can tap to steal something from someone else. Terror of Mount Velus will help kill opponents for sure. Archfiend of Depravity cuts everyone else's creature totals to two every single turn. Plus it flies and hits for 5! Sephara, Sky's Blade does a lovely Avacyn impression in our deck, given how most of our creatures die. We may not have Karmic Guide, but we've got Unburial Rites, which in our case is effectively the same thing.

We lose Phyrexian Arena but we gain Harvester of Souls, plus we pick up some extra single-use draw spells. Syphon Mind is particularly annoying to everyone else and great for us. We also get the wonderful Mythos of Snapdax, because we're going to be leaving people with some really stupid stuff and keeping the best of ours. We lose all the tutors, though; we're going to have to find the creature we need honestly. And our answers aren't all the same - Utter End is still here but Anguished Unmaking is not; instead we get Mortify. Teferi's Protection is gone, but Master Warcraft should allow us to craft a good enough attack to end someone's game.

Cheaper Kaalia | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Okay, I take it back. Don't build this deck. I don't ever want to see it across the table from me, and don't play it against Bruce! Please, bring your 3s and 4s instead.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe.

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