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Dominaria's Commander Misfits: Balmor's Kiln Fiends


Magic's lead designer is unusual in a number of ways, but one of them is the near absolute transparency of the design process of Magic when a set comes out. If you choose, you can read a lot about how a set came to be, what the challenges were, and what was really effective. Additionally, when he looks back in his State of Design columns every year, he's pretty forthcoming about what worked and what didn't. No matter how you feel about the game or decisions the designers are making, you have to appreciate how open Mark Rosewater is with his audience.

One of the things I've learned from reading his work is about "parasitic mechanics." A parasitic mechanic is one which requires another thing to work. A great example would be, say, "Splice onto Arcane." In order to Splice a card onto an Arcane card - and thereby get the cheaper cost or alternate effect - you have to be running Arcane cards in your deck; otherwise, the mechanic doesn't work.

Kiln Fiend is an example of a card with a parasitic mechanic, even if the mechanic itself doesn't have a keyword. Kiln Fiend is just a 1/2 for 1r if all you do is play it in your random Red deck. But if you can stick your Kiln Fiend in a deck with a ton of Instants and Sorceries, suddenly you can have a 4/2, 7/2, or 10/2 for just two mana. That's great, but you have to run a bunch of Instants and Sorceries for it to work. Parasitic.

This isn't to say "parasitic," with this definition, is bad, just notable. I mean, combos are parasitic, just much more specific, right? If you need three specific cards to make your combo work, they are pretty parasitic! And we still run combos in our decks sometimes. Something like the Kiln Fiend ability is a much broader combo, in that sense. We play a Kiln Fiend, then we play spells and get a big Kiln Fiend.

So, let's make our Commander a Kiln Fiend.

Balmor, Battlemage Captain

I know we're doing the underdogs of Dominaria, and when I chose Balmor, he had like 100 decks on EDHREC.com. As of this writing, he's over 450, so clearly people have noticed there's something to a two-mana flying Commander who pumps your entire team.

In a relatively unusual break from my tradition, we're only running 36 lands here, which is, in my opinion, the lowest a Commander deck should go if it plans on running spells it intends to cast with mana from lands. As I demonstrated in my article about land counts in Commander (shameless self-promotion!), running 36 in Commander is kind of like running 22 in your 60-card decks. Frank Karsten says you want that many lands if you definitely want two lands on turn two (we do) and really would like a third land on turn three for several 3-drops, which is right where we are. We have four, and sort of five, cards worth more than three mana in our entire deck, so we should be fine with this, but we limit the likelihood of getting mana screwed by running 36. We're also not running any ramp, because we don't need it. Our hope is our last turn will be casting three spells for a total of seven or eight mana and that will close out the game - an audacious hope, to be sure, but our hope nonetheless - so why waste our time on Artifacts which don't trigger our Commander?

One of the nice things about Blue, though, is we get card draw from Instants and Sorceries. We get it from Red, too, which is even better, because we have even more options. For this particular build, I prioritized cards which drew more cards at our preferred mana value, even at the expense of discarding, but really, if it draws cards and costs three or less, it's good in this deck.

We're going to go wide and pump up our Creatures with spells, then attack for the win. Our Commander flies, which is great, but this is where the parasitic nature of our situation gets tricky. Some Kiln Fiends are definitely worth it, so we're running some, but most of our Creatures are going to be tokens made by Sorceries like Dragon Fodder and Goblin Wizardry. We're probably going to roll over to a Wrath of God effect anyway, so we may as well just drop as many Creatures as possible and try to push through as much damage as we can. Feywild Visitor is a neat way to have some legs, though, since it lets us spit out a few extra Tokens even after we've been Wrath'd out.

We have a couple of answers to potential problems, but not a lot, and most of them are here to do something else, like draw cards (Prismari Command) or make tokens (Release the Gremlins). I suppose there's a version of this deck which actually runs cheap burn as a way to trigger our Commander, but that runs the risk of running out of cards or not having enough threats, so this build chooses to go for broke and attempt to end the game quickly.

We do have Rowan, Scholar of Sparks // Will, Scholar of Frost, because in both forms they give us a discount on our Instants and Sorceries. You're probably better off casting Will unless you're certain you can get to Rowan's ultimate, which is bonkers if you reach it. Harmonic Prodigy also does a nice job of doubling up on Balmor's triggers, but the most fun from this deck comes from our Kiln Fiends.

Basically, the Kiln Fiend ability is Prowess, but a bit more limited (Instants and Sorceries rather than noncreature spells) and a bit less limited (not just +1/+1 till end of turn). Our Commander gives a small power boost and, critically, Trample. Wee Dragonauts gets +2 to its power. Nivix Cyclops is a bigger Kiln Fiend with Defender, but loses it when it gets its power boost. Surrakar Spellblade gets charge counters which don't change its power, but lets us draw cards equal to the number of counters if it connects. Guttersnipe throws damage around. Young Pyromancer and Talrand, Sky Summoner both make tokens every time we play one of our spells. Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy lets us cast stuff out of our 'yard. Firemind's Research is our only noncreature Kiln Fiend, but it can serve as both card draw and removal, so it seemed like too much fun to ignore.

The final thing we've got is a few ways to grant Haste to our team; that seemed worth a few spots. Crashing Drawbridge is probably our weakest way. Fervor is classic. Urabrask the Hidden makes everyone else mad but is pretty awesome for us, and hopefully will allow us to punch through some extra damage.

Balmor's Kiln Fiends | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Card Display

Much like Spellslinger decks throughout the history of the game, this deck is high-risk/high-reward. Sometimes we're not going to draw enough cards and run out gas before we can close out the game. Sometimes we'll draw a weird combination of cards which won't allow us to do what we need to do. Sometimes we'll be short the one mana we need to cast the one remaining spell we need to get the last few points of damage through. And sometimes everything will hum perfectly and we'll kill our first opponent on turn five, followed by the other two on turn six. No matter what, we'll make a splash at the table as they count how many spells we've cast this turn and ask how much damage we're representing. (Then their shoulders will sag when you remind them all your dudes have Trample.)

I also want to point out my friend Paige Smith did another article on Balmor just last week! It's hard to move away from spells-matter with this Commander, but she and I did pretty different takes. Definitely check out Paige's column for more ideas!

I'd love to hear what you think of this deck and of high-risk/high-reward playstyles in general. However, we've moved our interaction away from comments and to other social media accounts. I'm not really on Twitter, but I'm on Instagram and Facebook, and Coolstuffinc.com is great about posting all our articles on those platforms. If you hit me up with a comment over there, I'll work really hard to check those accounts and make sure I get back to you. So please let me know what you think!

In the meantime, get out there and take a risk with something parasitic.

Thanks for reading.

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