From the Vault: Kaalia

Kaalia of the Vast might be one of the most iconic Commanders ever printed. Every long-time Commander player has either played a Kaalia deck or died playing against it. M20 had many surprises for commander players old and new alike, one of them was a callback to the infamous Human Cleric.

The New World Order

Sol Ring Command Tower

On June 17th, 2011 the lives of all Commander players changed. The fan made and casual format Elder Dragon Highlander received, for the first time in its history, direct support from Wizards of the Coast. While the format was still maintained by its players, Wizards released a product dedicated to this format. The product contained both reprints and new cards that were more focused on the political and multiplayer aspect of the game, and while the cards passed standard and modern (called extended at the time), they went straight into Legacy and Vintage.

The five decks each contained 100 cards and were based on the three-color wedges. Khans of Tarkir wasn't around yet, so there were no official names for the three-color combinations. They were simply called Junk or Necra (Abzan), BUG or Ana (Sultai), RUG or Ceta (Temur), Patriot or Raka (Jeskai), and Oros or Dega (Mardu). The five face cards commanders where Ghave, Guru of Spores, The Mimeoplasm, Riku of Two Reflections, Zedruu the Greathearted, and Kaalia of the Vast respectively.

While each deck was unique, every deck contained one copy of Sol Ring and one copy of a new land - Command Tower.

Every Force from Above and Below

Kaalia of the Vast

One Commander in particular stole the heart of many players. Kaalia of the Vast had it all - great artwork, amazing flavor, and the ability to play a deck based on some of the most iconic creatures in the history of Magic: The Gathering. And when I say play, I actually mean cheat. She is fast, aggressive and exactly in the right colors for her ability. According to EDHREC, she is one of the most played commanders all time, and exactly for those reasons.

There's always a "but." While Kaalia does what she does incredibly well, I would actually say that she is one of the worst Commanders ever. Hear me out.

There are some fundamental problems with her design. Kaalia of the Vast causes many issues in casual playgroups, where she is perceived as too fast and unfair. This often results in a game state where her controller must either win fast or lose playing against the rest of the table. This especially is a problem for the Mardu color combination; you can try and win fast but are in no way suited to deal with the retaliation of three other players. Then on the other side of the spectrum we have cEDH, where the games are all about speed and raw power level. Once again, Kaalia is completely out of place here. Her game plan is too obvious and can be seen (and thus prevented) from miles away. cEDH decks are usually stacked full of efficient counter spells and spot removal, so the chances of your Kaalia being able to resolve, let alone attack, are very slim. Eventually you will end up with a hand full of bombs that you are unable to play, while your opponents are combo-ing off through Isochron Scepter and Dramatic Reversal.

Kaalia of the Vast is one of the most amazing and terrible Commanders at the same time as a result of this tension.

Seeking the Zenith

Kaalia, Zenith Seeker

And now, with the new core set completely spoiled, we received a new Kaalia. And to give Wizards credit where credit is due, they knocked it out of the park with Kaalia, Zenith Seeker. The new Kaalia stays very true to her roots. It's still about playing Angels, Dragons and Demons. Her new ability, however, is a very welcome addition to the Mardu color-combination, as it provides direct card advantage. Because Kaalia herself can't cheat in all these big creatures, the new Kaalia plays more as a midrange/value deck as opposed to an Aggro / combo deck, and this plays well with most casual playgroups.

You do have to cast most of your creatures the fair way, so I advise heavily against having the same creature lineup as you would have in the original Kaalia. With that said, you could still run Kaalia of the Vast as one of the cards in the other 99, and you should.

Heaven, Hell and Everything Between

For the rest of this article, I'd like to take some time to brew a list for Kaalia Zenith seeker. I believe this isn't necessarily one of the strongest Commander decks out there, but you get to play a lot of sweet creatures that you really don't get to play anywhere else. Like I mentioned earlier, the fact that you have to cast the creatures in a fair way makes for a different lineup than the Kaalia of the Vast. The challenge here is finding creatures with low enough CMC that still have a decent impact on the board.

Blink is a nice sub-theme here. It allows us to blink our Commander, allowing her to trigger again. Mardu is a color combination that can sometimes be a bit lackluster in card drawing, so allowing Kaalia to trigger multiple times solves this issue partially. Naturally, blinking also allows us to save our flying friends from board wipes

Angelic Arrival

Archangel Avacyn Restoration Angel Sephara, Sky's Blade

Out of the three creature types, Angels are by far the easiest to find. There are plenty of "pushed" angels throughout the history of Magic: The Gathering that provide a lot of bang for your buck. Here are some angels that made the cut:

  • Angel of Condemnation, while not a very special card, can blink Kaalia, Zenith Seeker allowing her to trigger her ability again. Having to sit through the summoning sickness and paying for every blink is not great, but for a four-drop, we'll take it.
  • Angel of Despair might be a bit on the expensive side of creatures but vindicate-on-a-stick has never disappointed in casual EDH, add the fact that there is a blink sub-theme and we have a card that fits perfectly in the deck.
  • Archangel Avacyn should be an auto-inclusion, Flash is a great keyword in EDH and so is giving your team indestructible, all for the mere cost of five mana.
  • Restoration Angel also plays perfectly in our theme, a cheap angel that can blink our commander.

Feel free to add cards like Avacyn, Angel of Hope but keep in mind that a lower CMC in this deck is better, we want to hit hard and fast.

Demonic Dealing

Bloodgift Demon Doom Whisperer Embodiment of Agonies

Finding demons that can fit is a lot harder than their angelic counterparts. Demons are known for their incredibly high CMC and punishing costs on upkeep. Fortunately, the last sets gave us some decent additions.

Draconic Day

Balefire Dragon Glorybringer Dragonlord Kolaghan

Just like Demons, Dragons can be very expensive, so we must find a sweet spot between a somewhat acceptable mana cost and a great effect. Balefire Dragon is an example of this, 7 mana is a lot, but the high-powered ability makes it worth running. On the other hand, we have Standard and Modern playable dragons like Glorybringer that are at the 5cmc spot so we can include the most powerful ones.

  • Dragonlord Kolaghan's first ability is more relevant than it seems, our creatures are often only powerful when we actually get to untap with them, Kolaghan fixes this problem. It's also a great target for mass-reanimation cards like Command the Dreadhorde and Living Death as it gives everything haste.
  • Stormbreath Dragon is a great card that can punish blue/green players, as it's often the case that they have a large amount of cards in their hands.

Other Notable Inclusions

The Final List

As Above, So Below (Kaalia Zenith Seeker) by Robert

DECKLIST
Commander
1 Kaalia, Zenith Seeker
37Lands 36Creatures 13Instants and Sorceries
1Ancient Tomb 1Angel of Condemnation 1Austere Command
1Arid Mesa 1Angel of Despair 1Command the Dreadhorde
1Blood Crypt 1Archangel Avacyn / Avacyn, the Purifier 1Demonic Tutor
1Bloodstained Mire 1Archangel of Thune 1Living Death
1Clifftop Retreat 1Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice 1Merciless Eviction
1Command Beacon 1Aurelia, the Warleader 1Reanimate
1Command Tower 1Balefire Dragon 1Toxic Deluge
1Dragonskull Summit 1Bloodgift Demon 1Vindicate
1Fetid Heath 1Bruna, the Fading Light / Brisela, Voice of Nightmares 1Anguished Unmaking
1Flooded Strand 1Demonlord Belzenlok 1Eerie Interlude
1Godless Shrine 1Doom Whisperer 1Ghostway
1Graven Cairns 1Dragonlord Kolaghan 1Rakdos Charm
1Homeward Path 1Embodiment of Agonies 1Vampiric Tutor
1Isolated Chapel 1Gisela, Blade of Goldnight  
1Marsh Flats 1Gisela, the Broken Blade / Brisela, Voice of Nightmares  
2Mountain 1Giver of Runes  
3Plains 1Glorybringer  
1Polluted Delta 1Grand Abolisher  
1Prismatic Vista 1Kaalia of the Vast  
1Reflecting Pool 1Karmic Guide  
1Rugged Prairie 1Linvala, Keeper of Silence  
1Sacred Foundry 1Lyra Dawnbringer  
1Shizo, Death's Storehouse 1Mother of Runes  
1Silent Clearing 1Rakdos, Lord of Riots  
1Smoldering Marsh 1Resplendent Angel  
1Sunbaked Canyon 1Restoration Angel  
2Swamp 1Rune-Scarred Demon  
1Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth 1Scourge of the Throne  
1Vault of the Archangel 1Sephara, Sky's Blade  
1Verdant Catacombs 1Skarrgan Hellkite  
1Winding Canyons 1Solemn Simulacrum  
1Windswept Heath 1Spawn of Mayhem  
1Wooded Foothills 1Stormbreath Dragon  
  1Thundermaw Hellkite  
  1Verix Bladewing  
  1Vilis, Broker of Blood  
7Enchantments 6Artifacts
1Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz 1Chromatic Lantern  
1Dragon Tempest 1Lightning Greaves  
1Fervor 1Mana Crypt  
1Phyrexian Arena 1Scroll Rack  
1Sarkhan's Unsealing 1Sol Ring  
1Smothering Tithe 1Whip of Erebos  
1True Conviction    

Kaalia, Zenith Seeker is a very fun commander with a strong callback to the original Kaalia. While the deck might not be as strong or fast, it will surely provide a fun experience for those looking to play an aggro-based deck with some of the most iconic creature types in the game. How would you build this deck? Does the old Kaalia have a special place in your heart? Let me know in the comments!

Feel free to check out the decklist on Tappdout and take part in the discussion there too.

As always, thanks for reading, and until next time!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

8 Comments

Physikmensch(2019-07-19 18:07)

I believe a Angel of Finality would fit in this Deck. It makes use of the blinking subtheme and disturbes graveyard-related dekcs a lot.

RJGiel(2019-07-16 16:24)

@Aric-Haldan, yes absolutely! Like I said in another comment, you can try to even go deeper in the blinking-theme and run cards like Shadowborn Demon.

@Hyracul glad you liked it! Feel free to share your final list with me :).

@GrixisSalesman, thanks for your comment!

As I mentioned earlier, this is just an example list. At no point did I say that this is the perfect and only way to run Kaalia. Part of what makes Commander so great is that everybody can build decks their own way!

This is also true for how affordable the deck is! You can easily exchange the more expensive cards. I assume you mean the fetchlands and Mana Crypt. You absolutely don't need to run these in your deck; it's just what I personally like to play.

As for spot removal, Path to Exile and STP are good cards, and you have every right to run them. My personal experience is that (narrow) spot removal usually isn't good enough for Commander, as it just trades 1 for 1. I like Anquished Unmaking as it deals not just with creatures, and Vindicate hits lands.

Mother of Runes and Giver of Runes are, in my opinion, amazing cards; yes, even in Commander. Having the ability to protect something for free (not using cards) while your opponent is using cards is amazing, especially in colors where you generally don't want to start trading resources with Green/Blue based decks.

Restoration Angel and Ghostway are part of the small flickering sub-theme that allow us to re-use Kaalia's ability. There's also plenty of other good stuff with ETB triggers that synergyses with these cards; Rune-Scarred Demon, Angel of Despair, Karmic Guide, Demonlord Belzenlok, Karmic Guide and Solemn Simulacrum are just a few (the angels don't work with Restoration Angel obviously, but it works great with the Commander).

I'd love to see your interpretation of a Kaalia, Zenith Seeker list, as I'm intruiged by your arguments :).

GrixisSalesman(2019-07-16 15:58)

No Wheel of Fortune? No Path to Exile, no Swords to Plowshares? Mother of Runes and the Giver of Runes also seem a bit over the top, we draw a lot of cards with our commander, so we probably go a bit more over the top than having our commander be in a combo of sorts, which makes me think the Moms might not be that useful? Also this is for multiplayer I assume, so giving a creature protection from one color on a turn isn't that useful, because it wears off when it's the next player's turn etc.

Also kinda sad to see that this list isn't geared towards the base of EDH players. Most players can't afford half the cards here, so for most people this is very useless. Other than that some of the general card choices seem like you didn't give it much thought. Glorybringer and Restoration Angel... Lol. Ghostway, lol. Just a lot of filler cards that could be Read the Bones or Path to Exile you know.

Aric-haldan(2019-07-16 15:54)

Conjurer's Closet could be worth it as well

Hyracul(2019-07-16 15:48)

Absolutely love this article since I've found a promo Kaalia last prerelease and am of course thinking about a good commander for that. Thanks!

RJGiel(2019-07-16 15:04)

Thanks for the comments guys :)
This list is by no means final and more serves as a skeleton for the general idea of a lower-cost Kaalia deck. Both Baneslayer Angel and Abyssal Persecutor are fine additions! Ephemerate is also a sweet card, works even better when we add more ETB effects such as Shadowborn Demon in the mix!

env03059(2019-07-16 14:58)

No Baneslayer Angel or Abyssal Persecutor? Call me surprised!!!
On the other hand, I am pleased Master of Cruelties was not included. It makes the deck first target priority for the entire table....

tazelator(2019-07-16 14:42)

I'd personally play more ramp and also I'd play ephemerate. It generates sick value with the Commander and has lots of other applications.

Mentioned Cards

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