From the Vault: Kaalia
- Robert Giel
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
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.
Every Force from Above and Below
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
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
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.
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.
|Bloodgift Demon||Demonlord Belzenlok||Doom Whisperer|
|Embodiment of Agonies||Rakdos, Lord of Riots||Rune-Scarred Demon|
|Spawn of Mayhem||Vilis, Broker of Blood|
- Bloodgift Demon is exactly the kind of card we are looking for, we hit it off our Kaalia, it's cheap to cast and provides card advantage over time.
- Rune-Scarred Demon might be on the expensive side of things but being able to blink a tutor is value we'll take.
- Vilis, Broker of Blood is one the most expensive demons out there but has the potential to be broken as it works great with card draw effects like Phyrexian Arena, Bloodgift Demon, Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz as well as cards like Vampiric Tutor or Reanimate.
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.
|Balefire Dragon||Dragonlord Kolaghan||Glorybringer|
|Scourge of the Throne||Skarrgan Hellkite||Stormbreath Dragon|
|Thundermaw Hellkite||Verix Bladewing|
- 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
- For protecting our creatures, we have the blink cards like Eerie Interlude and Ghostway as well as the dynamic duo Mother of Runes and Giver of Runes.
- We are literally in the best color combination for removal, so plenty of options here. My personal favorites are Anguished Unmaking, Austere Command, Toxic Deluge and Merciless Eviction, but these are just some examples.
- It makes sense to have some form of reanimation in the deck, as commander is usually a boardwipe-fest, we can expect our creatures do die a lot. Reanimate and Whip of Erebos are solid choices while cards like Command the Dreadhorde and Living Death can win the game on the spot.
- For card draw, we can use all stars like Necropotence and Phyrexian Arena. Even Scroll Rack seems very good in this deck, as you can put Angels, Demons and Dragons on top of the deck, draw new cards, then trigger Kaalia to get the cards you put on top back.
- For support I think Dragon Tempest and Fervor are two important cards to include in the deck. Sarkhan's Unsealing doubles as both removal and can increase the damage output, while Merciless Eviction is just a win condition. Last but not least, we of course run the original Kaalia of the Vast to still cheat out our creatures.
The Final List
As Above, So Below (Kaalia Zenith Seeker) by Robert
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.