Kaldheim Limited Guide: Mechanics
For the Kaldheim release I am taking a slightly different approach than usual. Rather than doing another massive guide I thought it would be better to break the content into more manageable chunks and spread it out over the week or so leading up to January 28th. Because, I am sure you would agree that day cannot come soon enough. Magic is in dire need of a shakeup and I have high hopes for Kaldheim to make an impact.
I think this set was a really smart move by Wizards. There has been a lot of negativity lately surrounding crossover sets, Secret Lair, power creep, etc., and Kaldheim panders more toward their core audience. The MTG community has always had a sizeable chunk that is into metal music and/or Norse mythology, and personally I do fall into that group. So as long as they can pull off the flavor and come up with some interesting mechanics, this is sure to be a winner in my view. So, I’ve turned my old Bathory records up to 11 and am ready to dive into the Kaldheim mechanics to see if they pulled it off!
Okay Wizards you got me, this is pretty great. Thematically, boasting is spot on for the Warrior/Berserker vibe. And mechanically this is pretty ingenious. Generally players want to conceal their spells from their opponent and keep them guessing as to what they are going to do, but Boast flies in the face of that and goes ‘look what I can do – just try and stop me!’ Sure, creatures with generic activated abilities function in a similar way (albeit without the attacking/single-use restrictions), but I still think this is pretty clever.
From a strategic standpoint these cards still look pretty good, since they can threaten activation and force your foes to play around them at times. I am envisioning instances where your opponent needs to hold back attacks or play a creature instead of a draw spell in order to fortify against your Boast creature, only for you to hold back attacks and further develop your board or play a value spell instead. I could also see running combat tricks/cheap removal in a Boast-heavy deck in order to counter an opponent that has an answer when you activate Boast (or to simply prevent an important Boast creature from getting traded).
Clearly Red and White are the colors which best support this ability, but Black and Green do have some as well. As an Aggro ability, I do think this could end up being kind of slow though. For example, let’s say you had Battershield Warrior and Goldmaw Champion in play and then activate both Boast abilities on Turn 5. Doing so before blockers theoretically taps down their key block and allows you to get in for 6 damage (or more depending what your turn 2 play was). The problem is you gave up your 5th turn to do this, likely didn’t get much if any damage through until this point unless your opponent had no board presence, and now have nothing to block with. However, we also need to consider that maybe your opponent didn’t leave good blockers since they knew you had Goldmaw Champion, allowing you to still attack and have two mana left over. In that case maybe you could slip in a Frenzied Raider before combat to really get things going, or perhaps spend your extra two mana on a Foretell spell (our next new mechanic).
Foretell allows you to invest 2 mana in order to cast the spell discounted (and sometimes with a bonus) on a future turn. Remember, you can always cast these straight up for their normal mana cost, but in those instances you will be overpaying. Black and Blue are the most supportive of this mechanic, but the other colors have a decent amount as well. Flavor-wise I think this is great and plays well into the prophetic lore of the set and its inspirations. This is also one of the more innovative mechanics I have seen in a while. It feels like some amalgamation of Suspend and Morph, but still looks really fresh.
It certainly comes across as the Yin to Boast’s Yang, and I enjoy the contrast there. The design will also often make Foretell a longer-term prediction, because a lot of the time it won’t make sense to Foretell and then cast the following turn. Augury Raven, for example, would take up your second and third turn to get a (slightly) expedited 3/3 Flyer. But, if you hold off until at least turn 4 you could cast it for 2 mana and then Foretell something else or play a second spell:
And indeed, there are some ways to capitalize from playing Foretell spells. One pseudo-mechanic of the set is cards that pay off playing a second spell on a given turn, and Foretell is great for setting this up. This second spell mechanic appears in a handful of Black and White cards. There are also more apparent payoffs like Vega, the Watcher which serves as a signpost for the UW archetype favoring Foretell. In my upcoming Limited guide I will be going through all ten archetypes of Kaldheim and highlighting the best common and uncommon cards for each. But at present, let’s return to the mechanics at hand.
From a design standpoint, I believe that Foretell is going to make Magic games more fun (in Limited at least, as cards like Doomskar are looking pretty obnoxious for Constructed). My reasoning here is that it’ll slow down the format somewhat and lead to highly interactive plays later in the game. There is also the uncertainty inherent in players placing cards face down which in theory makes games more exciting and dynamic. Overextending into one of the Foretell board wipes could spell certain doom, but play too cautiously when it is only a draw spell and you may be kicking yourself later. One must also be wary of Instant speed Foretell spells such as Mammoth Growth and Demon Bolt (this totally should’ve been called Ride the Lightning) which can serve as super cheap combat tricks. In my upcoming Kaldheim Tips and Tricks article I will be sure to include a section of these so you will know what to expect from those sneaky face-down cards.
In general I think MTG is at its most fun when there are many decisions to make, and each player has an opportunity to play enough cards to feel like they were able to execute a strategy. I think both Boast and Foretell are conducive to this and am excited to try these new mechanics out. Now, let’s take a look at some returning mechanics and see how they help round out the set.
Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFCs)
In case Foretell didn’t completely fulfill your desire to flip over Magic cards, Kaldheim includes some that have a different card printed on both sides. This mechanic is a continuation from Zendikar Rising, and completes the ‘pathway land’ cycle. However, where ZNR’s modal-face cards tended to be tap-land/overpriced spell, in Kaldheim these are more premium (Rare/Mythic) spells. These cards include a cycle of legendary Artifacts/Equipment which is totally on point given the themes of the set. ‘Valkmira’ as a portmanteau of Valkyrie and mirror is a bit heavy-handed for my taste, but conceptually these cards are still pretty neat.
Once again, having options/utility in spells tends to make games more enjoyable and raises the skill ceiling. Unlike in ZNR the applications of these are limited and not as interesting to discuss as they will be fewer and further between due to their rarity. But they are still fun to have in the set, and many will be quite exciting to open. Ultimately, I do expect the next (much older) returning mechanic to make a bigger impact in Kaldheim though.
Snow is a throwback to Ice Age and more recently Coldsnap, and I doubt most Standard players will remember this mechanic. Basically you have Snow (formally Snow-covered) land which produces mana of the color you would expect, but there are payoff cards for spending Snow mana or even just having Snow permanents. Ascendent Spirit, for example, is a really cute throwback to Figure of Destiny (finally!) which can use Snow mana to level itself up. Narfi, Betrayer King is a signpost for Black-Blue most heavily supporting this mechanic and not only uses Snow mana for its ability but is also a straight up Snow (and Zombie) Lord. Ice King, anyone? I would not be surprised at all if this set began development early on as a Song of Ice and Fire crossover but it didn’t work out financially.
Anyway, you can see that Green also has some Snow synergy (Red has a little as well), and overall these permanents are easy to spot because they have a different styling around the border and in the text box. I suspect basic land will be returning to Magic Arena Draft/Sealed events for this set, since you cannot add extra Snow land to your Limited decks. This will make the tapped Snow land cycle and even basics important picks to support decks that are heavily invested in Snow stuff. Once again, props to Wizards for pulling in yet another mechanic which fits snugly with the Nordic themes of Kaldheim. Speaking of, yet another card type of the past has been resurrected to find another nice home:
Battle of Frost and Fire… gee that sounds familiar. There are actually a ton (20) of these Sagas in the set since each archetype gets an Uncommon and Rare one. If you are new to these, the first ability goes off the turn you play it, followed by an additional ability after your draw step each turn. After the final ability is triggered the Enchantment is sacrificed. This card concept was actually previewed in Future Sight and was originally how Planeswalkers were going to work. The first true printing of Sagas was in Dominaria where players were either thrilled or gutted when a History of Benalia or The Eldest Reborn entered the battlefield, depending on which side. More recently we have had some in Theros Beyond Death, but I think Kaldheim is a really good place for them.
The card concepts are either an important battle or feat by one of the characters in Kaldheim, and overall their effects are somewhat tempered compared to the Dominaria examples I gave above. Getting three effects out of a single card is generally incredible in Limited and they are still going to be really high picks most of the time. But, I don’t expect these to completely break the set. They end up being a little like Boast, where the effects (besides the first one) are telegraphed to your opponent and they may or may not be able to play around them. They also add to the Foretell dynamic where lots of spells/effects have the potential to go off on a single turn, and I find that sort of gameplay quite interesting.
This actually does it for the primary mechanics of Kaldheim. Before we conclude (for now), I would still like to acknowledge a couple extra types of cards (similar to the second spell mechanic I mentioned in the Foretell section):
Blue-Green has its archetype built around Changeling payoffs. Creatures with this ability have all creature types and these colors have ways of using that to their advantage. Overall Kaldheim does break its creatures into fairly distinct tribes, however there aren’t quite enough payoffs/lords at uncommon for me to consider it a tribal set.
There are definitely some powerful Rare spells that reward a tribal theme so it is still worth keeping an eye on your creature types in case you open one. Perhaps tribes will end up being a connection from Kaldheim to Strixhaven or another future set. You will see the Changeling cards again in the archetype discussion in my upcoming Limited Guide, but Littjara Glade-Warden in particular has a type of Graveyard interaction in addition to its Changeling status that is worth discussing in this section:
Exiling a Creature from your Graveyard
There are a few nifty spells that either require or allow you to exile a creature from your graveyard. I don’t really think this is going to be a build around or anything in Limited, but felt it was worth mentioning. There are even more abilities I could include I suppose, it is kind of staggering how many keywords/card types were thrown together in Kaldheim. There is even a creature (Fynn, the Fangbearer) that enables Deathtouch creatures to inflict Poison counters (????). Nonetheless, everything still works flavor-wise and I have been enjoying the ‘micro synergies’ sets have been presenting lately. Instead of simply drafting highly-telegraphed archetypes it allows for more nuanced decks that feature ‘packages’ of cards which work well together. Maybe Kaldheim is starting to take this concept too far, but I guess we shall see.
And finally, in addition to its equipment (which has some Red-White support), Kaldheim also features a few vehicles. I think these two may be more playable than they look, since creatures in this set are looking significantly under powered. I actually don’t think I saw any 2-drops with 3 power (besides Funeral Longboat). But, I will be taking a deeper dive into the features of the set and its archetypes in my upcoming guide. For now, I’d just like to take a moment to appreciate the nod here to Viking Ships. Well, to be perfectly honest I keep getting reminded of this Alestorm track for some reason. I know it is pirate metal, but hey vikings were just glorified pirates anyway.
Clearly I am enamored with the Viking/Metal themes and new/returning mechanics of Kaldheim! For me, the vibe is like playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla with the Doom Eternal soundtrack in the background. I must admit I have been playing some other games while anticipating this set. Magic Arena is about to be playable on mobile for crying out loud and my RTX 3070 will resent me if I only use it for this (cue the Rick and Morty ‘what is my purpose’ meme).
In all seriousness, a new set can be truly refreshing, and I think this is going to be a great one. Be on the lookout for my upcoming Tips and Tricks article followed by my full Limited Guide. Also be sure to check out Drifter’s Limited Set Review where he rates every single card in the set (I am foregoing that task this time around to work on this other content). As always, please let me know what you think and I’d love to discuss the set with you all.