Last updated on April 16, 2021
Sarulf’s Packmate | Illustration by Ilse Gort
Welcome, everyone, to one of the wildest formats in recent memory. Are you a fan of drafting 5-color piles? Do you like to take multiple turns to cast a spell? Do you like massive blocks of text on your Magic cards? Well boy, do I have the format for you!
Kaldheim is a unique format in that you should be drafting 8+ lands in about one third of the drafts that you play. Another third of the time you want to be aggressive about drafting combat tricks and equipment. The rest of the time you want to draft a deck that would be considered “normal” in most formats. This consists of a good mix of creatures, removal, and card advantage.
About 80 drafts into the format, there are two things I am absolutely sure of: it’s hard to go wrong going all in on a Snow deck, and Run Amok is the real deal. These highlight the fact that you’re going to constantly run into Snow and aggro decks.
Snow decks typically look to stall the game until they can play their bombs and trust me, they will have bombs.
Aggro decks are instead looking to play cheap creatures, cheap equipment with cheap equip costs, and combat tricks to continue to push damage.
Hopefully, by the end of this article, I’ll be able to help you get a well-rounded understanding of the format and make it a little less daunting. I know the cards in this format are infamously wordy (Cosima, God of the Voyage has 104 words of rules text between the two sides), but the broad strokes of the format are at least a little simpler.
An alternate type of mana that must be drafted which allows you to reap the benefits of cards that would be much less useful (or entirely unplayable) if you’re not playing Snow mana sources.
Snow-Covered Plains | Illustration by Sarah Finnigan
Cast a spell over the span of multiple turns. This typically results in paying the same mana cost of the card but being able to split up the payment, like Sarulf’s Packmate. It occasionally ends up saving mana like with Scorn Effigy. Sometimes it ends up costing more to yield a more powerful effect, like with Poison the Cup.
Foretell is likely the defining mechanic of the format that will separate the good players from the great. Some foretell cards are among the best in the format. Think Starnheim Unleashed. Other foretell cards will often announce what you likely have in hand, like Iron Verdict. This can make gameplay very interesting because players can get a clue what you have “foretold” but, as the one foretelling the card, you also need to be aware of what your opponent is seeing.
For example, let’s say you’re playing Azorius Foretell and your opponent plays Aegar, the Freezing Flame. If you have two Plains and an Island on the battlefield and are going to foretell a Behold the Multiverse, be sure to leave up one of your Plains. This can at least bluff that you have an Iron Verdict and will give savvy opponents pause when they consider attacking with a premium creature.
Saw It Coming | Illustration Randy Vargas
An ability that can be used by an attacking creature once per turn after that creature has attacked.
Boast is most relevant in aggressive decks, in part thanks to Run Amok being such an effective card in the format. Boast effects comes in all different forms, from pumping your team, to creating a 5/5 flying dragon, to tutoring up a basic land.
These creatures often make combat miserable for your opponent because you could just activate that boast ability to trade your Dragonkin Berserker for a dragon. Your opponent is essentially forced to block but knows that you might just cast Run Amok, kill their creature, punch through for 2, and be ready to swing again next turn.
Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
Modal Double-Faced Cards
MDFCs don’t play a huge part in the format since they’re all rare or mythic. The lands are relevant in Snow decks since they’re often playing all five colors, but I don’t think they should be drafted very highly outside of those. Most of the spells tend to be very strong, and at least one side is usually pretty overpowered.
Mistgate Pathway | Illustration by Yeong Hao Han
Enchantments that have an effect each time a counter is put on them. The counters are put on when it enters the battlefield and at the beginning of its controller’s main phase. It’s sacrificed after the third counter is put on.
The sagas in this set are pretty impressive. The 10 rares range between solid playable to completely insane. The 10 uncommons are a little more hit and miss. A couple are nearly unplayable, but others are near the power level of the best rares. Overall, the sagas are a huge success in this set and I look forward to the trend continuing in the future.
Forging the Tyrite Sword | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
A creature that is all creature types.
The most recent that we’ve seen changelings was Modern Horizons, and I think I’d dare to say that they have an even bigger impact here than they did in that set. Changelings are relevant in many decks.
Some are just good wherever you play them like The Bears of Littjara. Others, like Realmwalker and Littjara Kinseekers, benefit you the most in tribal decks. The changeling ability also protects your creatures against Battle of Frost and Fire and Crippling Fear, which are things to always be aware of!
Mistwalker | Illustration by Steve Prescott
The draft strategy is unique in this format for one huge reason: most of the decks that you’re going to draft, you want to lock in early. This is an extreme departure from Zendikar Rising where you wanted to make sure that you were in the open archetype for your seat and that your deck benefited from maximum synergy.
Let’s dive into the archetypes! I believe that the tier 1 decks in this format are Snow, Boros aggro, Gruul monsters, and Rakdos berserkers.
Snow is an archetype that I was very skeptical about coming into this format. The only other time I’ve drafted Snow decks was in Modern Horizons where cards like Iceberg Cancrix, Abominable Treefolk, Arcum’s Astrolabe, and Conifer Wurm were all at common or uncommon. These cards were all such heavy hitters by themselves that you could play a deck that was essentially a combination of five of these cards, 10 Snow lands, plus filler and have an incredibly strong deck.
I wasn’t seeing cards below rare that were anything near this power level when I initially looked through the set. Sure, Spirit of the Aldergard tries to do its best Abominable Treefolk impression and Sculptor of Winter wishes it was Rime Tender, but the cards didn’t seem to pack the same punch.
Harald, King of Skemfar | Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski
What I didn’t account for was:
- The power level of the format. I tried to compare Snow here to Modern Horizons. It’s quite possible that Wizards knows what they’re doing and made higher-powered cards for a higher-powered format.
- The fact that Snow dual lands allow you to play bombs more easily in other colors. These Snow decks are often four to five colors.
- The bomb rares and mythic are much more individually powerful relative to the commons and uncommons. The best rares and mythics are far better than the best commons and uncommons. I don’t think this was as true in Modern Horizons.
This last point is so important because, in Modern Horizons, you could be in Snow and be passed a rare that was completely busted in another archetype (e.g., Cloudshredder Sliver) but unplayable in your deck. Kaldheim Snow decks get to benefit from nearly every great rare and mythic in the set.
Starnheim Unleashed? Yup. Kaya the Inexorable? You bet. Koma, Cosmos Serpent? Absolutely! Going through my rankings, there isn’t a card that I have ranked at B or above that I wouldn’t enjoy having in my Snow deck. You want to know the best part about this? Fixing is great and you can see these cards, take these cards, and proceed to win with these cards! Let’s just jump into how to draft the most powerful deck in Kaldheim, Snow.
Koma, Cosmos Serpent | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
When drafting Snow, you’re often committing within the first few picks. This typically consists of landing a couple of very powerful cards in different colors along with Snow payoffs. After these picks, scooping up Snow lands becomes very important for two reasons:
- Snow decks rely on Snow mana (which needs to be drafted);
- You want to send a signal to the people you’re passing to that you’re in Snow.
If you cut Snow lands early on in the pack, they know they won’t be getting a stellar Snow deck, which in turn makes your pack 2 much stronger if you can deter one or two players. Pack 1 tends to be the easiest to pick up Snow lands because other drafters are still trying to find their lane and don’t want to waste pick 4 on a Snow land when they could get a solid card like Doomskar Titan that shines in multiple decks.
By the end of pack 1, I’m looking for a deck that consists of something like four to five Snow lands, two to three Snow payoffs, and two to three “filler” cards along the lines of Master Skald, Horizon Seeker, and Augury Raven. Getting these “filler” cards is important because solid Snow decks might end up with 10 to12 Snow lands. I’ve had decks with 15. This means that you’re now down to around 35 cards in your pool that can actually be cast. 6 to 10 of these are often not maindeck-able, which means you’ll be running right up against making a complete and functional deck at the end of the draft.
Sarulf, Realm Eater | Illustration by Chris Rahn
Pack 2 should be focused on drafting the meat of the deck. I like to go for the payoffs early here and definitely consider cards like Ravenous Lindwurm to be in this category. Make sure to take your Snow lands when there are no solid payoffs. Just know that they aren’t a priority here.
Going into pack 3 you should have a good idea of what the deck is going to look like. If you’re loaded on Snow payoffs like Frost Augur, Priest of the Haunted Edge, Icehide Troll, and Hailstorm Valkyrie, you’ll want to focus on maxing out the number of Snow lands your deck is playing.
If you end up with your payoffs being cards like Boreal Outrider, Avalanche Caller, and Berg Strider, you want to make sure that you have enough Snow lands to consistently have one or two on the battlefield. You’re instead able to focus this last pack on drafting generally good creatures and removal and just be focused on your curve.
Rampage of the Valkyries | Illustration by Billy Christian
While I believe committing to Snow early is important, you want to be aware of the downside of other players employing this strategy. If I draft a Snow land as my fourth pick (which will happen often) and the Snow lands are missing in pick 5 and 6, I start to get very nervous. If there’s one other Snow drafter in the pod, no problem! Two others? Time to get a little worried about the strength of your deck. Three or more? We have an issue.
At three drafters, each player can have around seven to eight Snow lands, which is fine depending on the type of Snow deck you’re building. At four drafters in Snow, this number drops to around five. Obviously, we don’t know this during the draft, but be sure to keep a close eye on when Snow lands are missing from the pack and the quality of the Snow payoffs.
Overall, I think Snow is the best and most consistent archetype in the format. These decks are generally the highest power level and you almost always end with a deck that has a cohesive plan thanks to the flexibility during the draft.
An added bonus to having Snow exist is that you can start drafting a deck that’s just a solid 2-color deck. If I was at pick 6 or 7 and had a decent deck being built but see a Snow land, I’ll scoop it up and take the shot at playing 5-color Snow. In most cases, the opportunity cost is low and the upside of being possibly one of two snow drafters in the pod is huge.
Big Snow Payoff Deck
This deck is playing a handful of bigtime Snow payoffs between Frost Augur, Ascendant Spirit, Spirit of the Aldergard, and Narfi, Betrayer King. Since these cards are so powerful when your Snow land count is high, I spend most of the last pack drafting lands. This results in needing to play underwhelming cards like Frostpeak Yeti, Dragur Recruiter, and Grizzled Outrider. This is fine in these decks because there are so many cards that can dominate a game all on their own. I just want to make sure to buy myself enough time to get to that point.
A big benefit to drafting decks like this is that they often end up with mana bases that might look horrendous at face value but tend to be perfectly fine. Between cards like Spirit of the Aldergard, Glittering Frost, and Path to the World Tree, these decks can often play base green for fixing and then play every other good card you see!
Consistent Snow Land Deck
This one was a trophy deck by @HaroldShipley84 on Twitter. This deck doesn’t focus as much on payoffs that require a mass quantity of Snow lands. Instead, it plays cards that benefit from having a few Snow lands like Sculptor of Winter, Avalanche Caller, and Icebind Pillar. The deck is filled with solid cards like Sarulf’s Packmate, Ravenous Lindwurm, and Fall of the Imposter.
These decks get to reap the benefits of dipping into other colors for the high-end uncommons and rares without having to spend too many picks potentially compromising your draft with Snow lands. It ends up being a nice hedge so that, when Snow ends up being cut too badly, you can still put together a solid deck.
Boros aggro is the deck that plays best against Snow-based strategies. This deck wants to get out of the gate, fast. An ideal start is a 1-drop creature like Usher of the Fallen, but I’d be plenty happy with something along the lines of Battlefield Raptor. You want to apply maximum pressure as quickly as possible by either flooding the board on the first three turns or suiting a creature up with one of the many good equipment options. Putting a Goldvein Pick on Battlefield Raptor by turn 3 often feels unbeatable thanks to the mana it generates while pressuring an opponent.
Immersturm Predator | Illustration by Nicholas Gregory
Drafting Boros Aggro
I usually open with a somewhat underwhelming pack. Sure, there are some solid cards like Arni Brokenbrow that’ll push me in this direction over a decent Snow card. Oftentimes, though, it involves a weak pack with a Demon Bolt and a key uncommon like Clarion Spirit or Run Amok.
As you start falling into Boros, make sure that you prioritize cheap creatures and good equipment. If the creature costs one mana, it’s good. If the equipment costs one to equip, it’s good. If the equipment provides extra value outside of the buff that it gives (e.g., Dwarven Hammer), it’s good.
This deck was able to regularly play a creature turn 1 and either follow it up with an equipment or another creature. As the game goes on, boast abilities can be activated, equipment can be moved, and Run Amok can be used to push the final points of damage through.
Overall, I believe that Boros can be a very strong deck, but when it misses, it misses hard. If you don’t get the right combination of early plays plus equipment or draw too many lands early on it’s very capable of losing to itself.
This is an archetype that’s been around in drafts as long as I’ve been playing. It often disappoints. That’s not the case in Kaldheim.
Drafting Gruul tends to be the same throughout the history of Magic: get big monsters onto the board and attack your opponents with creatures that are bigger than theirs. The huge difference in Kaldheim is Run Amok and King Harald’s Revenge to a lesser extent. You’ll notice a trend start to build with the non-Snow decks. Pushing damage through while allowing your creatures to survive combat is critical when facing Snow decks.
Vega, the Watcher | Illustration by Paul Scott Canavan
A nice curve and applying constant pressure isn’t quite as important as when playing Boros, but you want to make sure you have bodies on the board by turn 3. The ideal way to go about this is by foretelling Sarulf’s Packmate (best common in the set) or Dwarven Reinforcements on turn 2. Another quick way to put your opponent on their back foot is to play Axgard Cavalry and then start swinging with filler commons like Gnottvold Recluse by turn 3.
It’s not too difficult to get in 8 damage before your opponent is able to get an adequate blocker up. At this point, Run Amok shines. One of the most miserable feelings in this format is when an opponent attacks with two mana open and you have a good block. One option is to make the block and risk your creature dying and large chunks of damage being pushed through. The other is to take the damage and hope you’re able to remove the creature in response to Run Amok being cast.
This deck shines because heavy hitters like Rootless Yew and Ravenous Lindwurm are able to come down after the early onslaught. Yes, these cards are besties and yes, I’ll play just about as many Ravenous Lindwurms as I can get away with. A 6/6 is about as big as creatures get in this set so it can tussle with anything. One well-timed combat trick will end the game. Turns out four life tacked on to this ain’t no joke either.
Drafting Gruul Monsters
Niko Aris | Illustration by Winona Nelson
I often start the draft with commons like Sarulf’s Packmate, Axgard Cavalry, and Run Amok. I’m happy to first pick Run Amok and follow it up with a beefy green creature like Ravenous Lindwurm. Make sure to try to pick up a Struggle for Skemfar or two throughout the draft because this is where it shines. Dwarven Hammer is also great in this deck but, let’s be honest, it’s great in every deck.
This does everything I want a Gruul deck to do: gets on the board quickly, goes big, and pushes damage via trample. Three things to keep in mind while play Gruul Monsters:
- Cheap equipment is good but Runed Crown shines here;
- Never mindlessly cast Run Amok. There are a lot of damage-based removal spells and you might need to cast two in one turn;
- When applying pressure, try to understand the value of your opponent’s creatures. This is the perfect deck for bluffing and will often work early on in the game. That extra damage will matter later on.
Well, here we are again, another red deck. If you’ve been paying attention, you already know Run Amok is great but what really impresses in this deck is Demon Bolt. Sure, the Bolt is great everywhere but honestly, if I were playing Gruul monsters, I’d prefer Run Amok. That’s not the case here!
Rakdos berserkers is a nice split between Boros aggro and Gruul monsters. This deck tends to get on board by turn 2 with cards like Axgard Cavalry, Deathknell Berserker, and, if you’re lucky, Fearless Liberator. If you can suit these cards up with Tormentor’s Helm or Goldvein Pick, great! If not, this color pair has access to a solid suite of removal spells like the aforementioned Demon Bolt, Poison the Cup and, to a lesser extent, Feed the Serpent.
Narfi, Betrayer King | Illustration by Daarken
Black is what I’d typically call under-drafted right now. The problem is that, somehow, black is so bad in this format that there’s often only one drafter with black as part of a 2-color deck. This means that you can usually get late removal spells that nobody else wants. I recently got a pack 3 pick 7 Poison the Cup! While I’m not going to recommend drafting the other black color pairs, this is part of what makes Rakdos berserkers so strong.
Another aspect that makes this deck so powerful is that the multi-colored cards are all great. Most players saw early on that Kardur, Doomscourge was going to change the tide of a game quickly, but what was less apparent to me was the impact Kardur’s Vicious Return would have. There are multiple effects in this format that leave a neutralized creature on the board like Bound in Gold, Bind the Monsters, and even the occasionally overplayed Withercrown.
Getting rid of these creatures for three damage is great, although you often have to sac creatures that are no longer able to attack, which is fine as well. The discard part of the saga can be awkward in the late game since it happens on your main phase, so make sure to hold onto a land. The last part of the saga returns a creature with a +1/+1 counter and haste. If this is just the creature you had to sacrifice that’s fine, but this can often be the creature you discarded. If that’s a card like Doomskar Titan or Cinderheart Giant, the game will often end on the spot.
The rares for Rakdos shine as well and while I won’t spend too much time on them, Immersturm Predator is one of the best cards in the set. Unfortunately, everyone who can splash it wants it. The Bloodsky Massacre is a whole different story. Nobody else in the draft is going to want this card and if you’re dedicated to Rakdos berserkers it’s going to be the best card in your deck.
Drafting Rakdos Berserkers
Aegar, the Freezing Flame | Illustration by Chris Rahn
To get into this deck, my drafts will typically open with equipment, a key uncommon or rare, and some aggressive commons like Dwarven Reinforcements. The payoff for this deck is the late removal you can pick up. Getting the late black cards is key and if you’re not seeing it, this likely means that your deck is base red.
What makes Rakdos berserkers the bottom of the tier 1 decks is that I’ll often move off it if the late black cards aren’t coming. In a recent draft I was Rakdos berserkers until pack 2 pick 10 when an Aegar, the Freezing Flame tabled. This was possible because black removal spells weren’t seen late and the primary reason for being in the deck was the solid red cards.
This deck excels at keeping your opponent’s meaningful creatures off the board while still pushing damage. One thing to note with Rakdos berserkers is that you get access to a neat little “combo” of Hagi Mob plus Rune of Mortality. If you’re able to get the Rune on Hagi with two mana open, you can attack and kill any creature by dealing them just one damage. The removal in these decks also pairs very well with Tuskeri Firewalker, which can provide card advantage.
Tier 2 Archetypes
This next tier includes decks that I’m happy to play, but don’t see them come together as often. I believe the reason these decks are in this camp is that they often have slow starts and won’t be able to overpower the Snow decks early. These decks often let the other tier 1 decks push too much damage before getting on board.
Izzet giants is a deck that looks to play plenty of giants to go with Aegar, the Freezing Flame and then ruin your opponent’s day with Squash. These two cards are the primary reason to play Izzet giants. Squash is often a 2-mana spell after turn 4 and kills nearly anything. Where this deck gets dangerous is when paired with Aegar, the Freezing Flame.
Kaya the Inexorable | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
Games will quickly spiral out of control while you remove your opponent’s creatures and bury them in card advantage. The main issue with this deck is that I don’t think you want to be drafting the deck if you don’t have Aegar, the Freezing Flame. You’ll ideally play two to three because you should be the only person in the archetype if you’re playing giants.
In the deck mentioned for Rakdos berserkers, I got into giants by taking an Aegar, the Freezing Flame pack 2 pick 6 after seeing one pack 2 pick 2. I figured that I was playing red and if the other Aegar, the Freezing Flame tabled, giants would be open, Squash would get passed a little further than usual, and the deck would end up very strong even after moving in on it late pack 2. These all came true and the deck ended up very powerful.
What’s nice about Izzet giants is that it can be highly customizable with a very flexible sideboard. This deck has solid early removal in Bind the Monster and Demon Bolt but can also play cards like Frost Bite. I prefer Frost Bite out of the sideboard in giants decks since it’s poor against Snow decks but great against Boros aggro.
Righteous Valkyrie | Illustration by Chris Rahn
You also want to have a handful of shapeshifters in this deck to up the giant count. Mistwalker does a terrific job of filling this slot. It’s great early on as a blocker, can close out the game late, and can enable a 2-mana Squash. Littjara Kinseekers is another card I’m interested in because of how often it’s a 3/5 scry one for four mana.
Getting into Izzet giants, I’d love an early Aegar, the Freezing Flame. This obviously isn’t going to happen every draft, so I’ll settle with an early Demon Bolt, Glimpse the Cosmos, Invasion of the Giants, Bind the Monsters, or Behold the Multiverse instead.
Another card I love in this deck is Berg Strider, which is also one of the best commons in the format. While this is largely because of how good it is in Snow, don’t sleep on it in giants. You have a good shot at locking down your opponent’s creature for a full turn by playing three to four Snow lands. While this scenario is ideal, I’ve found that I’m usually happy being able to tap one creature down for a better attack. On top of this, it enables giant synergies and could be your first giant, creating a cheap Squash.
Let’s quickly go over two Izzet giants deck that I drafted about a week into the format. These really show off the variation and flexibility in these decks.
This first deck is more like the top tier decks where it attempts to force through damage via Run Amok and keep problematic creatures off the board.
This deck is much more unorthodox, essentially conceding any game 1 to an aggro deck. It doesn’t get on the board fast enough and it’s playing four Undersea Invaders, which is a 6-drop that enters the battlefield tapped. While I don’t think that the Invader is a good card, it does apply a solid amount of pressure, especially when played on turn 4 or 5.
I figured this build would work well against slower decks where Frostbite isn’t good. Then, when playing against a faster deck, you can slide in four Frostbites and three Frostpyre Arcanists. This does an excellent job of stopping fast Battlefield Raptor or Axgard Cavalry draws and buys you time to run out giants and turn the corner.
Selesnya decks come in two versions which are polar opposites but both solid decks. The main issue is that it’s often better to be drafting Snow so that you can pick up the off-color bombs when drafting Selesnya.
Here are some important cards to both Selesnya decks:
- Sarulf’s Packmate is one of the only forms of card advantage for these decks and is also a 3/3 that can come down on turn 3;
- Bretagard Stronghold allows you to gain large chunks of life while keeping your creatures back as blockers. I’d be happy with nearly any number of these in my Selesnya decks and have been moving it way up my ranks lately. It’s also great in Snow decks;
- Story Seeker provides the lifegain necessary to survive an early onslaught from the aggro decks while also being a 2/2 body to pressure Snow decks early;
- Rune of Sustenance provides the life to handle early agression similar to Story Seeker but it’s a much better closer because you can slap it on an equipment and grant lifelink to any creature you control.
Esika, God of the Tree | Illustration by Johannes Voss
A Selesnya aggro deck is similar to Boros aggro in that it gets on board early and wants to attack every turn. You can go wide with cards like Clarion Spirit and Usher of the Fallen. You can also go tall with shenanigans like suiting up a Battlefield Raptor with Spectral Steel and Arachnoform and beating your opponent down through the air.
The signpost uncommon Maja, Bretagard Protector is also terrific for Selesnya aggro. It pumps the team and prevents flooding from being too backbreaking since each land drop is a 2/2.
Path to the World Tree | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
Keep your eyes peeled for equipment like Goldvein Pick and Elven Bow. This version of the deck can take its time to develop the board, but this early equipment will help either power large creatures out or protect you from the aggro starts. Don’t be afraid to target a couple of flyers as well — like Stalwart Valkyrie — that can push through some damage if the board gets gummed up.
This midrange deck I recently played had early lifegain, large creatures, fight spells, and trample. Rootless Yew shines here because of its ability to trade with nearly every large creature. I’m able to tutor up Ravenous Lindwurm when this happens, which is always a problem for the opponent.
Tier 3 Archetypes
This next tier of decks falls from “happy to be here” to “I would really like to avoid this deck.” They suffer from two very different problems.
Golgari elves isn’t able to attack well early or close well late.
Azorius foretell, on the other hand, always has a way to spend its mana. With all the foretell cards and the payoffs, this deck uses nearly all of its mana every turn. The problem with this is that those spells don’t impact the board most of the time. Behold the Multiverse is great, but if you turn 2 foretell Behold the Multiverse and turn 3 cast it, your opponent will often already have multiple threats on the board.
Not all is lost when drafting these decks, though, so let’s get into how you want to go about this.
A week ago, this would have been in the “undraftable” tier. But as formats evolve, so do the decks! I’ve now played against a handful of elves decks and played a couple.
I feel like this deck can succeed by playing multiple rares plus Sarulf’s Packmate. Packmate is a good card everywhere, no real need to elaborate on that. The “rares” part is where this gets a little sticky, so lets just start this off with a recent trophy.
While it’s true that black is underwhelming in this format, the one bright side to playing it is that you get to see all the good black cards during the draft since no one else is playing it. While this is a bit of a stretch, cards that players would be taking in the first couple picks early in the format are going late and even wheeling. Between getting access to these and Sarulf’s Packmate, a good deck can occasionally fall into your lap. This deck is playing six rares, all of which are terrific here. Cards like Harald Unites the Elves and Skemfar Avenger will also be seen late since they’re undesirable anywhere else.
Here’s another elves deck by LeTeo on MTGO that trophied.
Elves decks like this might be the future of Golgari. It also might be the true home for Littjara Glade-Warden. Creatures like Elderfang Disciple can trade early and buy some time, then in the late game they’re a creature in your graveyard to eat with Littjara Glade-Warden. Still, this deck is backed by two of the best rares for a Golgari elves deck, and Dream Devourer ain’t no slouch either!
Overall, I believe it’s rarely right to draft elves unless you land at least two rare payoffs. With that said, the payoffs are worth it and there isn’t a better feeling than getting to the final chapter of Harald Unites the Elves, swinging with six pumped up elves, killing two creatures, and winning the game! I’m probably 80 drafts in and have drafted it twice and played against it six times or so. This seems about right. If you’re playing it more frequently than this, you either need to let me in on the secret or you might need to reevaluate some cards!
Glimpse the Cosmos | Illustration by Lorenzo Mastroianni
This deck is a bit of an enigma. The community seems to agree that it’s garbage. I’ve drafted it five times and ended with three 3-0 decks and two 0-2 decks. I’m not sure if I just got lucky with the trophy decks, but the good versions of Azorius foretell seem very strong. The problem is that the bad versions make me not want to play Magic and the line between the two is very thin.
Like Izzet giants, I’m pretty sure this deck is near unplayable without its archetype defining uncommon, Vega, the Watcher. It turns out that a 2-mana 2/3 with suspend one (Scorn Effigy) isn’t very good. Tack on “draw a card” and it would be competing with Sarulf’s Packmate for the top common in the set. The same applies to Doomskar Oracle, Gods’ Hall Guardian, and more. Then cards like Behold the Multiverse and Saw it Coming become completely busted when they draw a card along with their usual ability.
Icebreaker Kraken | Illustration by Chris Cold
Unfortunately for this deck, when Vega, the Watcher isn’t on the battlefield, it just doesn’t do enough. Behold the Multiverse often has to draw lands because the deck is so mana intensive. The removal is pretty poor, and you have to rely on Bind the Monster and Iron Verdict outside of Bound in Gold. The creatures are small, so you need to play Gods’ Hall Guardian which eats up turns 2 and 4. And, finally, it’s difficult to get creatures on the board early, so you tend to get behind pretty fast.
With all this being said, the stars do align on occasion and some pretty impressive decks are produced when they do. When I’m drafting Azorius foretell, I often open with cards like Behold the Multiverse and Bound in Gold. A Vega, the Watcher in the middle of pack 1 is what usually locks me into this deck.
Once you have Vega, picking up an Iron Verdict or two is fine and Doomskar Oracle actually becomes a decent card. Fill the deck out with cards like Augury Raven, Scorn Effigy, Clarion Spirit if you’re lucky, and even some Divine Gambits for the late game.
This deck isn’t playing a single rare but benefits from some of the best commons and uncommons in the color pair. Having two Clarion Spirits makes it so that a game can typically begin along the lines of foretelling Doomskar Oracle or Iron Verdict on turn 2, turn 3 cast Clarion Spirit, and then cast the foretold card. This helps build the board early which the deck often struggles to do. Then you can make it to the late game where you grind your opponent out with card draw from Vega, the Watcher.
Tier 4 Archetypes
This next “tier” isn’t as much tier 4 as it is the “avoid” tier. When drafting, you should do everything in your power to not play these color pairs.
Orzhov double spell is the best of these decks because it actually has a direction, but the problem is that it’s very tough to get it to come together. The other two decks should not be attempted unless you get rares in just these color pairs that are strong enough to ignore how poorly the colors play together.
Orzhov Double Spell
Eradicator Valkyrie | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
This is a deck that’s supposed to be an aggro deck but needs the stars to align. Bloodsky Berserker and Clarion Spirit are the premium uncommons for this deck. Firja, Judge of Valor is the “signpost uncommon,” but it doesn’t play terribly well in the deck because you need two more cards to cast the next turn. This often means that you’ve been playing too slowly and have either been run over by the actual aggro decks or the Snow decks have had time to develop and will be taking over the game soon.
The two key support cards for this deck that can ensure it doesn’t run out of gas too quickly are Raise the Dragur and Village Rites. These often provide you with the second spell needed to keep triggering your Clarion Spirits, Bloodsky Berserkers, and even Infernal Pets.
Weigh Down | Illustration by John Di Giovanni
You’re often going to have to be forced into this deck to draft it. With black being so poor, I don’t want to draft Bloodsky Berserker too early. This means that this draft will typically start out with something like Clarion Spirit and follow it up with a couple of white cards. When you get a pack 1 pick 5 Bloodsky Berserker, you can consider moving in.
Try to max out on the 1-drop white spells like Codespell Cleric and Battlefield Raptor and then prioritize Raise the Dragur and Village Rites once you’re solidly in this deck. Scorn Effigy is also a card that does the whole “double spell” thing nicely.
This isn’t going to happen often. First because you’re usually not going to see five Bloodsky Berserkers in a draft. Second, even when you do see five in a draft, you likely don’t want them. The crazy thing is that the deck wasn’t an unstoppable world beater that destroyed everyone in the league. The game losses were to itself when I couldn’t double spell enough times and the deck felt clunky. Overall, after playing just about the best version I can make of Orzhov double spell, I’m not eager to try it again.
After playing this one, I’m positive that if I was locked into this deck and had to choose between Clarion Spirit and Bloodsky Berserker, it would be the Spirit every time. Sure, the Berserker can end a game quickly with the perfect draw and no answers from your opponent. Clarion Spirit just seems to end games more consistently and will often end the game in short order if you make three 1/1 spirits with flying.
Okay, I get it, Simic was supposed to be Snow, but that isn’t really the case. All the good Snow decks are four to five colors. Which leaves us with the card type seen throughout Simic: shapeshifter. There are four common shapeshifters, all of which are between playable and good, three uncommons including Bloodline Pretender, and two rares that care about shapeshifters.
Let me be clear, this is not a deck.
Glittering Frost | Illustration by Lucas Graciano
If I managed to have a deck with two The Bears of Littjaras and a Realmwalker, then I’d be hesitant to play Simic shapeshifters. Seriously. Just go play Snow instead. I went through every deck on Limited Decklists’ account and didn’t find a single deck that just played Simic.
There was a deck that splashed for Narfi, Betrayer King, which makes it a Snow deck, and a couple other decks that splashed some red cards. But that was it. None played just Simic. If you end up trending this direction, just play Snow.
Feel free to bombard me with all your Simic trophies that I’ve missed. I’ll be happy to find out that there’s another draftable deck in the format!
Well, here we are, the final deck in the format. I’m honestly not sure if this is worse that Simic shapeshifters or not, but I guess it has actual removal so maybe it’s better? I also found two trophy decks so… point to Dimir stuff! Both of these were in the opening days of the format and I haven’t seen one since. Personally, I haven’t been able to draft one because it’s never made sense to not just be Snow.
If you were to draft this deck at this point in the format, I imagine you’d want to load up on Skull Raid, Mistwalker, and any rare you can get your hands on. Behold the Multiverse will be important for card advantage and while Feed the Serpent isn’t stellar, I wouldn’t mind packing one or two if I played this deck.
Here’s a trophy deck played by Zach Dubin. This is a Snow-based Dimir deck that takes advantage of rares and high-powered Snow card like Narfi, Betrayer King and Avalanche Caller. Combine this with a decent amount of removal and early ways to get on the board and you have a deck!
While this does look sweet, this is the kind of deck where I’m typically just looking to play Snow and it just happens that payoffs in the other colors don’t fall into my lap.
Similar to Simic, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to draft Dimir. If the deck falls into your lap, try your hardest to play a Snow deck but don’t avoid Dimir entirely. I just warn you that these decks too often fall into the category of “doesn’t do any one thing well enough” and fall flat on their face.
Bonus Deck: Orzhov Control
This is my last deck drafted on MTGO and I was rewarded with a trophy. I’m not yet sure that Orzhov control is good. Before this draft, I was positive that it was not. If this deck is actually decent, is the only reason because of Tergrid, God of Fright?
I will mention that Rune of Mortality on a Battlefield Raptor stops nearly any creature in their tracks. I’m definitely going to try something like this again in the future since the games felt so smooth.
Top 5 Commons
Here’s an idea of how good Sarulf’s Packmate is: the uncommons I’d take over it are Clarion Spirit, Avalanche Caller, and Svella, Ice Shaper. Between Sarulf’s Packmate and Demon Bolt, the list is much larger.
The uncommons I’d choose over Demon Bolt are Binding the Old Gods, Narfi Betrayer King, Glimpse the Cosmos, Basalt Ravager, Dwarven Hammer, Spirit of the Aldergard, Path to the World Tree, and Aegar, the Freezing Flame.
If you want the rundown for each color’s best commons, look no further.
Maybe this will paint a clearer picture of why black is so bad:
Some Quick Kaldheim Draft Tips
Now that we’re through all the archetypes, let’s do some quick hitters on the format!
- Snow is great and can be built so many different ways;
- It’s nearly impossible to “cut” Snow but you better believe I’ll try;
- In any aggressive deck, play equipment that cost one to equip;
- Svella, Ice Shaper is the best uncommon and great at any stage of the game;
- I haven’t played a deck that doesn’t want Goldvein Pick;
- Runes are the truth;
- Honey Mammoth has never looked so good;
- Value lands (e.g., Bretagard Stronghold) should be drafted sooner;
- Spells that cost double black mana are worse than they look;
- Run Amok is great;
- Every equipment that makes a creature (e.g., Dwarven Hammer) is great;
- Boast doesn’t stack well, don’t try to draft a “boast” deck;
- Path to the World Tree is certified busted in Snow;
- There are three ways to loop Priest of the Haunted Edge and I love all of them;
- Masked Vandal is surprisingly good;
- Stop passing Cosmos Elixir. The card is great in every deck. This is by far the most underrated card in the format;
- If you’re sitting across from Valkmira, Protector’s Shield, be very careful about how you distribute the damage;
- Search for Glory is a good card;
- There are rare occasions when you’d prefer to not put your Runes on your equipment;
- Kaya’s Onslaught is great with cards like Dwarven Hammer;
- Master Skald is the card that jumped most in my ranks;
- Artifact and enchantment hate is main deck-able but Annul is not;
- I’ve heard rumblings that drafting a deck based around Giant Ox and Colossal Plow is good. Trust me, it’s not. Here’s an 0-2 0-2 deck for reference:
If you don’t believe me, here’s what playing against a plow deck looks like:
Just put drafting this deck out of your mind, and life will be a little easier! If you were curious, this opponent did get their Plains next turn. They developed the board, just never enough to activate a plow.
Hopefully these little tips help you during your drafts. They’re all points that I strongly believe in!
I think that when this format is said and done, it’s going to hold a special place in my heart for one main reason: having Snow in a format is incredible and I love the tension drafting lands puts on a draft/deck. Modern Horizons is one of my favorite formats of all time for this reason and I see Kaldheim finishing similarly.
While there are some undraftable decks, I don’t feel like the format is going to become stale any time soon. People’s love for Snow will wax and wane and, when nobody is fighting for it, you better believe I’ll be right there to scoop up decks with 14+ Snow lands.
Thank you for taking your time to go through this with me. I’ve really enjoyed writing this ultimate guide! Shout out to Draftsim as well, their site has always been an amazing resource for me to get drafts in before a set is released and when I’m away from my computer.
If you ever have any questions, I’m always happy to help! Either drop a comment down there or hop on over to Twitter for more discussions. And if you’re looking for rankings, I’ve done the entire set over here.
That’s all from me today. Have a good one and stay safe!
Firja, Judge of Valor | Illustration by Livia Prima