It’s undeniable that one of the most enjoyable ways to win in Magic is to smash people down with a horde of giant creatures. It’s equally fun to see your opponents cringe in horror as your army accumulates more threats and the opposition realizes that they can’t keep up. If you share this interest with me then Kaalia of the Vast could be a good choice for your next Commander.
The strategy of a Kaalia of the Vast deck is to play a large quantity of useful Angels, Demons, and Dragons and then cheat them onto the battlefield using Kaalia’s triggered ability. There are some points of weakness that can arise from this strategy. If your deck is filled with the appropriate amount of six, seven, and eight mana creatures then your mana curve is completely out of whack and the potential for disastrously slow starts arises. This means that should Kaalia be destroyed and you need to pay “retail” for all of your big monsters then you are looking at turn 10+ for victory rather than at early as turn 6 for killing three opponents.
Kaalia of the Vast
The Equipment Package
If one of the most glaring weaknesses of the Kaalia deck is her fragility then it makes sense to make protecting her a priority. One of the best ways is equipment as you can plan at least slowing down your opponents’ devious plans for your creatures. Meanwhile, there are some important creatures that one you get them in play that you wish to keep around (Iona, Shield of Emeria, Sire of Insanity) to cause more trouble and this equipment set will accomplish that. Champion’s Helm is the only equipment that increases power and/or toughness because the concern is about the safety of the creatures. As space is at a premium, I try to run few, if any, Equipment like Sword of Feast and Famine or Sword of Fire and Ice; while they have worthy effects the Swords don’t fix the problems that we have or progress our agenda better than the other options.
Mana is extremely important in Kaalia decks as stumbling for a turn or two can mean the difference between having and not having a shot to win a game. The Signets are real stars in a Kaalia strategy as they can help smooth your mana over while enabling a turn 3 Kaalia. This means Kaalia gets to start swinging on turn 4 which brutal. Coalition Relic is different in terms of fixing. While most of your mana is to help get Kaalia up and swinging faster, the Relic is here to make sure that if Kaalia plan doesn’t work effectively then you could still cast your larger threats. It also provides plenty of color fixing which is not insignificant for a deck with mana costs triple white, triple black, and/or triple red mana.
This is one of the trickiest yet most powerful cards in the deck. You can activate this card at any point during your attack, before or after damage, to remove one of your creatures from combat. Not only that but it untaps your creature too. This means that you can smash in with Kaalia towards an opponent with a potentially lethal blocker and have Kaalia scurry home safely should your opponent make that block. Not only that, that creature can’t block other creatures (normally) so you should be able to make blocking harder on your opponents. Reconnaissance also lets you untap the creature Kaalia put onto the battlefield so you get double duty of attacking and blocking. It’s a powerful card for its cost of a lone white mana and an easy inclusion for Kaalia decks.
Kaalia is an extremely potent creature. The problem is that the opposition knows that (or will figure it out soon enough) and thus make many efforts to keep Kaalia from impacting the game. This typically means killing, exiling, countering, or otherwise making Kaalia unable to perform her duties of putting giant creatures onto the battlefield. Thankfully, Quicksilver Amulet can be an admirable substitute as the mana requirements aren’t too rough.
The Big Guys
The heart of any Kaalia deck is the horde of Angels, Demons, and Dragons that you have to unleash. While there are many options to choose from, I find it best to be very picky and supplement your numbers of big guys with some tutors. These tutors, such as Increasing Ambition and Demonic Tutor, give you more flexibility and ensure that your best options show up more often. There are so many different weapons to choose from but they usually breakdown into creatures that represent protection and disruption (think Iona, Shield of Emeria and Avacyn, Angel of Hope), oodles of damage (Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Master of Cruelties), and board control (Hellkite Tyrant and Balefire Dragon). The mantra of a Kaalia deck is that when a problem arises the solution is usually a big monster (or the ability tied to that big monster).
Akroma, Angel of Fury; Akroma, Angel of Wrath; Angel of Despair; Avacyn, Angel of Hope; Deathless Angel; Gisela, Blade of Goldnight; Iona, Shield of Emeria; Reya Dawnbringer; Tariel, Reckoner of Souls
Contrary to expectations, the Angels of Kaalia are the ones that deliver the most beatdown. Rarely do they have to choose between offense and defense as some of them have vigilance and others can create poor attacks other ways (Angel of Despair nuking a threat, Avacyn, Angel of Hope making your blockers immortal, or Gisela, Blade of Goldnight halving damage). The Angels are more likely to have some inherent form of protection, making them hard for the opposition to deal with. All this adds up to sizeable bodies that bring the beats. Meanwhile, there are some strong recursion options in Reya Dawnbringer and Tariel, Reckoner of Souls that represent a growing army and enable both comebacks and massacres. Deathless Angel is sort of out of place in some respects because the other creatures are just so powerful or strong in their niche. The thing is that being able to protect Kaalia and the other creatures is so strong that even a mana intensive durdle like Deathless Angel becomes a strong option compared to other cards like Aegis Angel.
Iona, Shield of Emeria is the star of the deck. It’s important not to forget that as key cards have a way of causing jealous opponents to desire to take them via card such as Bribery or Treachery or just make their own with Phyrexian Metamorph. It’s important to keep that in mind when you are making your decisions and threat assessments. Sometimes this means you will have to choose Blue even if naming other colors would be swell. Sometimes this means you must use a tutor on Homeward Path even if something else is tempting. It’s the price you play for having such a powerful tool that you can lock multiplayers out of a game with.
The Dragons of the deck are mostly focused on disrupting the opponents. Balefire Dragon, Thunder Dragon, Bogardan Hellkite, and Oros, the Avenger are in the deck to perform crown control. If you aren’t vigilant, it is possible for hordes of elves, goblins, and humans to rise up and overwhelm your horde. These Dragons do their dirty work via damage so Vault of the Archangel can really enhance their combat abilities and allow for some very big turns. Hellkite Tyrant is also great at disrupting as stealing your opponents artifacts can cripple their abilities for larger plays. I have yet to win a game off the Tyrant’s trigger as I usually have killed all my opponents by the time I get close to 20 obtaining twenty artifacts.
Kokusho, the Evening Star, and Yosei, the Morning Star provide a different type of disruption. They can punish opponents who get rid of them and thus set up situations where your opposition is actively avoiding removing your threats. Usually people have to bit the bullet and let them trigger, but some people will try to hold out for an exile, bounce, or tuck effect. The last dragon, Eternal Dragon helps smooth out mana and provides another body. Eternal Dragon helps to keep the deck full of creatures to dump into play with Kallia while also providing an early play. It’s the type of card the deck could use more of.
The Demons and their Speaker
Blood Speaker is one of those peculiar cards from Champions of Kamigawa that just took a long time to find a home. Between the arrival of Kaalia of the Vast and some new Demons in the last few years, Blood Speaker has a lot more power than ever before. You can pop it to grab a key Demon and then swing in with Kaalia to dump the Demon that you found. The Demon entering play will trigger Blood Speaker’s ability to return to your hand, ready to be recast and then start the entire cycle again.
Master of Cruelties is not the best Demon but it does have a role. When paired with Kaalia, the Master can enable a one attack kill to eliminate a player as it can set an opponent to one life and then finish them off with Kaalia’s combat damage. This is critical in competitive matches as you need to have that ability to quickly eliminate an opponent when facing against some of the faster combo decks that show up. Sire of Insanity is actually stronger despite appearing to be less explosive. Forcing people into “top deck mode” is pretty solid, but keeping them there is even better. For this reason, unless I really need to eliminate a player, I find myself trying to cheat out a quick Sire of Insanity whenever I can. The discard means that your board of creatures will continue to be safe (more or less) and prevent your opponents from gathering much opposition.
Rakdos the Defiler, in many ways, is comparable to Master of Cruelties in that it is designed to make someone lose. Rakdos has a huge drawback when it attacks, but Kaalia bypasses that by putting it onto the battlefield attacking. One of the best ways to maximize Rakdos is to give it Double Strike with Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion so that you can force your opponent to sacrifice half of their permanents twice. While I rarely attack with Rakdos outside of the initial swing via Kaalia, there are times when it is right to pay the price to smash in with the big Demon. The math usually works out when you are in a one on one situation, but it’s also good when you just need to cripple someone.
Rune-Scarred Demon is pretty basic. It can set up a big turn by finding some of your disruption like Armageddon or just more big guys. You do need to be mindful of Clones as let your opponents have access to a bunch of Demonic Tutors attached to 6/6s may not work out well for you. On the flip side, there is Ob Nixilis, Unshackled. I haven’t had too much experience with him, but Ob Nixilis emulates one of my favorite cards, Stanglehold, so it’s been worth a slot. I used to play Lord of the Void in this slot and the lord pulled its worth by randomly disrupting combo and loading your board up faster. Ob Nixilis, however, keeps with the disruption theme that’s probably more worthwhile.
The least flashy Demon is probably the one that has proven itself the most and that is Defiler of Souls. There are plenty of multicolored (and a noncolored) creatures in this deck to get around the mutual sacrifice effect. Meanwhile, you can keep your opponents from building up the very army that would be able to race yours. It can even be useful as a sacrifice outlet for creatures like Yosei, the Morning Star and Kokusho, the Evening Star.
Weapons of Mass Disruption
It’s no secret that destroying everyone’s’ lands is quite powerful. The reason why people hate going up against it is that it creates a lasting situation where a resources people count on vanishes unexpectedly and possibly leaves them helpless. Kaalia of the Vast provides a great shell to take advantage of this as she is able to cheat in expensive creatures to get around the mana problems these symmetrical effects cause to your own mana development. Meanwhile, your opponent now has fewer options and avenues open to them to deal with your horde of giant monsters. Land destruction provides a way to lock up a favorable game or keep ramp and control players more honest.
Armageddon is the go to card for “Destroy all Lands.” It was the first and it is still the best. The new foil printing from From the Vault: Annihilation has made it a great time to get a hold of a foil version. Also, from FTV: Annihilation is Cataclysm, an underrated gem. The key synergy here is to cast it prior to swinging in with Kaalia. This leaves you with Kaalia, and hopefully a threat that Kaalia drops onto the battlefield, while your opponents are limping along with crippled board presences. Catastrophe is one of those oddball board wipes. It’s nice to have a few ways to keep your opponents creatures off the board, but it is here mostly to destroy all lands. The great part is that you don’t have to let your opponents know which mode you are choosing until the spell resolves in the case of a cluttered board state.
One of the strengths of Kaalia is that it has some really powerful cards with effects that warp the way the game plays out to an extreme degree. Cards like Cataclysm, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and all those other awesome plays that I’ve gone over. The weakness is that there is much less card filtering and card drawing than other colors. What is available, rather than filtering and drawing, is a glut of tutors to help smooth out plays and enable big turns. Sometimes you are digging for a key creature to drop onto the battlefield with Kaalia and other times for a Lightning Greaves to protect her, but the flexibility of these tutors allow a lot of different plays for whatever your opponent dishes out. This means that you don’t have to play a lot of the same type of effect in order to have access to it.
The Hard Times
The hardest thing for Kaalia of the Vast decks to handle is having Kaalia taken out of the equation. Having the opponent infinite combo is pretty terrible too but there is much less that you can control about that situation when using Kaalia so let’s focus on the adversity that we can overcome. Remember is that it’s not all downside when Kaalia gets taken out of the picture. The opponent had to expend some resourced and that means that when your Angels, Demons, and Dragons finally do get onto the battlefield that there should be fewer answers for them. I have been known to cast Kaalia for the purpose of baiting out responses as I realized that any play I was to make would be answered. The hard truth of Kaalia is that if she is taken out of the picture then you are using a deck that must now spend 6+ mana on every relevant play that it can make and that makes her a juicy target. For some metagames this is not a tragedy, but when your opponents are playing power stuff like Ad Nauseum Zur or Child of Alara Lands it can create a losing situation that is difficult to overcome.
Addressing Your Metagame
If you wanted to tune this list to be better against Blue decks the best option is to swap Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt for Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast. The Blasts are great at stopping counters or disrupting people mid combo. Ricochet Trap is another option for when you are trying to beat on Blue. When playing against more controlling decks, hand disruption can be powerful so a package of cards like Identity Crisis, Mind Twist and Boseiju, Who Shelters All are quite effective. Against the more artifact and enchantment heavy decks you may want to have more removal and Orim’s Thunder and Vindicate are great options for that. Outside of those, the deck is already set against swarm decks (Edric, Spymaster of Trest), the base green ramp decks, most artifact ramp, and even midrange aggro combo (Maelstrom Wanderer).
Wait, There’s More
Even after all this, I’m sure I could spend a few thousand more words discussing this beautiful deck. For brevity’s sake, I will stop here. The rest of deck is a plethora of utility lands, lands to cast spells, and utility slots geared for card advantage (Necropotence, Phyrexian Arena) or disruption (Vandalblast, Swords to Plowshares). These cards don’t require the same type of overview as the rest of the deck so I’ve elected to ignore them in my coverage. If you have any questions on anything related to Kaalia then feel free to ask away and I will give you the answer that I’m best able to.
So I hope you all have enjoyed this profile of a competitive minded Kaalia deck. While she may not be undefeatable, she can deliver the beatdown and is one of the best big creature decks available. I usually have my deck together for whenever I want to have a change of pace from the combo decks that I normally run.
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