When I first sat down to make a Mardu deck, my chosen theme was angels, demons, and vampires. At the time, vampires were mainly red in my mind, since it was shortly after the first Innistrad block. Incidentally, this was before the Mardu clan existed, so the color combination was still known as Dega, and there were only a few choices for Dega commanders.
My original commander was Tariel, because I wasn’t ready to shell out the money necessary to purchase a Kaalia, and for some reason I was determined to stick to vampires rather than dragons despite already having a vampire deck. Eventually that deck morphed into Mardu good stuff with Zurgo at the helm after Khans of Tarkir came out. I’ve been a lot happier with it since I stopped trying to force it to be something it didn’t want to be, but the idea of angels and demon still drew me.
Of course, I already had a red/white angel deck in Gisela, and with the printing of Shadowborn Apostle I decided to put together a mono-black demons deck as well. Honestly if I’d really wanted I probably could have combined the two into a Kaalia deck, but I dislike taking apart my decks, and Gisela and Shirei had their own personalities that would be lost if they got combined. (Gisela strives for one-shot commander damage, and Shirei can do such fun things as a Turn 2 Demon of Death’s Gate.)
For a while, I held off on building a Kaalia deck. There were three reasons for this. First, my husband was working on one. Why build my own deck when I could just borrow his? Second, the expense. Not only is Kaalia herself expensive, the deck requires several powerful cards that don’t come cheap. I could have cannibalized Gisela and Shirei for some of those cards, but nostalgia won out. (If there’s a Guinness record for greatest number of Commander decks owned, I’m working on achieving it. Current count is seventy-five.) Third, Kaalia decks are just plain mean. Due to Kaalia negating the need for mana, they tend to run a lot of mass land destruction, which makes the deck no fun to play against.
The first reason became irrelevant when my husband decided to move in with his girlfriend. He’s now my ex-husband, and we no longer communicate. I’ve since put together several decks that he was (and probably still is) working on.
The second hurdle was solved when I got more active with judging. StarCity Games offers store credit as one of the options for judges who work their evens. Working three of their events in a month earned me more than enough to put together the deck.
The third objection was perhaps the hardest to overcome. I dislike playing unfun decks. In putting together my own playgroup from friends who hadn’t played Magic for years, I had to focus on decks that are fun for the whole table, so my friends would want to continue to come over and play. But that group fell apart after the divorce, and recently I’ve been playing in assigned pods at the local gaming store. This means occasionally I get paired against players who have degenerate combo decks, and I care about their fun to the precise degree that they care about mine, which is to say, not at all. Besides, sometimes I’m just in the mood to wreck face. With the number of decks I have to choose from, I can afford to have a few decks that are just plain mean.
I approached the decklist with the assumption that I’d be making myself a target the minute I sat down. Some commanders draw hate by the nature of the decks they typically command. Sharuum decks have degenerate combos; Zur decks are difficult to interact with; and Kaalia decks run land destruction. Regardless of whether the individual deck in question does those things, the other players at the table are going to assume. Thus I needed ways to protect my commander and recur her if she got countered or killed. I also wanted to be able to cast at least some of my creatures without my commander to cheat them out.
Naturally the core of the deck is angels, demons, and dragons. Big, stompy creatures that I can cheat in using Kaalia’s ability. The rest of the deck is about reanimation, protection, land destruction, and removal. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the decklist.
Akroma, Angel of Fury
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Angel of Deliverance
Angel of Despair
Angel of Serenity
Angelic Field Marshal
Archangel of Strife
Archangel of Thune
Archangel of Tithes
Aurelia, the Warleader
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Tariel, Reckoner of Souls
Linvala is good because at only four mana, if I can cast Kaalia, I can probably cast her. Angelic Field Marshal is also four CMC, but she’s really only good when Kaalia is in play. Archangel of Thune is pretty easy to cast at five, and her ability will help buff my other creatures, Kaalia included, assuming she’s on the battlefield.
The best use for Aurelia is to play her before combat. She has haste, so she can attack that turn, giving you that sweet attack trigger. Then you can drop in two other creatures that same turn. If you cheat her in with Kaalia, you lose out on the trigger until you attack with her the next turn. That’s because her ability only triggers when she’s declared as an attacker, and Kaalia’s ability puts her onto the battlefield already attacking. Then again, if it’s Turn 5 and you have Kaalia out and Aurelia in hand, dropping her in could well be the best play.
Archangel of Tithes, though only four CMC, can be difficult to play without Kaalia’s ability because of the three white in the mana cost. However, unlike Aurelia, her ability is not a trigger, therefore you still get the benefit even if you cheat her in with Kaalia’s ability. Also, while she’s untapped, it’s that much harder for opponents to attack you, especially if you’ve recently destroyed all of their lands.
Subjugator Angel is great, because if you drop her in with Kaalia, it all but guarantees that your opponents won’t be able to block this turn. This can be good if you don’t yet have a way to protect Kaalia and the opponent you want to attack has flying blockers. It can also lead to some shenanigans second combat phase if you also attack with Aurelia.
Aegis Angel, Avacyn, and Deathless Angel can be protection for Kaalia to keep her from being destroyed; Adarkar Valkyrie, Emeria Shepherd, and Reya Dawnbringer can bring her back after she gets killed.
The rest are mostly just good, powerful creatures that would be good in any deck. The mana curve is steeper than I’d typically play in a deck, but with Kaalia it’s okay, because I should be able to cheat them out early. If I can’t, well, I’m probably going to lose. In this particular case, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Harvester of Souls
Master of Cruelties
Rakdos the Defiler
Master of Cruelties is great if one of your opponents has no blockers. Swing with Kaalia, drop him in to her ability. His attack restriction is only checked when he’s declared as an attacker; because he enters the battlefield already attacking, the restriction doesn’t matter. With no blockers to be declared, MoC’s ability triggers, preventing all damage he would deal and setting the defending player’s life total to 1. That happens in the declare blockers step. Then we go to the combat damage step. MoC deals no damage because it’s been prevented, but his ability has no effect on Kaalia, who deals her 2 like normal. Now the defending player is at -1 and loses the game.
Of course this only works the once. The next time MoC attacks, he has to do it alone. Even then, he’s a good card. Unblocked, he sets defending player to 1, leaving them easy pickings next turn. Blocked, the combination of first strike and deathtouch means the blocking creature is going to die before it has a chance to deal its own damage. Or I can just keep him in reserve as a blocker, to kill any creatures foolish enough to come my way.
Rakdos is kind of a one-off effect, and I may take him out of the deck depending on how he performs. Still, I can’t pass up the opportunity to drop him in with Kaalia and thus bypass his downside while forcing one of my opponents to sacrifice half their permanents.
All three dragons that made the final cut are rather difficult to cast. I almost have to have Kaalia on the field in order to get them down. Balefire Dragon and Moonveil Dragon are just plain good in any deck, so including them is no hardship. Utvara Hellkite is a little iffy in a deck with only three dragons, but even with only himself, I can double my number of dragons every turn. Plus, this way he’s already there if WotC prints more dragons I want to put in the deck.
Decree of Annihilation
Ravages of War
As previously stated, I dislike land destruction, because it means out of four players at the table, only one is actually getting to play her deck. I feel justified in running it in Kaalia, however, because, first off, I’m going to be targeted the minute I sit down, and second, if I manage to landwipe with Kaalia in play, the game isn’t going to last much longer. Without lands, no one will be able to kill my threats, most importantly Kaalia, so my boardstate will continue to increase over the next few turns until I’ve eliminated all the other players. Then I can pull out a deck that’s perhaps a wee bit more fair.
Go for the Throat
As I’ve written about in a previous post, removal is key. There are several things that can shut my deck off, like Guul Draz Assassin, or Sheoldred, or Dictate of Erebos. I need to be able to get rid of those things if they come up. My chosen removal involves a lot of things that can hit a variety of permanents, so I’m ready for anything.
Breath of Life
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Kaalia is going to be a target. The easiest way to stop the Kaalia player is to kill Kaalia herself until she’s uncastable. Being able to bring her back from the graveyard, rather than having to send her to the command zone and pay the command tax, gives me more time to build up my mana base while my opponents futilely throw kill spells in the hopes that one will eventually stick.
Not much needs to be said about being able to keep Kaalia from being targeted or destroyed once I get her out. I would like to note however that Whispersilk Cloak has the additional benefit of keeping her from being blocked, which means my opponent can’t just get down a two-power flier and be safe from my wrath.
Dictate of the Twin Gods
Honestly these cards could fall under the category of “acceleration,” but with only two of them it didn’t feel worth it to create said category. Both are in the deck because Kaalia depends on reducing life totals in order to win games. A turn 5 Dictate while swinging with Kaalia and dropping in Gisela means twenty-eight damage to somebody’s face. Turn 6 Havoc Festival means everyone now has a turn to get rid of something or they’re all going to die.
For this deck, I decided it was worth it to shell out the money for duals. Kaalia really needs to be able to hit the field by Turn 4, since she’s racing the clock to kill everyone before any of them have a chance to build up enough of a board presence to stop her. Most of the lands are just mana-fixing, although I did throw in a Rogue’s Passage to make Kaalia unblockable in order to protect her, or help Master of Cruelties get through.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play Kaalia. At the time I hadn’t yet gotten my hands on any of the duals I wanted, although it turned out they were for sale at the store where I was playing, and I was able to acquire them for store credit before the end of the night. Here then is a run-down of how the night progressed.
Game one. Opening hand had only one land, had to mulligan. Second hand had a Swamp and three Plains, no sources of red. Every card was foil. Kept, hoping for a red source that never appeared, although I did hard-cast Archangel of Tithes. From the moment I sat down the Daxos player targeted me, since there had been a Kaalia deck in his last playgroup and he had not-so-fond memories of playing against it. I felt this was perfectly fair; after all, I was playing Kaalia, and when I sit down across from a Kaalia deck, my first thought is to contain the threat. Gitrog combo’d off around Turn 6 and we shuffled up for Game two.
Game two. Opening hand had Boros Garrison, the Badlands I’d just purchased from the shop, Godless Shrine, and Nomad Outpost. Karador got down a Birthing Pod and a creature that was going to allow him to search for creatures, so I teamed up with Gitrog, casting Murder on the creature while Gitrog destroyed the artifact. Got down Kaalia Turn 4. Turn 5 I swung at Gitrog and dropped in a Gisela, dealing 14 damage, then dropped in a Phyrexian Reclamation and played Boros Garrison, returning my tapped swamp. Turn 6 I swung again, dropping in Deathless Angel for 24 more damage to Gitrog, killing him for exactsies, since he was already down 2 from some other effect. At the end of my turn, Karador exiled my Gisela, which was a fair play.
Daxos had down a Gravepact, and sacrificed a creature, forcing myself and Karador to sac creatures as well. I chose Kaalia, then returned her to hand with Phyrexian Reclamation. The recurrence I run in my deck was earning its pay. Daxos then destroyed my Phyrexian Reclamation so I couldn’t do that anymore.
On my next turn, I swung Deathless Angel at Daxos, flashing in Dictate of the Twin Gods for 10 damage.
Daxos proceeded to enchant his commander with Fallen Ideal, which was a problem for myself and Karador, since we now couldn’t keep creatures on the field. I then proceeded to team up with Karador; he tutored for Reclamation Sage to destroy the Gravepact after I returned Kaalia to the battlefield once again using Unburial Rites. Next turn I swung at Daxos, dropping in a Rakdos the Defiler. He took 18 and had to sacrifice six permanents, which effectively kept him from doing anything else, and proved that Rakdos was a good inclusion in the deck. The very next turn Karador combo’d off and won.
All in all, I was pretty happy with how the deck worked. Although that Gravepact/Fallen Ideal combo stymied me for a while, given enough time I could have drawn into Mortify, Vindicate, or Anguished Unmaking. What really made me happy, though, was the fact that everyone had a good time. At various points in the game each of us had the advantage. It was also pretty interesting actually allying with other people while playing Kaalia. Usually it’s Kaalia versus the rest of the table. Most likely it was my own mindset, rather than the decklist, that allowed that, but it’s nice to know that even with a truly degenerate deck I can still play a game wherein everyone enjoys themselves.