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Budget Commander: Kaalia of the Vast


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"You can't build Kaalia on a budget."

That's the most common response I see when someone asks for ideas to build Kaalia of the Vast on a budget. People will either say that it can't be done without significant holes in the deck, that you would miss out on too many "essential" $40+ cards, that you can't go lower than $400, that it's impossible, etc. 

I'm here to challenge that notion.

It's true that Kaalia of the Vast is more difficult to build cheaply than some other decks. Angels, Demons, and Dragons are the most popular tribes in the entire game. In fact, Dragons are so popular that Wizards will add dragons to a set for the sole purpose of appeasing dragon fans (as Mark Rosewater explains when talking about Moonveil Dragon's design). The immense casual appeal that these three creature types are intensified by the fact that these creatures are often designed as big, splashy, mythic rarity cards. That means they're more expensive than regular creatures by default, and the best ones command a staggeringly high price even if they aren't played outside of kitchen tables and EDH.

 

 

So it's no wonder that Kaalia of the Vast, the ultimate commander of Angels, Demons, and Dragons, is one of the trickier commanders to build on a budget. Heck, Kaalia of the Vast herself is a $23 card, and the only place she sees any play is piloting an EDH deck! 

Even her pre-constructed commander deck, Heavenly Inferno, is sitting around $150-$200 these days. Heavenly Inferno is playable right out of the box, but it's not particularly well-built. This was the first iteration of pre-constructed commander decks and is a far clunkier product than the more streamlined Commander 2014 decks Wizards is churning out now. The mana base is a mess and there's a lot of cards that are flat-out bad (like Razorjaw Oni).

We can do better. Much better, actually. And it can all be done at a significantly cheaper price. Like I said, Dragons / Demons / Angels are so popular that there's a demand for every set to have at least one new bugger printed. That means there's a lot to choose from. Yeah, the most expensive ones, such as Avacyn, Angel of Hope and Iona, Shield of Emeria, are going to be out of our budget, but the vast majority of them are cheap enough to pick up.

As usual, let's break Kaalia of the Vast down into sections and see what cards work.

How it Plays

Kaalia of the Vast is an aggressive commander that wants to come out of the gates swinging while cheating into play huge angel / demon / dragon bombs and wrecking face. Once Kaalia of the Vast is in play, you'll typically be the #1 target at the table, so you need to focus on killing your opponents as quickly as possible or else risk petering out when your threats are all dealt with and your hand dwindles to nothing.

Alternatively, you can slow-roll Kaalia of the Vast, biding your time and playing "nice" with the table. The hope here is that your opponents will see you doing nothing and focus their attention on other players. But this has a chance of backfiring since many tables will target you first simply because of Kaalia of the Vast's reputation.

I decided to build the balls-to-the-walls aggressive Kaalia of the Vast that everyone knows and fears. Whee!

Ramp

A typical strategy with Kaalia of the Vast is to try and get her down as soon as possible to start swinging and cheating creatures into play. Because of this, we want to focus on ramp cards with 0-cmc to to 2-cmc so we can get Kaalia of the Vast out turn 3 or earlier. 3+ cmc ramp cards aren't as good because they don't bring her out any earlier than usual, but they still work fine if you want more ramp. You also want cards that provide colored mana, because turn 3 Kaalia of the Vast needs WRB. These ramp cards double up as ways to play our fatties in case Kaalia of the Vast is dealt with.

Options include: Boros Signet, Orzhov Signet, Rakdos SignetColdsteel Heart, Fellwar Stone, Sol Ring, Sphere of the Suns, Talisman of Indulgence, Wayfarer's Bauble, Myriad Landscape, Commander's Sphere, Darksteel Ingot, Chromatic Lantern, Coalition Relic, Burnished Hart

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Mana Fixing Lands

To maximize the chances of you dropping Kaalia of the Vast on turn 3, you'll want to focus on lands that produce more than one colored mana and don't enter the battlefield tapped. This is the trickiest part of Kaalia of the Vast to get right on a budget. Luckily for us, there are some relatively obscure cheap lands out there that happen to be perfect fits for Kaalia of the Vast. These include Shadowblood Ridge, Tainted Field, and Tainted Peak. Combine them with checklands (Dragonskull Summit), painlands (Sulfurous Springs), and any other good mana fixing lands you happen to have (shocklands, fetchlands, fastlands, Command Tower, City of Brass, Mana Confluence) to create a solid manabase.

Options include: Command Tower, Blood Crypt, Godless Shrine, Sacred Foundry, Dragonskull Summit, Clifftop Retreat, Isolated Chapel, Blackcleave Cliffs, Nomad Outpost, Tainted Field, Tainted Peak, Shadowblood Ridge, Graven Cairns, Fetid Heath, Rugged Prairie, Arid Mesa, Marsh Flats, Bloodstained Mire, City of Brass, Mana Confluence

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Fatties

The bombs of the deck are the angels / demons / dragons that you'll cheat into play with Kaalia of the Vast and wreck face with! You're going to want a significant amount of these, somewhere around 25-30. The creatures you choose shouldn't just be vanilla fatties. You should pick your flying friends primarily based on what utility they bring to the table. For example, Hellkite Tyrant is amazing at dealing with artifacts, Dragon Mage refills your hand, and Karmic Guide cheats something back from your graveyard. However, there are some fatties that offer no utility outside of outright killing opponents, but they do their job so well that they're worth including, such as Ob Nixilis, Unshackled or the almighty Master of Cruelties.

Options include: Aegis Angel, Angel of Finality, Angel of Serenity, Angelic Arbirter, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Angel of Despair, Angelic Skirmisher, Balefire Dragon, Bloodgift Demon, Bogardan Hellkite, Dragon Mage, Harvester of Souls, Hellkite Charger, Hellkite Tyrant, Karmic Guide, Kokusho, the Evening Star, Lord of the Void, Master of Cruelties, Ob Nixilis, the Unshackled, Overseer of the Damned, Rakdos the Defiler, Rakdos, Lord of RiotsReya Dawnbringer, Rune-Scarred Demon, Scourge of Kher Ridges, Scourge of the Throne, Shattered Angel, Sire of Insanity, Steel Hellkite, Tariel, Reckoner of Souls, Twilight Shepherd, Yosei, the Morning Star

Overseer of the Damned is a new card from Commander 2014 that may have been overlooked by most folk. This guy is a powerhouse in Kaalia of the Vast decks. He acts as targeted removal and creates zombie tokens in the process. He's also great insurance for board wipes, because after the dust settles you'll be left with a zombie for each of your opponent's creatures that died in the process.

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Cheats

Your fatties have equally large casting costs, so it's best to cheat them into play. Kaalia of the Vast is of course the key component here, but there are many more cheats available to get more fatties out consistently. Paying 2 mana to Animate Dead your 8 mana Bogardan Hellkite is good value! By far my favorite of these is Spinerock Knoll. Since nearly everything you'd want to cheat into play with Kaalia of the Vast is 5+ power, activating this land is trivial.

Options include: Animate Dead, Necromancy, Dance of the Dead, Reanimate, Unburial Rites, Obzedat's Aid, Mimic Vat, Quicksilver Amulet, Cauldron Dance, Living Death, Beacon of Unrest, Spinerock Knoll

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Haste / Protection

You'll want some methods of giving Kaalia of the Vast haste to start cheating fatties into play immediately. You also want to protect her so she can keep cheating stuff into play in the future. Lightning Greaves does both, and for that reason it's one of the best cards in the deck. I splurged $5 for the cardboard version of the deck, making it the most expensive card of the 99.

Options include: Legion's Initiative, Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, Hall of the Bandit Lord, Flamekin Village

Flamekin Village is another gem coming to us from Commander 2014. It costs mana to activate, but it taps for red mana and it doesn't always ping us for three each tap like Hall of the Bandit Lord does. A worthy new inclusion not just in Kaalia of the Vast, but most red decks that I can think of.

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Disruption

Sometimes you have to stop your opponents from winning so you have a chance of winning yourself. While a lot of the fatties mentioned come with built-in removal, you'll also need to pack some cheap and/or versatile removal to deal with anything your table throws at you.

Options include: Austere Command, Earthquake, Merciless Eviction, Mortify, Rakdos Charm, Terminate, Utter End, Wear // Tear, Volcanic Offering, Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Aether Snap, Sudden Spoiling, Oblation, Chaos Warp, Decree of Pain, Day of Judgment, Condemn, Tectonic Edge, Strip Mine

Volcanic Offering has been another all-star from Commander 2014. Sitting at 5 mana, it's on the pricey end of removal, but the value is undeniable. Every time I cast it, Volcanic Offering kills the two biggest creature and non-basic land threats on the table. Goodbye Cabal Coffers and Maze of Ith! And the best part is your opponent can't target any of your stuff with it! It's a 4-for-1 at instant speed! Whee!

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Card Draw / Advantage

Kaalia of the Vast quickly depletes your hand, so you'll need ways to refill it. Some fatties can draw you cards, like Harvester of Souls and Bloodgift Demon, but you'll need more to keep the pain train chugging along. This can be either straight card draw like Promise of Power or digging up your grave with Phyrexian Reclamation, one of Kaalia of the Vast's best card advantage options.

Options include: Disciple of Bolas, Ambition's Cost, Ancient Craving, Phyrexian Reclamation, Promise of Power, Read the Bones, Sign in Blood

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Land Destruction

Now we come to the hot topic: Mass Land Destruction! Should you, or shouldn't you? It really comes down to how competitive you want your Kaalia of the Vast deck to be and if your playgroup is cool with it.

I feel like the general perception of MLD is more accommodating these days. A year or two ago, everyone HATED it. Nowadays it seems most people tolerate it as long as you promptly win the game shortly after -- something Kaalia of the Vast is happy to oblige. But as I said, only add MLD if you want to make Kaalia of the Vast more competitive and your playgroup is okay with you doing it.

Kaalia of the Vast abuses MLD in these easy steps:

  1. Play Kaalia of the Vast.
  2. Blow up all the lands with Armageddon or similar.
  3. Swing with Kaalia of the Vast, cheat fatties into play for free while your opponents can do nothing to stop your victory.

MLD also pairs nicely with mana rocks, which Kaalia decks want to run a bunch of anyway since you want to cast her on turn 3.

Options include: Desolation Angel, Keldon Firebombers, Armageddon, Decree of Annihilation, Cataclysm, Razia's Purification

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That covers the main points. Now let's put the pieces together and assemble some decks! 

First up, the MTGO version, currently under 15 tix as I type this article:

 

Second, the physical version of this deck, which is currently under $100:

Fiddly Bits and Upgrading

Tune the deck towards your meta / preferences:

How about some fattie upgrades? Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Rune-Scarred Demon, Utvara Hellkite, Aurelia, the Warleader, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, and Iona, Shield of Emeria are classic favorites.

Finally, tutors. These cards let you streamline your deck by helping you find the card you need for the right situation. If you have lots of tutors, suddenly you can run less MLD, less creature removal, less everything because tutors can grab them for you. Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor are the best, but you can go further with Enlightened Tutor, Beseech the Queen, and Grim Tutor. Sunforger is pretty fun as well!

Conclusion

And there you have it! Two budget Kaalia of the Vast decks to scratch your Angel / Demon / Dragon itch. This is a great deck to assemble in preparation for the rest of the Khans block, since rumor has it that Wizards will be introducing more dragons in there (they're not calling it DRAGONS of Tarkir for nothing). Also, busting out a Kaalia of the Vast deck is a nefarious way to lure your buddy/SO that doesn't play Magic but loves angels / demons / dragons to come play some EDH with you.

Hope you guys enjoyed this article. I decided against doing videos this time since Magic Online still hasn't implemented multiplayer recordings yet in the new client, but let me know if you want them in the future and I'll see what I can do. If you want me to cover a particular commander in the future, leave a comment and I may choose it for the next article. Thanks for reading!


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