Article Lessons from Kaldheim

I'm creating this thread to focus on Kaldheim as a limited environment (before it derails on post #3 to a discussion about shale fracking or designer bags) and what we can take away from it that might apply for designing other limited environments. You know, like cube.

It's been a confusing start as people figure out the environment.

Major Archetypes
  • Triangle {U/B}{B/G}{G/U} Snow
  • Five-color Base {G} Snow
  • Triangle {B/R}{W/B}{R/W} Aggro Equipment
  • Pair {U}{R} Giants
Other decks like BG Elves and WU Fliers exist in theory but I haven't seen them yet.

It's a reductionist way of viewing the environment, but my experience is that at the moment it's something like 2 parts triangle sultai snow, 2 parts 5c snow, 2 parts aggro, 1 part giants, 1 part everything else.

Limited environments with few archetypes are not new, and some were actually decent. Guilds of Ravnica comes to mind, which had scant deck variety but good gameplay. What's notable about Kaldheim is how everyone hates the snow decks, and even at such a large share of the environment, they are still good. Snow lands keep moving up in pick order.

Snow is a sixth color

And it's splashable.

Wizards printed original duals to help everyone splash snow comfortably:

They also printed ten trilands so people can play six-color good-stuff, and all of them make snow mana:

And there's one in every pack. Sometimes you get two, though, when you open:

Now, let's look at the gold section. 39/209 spells are gold. Particularly uncommon and rares, which though it means they appear less often, they are more powerful.

If you do take my words for it and consider that snow is a color, another 25 cards become gold, for a total of 30.6%. These 25 aren't skewed towards higher rarities, and the lower rarity ones are the most powerful commons and uncommons.

What do you get in a cube with original duals, trilands, 30% multicolored cards, where the monocolored cards are significantly worse? Five-color good stuff. Well, six-color good stuff, here.

In the Kaldheim meta, we see the same pattern as in these cubes: picking fixing highly unlocks the best color of the format: snow. Because everyone picks the original duals Snow-Covered Island, Swamp and Forest, so highly, they are incentivized to pick trilands highly too. Then, it's just worth taking the gold cards because your mana base is so good, and Glittering Frost, Path to the World Tree and Spirit of the Aldergard lead you to this direction even more.

People hate snow because it's slow, steals bombs from them, and splashes all those bombs. Spending 20 minutes playing against snow does not make up for a 5 minute victory against it, so the snow decks feel more oppressive than they are. Dealing with an Immersturm Predator, then taking a Binding of the Old Gods and dying to a Firja's Retribution while an innocent Pilfering Hawk watches your suffering does not feel right when it's not particularly hard to draft such a mana base. 5c snow takes these bombs from drafters solidly in those color combinations and make other decks significantly worse on average.

I don't think the vast majority of cubes would ever have such a problem with five-color decks, because the Kaldheim features that cause it are the six-color structure, with skewed fixing towards snow, and the large power gap between gold and monocolored. I still think limiting multicolored cards in cube is healthy, but mostly to reduce parasitism, and if you do add snow to your cube, think about it as a sixth color.

Aggro preys on glacially slow snow

Snow decks play a lot of tapped lands, and the worse ones tend to stumble a lot in the first turns due to all the gold cards. Besides snow decks, foretell makes a lot of decks not play anything on turn 2, and the environment is generally slow.

Aggro decks are a force in this format, and they feel quite slow compared to aggro decks in most other sets. It's not uncommon to start turn 4 with a single creature. The low speed of the format allows them to be like that, and the defining feature of aggro is not boast. It's equipment.

The first two are particularly good for a lot of reasons:

  • Stat lines in Kaldheim are small. Pumping a 2/2 to 3/3 makes it hard to block profitably until turn ~5, and a 3/2 pumped to 4/3 does not get stonewalled by anything except green 5 and 6 drops.
  • The equipment themselves are good. The treasure for pick is extremely useful for splashing, fixing, double spelling and mana efficiency overall. Tormentor's Helm's effect isn't as good, but represents a bit of reach and is great in multiples.
  • Managing your P/Ts plays around Struggle for Skemfar, a good green common.
  • They enable the WB Double-Spell payoffs:

  • They make random tokens into real threats

  • Some of the best aggro cards are perfect wielders

  • They allow boast creatures to attack profitably

Whew, that's a lot of reasons to play Pick and Helm. And I haven't mentioned the the biggest one yet: they are broken with Runes.

Runes are card advantage neutral and are generally safe to put on artifacts without fearing a blowout (except for Broken Wings and Ravenform, which are easy to spot and too expensive to keep open). Worst case they can cycle safely by being placed on a land, but most often they cycle by buffing a creature. What Runes really do, when you have a Pick or Helm, is making them into bombs. An equipment that reads "+1/+1 and lifelink, create a treasure when it connects, equip 1" swings any race by playing offense and defense. Goldvein Pick and Runed Crown let you play off-color runes, and since white and red are the least desirable color in snow decks, those white and red "trilands" help with splashing off-color runes.

Runes are my favorite part of Kaldheim draft.

Interestingly, the uncommon equipments are also good, but probably worse than the common ones. Dwarven Hammer, Valkyrie Sword and Draugr's Helm are expensive to equip, but they give aggro a long term plan, act as mana sinks, and fight attrition wars against removal pretty well. Their high equip costs make them more clunky to draw runes on, but the stats make it worth to do so - Dwarven Hammer with Rune of Sustenance IS Loxodon Warhammer, after all.

Oh, did I not talk about creatures? Right. The ones mentioned above as "good with equipment" are great, and the good common creatures I haven't mentioned yet are:

Yeah, they are all good with equipment.

For cube, Runes are really cool, and I'm looking forward to playing some of them. It's sweet to build your own equipment, and equipment doesn't suffer from the aura problem because there isn't so much artifact removal around. Runes are flavorful and at a decent power level. Cubes often run cheap equip costs (I guess these just tend to be the best equipment), such as Lightning Greaves, Bonesplitter, Grafted Wargear and Heirloom Blade at higher power levels. At lower power levels the equipment is still often cheap enough to equip: Vulshok Morningstar, Ancestral Blade, Sword of the Animist, Sylvok Lifestaff.

Rune of Sustenance and Rune of Might are probably the best ones, but I have trouble ranking the rest. Personally, I'm looking forward to run Rune of Sustenance as an artifacts/equipment payoff, lifegain enabler and heroic enabler, and just a cool card overall, and I might put the other four in occasionals.

As for the equipment themselves, Goldvein Pick is definitely worth testing, though it won't have that many tailwinds in cube. Tormentor's Helm is surprisingly close to a Leonin Scimitar, which I never really liked. Dwarven Hammer is intriguing, but I don't think it will hold up in my environment, as the token is so fragile and the equip cost is high.

Yes, but have you seen the giants?

It's hard to miss them, isn't it? The best reasons to play giants in Kaldheim are:

If you open Glimpse the Cosmos and actually read the fucking card until the end, which I haven't yet, it's a really powerful draw spell. Squash is less subtle, and being underwhelming without a Giant works out nicely because UR Giants can rely on getting passed a few. Aegar, the Freezing Flame is an uncommon bomb and the new mechanic is commonly misevaluated: it triggers all the time. Block a 2/2 with a 3/2? Draw a card? Get chump blocked? Draw a card. Frost Bite a 4/4 with 3 damage on it? Draw a card. Squash whatever? Draw a card. Block Toski, Bearer of Secrets? Draw a card. Cinderheart Giant dies? Draw a card. Battle of Frost and Fire? This is a dumb bomb, draw four cards.

The thing is, UR Giants' bombs are often used by 5c snow, and some good commons get cut quite a bit because many other decks want them:

The deck can be good, but you depend a lot more on luck because the card pool isn't so deep. It doesn't have a great aggro matchup either, unsurprisingly, so Battle of Frost and Fire, Crush the Weak are great in it, and Mistwalker is really important to enable Squash and block.

As a cube designer, Giants feel a little too insular. Undersea Invader and Cinderheart Giant at common are pretty bad and no other decks want them. You barely want them. The four cards listed as the reasons to be giants are so much better in this deck then anywhere else, making pivoting away from giants difficult, so drafing it is a hail mary.

Three things are done right, though:
1. Glimpse the Cosmos is threshold 1, which makes Giants a possible secondary theme in, say, UG.
2. Aegar, the Freezing Flame is good with any burn effect or large creature.
3. Changelings provide tribal glue.

These three things can be applied to cube:
1. Threshold 1 is a good way to make archetypes less poisonous. Cards like Winged Words and Thopter Spy Network are good enough with a lower density of enablers than cards like Goblin Chieftain or Master of Etherium. This makes it easier to mix and match archetypes, pivot away from them, and choose whether to go deep in them or not.
2. Aegar, the Freezing Flame is sweet, and I suspect it'll be too good in my cube, but it's a cool card with a unique effect.
3. Changelings provide tribal glue. If your cube has tribal components, definitely look into changelings. I expected more from Kaldheim, but some are worth considering:

Really excellent and thorough dive into a limited format's quirks. Interesting to think about snow as a sixth color, but it makes sense and it's literally how they treat it on cards via the {snow} mana symbols.

Especially liked the section about RW equipment aggro, as it is something that can be ported over to cube, and does offer many of the same upsides as this limited deck has in it's draft environment. The note about 4/3 being a nigh-unstoppable P/T actually holds up decently well in many cubes, where CMCs are super low, and 2/2 is often a dominant P/T combo. Makes equipment like trusty machete very valuable. I'm not convinced that the runes are high power enough to also fit into cube versions of an equipment deck, but I have no actual evidence one way or the other so it'd be interesting to see.
Yeah, I'd place runes in the 3rd quartile of the elegant cube's power level (having played them quite a bit in KHM but never in my cube). They won't be good enough for many cubes, but I meant to say they are strong enough to be included in low to middling cube power levels, especially if the cube has a good density of equipment.
As someone who drafted Esper Foretell¹ and got pounded, what's your opinion on the viability of Foretell in general?

¹ To be entirely fair, the only Foretell payoffs I actually drafted was two copies of Nico Defies Destiny. No Doomskar, no Starnheim Unleashed, and no Vega the Watcher (which I did manage to steal in one game).
About the archtype, I think it's bad. Some cards are good, some cards are bad, but everyone picks the good cards and the payoffs don't justify playing the mediocre ones unless you draft like three Vega, the Watcher, which doesn't happen often. Even then, it's fragile enough that you usually just draw one card out of it. Cantripping a Doomskar Oracle or a Ravenform does not win a game. White not having strong foretell commons is another problem.

As a mechanic, it's alright, but I feel like it had more potential. Sometimes you can make educated guesses that it's a Struggle for Skemfar or an Iron Verdict, and the MTGA feature of stopping only when relevant compounds that problem. I like that sometimes it's worth playing a 2-drop, sometimes it's worth foretelling, creating interesting sequencing decisions. It's also glue with the WB Two Spells archetype and makes discard a bit worse. Overall a forgettable mechanic, but it's cute in some cards, like Saw it Coming, Struggle for Skemfar and Augury Raven.
I really like how foretell allows for having multiple spells during a "showdown turn" where both players try to out-counterspell each other, but that seems more like a constructed thing than limited unfortunately. I've warmed up to the mechanic.
Yeah, I'd place runes in the 3rd quartile of the elegant cube's power level (having played them quite a bit in KHM but never in my cube). They won't be good enough for many cubes, but I meant to say they are strong enough to be included in low to middling cube power levels, especially if the cube has a good density of equipment.

I am going to test at least Rune of Sustenance and Rune of Mortality, as I think lifelink and deathtouch are really nice abilities to grant and I have an equipment theme. the green one looks really strong too, but green hasn't much to do with equipment in my cube. The blue one just compares sadly to Cartouche of Knowledge. The red one should've granted menace to excite me.
About Runes

The blue one just compares sadly to Cartouche of Knowledge

It is my opinion that Rune of Flight is better than the Cartouche. It doesn’t grant +1/+1 but instead you get two things that I find equally valuable:

1. The opportunity to attach to an Equipment which should give a longer lasting effect (Not sponsored by Durex)
2. The opportunity to cast the Aura to cantrip even without a creature on your side of the battlefield.
Plus, you can also “cycle” it turn 2 to find a land, so having a rune makes possible to keep riskier hands. Even though it isn’t optimal (like cycling Bladebrand in RNA), at least it’s something that helps you curve out. I did it 2-3 times in draft already, it feels bad but sometimes it’s the right play


I love the "Threshold 1" idea. It's a great way to weave in a functionally greater density of enablers, compared to the scaling-payoff implementations of the same archetypes.
Plus, you can also “cycle” it turn 2 to find a land, so having a rune makes possible to keep riskier hands. Even though it isn’t optimal (like cycling Bladebrand in RNA), at least it’s something that helps you curve out. I did it 2-3 times in draft already, it feels bad but sometimes it’s the right play

I said that in argument 2. Don't mean to be a grumpy dog :)