Commanding the Tribes of Kaldheim
Kaldheim is looming on the horizon like an approaching Doomskar, ready to smash into Magic and leave chaos in its wake. As with any set, Commander players will naturally be drawn to its themes. In Kaldheim's case, that means Tribal first and foremost, as those themes weave their way through the entire set. Get a head start with this handy guide detailing the tribes of Kaldheim, including prior support and juicy legends to lead their decks.
|Previous Colors||Kamigawa Innistrad|
|Notable Commanders||Brago, King Eternal, O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami, Ranar the Ever-Watchful, Vega, the Watcher|
|Common Themes||Flying, Flicker, Tokens, Recursion, Spiritcraft|
Spirits are an extremely prolific creature type that has appeared inwith tribal support on several previous occasions, notably both the Innistrad and Shadows Over Innistrad blocks. Additionally, there was strong Spirit tribal support across all colors in the Kamigawa block. While they may not have the tribal depth of some of the game's longest-running tribes like Elves and Goblins, they do have a number of reoccurring themes across Magic's history.
Outside of the Kamigawa block, most spirits fly, and most spirit tokens also have flying. This means that anything that synergizes with flying creatures, which has been a popular limited archetype for many recent sets, is also likely to synergize with spirits. Some spirits even have flying-matters abilities, like Empyrean Eagle and Spirit of the Spires.
"Flickering", also known as exiling a permanent and then returning it to the battlefield, is another common theme for Spirits. Ranar the Ever-Watchful gives you tokens when you flicker your permanents, and Brago, King Eternal provides a mass-flicker engine. Many other spirits also generate flicker effects or benefit from them, like Deadeye Navigator, Hikari, Twilight Guardian, Soulherder, Ruin Ghost, and Flickering Spirit.
There are many sources of spirit tokens throughout the game, often repeatable, like Ranar the Ever-Watchful, Clarion Spirit, Geist-Honored Monk, Custodi Soulbinders, Twilight Drover, Drogskol Cavalry, Hallowed Spiritkeeper, Moorland Haunt, Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens, and many others. This makes tokens a powerful strategy for the tribe, and this can easily combine with the Flying strategy to have access to many buff effects to benefit going wide.
For those preferring the old-school spirit flavor, Kamigawa block featured two primarily spirit mechanics: "Spiritcraft" (abilities that trigger when casting a spirit or arcane spell) and Soulshift (a dying spirit with soulshift can return a cheaper spirit from your graveyard to your hand). Soulshift can be used to keep your hand stocked for triggering Spiritcraft, which can provide repeating triggers for a variety of effects. O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami is the only legendary five-color spirit available (excluding Morophon, the Boundless), providing an option for anyone looking to run all of these spirit tribal cards.
|Previous Colors||Innistrad Amonkhet War of the Spark Onslaught|
|Notable Commanders||Varina, Lich Queen, Sedris, the Traitor King, Thraximundar, Josu Vess, Lich Knight, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant, Narfi, Betrayer King, Tormod, the Desecrator + Kraum, Ludevic's Opus, Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, The Scarab God|
|Common Themes||Token Generation, Sacrifice, Death Triggers, Recursion|
Zombies are one of the most prolific tribes in Magic's entire history, with tribal effects stretching back to Alpha. They have been featured in every strongly-tribal set or block except for Lorwyn block, and have had multiple sets and blocks with specific zombie tribal mechanics even without a strong tribal component to the set overall, like Amonkhet block and War of the Spark. Additionally, more cards create zombie tokens than any other single creature type, and that's without even counting multiple mechanics that generate zombie tokens as part of their ability text (Embalm, Eternalize, and Amass). Zombies have shown up across all five colors, with black being the overarching primary color throughout all of their iterations, and green being the least common, almost exclusively limited to the Golgari guild on Ravnica.
Zombies have had several themes that show up repeatedly as well. Token generation is a huge part of zombie tribal, as evidenced by the absurd number of token generators out there. The tribe also has a huge number of "basic lord" effects that give +1/+1 to creatures of that type, like Death Baron, Lord of the Undead, Cemetery Reaper, Diregraf Captain, Liliana's Mastery, Lord of the Accursed, Narfi, Betrayer King, Undead Warchief, and Risen Executioner, which can turn even a moderate number of zombie tokens lethal quickly.
Zombies also have a strong self-sacrifice and death trigger theme, which can make great use of their tokens. Dying zombies trigger things like Vengeful Dead, Plague Belcher, Open the Graves, Diregraf Captain, and Undead Augur, while cards like Carrion Feeder, Corpse Harvester, God-Eternal Bontu, Phyrexian Ghoul, Nantuko Husk, and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born provide sacrifice outlets for value.
The other defining feature of zombies is that they keep coming back for more. There are tons of different forms of zombie recursion out there. Self-recursive zombies like Gravecrawler, Geralf's Masterpiece, Risen Executioner, Narfi, Betrayer King, and others keep returning turn after turn. Cards like Relentless Dead, Gravespawn Sovereign, Eternal Taskmaster, Lord of the Undead, and others bring back other zombies. Cards like Lim-Dûl the Necromancer and Grave Betrayal can bring back opponent's creatures as zombies.
|Previous Colors||Ravnica Kamigawa|
|Notable Commanders||Kaalia of the Vast, Kaalia, Zenith Seeker, Rakdos, the Showstopper, Rakdos the Defiler, Rakdos, Lord of Riots, Malfegor, Kardur, Doomscourge, Sol'kanar the Swamp King|
|Common Themes||Life as a resource, Sacrifice, Ogres|
Demons are a tribe that has not been fleshed out fairly well. While demons are black's Iconic creature type, and as such, show up in most sets, the vast majority of demon cards are expensive, standalone mythic rares. There are few payoffs for playing a lot of demons in the same deck, apart from using "choose your own tribal" type cards to support them.
That said, there are a few spicy payoffs out there. Liliana's Contract provides a powerful alternate win-condition that can be easily achieved if you pack a deck full of demons. And there's a few commanders that have reasonable demon payoffs. Chief among those is Kaalia of the Vast, who allows you to cheat in expensive demons for free, though she herself is not a demon. Rakdos, the Showstopper is another powerful card, wiping out approximately half of all creatures on the board, but crucially sparing every demon (and imp or devil). It will take quite a bit of effort to make the tribe work, while others like Elves, Spirits, and Zombies come together on their own, but some brewers are up to the challenge.
|Notable Commanders||Svella, Ice Shaper, Grismold, the Dreadsower, Varolz, the Scar-Striped|
|Common Themes||Regeneration, Indestructible|
Trolls are another tribe that has not been fleshed out particularly well. In fact, there is not a single troll-specific tribal card in the entire game, even in Kaldheim. With only 41 trolls in the entire game, and only a maximum of 33 falling into any available commander's color identity, building a troll-centric deck is likely the greatest challenge available to an aspiring deck builder.
If there's one common element to trolls, it's that a number of them have regenerate or an ability to become indestructible. This means that trolls are poised to take advantage of board wipes, especially those that allow regeneration, like Nevinyrral's Disk, Oblivion Stone, Crux of Fate, and Blasphemous Act.
|Previous Colors||Innistrad Block Ikoria Various|
|Notable Commanders||General Kudro of Drannith, Jirina Kudro, Maja, Bretagard Protector, Rick, Steadfast Leader, Trynn, Champion of Freedom + Silvar, Devourer of the Free, Sigarda, Heron's Grace, Kenrith, the Returned King, Sisay, Weatherlight Captain|
|Common Themes||Tokens, Go Wide, Group Buffs, Legends, Angel Synergies|
Humans are the most prolific creature type in the entire game - there are over 2500 human cards in Magic, more than three times the count of the next most prolific type (Wizards, just shy of 800 as of this article). With over 350 legends to pick from and hundreds of creatures in every color, it's not hard to find enough of them to make a tribal deck. It is worth noting that the type did not exist for many years, not being printed on a single card before the original Mirrodin set. It was retroactively added to hundreds of creatures at that point, but it would still be several years until the first Innistrad set marked the first time humans became mechanically relevant. Despite being so prolific, there have been relatively few times where human tribal has been an actual theme of a set, and because of that, most token generators that make tokens that could be humans (i.e. soldiers or knights) frequently make tokens without the human type. So the challenge with a human tribal deck is finding a cohesive theme. Perhaps the best option is Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, which grants access to all five colors for maximum reach of humans to include, and can also search up many of the best human tribal cards like General Kudro of Drannith, Jirina Kudro, and Rick, Steadfast Leader.
|Previous Colors||Avacyn Restored Shadows Over Innistrad|
|Notable Commanders||Radiant, Archangel, Radiant, Serra Archangel, Akroma, Vision of Ixidor, Lyra Dawnbringer, Selenia, Dark Angel, Bruna, the Fading Light, Firja, Judge of Valor, Liesa, Shroud of Dusk, Tariel, Reckoner of Souls, Kaalia of the Vast|
|Common Themes||Flying, Lifegain|
Like Demons, angels have long been an iconic creature type, and show up in most sets, most often as high-mana-cost mythic rares. There are a few powerful tribal effects among them, particularly Lyra Dawnbringer, which brings a powerful anthem and keyword to all angels. Angels have shown up in all colors, but primarily in white and secondarily in red and black. There are a few good options to capture all three of these colors. Kaalia of the Vast, as with demons, provides a powerful way to cheat in expensive angels, though can often draw hate. Tariel, Reckoner of Souls is herself an angel across all three colors. Akroma, Vision of Ixidor and Radiant, Serra Archangel both have Partner, allowing either to be paired with Vial Smasher the Fierce to cover all three colors. And while Vial Smasher is not herself an angel, she benefits from the high converted mana costs of the angel spells you might play. There's also the option of picking one of many mono-white angels, and there's a plethora of white-black and white-red angel legends available as well. Whichever way you go, angels have some fairly strong mechanical glue. Many angels like Angel of Destiny, Angel of Vitality, Regna, the Redeemer, Resplendent Angel, Righteous Valkyrie, and Valkyrie Harbinger care about gaining life, as do some angel token generators like Angelic Accord and Speaker of the Heavens. There's also several angels who care about creatures with flying, which conveniently almost all angels do - Radiant, Archangel, Radiant, Serra Archangel, Herald of the Sun, and Sephara, Sky's Blade.
|Previous Colors||Lorwyn Various|
|Notable Commanders||Brion Stoutarm, Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas, Aegar, the Freezing Flame, Ruhan of the Fomori. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, Dargo, the Shipwrecker|
|Common Themes||High Converted Mana Costs Matter, Power Matters, Direct/Mass Damage|
Giants are an interesting tribe. They've had tribal support before, in Lorwyn, and they have some direct tribal support in Kaldheim. These two themes weren't in the same color pair, but they did both share red, and there's a single commander - Ruhan of the Fomori - in all three colors with the appropriate type. Dargo, the Shipwrecker can also be paired with Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker to hit all three of those colors with one of the two partners being a giant. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that many of the best giants fall outside of these three colors. Powerful Commander options like Grave Titan, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps, Ondu Giant, and Sunder Shaman are in black and/or green, making them impossible to run alongside the full array of giant tribal cards unless Morophon, the Boundless is used. Despite this, there are a number of compelling giants like Sun Titan, Inferno Titan, Frost Titan, Stonehewer Giant, and others at your disposal should you choose to build this tribe.
|Previous Colors||Lorwyn, Commander Legends, Magic Origins Shadowmoor Various|
|Notable Commanders||Marwyn, the Nurturer, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen Rhys the Redeemed, Rhys the Exiled, Kethis, the Hidden Hand, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, Abomination of Llanowar, Lathril, Blade of the Elves, Harald, King of Skemfar. Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel, Numa, Joraga Chieftain, Miara, Thorn of the Glade, Tana, the Bloodsower, Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury|
|Common Themes||Mana Generation, Tokens, Lifegain, Power and Toughness Buffing|
Elves are another of Magic's most prolific tribes, with elf cards stretching back to Alpha and elf tribal cards being a frequent feature of sets. Even sets without a strong tribal theme often have had elf tribal cards, like Elvish Champion in Planeshift, Priest of Titania in Urza's Saga, Commander 2014's Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury deck, and many others. Elves have also been a featured tribe in several dedicated tribal blocks, like Onslaught and Lorwyn, Recently, elves have shown up as a set's limited theme multiple times, including Magic Origins, Commander Legends, and now Kaldheim. Elves also have the largest number of dedicated planeswalkers for their tribe, between Freyalise, Nissa Revane, and Tyvar Kell.
Many themes have shown up repeatedly in elves over the years. Elves have long been the mana production tribe, starting with Llanowar Elves back in Alpha, but they have repeatedly gotten elves that are capable of producing multiple mana, often scaling on the number of elves you control like Priest of Titania, Wirewood Channeler, and Elvish Archdruid. Viridian Joiner, Marwyn, the Nurturer, and Gyre Sage all produce escalating amounts of mana based on other factors as well. Another common theme has been gaining life based on elves, with cards like Wellwisher, Rhys the Exiled, and Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen all doing so. There are a large number of traditional "lord" type effects that grant +1/+1 to all elves - Canopy Tactician, Elvish Champion, Elvish Archdruid, Dwynen, Elvish Clancaller, Imperious Perfect, and Joraga Warcaller all do it. There are also elves capable of granting more targeted buffs, like Timberwatch Elf,Numa, Joraga Chieftain, and Immaculate Magistrate, which can all lead to some very hefty elves. Cultivator of Blades amplifies these buffs as well, turning an army deadly. And speaking of which, elves are also very good at propagating their army, with lots of elf token production like Imperious Perfect, Dwynen's Elite, Elvish Promenade, Elvish Warmaster, Lathril, Blade of the Elves, Lys Alana Huntmaster, and Wolverine Riders. Elf decks practically build themselves.
|Previous Colors||Kaladesh, Shadowmoor Odyssey, Fallen Empires|
|Notable Commanders||Depala, Pilot Exemplar, Koll, the Forgemaster, Reyav, Master Blacksmith, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell|
|Common Themes||Equipment, Auras, Vehicles, Tapping|
Dwarves are an odd tribe. Despite being a fantasy staple and showing up as early as Alpha, there are under 100 dwarves in the entire game. They have often fought for mechanical space with goblins, and for many years, goblins won hands-down, pushing dwarves out entirely. Despite showing up in Shadowmoor as the Duergar, they were completely absent from the tribally-focused Lorwyn sets. It wasn't until Kaladesh that dwarves started being seen in earnest again.
That said, despite their small numbers, there are several powerful dwarf tribal cards out there, like Dwarven Bloodboiler, Magda, Brazen Outlaw, Depala, Pilot Exemplar, and Dwarven Recruiter, which happen to synergize together nicely, letting you tap dwarves to Bloodboiler, generating treasure from Magda which can be sacrificed to pay into Depala and draw a fat stack of dwarves set up with Recruiter. Cards like Reckless Crew, Warchanter Skald, and Armed and Armored set up a powerful vehicles and equipment theme that works well with Depala, Koll, the Forgemaster, and Reyav, Master Blacksmith, with Sram, Senior Edificer providing some much-needed card draw to this whole engine. Dwarves are a tricky tribe to master, but certainly offer more than, say, trolls do.
|Previous Colors||Modern Horizons Lorwyn|
|Notable Commanders||Moritte of the Frost, Morophon, the Boundless, Orvar, the All-Form, Volrath, the Shapestealer|
|Common Themes||Changeling, Clone Effects|
Kaldheim's tenth major tribe is, perhaps, its weirdest. Only The Bears of Littjara and Absorb Identity provide actual payoffs for specifically being a shapeshifter. But the Changeling mechanic allows shapeshifters to utilize any other tribe's tribal effects, and the large number of clone effects present can allow you to steal and replicate any kind of tribal lord. If kooky challenges are what you're looking for, shapeshifter tribal is likely up your alley.
|Previous Colors||Coldsnap Various|
|Notable Commanders||Lovisa Coldeyes, Kardur, Doomscourge, Vial Smasher the Fierce|
|Common Themes||Combat, Damage|
While Berserkers are not one of the major races of Kaldheim's ten realms, they do get some tribal love in Kaldheim, with Cleaving Reaper, Skemfar Avenger, The Bloodsky Massacre, and multiple token generators. There's still not a ton present to glue the tribe together, especially with Lovisa Coldeyes being the only previous berserker support out there, but there is finally an incentive to look into the tribe.
|Previous Colors||Dominaria, Onslaught, Zendikar Rising Commander 2017 Lorwyn|
|Notable Commanders||Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, Aegar, the Freezing Flame, Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Jodah, Archmage Eternal|
|Common Themes||Card Draw, Counter Magic, Instants and Sorceries, Tapping for Abilities|
Wizards is the other tribe beyond the ten realms that received new tribal support in Kaldheim. Wizards are the second most prolific creature type in the entire game, after humans, and have enjoyed being the focus of tribal themes in multiple sets: Onslaught block, Morningtide, Commander 2017, Dominaria, Zendikar Rising, and now Kaldheim. In addition, with a "wizard school" set on the horizon in Strixhaven, this tribe will likely continue to see love in the near future. Wizards have a number of exceptionally powerful tribal effects, like Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Patron Wizard, Voidmage Prodigy, Supreme Inquisitor, Galecaster Colossus, Aphetto Grifter, Docent of Perfection // Final Iteration, and others. The only thing keeping wizards from being an absolute dominating force in the tribal field is a relative lack of token production to fuel all of these powerful abilities.
So there we have it, a look at each of the tribes of Kaldheim and how to utilize them in Commander. Which tribe will you bring to your playgroup in the near future?