Tribal Update Report: Kaldheim


The Tentacled One
I find myself in a bit of a Tribal Update Report funk, but I’ll probably get over it. Before we get into the cards from Kaldheim, let’s recapitulate what I’m even doing here. On again and off again from 2005 to 2013, we held a series of casual multiplayer games under an evolving ruleset based on the old MTGO “Tribal Wars” format. The games were fun, but the series kind of died off, mostly because people got tired of brewing new decks for the games. In 2018, after some brief discussion on the possibility of bringing Tribal games back (which didn’t go anywhere), I started a project to write a report to a hypothetical “Council.” This was a thought experiment. Our old Tribal games weren’t very well-organized and some of the participants in those had since abandoned the site. But it seemed like a fun idea at the time to ask, “What if we had robust participation for games like that? What if we wanted to craft our own Tribal format in a way that made sense, and we had enough participants to use a system with some structure?” I think I was inspired by the Canadian Highlander format and their Canadian Highlander Council.

Two years ago, I published the long thread that I called “Oversoul’s preliminary report to the Tribal Council (including tier lists and other musings).” In that report, I came up with a system of eight different tiers. You can visit the thread for the details, but to summarize, Tiers 6, 7, and 8 are procedural tiers meant to categorize tribes that don’t really work; Tiers 3, 4, and 5 cover a spectrum of weaker to stronger tribes; Tiers 1 and 2 represent the powerhouse tribes that could form the basis for more competitive decks. The bulk of that report consisted of me rating every single creature type in Magic at the time into one of those tiers based on my own assessment. I also proposed a tentative ban list and commented on some of the options for deckbuilding rules. By the time I was putting the finishing touches on this report, the set Ravnica Allegiance had been fully spoiled, so I tried to keep the set in mind as I wrote up my revisions.

For every new Magic set since then, I’ve provided a “Tribal Update Report” that presents my analysis of new cards to this same hypothetical “Council.” Again, this is all pretty much in my head, so doing this ranges, depending on how generous to me you’d like to be, from a bit silly to deranged. I’d opt for “a bit silly” myself, but you make your own judgment on that.

If I stop my summary there, you might think I’m saying that I’m in a funk on this because the whole thing is a fruitless endeavor and I know I’m wasting my time. Ha, no such luck! I’m happy to keep writing these stupid things. No, it’s just that back when I started writing them, and even before I ever began this project, my usual approach to new sets was to scan through the new cards looking for anything interesting, as well as checking various online sources to see which cards were hot topics for tournament formats. Then I’d play in a prerelease event, buy and sort some of the new cards, and get a bit more experience with each set. At each step along the way, my evaluation of the set’s overall quality would be recalibrated. Usually, I assessed new sets as weak before I got to play with them, but I corrected this to account for aspects I didn’t immediately appreciate once I had some real gameplay with the cards. And knowing this, I adjusted my initial assessments to compensate. In some cases, I was playing a lot of Magic, even participating in the occasional booster draft, so I was getting helpful feedback for my assessments quickly. When I was more busy with non-Magic stuff, it sometimes took longer for my evaluation of a new set to reach a firm conclusion.

The last set that I was able to get sufficient gameplay with was Theros Beyond Death, about a year ago. Since then, I’ve written reports covering six new sets. I’ve played with at least a few cards from those sets, but I don’t really have sufficient experience with any of them. The ongoing pandemic has throttled back my in-person gameplay. I don’t play on MTGO, and we haven’t even been running any of our casual Magic games here at the CPA lately.

Kaldheim looks to be a strong set with some excellent cards. It never mattered to me that my reports on other strong sets like Throne of Eldraine were essentially meaningless. But at least I eventually got to play with those cards! Right now, I still have Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths on the brain. I think it might be one of my favorite sets ever, but I just haven’t had much chance to do anything with it. Oh well. Let’s try. Let’s talk about Kaldheim.

The Snow Digression
The “snow” supertype and mechanic dates back to its usage as a major theme in Ice Age, but the original version was underdeveloped and generally underpowered. There are a few weird little niche things that care about snow lands from Ice Age and Alliances that might make sense in some casual decks, but really, the mechanic took on a new life with Coldsnap, which made it a real consideration. Modern Horizons really pushed snow, and there’s an argument to be made that ever since, if you’re playing a casual deck with basic lands, you should be using snow basics because there’s just about always some card in your colors that benefits from them. Regular basic lands have almost no advantage over snow basics, and it feels like we’re dangerously close to just having strictly better basic lands. Well, Kaldheim seems to be continuing this trend. We’re approaching the point at which almost any deck with basic lands could have access to some card that’s basically all upside, but which relies on snow.

The Kaldheim snow takeover has been a topic of some discussion among EDH players, but it applies equally (if not moreso) to Tribal games. I’d argue that it was already an issue after Modern Horizons and that people were just brushing it off. As far as casual play is concerned this issue is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, snow has so many uses that almost any deck with a manabase comprising mostly basics would be advantaged to run snow basics instead of regular basics. On the other hand, almost none of the now-based cards are so vital that casual players couldn’t simply do without them. The utility cost of running a snow manabase, even if only for the sake of a single card, is so low that there’s almost no reason not to. But the benefit of running snow is also so low that most casual players could ignore it if they wanted to.

Some people are really unhappy with this creeping snow dominance. Other people don’t care or think it’s cool that snow is back in Standard for the first time since 2006. My own reaction is somewhere in between, but I’m not pointing this out to complain or to advocate anything. I point this out to note a major aspect of Kaldheim that might be relevant to Tribal decks.

New Tribes
Phyrexian: This creature type has me totally bewildered. WotC chose to assign the new creature type to one card, the new version of Vorinclex. That makes sense, as Vorinclex is one of the Phyrexian praetors from New Phyrexia. But “phyrexian” was never a creature type before and WotC didn’t retroactively add the type to any of the old phyrexians. This leaves me wondering, “Why?” What’s the point? There’s not a unifying mechanical theme tying the phyrexian creatures from various old sets together. Still, I’m inclined to think that if you’re going to make this a creature type in the first place, you might as well assign the type to the old phyrexians. It would probably be a decent tribe. Currently, there’s only one member of the tribe, so the tribe is automatically Tier 7.

New additions to existing Tribes
Angel: Thirteen new cards. The angels here are pretty good and are split between white and black. Is it now optimal to run black in Angel Tribal? I’d guess probably not, but you could certainly try it and this set would give you the tools to make it work.

Bear: One new card. It could easily become your highest-power bear if you’re running a snow deck.

Berserker: Twenty-six new cards. Some good cards here, but most of the tribal synergies are for other tribes, and I’m left thinking that some of the best options here will actually perform better in other decks. However, Berserker Tribal was a bit deficient anyway and some of these new cards just outclass the old berserkers. So we get definite improvement.

Bird: Five new cards. They’re good. At least a couple of these are probably bumping older birds from decks.

Cat: One card. No impact.

Cleric: Nineteen new cards. Most of these aren’t really special, but a few show some promise.

Coward: One new card. Although the creature type has been around for years as part of a mechanic that turns creatures into cowards, this is the first actual creature that has been printed with the type.

Demon: Six new cards. Wow. The inherent power of certain demons had me originally place the tribe in Tier 2, but they were always a tenuous inclusion there. Demons pack enough of a punch to generally outclass most Tier 3 tribes, but they lack the robustness and diversity that make most Tier 2 options powerhouses. Almost every Tribal Update Report I can remember left me thinking that maybe Demon Tribal should be up for demotion, because the new cards they were getting sucked. And along comes Kaldheim. Demon Tribal just got a much-needed boost.

Dragon: Two new cards. Both are good cards, but in different ways. One of them offers a unique new build-around option. The hypothetical “CPA Tribal Lowlander” probably isn’t an ideal format for a dedicated Goldspan Dragon deck, but a dragon enthusiast bored of other archetypes could certainly build such a deck and it would be decent. Properly built, it might even be competitive against other Tier 2 decks.

Dwarf: Twelve new cards. Here and there, I’ve written about the issues plaguing this tribe, but I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to conveniently summarize those issues in a single place (my original “Oversoul’s preliminary report” thread does cover most of it, though). Without going into those details here, I’ll just note that this new set does more to alleviate the woes of Dwarf Tribal than any other set in history and it’s not a close contest. If you want to play dwarves, this is the set for you.

Elephant: One new card. On the one hand, an Elephant Tribal player looking to protect a herd of elephants from spot removal would be better served by some team hexproof card. On the other hand, a 6/5 trampler that has a practical sort of alternative casting mode (the Foretell mechanic) isn’t too bad. I probably wouldn’t run the new elephant, but I’d at least think about it.

Elf: Sixteen new cards. I’ve said something like this before and will probably have to say it again, but if these new cards were thrown into some other tribe, they’d potentially constitute a major improvement to that tribe. Elf Tribal is already kind of broken and cards that make the cut when pitted against all the elves in history are scarce.

Giant: Thirteen new cards. Only a few warrant any consideration, but those few are good. Also, I think this set offers the first new tribal synergies for giants in a long time.

God: Twelve new cards. Evaluating this tribe is always awkward. Gods tend to be strong cards individually, but poorly suited to cramming a deck full of them and expecting it to work. This set does continue that theme, but mitigates it somewhat because all twelve of these cards are “modal double-faced cards.” They can be cast as a “B-side” and do something else. And this also mitigates the problem of all gods being legendary, as you can cast one copy as the “A-side” and have your god, then if you draw a second copy, you can deploy it as the “B-side.”

Horse: One new card. Its abilities are based around the “Foretell” mechanic, and Horse Tribal isn’t really a good home for that.

Human: Seventeen new cards. None of them appear to be gamebreaking, so they probably don’t make the cut.

Imp: One new card. Stacking +1/+1 counters on it shouldn’t be too difficult, but that probably doesn’t matter. The two questions for a new card in Imp Tribal should probably be “Does this form the basis for its own new deck?” and “Does this help a Skirge Familiar deck?” Outclassing a bunch of old, weak cards is noteworthy, but only barely.

Knight: One new card. It’s garbage.

Kraken: One new card. It’s not bad, but I don’t think that it’s quite fast enough to shore up the deficiencies of Kraken Tribal. In the right deck, it could be a powerhouse. But Kraken Tribal needs an early board presence, and this is effectively a six-drop (if you have six snow lands, you can tap them all for enough mana to cast it).

Ox: One new card. I’ll have to mull this one over. I think that this is easily the best ox card to date. That’s a low bar to clear because only a couple of the other members of this tribe do anything at all. But in order to work, the new ox needs to be in a Vehicles deck, and none of the existing oxen have any synergy to use there; they’d be dead weight. That’s probably still the basis for the strongest Ox Tribal deck for now (four copies of Giant Ox, some cheap filler oxen to get a legal deck and have some blockers, then a bunch of vehicles and vehicle-based cards). But it’s ugly and the ceiling on the concept is probably low.

Pegasus: One new card. Looking back at my preliminary report, I mentioned that one way to tackle the deficiencies of this tribe would be to pack a bunch of Glorious Anthem effects and fly over blockers. It’s not a great plan, but it’s a better option than what’s available to some tribes. Somewhat amusingly, this new card plays right into that plan. It might not be the best pegasus ever, but in a Pegasus Tribal deck, it kind of is.

Praetor: One new card. This is the first new member of the tribe since I began these reports, so here’s a quick recap of the issue. The two old praetors from before New Phyrexia are mediocre and don’t really do anything together. The five New Phyrexian praetors are all powerful top-end creatures that could be built around, but they cost too much mana to fit into a curve. Also, they’re all legendary and each one is a different color. There are tribes populated entirely with big creatures, and using a strategy that cheats them out (such as a Reanimator style of deck) could turn an otherwise-slow tribe into something dangerous. Of those “big creature” types, Praetor Tribal is probably the worst option. The new Vorinclex does improve the tribe, albeit not enough to matter. What’s interesting is that the arrival of Vorinclex on Kaldheim might foreshadow the Magic story revisiting the other praetors. If we keep getting new praetor cards, the tribe will eventually start to become viable.

Rogue: Eight new cards. Mostly chaff, but we do get a synergy with Opposition Agent, and that’s a scary thought.

Scarecrow: One new card. It would be unremarkable in most decks, but it actually makes a lot of sense in a Reaper King deck, and Scarecrow Tribal probably takes the path of building around Reaper King.

Serpent: One new card. I think WotC read the bad things that I had to say about Serpent Tribal in my preliminary report and started cranking out better cards for this tribe. I mean, not really, but still, there’s been some dramatic improvement here. This serpent is seven mana, so it won’t be shoring up issues with the top-heavy nature of Serpent Tribal. But it does continue the theme started last year of big, powerful blue/green legendary serpents. And those are just inherently better than big, overcosted blue serpents that have trouble attacking anything.

Shapeshifter: Ten new cards. All of these are changelings, if that matters. There are a few cool tricks here. I’d have to do some testing to see if Shapeshifter Tribal even wants this stuff.

Spider: One new card. No impact.

Spirit: Seven new cards. Five of them seem to be chaff. The other two are interesting, and could be worth testing.

Squirrel: One new card. EDH fans of squirrels might appreciate having a squirrel commander, but for our purposes, Squirrel Tribal still isn’t an option. The tribe is one member away from being promoted out of Tier 7.

Treefolk: One new card. Probably no impact.

Troll: Four new cards. A couple of them might be worth running.

Vampire: One new card. It’s a four-drop, which might be too slow for Vampire Tribal. But it’s quite strong.

Warrior: Twenty-four new cards. Much like humans, this is kind of a case of “don’t know, don’t care” for me. Warrior Tribal has enough options to do almost anything.

Wizard: Twelve new cards. Most of these are rather weird, but there’s some noticeable potential.

Wolf: Three new cards. Two of them are bland, but the new legendary wolf is extremely powerful.

Wurm: One new card. Draft chaff.

Yeti: One new card. Probably one of the better yeti we’ve gotten so far, but not good enough to make the tribe relevant.

Zombie: Nine new cards. A few of these are quite strong and might be worth testing in Zombie Tribal. I suspect that the tribe already has the tools to move efficiently in a direction that the new zombies don’t work with, but still, a few of them are good cards.


The Tentacled One
New tribal synergies to look out for
Armed and Armored: The card itself is a bit gimmicky, but it does help solidify an identity for Dwarf Tribal as being good with equipment and being good with vehicles. An actual deck probably focuses on one over the other.

Starnheim Aspirant: Excellent Angel Tribal synergy.

Glimpse the Cosmos: Outside of Giant Tribal, this is just a mediocre card-filtering spell. In Giant Tribal, it gets better.

Return Upon the Tide: Elf Tribal synergy and a textbook example of how a card that would be a huge boon to a weaker tribe doesn’t even warrant consideration in Elf Tribal.

Bearded Axe: Again, Dwarf Tribal is getting some tools to synergize with equipment and vehicles.

Dragonkin Berserker: While not amazing, it’s efficient and occupies a nice spot in the mana curve for Dragon Tribal.

Fire Giant’s Fury: I don’t really like this one myself, but it does pack an obvious punch in Giant Tribal.

Reckless Crew: Another card in the suite of new Dwarf Tribal + equipment + vehicles stuff.

Squash: A shoe-in for Giant Tribal. It feels like this card already existed, but I’m assuming that I’ve conflated its effect with that of Giant’s Ire, a very different card.

Roots of Wisdom: Surprisingly, I think Elf Tribal might actually want this card.

Tyvar Kell: This is a new elf-centric planeswalker to replace the old elf supremacist version of Nissa that WotC retconned. Kind of weird that they decided they liked the idea again, but whatever.

Battle of Frost and Fire: Here’s an unusual Giant Tribal synergy. It’s better in multiples, so Lowlander deckbuilding rules would weaken it somewhat. Still good.

Firja’s Retribution: Despite not being the sort of card I’d think Angel Tribal would need in order to shore up its weaknesses, this thing is bonkers. If you have an appreciable board of angels and this saga hits Chapter III, you should win the game.

Harald Unites the Elves: A cool-looking saga with Elf Tribal synergies. Because Elf Tribal already has even better cards, this sadly won’t matter much.

Invasion of the Giants: I’ll give you three guesses which tribe can use this enchantment.

Rampage of the Valkyries: This is a potent Angel Tribal synergy. I’d say that it probably isn’t worth it because you just beat your opponents to death anyway, rather than letting your angels die. But this enchantment comes with its own angel token anyway, so it’s pretty great.

The Bears of Littjara: We get another saga with a tribal synergy, this time for Shapeshifter Tribal. The card is a bit clunky and might not be a good fit.

The Bloodsky Massacre: And here’s yet another saga with a tribal synergy. This set sure has a lot of them. This time it’s Berserker Tribal that gets something new, and the card is excellent. Easy inclusion.

Tyrite Sanctum: While technically this land could work with any creatures, it’s a bit better in God Tribal because you can skip straight to the land’s third ability.

Overall set analysis
Firstly, wow, this is a power-packed set. Also, since this set takes us to a new plane loosely based around Norse mythology, WotC seems to have put in worldbuilding effort to find creature types to fit aspects of Norse mythology. And they’ve worked flavorful mechanics into the set that have the net effect, intentional or not, of boosting the tribes represented in the world of Kaldheim. To be clear, the set is full of good stuff on its own, aside from tribal considerations. But it also comes with some definite tribal themes, and the confluence of a high overall power level and a tribal focus is a huge boon to some creature types.

For Tribal gameplay, this has been one of the most impactful sets I’ve reported on, rivalled by Modern Horizons and perhaps by Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. This might be one of the few sets in existence where a new player could crack a bunch of sealed product and then build a reasonable Tribal deck mostly just from one set, with perhaps a few complementary budget cards brought in externally.

Winners and losers for this set? Tier adjustments?
Going through the biggest apparent winners in alphabetical order…
  • Angels
  • Berserkers
  • Demons
  • Dwarves
  • Giants
  • Gods
  • Oxen
Whenever we get a set that borrows heavily from real-world mythology, I tend to note as “losers” creature types that are prominent in the real-world mythology but weak or absent within the set. WotC can be really weird about this, and it’s not necessarily the case that what seems like a perfect missed opportunity translates to that in the actual game. But it’s never a good sign for a tribe when this happens. For Kaldheim, we have a few notable borderline cases. Serpents, spirits, trolls and wolves all feature somewhat prominently in Norse mythology, and while none of those appear to be prominent on Kaldheim, they all get at least a little something and might arguably be winners here. Real losers might include boars, dogs, elk, merfolk, and whales. Those all have a role in Norse lore and get no representation in this set. I’d argue for one more loser: krakens are among the most famous monsters in Norse mythology, yet this set only has one, and it doesn’t happen to do much to help the tribe.

As for tier adjustments, I’d advise promoting Berserker Tribal to Tier 3. The tribe is still a bit awkward, but it’s benefitted from new releases that are just plain better cards than most of the old stuff. Then there are the procedural changes, which this time around consist of new additions to Tier 7…
  • Cowards
  • Phyrexians
  • Squirrels
To those three tribes, let me be the first to welcome to the tier of tribes that have actual creatures, but not enough for anyone to legally pick you.

Ban list update recommendations
None at this time. However, I think my reports have been lax on this. And while that’s mostly justified, I do intend to review what I’ve advocated in the past and see if I still hold those views.

I, for one, welcome our new Dwarven overlords.


Staff member
I've been playing a Red Dwarf deck that I created on the first day It was released on Arena and it's been surprisingly successful - it almost makes me wish that Homelands was still around so I could combine some of those cards with it...