The next deck I want to take a look at is the WRB deck, Heavenly Inferno. Led by Kaalia of the Vast, the deck revolves around large creatures of the Angel, Dragon and Demon types. Kaalia has the ability to drop a creature of one of those types into play, for free, just by attacking an opponent.
The downside is that Kaalia herself is a puny 2/2 Flyer with no other evasion or protection. She is quite fragile, and often you won’t be able to successfully attack into any opponents without losing her to a larger blocker. The good news is that she’s only 4 mana, so she can usually come out early enough to hit at least once before anyone else can effectively block her. With a good draw, you can cast her turn 3 off a signet, or with a REALLY good draw, you can cast her turn 2, by going: Land, Sol Ring, Singet, then Land, Kaalia… with a good draw.
Kaalia is very much a “build around” Legend. She needs ample support to be worth casting or attacking with. If you’re ever in a position where you’re just attacking with her to get in two damage, but you don’t have anything in hand to sneak into play, you’re probably losing hard. So, we need to build around her along two axes. First we need a strong Tribal theme with plenty of Angels, Dragons and Demons for her to summon. And second, we need ways to protect Kaalia, so we don’t have to re-cast her after every attack we make.
The appeal of a deck like this is, of course, getting to play with big giant creatures, and sneaking them into play early makes this Timmy-est of strategies actually viable.
Before we get started, I will toss up the original Heavenly Inferno decklist, unmodified, as I want to use the original deck as a starting point, rather than build from scratch.
1 Kaalia of the Vast
1 Akroma, Angel of Fury
1 Angel of Despair
1 Angelic Arbiter
1 Archangel of Strife
1 Avatar of Slaughter
1 Basandra, Battle Seraph
1 Bladewing the Risen
1 Boros Guildmage
1 Dragon Whelp
1 Dread Cacodemon
1 Duergar Hedge-Mage
1 Fallen Angel
1 Furnace Whelp
1 Gwyllion Hedge-Mage
1 Lightkeeper of Emeria
1 Mana-Charged Dragon
1 Mother of Runes
1 Oni of Wild Places
1 Oros, the Avenger
1 Orzhov Guildmage
1 Razorjaw Oni
1 Reiver Demon
1 Serra Angel
1 Shattered Angel
1 Tariel, Reckoner of Souls
1 Voice of All
1 Akroma's Vengeance
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Bathe in Light
1 Boros Signet
1 Cleansing Beam
1 Comet Storm
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Death by Dragons
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Evincar's Justice
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Master Warcraft
1 Orim's Thunder
1 Orzhov Signet
1 Path to Exile
1 Rakdos Signet
1 Return to Dust
1 Righteous Cause
1 Sol Ring
1 Soul Snare
1 Sulfurous Blast
1 Syphon Flesh
1 Syphon Mind
1 Vow of Duty
1 Vow of Lightning
1 Vow of Malice
1 Wrecking Ball
1 Akoum Refuge
1 Barren Moor
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Boros Garrison
1 Command Tower
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Molten Slagheap
1 Orzhov Basilica
1 Rakdos Carnarium
1 Rupture Spire
1 Secluded Steppe
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Zoetic Cavern
As you can see, the list is already pretty well stocked for Angels, Demons and Dragons, though perhaps the non-Angel tribes are a bit under-represented. Furthermore, we have some anti-synergy between some cards. Many of our board-sweepers kill our own General – Pyrohemia, Sulfurous Blast, Evincar’s Justice? These are great against token decks, like Ghave, but usually they’ll kill Kaalia before they kill anything else of real value.
And what’s up with Dread Cacodemon? Yeah, he’s a Plague Wind with an 8/8 body attached, but the only reason people are willing to cast a Plague Wind is because they’ll usually win the turn they do. Cacodemon makes that difficult, if not impossible because he taps all of your other creatures too. Meaning you don’t get to attack at all, unless the Cacodemon has Haste, but even then, you’re only getting in for eight damage. But the real kicker is that you can’t even cheat him in with Kaalia. Well, you CAN, but if you do, you won’t get his ETBF trigger, and he’s just a big dumb 8/8.
Yeah, Reiver Demon is much the same, but he’s a bit easier to hard-cast and there are times when you won’t want his ETBF ability to trigger.
The first thing I want to do is explore some ways to protect Kaalia, so that we can attack early and often, gaining as much value from her as we possibly can. In playtesting the deck, I took note of the fact that usually, if I cast her by or before turn 4, I was all but guaranteed one safe attack to drop something big in, but after that, even something as innocuous as a Mulldrifter made it difficult to attack further. People will drop their flyers ASAP once Kaalia is active.
The simplest and most direct route is spot removal. Early game, most opponents are likely to only have 1 Flyer out to block, so a Terminate or a Path to Exile will do just fine. Luckily both of those cards were included in the deck up front, along with Wrecking Ball and even Mortify. Later in the game, though, pinpoint removal is not going to cut it. Many opponents will be capable of having multiple flyers on the board, and plenty of mana open for their own spot removal.
So we need to take into account those situations in which a single Mortify isn’t going to clear the skies for Kaalia. The phrases “prevent all damage” or “prevent all combat damage” are probably a good place to start. Also, making her unblockable seems like a solid plan. Shroud helps us dodge removal, but not blockers.
Most of us know well by now that Auras have built-in card disadvantage. Equipment, on the other hand is much hard to get rid of – you can’t just kill the creature to get rid of the Equipment. Lightning Greaves is a great start, but we need more. One piece of Equipment I’m excited to try out is General’s Kabuto (oh, and hey, we’re actually Equipping our general with it! Flavor!). Four to cast, but only two to equip, the Kabuto is a fine piece of gear to help us keep Kaalia alive and attacking – it give her Shroud to protect her from spot removal, and it prevents all combat damage to her, making blockers irrelevant. Whispersilk Cloak does much the same thing, offering Shroud and making her completely unblockable.
Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant, flipped into Rune-Tail’s Essence, can protect her from all sources of damage, and makes your whole army harder to kill. Angelic Benediction is another great addition. Whenever Kaalia attacks alone, she gets +1/+1 and you get to tap one potential blocker. Finally, Dolmen Gate, while narrow, is a very cheap investment to help protect Kaalia and the rest of your host, Heavenly or otherwise.
Now, remember how we also need a bunch of Angels, Dragons and Demons too? Well, there are a few options within those tribes (okay, mostly Angels) that can perform double-duty of being a fatty to drop with Kaalia and offering protection to her in the process. Folks, I give you: Deathless Angel. This underplayed rare from Rise of the Eldrazi is perfect for a Kaalia deck; likely the first legitimately good use for this card ever! It’s perfectly simple- attack with Kaalia with at least WW open and cheat this Angel into play, making Kaalia indestructible if she gets blocked or targeted by a removal spell.
Razia, Boros Archangel can help out, too, but remember that Kaalia puts her into play tapped, so you won’t be able to use her redirection ability immediately. Angel of Salvation prevents damage, so she can help protect Kaalia. Red’s answer to Angel of Salvation is Bogardan Hellkite, which is on-theme as a Dragon, is one of the best Dragons ever printed already, and can protect Kaalia by outright killing a potential blocker, if that blocker has 5 or less toughness.
Twilight Shepherd can be of use, but only if you actually cast her AFTER Kaalia dies, so that’s probably not the best option at this point.
Among the Demons, only one comes to mind: Malfegor. The plus is that he’s likely to completely empty the board of opposing creatures, but the drawback of discarding your whole hand is very steep.
Finally, there’s the simple fact that, if your opponent only has ONE flying creature to block with, there’s a fair chance that whatever huge threat you cheat out with Kaalia is going to be the priority to be blocked.
Now that we’ve looked at a few ways to keep Kaalia alive, let’s just explore some creatures that will be fun to drop into play.
The big one that everyone is buzzing about, Rakdos the Defiler, is a good place to start. You drop him into play already tapped and attacking so his “when you attack” trigger doesn’t happen, which is good. But his combat-damage trigger does still happen if he hits, which is very good. For you, at least. The only problem is that you don’t really want to attack with him again after that. Fortunately the deck does have Oni of Wild Places to help you return Rakdos to your hand each turn, so that you can just keep sneaking him out turn after turn, never having to suffer the indignity of sacrificing half your non-Demon permanents.
One thing this deck lacks is card-drawing, so I’m turning to Seizan, Perverter of Truth to help us with that issue. He’s a Demon, so he can be Kaalia-ed into play, but at 5 mana, you can hard-cast him easily too. The Dragon tribe lends a hand with Dragon Mage, offering a Wheel of Fortune effect every time he connects.
Heavenly Inferno includes a multitude of sub-par Angels that can easily be upgraded. Serra Angel should likely be Baneslayer Angel instead, and while I appreciate what they were going for with Shattered Angel, I’d prefer either Exalted Angel or Battlegrace Angel for life-gain effects. I’ve seen Shattered Angel gain a metric ton of life, but I’ve never seen it attack even once!
Fallen Angel seems out of place here, with no token production or hordes of cheap, dispensable creatures to sac to her, but she’s better used as method of theft-prevention. Sacrificing the intended target of a Treachery or Rite of Replication is good. Sac-ing everything in response to a Living Death or Insurrection (both included in the other pre-cons) can literally mean the difference between winning a game and losing it.
This deck is very light on reanimation effects straight out of the box, which makes it’s weakness to Wrath effects even more pronounced. Further, the lack of good card draw options means the deck can run out of gas easily. Bladewing the Risen is a cute trick, and fine to leave in, but we need more than that, especially since Bladewing can only reanimate dragons and he might be the only dragon you see in a given game.
It so happens there are two Angels that like to reanimate things: Karmic Guide and Reya Dawnbringer. Both are great options, and easily recommendable for this deck. I’m less of a fan of Reya than I once was, but it’s hard to deny that a free Reya is a bad thing!
The classic staple Beacon of Unrest is always a good choice, but I like Torrent of Souls here, too. This is an aggressive deck, and the combination of a Zombify, +2/+0 and Haste is a bargain at 5 mana.
I’m going to get ahead of myself a bit, but I’m also going to strongly recommend Phyrexian Reclamation. This card is nuts with Sneak Attack, which is something we’ll be exploring a bit more later.
Other demons worth including:
Abyssal Persecutor – A 6/6 Flying, Trample Demon for 4 mana? Sounds good. Nevermind that drawback – it’s likely to die before it matters.
Carnifex Demon – Good against tokens and swarms of weenies
Demon of Death’s Gate – You’re not likely to take advantage of it’s built-in alternate casting cost, but hey, that’s what Kaalia is for!
Havoc Demon – Wipes the board when it dies (usually).
Kuro, Pitlord – The -1/-1 ability is what we’re looking at here.
Pestilence Demon – Yeah, I poo-pooed Pyrohemia earlier, but this is a 7/6 demonic version, which is better!
Spirit of the Night – Almost an Akroma in Black, Demon form.
Stronghold Overseer – Shadow is basically Unblockable in this format, expecially when combined with Flying
Xathrid Demon – Can help you win through a stalled board. If you have some fatties out, but still can’t seem to safely attack, this guy lets you just bleed everyone to death.
There are plenty of demons I’d avoid. Some are obvious, but others might not be.
Ob-Nixilis, the Fallen – This guy is fine in any deck with Green, but without access to some good ramp, he tends to underperform.
Lord of the Pit (and Liege of the Pit) – 7/7 Flying and Trample are great stats, but the drawback here will likely shoot you in the foot. Xathrid is basically the same, but at least he gives you value out of the sacrificed creatures.
Kagemaro, First to Suffer – I am a huge fan of Kagemaro, but he’s wrong for this deck. He belongs in a Control deck with lots of draw. This is not that deck.
Hellcarver Demon – Cute, but he’ll lose you the game nearly every time.
Halo Hunter – Not a “may” ability! You’ll be offing your own angels most of the time.
Grinning Demon – No evasion and a drawback? No thanks!
Next, let’s look at some Dragons we might want to include:
Dragon Tyrant – Double strike! YAY!
Eternal Dragon – Comes back to your hand. Fetches land. Seems okay.
Hunted Dragon – One thing about this deck is that it’s not very political. If it’s working the way it’s meant to, everyone will be gunning for you. Giving someone a few tokens is probably not going to backfire on you too badly, and it might win you an ally for a turn or two.
Hoarding Dragon – Sneak Attack him into play for great justice.
Mordant Dragon – Hit an opponent and one of his creatures? I like it!
Scourge of Kher Ridges – Blow up stuff for fun and profit.
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon – If this seems overly mean, you obviously haven’t seen what Rakdos can do in this deck!
Steel Hellkite – You shouldn’t have trouble dealing with enchantments or artifacts in these colors, but hey, it’s a dragon!
Yosei, the Morning Star – Darn good already, but if you are in a situation where you have to attack with Rakdos, this is one non-Demon permanent you won’t mind sending to the bin.
Dragons to avoid:
Ebon Dragon – If you’re playing this just for the awesome art, that’s fine. But he’s pretty weak other than that.
Flameblast Dragon – I normally like this guy, but his triggered ability doesn’t play well with Kaalia.
Furnace Dragon – Again, his triggered ability doesn’t work with Kaalia.
Hellkite Charger – For the third time, doesn’t trigger off Kaalia putting him into play, and the whole infinite attacks thing is played out.
Knollspine Dragon – This one actually could work out great, if you know what you’re doing. Usually, though, he won’t.
The big question is Worldgorger Dragon. Newly realesed from imprisonment on the Banned list, WGD is almost always used as a degenerate combo piece. But can he play a role in a Kaalia deck? I don’t really see him being strong, but who knows? He may have found a fair-use application outside of Zirilan of the Claw decks.
Now the fun part: Angels.
Akroma, Angel of Wrath – the one Angel that absolutely should be in every Kaalia deck.
Blinding Angel – I’m not sold on this one, but it could be very playable in some metagames.
Chancellor of the Annex – More of a minor annoyance than anything, maybe not worth it.
Emeria Angel – Cheap enough to hard-cast, and likely to hit while you still have land drops. Great early defense, makes Fallen Angel worthwhile.
Firemane Angel – I’m probably not going to fit this in my build, but it’s not unplayable at all.
Iona, Sheild of Emeria – This one is pretty mean. I’m not a fan, but that doesn’t mean she’s not good here.
Linvala, Keeper of Silence – Very annoying to your opponents. Be prepared not to make friends.
Platinum Angel – Funny, but probably not reliable.
Radiant, Archangel – A nice, on-theme Legend, more for flavor/cool points than power.
Skip these Angels:
Admonition Angel – She’s fine, but she always dies. Always. And then everyone gets their stuff back. Woot.
Desolation Angel – This one is actually very good as just a card in your deck, but don’t cheat her in with Kaalia, unless you’re winning that turn.
Sunblast Angel – Killing your own attacking General (and other attackers) seems bad.
Victory’s Herald – Overcosted/underpowered already, but doesn’t work with Kaalia either.
Wayward Angel – Turns into Lord of the Pit with Threshold, which is already bad, but the terrible artwork doesn’t help it’s case either.
Okay, with all that outta the way, let’s talk about Sneak Attack. Sneak Attack is very fitting for a deck like this, as we’re already playing around a strategy of cheating out big, expensive creatures. Combining Sneak Attack with Phyrexian Reclamation is just plain awesome. Note that this does lead to perpetual Yosei lock, should you choose to run him as well. Some groups will frown on this – mine does, but it happens anyway, because I’m not about to stop running Yosei when and where I can. Just be aware of the potential.
Anway, Sneak Attack is great, as you can combine it with Kaalia to power out a massive horde of gigantic threats quickly. Phyrexian reclamation brings them right back to your hand for only two mana and two life, so you can just Sneak them out again and again. Add Brion Stoutarm to the mix, and you can toss the things that were going to die at EOT anyway for even more damage!
Playing with Sneak Attack showed me the value of Haste in this particular deck. Haste is already well-positioned as one of the best keyword abilities in the format, but this deck really likes it a lot. Anger is already included as a proven Haste enabler, but I’d like to supplement that strategy a bit. In The Web of War and Urabrask the Hidden are probably the two single best inclusions for adding Haste. Lightning Greaves is five-star, of course, but is included in the deck already. When M12 hits, Swiftfoot Boots (aka, Greaves 2.0) will also be a must for Kaalia. Dragon Breath is hilariously tech-y, too, being appropriate flavor-wise and fairly reliable if you wind up with enough six-power creatures. Hall of the Bandit Lord kind hurts to use more than once or twice, but if you’re using it to cast Kaalia on turn 4 with Haste, you’re probably coming out ahead anyway.
It sucks that we don’t have access to Fires of Yavimaya or Sarkhan Vol. We do have Sarkhan the Mad, but he’s much less appealing here.
Mind’s Eye is a good card-draw enabler, and it’s possible you might want to include Geth’s Grimoire + Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace. With those two cards on the table, you shouldn’t have trouble keeping your hand full, but neither really does much for the deck by itself, so they might be dead cards a lot of the time.
Promise of Power is neither great nor terrible, but it does count as draw, and it can make a demon, so points for being thematically relevant.
Wheel of Fortune is a must, and both Phyrexian Arena and Graveborn Muse are acceptable sources of card draw in our colors. Beyond those few cards, you really have to start getting creative to find draw effects.
Ramp is also tough in these colors. Certainly White has some good picks. Land Tax isn’t ramp but it’ll guarantee land drops. Same goes for Weathered Wayfarer, which you can also use to find key utility lands, like Volrath’s Stronghold or Emeria. Knight of the White Orchid is like a white Wood Elves for WW, but doesn’t do much else. Kor Cartographer does a poor impression of a Solemn Simulacrum. Simulacrum is pretty much an auto-included providing us with ramp and a tiny bit of draw, too. Expedition Map and Wayfarer’s Bauble are both solid contenders as well.
One thing I’d like to do is beef up the removal package. We already have:
Path to Exile
And some damage-based removal like Earthquake and Evincar’s Justice.
Soul Snare is a fine new card, but it’s a defensive card and can’t remove pesky blockers. I’d rather replace it with Swords to Plowshares. Syphon Flesh is also a really cool card, but fits less aggressive decks better. I’d swap it out for Vindicate. Terminate is fine, and Wrecking Ball is also good for removing problematic utility lands like Kor Haven or something.
The damage-based removal is also lackluster, save Earthquake. So many of your creatures have Flying that Earthquake seems really good. I’d rather have something like Decree of Pain which is just a hard Wrath effect with built-in card-draw (something we definitely need more of!). Austere Command is also a good way to clear the board of weenies while leaving your high-end dudes intact, and doubles as Enchantment/Artifact removal in a pinch.
True Conviction could be really fun in this deck, with all the large attackers at your disposal. Giving them all Doublestrike and Lifelink seems really neat. As much as I like Avatar of Slaughter, his creature type doesn’t fit the deck well, and he is symmetrical. I’d suggest swapping him for the Enchantment.
By now, you might have notice we have some great Enchantments: True Conviction, In the Web of War, Sneak Attack and Phyrexian Reclamation for starters. This means Academy Rector is a shoe-in for the deck. Idyllic Tutor might be worth a slot, except that we’re in Black so Vampiric, Demonic and Diabolic are all better options. I’d only consider Idyllic if you have neither Demonic or Vampiric.
As for Planeswalkers, there really aren’t any that stand out as exceptional additions to the deck. If I had to choose, I’d give the nod to Sorin Markov, as an all-out aggro deck certainly can use the help getting there. Setting an opponent’s life total to 10 can quickly bring them from out-of-reach to very killable in a flash. Liliana is okay, as the deck is happy getting another tutor, but really she just doesn’t do much more than that. Gideon might very well be worth adding, though, as a way to clear out blockers for your next assault.
Given the high potential for a deck like this to almost get there only to run out of gas at the finish line, Exsanguinate might be a good finisher along side Comet Storm. I’m not a fan of using X-spells to end a game, but sometimes it’s the best option you have. Death Grasp is good too, but is more of a 1v1 card, while Exsanguinate is tailor-made for multiplayer games. Profane Command is often better-used as a utility spell: my favorite mode is killing a creature with the -X/-X mode, while reanimating one of my own guys, but it can also just life-drain an opponent on the verge.
Cauldron Dance is a really impressive trick that I’ve yet to make good use of. With the high number of huge guys in a deck like this, it’s probably time to dust off the Dance. You can get two extra guys out of nowhere PLUS whatever Kaalia puts into play. You can go from an empty board of just Kaalia by her lonesome to having three big monsters attacking alongside her, for just 6 mana.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker seems like a ridiculously efficient way to abuse comes-into-play abilities like Bogardan Hellkite, or just double your offensive power if one of your huge attackers actually survives until your next turn.
Amulet of Vigor might even be worth a slot – Kaalia likes to put things into play tapped, but stuff like Razia prefer to remain untapped… plus you won’t leave yourself open to counterattacks.
Another option is Conspiracy, which, set to Angel, Demon or Dragon, will let you cheat any creature into play. Personally, I don’t think this is worth it, from a consistency/reliability stand point. For one thing, if you have enough cards that are naturally the right creature type, you might not get much out of Conspiracy, but if you try to get greedy and run a bunch of off-type creatures hoping to use Conspiracy + Kaalia to drop things like Blightsteel Colossus or Avatar of Slaughter, not drawing Conspiracy or any Disenchant effect could make your General useless.
Changelings can allow you to cheat, but there aren’t many you’d really want. Maybe Changeling Hero and Changeling Berserker, but even those are pretty mediocre. The one advantage is they can Champion Kaalia away if you have reason to expect a Wrath effect is coming up.
One trick you could take is to focus on one particular tribe, favoring Angels over Demons or Dragons, or whichever you prefer. If you load up on dragons, then cards like Crucible of Fire and even Sarkhan the Mad become more and more appealing. There aren’t as many cards that really favor Angels or Demons so much, but any of the three tribes should be possible to emphasize over the others. Blood Speaker is solid gold in any build with 5 or more Demons.
Some cards that are not really on-theme, but aid in an aggressive attack strategy are Crescendo of War, Glory of Warfare, or Fervent Charge. Also, any good Equipment like the Swords from Mirrodin/Scars blocks, Loxodon Warhammer, Sword of Vengeance, etc. Also, additional attack step cards like World at War or Seize the Day are good offensive cards and have the added bonus of letting you attack with Kaalia twice, should you be lucky enough to have two relevant creatures in hand to drop. I like Waves of Aggression the best, as it can be cast once early on to get a fast start, then it sits in your graveyard waiting to be Retraced, probably long after your opponents have forgotten it’s there.
Revisting Conspiracy for a moment, one hilariously bad use of that card could be to pair it with Godo, Bandit Warlord. Set Conspiracy to “Samurai” and just watch what happens! I just wish Finest Hour was in our colors.
Stoneforge Mystic and Stonehewer Giant are both excellent Equipment tutors, depending on how many pieces of Equipment you decide to run, but I’d have at least one of the three – Godo, Stoneforge or the Giant – just to reliably find Kabuto or Greaves, to protect Kaalia. Throw in a couple of Swords of Stuff and Junk, and I might try to include all three.
One thing I think a lot of people will try to shoe-horn into this deck, because of its colors, is a Sunforger package. I don’t see this being worth it, as you’d need to include the Sunforger, some equipment tutors and as many targets for the Sunforger as possible. I’m a fan of this strategy in my Oros deck, but I think it would dilute the other themes and take up too many important card slots. I’m saving the Sunforger idea for when I retool Oros into a Jor Kadeen deck, where it will add to the themes of that deck, rather than dilute them.
Moving on to the mana base, there is much room for improvement, of course. The requisite duals are a gimme, of course, but if you have Land Tax in the deck, watch out that you don’t skimp on Basic Lands for it to find! Utility Lands also come with some obvious choices. Everything from High Market to Volrath’s Stronghold are great. Maze of Ith is already a staple of the format, but really fits into a Kaalia deck nicely as a cheap way to keep her from dying to combat damage. Kaalia is a rare breed of general: your plan hinges on attack with her, but not necessarily dealing damage with her.
My favorite piece of Secret Tech is Winding Canyons. Okay, so that one is somewhat popular already, but this is the first deck I’ve ever played where I feel it’s worth running. Yeah, you have to pay full price for the creature, plus two more mana, but it’ll be great in the late-game when attacking with Kaalia (or even re-casting her) becomes too difficult to maintain.
Sunhome is a fun one, a bit expensive, but when you’re dropping 8-mana guys for free, surely tapping 5 to grant them Double strike must seem like a bargain!
Well, this has been pretty extensive already. I’m sure I’m overlooking some other great ideas, but this should get you off to a good start, nonetheless.