Kaldheim arrives on Arena this Thursday, meaning this week is among the most best of the year: the time we play with new cards! Kaldheim Limited seems quite complicated due to an unusually large number of mechanics and its embrace of mini-mechanics.

As I pored over the full set spoiler to break down Kaldheim Limited, I couldn’t help but be confused by Changeling’s inclusion. It’s a subtly complex mechanic where players can walk into onboard tricks—like not realizing that Sigrid, God-Favored has protection from all Changelings or that Crippling Fear cannot kill Changelings. Frankly, it looks out of place because Kaldheim isn’t actually a tribal set. Or at least, Kaldheim isn’t the kind of set Changeling was created to help.

A Problem of Numbers

Tribal sets like Innistrad have a small number of relevant creature types, each focused in specific color(s), with ample representation at common and uncommon. Heavy tribal sets like Onslaught and Lorwyn all but force you to commit to a specific tribe in Limited—they employ Changeling (or its precursor, Mistform) to ensure that you can mix and match tribes. Ixalan eschewed tribal and suffered for it.

Kaldheim is different. It’s not a heavy tribal set like Onslaught and Lorwyn. It’s not even a moderate tribal set like Innistrad. Sure, Kaldheim has a fair amount of tribal cards, but they’re divided among many creature types and skew towards higher rarities.

To demonstrate this, let’s look at every tribal card in draft boosters. We’ll highlight common and uncommon cards in bold to distinguish them from rare and mythic rare cards unlikely to show up in Limited. And let’s strike through anti-tribal cards which punish or are punished by tribal interactions:

Any Creature Type: Rally the Ranks, Resplendent Marshal, Littjara Kinseekers, Reflections of Littjara, Crippling Fear, Haunting Voyage, Raise the Draugr, Basalt Ravager, The Ringhart Crest, Realmwalker, Bloodline Pretender

Elf: Return Upon the Tide, Elvish Warmaster, Roots of Wisdom, Tyvar Kell, Harald Unites the Elves

Elf OR Berserker: Skemfar Avenger

Elf OR Warrior: Harald, King of Skemfar

Berserker: The Bloodsky Massacre

Giant: Glimpse the CosmosCalamity Bearer, Quakebringer, Squash, Invasion of the Giants

Giant OR Wizard: Frostpyre Arcanist, Cyclone Summoner, Aegar, the Freezing Flame, Battle of Frost and Fire

Zombie: Narfi, Betrayer King

Shapeshifter: The Bears of Littjara

Angel OR Cleric: Righteous Valkyire

Angel: Glorious Protector, Firja’s Retribution

Dragon: Dragonkin Berserker

Dwarf AND Dragon: Magda, Brazen Outlaw

God: Sigrid, God-Favored

Serpent: Koma, Cosmos Serpen

There’s clear support for Elves and Giants, with some love for Giants/Wizards. There’s cross-tribal and build-your-own-tribe support like Raise the Draugr. But that’s most of what exists at Limited-relevant rarities. Players opening Narfi, Betrayer King will have more success committing to a hybrid archetype of snow first, zombies second than going all-in on zombies (and looking for nonexistent zombie-specific cards).

But, what gives? Changeling exists to be glue in Limited. It’s rarely relevant in Constructed; when it is, it’s more often as a rider on an already powerful spell like Mirror Entity, Mutavault, or Crib Swap, not because it’s essential to keep a tribe together.

A New Horizon of Complexity

Changeling is used in Kaldheim much as it was in Modern Horizons—it’s not glue to help with mandatory tribal play. Instead, it supports a wide variety of loose themes and one-off effects. Sure, Changeling enables your BG Elves or UR Giant (Wizards) synergies without forcing you to commit to those archetypes, but the majority of decks will have few to no tribal interactions—exactly as it things were in Modern Horizons. This is a complicated way to use an already complicated mechanic, but Wizards is experimenting with higher complexity in Limited and board complexity is streamlined from Limited being all but exclusively digital nowadays.

Changeling also serves a second purpose. With so many rare tribal cards, Changeling could be the glue that enables these Constructed plants in Standard. There are already strong tribal themes from Zendikar Rising. We’ll likely see more tribal interactions in Strixhaven and Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (which has got to be the longest name for a Magic set ever). Then, it’s off to Innistrad, another well-established tribal world. Changeling (and Kaldheim’s flexible tribal cards) could be the missing pieces in everything from RB Berserkers to WB Angel/Clerics or even an Almighty Brushwagg meme deck.

It’s an interesting experiment. We’ll get to see this week how it affects Kaldheim’s Limited format, but the possibilities for Constructed (especially Standard) will reveberberate throughout the year to come.

See you next week once we’ve gotten our first bite at the Kaldheim apple. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

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