Commander Spotlight: Kher Keep

Welcome back to week forty-six of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 359 days since my last summoning, which by next week means it’ll be a full year since I have played a game of Magic with anyone, and for many in my circle of Magic-going friends, easily over a year. We haven’t quite reached that milestone this week. But you certainly can hear the tick tick tick of time in those numbers, can’t you?

The concept of time itself is (generally) consistent and immutable – it is a fundamental feature of the universe. How we measure time, however, and how we perceive it individually, is much more subjective and arbitrary than we like to think. And a large part of that is because we don’t just base the flow of time on the gliding of a watch hand – we feel it. It feels like the kettle is taking too long to boil. It feels like an afternoon went by in a snap. It feels like 2020 was an entire decade rather than a single year.

It cuts both ways of course. Because it also is starting to feel like it’s not too much longer before we may all be able to emerge from our perpetual plague-riddled haze and start, you know, doing things again. Cases continue to drop and immunizations continue to rise, and despite a few policymaker’s rash decisions in wanting to resume normalcy before we’re quite there yet, we’re generally on the right track.

It can’t come soon enough.

The theme of time has, coincidentally enough, come up recently within the game of Magic as well, with the unveiling of the game’s first paper-based Remastered set: Time Spiral. Remastered sets are all-reprints sets which pull cards from a particular block from the game’s past and repackage them into a single set that’s capable of being drafted. They have been done a few times on the game’s digital platforms, but Time Spiral: Remastered is the first time that such a set is to appear in paper form.

The reaction to this unveiling, despite it being Wizards shoving yet another set into their already packed release schedule, has generally been positive. This is especially true for the set’s new Time Shifted cards. In the original Time Spiral set, over 100 cards from the game’s past were pulled together, reflecting a wide cross-section of Magic’s history, and packaged in with normal packs for extra flavor and nostalgia. The remastered set is bringing that idea back but inverting it. Instead of old cards being resurrected, this new batch of Timeshifted cards are fairly modern cards that have been given the old (pre-Eighth Edition) frame.

The Time Spiral block itself was a particular favorite of mine for a few reasons. For one, its Planar Chaos alternate reality theme allowed some clever re-imagining of the color pie, and its Future Sight theme let the designers play around with all sorts of ideas, card treatments, and mechanical combinations in ways that had never really been tried before. It was experimenting with a bunch of different things while still maintaining a cohesive block structure, and even if the overall complexity of the block was a bit higher than some other sets – which some complained about though I felt was a positive – the creative approach was appreciated.

Second, and more obvious, was the nostalgia factor. Although like many I didn’t love the “after everything that’s happened Dominaria is now a wasteland” motif (which has since been remedied), the block was incredibly heavy on references from the game’s past. Names, locations, other cards – if there was a way to squeeze in some drop of nostalgia onto a card, they did. Some of it was confusing or went over the heads of newer players, but for a long-established player such as myself, the Time Spiral block was a fun way to look back at the game’s previous 12 years or so.

There have been dozens of cards from that block I have come to enjoy for one reason or another. But this week is about a very specific one.

As has become the standard format of the last year with this series, I’ve mostly showed off Magic cards I’ve wanted to put into an EDH deck for some time but haven’t for one reason or another rather than dive into specific Magic topics. This week does tie-in to the topic of time though, involving a card that I have long appreciated, and have seen several friends include in their own decks, but where I’ve still never quite found a good spot. Yet.

Today we have: Kher Keep

Name: Kher Keep

Edition: Time Spiral / Commander 2013 / Time Spiral Remastered

Rarity:  Rare

Focus: Damage Prevention / Damage Dealing

Highlights: Magic of today takes tribal-based decks so completely for granted that it’s almost hard to believe there ever was a time when the game existed without the means of making a deck around a specific creature type that was both plentiful and powerful. As a concept creature types have been around since Alpha, but quite a few early attempts at tribal-based decks didn’t quite work, from early goblins and elves, to djinns and efreets, to homarids, thrulls, griffins, thallids, and minotaurs. Synergy was a problem. Some creature types had card volume but weren’t powerful, while other types were effective but not plentiful. It really wasn’t until the advent of slivers in Tempest that a tribal deck actually clicked. The first real attempt at a tribal concept though, were kobolds.

From the Legends set, kobolds were the game’s first real attempt at at a tribal design. Just 7 cards, kobolds focused on putting out zero-cost 0/1 vanilla creatures and then having a handful of lieutenants buff them slightly. By and large it failed. Yet it did give designers insight into making future tribal concepts more effective.

It also has gone and left an endearing mark on many players over the years to nevertheless attempt their own kobold decks. Even I briefly looked into it a number of years ago, purely out of nostalgia. But the cost proved too much for a vanity project even at the time, so it never happened. Kher Keep was an answer to that pang of nostalgia by letting me play with kobolds without breaking the bank. It’s also a highly effective token generator.

Being a land, Kher Keep can be added to any Red-based Commander deck fairly easily. Its first ability allows it to tap for one mana, which is the boilerplate standard. This allows it to serve as a normal land drop without entering the battlefield tapped. This is less of a concern in an EDH setting where early game tempo isn’t as paramount, but it’s nevertheless helpful to be able to use right away should you need to.

Its most notable ability, however, is its latter one, which states that by tapping it and two other mana, you can generate your very own Kobolds of Kher Keep, a 0/1 Red creature token. Whether you create them to serve as sacrifice fodder, chump blockers in combat, or towards some sort of numerical creature advantage strategy, this card is an incredibly cost-effective way of generating creature tokens cheaply every round – especially in Red. In Commander, it’s often handy to have a few expendable creatures at the ready, and few live up to that responsibility more than a kobold.

Moreover, because it isn’t liable to drastically shift the state of the board, Kher Keep retains an unassuming form, largely making itself much of a target for land-based spot removal; there usually are more tantalizing nonbasic land targets in a typical Commander game to worry about than a few little ol’ kobolds. Which only furthers its usefulness. Indeed, aside from the colorless mana production of this land, which could be limiting in decks of three or more colors, Kher Keep is an effective, painless, and affordable way to add them to your deck.

Kher Keep is useful without being overpowered or subject to abuse, making an excellent low-key utility land to slot. The only reason I personally haven’t is that it’s been some time since I strangely only have two EDH decks with Red in them, and in both cases coincidentally their requirements for ample colored mana meant that Kher Keep didn’t quite pan out.

But I can assure you the next Red deck that gets made, Kher Keep will be there in all it’s ridiculous nostalgia-laden glory. Because after praising it for so long, and watching others get to use their own copies, I certainly feel it’s about time.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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