Runeforge Champion is a Dwarf Warrior creature card from Magic the Gathering’s Kaldheim set. As a creature whose utility depends greatly on a specific type of card, in this case Runes, I decided to pass judgment on Runeforge Champion until we knew what Runes actually were. With the reveal of Rune of Ascension, we discovered that Runes are Aura Enchantments which can attach to any permanent.
So, how does Runeforge Champion, a 2 / 3 for 3 mana – 2 generic and 1 White to cast – interact with Runes?
“When Runeforge Champion enters the battlefield, you may search your library and/or graveyard for a Rune card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. If you search your library this way, shuffle it.
You may pay 1 rather than pay the mana cost for Rune spells you cast.”
Notably, Runeforge Champion retrieves Runes from the graveyard, which is pretty handy. Considering that Rune of Ascension costs one generic mana and a Blue mana to cast, it’s already clear how the Champion can provide a significant amount of value by removing the colored mana requirement.
Here’s what Rune of Ascension does, for example:
When Rune of Ascension enters the battlefield, draw a card.
As long as enchanted permanent is a creature, it has flying.
As long as enchanted permanent is an Equipment, it has ‘Equipped creature has flying.’”
Not only do Runes draw you a card, essentially replacing themselves in your hand, they also give the permanents they enchant particular keyword abilities. Notably, Runes can enchant lands, as well. Say you have a creature land such as Crawling Barrens; if it’s enchanted by a Rune of Ascension, it gains flying. These are pretty neat Auras on their own, but Runeforge Champion makes them even better by allowing you to grab them back from the graveyard or get another copy from the deck when he enters the battlefield.
Being that Dwarf Tribal is loaded with Enchantment and Equipment synergies already, it seemed to make sense that you’d want to play Runes. Why not give your equipped and enchanted creatures additional abilities? By removing the color requirement from casting a Rune, you greatly speed up and increase the consistency of any deck that plays them. Unfortunately, as good as Dwarf Tribal proved to be in the early days of Kaldheim Standard, decks didn’t really find room to fit the Runes nor the Runeforge Champion.
For Runeforge Champion to see play, it seemed that he and the Runes would need to build their own core strategy. One strategy that’s been very popular over the years, and at times quite competitive, is the Bogles strategy. Named after Slippery Bogle, a creature that was the first “hexproof” one-mana creature in Magic, the deck revolves around loading up a single creature with a bunch of cheap Auras. The Bogle would later be joined in this strategy by another Hexproof one-drop creature in Gladecover Scout.
Since Hexproof creatures can’t be targeted by an opponent’s spells or abilities, that creature becomes difficult to get rid of in most cases. Unfortunately in the Standard environment Runeforge Champion entered, the only creature that could reliably gain hexproof was Crystalline Giant. Even in Magic Arena’s popular Historic format, the only other creature without conditional Hexproof would be Vine Mare.
All that being said, however, Runeforge Champion decks did pop up between February and April 2021. One of the first successful Rune decks was Runeforged Jeskai, which benefited from Transcendent Envoy from Theros Beyond Death making the Runes even cheaper, and perhaps even free. Alongside Birgi, God of Storytelling – also from Kaldheim – providing lots of Red mana whenever you cast a spell, the Runes often became free, or even profitable, spells. Showdown of the Skalds sped up the deck by essentially drawing you four cards that were often cheap enough to play within just two turns. A Boros version of the Runeforged deck that skipped the Blue rune and focused on just the Red and White Runes also did well on Magic the Gathering Online.
The Runes showed up in some other strategies, too, including Abzan Doom Foretold, in which the Black (Rune of Mortality) and Green (Rune of Might) Runes finally made their first competitive appearance. Rune of Might also saw play in Naya Aggro decks up until the release of Strixhaven. After that point, Rune decks simply stopped showing up competitively, as Standard gained a lot of new card advantage tools in Strixhaven and the Runes simply fell out of favor. Adventures from the Forgotten Realms didn’t really inspire anyone to return to the Rune strategy, either. Standard rotation in September took away Theros Beyond Death and the Magic 2021 Core Set and suddenly Auras weren’t that viable in the format anymore.
Unfortunately, as good as their early Standard run was, this meant that Runes were out of the competitive scene for good. While on paper the Runes seemed good enough to play in Modern, such as in a Bogles deck, the Auras available in that format are much more powerful than the Runes, and Runeforge Champion is a very underwhelming creature at three mana. To be fair, the Runes probably should’ve continued to see play past Strixhaven; it’s just that
As a creature to push the Runes in Standard, Runeforged Champion was a great design that was destined to see significant competitive play. The Runes are decent enough cards and being able to get them back from the graveyard or from the library reliably was worthy of giving the Champion a shot. It’s a bit unfortunate that his time in the spotlight was so short, especially when Birgi was letting you play the Runes essentially for free with a Champion in play and Transcendent Envoy made the Runes completely free to cast. The Runeforged engine was a really neat addition to Aggro decks and was a clearly viable Top 8 strategy for three months. Unfortunately, thanks to some extremely strong cards in Strixhaven that warped the format, that’s all she wrote for one of the more interesting strategies that came out of the Kaldheim set.
Unfortunately for Runeforge Champion, Commander (EDH) hasn’t been a saving grace for he and his runes. While many powerful Standard card advantage engines have transitioned well to EDH, most Commander players simply haven’t bothered to find room for he and his Runes. A few Boros (Red/White) Commanders such as Bruenor Battlehammer and Depala, Pilot Exemplar have adopted the Champion and the two runes they can play, Rune of Speed and Rune of Sustenance. But, these cards have never become staples of either Commander’s overall strategies.
The best hope for a Runeforge Champion come-up would be a Commander who absolutely can take advantage of all five Runes. We haven’t really seen a five-color Commander whose main goal is to stack up Auras as quickly as possible, unfortunately. While many Aura-focused Commanders do exist, EDH has a card pool with so many extremely powerful Auras already that there isn’t really room for a couple of Runes and the Champion.
Still, Aura support is printed all the time in Magic; this includes Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice from Kamigawa Neon Dynasty who, like Runeforge Champion, can search your library for Auras, in this case equal to or less than the mana value of an Aura you just cast and put into play. Unfortunately as a Commander, she is mono-White and could only support the Runeforge Champion and Rune of Sustenance. However, she’s likely to be included in many Aura-focused decks that can play multiple Runes thanks to being in more colors. Eventually, Runeforge Champion and his Runes could find a permanent home in a Commander deck, although it’s hard to say if and when.
How would you play Runeforge Champion?
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