What Would They Play? Frida Kahlo's EDH Deck!

Nickolas Muray, Frida Kahlo, 1939

Welcome to What Would They Play?

I'm Charlie, I'm a storyteller, creative writer and author; I handle the historical sections of the articles, though I got some invaluable help writing and focusing down this particular article from my sibling, Leslie Allison.

And I'm Dan, a Commander player who is obsessed with building thematic decks. I connect the stories to Magic cards to create decks that reflect the vibrant tales of the past.

We take famous or not-so-famous figures from history and make Commander decks based on their lives, philosophies, and histories.

Our articles are meant to be part history lesson, part deckbuilding guide. We believe that decks can be expressions of personal philosophies, so a fun way to learn about historical figures -- and flavorful brews -- would be to speculate about what sort of Commander deck a given person would play, given their times, opinions, and philosophies.

It's like a history class, only using the medium of Magic: the Gathering.

Who was Frida Kahlo?

I'll let the historian Eduardo Galeano provide a composite view of Frida Kahlo from his classic history text The Century of Wind:

"Kahlo has a wild laugh, and has painted splendid canvases in oils ever since the day she was condemned to pain without end. She had known other pain from infancy, when her parents dressed her up with straw wigs. But constant and crippling agony has come only since her accident, when a shard from a shattered street car pierced her body, like a lance, tearing at her bones. Now she is a pain that survives as a person. They have operated in vain several times; and it was in her hospital bed that she started painting self-portraits, desperate homage to the life that remains for her."

That is a compelling portrait of Kahlo in later life: artist, political activist, trendsetter, and troubled soul. To use more modern lingo, Frida Kahlo was a queer, disabled, mixed-race artist and political activist who was especially adept at using the language and imagery of the past to speak to the present to and show the world her pain and glory at once through the brush. Frida's chronic pain was a major theme in her art, and this theme is carried over in her Commander deck as well.  With Willowdusk, Essence Seer as her commander, Frida can turn life loss to her advantage, building up strength to win the game.

Child of Revolution (1907)

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, three years before the Mexican Revolutions began thanks to the agitations of the anarcho-communist, Magonistas, before spiraling into a cascade of overlapping conflicts that lasted the better part of a decade. Later in life, Kahlo would fib about her birthday, advancing it to be the date of the start of the revolutions.

Kahlo was a precocious and energetic child who loved to run and play. However, at age six, she came down with polio, which greatly sapped her strength and made one foot grow shorter and narrower than the other. Her father encouraged her to exercise and play anyway, despite the social stigmas against it, to strengthen herself, and he also taught her the foundations of photography among other arts and sciences.

Frida grew up with her sisters, in a rather tense household; she clashed often with her mother, who was very religious and traditional and believed Frida should be, too.  This didn't go over terribly well, and the two fought a good deal.

Frida's childhood and young adulthood was in the shadow of an ultimately compromised social revolution that promised a lot (like, for example, land rights for the peasants and farmers or liberation for women1) but ultimately delivered few of those items outside of rhetoric through the constraints of elected government.2

Kahlo understood this from an early age, and she was active in a radical left-leaning group of her peers in high school, informally called "Cachuchas". She was one of the first thirty-five women to be admitted to the esteemed National Preparatory School, studying to be a physician.

However, a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time led to her being impaled through the abdomen during a bus-trolley collision in 1925. The accident shattered her pelvic bone, a rail skewered her uterus and abdomen, and her spine was broken in three places, to say nothing of the multiple breaks in her leg.

Frida Kahlo didn't die, though the pain from the accident remained with her for the rest of her life. This is reflected in her Commander deck with plenty of life loss and life payment effects for various advantages. Card-draw staples like Necropotence, Phyrexian Arena, and Sylvan Library are here, along with cheap removal spells like Vendetta, Reckless Spite, and Infernal Grasp. Even the lands get in on the pain: besides color-fixing staples like Overgrown Tomb and Llanowar Wastes, Frida is also playing Centaur Garden, Cabal Pit, Ifnir Deadlands, and Hashep Oasis to ensure there will be life loss every turn for Willowdusk's ability.

In addition to Willowdusk, there are other payoffs for life loss, including Vilis, Broker of Blood, Mortarion, Daemon Primarch, and The Book of Vile Darkness. The Book's playmates, the Hand and Eye of Vecna made the deck as well, though more because they are additional life loss tools than try to create the Vecna token.

The Elephant and the Dove (1927)

It was after becoming gravely injured, in her recuperation, that Frida first explored painting seriously. Her family set up a custom easel for her in their home; it would take her nearly two years to recover from such severe injuries.

Pain was to be her companion for the rest of her life. For a time, Frida considered becoming a medical illustrator as a way to marry her interests in art and science, but ultimately decided to stick with developing her painting and imagination.

Kahlo came out of her recuperation and began moving in her old social circles: she joined the PCM (Mexican communist party) and began to make her way through the art world. This is how she met fellow communist Diego Rivera, already one of Mexico's foremost muralists and celebrated artists. Kahlo asked him at a party what he thought of her work, to which he replied to the effect that he thought it was quite good. The friendship--then courtship--went on from there, eventually leading to a marriage proposal.


Frida's mother wasn't impressed and bitingly described her daughter's marriage as "...a marriage between an elephant and the dove" a not-so-subtle jab at Diego's oafish affect and Frida's diminutive body. The marriage went through despite her objections--the two were in love, which was good, but Diego Rivera was rich, which was better. Then, as now, being disabled isn't cheap.

The combination of Kahlo and Rivera was formidable, eventually going on a protracted tour of the United States. The two had more than their share of make-up-and-break-up dramas--Kahlo took both men and women lovers, and Rivera regularly slept with his models. Neither was particularly careful with the other's feelings in that regard. Nevertheless, the pair persisted before eventually returning to Mexico.

Frida Kahlo further experimented with her painting. Kahlo's paintings reached deep into the past and brought them into the present. Women, long relegated to the background, promised agency and then denied it, and with it topics not usually considered in men's mainstream art, like birth, embodiment, trauma, and celebration of indigenous Mexica and Native culture.

Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace And Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo was heavily involved in the mexicanidad movment, a syncretic mix of Mexica culture before the European invasion of the new world and Catholic folklore blended with a sort of idealized nationalism that was particularly powerful in the aftermath of the Mexican revolution.  Mexicanidad contested the previous assumption that Spanish--European--culture was automatically superior to the Mexica or native traditions, modes of dress, etc.

This interest in pre-colonial tradition relates to a major theme of Golgari throughout Magic's history: the graveyard. Effects that draw power from or return cards from the graveyard--especially in green--are often flavored as learning from the past.3 Some such cards in Frida's deck are Grapple with the Past, Deadbridge Chant, and the newly previewed Wrenn and Realmbreaker. Funeral Rites, Doom Whisperer, and Moonlight Bargain do double duty here, supporting both the milling and life-loss themes. The previously mentioned Centaur Garden and Cabal Pit, along with The Cauldron of Eternity and Strands of Night, serve as milling payoffs and life-loss enablers.

"I am the subject I know best" (1934-onward)

For Kahlo, her paintings were a potent method of self-expression and exploration.

Her birth: got a painting.

The feeling after a surgery that went less well than expected causing (you guessed it) more horrible pain: got a painting.

The Broken Column.jpg
The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo, courtesy of Wikipedia.

During her countless bed-ridden hours, she dove deep into an exploration of the self, using self-portraiture as a framework for investigating nature, history, dreams, lineage, and spirituality.

Nor did Kahlo limit her artistic passions to just painting. Absolutely everything was creative material. She dressed in flowing patterned dresses, combining them with Mexica jewelry, shawls, elaborate braided hairdos, ribbons, and other colorful stylings. She used fashion to explicitly play with gender expectations, sometimes dressing in men's suits.

Her home, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), outside Mexico City, was itself a work of art. At La Casa Azul, she kept a wide array of unusual pets, including chickens, sparrows, macaws and parakeets, a parrot, a fawn, spider monkeys, an eagle (named Gertrudis Caca Blanca, or Gertrude White Shit), and hairless Xoloitzcuintli dogs. She also shared her creative expertise through teaching. In her lessons, she did not confine her students in studios, but demanded they follow her outside, chat with the people outside, and sketch/paint what they saw.

Drawing inspiration from the natural wonders of Mexico, Frida's deck includes a small Desert subtheme, including the previously mentioned Ifnir Deadlands and Hashep Oasis. Sunscorched Desert can target its controller to trigger life-loss abilities in a pinch. Scavenger Grounds is an all-around-useful silver bullet against other graveyard strategies, and Hostile Desert works with the milling theme. Shefet Monitor and Hour of Promise can help find whichever Desert is most needed at any given time.

The Final Days of Frida Kahlo (1954)

Despite some frankly terrible choices in friends and lovers throughout her life (like the execrable Leon Trotsky, to name the worst of them4), Kahlo remained very much her own person.  She held tightly to her sense of self. Sadly, her life was a short one: the combination of her childhood polio, the trolley accident and its consequences, a series of complex and painful surgeries and convalescences--not to mention a miscarriage while in Detroit--left Frida in chronic pain that her medicines were only moderately effective in blunting.

Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo @ the Detroit Institute of Arts - Detroit ...
Henry Ford Hospital (1932) by Frida Kahlo

She used alcohol to numb the various sorts of pain assailing her, which only ended up aggravating the problems. In July 1954, a few days before her 47th birthday, she died in her elaborately decorated bed. She was laid in state at the Palacio della Bel Artes, under a Communist flag while hundreds mourned her, including Diego Riviera.

Frida Kahlo was dead but her images couldn't die. Nor could her legacy.

Frida's Afterlife and Legacy

Frida's international popularity--"Fridamania"--was a thing hatched and grown more completely after her death. Frida Kahlo's popularity on the international scene was increased after the protests of 1968.

In Tlaltelolco, once the site of the largest New World market in the days of the Mexica, students and workers marched on the government in October 1968, demanding the promises of the revolution generations past--land, liberty, equality--be delivered5. The government corralled the protestors in Tlaltelolco with tanks and guns and opened fire, massacring the protestors.

Instead of only one child of revolution, the failed uprisings of 1968 created a generation of people who could look at the queer, bohemian, stubborn, and individualistic Kahlo and feel a deep kinship in her sense of loss at the world that could have been. As feminist scholar Liz Bakewell wrote in Frida Kahlo: A Contemporary Feminist Reading:

"These are artists who have never forgotten the hundreds of university students, mothers and children who were massacred by government troops on October 2nd, 1968...Ever since 1968 Mexican artists--in an effort to sever themselves from the status quo--have sought alternative discourse, alternative icons, and alternative politics with which to construct a Mexican identity that most approximates the realities and demands of life in the world's largest metropolis. For many, Frida's life and paintings stand at the center of these concerns. She alone has come to symbolized a 1968 sensibility, and, although she may not speak for and to all contemporary artists, her central role in post-1968 constructions of identity is indisputable. Indeed, despite the different contexts, it is a role she has come to occupy among individuals and groups all over the world."

This hasn't stopped in the 21st century, either: you can find Frida giving you a look from postcards at bookshops and museums and imitated throughout the world, sure, but also strapping on a rifle in graffiti seen in the aftermath of the 2006 Oaxaca rebellions. People reference Kahlo both knowingly and unknowingly the world over.

Frida Kahlo--a queer, disabled, Communist painter and feminist--even dead exerts a huge force that dwarfs her influence in life.

Frida Kahlo's full decklist is below! And for a less speculative look at an artist's Commander deck, why not check out Secret Lair artist Rope Arrow's Commander deck?

Frida Kahlo's EDH Deck

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Sorceries (10)
Creatures (25)
Lands (37)
Planeswalkers (3)
Enchantments (12)
Instants (6)
Artifacts (6)

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  1. Women definitely did fight in the Mexican revolution; to name but two examples, Margarita Ortega fought daringly and skillfully for  the anarchists of the Magonist PLM, and Valentina Ramirez Avila fought in the armies of Madero.
  2. Eduardo Galeano points out that Mexican president, N. Cardenas, a contemporary of Kahlo's, was far better than most leaders elected since the end of the revolution, writing of Cardenas in Century of the Wind: "A man of his word, he talks little. Until Cardenas, governing in Mexico consisted of moving the tongue; but when he says yes or no, people believe it. Last summer [1936] announced an agrarian reform program and since then has not stopped allocating lands to native communities. He is cordially hated by those to whom the revolution is a business."
  3. For a deep dive into the flavor of milling and the graveyard, we heartily recommend Spice8Rack's video Madness, Memory, Mill & Discard.
  4. Leon Trotsky was not a revolutionary. He was an autocrat. I refer you to his multiple betrayals of anarchist and Left-SR forces during the Russian Civil War, the crushing of the Kronstadt uprising when the Russian people and sailors called for direct democracy and abolition of the secret police. Trotsky was an authoritarian first, a sincere revolutionary (if you can call him that without bursting into laughter) a distant 999th.
    For further reading on Trotsky's perfidy, I recommend Maximov's The Guillotine at Work and pretty much any biography of Nestor Makhno. Emma Goldman offers a stinging assessment of the man in her classic Trotsky Protests Too Much. Goldman gets the measure of Trotsky perfectly in an opening paragraph:
    "In point of truth I see no marked difference between the two protagonists of the benevolent system of the dictatorship except that Leon Trotsky is no longer in power to enforce its blessings, and Josef Stalin is.
  5. Eduardo Galleano describes the events in October '68 with chilling brevity, writing: "The students invade the streets. Such demonstrations have never been seen before in Mexico, so huge, so joyous, everyone linked arm in arm singing and laughing. The students cry out against President Diaz Ordaz and his ministerial mummies and all the others who have taken over Zapata's and Pancho Villa's revolution...the army blocks every exit with strategically placed tanks and machine-guns...hours later a woman searches for her child, her shoes leaving bloody tracks on the ground..."

What Would They Play? is a collaboration between author Charlie Allison and game designer Dan Sibley. The series is part history lesson, part deck-building journal and aims to bring historical figures back to life through the lens of Magic: The Gathering. You can find Dan on Twitter at @VedalkenSamurai and Charlie on the web at www.charlie-allison.com and https://blog.pmpress.org/authors-artists-comrades/charlie-allison/.