Kaladesh has just dropped and soon we’ll all be looking to invent the next great draft deck. But education is a cornerstone of success for all good inventors so today we are going to start studying up on the world Kaladesh. Together we’ll be breaking down the set piece by piece in order to prep for sealed and draft in the new format.
What is the CELF-Test?
I’ll be following my own method of set reviews, previously outlined here: Contextual Evaluation of Limited Formats (CELF). I suggest giving it a read at least once. If you haven’t, I’ll try to briefly summarize.
Games of limited are played between two decks, not two piles of individual cards. Each card in a deck should contribute to a specific strategy or game plan. The range of possible decks form a metagame, which is limited by the card pool printed in a given set. This metagame establishes the context in which our limited decks need to be evaluated. Since no two limited environments are the same, no two metagames are the same and therefore cards can’t be evaluated using exactly the same criteria from set to set.
Instead of reviewing individual cards, we will focus on understanding the format from the top-down. We will come to some broad stroke conclusions about what we expect the metagame to look like. These conclusions give us a framework which we will later use to help give our individual card reviews context. We limit our analysis to commons and uncommons since those rarities form the foundation of card interactions that we are likely to see come up repeatedly.
Let’s get started with the mechanics and themes of Kaladesh!
Kaladesh and the Inventor’s Fair
The most important thing to note about this new plane is that artifacts are everywhere. As a central theme in the set we will be seeing a lot more artifacts in our decks and in our opponents’ decks. Of the 181 commons and uncommons 34 are artifacts, or 18.8%. Compare this to the number of artifacts in other recent big sets: Shadows Over Innistrad at 8.3%, Battle for Zendikar at 2.8%, and Khans of Tarkir at 5.5%.
In draft this means we may be able to stay open longer. If artifacts are playable across multiple archetypes, we can wait longer to commit to our colors. We may also be able to be greedier with our mana bases. Since artifacts can be cast with any type mana there is less pressure on us to have the right colors in the early turns of the game. Even if we don’t stretch our colors, there should be fewer games where one player gets color screwed and just can’t cast anything.
In sealed, having access to more artifacts greatly helps our playables count. Sometimes you open sealed pools with great bombs in a color that doesn’t have any depth. Using artifacts as filler means that more bombs will find their way into sealed decks. This makes it even more important to have answers to those bombs that will likely be on your opponent’s side. Depending on the power level of the rares and the quality of available removal, rares may have an outsized effect on sealed play.
It will be important to see if there are artifact payoffs or artifact-matters cards. Cards that get bonuses for having artifacts in play or artifacts entering the battlefield will gives us even more incentive to up the artifact count in our decks. I’ll be looking to see if these payoffs are merely upside in an average deck or if these are cards that we are going to want to build around. Much of that will depend on how big the payoff is vs. the baseline power level.
Incidental artifact removal also will be worth noting. It’s likely that most decks will have targets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to have maindeck artifact removal. The option of artifact removal on an otherwise playable card is a great bonus though. We will want to target artifact removal as potential high-impact sideboard cards.
For each set mechanic we’ll discuss it’s potential impact on the draft, deckbuilding and expected gameplay. We won’t rank each card, but we’ll classify them as incentives, playables or fringe/sideboard cards.
A creature with Fabricate allows you to put +1/+1 counters on it or create 1/1 servo tokens. I really like Fabricate because as a player it gives you options in how to play out your cards. Whether you need multiple blockers, you want one big threat, or you’d like to go wide to attack past an opponent’s wall, Fabricate can help.
I’m starting with Fabricate because I think it has the biggest impact on how the games will play out. The presence of 1/1 servo tokens has a big effect on board states and card value. Any x/1 creatures go down in value and effects that deal 1 damage will often have a target to help clean up opposing servos.
Being able to clutter the board with multiple creatures should help slow down aggressive strategies. A field of 1/1 tokens gives the advantage to the defender. The extra bodies are useful fodder for stacking up profitable double blocks or allowing smaller creatures to trade up for larger threats without spending two full cards. Aggressive decks are going to value evasion like trample and flying if boards start to get cluttered with smaller creatures. Spot removal isn’t enough to get damage through when your opponent has multiple chump blockers available. Combat tricks that grant trample could be particular good for these reasons. If your opponent expects to soak up a big attack by chumping with a servo, giving a creature trample can result in a lot of extra damage.
It’s a mechanic that mostly stands on its own and doesn’t require that your deck be doing a specific thing. There may be some synergies if you have a reason to care about +1/+1 counters, artifacts, or tokens. But for the most part I think the Fabricate cards are just good and will slot into many decks.
Lets look at some cards.
W – None
U – None
B – None
R – None
G – None
Colorless – C: Accomplished Automaton
Fabricate is distributed among green, white and black. There aren’t as many Fabricate cards as I expected, so they may not effect the games as much as I anticipated. The green and white fabricate creatures look the best to me. If there’s an incentive to build around the mechanic then I’d be hoping to go into GW and avoid black. But these creatures generally stand on their own and don’t require any synergy to work.
The commons in all colors are playable and the uncommons are all very good because of the ability to create 3 bodies. The best commons look like Visionary Augmenter and Peema Outrider – they are efficient vanilla creatures with upside. Highspire Artisan seems like it will always be a 1/4 since an 0/3 doesn’t help a ton in combat. Similarly, Maulfist Squad is likely to be a 4/2 most of the time if there are any 1-damage effects at common. It’s very vulnerable because of the low toughness, but the high power means it’s almost guaranteed to trade for something relevant.
The artifact Fabricate creatures look to be a bit worse. I have my doubts about Accomplished Automaton being playable at all since it’s a very expensive threat that can just get chump blocked.
Kaladesh introduces an interesting new resource called Energy. Similar to mana, you can spend Energy to pay the costs of certain effects or activated abilities. Unlike mana, you can accumulate Energy over the course of a game and it doesn’t disappear until you use it. This is going to be a hard one for players to evaluate early on just because it’s so different from anything we’ve seen.
Using Energy means you get to activate abilities and pay for costs without even using your primary resource: your mana. For this reason, I think Energy has the potential to be very powerful. Many games of limited are determined by which player was able to make the most efficient use of their mana. With Energy, if you can make use of all your mana AND find a sink for your Energy it should give you an advantage. Expending Energy is going to be a powerful short-term tempo boost that let’s you get ahead of your opponent. It’s like giving your board state a quick shot of nitrous oxide, so in that way I think Energy is a flavor win.
It will be interesting to see how they’ve distributed the roles of Energy-producer and Energy-consumer. This mechanic is very linear since your cards that care about Energy need enablers that can produce Energy to power them up. Let’s take a look.
W – U: Consul’s Shieldguard, C: Eddytrail Hawk
U – U: Glimmer of Genius, Aether Meltdown, C: Aether Theorist
B – C: Die Young
R – U: Aethertorch Renegade, C: Harnessed Lightning
G – U: Servant of the Conduit, Longtusk Cub. Riparian Tiger
Multi-Color: U: Voltaic Brawler, Empyreal Voyager, Whirler Virtuoso
W – C: Thriving Ibex
U – U: Janjeet Sentry, Era of Innovation, C: Thriving Turtle, Hightide Hermit
B – None
R – U: Maulfist Doorbuster, C: Spontaneous Artist
G – C: Thriving Rhino, Attune with Aether
W – U: Consulate Surveillance
U – U: Minister of Inquiries
B – C: Live Fast, Thriving Rats
R – C: Thriving Grubs
G – C: Sage of Shaila’s Claim
Colorless – Aether Hub, Decoction Module, Fabrication Module, Glassblower’s Puzzleknot, Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
The Energy cards are plentiful and appear in all colors. The focus for Energy is in green, red, blue and it looks like green is the central color to the Energy mechanic. Green has the best Energy producers which means you’ll want to either be GR or GU, but green will be a primary color in most Energy strategies.
Many Energy cards can both produce and consume Energy. This means they can be played in any deck, but most Energy cards are going to be maximized by combining them with others in the mechanic. Green has the best Energy producers. Blue has good Energy sinks but needs a steady supply of Energy to sustain the long-term advantage. Red is using it’s Energy in bursts to aggressively get in damage. Since green is the backbone, I would prioritize the green Energy producers in draft and let the Energy payoffs fall to you later.
I believe Voltaic Brawler is the best of the uncommons but Empyreal Voyager is a close second. Which one is better will probably be based on which of the two archetypes ends up being stronger. I think Whirler Virtuoso is a distant third, both because of it’s overall power level and because I think UR will end up being less Energy focused than either of the green decks.
Black and white have a couple of Energy cards but you’re really only going to get value out of it when paired with one of the other colors. Of these, white has a couple of decent payoffs. Eddytrail Hawk might be good when paired with green since you are likely to get some incidental Energy. Sending your green fatties to the air for even a couple of turns may be enough to end the game.
I’m not a fan of the 2/1s that produce Energy because their bodies just don’t match up well with what I expect from the rest of the format. If your deck is desperate for Energy, they may be a necessary evil however. I don’t expect this to be the case, but we shall see. In general, I don’t like the Thriving creatures that require an attack before they become a reasonable size. The aggressive ones may be good if you can get them going early and build them up to large threats. Thriving Rhino is an exception and actually seems good.
Vehicles are another completely new concept in Magic. Kaladesh truly is an innovative plane! Vehicles are non-creature artifacts, but they can become creatures when they are Crewed by other creatures.
For deckbuilding, it’s really important not to overload your deck with too many vehicles. They are definitely cool, but they require creatures to turn them on. Don’t be fooled – these are taking up non-creature slots in your normal draft decks. A proper mix might be something like 15-17 creatures and 3-4 vehicles max. This puts a deck up to 18-21 cards and we haven’t included any combat tricks or removal spells yet. My guess is that when we play vehicles we’ll be cutting out combat tricks since you can only afford to play so many effects that depend on having relevant bodies on board.
Vehicles behave like equipment, giving your smaller creatures utility in the late game. If you have a couple vehicles I think you have an incentive to fill out a good efficient lower end of your curve. Most 2 drops fall off in value as the game progresses. The best 2 drops are often good because they are great on turn 2 and still good on turn 6 (like Quilled Wolf). With vehicles, even a mediocre 2-drop will be more valuable in your deck since you know that it will be able to crew a vehicle later on.
You also want to support your vehicles with a low curve because you’ll want to be able to Crew them on the turn you play them. Even though vehicles have summoning sickness they threaten to become very powerful blockers right away.
A giant brick-wall is another deterrent to aggro decks. It’s interesting how Fabricate and vehicles attack aggro decks in two very different ways. With Fabricate, we said that spot removal wouldn’t be enough and combat tricks that let you trample over would be the best answer. The opposite is true for vehicles. Vehicles are generally large so a combat trick might still only let you trade for it. A well-timed removal spell killing your opponent’s crew end of turn or a larger removal spell that kills the vehicle itself may leave your opponent defenseless. One potential answer to the presence of both Fabricate tokens and vehicles would be to avoid them by taking to the air.
Vehicles change the value of removal in the format. Since they can be Crewed at instant speed, they can dodge sorcery speed removal. If you don’t have an instant speed answer, the threat of activation might mean that you just can’t attack into a vehicle. You can kill a creature that will potentially crew the vehicle, but if you wait until your turn it can still Crew in response. And now you’ve used a removal spell but you haven’t deal with the vehicle which can be Crewed by a different creature later. On offense, vehicles are immune to sorcery speed removal altogether since they stop being creatures once you’ve passed the turn back. I wouldn’t expect expensive sorcery speed creature removal, even if it’s unconditional (like Certain Death) to be less playable in this format than it otherwise might be.
Vehicles can be played in all colors, but some incentives are centered in red and white. The Veteran Motorist is a great card. The other two uncommons seem OK, but aren’t a high pick. They require that you benefit from the Vehicle synergy to be valuable and as we said earlier, you just don’t get to play with enough vehicles in your deck for these to be bonuses worth building around. Both appearing as 2/1s for two, the bodies are not impressive. While Speedway Fanatic grants the better vehicle ability, Gearshift Ace is a much better body on its own since it doesn’t die in combat to servo tokens. As long as you keep them out of combat, being able to Crew 2 on their own is pretty nice. Start Your Engines seems awful since you can’t possibly run enough vehicles to make this worth it.
Of the vehicles, I think the cheapest ones are the best. The larger vehicles are threatening, but the high Crew cost strikes me as prohibitive. Sky Skiff seems like it will regularly be a 2/3 flyer for 2 mana. Having a crew of 1 means that it will be easily activated and is best friends with servo tokens. The Renegade Freighter and Bomat Bazaar Barge both hit hard at a low cost. Demolition Stomper is the only vehicle I think I want to avoid because the Crew cost is so high. Ovalchase Dragster is probably fine in the deck that wants it and you’ll know when that is the case.
There are a number of cards that care about you either controlling or playing artifacts. I would be happy starting a lot of my drafts by picking artifacts early to stay open, so that makes me interested in leaning towards these artifact-matters archetypes if artifacts are prevalent and the reward is there.
W – None
U – U: Shrewd Negotiation, Glint-Nest Crane
B – U: Ovalchase Daredevil, Underhanded Designs, C: Dhund Operative
R – U: Incendiary Sabotage, Quicksmith Genius, C: Welding Sparks, Salivating Gremlins
G – None
Multi-Color – U: Contraband Kingpin
Colorless – U: Chief of the Foundry, Foundry Inspector
W – C: Built to Last
U – C: Gearseeker Serpeant, Weldfast Wingsmith, Tezzeret’s Ambition
B – U: Embraal Bruiser, C: Foundry Screecher, Dukhara Scavenger
R – C: Reckless Fireweaver, Built to Smash
G – None
It looks like red/black is where you want your highest concentration of artifacts, but there are some incentive for blue as well (particularly at uncommon). Note: It’s unfair to list Welding Sparks here since it’s just a very good card no matter what.
Black’s cards seem split between aggressive bodies and ways to grind your opponent out by recurring artifacts from the graveyard. My guess is that the aggressive side of black will want to pair with red and the grindy side will want to pair with blue. This makes sense when you see that blue/black’s uncommon is a 2-mana 1/4 (Contraband Kingpin).
Chief of the Foundry just seems like a very solid card in this format and I wouldn’t be unhappy to start my draft with it.
Fragmentize and Appetite for the Unnatural are two common artifact removal spells. At instant speed and with the ability to hit artifacts or enchantments, I think Appetive for the Unnatural is versatile enough that I would begin with it in my maindeck more often than not.
In addition to the Fabricate mechanic and the Thriving creature cycle, there are some other ways to get +1/+1 counters on your creatures and a few payoffs as well.
Though all colors have some ability to produce +1/+1 colors, green/black has most of your +1/+1 counter synergy. This overlaps nicely with the main colors of the Fabricate mechanic.
One of the reasons to build your deck around a specific synergy is usually because of the payoff uncommons. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the GB multi-color uncommon is very rewarding. Hazardous Conditions seems like a great sideboard card but I don’t know how good it will be in all matchups. Even if you get a synergistic deck, it’s unclear how one-sided the effect will be or if your opponent will even have many creatures that it can hit.
Some of the single-color uncommons do make up for the disappointing multi-color card. Armorcraft Judge seems very good. A hill giant with a very high upside seems like a good payoff. And it’s the kind of card that you might get a little later in the pack if you’re the only one who can make use of it. Though I think it’s probably good enough that most green drafters are going to want to scoop it up. Aetherborn Marauder is also a very powerful uncommon, letting you make a giant lifelinking and evasive threat.
For removal, black has Subtle Strike which is an efficient combat trick or removal spell that can get you a lot of value if well timed. Green has Hunt the Weak as a good removal spell that can also generate a counter. The fact that the black/green removal also produces +1/+1 counters means that you are going to start accumulating counters on your board without working very hard for them.
I think that’s enough to cover for today. So what do we know so far?
As for the colors, I’m interested to see how many red drafters are supported. It looks like red is pulled in a lot of directions as it supports RB artifacts, RG Energy and RW vehicles.
A lot of creatures we’ve seen so far have low toughness. Even though Fabricate as a mechanic allows you to produce a wide board to defend against aggressive starts, 1/1 counters aren’t exactly a brick wall. They still allow attacks to trade down the board. The thriving creatures are pretty poor blockers until they get some attacks in. A lot of the Energy creatures also require attacks to get their bonuses. The vehicles are big bodies which threaten to block effectively, but tapping part of your board to crew a vehicle leaves you vulnerable to instant speed removal or a big counter-attack if crewed on offense.
In total, it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of effective blocking to be done. This may change as we look at more cards, but so far it looks there is good support for some aggressive themes and we may be revving up our vehicles for a good old fashioned race in a lot of games.