Magic: The Gathering — Kaladesh Preview
Now that the entirety of Kaladesh is spoiled and pre-release events are coming up fast, it’s finally time to take a look at what the new fall set of Magic: The Gathering has to offer. It’s been a break-neck spoiler season, with a barrage of new cards and announcements since PAX earlier this month. We’ve had the announcement of a new card type, and effectively a new permanent rarity with masterpieces, and we even had a degree of controversy over exactly how the spoilers were distributed.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen an artefact focused block, especially one that goes all-in on that theme. Kaladesh comes at an interesting time in Magic: The Gathering’s history that’s for sure, but we’re here to talk about cards. So without further ado let’s start our engines and drive headlong into the world of Kaladesh.
When I first saw Vehicles I thought we must have had the card type before in some obscure corner of an older block, but lo and behold this simple, and to my mind obvious, idea hadn’t be done before in the history of Magic: The Gathering. Thinking back to old fantasy sets me and my friends used to make, the idea of vehicles came up a lot but we never quite figured out how to make them work.
Vehicles here work in a very simple way: they are just static artefacts until you tap creatures whose power adds up to the crew requirements and then they become artefact creatures until end of turn. Note that this can be done at any time, so you can also activate them on your opponent’s turn. Just take into account that any creatures you tapped to crew will still be tapped when your turn comes.
The concept of crewing a vehicle is elegant, simple, and making it take into account total power is a good way to keep it balanced. Certain creatures have abilities that trigger when they crew a vehicle, giving them added synergy and add to giving the sense they are designated pilots. Enough of these cards exist that I hope we’ll see a vehicles deck, at least in Limited. I honestly hope we see vehicles going forward because they solve so many niggling problems with certain equipment cards I had on a lore level.
These artefacts seem very powerful at first, but tapping down other creatures to use them is a very high cost. Vehicles don’t do anything on an empty board, so be wary of what. I’d need some hands on time to tell you if any of these are crazy busted though. Some high-powered cards like the Aradara Express (which I’m sure will be nicknamed “the pain train” by more people than just me) being at common rarity points to their actual power level being relatively low without extra effects.
Like I said before, this is such an elegant design it really does feel like a mechanic that would come from an Urza block or something, or maybe that’s just because the Vehicles are coming close to having that delicious brown border back. That’s probably it.
The world of Kaladesh is one that has forgone traditional magic and instead opted to use an energy source known as Aether. Energy counters are the mechanical representation of this and they are pervasive throughout the set, with 45 (at my count) cards interacting with or generating energy in some way. That’s a sizeable chunk.
Energy is a very adaptable resource and essentially functions as a second mana pool that doesn’t drain. Energy is something that can behave like floating mana but doesn’t give you the potentially game-breaking effects large amounts of extra mana provide. It’s a very clever piece of Magic: The Gathering design; give the player a new resource but limit what can be done with it to maintain balance. Many energy cards generate enough mana to power themselves, so if you only have a few energy cards their activations don’t become useless. For example, Janjeet Sentry produces two energy tokens, the exact amount needed to activate his ability.
The there is an interesting balance of energy producers and energy sinks in Kaladesh which will affect how and when you spend energy. Demon of Dark Schemes, for example, is both a great energy producer and has a powerful ability that relies on energy. You might want to hoard energy to ensure you can activate his ability the turn after he is put on the board, or spend energy as efficiently as possible when you get it to keep ahead of your opponent. Architect of the Untamed is another powerful, repeatable energy enabler with a powerful ability.
Cards that produce energy on repeatable triggers seem to be reserved for rare, which raises my hopes a well-made energy deck will be nuts in Kaladesh Limited. I’m also thankful they made the energy mechanic as simple as possible. If energy had some oblique set of rules, I’d be dreading people keeping track of it come the pre-release. It’ll be interesting to see just how many energy enablers you need to reach critical mass or if anyone will pull off the obvious energy based combo with the cycle of Module cards.
Kaladesh: An Artificers Paradise
Kaladesh is a land of gremlins, flying whales, servos, and thopters. But most off all a land where everything and everyone wants to control and harness the Aether. The lore of the world plays into the mechanics of Kaladesh in a stronger way than many recent sets, the plane’s reliance on Aether energy sources coupled with its strong theme of creation really play into the artefact theme.
The fabricate mechanic plays into this theme, with players able to choose if they want to augment their creatures or create 1/1 servo tokens to go wide and bolster their artefact count. This is a mechanic that looks very simple at first, but there is a lot of subtle gameplay to be had from both +1/+1 counters and 1/1 artefact creatures. Both artefacts and counters matter in the world of Kaladesh, so choosing which mode you put your fabricate creatures in is important.
I’ve noticed some debate online around what the default ‘mode’ of these fabricate cards is, which is exciting because it means everyone evaluates them differently. Part of this is that some of the fabricate creatures have abilities that incentivises them having a higher power, and therefore putting the +1/+1 counters on themselves. Traditional logic is that power across multiple creatures is generally preferable, especially when you’re creating artefact creature servos in a block that cares so much about artefacts.
The set also has a large focus on creation outside of fabricate, Saheeli’s Artistry demonstrates this theme as well as giving us some insights into the prowess of Kaladesh’s major new characters, the planeswalker Saheeli herself. Another card that creates artefacts and is also important to the storyline is Pia Nalaar, the mother of Chandra Nallar, who drops a 1/1 thopter into play when she’s cast.
As you would also expect, the set includes a higher than normal level of colourless artefact cards, which have really interesting and unique effects like Bomat Courier which gives Red players potential to refill their hands in ideal circumstances. It also contains some hilariously fun looking casual jank like Aetherflux Reservoir, a completely stupid card I am determined to force to work in Commander.
A Masterpiece of Marketing
I quite scathingly dubbed the Zendikar Expeditions “The Fetch Lottery” and that opinion stands. Masterpieces are functionally identical to the Zendikar expeditions right down to their print level, so my comments about the practice of printing cards above Mythic rarity also still stands. It’s a piece of marketing that does little to elevate pricing, and these cards won’t make it into the hands of your average Magic: The Gathering player.
As for the individual cards included in Kaladesh’s masterpiece series? I’ll save my verdict on those for my full review of the set.
The set itself doesn’t seem to have a lot of new keywords or mechanics like a Khans of Karkir or Ravnica style set would, but what it lacks in bulk it makes up for in potential for a range of gameplay from some simple yet adaptable mechanics. Having not played the set yet, I can’t comment on how this potential is born out in gameplay, but looking at the set with a designers eye I’m glad the set isn’t bogged down with ancillary, under-designed keywords (I’m looking at you Tribute. No one likes you.)
The best I can say is that I look forward to playing the Kaladesh Limited environment. I’ve not been this excited for a set in a while, and the mix of lore and mechanics we’ve been shown in the lead up to the release have been refreshingly high-quality at a time when Wizards of the Coast has been content to coast on nostalgia based revival sets.
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