kaladesh-preview-header

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.

Vroom Vroom!

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.

High Energy

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 Reservoira com­plete­ly stu­pid card I am de­ter­mined to force to work in Commander.

A Masterpiece of Marketing

I quite scathing­ly dubbed the Zendikar ExpeditionsThe 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.

Looking Forward

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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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.