The fall set, the first set in new blocks, is always an impor­tant period for Magic: The Gathering. Kaladesh seems all the more impor­tant as it is part of the first block set on a brand new plane since Khans of Tarkir, and comes at a time of many pro­duct changes and tweaks. A lot of weight rests on the shoul­ders of this arte­fact focused set. So does Kaladesh deliver? Well to answer that ques­tion we will, as always, look at the dif­fer­ent ele­ments of the set and see how well it meets the numer­ous demands of a mod­ern Magic: The Gathering set.

We dis­cussed the world of Kaladesh, as well as its new mechan­ics, in our pre­view of the set. So if you are unfa­mil­iar with those I would rec­om­mend read­ing that pre­view first.

Kaladesh Limited

The first thing I noticed when play­ing in my pre­re­lease is Kaladesh has less rigid arche­types, and more of a basis in broader syn­ergies. Some sets place you into very clearly defined strate­gies and deck types. You build your deck by assem­bling the most pieces of that arche­type as pos­si­ble to win. Other sets allow you to build more flex­i­bly, and don’t guide you towards cer­tain decks. Kaladesh is the lat­ter, allow­ing you to mix and match the mechan­ics whilst still hav­ing a playable deck.

This is partly due to the preva­lence of colour­less cards; many use­ful com­mons and uncom­mon can fit in almost any deck. One of the big pow­er­houses I saw at my event, and one I’ve heard mul­ti­ple peo­ple talk­ing about, was Key to the City. It really allows you to push dam­age through in the late game, and pro­vides effec­tive deck fil­ter­ing. In grindy matches look out for this card as a way to break the stale­mate.

The colour­less vehi­cles are a big part of this. Vehicles are great fun in almost any Kaladesh Limited deck, and add uses for out­classed crea­tures later in the game that allow them to crew vehi­cles. After play­ing with them hands-on what I can tell you is the cost to crew a vehi­cle makes a big dif­fer­ence to its playa­bil­ity — some­times over and above the basic mana cost. Vehicles that cost more than three to crew can be dead-drops onto an unde­vel­oped board. The dif­fer­ence between hav­ing to tap three power to crew and five power to crew is astro­nom­i­cal in prac­tice. Demolition Stomper looks flashy with its ten power, but hav­ing to crew for five makes it vastly infe­rior to a card like Bomat Bazaar Barge (which is also very fun).

My main advice for Limited would be to pay atten­tion to fab­ri­cate cards. There are a lot of strong uses for them, and they appear in every colour. Fabricate gives you options. Marionette Master looks expen­sive and clunky, but the option to make either a 46 crea­ture that makes your oppo­nent lose four life when an arte­fact is out into a grave­yard or give you up to three extra poten­tial block­ers that each make your oppo­nent lose one to three life when they die is very pow­er­ful. Being able to go wide and clog up the ground or go tall and punch through using the same card is an absolute bless­ing.

The bomb rares in the set gen­er­ally fit in most decks run­ning their colour. There are cards that utilise syn­ergy, but most of the strong pulls are good in iso­la­tion and just work bet­ter in an opti­mal deck. Angel of Invention is an ultra pow­er­ful card, and Demon of Dark schemes is its own engine when it comes to energy. But both excel in a shell that sup­ports them.

This type of syn­ergy with a basic power level is one of the run­ning themes of the set, with a good exam­ple being how most energy crea­tures work. Energy crea­tures most often func­tion just fine in iso­la­tion. They give energy as they enter the bat­tle­field that can fuel their abil­ity once or twice. Support makes these crea­tures even bet­ter. A deck with a strong energy theme allows mul­ti­ple pos­si­ble acti­va­tions. This is a good bit of design as energy crea­tures don’t feel like a dead draw now if you’re not on an energy strat­egy.

The excep­tion I would make to this are the very energy depen­dant sta­tic arte­facts such as Fabrication Module. To play cards that are only use­ful in either gen­er­at­ing or util­is­ing energy does require you to go all in on an energy heavy deck.

The best thing I can say about Kaladesh Limited is it feels fun to play. That’s really all I want out of a Limited envi­ron­ment. It plays well in sealed and the cou­ple of drafts I’ve been able to have of it felt bal­anced, there isn’t a sin­gle deck every­one is rush­ing to make — at least not yet.

Kaladesh in Standard

We’ll have a more detailed look here when we reach the sec­tion about Eternal for­mats, but Chandra, Torch of Defiance is undoubt­edly the card in the set every­one is look­ing at for Standard. Her high power level makes her a safe bet. If peo­ple can fig­ure out a decent shell to put her in then you’re going to win with her and lose to her.

Aether Hub is an uncom­mon with its eyes firmly on Standard as well. It’s a colour­less mana source, which should never be over­looked with Eldrazi still around, and in any deck that can reli­ably cre­ate energy it’s a great source of fix­ing. It’s not flashy, but I expect it to be one of the most con­sis­tent sta­ples in the Kaladesh Standard sea­son.

The biggest picks every­one are talk­ing about for Standard, out­side the Planeswalkers, are the Gearhulks. Everyone is com­par­ing these to the infa­mous Titan cycle first seen in the Magic 2011 core set. I don’t think they’re any­where near as pow­er­ful due to them not trig­ger­ing when they attack but they’re still plenty pow­er­ful, espe­cially Verdurous Gearhulk who comes in with an effec­tive eight power and tough­ness that can be spread across mul­ti­ple crea­tures for just five mana.

Outside of the Gearhulks, I think effi­cient colour­less crea­tures like Filigree Familiar, which has so much value due to its card draw and Scrapheap Scrounger, with its per­sis­tence, will find a home in Standard to do their ease of cast­ing. Fumigate is look­ing like the board-wipe of choice going for­ward as it gives life-gain to con­trol decks that helps them over­come aggro builds. This is espe­cially rel­e­vant due to the amount of servo tokens and “going wide” strate­gies  Kaladesh encour­ages.

The recent Star City Open, one of the first big events to test Kaladesh before the pro-tour, yielded a some­what sur­pris­ing break­out card in Smuggler’s Copter. The card always had a lot of Standard poten­tial, but the sur­prise is that it was being played as a full play­set in so many top eight decks. Making waves as well is Pia Nalaar, who we cov­ered in our pre­view of the set because of her sweet lore/flavour aspects.

My cau­tion on run­ning out and buy­ing cards is this: the metagame takes time to shake itself out. Over the course of a sea­son things shift rapidly so I expect some cards to gain in rel­e­vance and oth­ers to drop away, as is the norm. As a large set should, Kaladesh is already hav­ing a big impact on Standard. It has a decent power-level and some inter­est­ing syn­ergy to exploit. I look for­ward to some of the more crazy rouge decks peo­ple will build.

Kaladesh in Eternal Formats

Let’s go over my picks for Modern and Legacy indi­vid­u­ally as Kaladesh has a var­ied bag of poten­tial playables:

Chandra, Torch of Defiance – She’s delib­er­ately pushed. She has four abil­i­ties and those abil­i­ties are pushed com­pared to her ear­lier ver­sions. Her ulti­mate is doable and she comes out right on curve with four loy­alty. You don’t need me to tell you Chandra is good. She’s the chase mythic for the set and will likely see Modern play.

Ceremonious Rejection – This card will see side­board play in Modern, and even Legacy, until the end of time. It’s the per­fect answer to decks like Affinity, Eldrazi, or any deck that runs a high num­ber of colour­less spells or has a colour­less combo piece. I really like effi­cient scalpel cards like this that have a laser focused use in a vari­ety of for­mats.

Madcap Experiment – The new Possibility Storm. I expect this card to have a deck build around it that only works 50% of the time, and a build every­one imme­di­ately learns how to deal with. I know this card looks excit­ing and cool, but there isn’t going to be a deck built around it in Eternal for­mats that sticks around. I’m sorry.

Fast Lands – Wizards of the Coast is on a roll when it comes to com­plet­ing cycles. This time print­ing the enemy coloured ver­sion of the Fast Lands last seen in Scars of Mirrodin. Fast Lands are named as such because they’re meant to offer quick colour fix­ing when you have few lands on the bat­tle­field — they’re at opti­mum util­ity in the early turns of the game. The blue/red fast land Spirebluff Canal is the most desir­able land due to its util­ity in mul­ti­ple decks that need fast fix­ing in those colours. Botanical Sanctum is the least desir­able due to it being awk­ward in the colour com­bi­na­tions that would want it. All of the enemy coloured Fast Lands will see at least fringe play in Modern decks, and may go back as far as Legacy.

In Commander we have an unex­pected Dwarf and Vehicle tribal leader in the form of Depala, Pilot Exemplar. I love get­ting these ran­dom lit­tle tribal gen­er­als in sets and just know I will be mak­ing a casual vehicles/dwarfs deck just to play with her. The big, janky mythic every brewer is going to try and make work is Aetherworks Marvel, a hilar­i­ous card if you can stack the stop cards of your deck right. Makes me even more sad Emrakul, The Aeons Torn is banned in the offi­cial ver­sion of the for­mat.

Some are spec­u­lat­ing that the Gearhulk cycle has what it takes to see play in Modern. Whilst I think it will cer­tainly see test­ing, much of the hype for these cards is due to the afore­men­tioned mis­placed Titan com­par­ison. I don’t expect any of the Gearhulks to see wide­spread Modern play.

How much value is in Kaladesh?

At this point we need to address the ele­phant in the room; the fact that expe­di­tions are back in the form of the Masterpiece Series, which for its first offi­cial out­ing fea­tures the Kaladesh Inventions. The Masterpiece Series, much like the Zendikar expe­di­tions, are only a fac­tor if you’re open­ing large amounts of pro­duct. They do add value over a large scale in the set, but they are also high vari­ance, only being seen in about 1144 packs. Masterpieces exist not on the scale of booster boxes but of booster cases, so your chance of open­ing one and see­ing $200 cards like Mana Crypt, is incred­i­bly slim.

We live in an age of Magic: The Gathering where sets are designed to have a one or two high pow­ered cards from the set that hold most of the value, and a selec­tion of re-printed cards above Mythic rar­ity that tech­ni­cally aren’t in the set that serve as a car­rot to open packs. You’re always chas­ing a slim num­ber of big hits. This is Wizard of the Coast’s stan­dard way of struc­tur­ing block-sets mov­ing for­ward. They’re more than happy to take the lot­tery ticket approach to mar­ket­ing sets, and the amount of pro­duct being opened would seem to con­firm that — at least in the short term.

This has both pros and cons, but in terms of Kaladesh this means you should always be look­ing at the aver­age value of packs and not the slim chance of open­ing an Invention. With the print lev­els and amounts of this set expected to be opened, most of the rares and even mythics will main­tain a price well below the $10 mark with the price of Standard being dri­ven mostly by Chandra and the other Planeswalkers.

Exceptions take place when cards like Smuggler’s Copter break out in Standard, but if we see a high level of vari­ety in Standard decks over the medium term, then expect the prices of cards see­ing even decent play in Standard not to rise above the $5 mark. The only cards I would class as a safe bet for long-term invest­ment are the Fast Lands as they won’t go up rapidly or dra­mat­i­cally, but over the long term they are the safest place to invest. Pick them up if you see them cheap.

Conclusions and Recommendations.

Overall I think Kaladesh is a good set, and a very fun set com­pared to what we’ve had in the last cou­ple of blocks. Vehicles are as fun to play Limited as in Casual, as I thought they were going to be, and the set uses a unique aes­thetic and fla­vor. I espe­cially enjoy the way the Limited envi­ron­ment plays out — with lots of options for decks and flex­i­ble colour­less cards. It’s an arte­fact set where you can feel the theme with­out every­thing and every­one hav­ing to be an arte­fact.

Yet Kaladesh occu­pies an odd spot. The set will have an impact on Standard, but rares in the set will have a rel­a­tively low value. This is the price we pay for mod­ern print lev­els, and to play­ers like me who mostly just buy sin­gles that isn’t much of a price at all.

Cheaper Standard is, in my eyes, a good thing. I pre­vi­ous chided Battle for Zendikar for its low card value, espe­cially post-Modern ban, but that was due to a per­fect storm of lack­lus­tre impact on Standard, and mas­sive print/opening lev­els. I’m also quite thank­ful that Chandra hasn’t yet been in a full play­set for a lot of the top decks yet, because that would ren­der hav­ing cheaper to get hold of Standard playable cards almost moot with her mas­sive price tag.

Unlike pre­vi­ous block sets, I have a lot to say about Kaladesh – and that’s a good thing. It excites me with its world and its pos­si­bil­i­ties. The last cou­ple of blocks had ranged from “sat­is­fac­tory” to “what the heck is this crap?!” All whilst tread­ing famil­iar ground in both the set­tings and their mechan­ics. If I wasn’t writ­ing about them and analysing the game I hon­estly would have skipped Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad – such was my indif­fer­ence towards them. Thankfully, Kaladesh has rekin­dled my inter­est in blocks.

The only real com­plaint I have about the set is that Wizards of the Coast con­tin­ues to make odd and very basic mis­takes with their print­ing. This time around whole­sale for­get­ting to print any energy tokens in the first run of Kaladesh, then hastily get­ting play­ers to print their own for pre-release. Coupled with talk of print trou­ble and dam­aged cards in recent sets I feel I have to add this caveat to my review. Wizards of the Coast is hav­ing some qual­ity con­trol issues cur­rently, so bear that in mind when buy­ing any new Magic: The Gathering pro­duct.

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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.