Magic: The Gathering — Kaladesh Set Review
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.
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 4/6 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 1/144 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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