6 Things to Expect in Magic: The Gathering After Kaladesh is Released, by Joseph Dunlap
Kaladesh is about to hit the shelves, and Magic players across the world are looking forward to trying their hands at inventing new deck ideas, combos, and interesting synergies. Some things are going to change for the better with the release of Kaladesh, across all formats (besides the much-needed rotation of certain cards in Standard).
This week, I have prepared a list of influential cards that will change Constructed and Limited formats, and present to you 6 Things to expect in Magic: The Gathering after Kaladesh is released.
1. Planeswalkers Are a Mix of Powerful and Unique
First off, what is the Ob Nixilis mold?
Whenever the topic of Standard planeswalkers comes up, Magic players will often bring up the “Ob Nixilis” template design. Basically, Wizards of the Coast has been accused of conforming recent planeswalker printings to the same basic template:
- Add loyalty counters: Draw a card.
- Remove loyalty counters: Hard/soft removal.
- Remove lots of loyalty counters: Win the game.
Recent planeswalkers that fit the Ob Nixilis mold include: Ob Nixilis Reignited (obviously), Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, Tamiyo, Field Researcher, Nahiri, the Harbinger, Chandra, Flamecaller (in a different order), Liliana, the Last Hope (in a different order), Jace, Telepath Unbound (in a different order), and Sorin, Grim Nemesis (although, let’s be honest, nobody ever uses the final ability).
Recent planeswalkers that fit the Ob Nixilis mold, but in a slightly different manner: Kiora, Master of the Depths (untapping replaces removal, but still provides board advantage), Narset Transcendent (rebound replaces removal and pushes card advantage), Sarkhan Unbroken and Nissa, Sage Animist (both replace removal with a 4/4 token), and Liliana, Defiant Necromancer (still pushes card/creature advantage).
Recent planeswalkers that don’t fit the Ob Nixilis mold: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (advances board advantage and provides an anthem), Nissa, Voice of Zendikar (advances board advantage and provides an anthem), Chandra, Roaring Flame (damage), and Gideon, Battle-Forged (rewards board advantage).
Of the four planeswalkers that don’t resemble the Ob Nixilis mold, three push or reward board advantage, and the fourth, Origins Chandra, has seen little to no play. In the past year, the most playable planeswalkers are those that closely resemble the Ob Nixilis mold, or provide an anthem effect.
What do Kaladesh planeswalkers look like?
Chandra, Torch of Defiance has four abilities, which is never a bad thing. We could talk all day about how good these abilities are, but suffice it to say, get used to seeing this card a lot across most formats. While each of these abilities is somewhat unique, Chandra falls more on the raw power spectrum, much like her counterpart in Oath of the Gatewatch. I think we’ll find that the most underrated ability on Torch of Defiance is the ability to gain two red mana. On Turn 4, Chandra is refunding half her cost for a burn spell (possibly more outside of Standard). After that first turn, you’re looking at a red planeswalker that is helping ramp into an Eldrazi titan, another planeswalker, or anything else you might want. Burn, ramp, control, combo, and even aggro, are all going to find a spot for CToD.
Dovin Baan is the only other planeswalker that closely resembles the Ob Nixilis mold: soft removal, card draw (and life gain, which will be extremely relevant), and “-7: You (probably) win the game.” Dovin is very playable in multiple midrange and control shells.
Nissa, Vital Force falls squarely on the power side of the planeswalker spectrum. Even at a cost of 5 mana, NVP will see a lot of play in Standard. Some people will tick up once and pop the ultimate. Some will take their time and swing with a 5/5 Elemental land creature each turn. (Did I say 5/5? I meant 7/7. Sylvan Advocate is still going to be in Standard.) Some will use her in a Delirium midrange shell in combination with Liliana and Tireless Tracker. Think about it. It’s going to be a thing.
Saheeli Rai has unique abilities that could be amazing in the right decks. Her abilities are comparable to Nissa, Sage Animist, but focused around artifacts and a steady stream of direct damage. With Saheeli’s second ability, imagine copying a vehicle, one of the Gearhulks, or a noncreature build-around artifact. The mana cost of the copied artifact or creature is irrelevant, so the possibilities are endless. If I’ve learned anything brewing in Magic, the weirder and more specific the wording, the easier it is to break the card in the right deck. If you’re trying to think of something to copy with Saheeli, look for strong ETB effects, powerful artifacts, or huge creatures that you wouldn’t mind copying with haste. It might be too soon to tell, but Saheeli seems downright broken in Modern and EDH.
Out of the four Kaladesh planeswalkers, Dovin Baan, Chandra, and maybe Saheeli Rai, could be said to follow the Ob Nixilis template. However, each planeswalker brings something unique to the table. Chandra’s first ability could either be used for card advantage or raw damage. Dovin provides protection in the form of life gain. How many will see Constructed play? All four of them.
2. Legendary Creatures Are Build-Arounds
- Archangel Avacyn
- Odric, Lunarch Marshall
- Olivia, Mobilized for War
- Sigarda, Heron’s Grace
- The Gitrog Monster
- Ormendahl, Profane Prince
- Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- Gisela, the Broken Blade
- Bruna, the Fading Light
- Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- Emrakul, the Promised End
- Gisa and Geralf
- Ulrich of the Krallenhorde
- Hanweir, the Writhing Township
What I want you to notice from this list is a mix of build-arounds and haymakers. What I mean by that is cards such as Archangel Avacyn, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar can be stuffed into any Standard deck with the appropriate colour(s) and strategy and they’ll get the job done. Thalia is already seeing play in other formats, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Avacyn do the same.
Cards such as Olivia, Mobilized for War, The Gitrog Monster, and Emrakul, the Promised End require some work to fit them into a deck. It turns out Delirium is really, really easy to get, so Emrakul finds her way into a myriad of Standard archetypes with similar strategies. Olivia and Gitrog are outliers who occasionally peek their heads out in Constructed, and definitely require a deck built around their strategies.
What you will find in Kaladesh is almost all legendary creatures are build-arounds, or at the very least lend themselves well to synergy. Let’s take a look:
Depala, Pilot Exemplar brings us vehicle/dwarf tribal possibilities. As far as build-arounds go, the danger with building around a “lord” (a creature that provides a bonus to creatures of a particular type) is the possibility that creatures of the given type are subpar. Dwarf/Vehicle bonuses aside, she also has a nice recruitment mechanic that rewards you for using Depala as she was intended, to pilot vehicles. Whether Depala is playable will ultimately be determined by the playability of vehicles and dwarves.
Gonti, Lord of Luxury is definitely going to see play in a few formats. In some formats, this will be a splashy sideboard card, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see players testing it out in their maindecks. Synergy isn’t required, but would be rewarded.
Kambal, Consul of Allocation is an interesting card. It is probable that out of this set, Kambal will see the most play across eternal formats. He will struggle to find a home in Standard and he’s somewhat weak in Limited, but it’s definitely a strong card that can close out games quickly in the right format. Kambal is probably the closest to a “haymaker” out of the legendaries in Kaladesh, but will still require the right decks to work correctly.
Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter, as a one-drop, is a decent token generator. If given enough time, this card can close out the game with Voice of Resurgence style artifacts. Even if Oviya doesn’t end up seeing much Standard play, it should be a fun Commander in a Mono-Green artifact deck, and can easily run away with a Limited game.
Padeem, Consul of Innovation looks on first glance to be a great card draw engine for a blue-based deck with powerful artifacts (such as the Gearhulks; see below). The artifacts are protected as long as Padeem is in play, and can generate a lot of advantage very quickly.
Pia Nalaar is not as exciting as Mom and Pop’s Thopter Shop, even if it was for Pia and Kiran Nalaar‘s ability to hit targets for 2 damage. While Pia is not necessarily a build-around, artifact synergy (see below) is required to make her abilities work. Because of this, only time will tell if Pia has what it takes in Constructed.
#MTGKLD Modern game.
Player A plays Pia and Kiran Nalaar.
Player B kills it.
Player A pauses, then plays Pia Nalaar.
Both players cry.
— Joseph Dunlap (@joseph_dunlap) September 5, 2016
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter can lead to some fun cascade shenanigans. I’ve already heard local players talking about combining Rashmi with Jori En, Ruin Diver for easy card advantage. There are other possible combos, but that’s the topic of another article.
3. Energy Will Be Unexpectedly Useful
In Kaladesh, there is a huge chunk of cards that provide a player with energy counters. Many creatures provide energy counters and have a way to immediately spend it. There’s even a cycle of creatures that can spend the energy counters they provide a single time to get a +1/+1 counter, putting them slightly above the power/toughness to CMC (converted mana cost) ratio.
For example, Voltaic Brawler pumps at least twice. By itself, Bristling Hydra can pump itself up to a 5/4 for 4 CMC, and protects itself in the process. It’s also a solid vanilla beater that gives you a quick 3 energy you can use elsewhere, if you’re doing fine on board. Elecrostatic Pummuler may not seem great on first glance, but with a little synergy you can pump it with a combat trick then double it even further (possibly twice, if you have enough energy). With all these different creatures able to get bigger using a non-mana resource, combat math could get quite hairy for your opponent when deciding what to block and what to let through.
Lathnu Hellion gives a quick 2 energy and at its worst, it’s 4/4 with haste for 3 CMC. If you have nothing else to spend your energy on, or just need an extra body, you can keep it at least an extra turn. In some games, especially in Limited, playing a 4/4 with haste on curve and attacking twice will be enough. If you’re able to get energy from another source, you might be able to keep it even longer, if you’re desperate.
Architect of the Untamed is an example of a build-around that rewards the Energy mechanic. Is 8 land drops too expensive for the subsequent 6/6 to be worth it, and will Architect of the Untamed survive long enough for it to matter? It’s definitely possible in Limited. Regardless, you can still accrue a sizeable stockpile of energy to use later.
Live Fast is an example of a playable energy enabler. It is nearly a functional reprint of Read the Bones, replacing the “Scry 2” text with “get two energy counters”. While the scry might be more immediately useful, you still get to refill your hand and set up a future play.
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot is another example of a possibly playable energy enabler. Depending on how various formats shape out after Kaladesh, the 6 life and 6 energy counters might end up being relevant.
Aetherworks Marvel might prove to be a powerful card advantage tool, even on its own. If you have a way to crank out Clue tokens or other artifacts that are intended to hit the graveyard, you could easily run away with a game (especially if you’re able to find a particularly powerful spell with Aetherworks’ ability). Also, note the wording on Aetherworks Marvel. You don’t have to sacrifice it to activate its ability.
On the whole, energy seems too block-specific to see synergistic play outside of Standard and EDH. Individual cards that spend their own energy might find a home somewhere else, but it’s too soon to tell. The biggest danger when piloting energy decks is avoiding losing the game while you still have energy counters – much like losing the game with a full grip of cards, or with a board of Spell Quellers on your opponent’s side of the table.
4. Vehicles Will Have an Effect on Constructed
I’m not saying vehicles are going to reshape Legacy or Vintage (or even Modern). C’mon, they’re not Eldrazi tribal, which is basically Battle for Zendikar Block Constructed plus removal.
What I will say is vehicles will have a small role in Standard and make a huge splash in EDH and Limited. They’ll spice up Sealed nicely, they’re build-arounds in Draft, and Cube enthusiasts will enjoy playing around with them.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship could be really, really good in Constructed, or it could be passable. I’m leaning towards good.
Demolition Stomper is exactly what you’d want out of a vehicle: incredible P/T to CMC ratio, low Crew requirement. Also, Lupine Prototype can pilot this, which is awesome for those who have been looking for ways to abuse the armoured wolf. Also of interest is the uncommon rarity, which means this card will have a huge impact on Limited. It completely ignores token strategies and could steal many, many games.
Sky Skiff essentially acts as an Equipment that gives flying and haste to a creature of Power 2 or less. At common, this will be a “bread and butter” card that’s an auto-include in every Limited deck and also a reasonable choice for Vehicle Tribal. Flying wins games.
Start Your Engines is one of the few vehicle payoff cards. You may think nothing of the army of unpilotable vehicles on your opponent’s battlefield, until you’re tapped out and they slam this bad boy to finish the game. Depala EDH decks will be jamming this as a finisher, so watch out for it.
5. Powerful Artifact (and Artifact Synergy) Cards
We all saw this one coming (it wasn’t exactly a secret), but Kaladesh boasts a high number of artifacts at all rarities. Their uses range from utilitarian to build-arounds, which again, is a theme of Kaladesh. Wizards of the Coast wants Magic players to feel like inventors in Kaladesh, and what better way to do that than to reward well-crafted synergy?
Inventors’ Fair will very possibly see play across all non-Pauper formats. I know Modern Lantern Control players are already eyeing it and working out the correct split between Sea Gate Wreckage and Inventors’ Fair in the colourless utility land slots. It might also be considered by Affinity players, although the Affinity land base might be a little more set in stone. This card will be all over Standard, where its slightly overpriced ability will almost always be activated.
Ghirapur Orrery might see play in several archetypes across different formats. It might aid in a ramp strategy, or be a viable sideboard card against 8-Rack if it reaches the top tiers of Modern again (Tom Ross might have something to say about that!).
Aetherflux Reservoir is absolutely crazy. While it may not see play outside of EDH, Standard, and Limited, players everywhere are going to find ways to break this card. Just be careful of where your life total ends up when you put the activated ability on the stack – you don’t want to get hit with an unfortunate burn spell and lose the game after so much preparation. In a Modern Melira Chord mirror match? If your opponent gains 1 million life with Kitchen Finks but has no instant-speed way to initiate the loop on your turn, gain 2 million life and finish them off with Aetherflux Reservoir. It’s like The Price if Right: the second bidder wins the game.
Then there’s the Gearhulks, a cycle of high CMC artifact creatures with powerful ETB abilities:
Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a 5 CMC wrath effect that also brings a 4/5 with Vigilance. For those of you who are upset over losing Tragic Arrogance, look no further. You can choose Cataclysmic Gearhulk as your artifact and also keep your other favourite creature in play.
Torrential Gearhulk is a pricy Snapcaster Mage that trades higher mana cost for bigger body and a free flashback. Think Goblin Dark-Dwellers (5 CMC rather than 6), but it can target an instant with any mana cost.
Noxious Gearhulk appears good at first glance. However, at 6 CMC, you’re better off casting Sorin, Grim Nemesis to kill off a creature and gain life. It is worth mention that Noxious Gearhulk doesn’t care how big its target is. A lone 1/1 Thopter token that’s threatening lethal in the air? Emrakul, the Promised End? Doesn’t matter, it’s taken care of.
Combustible Gearhulk brings a powerful way for control/midrange decks to refill their hands and drop a closer for 6 CMC. Your opponent will be presented with the lesser of two evils, and will often choose wrong. Whether you are allowed to draw three cards, or your opponent is dealt a huge amount of damage all at once, the game will end quickly after you cast this card. I know there are many out there who are convinced Combustible is the worst of the Gearhulks, and I disagree. In the right deck, it’s going to be juuust right.
Verdurous Gearhulk, while I won’t get into its combo capabilities here (I’m saving that for a future article, as I’ve mentioned before), is insane. Time will tell if the high mana cost is too restrictive or not, but at its worst it’s an 8/8 with trample for 5 mana. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
6. Masterpieces Will Lower the Cost of Standard
Finally, there’s the Masterpiece Series. In the same vein as Expedition lands in Battle for Zendikar block, Masterpieces in Kaladesh will be a mix of artifacts from Standard and non-Standard featuring special Kaladesh themed artwork and fancy borders.
The first batch of Masterpieces are entitled “Kaladesh Inventions”, which will range from reprints of Eternal cards like Mana Crypt, Chromatic Lantern, and Aether Vial, to Kaladesh’s Gearhulks, to Hangarback Walker, which is about to rotate out of Standard and unlikely to see much Constructed play after this month (outside of EDH, where it’s incredible).
Before I get into the reasons why I love everything about Masterpieces, it’s important to briefly talk about the reasons for the Zendikar Expeditions. The most obvious reason was to provide much-needed reprints of Eternal staples in a manner that did not warp Standard. In tandem with Eternal Masters and two Modern Masters printing, it appears to be working.
As an example, when Wasteland was reprinted as an Expedition in January 2016, its Tempest printing was close to $80. A month later it had dropped to $60. After another reprinting with Eternal Masters in June, it dropped to $55.
Another purpose of the Expeditions was to drive down the price of singles on the whole in the Battle for Zendikar block, due to increased demand on booster boxes. This is hotly debated, as many argue the quality of cards in Battle for Zendikar was on the whole subpar to begin with. Others simply believe the Zendikar Expeditions were a gimmick used to sell a subpar set, and therefore bringing back the same idea in Kaladesh sets a dangerous precedent.
I must respectfully disagree with the latter, and I’ll tell you why. At its core, Wizards of the Coast has worked to ensure Standard has the lowest cost of entry among the primary Constructed formats. They lost sight of this when cards like Thoughtseize, Mutavault, shock lands, and ally fetchlands were reprinted and drove the price of Standard to almost Modern levels. This was a mistake, and with as many as they make sometimes, it’s commendable that WotC are able to admit their mistakes.
The fact remains that these were all cards that were in dire need of reprinting. The Masters, Conspiracy, and Commander print runs have done a lot to make Eternal Cards more available. It’s not enough, not yet, but that’s mostly due to the explosive growth Magic is still undergoing. Reprints like the Expeditions and Inventions may not help on the same level as an Eternal Masters print run, but it’s something, and something is better than nothing.
Just since the SOI Standard rotation, the average price of Standard decks has dropped to the $80-300 range. Granted, this is in part due to the gradual deflation of card prices as the format nears a new rotation, but it’s still nowhere near the price tag of 4C Rally or Jeskai Black (both of which ran as many fetchlands as possible and a playset of $120 Jaces).
Wizards of the Coast aims to do this again with Kaladesh, and we should be thankful for it. No Standard deck should cost $800. A competitive mono-, two-, or three-coloured deck should cost at most $50, $100, or $200, respectively. Thanks to the increased availability of singles, we’re almost there. Eternal players get their bling, and Standard players can play mad scientist without paying through the nose.
What are you most excited for with Kaladesh? Are you looking forward to a crazy Standard brew, a new Commander, some fun draft stories, or breaking one of the new build-arounds in the Eternal formats? What would you have added to my list? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!
Thanks for reading,