The full card list for Kaladesh has been revealed. Rejoice! In a few short days we will all be cracking some minty-fresh packs of new-card goodness.
It's a little odd how spoiler season operates. We spend weeks getting small morsels of the set; each day at 11 AM, we quickly down our bowls of gruel before tugging on WotC's pant leg and saying, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
Then, once all the tastiest bits of the set have been picked clean, the rest of the spoiler is unleashed upon us like an avalanche. The reality is that the awesome rares and mythics we get early are the cards that sell the set, while most of the rest is there to flesh out the Limited format. As a result, the commons and uncommons in the set are largely ignored in favor of the much sexier cards with their patrician gold and blood-orange symbols.
The result is that when everyone is brewing for the new format, they miss a lot of key role-players in their search to find the next format-defining all-star. These role-player cards are very important, and missing them can mean the difference between finding a great deck and discarding it.
There are exceptions, of course. Cards like Aether Hub, Harnessed Lightning, and Voltaic Brawler have generated significant buzz, in part because they all fit into the same strategy, but also because they are clearly pushed for Constructed play. But there are cards in every set that aren't so obviously pushed but serve an important function in the format or are simply difficult to evaluate because Magic is hard.
How many people thought Grapple with the Past and Thraben Inspector were going to become Standard staples? It's easy to see that Emrakul, the Promised End and Thalia's Lieutenant are powerful, but one player can't win a title. Jordan needed Pippen. Shaq needed Kobe. Often the difference between whether a high-powered mythic is a hit or a miss is the quality of its supporting cast.
Forgive me, but I'm going to start with a safe one. Kird Ape has a long history in competitive Magic and Inventor's Apprentice is a close approximation in a set that is so heavily invested into artifacts. Red has had a tough time in Standard recently as white has taken a stranglehold on aggressive decks, but where the Vampires of Innistrad failed, the inventors of Kaladesh are poised to succeed.
One of the keys to Thraben Inspector's success was the fact that it had three toughness with one pump, and generating a swarm of three-toughness creatures allowed you to attack into the sea of Sylvan Advocates and Reflector Mages. Well, both of those cards are still around, so that key mark of three toughness should persist after rotation. This card hits that mark with relative ease, and the fact that it starts as a 1/2 as opposed to a 1/1 means that it will never be picked off by Liliana, the Last Hope. The stats are there, so now all we need are some masters to teach us.
This is the core of red aggro in Kaladesh Standard, and in my estimation it's a strong core. You can supplement it with some cheap creatures, burn spells, and a pile of draft box Mountains and have the start of a competitive deck:
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 3 Falkenrath Gorger
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 3 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 2 Scourge Wolf
- 4 Pia Nalaar
- 22 Mountain
I'm not sure if fourteen artifacts will be enough to support Inventor's Apprentice, but I wanted to avoid playing weak cards to support a Kird Ape. As such, I'm banking on the viability of Bomat Courier, an underpowered card but a tricky one to evaluate because it's unique. And if you look at this deck as a whole, this isn't an all-in aggressive deck despite its low curve. You can play fairly long into the game, filtering extra lands away to either generate a big attack or find lethal burn spells.
Maybe this deck wants to go even bigger, since the varying loot effects provide effective flood insurance and Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a powerful maindeck option, but I am wary of slowing the deck down too much; you need to end games before Emrakul, the Promised End comes down and forces you to light yourself on fire. Regardless of how red decks are built, I'd be surprised if Inventor's Apprentice is not the premier one-drop in them.
This one is a bit more speculative and started with a tweet from our own Tom Ross, reminding me that Stone Haven Outfitter is still a card and happens to be an Artificer. The Equipment theme in R/W in Battle for Zendikar wasn't fleshed out enough to create a deck, in large part because the quality of the Equipment wasn't there.
When you're trying to take advantage of cards like Weapons Trainer and Stone Haven Outfitter, you want cheap Equipment to flood the battlefield as opposed to powerful, expensive Equipment you play for their own effect. The Inventor's Goggles triggered ability allows for the explosive starts this deck is looking for.
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 2 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 4 Stone Haven Outfitter
- 4 Stoneforge Acolyte
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Weapons Trainer
Conveniently, Inventor's Apprentice is also an Artificer, as is Toolcraft Exemplar, another creature with a great rate. The balance between Equipment and creatures is a tough one to find and leaves little room for removal, but your seemingly small creatures become very big quite easily. Curving Inventor's Goggles into Stone Haven Outfitter leaves you with a 4/5 that draws a card when it dies.
Bone Saw may not look like much, and in fact it isn't much, but when it represents an additional +1/+1 or +1/+0 to your entire team, then it's well worth the one mana. The Equipment naturally plays well with your creature-lands and allow you to play more lands without risking flood.
This deck is bound to have some embarrassing draws, and that may ultimately make it a worse version of Humans, but the high end of its draws is nigh-unbeatable, and if the deck can be tuned to mitigate variance enough, there is something here. And all from a card that you'll likely be unhappy to wheel in your drafts.
A little change of pace from my normal aggressive mindset, Glimmer of Genius is the hope for reactive control players everywhere who just want to party like it's 1999. Normally that's not my game, but normally we don't have access to a card like Torrential Gearhulk.
One of the most talked-about cards from the most talked-about cycle in the set, Torrential Gearhulk has been overrated in my opinion; in the current format, the restriction of its ability to instants only is quite significant. The most powerful removal spells are sorceries, and although you can play enough cards like Murder and Harnessed Lightning to turn your mini-Titan into an oversized Shriekmaw, you need to have a wide variety of instants to target in order to leverage the ability effectively.
Glimmer of Genius allows you to cast your Torrential Gearhulk proactively and get significant value from it, whereas you may have been forced to cast it for no value since your opponent did not present you with a juicy spell to counter or creature to kill. That turns Torrential Gearhulk from a role-player itself to a game-defining card, since it will be good at nearly any stage in the game. And as we all know, the best role-players are those that make the players (cards) around them better.
Some players may point to Scour the Laboratory as another option for this role, but reactive decks will naturally have difficulty achieving delirium since they are primarily composed of instants and sorceries and they have to cast their cards at specific times. Given that the effect of Glimmer of Genius is nearly on par with drawing three cards, and perhaps better if you can use the Energy, this is the draw spell I would look to for your blue-based control decks.
This card isn't going to spawn a new archetype or elevate an existing archetype. But what it will do is find its way into plenty of sideboards over the next eighteen months. One mana to answer opposing Vehicles, major payoff cards like Aetherworks Marvel, and (if my prayers for a playable wacky combo deck are answered) opposing Aetherflux Reservoirs is a great deal. Even killing cards like Filigree Familiar or Scrapheap Scrounger, both of which provide value when they die, will be a fine deal, since the tempo gain will be significant; in the case of Familiar, you're likely stranding an Elder Deep-Fiend in your opponent's hand.
Suffice it to say there are lots of good artifacts in Kaladesh and not a lot of good ways to remove them. Creeping Mold is clunky, as is Appetite for the Unnatural. Sure, Fragmentize doesn't hit the Gearhulks, but you can only ask so much from a one-mana card. This card is going to allow you to save a more powerful removal spell to answer their bigger threats, and it will do so out of aggressive and controlling decks alike since it is so cheap.
And don't forget, Fragmentize can answer Always Watching, a stray Vessel of Nascency, or even a Clue if you're trying to keep your opponent from finding a key card. Having a few targets likely isn't going to be enough for you to want Fragmentize, but as old decks incorporate Kaladesh cards, the number of targets for this card is going to rise significantly.
Anything but Common
Sorting through the commons and uncommons of a set is a tedious process and certainly isn't as exciting as imagining how awesome Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Verdurous Gearhulk are going to be. But it is no less important because we aren't really trying to identify individual cards. The goal is to identify good strategies and decks. Context is incredibly important in this regard, and I've tried to identify how the expected Standard format will provide a climate in which these cards can thrive.
And when you're sitting at your desk this week dreaming up sweet new decks, be sure to look past the Jordans and LeBrons of the world and make sure you get a Robert Horry on your team. Because only one of those players has seven championship rings. In other news, I'm really jonesing for the NBA season to start…