First assumptions on Kaladesh Limited for GP London
Kaladesh has barely been released and Grand Prix London is already on our doorstep. GPs this close to a set release are always exciting, but also daunting. On one hand you get to explore a fresh limited format at a competitive level, but on the other hand there is very little information to go by in regards to what you are 'meant to be doing' in Sealed/Draft. In Sealed, should you be on the play or the draw, given the choice? Is the format suitable to grinding out small advantages or is a good curve and an aggressive stance desirable? Are there commonly occurring synergetic combinations of cards that you will likely face or should look out for when deckbuilding? What creature sizes are well suited for combat and strong against the removal of the format? These are difficult questions to get a grip on in a limited time, so let’s try to have a look at the makeup of this format now.
The limiting factors of the Sealed format
Cards that use spare mana are few and far between in this set (from a design perspective, I believe "Energy sinks" were prioritised over "mana sinks"). Compare this to the EMN/SOI format, where you could spend your mana on transforming Werewolves, cracking Clues or fat Emerge creatures - now when you run out of spells to cast, you don’t have as much to do anymore. This lack of mana sinks means the cards that give you ways to use spare mana that are available, such as the various Modules (and even nominally terrible cards like Whirlermaker) suddenly look more appealing.
Leaning myself out the window a bit far here, maybe…
Further assumptions resulting from this are that you should make an extra effort to include cards in your deck that are as impactful as possible, and that forms of card advantage gain value, as the easiest way to make use of more mana is simply to have more cards. Two-drops with no (or marginal) abilities are always lacklustre in Sealed already as they will get outclassed quickly - this is aggravated in formats where a good lategame tends to be lacking. Equally, even seemingly weaker means of acquiring card advantage (such as Fortuitous Find) may play an important role in Kaladesh Sealed decks.
Let’s bear the above in mind and look at the set’s main mechanics. We have Energy, Fabricate and Vehicles as well as a general "Artifacts matter" theme. One of the observations in this regard is that the latter theme is less pronounced than one might think: The Artifacts in this set are fine, but certainly nothing to write home about. Fabricate will incidentally generate Artifact creatures and some of the Vehicles are quite strong , but after that, there are not really any Artifact cards you would be thrilled to have in your deck: The Puzzleknots act as mediocre setups for either Energy or the "Artifacts matter“ theme (or both) and are all overcosted for the effect they provide. The cycle of Artifact creatures with coloured activation costs are just your bread and butter limited cards and there are no truly outstanding Artifacts (though Chief of the Foundry and Snare Thopter are both good).
I’d rather not
In addition, the cards that reward you for playing Artifacts tend to be somewhat underpowered if you can’t trigger them on a regular basis. Even if you do, the payoff isn’t staggeringly strong: Brazen Wolves was very good, but Salivating Gremlins asks a lot more of you, since you typically can’t clear the way for it with removal and tricks AND make sure it has bonus power. Reckless Fireweaver as a Maritime Guard with the occasional ping is also unimpressive, Quicksmith Genius is the best of the bunch because its base stats are decent, but a 3/2 with an occasional loot is hardly a Godsend.
Regarding Energy, I believe it was intended as the resource you accumulate naturally in the course of the game and then spend later to your advantage. For this to work, however, you need both:
- Continuous ways to generate Energy
- Lucrative ways to spend it.
One of the central insights on this format is that this combination rarely comes together, especially in Sealed. The cards that generate Energy repeatedly at common/uncommon level are Era of Innovation, which requires Artifacts to work (which are not great as outlined above), the two Modules (which only provide you with one Energy a pop) and Empyreal Voyager, which at least is a good card in its own right. Other than that, you are relying on one shot Energy bursts from various cards akin to the Thriving Cycle.
These latter cards often offer ways to spend the Energy themselves, which leads to the next point: The common/uncommon effects of spending energy are fairly lacklustre too. The cards are often slight stats upgrades on common limited effects (Pinger, Looter, Tapper, Mana elf) at the expense of needing to spend energy to be able to use them every turn, or the Thriving Cycle, where two Energy equate to a Battlegrowth. While these cards are fine, the payoff for accumulating large amounts of Energy is not really there - especially given that you would have to resort to less than stellar cards like Sage of Shalia’s Claim and Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot to do so. Long story short, the Energy theme is probably not worth going all-in on. As Sam Black said, it seems a lot like Delirium – you get marginal upside but are better off not bending over backwards and playing subpar cards to enable the theme.
Fine cards, not worth the energy of jumping through hoops
Finally, let’s have a look at Fabricate and Vehicles. I lump these together, because:
- Fabricate is quickly dealt with
- They interact somewhat favourably
The default with Fabricate creatures will be to make Servos because:
- Of the marginal value of getting an Artifact
- It makes your opponent’s removal less impactful
- You get a 'driver' for your vehicles
- And a spare for chucking under your opponents vehicles
There are cards that both reward and punish going wide (Inspired Charge and Make Obsolete, respectively) so bear these in mind in specific games when you are Fabricating/see your opponent Fabricating. As a side note, one toughness ground creatures look to be quite poorly positioned due to Fabricate, so they likely won’t be particularly servocable.
In regard to the Vehicles, the magic number seems to be Crew 3 (or less) – this is fairly easy to achieve with a single creature (there are a decent number of 3/2 creatures in the format), which should leave you enough creatures to maintain a strong defence. As soon as you go above that, you will likely have to use two creatures to crew and open yourself up to getting raced back or being unable to crew altogether. For that reason, it looks like Renegade Freighter and Sky Skiff (being commons) will be the defining Vehicles of the format while Aradara Express, though humongous, is perhaps the Percy to the Freighter’s Thomas. In regard to the uncommon vehicles, the ones with Crew 3 or less still seem the most playable (Ovalchase Dragster needs some help but can deal out damage quickly) and are even chunkier than their common counterparts. Ballista Charger and the excellently named Bomat Bazaar Barge are likely to be the largest men in town. Note that you cannot just stuff your deck full of Vehicles as this will lead to a shortage of drivers. Typically, I expect decks to have two or three Vehicles.
Choo Choo, Beep Beep, Vroom Vroom
Conclusions for gameplay
- Creatures will be plentiful, large men are good
Certainly big but not as bad as you might think
Fabricate will mean that there will be lots of bodies on the board. Vehicles also will lead to more creatures surviving combat, because when Vehicles trade or get removed, their pilots stick around (presumably due to a lot of Kaladesh funds having been invested in ejector seat/airbag technology). Removal, where possible, will be aimed at vehicles, because they will typically be the most threatening permanents on the battlefield. After vehicles get dealt with, a bunch of average creatures will be staring at each other. As cluttered boards tend to favour the blocker, especially when you have a bunch of 1/1s to throw in on multi-blocks, there is a reasonable likelihood of ground stalls. And in such ground stalls, creatures that are substantially larger than the rest can be essential in enabling good attacks.
- Evasion is key…
…and Key is evasion
The aforementioned glut of creatures will be predominantly ground based and, apart from Sky Skiff, so are the Vehicles. So if you have a flyer that is chipping away, you are at a distinct advantage. Even the pseudo-evasion provided by Ghirapur Guide or Elegant Edgecrafters looks strong as multi-blocking without Servos becomes a lot more difficult. Wispweaver Angel in particular looks to be excellent in the format - combining 4 toughness and its point on the curve means it dodges most removal spells. Energy-based removal like Harnessed Lightning and Die Young need help, so does Welding Sparks, and there is a decent likelihood that cards like Revoke Privileges and Malfunction had to be used already, at which point the Angel even gets great value. But even good old Wind Drake should do a decent amount of work, provided he doesn’t get confronted by R2D2 in an X-Wing…
- Forms of card advantage are solid
Who doesn’t love value?
The lack of mana sinks was already mentioned as an argument for prioritising card advantage and this is further supported by the fact that another way of winning stalls is by brute forcing through them and simply throw more material into the battle. Straight-up card draw such as Live Fast, Fortuitous Find and Glimmer of Genius or recursion like Ovalchase Daredevil and Restoration Gearsmith, can provide you with the expendables you need to force your way through. The various blink/bounce effects in the set (Wispweaver Angel, Aviary Mechanic, Aether Tradewinds, Acrobatic Maneuver) are worth mentioning here as well, as they can generate advantage by getting rid of aura-based removal or re-triggering certain ETB effects.
- Despite the potential for stalls, attacking is incentivised, so choosing to play seems correct even in Sealed, it’s hard to catch up
Attacking is goat
Both vehicles and the Thriving cycle benefit from being aggressive and the desire to have evasion creatures also suggests that you want to be on the play - you often do not want to block with cards like Wind Drake the turn you play them. Most of the Thriving cycle only become good cards once you’ve attacked with them once, which is a lot easier to do if you‘re on the play. You will take a lot of damage if their Thriving Rhino has already attacked and you now need to attack with yours just to match theirs. Facing off against a Renegade Freighter on the draw is also not pleasant, and hedging against getting trained looks to be a good idea. It follows that faffing around early with Puzzleknots or Modules can be a dangerous proposition.
- Tricks are not great, deck space is pressured
At best the last cards in your deck, certainly not smashing
The requirements of what needs to go in your deck seem to be quite pressured in Kaladesh. You will want:
- To play your good Vehicles
- Answers to your opponent’s Vehicles and creatures
- Probably some way of generating lategame advantage
- Plenty of creatures alongside a reasonable curve to prevent falling behind and to enable crewing.
This leaves little space for combat tricks - which in this set are not particularly potent anyway. Blossoming Defense as protection from a removal spell is fine, and I don’t mind Ornamental Courage for its surprise value, but I would avoid Built to Smash and Last (however great their names may be). This is emphasised by the tendency towards board stalls before, where tricks can be played around with relative ease by multi-blocking.
- Naturalize/Shatter effects are maindeckable, but not in high numbers; removal in Aura form suffers
This set is no Mirrodin - while Artifacts are around, they are by no means omnipresent. The Artifacts you want to deal with are typically Vehicles, but there will be enough random artifact creatures that your Fragmentize and Appetite for the Unnatural should find a target, especially since there are also a few Auras that act as Removal spells. These latter ones lose some value as a result, given that not only will these Naturalize effects see maindeck play, but the blink and bounce effects also weaken them. Conversely, pure artifact destruction is significantly less powerful than true Naturalizes. Appetite is particularly nice thanks to its Instant speed: Killing their Vehicle after they tapped to crew it can be a substantial tempo swing. That said, more than one of these effects can spell trouble.
Having looked at what seems to matter in the format, I will finish with a short evaluation of each colours role. It is important to note that the points above about the themes of the set looking a bit underpowered would not necessarily mean that playing to the themes is a bad idea, as long as the “normal” cards in the format are also on the weaker side, thus allowing synergy to take over. However, I don’t think that’s the case in this format. Solid cards with solid effects exist in a large enough number that the cards relying on synergy are somewhat outmatched. As a result, the colours with a higher concentration of synergy cards look weaker. That said, let’s have a look at the individual colours.
White looks to be one of the strongest colours as it is deep with a high number of solid cards. It does not play to a theme too much, but has commons that can provide value in the right deck (Aviary Mechanic, Acrobatic Maneuver) and a wide range of at playable removal at common and uncommon, including one of the best removal spells in the format (Skywhaler’s Shot). It also has one of perhaps the strongest uncommons in Aerial Responder, whose abilities offer a fearsome mix of offensive and defensive capabilities. Inspired Charge also gives you another angle you can take your deck in. White should always offer a solid base for a deck while bearing some potential of incidental synergy.
Blue looks to mostly be a supporting colour. Many of its commons are decidedly average and/or rely on other colours to provide a reason to play them. Aether Theorist for instance is actually quite good as a defensive early creature whose scrying gets you to your powerful lategame cards in true Merfolk Looter fashion, however Blue itself is unlikely to provide these itself. Highlights at common include Gearseeker Serpent, which has the essential keyword “large” and often at a discounted price, Wind Drake as a solid evasive creature and the Bounce spells (Select for Inspection and Aether Tradewinds). The latter have been quite impressive for generating big tempo swings and both can have decent applications against opposing removal spells as well. Note: When playing against Blue decks you may want to use your removal spell while their creature is still untapped. After that, blue commons quickly become replaceable to bad (Malfunction is fine, but as mentioned above is likely to not stick) and even at uncommon the only true hit is Long-Finned Skywhale.
Black seems to be quite middle of the road. Like white, it doesn’t overly play towards any specific theme, and instead offers a smattering of decent cards throughout. It has the cleanest, albeit expensive, removal spell in Tidy Conclusion and a secondary removal spell in Die Young, lukewarm forms of card advantage in Live Fast and Fortuitous Find, and an assortment of solid, but not stellar, creatures. The uncommons provide more of the same with no particular standouts, though Aetherborn Marauder gets an honourable mention for its potential to run away with certain games. All in all, black looks decent and can provide a lot of your bread and butter Limited cards.
Red seems to suffer from a high concentration of synergy cards, as well as a large number of situational cards. The removal spells at common and uncommon are clearly good, and Red has the set’s strongest common in Welding Sparks, but there is also a large number of niche and/or bad cards (Hi Jack!). Additionally, cards like Salivating Gremlins and Reckless Fireweaver, as mentioned above, require some work to even be acceptable. Wayward Giant is worth mentioning as a relatively cheap big man but even so, I struggle to see Red as much apart from providing some removal spells for a deck that is predominantly some other colour.
We save the best for last. Green has copious amounts of big creatures (Thriving Rhino, Riparian Tiger, Peema Outrider) at reasonable costs, a Naturalize and a (admittedly somewhat underwhelming) removal spell in Appetite for the Unnatural and Hunt the Weak, and most of its uncommons are excellent, highlights being Arborback Stomper and Nature’s Way. Green’s significant advantage in creature sizing makes it the best suited for the format limitations outlined above, meaning it looks like a very strong base colour. What it lacks in interaction can be provided by the secondary colour - but even just smashing with a curve of big guys is already a good plan.
For the sake of completeness, a quick note on the Multicolour and Artifact cards. The multicolour uncommons can be considered a clue as to what route your deck could take, however we have already established that going deep on a theme is unlikely to happen. Most of these are good in their own right and will provide you with extra upside and therefore will be great inclusions in your deck regardless, though a few look a bit weaker and won’t make their respective deck a decent amount of the time (Engineered Might and Hazardous Conditions).
As for the Artifacts, they are mostly average and will be the fillers in your deck. The colour activated Artifact creatures should be treated as cards of the respective colour, although their stats are reasonable enough that they can be played off-colour in an emergency, especially Bastion Mastodon, due to its size. If you assume access to the activation, Dukhara Peafowl looks the strongest as it can stop most flyers on its own and can get in there if the sky is clear. Inventor’s Goggles is one of the more playable Equipments they have printed in recent years (even without the Artificer trigger) so I could see it as one of the last cards you add to your deck. In general however, the Equipments fight for slots with the Vehicles as permanents relying on creatures, and they look to be on the losing end of that fight to me.
The main take-away in my mind is that despite all the fancy-looking new stuff like Vehicles and Energy, this set looks to be a fairly normal Limited format, maybe somewhat comparable to Magic Origins. The set’s themes will show up in gameplay and there will occasionally be an “Energy” deck, but by and large I expect the format will be characterised by regular creature combat, rather than synergetic engines. As such, make sure you have a reasonable curve and play plenty of creatures, while keeping in mind that you should maximize the impact of your cards and have a plan for the lategame should things stall out. Other than that, enjoy playing some solid Limited in a new format. See you all at GP London!
My final recommendation: Open these cards -
About Raoul Zimmermann:
Raoul started attending GPs in 2007 with Time Spiral block. Following their World Magic Cup appearance in 2015, he co-founded Team Axion alongside Kayure Patel and Tom Law. Within the team, he enjoys collecting the data from testing and making it presentable. Raoul is from Germany and currently lives in Poland; his Magic home, however, is still very much the UK. He travels to UK events where possible, including Nationals, where he made the Top 8 in 2018. He has a few Pro Tour appearances and is eagerly looking to requalify. His favourite Magic format is Draft, as he enjoys the theoretical overlap from format to format, while the change in individual cards keeps things fresh. As such, he is always eager for a team draft with friends and has 18 boosters of various formats stocked up at home.