Adventures In Magic the Gathering: Kaladesh at PAX
Ever since about the end of May, it has been a rollercoaster few months. It is as if the spoiler season hasn’t really ended. First it was the spoilers for Eternal Masters. Then soon after that it was time for spoilers for Conspiracy: Take The Crown. And then, just a few days ago, it was time for Kaladesh, the upcoming set for the game, releasing by the end of the month. Taking place at the PAX convention over the weekend, we got a ton of spoilers for the new set, which is all set to shake up the Standard format, and even more.
Kaladesh is going to mark a very significant point in the history of the game since it will be the first set to bring us players firmly into the new era of two-set blocks which started with the Battle For Zendikar block last year, and progressed with the Shadows Over Innistrad block this year. Whether it be the planeswalker Saheeli Rai or vehicles or the new Energy resource, Kaladesh is chock-full of awesome cards and awesome mechanics and I can’t wait to get my hands on these cards and get on with some spell-slinging with friends.
The plane of Kaladesh is the home of the red-aligned planeswalker Chandra Nalaar. As we saw in her Magic Origins story from last year, her parents were involved in the underground smuggling of aether (the magical fuel used in Kaladeshi inventions and machines) and during one of Chandra’s own runs, she was nearly caught by the local security officials. She was barely a teenager at the time, and it was at this point in her life that she discovered her pyromantic powers. The Kaladeshi generally see pyromancers as major threat to their way of life, and coupled with the smuggling, this made Chandra and her family a prime target for the government, the Consulate. At the end of that story we have Chandra’s planeswalker spark igniting and taking her to the plane of Regatha, which is where she eventually grew up and learned to hone her pyromancy with the Abbots of Keral Keep, the local fire-monks.
During the Magic Origins previews, Kaladesh was a world that really stood for me. It was a brand-new plane that we hadn’t seen before and the whole artifact theme really stood out. I theorized then that within two years we’d be going to Kaladesh as part of Magic‘s ongoing story because it was a world that seemed too good for Wizards to pass up on. And lo and behold, here we are.
This past weekend was the PAX West convention in Seattle and as they do every year, Wizards held the annual Magic World Championships at the event. At the same time, as part of Wizards’ programming for the convention, we also got a ton of panels all weekend which focused on the plane of Kaladesh. We got to see how the creative team did all the conceptual design, how design and development teams worked on the set in general, and so much more.
Of course, we also got a ton of sweet cards from the set, and as I said above, I am extremely excitefor this It brings with it another rotation, which will see Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins leaving Standard, leaving us with just 5 sets once again. So let’s see what the new set is going to bring us.
All hail Saheeli Rai, the first planeswalker in the history of the game who is of Indian-origin. Kaladesh as a world is inspired by Indian culture, and the world’s premier planeswalker reflects that in leaps and bounds. When her image and bio were revealed some weeks ago, I was thoroughly excited since, as an Indian, I had longed to see the game visit a plane inspired by my own cultural identity. And here we are. Awesome name aside, Saheeli isn’t exactly a pushover when it comes to being a pushover card. For one, she costs a total of three mana, which has proven to be a good ballpark for planeswalker who dominate their respective Standard environments. We currently have two more three-mana planeswalkers in Standard in Liliana, the Last Hope and Nissa, Voice of Zendiakr, and they are both powerful cards, to the extent that they are even seeing some limited play in Modern.
However, an interesting point to note is that of these, Saheeli Rai comes out in the first set of a new block and so all the support that you might be needing for her to work well just isn’t there, which is something that the other three-mana planeswalkers didn’t have to contend with as they were in the second sets. Personally, I like all of her abilities, even in a vaccuum. We have plenty of value creatures in the game right now, and the new set is going to be bringing a whole lot more. Burning the opponent, even for one damage, is good as sometimes the difference between winning and losing comes down to one point of damage. And the final ability, well, I can see her working well in a vehicles deck (more on this later). Sure, she doesn’t protect herself as most other planeswalkers tend to do, so that’s a downside, but I feel that at 3-mana, she is aggressive enough for that to not be as big a thing.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance was revealed on the final day of PAX West, and the entire reveal was awesome to watch. I didn’t get to do it live as I live halfway around the world, but watching the replay on YouTube is just amazing. Big thanks to presenter Christine Sprankle, who cosplayed as Chandra at the event, and whose enthusiasm for the character is second to none. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is the third Chandra planeswalker card to be printed in 14 months, the first of these being the flip-Chandra in Magic Origins and then the second being the beefy 6-mana one in Oath of the Gatewatch. And I dare say that the new one is far superior to both of them, which is as it should be since Chandra is now on her home-plane and is drawing on a lot of power.i
Let’s start with the most obvious thing first, this Chandra is at a “low” cost of just 4 mana. Which is huge, and clearly pushes her towards a very aggressive role. I’m very happy that here the designers and developers did not go for the 3-mana route, which seems to be some kind of a norm these days. Then, she has not just one but two +1 abilities, which is pretty bonkers. The first of these is usually going to be the better option for the turn you cast her, especially if you are able to flip a land. The second is also good, but works best when you can cast something for that free mana. That’s why I think that she can find a good home in Modern as a component of Burn and Zoo decks most of all. The third ability is a bit typical in that it is removal instead of a straight burn to the opponent. Not too bad, and there are plenty of x/2 and x/3 and x/4 creatures in the format that can get taken out by this. It is good value. The final ability simply provides inevitability. Once you ultimate Chandra it is practically game-over for your opponent because they won’t be able to stick on the battlefield and will continue to take damage. You just got to make sure that you can keep up a steady stream of spells! I love Chandra, Torch of Defiance!
With Magic Origins, we are losing the Pain lands, which provided a source of untapped mana that allowed us to cast our spells on time. They also tapped for colorless mana which helped enable many 2-colour and 3-colour Eldrazi decks. Their direct replacements are the above enemy color lands, which complete the cycle of Fast-lands that were first introduced in the Scars of Mirrodin set and were in the ally colours. I had thought we’d get some new kind of a cycle, as we did in Battle for Zendikar and Shadows Over Innistrad but instead Wizards sought fit to complete an older cycle, which is pretty awesome since these lands are also very relevant in the Modern format and are going to make the near-perfect manabases of that format even better, particularly for decks like Abzan and many others. Instead of playing Fetchlands and cracking them for Shocklands of the above colours, players can now just play the new Fastlands, saving life totals, and having just as much flexibility in casting spells on time (for the crucial first three turns). And the names are also somewhat generic, so down the line some day, these are open for being reprinted.
These are some of the new characters we’ll be meeting on our trip to Kaladesh and they are all excellent. First, Depala. The Dwarves have returned to Magic after such a long time! While other typical fantasy races have proliferated since the earliest days of the game, the dwarves simply disappeared and now Wizards has brought them back on Kaladesh, and given them a WR color identity and has gone a step further in printing not just a lord for them, but also a lord for the vehicle decks (more on that later). However, with Depala being legendary, it does hurt the chances of a dwarf tribal deck being competitive since tribal decks want non-legendary lords to stack up on during games, and this card doesn’t do that. But, at the same time, this is such a great flavour that I can’t deny that I love the design of it. And she also happens to both attack well, defend well, and has good combat abilities.
Gonti is perhaps the most striking of these because he has an entirely new creature type, Aetherborn, a species native to the plane of Kaladesh. The set designers went into some detail on the Aetherborn during one of the panels at PAX (which I’d recommend viewing) and I’m honestly very thrilled about this. It has been some time since we got a new creature type like this, and Gonti himself seems to be a powerful individual. This is practically a hate card that disrupts your opponent’s library. While the stats don’t quite match up to the mana cost, both of his abilities have relevant applications in the game and can go a long way to stabilizing the board. It seems like it would be especially good in Limited formats as well, where mana-fixing is usually tricky and this card gets around all of that.
Rashmi has already featured in a Magic Story article, and my first impression is that I really like her character. She has a bit of a “naive young inventor” feel to her, but I don’t mind that so much because Kaladesh is that kind of a world, and Rashmi fits here perfectly. She also is very similar Jori En, Ruin Diver from Oath of the Gatewatch in that they both trigger off the same effect, but instead of just straight up drawing you a card, she goes one step further and can help you cast it immediately. Which is pretty good. No immediate value, which is a bit disappointing, but getting to untap with her opens up a lot of possibilities.
tVehicles are here! Mark Rosewater has been going on and on about vehicles for a long time now, and it seems that him and his team have finally solved the puzzle of how to make vehicles work. And I have to say that I’m pretty stoked about all of these. Each of the four vehicles spoiled during PAX are awesome both in terms of how they work mechanically, and also from a flavour point of view. We have two F1 racers, a leisure barge, and Kaladesh’s very own Helicarrier. What’s not to love about any of it. The Fleetwheel Cruiser is easily the best of the bunch, especially on the turn it is cast, thus giving immediate value. It also comes down before Reality Smasher and can easily wreck face, though it is indeed a bit fragile The others are prety decent as well. The Skysovereign is another one to give some immediate value, but is also one that is toughest to activate since it needs the most board presence in order to work optimally. The good thing about vehicles though is that they give you value off creatures with summoning sickness, which definitely can’t be understated. Some of the low-to-the-ground decks like mono-white humans would get more use out of their late-game 1-drops if they have vehicles on the board. And all vehicles dodge wrath effects and other forms of sorcery-speed removal since they are creatures only when they are crewed!
One of the other new mechanics in Kaladesh is the Energy mechanic. It is another mechanic that Mark Rosewater has been trying for years to make work, and his team has succeeded yet again. Of course, as with vehicles, it remains to be seen how viable the mechanics are, but early indications are hopeful. What we have here is a 2-card set-up combo. You cast a Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot on turn 2, sacrifice on turn 3 and then turn 4 you cast Aetherworks Marvel, praying that you have an Emrakul, the Promised End on top of your library. A turn-4 Emrakul sounds pretty broken to me! And it isn’t as if you are wasting your first few turns since the Puzzleknot gains you six life in the process, hopefully keeping your life total healthy.
Energy is definitely a very interesting mechanic. It is basically a new resource that you have to manage alongside all the others, such as your mana, your library, cards in hand, graveyard, and so on. More complication in the resource management might not be such a good idea though and a lot depends on how easy it is to gain energy counters and use them up (more on this below). As kind of the face card of the mechanic however, I really like Aetherworks Marvel. It seems to want to go in very specific decks, on its own, but as part of combo, it has a bit more flexibility and the Puzzleknot is also not bad, especially if there are viable energy-based decks in Kaladesh standard.
The Verdurous is actually part of a mythic cycle of Gearhulk cards and they represent the Titans and Soul cards we saw in previous core sets such as Magic 2015 and Magic 2012. I see this card and I immediately think of the GW Tokens deck from the Shadows Over Innistrad/Eldritch Moon standard formats. Turn 2 Sylvan Advocate, turn 3 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and make a token, turn 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and make more tokens, turn 5 Verduruous Gearhulk and put counters on your tokens. That is a very sick curve indeed. This card can make your board absolutely lethal if you go wide, or present a very fast clock if you put the counters on it instead. At 5 mana, it also dodge the pesky Spell Queller and is very effective against decks running the likes of Reflector Mage. Enter-the-battlefield effects are at a premium these days because of the mage and Verdurous Gearhulk fights on a lot of different axes against different decks. A fantastic card!
Delirium and Emerge decks are everywhere right now. Using synergies between card types and playing value creatures, these decks all aim to cast Emrakul, the Promised End as fast as they can. As such, one of the key things they need to work are cards that provide multiple benefits. That’s where the Filigree Familiar truly excels. It has two card types for the Delirium decks and has both an ETB and LTB effect for the Emerge decks. It blocks decently as well against aggro decks. And the art is super cute. It is also viable for control decks in general since it helps stabilize and provides value when it dies. During the Fate Reforged standard format, we had Arashin Clerics everywhere, and for me, this card is flat out better since the trade-off in the power-toughness is negligible, and it provides additional benefits. It is certainly miles better than Cleric of the Forward Order from Magic Origins.
Back in the days of Scars of Mirrodin block, we had a mechanic called Metalcraft which gave you benefits if you controlled three or more artifacts, whether they be lands or creatures or plain artifacts or whatever. And it proved to be a very, very good mechanic, even finding its way into Modern through the Affinity deck and its premier card, Mox Opal. Now, Inventors’ Fair is no Mox Opal, but it is no less cool of a card. For one, it is a repeatable source of life-gain. Second, it provides colorless mana for those looking to build Eldrazi decks. Third, it is a one-time tutor if you have multiple artifacts on the field. Shadows Over Innistrad gave us artifacts in the form of Clue tokens, which are relatively easy to generate, especially if you have cards like Tireless Tracker. Put it all together, and you can come up with something interesting I’m sure. Being a legendary means that it won’t see too much play, but then that also means that it can be tutored up by Thalia’s Lancers, so perhaps some kind of a GW shell that wants to generate lots of clue tokens and has some kind of an equipment theme?
Dwarves were not meant for flying! I’m sure that Gimli said it a few times in Lord of the Rings. Or perhaps Flint Fireforge said it in Dragonlance. Or maybe Gotrek Gurnnisson in Warhammer. I don’t quite remember. But I’m sure that if either of them saw Aerial Responder right now, that they’d have a few strong words to say on the subject. Anyway, I like this card. A 2/3 flier for three mana is perfectly fine for limited. But giving it vigilance and lifelink on top of that pushes it for Standard, and I would indeed be happy to play this in a white aggro deck. Good stats, good abilities. Blocks well, attacks well, has evasion.
This was one of the very first cards to be previewed and also one that got me really hyped for Kaladesh. B ack in Fate Reforged we had a card named Sandsteppe Outcast which was a cheap creature with a modal ability that either put a token creature on the battlefield alongside the Outcast or put a +1/+1 counter on him. The Fabricate mechanic is basically a souped-up Sandsteppe Outcast since the Pioneer has flying and provides better value in that way, but ihet is also more expensive, and as a common, the power level just isn’t there. But I suspect that it won’t be a bad early pick for Draft and should see play in most white decks in Sealed.
Aetherstorm Roc shows us how “easy” it might be to generate energy counters, given that it triggers on any creatures and not just tokens or non-tokens (point of note, vehicles don’t trigger this as they ETB as artifacts and not creatures). And it has some payoff for having some kind of energy generation in that it can grow and tap down the opposing team one at a time. I don’t quite see it working in Standard, but in Booster Draft or Sealed, I can see this being a bomb since the energy usage is pseudo-removal, and it is a reasonably-costed flier.
This card just makes me laugh. The judge dismisses the artifact just so in a very uninterested kind of way and the card’s name is pretty much perfect. I have seen a lot of discussion about this card seeing play in Modern to combat the rampant Eldrazi and other key artifact spells, and I certainly agree that it can be a potent sideboard card. I see it being much more applicable in Standard however since the format usually doesn’t get such cheap, albeit conditional, counterspells. With Kaladesh having the whole artifact theme, this could be very relevant, so we’ll see how things pan out, particularly as Eldrazi decks are taking a big hit and might not be as prevalent net month. But this does hit Emrakul, the Promised End so that’s something as well.
This card got spoilered accidentally before the previews began, and it is certainly one of the more interesting cards from the set. The effects seem very powerful and they do also have some similarity to and synergy with Saheeli Rai‘s second ability. As with her, the effect works best when there are good value targets to be copied, otherwise six mana is simply too high a cost to be paying.
On Kaladesh, the Aetherborn are a race which matures and dies in the span of a handful of years. They live on the edge and when they die they are as children when compared to the other races. As such, Live Fast and Die Young hit the home run on the flavour, which is something that I adore. The designers and developers have come a long way in hitting the right flavour notes in recent sets and Kaladesh is pretty awesome in that regard.
Live Fast is basically a reprint of Read The Bones except that instead of being able to scry two cards deep, you get two energy counters instead, which can be relevant in the right mix. As the other card is rotating, I expect that most people playing black would choose to run Succumb The Temptation until the right energy synergies are found. Die Young is a removal spell that can, at worst, take out an x/2 creature, and should you happen to have some more energy counters lying round, then it scales pretty well and all for just 2 mana. Now that’s efficiency, and this is a theme that we’ll see a whole lot more in the set as more cards are revealed.
Demon of Dark Schemes is a pretty big beat-stick that comes attached with a wrath effect. It is essentially a Flaying Tendrils that costs twice as much, but gives you a big beater attached to the spell, and that’s nothing to scoff at. The trouble with this card though is that the -2/-2 doesn’t actually hit a whole lot in the format, given how many x/3 creatures have been printed in the last few sets. This will work well against someone lots of tokens, but against anything even slightly beefy the ETB effect just fizzles. However, if you can put together the right blink effects, then this gets better, especially if you can double-blink. The secondary ability working off the energy counters is actually pretty interesting as the restriction isn’t only for your graveyard. You can even take your opponent’s best creature, irrespective of whether the Demon itself killed said creature. We shall see how this works out.
Another cool removal spell that also gains you some life. Great for Limited format, but in Standard, I’m afraid that it won’t be seeing much play since we already have two unconditional 3-mana kill spells in Murder and Ruinous Path for black. It has some potential once Battle for Zendikar and Eldritch Moon rotate next year, but I’m not exactly hopeful for it. Still, another home run for Aetherborn flavour? I love how much focus Magic’s newest creature type is getting in the set!
Yet another card that I see being good in Limited, but not in Standard since the creature doesn’t provide any immediate value, and is actually very vulnerable to 2-drops and 3-drops that can easily outclass this in combat. This card being good in Limited is also dependent on how good artifact/vehicle archetypes are. And it is also weird that the lord for vehicles and the only named Pilot so far, Depala is in WR colours, whereas this is black. Big dissonance there.
When this card got previewed and was shared on my whatsapp MtG groups, there were a lot of naysayers for this. The default for a lot of people here is the format they play, and considering a card across formats isn’t exactly something many are known for. Furious Reprisal is clearly a Limited staple for red decks as it is good both in the early game and the late game, thanks to being able to target players. And if your opponent is hitting you with a bunch of weenies, then is going to be an all-star. Standard viability for this is very low and the stars would have to align in a very particular corner-case way for this card to see much play, if at all.
Could this be the new Thunderbreak Regent or Savage Knuckleblade? Doubtful since those cards were incredibly efficient while this one isn’t, and they also were able to provide very relevant immediate effects at 4-mana. Still, this is a no-less aggressive card and the longer the game goes, the better this becomes. It also fits in nicely with Chandra, Torch of Defiance since you can play her and then use her +1 to generate extra mana into sink into making this a better threat overall, giving it haste or making it bigger.
More pilots, and this one is an early aggressive creature that makes all your vehicles better! Imagine playing this on turn 2, and then any of the big vehicles like Ovalchase Dragster or Skysovereign. The latter especially would be an amazing play, getting rid of two blockers or just smashing the opponent directly. More early pilot creatures would be excellent in making the vehicles archetype a competitive one for Limited.
Gremlins are another new creature type alongside the Aetherborn and Vehicles that can be found in the new set. So many crazy things are happening in Kaladesh! The Territorial Gorger basically has energy-fall and, once again, depending on how easy it is to generate energy in the set, this can end up being a key card for the energy decks for Limited. The developers have said that there is enough support in this set alone for you to build an all-energy deck, but then the same was true of Oath of the Gatewatch and all-colourless Eldrazi decks, which failed to make a splash on the competitive scene for Standard, being relegated to the fringes of FNM play. I expect the same will be true here as well. The Gorger isn’t even that big as a baseline and it will often not be able to punch through at all. And being a common, Terror of the Fairgrounds will be a filler creature at best for a Limited deck. But gremlins! Cuteness!
Start Your Engines is a card that is going to make vehicle decks do some serious work. In fact, I’d say that alongside Depala and Speedway Fanatic, it is going to be a key card for the strategy to work in Limited. Being able to activate your vehicles without crewing them is huge as this just gets around that restriction entirely, and then it pumps them all up for some serious damage. You will be needing to have a bunch of vehicles on the field to get good value off this, but that shouldn’t be too hard since there are vehicles available at all rarities.
This card caused quite a stir when it was first previewed since they did not reveal the flavour text only, just the rules text. On its own, this looks pretty sweet for limited as the pump is big and the trample will help the creature in question get past any blockers. Being a sorcery-speed pump is a bit of downer, though I can see how it would be a little overpowered otherwise. However, the coolest thing about the card is the flavour text, for it pretty much confirmed that the artificer Tezzeret would be returning to Magic lore, having been absent for several years now. He’s a very core part of the larger Magic lore, especially as far as Gatewatch members Jace and Liliana are concerned, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here. It is going to be awesome to have him back.
Another energy-fall card! And this one is actually pretty sweet. If you are able to crank out a lot of counters super quick, then you can go to town on creating one big creature after another. This card obviously works very well with spells/abilities that put lands into play, and could actually see play in Standard, though it would need a very specific shell for that. Still, I’m excited for this particular mechanic and would love to utilize both sides of the card.
On the face of it, Cultivator of Blades seems like a very good card, but there are two things working against it. First, he’s a five drop. Second, he’s only a 1/1. He mirrors Tajuru Warcaller from Battle For Zendikar in a lot of ways, but as a straight comparison, I’d say that the Zendikari elf is better than the Kaladeshi, since it provides for better swingy games. They both also need established boards to be good, so that’s something as well. You don’t want to be taking this early in Draft, and hope that you have lots of cheap creatures for Sealed, otherwise this is going to be a disappointing card.
This is one of the sweetest cards from Kaladesh, no joke. Imagine getting two triggers from the ETB effects of Reflector Mage, Skysovereign, Emrakul, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Bloodhall Priest and others. There are some juicy possibilities there. And given how many artifacts and creatures are in the set that generate energy on ETB, that makes the energy mechanic even better, and the Panharmonicon definitely becomes a key part of decks utilizing them.
Normally in Standard we don’t see equipment as cheap as this. Wizards has learned their lessons regarding cheap equipment the hard way in the past, and that no doubt is why we usually see expensive or inefficient artifacts in each set. Inventors’ Goggles is very different though in that it is very cheap, provides a decent stat boost, and can be equipped for free. And there are plenty of artificers in the set as well, so if you have a decent number of such in your deck, then this is a card you definitely want to have. Stoneforge Acolyte, Stone Haven Outfitter, Weapons Trainer, Propeller Pioneer, Architect of the Untamed and more all love this card.
This card is a bit tough to evaluate. It obviously has some synergy with the energy-fall cards that we’ve seen, and it is kind of a ramp effect as well, but I’m not sold on how good it is since it is not a fast enough spell, and it can work against you by letting your opponent draw three cards in their upkeep! That’s not where you want to be in the current Standard format, or even in that of Kaladesh either.
And finally we have Whirlermaker, the token token-producer of the set. For an uncommon it looks rather underpowered, since spending 7 mana to create your first Thopter token and then 4 mana for each successive Thopter token seems like a really bad rate. No Standard viability, but for limited, this could be serviceable indeed.
And that wraps up 90% of the spoilers from PAX West that we got for the new set. As of this writing, there have been tons more cards revealed, and I’ll be going over them in my next article in a couple days, so stay tuned!
What did you look about the set so far? Which cards caught your eye? Which ones you didn’t like? Do let me know in the comments!
Posted on September 9, 2016, in Gaming, Magic the Gathering and tagged Adventures in Magic the Gathering, Aerial Responder, Aetherborn, Aetherstorm Roc, Aetherworks Marvel, Architect of the Untamed, Blooming Marsh, Botanical Sanctum, Ceremonious Rejection, Chandra Nalaar, Chandra Torch of Defiance, Concealed Courtyard, Cultivator of Blades, Demon of Dark Schemes, Depala Pilot Exemplar, Die Young, Dwarves, Elves, Energy Counters, Essence Extraction, Fabricate, Filigree Familiar, Fleetwheel Cruise, Furious Reprisal, Gaming, Gaming News, Ghirapur Orrery, Gonti Lord of Luxury, Gremlins, Inspiring Vantage, Inventors' Fair, Inventors' Goggles, Kaladesh, Kaladesh Spoilers, Larger Than Life, Life Fast, Magic The Gathering, MtG News, Ovalchase Daredevil, Ovalchase Dragster, Panharmonicon, PAX West, Planeswalker, Propeller Pioneer, Rashmi Eternities Crafter, Saheeli Rai, Saheeli's Artistry, Sky Skiff, Skyship Stalker, Skysovereign Consulate Flagshipm Spirebluff Canal, Speedway Fanatic, Territorial Gorger, Terror of the Fairgrounds, Vehicles, Verduruous Gearhulk, Whirlermaker, Wizards of the Coast, WomenInMagic, Woodweaver's Puzzleknot. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.