By Tom Vandevelde
Like I have done in the past, I will be taking a closer look at the rotation. While new sets being added to an existing block mostly tend to upgrade existing decks, rather than create new archetypes, the combination of several sets rotating out and new, exciting cards rotating in makes for a more significant overhaul, with entire decks becoming unplayable and new archetypes spawning. Rotation time is always exciting, and knowing what to expect can give you a major leg up on the competition. In two articles, I will try to provide a brief overview of my expectations on the upcoming rotation. In a first article, I said goodbye to some of the most powerful cards leaving the format, while also discussing their impact on the survival and demise of certain decks. Today, I introduce the new and exciting world of Kaladesh, which provides new cards and strategies I am more than eager to try out.
The power level of Kaladesh is pushed in ways we have not seen since the gold cards in Khans of Tarkir. Many of the creatures, especially, are well above the curve of a typical Magic card, commons and uncommons too, not just the rares. On the other hand, Kaladesh does not seem to have the powerful build-around themes that Battle for Zendikar (Eldrazi) or Innistrad (Delirium) had. Sure, I expect Vehicles to show up in force, but each of the cards that can be attributed to that ‘archetype’ are also individually powerful and may fit different kinds of decks. Most of the Energy, artifact or +1/+1-counter themed cards seem to fall just a little short, at least on first inspection, as they seem to be lacking either powerful non-rare pay-off cards or a critical mass of constructed-worthy cards. (Note that there is another set in this block, so my evaluation of these themes could very well change drastically with Aether Revolt.) This means that I mostly expect individually powerful cards or clusters of 2-3 pushed cards to make an impact in Gentry.
Before we start off with number 10, here are some of the powerhouse cards that did not make the final cut, but that I still think are great. They were left off of the list because I either do not see a great home for them (yet), or because I am not sure of their exact power level within this new format. As always, I did not take into account the rares and mythic rares, as the format’s restrictions mean that these cards will show up way less than the commons and uncommons will.
Filigree Familiar is everything I love in a Magic card: a versatile, efficient creature that works well with all kinds of mechanics. I expect it to show up in any deck that is looking for Emerge fodder, but the fact that it is battling with Pilgrim’s Eye (a mana fixer) and Foul Familiar (a better Emerge outlet), and the fact that it takes up an uncommon slot without providing a major impact on the board might hurt its stock. Still one of my favorite cards in the set though. Servant of the Conduit is a very powerful card, but I cannot see a home for it yet. If there is any type of slower green midrange deck that needs the ramp and can spare an uncommon slot, this will be a great fit. Speaking of green midrange, Arborback Stomper is one of the most inherently powerful non-rare cards in the new set. Maybe Stomper and Servant can team up?
Underhanded Designs is a card I feel the urge to build around, but I am concerned that there will be too few low-cost artifacts to make it work. If there is an Underhanded Designs deck, Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot will assuredly be a part of it. I love this card for its flexibility and many synergies within the set. Other pieces of this puzzle might include Prophetic Prism, and not just for its gorgeous art either.
I talked about the +1/+1 counter theme earlier. Two cards I can see going into such a deck are Aetherborn Marauder (which has enormous potential in a lower power format like Gentry, as it can easily become a 5/5 lifelink flyer for 4) and Armorcraft Judge. If there are enough cards to make these work, this deck may come together yet, and I could definitely see these winding up higher on the list. Don’t forget about the Support cards from Oath of the Gatewatch.
The 11th card on this list was Incendiary Sabotage, a very powerful instant-speed sweeper (especially now that creatures seem to be a bit bigger than they used to be before rotation) that requires some work to set up, but may even wind up replacing Flaying Tendrils. Note that it being instant-speed allows it to catch crewed Vehicles, which I expect to be incredibly important in the upcoming format. I could see this being one of the format’s strongest cards when the initial dust clears up.
And now for the Top 10!
10. Diabolic Tutor
Let’s start off with the most controversial entry on this list. Diabolic Tutor has created a lot of buzz for Gentry ever since it was spoiled. It is easy to see why. In a format where your most powerful cards are restricted, having access to effectively five of them because of the tutoring effect is very appealing. Planeswalkers and board sweepers have traditionally been among the most dominant cards in Gentry, and Diabolic Tutor gives you more reliable access to those. So why is it not higher on this list?
While everything mentioned above is true, I don’t really buy into the hype. People tend to forget that Diabolic Tutor is also a four mana sorcery that does not affect the board. At all. That makes the card unplayable in all but the controlliest of decks. If you are being attacked by several creatures and close to dying, paying four to do nothing is not what you want to be doing. Where Diabolic Tutor is great is when you have the board (mostly) under control and can tutor for your win condition, or for a specific answer to a pesky threat. In all other situations, you probably do not want it. I expect this to see play as a one- or two-of in the BW Control decks, and possibly some more controllish Delirium decks like the one I played at the Open Finals. If there is an energy combo deck somewhere (more on that later), you might want to play it as a four of there, just to up the consistency of finding your combo pieces. Other than that, I expect plenty of people to play it in decks where it does not belong, lowering their win percentage rather than upping it. Beware of the devil, folks!
9. Whirler Virtuoso
Whirler Virtuoso is reminiscent of what used to be the best card in Gentry: Whirler Rogue. While it’s less powerful, a 2/3 and a 1/1 flyer for only three mana is a very efficient rate, and I would expect it to see play based off of those stats alone. Put the card in an Energy deck, and you have a real doozy on your hands. I could easily see this creating 3 to 5 Thopters in one game, in which case it becomes an absolute monster of a card. It is unfortunate that many of the blue-based energy cards seem a little bit underpowered, but if there is a blue-based energy deck, this will be its all-star.
You might also want to know that there is an infinite combo with this card. If you have three (!) Decoction Modules in play, you can create infinite Thopters. With a Reckless Fireweaver in play, that turns into infinite damage. With a Pious Evangel, that turns into infinite life. Interesting, no? You might also consider Era of Innovation, which goes very well with the Virtuoso. Diabolic Tutor can help put the pieces together. I obviously do not think such a deck will be Tier 1, but you can fully expect me to play it at one of the coming events.
Pro tip: if you kill the Whirler Virtuoso with the enters the battlefield trigger on the stack, you opponent will still get the energy, but will not be able to use it to make a Thopter. This does not prevent them from using any other energy they have lying around, however!
8. Aerial Responder
Of all the pushed creatures in Kaladesh, Aerial Responder competes with Voltaic Brawler for most pushed. Vampire Whitehawk, as it is already being called, may not be as powerful as its black cousin, but it sure isn’t messing around either. A 2/3 flying, vigilance, lifelink is just way above the curve, and it will see play because of it. I expect this to find a home in some of the white midrange decks that will rise from the ashes of UW Tempo. It’s lack of synergy with the themes of the current format as well as how it matches up versus some of the most commonly played removal may diminish its powerlevel though. I would not expect it to dominate the format in any way.
7. Glimmer of Genius/Tezzeret’s Ambition/Revolutionary Rebuff
It has been a very long time since Standard saw a two mana counterspell. Revolutionary Rebuff may turn out very powerful, but much will depend on how many artifacts see play. If the format is all about Vehicles, I would leave Rebuff on the sidelines. If not, I could see this being a very powerful early play for a blue-based control deck that plays at instant speed.
Ever since Jace’s Ingenuity rotated out with M15, blue has not had many powerful draw spells. With Glimmer of Genius and Tezzeret’s Ambition, it suddenly has two decent options. I do not like that Glimmer is an uncommon, but the Scry 2 and the fact that it is an instant might prove very valuable. Tezzeret’s Ambition has potential, but I would not play it if you do not expect to have artifacts in play. I envision this to see play alongside Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot, Clue-makers and Incendiary Sabotage in an artifact-themed control deck.
Cloudblazer is not Mulldrifter. Not having Evoke, as well as being two colors really do take away from the power level of the card. That being said, it is still great, especially in a format like Gentry. I am already having dreams of fizzling a removal spell aimed at my Cloudblazer with an Aerial Manoeuvre.
Sorry, I needed a moment.
5. Nerd Ape/Veteran Motorist
I have already mentioned Vehicles more than once in this articles. I fully expect there to be Vehicle-based aggro, as their resilience to sorcery-based removal and sweepers makes them very potent against the control decks. Some of the best cards to crew them are to be found in the Mardu colors, and Nerd Ape (Inventor’s Apprentice) and especially Veteran Motorist are the cream of the crop. The Motorist especially is ridiculous. A 3/1 ‘lord’ of sorts that also lets you Scry 2? In RW? Welcome to Kaladesh.
4. New, efficient removal
Harnassed Lightning, Essence Extraction, Skywhaler’s Shot, Unlicensed Disintegration and Die Young are all valid options to replace Reave Soul and Fiery Impulse, the two main removal spells rotating out. Harnessed Lightning and Die Young can combine with other Energy cards to take down big creatures at an efficient rate, although Die Young being a sorcery will severely hurt its stock against Vehicles. Skywhaler’s Shot will compete with Stasis Snare. Unlicensed Disintegration is an amazing card, and the return of common dual lands will make this a very solid option for splashing. Don’t forget that you can sometimes redirect the damage to a Planeswalker. Now that’s value! Of all of these options, I think Essence Extraction may even be the most potent. It is hard to underestimate how powerful the lifegain is in a control deck.
3. Longtusk Cub/Voltaic Brawler/Thriving Grubs/Thriving Rhino
While I think most of the blue Energy cards just won’t cut it for constructed play (Thriving Turtle is a great brick wall though!), I do like the green and red Energy creatures. Voltaic Brawler is pushed to the extreme, and not having an answer to a turn two Brawler will spell bad news for whoever is on the receiving end. Longtusk Cub is an early game threat that scales incredibly well into the late game, and Thriving Grubs and Thriving Rhino are great commons in support. Did I mention Harnessed Lightning? Seem like a good fit too, no? How about Attune the Aether to cut down on your land count in a deck that revolves mostly around two-drops instead of one-drops? This deck builds itself.
I love Vehicles. The design is great. The flavor is great. The gameplay is great. The Vehicle Train is great. Everything is great.
Sky skiff and especially Renegade Freighter seem like incredibly good commons for a format like Gentry. Playing a Skiff into a Freighter before crewing them with something like a Glint-Sleeve Artisan or a Whirler Virtuoso sounds painful for the opponent, although you should of course be wary of them doing similar things to you. Vehicles are not creatures themselves, so be sure not to overload on them. You do need a critical mass of pilots to crew them. That is their major downside. On the plus side, however, they are impervious to sorcery speed removal, and give your creatures pseudo-haste, both of which are incredibly strong abilities against opposing control decks. Even if only for that reason, I expect Vehicles to be major players in Gentry moving forward. Don’t play the ones that have Crew 4 or more, however. These are a trap, as they will often be too difficult to Crew reliably. All of the others are perfectly good options, but I expect Skyskiff, Freighter and Ovalchase Dragster to see the most play.
The common dual lands are back!
From Kaladesh onwards, Wizards of the Coast have made it a policy to make sure all the dual lands That just enter the battlefield tapped and tap for two colors (like Stone Quarry and Woodland Stream) are available at common by way of the Planeswalker Decks products (which are in Standard). In order not to affect the color balance, it has been decided that all of these dual lands that are now still uncommon will be errata’d to common for Gentry.
This is great news. One of the major downsides of the format’s restrictions was that many lands that produce more than one color are printed at rare (think of the new cycle of ‘fastlands’, for instance), where they do not help us Gentry players, much. With these lands available at common, however, three- and perhaps even four-color decks become a real possibility. The fact that they come into play tapped also adds interesting ramifications for deckbuilding, which I consider a bonus, rather than a downside. These lands provide the two-color decks with a rock-solid manabase while making funkier multiple color builds feasible, and that can only bode well for the format.
In summary: good mana is great.
So there, that is my Top 10 Card Clusters in Kaladesh for Gentry. Looking over this list, I expect different builds of Vehicle Aggro (RW seems like the most obvious, but RB, WB and even a spicy monoblue build I have been working on all look viable) to show up as the most prominent new deck, with RG Energy Aggro right on its heels. People will assuredly tinker with other types of Energy decks, but I expect these will fall just short. Between Servant of the Conduit, Prophetic Prism and the dual lands moving back to common, the different iterations among midrange good-stuff decks will be innumerable. Above all, the dynamic between the already powerful midrange and control decks gaining new and powerful tools and the Vehicle-powered aggro lists will be interesting to explore. I can’t wait to get brewing. How about you, what do you feel like playing? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time,
Tom Vandevelde has been playing Magic since Tempest, and competitively since Time Spiral. Deckbuilding is his favorite part of the game, which has led to him taking an interest in less conventional formats like League Standard. Alongside his teammates on Team Wrecking Ball he is shooting for the Pro Tour, but you will just as often find him playing Pauper, Pack Wars or Mental Magic, or helping out newer players. You will often find Tom streaming on twitch.tv/wreckingballmtg, where you can actually challenge him to League Standard matches in between rounds! Be sure to come hang out and don’t be afraid to ask questions!