September 20, 2016

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10 Kaladesh Commons to prove Strong is the New Average

Kaladesh prerelease approaches and that means it’s time to pore over the limited chaff of the set to see what looks good for sealed and draft formats. Usually this means finding commons that have exceptionally good stats or effects for their cost, particularly commons that are good in both the early and late game. However, Kaladesh poses a problem here as so many of the commons (and uncommons) in the set are simply above the standard I've come to expect of Magic’s limited fodder.

For example, in my Eldritch Moon review I could hone in on two specific common two drops that looked a cut above the rest for providing early and late game value: Thermo-Alchemist and Ulvenwald Captive. Kaladesh has eleven two mana creatures at common and ten of them pass the test of potential value at all stages of the game (sorry Curio Vendor). This is mostly due to the Energy mechanic, as a late game energy creature can either provide energy for a higher value card on the battlefield to use, or make use of stockpiled energy from other cards to be more effective than their base stats. More broadly though, here are ten examples of how Kaladesh commons are a cut above what we’ve normally seen for limited:

Aether Theorist
The best comparison for this card is Sigiled Starfish from Theros, which was a fantastic two drop that blocked early aggression and churned out a constant value stream of card selection. Theorist comes with a point of power which makes him an even more valuable early game blocker and even a source of damage in some obscure scenarios. He can only power his Scry effect three times, but as with all energy cards he provides flexibility to either make use of other sources or be used to power other effects that may be more important at the time. Oh, did I mention that Starfish was an uncommon?

Dhund Operative
There was a time when only green was allowed to have common 2/2s for two mana (Grizzly Bears). Over time the privilege has been extended to white (Glory Seeker), black (Gutter Skulk) and recently red (Falkenrath Reaver) so that only blue remains without a bear. Two mana for a 3/2 creature remains fairly rare and generally reserved for either uncommons or cards with drawbacks (Gore-house Chainwalker). In an average set it might be unlikely to have the Operative's bonus ability active, but Kaladesh is based on an artifact theme and Servo tokens are everywhere so by the time the deathtouch is required it’s likely to be online with a little effort. I was happy to play Hand of Silumgar and I expect I'll be just as happy playing this.

Ninth Bridge Patrol
A strictly better Unruly Mob, as it will trigger on bounce, flicker and exile effects in addition to the usual trips to the graveyard. I’m not a big fan of Unruly Mob because its base stats are embarrassing for the mana cost and it requires multiple triggers to provide value, but there’s always an aggressive deck that loves this card. I'd imagine the Servo tokens can also help with powering it up to a more impressive size in Kaladesh.

Subtle Strike
On one hand this is a cheaper, better, pre-escalated Borrowed Malevolence and on the other its an instant speed, easier to cast, slightly lower impact Ancestral Vengeance. If Subtle Strike had provided temporary buff and debuff it would still be a decent combat trick as a mini Zealous Persecution, but leaving behind a permanent counter makes this a lot easier to leverage for value and will regularly swing complex board states to your favour for just two mana.

Peema Outrider
It is quite common for green and red to both get a four mana 4/3 creature at common. Green’s usually has a single coloured mana required (Broodhunter Wurm) while red’s usually requires two (Summit Prowler). These are acceptable curve filler that help limited decks keep their creature/threat count high. In more recent sets there have occasionally been additional abilities on the cards at common but they tended to be mediocre or niche - such as Ondu Champion, Backwoods Survivalist, or Skyraker Giant. Kaladesh gives you a 4/4 Trample for four mana with the modal option of Fabricate to split the last point of power/toughness into a separate body if you like. That’s a tonne of value for nothing more than a second green mana symbol.

Giant Spectacle
The stock two mana red buff enchantment gives +2+2 for two mana harkening back to the good old days of Giant Strength. The more recent variant of Goblin War Paint gives a mostly useless Haste effect, which Spectacle swaps for the far more valuable Menace at the cost of one point of toughness. Considering these auras usually find homes in aggressive decks the Menace is much more valuable, and may even make the card more appealing to the average midrange deck as a way to put a large creature past a chump blocker or raise the clock and consistency of an evasive threat.

Act of Treason appears in pretty much every magic set in one form or another, and is responsible for more lopsided blowouts than any other effect in limited. The last time we visited an artifact-themed plane Wizards allowed us to steal artifacts the same way we had been doing with creatures via Metallic Mastery. Kaladesh does things a little differently, and this time around you just get the Metallic Mastery effect stapled onto your Act of Treason for the low cost of one more red mana symbol. As if its not bad enough to get blown out by having your creatures stolen, now they can steal your vehicles with the same card!

Tidy Conclusion
Just when I had resigned myself to playing Throttle regularly and thinking Certain Death was a reasonable first pick Wizards throws this curveball and says “Hey, here’s a five mana unconditional instant speed removal spell with upside - cause it’s Kaladesh!”. Granted the upside is going to usually be zero to two life so that’s not why you play the card, but its been a long time since I saw Murder or Doom Blade  at common so I will gladly pay five mana for the privilege.

Lawless Broker
In the modern era of magic black has had seven 3/2 creatures for three mana at common; two of them had drawbacks, four of them had no abilities, and the seventh was the recently printed Thraben Foulbloods. This could be a new trend in power for black's three drops, but overall its still unusual for the colour to do better than a Barony Vampire. Broker harkens back to Elder Cathar, which was a pretty solid card on its own.

Glint-Sleeve Artisan

Not a card that is going to break the format by any means, but noteworthy that white has never had a straight up 3/3 creature for three mana at common. Attended Knight and Sandcrafter Mage come close but when the third point of toughness matters this is the first time white can reliably get it (even if Knight is a better card overall).

These are just some examples of how Kaladesh stacks up with what I see as the average for limited. The phenomenon extends to other commons and a lot of uncommons as well (seriously - a colourless Assault Griffin with haste??). The challenge for players is that if so many cards seem exceptionally good, then in limited they must all actually pan out as average. It may be that this closes the gap between the bomb rares and the rest of the card pool, or that synergistic picks become way more important than assembling a generic pile of goodstuff. I’m hopeful that Kaladesh limited is going to be a blast to play, but I’m at something of a loss to determine which cards are better than others. The best advice I can give for prerelease is don’t think your pool is broken just because you have critical mass of unusually strong cards - odds are everyone else around you has the same thing.

Until next time, here’s hoping you don’t get blown out when you crew your vehicles this weekend!