A first look at Kaladesh

So, we finally have the complete spoiler. When the kitchen table players and the wannabe pros had already begun “brewing” and discussing 40€-planeswalkers and combo-piece artifacts, since the rares and mythic rares were – as usually – known first, I still had to patiently wait for most of the really interesting cards to be shown: the commons and uncommons.

It is still both too early to predict the dynamics of Kaladesh draft in detail and to decide which of its cards will enter my Limited Card Pool, but it’s possible now to start a meaningful discussion at least. As usually, I will focus on the gameplay aspects, although I want to mention that Kaladesh seems to be a really cool world!

The big new thing is, of course… energy counters. What, you expected vehicles? Those are admittedly stealing the show, but it is the new cost mechanic which fundamentally changes how the game is being played!

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My stance on energy is this: I expect it to play well in Kaladesh limited (that is obviously just an educated guess at this point), but it will not enter my Limited Card Pool. See, continuously managing these counters adds quite a lot of busywork to gameplay, and that is only justified if this mechanic serves a central role. For one block, it can do that, but energy does not play well if it is only a small part of an environment, even though most of its designs are somehow self-contained (providing you both with a way to create and to spend energy). Now, I can see a world where Magic would start to use both mana and energy permanently as two different kinds of cost, and I think this would make for a compelling game, but we are not going to live in this world, and this is fine, too.

One way to look at energy is that it is the newest flavor of introducing new gameplay aspects via adding extra logistics. +1/+1 counters, tokens, facedown cards, doublefaced cards and poison counters were among energy’s precursors, and here we go again: With energy counters, Magic puts a new slew of components into its virtual game box (and how embarrassing is it that they actually forgot to print those?) Tokens and +1/+1 counters are the only kinds of those additional components which I use in my Limited Card Pool, because they are the only ones which are generally useful enough to justify the extra logistical effort and the extra mental space they require from the players. Energy counters are actually the third of those additions that I (guess I will) really like, but they are still too fiddly for a minor theme (which they’d have to be in any Next Level Cube that doesn’t feel like a straight Kaladesh rehash).

It’s also relevant that a big energy theme in a limited environment makes playing noticeably harder – at least playing well. There is now an additional resource to be managed, and it works rather differently than mana: With mana, a reasonable default is too use as much of it as possible every turn. With energy, saving up will be a much more attractive alternative, although this can also become a trap. I am optimistic that this will lead to good gameplay in Kaladesh limited, but it could be rough for less experienced players in a more casual cube environment, especially without the glamor of a new and exciting world to divert them.

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Talking about glamor: Vehicles are doubtlessly the coolest new thing in Kaladesh! I will definitely use a couple of those in my Limited Card Pool. I am a bit wary, however, that too many of them could have a negative impact on gameplay, because they warp its dynamics pretty much: Since you effectively use multiple cards to get them active, you need to develop a good board presence. At the same time, they generally block better than they attack, while being invulnerable to most sorcery speed removal (at least before they get to block). All this points to frequent board stalls. Then there is the fact that you need to invest a good amount of resources into an active vehicle, while getting rewarded for this with a fairly strong creature – a description of swinginess. I am convinced that, like equipment, vehicles will become a permanent enrichment for Magic, but they also might prove hard to balance and look cooler than they actually play.

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Finally, there’s fabricate, the inconspicuous third new mechanic. It looks really uninspired, like escalate, but it is a lot more coherent and does not seem quite as disconnected to the set’s other mechanics. I admit I am a bit confused over the design of cards with fabricate, though, especially some really mediocre-looking uncommons with fabricate 2. They would only make sense if creating multiple artifact creatures were really strong, but I just don’t see this – there are a few cards which like a high artifact count, and there is Inspired Charge, but overall I cannot make out a compelling reason for this. My pet theory: Those cards were finalized at a time when vehicles were still crewed by a fixed number of creatures instead of their total power. That would make sense!

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My overall impression: The power level of the set in limited is comparably low, although there are a few very strong common creatures, like Peema Outrider or Wayward Giant. Fast strategies are possible, especially in Red with support from Hijack and Renegade Tactics, but also in White if it goes wide on token creatures with multiple Inspired Charge. Generally, however, I believe the environment will be on the slow side, with tokens gumming up the ground, and players trying to get vehicles active, which will then tend to stall the board even more, until someone plays a breakthrough card. While I don’t believe that many games will be really fast, I am afraid they will often be quite swingy, with one player getting to “assemble” a big advantage before the other and decisively pressing it.

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For this reason, I am rather sceptical concerning the slower interactions that seem to be built into Kaladesh limited, especially the bouncing of your own permanents – I cannot imagine that you will usually have that much time. On the plus side, I hope this also means that games will be less often decided by bombs, which fortunately seem to reside mostly in the mythic rare and masterpiece slots. Especially, I did not make out any “mythic uncommons” so far, with the possible exception of Ovalchase Daredevil, which looks disgustingly unkillable for a 4/2 creature. Generally, I see a clear power level difference between commons and uncommons.

What are your first impressions of Kaladesh?

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10 Comments on “A first look at Kaladesh”

  1. Mario H. Says:

    A small note: Just before energy counters, they tried out experience counters in Commander. I guess both are (or will be) just fleeting stars (Eintagsfliegen), as usual.

    To me, it looks like they’re experimenting in each block without any intent to keep what they’re trying out. This is probably connected to the fact that in development, they’re always some sets ahead of the current set. So before they get the feedback from the players whether they liked it or not, they already have to decide whether to make a new mechanic last or not. And mostly, they dismiss it, which makes every invention arbitrary – just another keyword for the list.

    • Simon Rau Says:

      While it is true that development is far ahead – if something is beloved by players (like dual faced Cards, split cards, hybrid, gods etc.) WotC has no problems bringing it back later. I guess the same is true for energy. I’m already sure we will see it again, even without having played with it yet.


    • Well, keeping mechanics only for one block is – and has to be – the default. Complexity creep is a real danger, and for the most part, whenever they add something substantially new to the game, they have to take something else away from it.

      This is one reason why even runaway successes like DFCs, as much as I hate those, are only “deciduous”, not evergreen (another is higher printing costs). The game only has so much space for continuously used mechanics. And just as I clearly say in my entry, I do not expect energy counters to become a thing outside of Kaladesh block at all.

      One thing that makes energy special, though, is that is has, in principle, the potential to permanently become a part of Magic – there is an incredible amount of design space. But the very reason why that is so is also why I am convinced that this is not going to happen: It would add a new dimension to the game which would fundamentally change it, more than any card type or subtype (vehicles, planeswalkers, equipment…) has changed it. Magic would become a different game. For one block (and the inevitable returns to it, of course), this is fine, but I am convinced Wizards are not going to add that extra dimension to the game permanently, and I am okay with that.

      On the other hand, energy makes for a poor deciduous (frequently returning) mechanic. It is tied very closely to the flavor of an “aetherpunk world”, and it needs to be, because otherwise it is just mostly the same thing as mana. (This is different from DFCs or morph, for example, which can easily be used for different concepts.) Also, it makes little sense in small amounts – it has to be pervasive to really shine. (This is an aspect it shares with morph.)

      Thus, I disagree that Wizards are experimenting without giving their experiments a fair chance – these are created for the very purpose they serve. That is especially true for a strongly flavorful mechanic like energy, which was purposefully made to be a Kaladesh thing, even more than werewolves were made to be an Innistrad thing.

      In much of the the same vein, experience counters have been a commander thing – although those ties aren’t as close – but that mechanic not making it to mainstream Magic does not mean it was a failure. (I actually wouldn’t be surprised if it resurfaced very soon, in the new commander set coming out this fall!) They have a bit of the same issues as energy counters, though – additional busywork, and this time for less strategical gain. This is why I believe they have never really been considered for mainstream products, although an especially enthusiastic reception certainly might have changed Wizards’ minds.

      • Simon Rau Says:

        Fully agree, but remember that Maro told us they named it “Energy” and not “Aether” to have a more generic name to bring it back for other worlds too. So I don’t think it will be Kaladesh only. (Even when I think Aether is just as good of a generic name as energy).

  2. Simon Rau Says:

    I think my first impressions are actually quiet similar to yours. The set looks exciting on paper. I love the new mechanics “Vehicle” and especially energy. I happen to like most artifact themed settings in magic and it looks like Kaladesh is not different here (OK I disliked poison in the last artifact setting).

    I also agree, that the commons and uncommons look a bit on the weak side overall, despite a little creature power creeping. But being on the weak side is not a bad thing at all. The pace of the format is hard to predict, it Looks like another medium paced environment where several styles are possible. GR, RW and BR look aggressive, but those are exactly the color combinations where you would expect them to be aggressive. I like the black commons and uncommons with their artifact matters subtheme. Together with fabricate black based synergies seems obvious here. 3/1 menace for 2, 4/2 menace for 4, 3/2 deathtouch for 2 and 3/1 flying for 3 creatures look very good here and with fabricate black doesn’t seem short on the needed “mini-metalcraft” here.

    It is always worth to look at the 10 multicolor uncommons in the set to see what wizards main purpose is for those combinations. This time it looks rather loose. The GW one implies a heavy Fabricate swarm theme, the BG one also, but more focused on +1/+1 counters instead of little creatures. Green also has some good +1/+1 counter options. I bet you know this too, but I think it is really helpful to see the possible synergies of the colors.

    I have to study the set alot more to see what the critical toughness and speed of the format is.

    One Thing i realized is, that there are more artifact answers than I expected. But maybe Vehicles would be too obnoxious otherwise?


    • I also need to take a second, more closer look at the set, with a specific eye for limited – so far, my main perspective has been looking for candidates for my Limited Card Pool. But our discussion has me already checking a few things – discussions can be so useful! Yes, of course I noticed the strong tie-in of Black with artifacts – that is a nice change to Mirrodin, where Black essentially did not happen (man, were those nim terrible!)

      I am also not too sure about the directions the multicolor uncommons give drafters in Kaladesh. The GW Engineered Might, for example, works well with swarm decks in one modus, but its other modus ties in more strongly with the “one big threat” strategy – the basic dichotomy of fabricate. You are correct that the BG uncommon hints towards the +1/+1 counter theme in that pair, but I am not really sure you can draft such a deck to the extent that this card plays as it may read to some: as a mostly one-sided effect. B, G and W all use fabricate, and W prefers to go wide instead of big, but I’m not sure this theme will get critical mass, although a few green cards reward you strongly for using many counters. But at the same time, many good black cards want artifacts, which come with the other side of fabricate. Will black draft decks really split into counter-themed and artifact-themed archetypes using mostly different commons? I don’t see this yet.

      On artifacts: I didn’t do a proper crunch yet, but it seems to me that there isn’t really THAT much artifact hate in this set, especially considering its strong artifact theme – certainly not Mirrodin level. Okay, Mirrodin had even more artifacts, of course, and I would even say that in Kaladesh you are not required to play all your artifact hate maindeck (which you usually did in Mirrodin), although such cards are certainly maindeckable. But not all decks will want to run a great number of artifacts, and those who do might often rely on puzzleknots or fabricated servo tokens (which are unsatisfying hate targets), or on vehicles (which can be very satisfying targets, but also in some situations will use up so many resources that you do not actually gain that much by using a card to destroy them). I would certainly have run 3 Shatter and 2 Detonate in a Mirrodin draft deck, but I am pretty sure that my 3rd Appetite for the Unnatural is more likely to start in my sideboard, and maybe even already the 2nd.

      One thing I noticed, however, is that removal in this set (which can not explicitly hit artifacts) tends to come mostly as instants, likely because of vehicles, so those will be more vulnerable than they would be in other environments.

      BTW, is it just me or does Blue look rather weak in Kaladesh? At least the commons seem quite slow and underpowered overall to me. I love cantripping creatures as much as anyone, but paying 4 mana for an otherwise vanilla 2/2 is not too great even if you get your card back, and neither is Concentrate for 1 mana more with an additional hoop attached. I am also not too excited about Coral Eels and Wind Drakes in a setting with vehicles and fabricate – this looks as if blue creatures forgot to level up when everyone else did. Blue certainly has the tools to run away with a game if it goes long enough, with all that card draw and energy accumulation, but will games go THAT long in Kaladesh draft? Also, Blue hasn’t too impressive in-color ways to meaningfully spend all that energy it accumulates, at least not in terms of board presence. In contrast to the other colors, Blue can neither go wide nor big nor fast, and I see the danger that it might just not go anywhere.

      Oh, and what do you think of LSV’s preview? IMO it’s a shame he didn’t just let Reid Duke keep doing it…

  3. valuedrafter Says:

    Wow, that I’d see the day, where you seem genuinely excited about a set and I’m just sitting here going “meh”.

    I’ll admit I haven’t done much more than give the set a quick glance over twice, but my first impression has left me somewhat less enthusiastic about what I’m seeing than you seem to be ;)

    First of all: yeah, I guess Steam Punk looks kind of cool and pretty, if a bit pointless. And, well, everything looks the same. Also kind of pointless. Oh, I already said that, right? Not complaining, I don’t hate it at all, and I’m REALLY glad we’re having a break from Phyrexians and Eldrazi.

    I don’t generally disagree with much of what you write. Yes, most of the set seems rather extremely underpowered for a recent set, which isn’t a bad thing. At the same time though, quite a lot of the green creatures are absolutely absurd in their powerlevel… I mean, 4 mana 4/4 TRAMPLE… with an UPSIDE? On common? That’s… I can’t even… in a set this underpowered? 1G for a common 2/3… with an upside? That’s really really relevant? What? A three mana 3/4 with options for shenanigans? Also common? And those are just some of a long list of examples. Green really won the creature lottery big. Thinking about how it will be to fight through that kind of consistant creature powerlevel with grizzly bears or wind drakes makes me feel a little queasy.

    Vehicles are… well, like you said: they look swingy as hell. They are enormous and they can easily swing a game very quickly in your favour, while at the same time you are correct that there is a bunch of instant speed removal for them, which will in turn swing the game very quickly out of your favour if you are not incredibly careful about it. To me it really feels like every game can go one of two ways: either it is fast and punishing to whoever doesn’t use their mana in the most efficient way possible, or it will degenerate into a clusterfuck of a board stall. Neither of those are particularly fun. My first instinct is to say: I like my Ballista Charger like my Invisible Stalker – outside of my draft format.

    I seem to be the only person in the world who doesn’t feel that energy is worth the headache it induces. Yeah, having more options is definitely cool, but keeping track of an additional resource is just horrible. And most of the ways to spend energy are not that amazing… which just makes the ones that are that much more powerful. I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. But maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see :)

    I LOVE fabricate though. Fabricate is awesome and it should feel great! What a beautiful, elegant and sweet mechanic <3 I’ll admit many of the creatures look really unassuming and… well… boring, but I’m guessing they tested them with different stats and realized that the option to make creatures is just always more powerful than you think it is. 3 mana 2/2 facribate is pushing the boundaries of fair limited commons, so I don’t mind, that most of the cards at least don’t go beyond this. What I do mind, is the large number of “small dude sweepers” we have running around.

    I have more gripes with the set, but I also have an exam around the corner. And not studied that much. So I guess I’ll leave you all to your excitement, and tell you if whether I have changed my mind after the prerelease. Or maybe after GP London :)

  4. Simon Rau Says:

    On artifact removal: Yes, Kaladesh isn’t Mirrodin level craziness, so I also wouldn’t play 5 artifact removal spells main deck. Servos/Thopters are indeed unsatisfying targets – black has mass removal at uncommon and red has some burn spells that target multiple creatures and an “ Energy Tim” to deal with those. That leaves artifact removal for bigger threats or vehicles. I’m with you, that 1-2 main deck artifact removal is enough here for most decks. Can even think of decks that side them our regularly.

    Thopters: I expected to see more of them, especially in blue. That would be a good addition to this rather lackluster feeling color. Getting Coral Eel when green gets the same stats and three energy counters on top of it seems strange. UG is one of the better energy combinations, but blue needed that common more, well…there aren’t that many great outlets for it anyway! If you could at least pump Thriving Turtle several times a turn…

    That said, I wouldn’t underrate Hightide Hermit and the Affinity for Artifact Serpent. Both are road blocks. One for the energy deck (UG or UR) and the other for a go wide artifact deck (UB or UW). Serpent can even attack without restrictions…Overall I think blue is indeed a bit weak but it has some nice synergies with other colors. It is set up well for the long game sitting back and doing vehicle/big energy turns.

    As for the set reviews, well I only read them to remember the cards and read about little interactions I might have missed (often even provided by other readers). The ratings are too much done in a vacuum to be relevant. You need to read into the whole environment to be able to rate the cards accordingly. I liked the explanations and thoughts from Reid more, even when his scale was to conservative as a whole (every relevant card between 2 and 3 – but that’s just a minor complaint as I dont follow the ratings much).


  5. Tip: In a time where even halfway decent limited analyses have become very rare, this prerelease primer by PDV is actually very good, going deep into a projection of the dynamics in that evironment and putting card evaluation and deck construction advice in a specific context! http://www.channelfireball.com/home/the-kaladesh-prerelease-primer/

    • Simon Rau Says:

      It is very good indeed! Especially his analysis about combat tricks. It seems that is the reason combat tricks look rather strong in this set (looking at the single cards).


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