I really enjoyed getting to draft a ton over this past release weekend, and I have to say there’s a lot going on in Kaladesh draft. There’s plenty of variety within color pairs because despite having major archetype plans, there are copious subthemes and secondary ways to build decks. We saw some of this recently in Eldritch Moon Draft where you could be G/B and play a midrange deck that cares about delirium, Human synergies, Zombie synergies, or just simply plays good cards. Usually it was a mix of some of strategies, and the degree to which you cared about specific goals affected the end product. Those details still took a backseat to the major archetype goals though, and those will be the focus of today’s article. If you missed the allied colors, you can find them here.
U/R is in a strange spot, because it actually has quite a few cards that care about artifacts, yet it is the only color combination that lacks access to fabricate (which is in all Abzan colors). This means you won’t ever incidentally have artifacts, and will have to go out of your way to draft them. But even if you do prioritize artifacts in U/R, you probably aren’t going to get a ton of great ones because they’re colorless and every other player at the table is looking to draft them. No one is ever passing Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. So while it’s technically possible to end up in U/R Artifacts, I think U/R Energy will be the focus far more often.
Many of the U/R energy cards provide energy but don’t necessarily require using that energy as frequently as some other colors with more sinks. Examples include Thriving Grubs (which often just trades down if you pump it up), spells like Glimmer of Genius and Aether Meltdown, which just provide extra energy, and Aether Theorist and Hightide Hermit, which provide energy sinks but will often be worse than stronger energy sinks. Those are primarily Aethertorch Renegade and Whirler Virtuoso.
Your main goal is to build up a fast board presence and at the same time generate an energy pool. U/R is once again conflicted here because it has access to some pretty beefy blockers, but the red cards favor aggression. I think a major pitfall when drafting U/R is being too split down the middle and ending up with a deck that really doesn’t do any particular thing very well. There’s a bunch of energy, good creatures, and spells across the color pair, but you want to make sure most of them are pushing in the same direction. It’s easier to go overboard on the defensive cards in blue because there are a lot of them, but none of them make strong headway going into the midgame. Thus you should try to lean your U/R decks a bit more aggressive, at least in the initial drafts, just to make sure they can actually close the game—and then fine tune the right balance through real practice.
I’m afraid to call W/R the Vehicles deck because that can easily be misinterpreted to mean that you should draft tons of Vehicles. They’re a key component to the deck, but are there only to augment an overall aggressive game plan. W/R is the best color combination to play Vehicles since it has access to the most pilots and the Vehicles provide big bodies once the smaller creatures can no longer attack. This leads to a very streamlined game plan where curve is of the utmost importance.
Slow W/R starts should be pretty easy to dismantle because every card relies on applying pressure and when that’s not going well, the deck just won’t be doing a whole lot. Yet when the deck is pressuring early, it will force earlier blocks from the opponent, which makes Built to Last and Built to Smash excellent and also ensures that Vehicles do their job of closing out the game.
A tricky aspect of W/R is that the color combination doesn’t actually want to trade very much, because it is trying to crew Vehicles more often than other color pairs and yet has to attack early if it is to succeed. Often as the aggressive player you want to attack early if it means letting a better creature attack the next turn, even if you have to trade to do so. This prevents easier double-blocking down the line, which is how more defensive-oriented decks fight back against aggressive starts.
That doesn’t work as well when you throw Vehicles in the mix because you need creatures to crew those vehicles. Think of this as the traditional plan of going wide even if you don’t necessarily have Inspired Charge or Start your Engines in your deck. The Vehicles themselves want you to have more creatures on the battlefield regardless.
W/B: Go-Wide Artifacts
This deck shares some similarities to R/B’s artifact game plan, but dumps more Servo tokens into play with all of its fabricate creatures. This allows it to turn on its cheap, efficient creatures like Dhund Operative and Foundry Screecher at the same time it builds out a board. Of course, all the creatures I’ve mentioned are very tiny, but the key is getting a bunch of them onto the battlefield at once. W/B lets you peck away for some early damage but deal tons of damage out of nowhere with a well positioned Inspired Charge. If that’s your plan, you really do have to dedicate to going wide. Inspired Charge will very likely be one of the best or worst cards in your deck depending on its composition. I think many W/B decks will want to Charge, but certainly not all.
W/B also has access to a bunch of premium removal and a decent number of evasive threats. This means it can do a weaker U/W Skies imitation, with the upside of being able to remove key blockers. W/B is also somewhat forced into this aggressive style of play because its creatures are small compared to those of other colors until it hits the top of its curve. You can’t exactly build a deck around its more expensive cards or you’ll just get run over. The exception of course is when you have an abundance of good cheap removal, and I think W/B is also capable of being a control deck under the right circumstances. It even has access to some decent card advantage to help it out in that department. That deck will come together less often than a W/B attack deck simply because many drafters are interested in taking good removal early.
B/G: +1/+1 Counters
Historically B/G has been a good stuff archetype that plays black removal spells and big green monsters. That’s still true this time around, but B/G also gains some interesting synergies built around the multitude of +1/+1 counters.
First off, every key card I listed is a 4-drop, so watch out for that since you can’t just take good 4-drops and have a great deck. Most are uncommons, so you won’t be too flooded at 4 as long as you know to keep your 4-drop slot a little more open for the best B/G cards.
Hazardous Conditions is interesting because, against some decks, it really isn’t going to do a whole lot. Many of the creatures in the format are quite large, but at the same time Hazardous Conditions will be Plague Wind from time to time. It also helps sweep away smaller evasive creatures, which B/G has traditionally had problems with, though the color pair also has access to Highspire Artisan for additional defense. Another thing to consider with Hazardous Conditions is that it’s a perfectly fine play post-combat. If you have a couple creatures with +1/+1 counters and a Grizzly Bears, you can attack with them all. If your opponent blocks your Grizzly Bears with a 4/4 thinking they’ll force a trick from you, you get to kill that creature post-combat along with all their smaller creatures. Not bad at all.
If you do care about +1/+1 counters, then you are likely getting the bulk of them attached to your fabricate creatures. This is important because many of the good black commons care about having artifacts and if you’re relying on your fabricate creatures for both artifact count and +1/+1 counters then you’re going to have a lot of friction in-game. This isn’t even to mention drawing future cards that care about the previous choice you’ve made. If you draw a Foundry Screecher later and chose a counter, it’ll feel pretty bad, and the reverse is true if you instead draw an Armorcraft Judge. I think the main solution will be to stay away from some of those black artifacts-matter cards that are super aggressive. The other black color pairs will likely be taking them early anyways, and you don’t want to be fighting over a subtheme for your deck when you won’t be able to get any good cards for it with your mid-to-late picks during the draft.
This deck looks pretty similar to U/R, but its delineation of defense and offense, as well as energy sinks and payoffs, are much more easily defined. Blue has a bunch of good early defensive plays and this deck is much more interested in them than U/R. The reasoning is that the green creatures are just so freaking huge. Riparian Tiger is a 6/6 trampling attacker for 5 at common! That’s a great place to use your excess energy. I also can’t really imagine losing when you curve a Longtusk Cub into an Aether Theorist and immediately pump, unless the Cub eats a removal spell. It quickly self-fuels and your opponent might quickly find themself in the abyss.
The blue artifacts-matter cards are once again a little out of place in this archetype because the color pair cares more about big creatures, and blue’s lack of fabricate creatures is noticeable. I do like U/G’s “colored” artifacts, Dukhara Peafowl and Narnam Cobra, because they help aid what U/G is trying to do anyways—they bridge the midgame and are impactful in later turns.
If there’s a deck that’s less interested in Vehicles, it’s this one. Blue’s creatures are small enough that they aren’t crewing all that consistently, and green’s creatures are big enough that crewing is a waste of that creature. Instead, I’d just look to play solid creatures and spells in the color pair and build up energy for the green sinks that want it.
That’s all I have for early archetype impressions. The colors have a lot going on and I’m excited to see how often the color pairs play the same way from Draft to Draft or if there will be a lot of hidden flexibility I haven’t uncovered in my first drafts of the set.