When we started testing draft for PT Kaladesh, our team had varied ideas of what was good and what as bad. As we started doing Drafts and the same type of deck won over and over, we gradually converged to the same concepts, and we arrived at the PT with a pretty good idea of what the format would look like. I expected every pro team to arrive at the same conclusions, but that wasn’t even close to what happened.
In my first draft pod at the PT, I was a featured drafter. I drafted what I thought to be a very good W/R deck, with 3 Sky Skiffs and 4 Spireside Infiltrators, among others. At some point in round 3, Marshall, who was covering the draft, came up to me and we had the following conversation:
“Hey PV what’s your record?”
“With that deck??”
“Why, you don’t like it?”
“No! Do you?”
“Yeah, I think it’s very good.”
I thought it was weird that Marshall didn’t think my deck was good, but was worried about the PT so didn’t pay much attention to it. After I got home, I watched the TeamCFB Limited Preparation video and was baffled at how different our evaluations were. The very first frame, for example, was of them arguing that Aviary Mechanic was a better pick than Gearshift Ace, a card I wouldn’t be unhappy to first-pick. It continues with them saying that blue is good and red is awful because it forces you into being aggressive, when I think the exact opposite—I like red because it’s so aggressive and dislike blue because it isn’t.
It’s not uncommon for pro players to disagree on individual evaluations, but it’s rare for us to disagree so much on the core principles of a format. In today’s article, I’m going to present you my point of view. I can’t tell you with absolute certainty that it’s correct, and there are some very good players that disagree with me, but it makes sense to me and it’s been working so far.
Kaladesh Limited is extremely aggressive
There’s no time for durdling in Kaladesh Limited. Every card is much better on the offense than on defense—the tricks are powerful, Vehicles don’t block well, Thriving cards want you to be attacking to grow, and so on. Most games develop into a race of some sort, and if you stumble you will die.
This is the general principle by which I govern all my Kaladesh decisions—if something is “good at blocking,” then I’m not interested in it because I don’t want to be blocking to begin with. This is the main reason I think red is good. Sure, it’s mono-aggression, but I want to be mono-aggression anyway, so what’s the issue?
A good curve is your first priority
It doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re doing it on turns 2, 3, and 4. In practical terms, this means your mana curve is more important than the quality of your cards, and I will go to great lengths to make sure I have a good curve, which includes taking a mediocre 3-drop instead of a good 5-drop.
In the early stages of drafting, I’d often find myself thinking “I wish I had a couple more 2-drops.” Then I started drafting them higher and never looked back. Most of my mana curves in this format include about seven 2-drops, five or six 3-drops, four or five 4-drops, and two or three 5-drops, and that’s it. If I have 5-drop removal spells (such as Tidy Conclusions), I often play 1 or 0 creatures that cost 5. I’m always happy to have more 2-drops too—to give you an idea, at the PT I drafted two R/W decks. The first one had around 10 cards that cost 2 or less, and the second had 15!
Try to play 16 lands
This obviously goes hand-in-hand with the above point, but I think 16 lands really should be the default in this format. There’s simply nothing expensive worth playing outside of mega-bombs like Demon of Dark Schemes or Noxious Gearhulk, and the format has no mana sinks because of energy. If I’m playing a 17-land deck in this format, I’m either very happy or very unhappy.
Blue is awful
Blue is not an aggro color in this format—it’s a control color. The problem is that it’s the only one, and the power level is not that high. Not even the artifacts are controlling. So what do you do with it? The answer is “you pass it to the player on your left.” I think it’s possible to draft a good blue deck, but it’s less likely than any other color, because with blue you need specific cards rather than just spots on the curve. The only way I ever draft blue in this format is if I open a blue bomb and, honestly, I’m just hoping that doesn’t happen.
First picking artifacts is great
As with most formats, I like to stay open early on. I think Welding Sparks is the best common, but Renegade Freighter is the best common first pick because you can play it in any deck (assuming you’re going to draft an aggressive deck, which you should). At the PT, I first picked Snare Thopter over Arborback Stomper, and it’s a pick I’d make again.
You should be on the play
This should be a no-brainer at this point, but since I just played an MTGO match in which my opponent chose to be on the draw, here it is—don’t be on the draw. Being on the play makes every card in your deck better in this format—it’s almost like playing Constructed. The occasional exception exists, of course, but it’s truly an exception here and it involves two very specific grindy decks that almost never come together in this format.
Top 5 Commons
Green is the best color in Kaladesh because its commons are just bigger than anyone else’s. With green you want to be aggressive, but you can play all kinds of aggression—you can swarm the board, race them, or just outclass them with your bigger creatures. It’s aggression, but you don’t give up on late-game for that.
As always, curve is paramount and you should adapt your picks according to what you already have. If you have energy payoffs, then Attune with Aether and Sage of Shaila’s Claim become better than Kujar Seedsculptor.
Top 5 Commons
White is average—you have a good removal spell, some cheap creatures, and a token theme, but you lack star power. You can match it with any color, because it can play different roles well.
Built to Last is pretty good, especially so if you have Vehicles, but I think having a good curve of creatures is so important that I prioritize them here. If it’s the late part of the draft and I already have enough 2-drops, then I take Built to Last over them. I would also consider taking Hawk over Mechanic late in the draft if I lack ways to push through (and it might be a better card anyway).
Red is, as it often is, mono-aggression. That’s okay though because I think being aggressive is where you want to be anyway. The exception are some energy-based U/R decks.
I’m pretty confident that the first two are the best two red cards, but the others are interchangeable and really depend on your deck. Spontaneous Artist and Salivating Gremlins are other red commons that I like.
Top 5 Commons
Black is another average color that can dabble into either side of the spectrum—aggro or control.
I think black decks usually have enough artifacts that I don’t mind early picking Dhund Operative, but if you’re the energy deck then you want to prioritize the Rats over it.
Top 5 Commons
Blue decks are almost locked into being defensive, because none of its commons attack very well. You can be a normal control deck, an energy deck, or you can have an artifact subtheme to abuse Gearseeker Serpent.
My Favorite Archetypes
There are 4 archetypes I like more than most. I won’t force them, but I’ll move into them quickly if I think they’re open:
You don’t need many Vehicles for R/W Vehicles to work, but I like to think of it as R/W Vehicles because it wants Vehicles more than anyone else. This deck is pretty straightforward—it uses early creatures to apply pressure and crew Vehicles in the late game. You want cheap creatures, Vehicles, removal, and pump spells, and the Vehicles side of it gives you good early game and good late game. Spireside Infiltrator gains value in this archetype since it gives you reach.
This is the archetype that diverges the most from what it usually is. With B/G, you’re generally getting a slow, grindy, attrition-based archetype that buries the opponent under 2-for-1s and rares, usually with many splashes. In Kaladesh this is not the case—these decks are pure aggro. You want Thriving Rhinos, Thriving Rats, Tigers, and Die Youngs. You want to kill the opponent as fast as possible with your green creatures while killing their creatures with your black spells. Treat this as an R/G deck. In my ideal world, this deck is a bunch of 2-3-4-drops and tops off its curve with 2 Tidy Conclusions and 2 Riparian Tigers.
There’s often a +1/+1 sub-theme in B/G Energy decks, which makes cards like Fabrication Module even better here than they’d normally be. You can also splash something if you have multiple Attune with Aethers, but I’ve found this to be rare because most of the great cards are double-costed.
This is the exact same as B/G energy—energy-based creatures that grow, and removal. Your creatures are slightly bigger than B/G’s, but your removal is more situational.
Most people look at this card and see a removal spell that’s a bit too pricey. We’ve had cards like Throttle and Turn to Slag before and it’s easy to compare this to those, but I think the fact that the format is fast makes this better, not worse. You’ll play it in a control deck, but it’s not a control card, it’s an aggro card—your goal is to play this as your curve topper to kill whatever big blocker your opponent can muster.
Another curve topper that I’ve been very impressed with. Even if you don’t have other ways of generating energy, it attacks through basically anything.
Maulfist Squad is considerably better than Propeller Pioneer because it’s big enough to handle most double-blocks even if you do not make it a 4/2. Most of the time you’ll make a 1/1, and then the 3/1 body will either hit them for 6 or trade with 2 creatures, which is pretty good for you.
Anyone can see that Cub is clearly good, but I think it’s just the best uncommon in the set. If you play this on the play and your opponent doesn’t have a 2-drop, they’re usually dead. Often they’re dead even if they do have a 2-drop because any energy maker is enough to make sure this goes through without you even having to spend the energy.
Fabrication Module is a grindy card in a racing format, but it also lets you impact the game for 0 mana sometimes when you naturally generate energy, which makes it a valuable card when you consider that the format has so few mana sinks.
In the few blue decks that I did draft, this card did work. It doesn’t require a lot to set up, and then it’s just a 5/6 for 5 (or 4!) with a relevant ability that helps close the game.
In some formats this card would be completely unplayable, but in Kaladesh everyone wants 2-drops and it’s an artifact, so it goes in any deck. Having one or two of these early on leaves you free to pick more expensive cards because you know that no matter what, you’ll have some number of 2-drops already covered.
Normally I wouldn’t like playing a 1/2 flyer for 2, but I think flying is rare enough in this format that the Hawk will push through for a lot more damage than usual. I’m always happy to have this in my white decks that are even a little bit aggressive.
This card will usually hit for 6 damage, and then the following turn it will hit for 4 more and kill a creature in the process. In a format where racing is so common, you can make them leave multiple creatures back for fear of a removal spell, and you don’t have to spend anything for it. God forbid you pair this with Gearshift Ace.
I think Prism is a good card, but it’s not for every deck. The decks I like are 2 colors and aggressive, and that’s not where it belongs—it’s good in the slower decks that want to be splashing removal or a bomb, or that have artifact synergies such as Serpent and Shrewd Negotiations. I’ve seen that people like to pick Prism early because it’s an artifact, but the point of being an artifact is that the card goes in any deck, and Prism doesn’t actually go in any deck, so I don’t think you should value it highly for its flexibility. My approach is usually to wait to know if I have a Prism deck, and then if I do, I’ll pick it.
No one has time for a 2/4.
This looks like a bomb, but it’s just a solid card. I’ll play it in all of my white decks, but it’s not that much better than just a vanilla 4/5 vigilance for 5.
Some people on my team like this card, but I’ve found it to be just too slow. I want to be impacting the board—I can’t spend time doing nothing.
Key to the City
Key to the City looks broken, but it’s merely good. In theory it’s a way to push through damage and loot excess lands, but in practice it’s very awkward because you can’t spend the mana immediately. I’d still pick it early and play it, but I no longer think it’s a bomb.
This is a playable card if you have a ton of artifacts, but it’s most definitely not a Doom Blade. I’d say that I’m only happy to play this in about half my black decks, as if often makes the cut in B/R and U/B but not in B/G or B/W.
Bomat Bazaar Barge
The Barge is playable, but I think crew 3 is just too much for it to be considered “good.” There are decks in which I would not play this card, and I’d much, much rather start my draft with Renegade Freighter.
Well, that’s about it. Do you think this format is as aggressive as I think it is, as slow as some other pro players think it is, or somewhere in the middle? Let me know in the comments!