Kaladesh draft is a strange format. To start with, the creatures are very powerful. I remember when Huey and Owen were calling Summit Prowler a mythic common. Well, let me introduce you to Peema Outrider.
Normally, the higher power level the creatures, the more successful you are at winning through aggression, since the games are shorter. In Kaladesh, however, we are seeing long games despite these powerful creatures. I believe 2 factors cause this: The mechanics, and the size of the creatures. Fabricate tends to result in more cluttered boards where it’s tough to make profitable attacks.
If I have a 3/4 and you have a 3/3 and a 1/1, and I attack, you get to trade your 3/3 for my 3/4. That’s generally not profitable, so I don’t attack. Then on your turn you have a 3/3 and a 1/1 and I have a 3/4 untapped, so you can’t attack either. If instead one of us had a 4/4 and the other a 3/4 (the same combined power and toughness of our creatures), the player with the 4/4 would probably have a good attack, because dealing 4 damage first and then taking 3 damage back is profitable.
Also, a lot of the solid Limited creatures have more toughness than power. Aether Theorist, Thriving Ibex, Highspire Artisan, and Prakhata Pillar-Bug almost always make my decks, unless I’m specifically playing a red or white aggro deck. A format with higher-power-level cards where the games go long is rare.
That means you need to be doing things both early and late. You can’t afford to not play 2-drops or even many 3-drops and risk not doing something until turn 4 like you could in a low-power-level format like Eldritch Moon. But you also must plan for games that will go late and play cards that finish games, so you don’t lose to flooding as the game goes on. I don’t think we have seen a format like Kaladesh in a while. The draft format it most reminds me of is Return to Ravnica.
Now I’ll get into the specifics of cards, colors, and draft archetypes and combinations, but before I do, I just want to add that since I’m writing this after the Pro Tour, while all the opinions are my current opinions and not necessarily those shared by my teammates, my opinions are greatly shaped by lots of work on the part of Team CFB and Associates, and are the product of their efforts as well.
This format isn’t particularly dominated by focused archetypes. I think it is much more about understanding what each color does. For example, while lots of colors make Servos, white’s commons Glint-Sleeve Artisan, Propeller Pioneer, and Aviary Mechanic do it by far the most efficiently and synergistically, especially in a go-wide aggressive deck, and Inspired Charge is also white and common. As a result, if I’m seeing W/R, W/G, or W/B, that’s what I am usually trying to draft. Blue’s commons, however, are very defensive and controlling, so they don’t lend themselves to this strategy well. So U/W should most often be a control deck that gains value from blink effects.
White is very good at being an aggressive go-wide deck, so I’ll focus on G/W, B/W, and R/W together here. These decks are trying to win through aggression in a format where aggression is easily thwarted by many defensive ground creatures. That means that using 2-drop and 3-drop pump spells to get through (what we traditionally think of as an aggressive deck in Limited) isn’t going to work. You shouldn’t expect to kill your opponent on turn 6 in this format or to be able to keep attacking with your ground creatures every turn until the opponent is dead. When drafting white aggression in this format, you should prioritize going wide and flying since it’s much easier to get damage in the air.
Inspired Charge is amazing here. Normally that card suffers from creature-light draws or removal-heavy opponents. When many of your cards make 2 creatures and/or the opponent’s plan is to stalemate the ground, this card will always shine. If I could lock in 4 copies of Inspired Charge in all of my W/B, W/R, and W/G decks right now, I happily would. Thus, the 2 best white commons in these decks are Inspired Charge and Glint-Sleeve Artisan. Both execute your plan efficiently. Less valuable but still good are Revoke Privileges, Propeller Pioneer, Aviary Mechanic, Eddytrail Hawk, Ninth Bridge Patrol, Impeccable Timing, Renegade Freighter, and Sky Skiff.
If you are surprised by the inclusion of Ninth Bridge Patrol on that list that’s understandable—even in recent formats Unruly Mob was bad. But when your decks are so good at putting a lot of small creatures into play, this card becomes quite good. You may also be surprised that I left Built to Last off the list. +2/+2 is often not good enough with your swarm of tiny creatures. Now if you get any Renegade Freighters, I would definitely start playing Built to Last, but the Freighter seems to be a pretty sought after card. If you don’t snag one, playing 1 Built to Last isn’t awful, but in general your deck will be better if you don’t. I’m just not interested in consistently forcing the issue on the ground. I’m interested in taking what I get early or making profitable attacks when they naturally occur, hitting them a little in the air, and finishing them with an Inspired Charge. Most of the time this is what your white decks will be doing so you should look for cards that synergize with this strategy. Some uncommons that fit nicely are Servo Exhibition, Visionary Augmenter, and Wispweaver Angel.
There are other white uncommons that are good in any white deck, such as Fairgrounds Warden and Skywhaler’s Shot. The only rare I need to mention is Fumigate, which is the exact opposite of this deck’s strategy. Therefore, if you open Fumigate pack 1, you may want to take it and draft a controlling white-blue deck, but if you open Fumigate pack 3 and you have a white go-wide deck, you do not want to take it. It isn’t even playable, let alone good, in this style deck.
Blue is the control color of the format. From the prerelease until our 1st team Limited meeting, my blue decks were really struggling. I was playing cards like Wind Drake and Weldfast Wingsmith, both of which look like fine cards and would be if blue were at all interested in attacking. In this format, it just isn’t. In this case, it was Justin Cohen and Sam Black who quickly realized that blue was just pure control in this format, and that Wind Drake is unplayable.
After conferring with them in the first Limited meeting, I had a lot more success drafting blue. The commons you want to prioritize in your blue control decks are Aether Theorist, Gearseeker Serpent, Select for Inspection, Tezzeret’s Ambition, Thriving Turtle, Dukhara Peafowl, and Consulate Skygate (a blue card no matter what the casting cost says). All of these cards are efficient at blocking, drawing cards, or being disruptive while you are blocking and need to deal with a trick (Select for Inspection). You can couple blue with virtually any color except red and make a nice control deck, but it is important to remember what your deck is trying to do. If your primary plan is to block and win through card advantage from Aether Theorist or Tezzeret’s Ambitions, then you do not want to play aggressive creatures, pump spells that can help push past blockers, or Inspired Charge. Uncommons that fit nicely with this strategy are Aether Meltdown and Glimmer of Genius.
Long-Finned Skywhale looks good just based on stats and casting cost, but creatures that can’t block aren’t good in control decks, so it turns out that you shouldn’t even maindeck this card in most blue decks. You should, however, sideboard it in if your opponent isn’t aggressive or has multiple flyers.
Black is a little less focused. Its best common, Tidy Conclusion, gains life, so it’s particularly useful in control decks, but a 5-mana instant that kills any creature is still good in aggressive decks. Unlike Aether Theorist or Tezzeret’s Ambition, Tidy Conclusion is good no matter what your deck is trying to do. In fact, most of the black commons are pretty flexible. My next favorite black commons are Dhund Operative, Die Young, and Foundry Screecher.
All 3 of those cards can also be used effectively in decks that want to play either offense or defense. This makes black very flexible. You can draft nice U/B Control decks; W/B and G/B synergistic aggressive Servo and counters-matter decks, as well as aggressive B/R decks.
There are plenty of strong black commons, but your other color will most likely dictate your deck’s focus. The 4 black commons I’ve listed so far are pretty flexible and I would play them in almost any black deck. But Maulfist Squad and Subtle Strike are cards that I believe are quite good in B/W and B/G, bad in B/R, and unplayable in U/B. Prakhata Pillar-Bug is good in U/B and G/B but bad in W/B and R/B. Synergies matter when it comes to these lower power level or less flexible cards.
On the other hand, Prakhata Club Security and Live Fast can be effective cards for a U/B Control deck but are not cards I would consider playing in W/B or G/B. So W/B and U/B work much like the white and blue decks we have already talked about. Red is aggressive, and R/B is a beatdown deck I’ll cover in that section.
Weaponcraft Enthusiast is a first-pick windmill slam for a W/B deck, but mediocre in most other black decks. I’ll cover G/B in the green section, but the black uncommons that specifically work with black-green are Aetherborn Marauder and Fretwork Colony. Before I leave black, one important thing to mention is that Make Obsolete is a game-winning uncommon against white go-wide decks. Depending on my spell count, I will sometimes maindeck it, and sometimes I leave it in my sideboard and bring it in versus these white Servo decks. But I try and draft it aggressively, even if I already have removal and am not planning on maindecking it, because it is a powerhouse of a hoser.
Red is the true aggro color of the format. Pretty much every color can go aggro except blue, but when you take a look at red’s commons, it is very easy to see what the color does. All color preferences aside, Welding Sparks is clearly the best common in the set. It is cheap, instant-speed removal that is easy to cast and can kill pretty much whatever you need it to. After that, Built to Smash is likely red’s next best common. I know at a glance one would assume it’s Chandra’s Pyrohelix, but aggressive decks need to be able to clear away big blockers, not small creatures.
Don’t get me wrong, not only will I always play this card, I have no problem with spending somewhat early picks on it. It really shouldn’t be 1st-3rd picked, but for a 4th-8th pick it’s perfectly fine. But if you want to win games with red, you must be able to keep attacking through opposing creatures with more than 2 and even more than 3 toughness. There is a solid chunk of playable Limited creatures in this format that have or easily can get to 4+ toughness. This is why I think Built to Smash is the second best red common. After that, I am happy to
flesh out my red decks with Pyrohelix, Spontaneous Artist, Spireside Infiltrator, and Thriving Grubs. I’ll play any number of these commons but I think only Welding Sparks and Built to Smash can really make a red deck good out of the commons.
The deck I had by far the least success with when testing for PT Kaladesh was U/R. The most aggressive and most controlling colors in the format just cannot go together. If you open Whirler Virtuoso, just splash it in a U/G or U/B deck. R/W, on the other hand, is one of the best decks in the format. I consider red to be the worst of the 5 colors, but white is pretty strong, and with both colors being quite good at attacking, R/W is a great combination. This is the one white deck where I play Built to Last because it is not a go-wide deck. You can use some Servos to power Sky Skiffs and, if you’re lucky, Renegade Freighters.
The Freighter is the best common in the set for this deck and you should take it over almost anything in this archetype. Then you just keep pushing it through with both Built to Smash and Built to Last. Even if you don’t get Freighters, these tricks are still effective in W/R because you are interested in tapping all of your creatures every turn. Try and make this deck look as much as possible like the R/W Vehicles deck in Standard.
R/G and R/B are also viable beatdown decks. Green has really powerful creatures and red doesn’t, so this allows you to flesh out a very nice curve of solid creatures.
R/B tends to care about artifacts, so I try to pick up Self-Assemblers. I’ll almost always play Self-Assembler in any deck if I get 2 or more, but most decks have other/better 5-mana cards and you can end up with too many expensive cards and a very bad deck. In B/R it’s a perfect fit because the only 5-mana common you really want is Tidy Conclusion, and everyone wants that so you aren’t likely to get very many.
Green is the best and most powerful color in Kaladesh. It can be paired with any of the other 4 colors to make for a nice deck. The best 3 commons are Peema Outrider, Hunt the Weak, and Thriving Rhino. In most formats, Peema Outrider would be the best green common. Because Hunt the Weak also costs 4 mana, I think it is usually best to take Thriving Rhino over Peema Outrider.
After those 3, you still have plenty of solid green commons. Attune with Aether, Kujar Seedsculptor, Appetite for the Unnatural ( I always start 1-2, but I wouldn’t maindeck more than 2), Riparian Tiger, and Highspire Artisan can bring value to most decks. Longtusk Cub replaces Duskwatch Recruiter nicely as the most broken uncommon of the set.
W/G tends to be a go-wide aggro deck in more the white deck style. Many of green’s commons and uncommons are a natural nice fit into this archetype. Peema Outrider is gold, Seedsculptor a good 2-drop for an aggro deck, and Hunt the Weak is good, but do be aware that if you pick up 2, you will want to prioritize slightly bigger creatures. I generally stay away from Attune and Highspire Artisan in this deck. You almost always want to play 16 lands in your aggro decks in this format so I try not to draft too many 5-drops, so 1 Tiger is fine but don’t go overboard. The G/W gold uncommon Engineered Might was tailor-made for this deck.
G/B is a counters-matter deck. I usually only go down this route if I can pick up the uncommons that are really powerful in this archetype. That’s Armorcraft Judge, Durable Handicraft, and Fairgrounds Trumpeter. I also really like Hazardous Conditions if you expect all your creatures to have counters on them—but don’t play it if only half your creatures will, though of course sideboard it in versus white go-wide or red decks full of small creatures.
I 3-0’d my first draft at PT Kaladesh with this deck. I mostly had a broken deck because of my rares, all of which fit nicely into this deck and are just great cards: Confiscation Coup, Rashmi, and Animation Module. But I also had 2 Minister, 2 Theorist, 2 Rhino, and 2 Glimmer, and all of them performed very nicely. Minister is great as long as you can reliably feed it forever—it is a very cheap and fairly quick win condition.
I try not to play too many of the weaker energy makers, because the power level of the format is so high. Even though they might look good, you should only use the blue and green Puzzleknot and Sage of Shaila’s Claim if you really need to make more energy and are lacking better options. Do draft Attune very highly in this deck though, and remember that as long as you can still play 9 green sources, you should basically be cutting a whole land every time you add an Attune. I have seen way too many 16-land triple Attune decks and people wondering why they are getting flooded. Plan to win on power level, and prioritize good cheap blockers like Turtle and Highspire Artisan and good energy makers like Attune and Glimmer. Hunt the Weak is excellent here because your creatures are big enough, and Select for Inspection is also great because you don’t need to clear blockers to be able to get in damage for the win but often your opponents will need to use a pump spell to get past your blockers.
R/G energy is an aggro deck similar to the one we have seen pop up in Standard. The uncommon Voltaic Brawler is a perfect representation of what you want in this deck. Thriving Grubs and Rhino are both great. Just pair all the good green creatures (Peema Outrider, Rhino, Seedsculptor, and Tiger) with the cheap aggressive red creatures (Grubs, Infiltrator, and Artist) and removal. Built to Smash is still good here even though you won’t have many artifact creatures.
Kaladesh is a Draft world where you can make almost anything work (except U/R). The cards are cheap and powerful, so be prepared to have what I call a full curve. You want 2-drops and you want to prepare for the late game in any non-aggro deck. In aggro decks, over-prioritize cheap cards and play 16 lands to prevent flood. White goes wide, blue is control, black is flexible, red is aggro, and green is power. When you are pairing 2 colors, keep in mind what the colors do so you can blend them well. A lot of the uncommons may be a great card for one deck but mediocre in another. It’s a high power level format so inefficient removal isn’t particularly good or important. Synergy takes decks from good to broken, but curve is king in Kaladesh. Happy drafting!