Vehicles seem tricky to evaluate, because they’re different than anything we’ve seen before. You should not count them as creatures when you’re building your deck—they’re more similar to equipment. At the same time, they’re usually better than equipment, because “equipping” is free and because, if the big creature dies, the small creature survives—so it’s kind of like an Umbra. I expect Vehicles to be really good, but there’s a limit to how many you can play in a deck, because if you get too many Vehicles and no one to pilot them then that’s really awkward for you.
The predominance of Vehicles should make random bodies more important than they usually are. Now, if you have a 2/2 in the late game, you can use it to activate your Vehicle, when otherwise it would just get brickwalled by their 3/3. It also makes spot removal even more important than it normally is in Sealed deck, and it’ll also make the small removal more useful in the late game. If your opponent has a 4/4, a 2/2, and a good Vehicle with crew 2, then by killing the 2/2 you effectively force them to tap the 4/4 to activate it, which means your late-game Shock is better than it normally would be. At the same time, sorcery-speed removal is a little worse, and bounce is a little better because it’s a bigger tempo swing.
I think Vehicles are going to be the majority of the late game in Sealed deck, and as such I’ve adapted my evaluations of everything in the set to reflect for that. It’s possible that I am wrong and Vehicles aren’t that important, in which case you’ll have to disregard some of the conclusions I reach.
Fabricate is an interesting ability—it lets you either have a bigger creature or several small ones. Having small ones is the best for crewing Vehicles, because it lets you tap less power overall if you have more than enough, and because it’s harder for people to keep you from activating your Vehicles with spot removal.
Normally, making a creature is better than pumping an existing creature, but in this set the decision is closer, because it’s constructed in a way that 1/1s aren’t very effective outside of crewing Vehicles. You want to pay close attention to two things: the first is when your creature is going to grow big enough for it to matter on the board. If your opponent has a 4/4, for example, then having a 5/5 is much better than having a 3/3 and two 1/1s. The second is when your Servos are just going to be outclassed. In a board that’s swarmed with 2/2s, it’s usually better to just have a bigger creature than it is to have a couple of 1/1s that are not going to do anything.
In general, I’d say that if you’re making your creature a 4/4 (like Peema Outrider), then you want to pump it, because 4/4 seems to be around the size creatures start pushing through in this format. If it’s still going to have 2 power or toughness (like Weaponcraft Enthusiast), then you want to make tokens. If it’s going to turn into a 3/3 or 3/4 (like Glint-Sleeve Artisan), then you look at the board and decide on the fly.
The overabundance of Servos makes big creatures without evasion slightly worse than they would otherwise be, because they’re easy to chump block. You don’t want to spend 7 mana on a creature that will just kill a Servo each turn. It also means that creatures with 1 toughness and without evasion are very likely to be bad—I would play a 3/1 for 2 in most Limited formats, but I would stay far away from it in Kaladesh. Luckily, I think they planned for that and put very few 1-toughness creatures in the set that do not have fabricate themselves, as well as very few giant monsters that just get brickwalled by Servos—most of them have trample or some other sort of evasion.
Energy is another very tricky mechanic. In a vacuum, a lot of the energy cards are playable without any support—the whole cycle that lets you spend energy to pump the creature when it attacks (such as Thriving Ibex) is playable even if they are the only energy cards you have in your deck. The removal spells (such as Harnessed Lightning) are also great and playable no matter what. Then we have some cards, like Glassblower’s Puzzleknot, that will not be good unless you have other energy outlets.
My inclination is to treat energy like I treat most synergistic mechanics in Sealed—if good by itself, play it; otherwise, don’t. I think the exception here is that there are simply too many energy cards, and most of them are self-sufficient, so it’s not hard to get enough of a critical mass that you start playing something just because it generates energy.
When deciding on whether to play a card like Glassblower’s Puzzleknot, look at your energy outlets and decide how much one energy is worth for you. You do this by grouping together all the energy cards you have, and seeing what else they can do with one or two extra energy. If you have a card that is fantastic at using energy (such as Aetherworks Marvel or Architect of the Untamed) but not many other energy outlets, then I’d probably not play energy creators. If you have a large number of minor energy outlets (such as Spontaneous Artist or Minister of Inquiries), then I also would not play a card that strictly generates energy. If I have both a great effect and also many small uses for energy counters, then I’m likely to play it.
Colors and Splashing
Kaladesh is full of artifacts, which lessens the burden of depth on each individual color and shifts the focus to power. A lot of the time, when playing Sealed deck, you have a color that has a bomb or a couple of great cards but that just doesn’t leave you with enough playables, so you can’t play it. In Kaladesh, it’s likely that you can play a color like this, because if it doesn’t have enough playables you just add a bunch of artifacts. The artifact creatures in particular have solid stats, which is different than most other sets where being an artifact costs you something. It also seems to me that the set has a lot of playables—there are very few cards that are awful—so you should be able to get to 23 in whatever combination of colors you want.
In this Sealed format, I’m more likely to gravitate toward playing the colors that have the strongest cards, not necessarily the colors that are deepest, because I can get depth elsewhere. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll play the color that has the biggest bomb (there’s a lot of removal in this set, which makes bombs slightly worse than normal unless they have enters-the-battlefield abilities or are spells), but it does mean I’ll try to play the flat-out strongest cards.
Artifact sets also naturally lend themselves to more than two colors, because when a third of your deck is castable no matter what, then there’s less strain on any one color. If I play a normal format and don’t draw one of my main colors, that means about 12 of my spells are uncastable. If I don’t draw one of my main colors in Kaladesh, it’ll be around 7 cards, so a much better situation. I’m therefore more likely to splash in Kaladesh than I would be in a “normal” set.
In green, we have two common fixing spells, Attune with Aether and Wild Wanderer; and an uncommon one, Servant of the Conduit. For lands, there’s Aether Hub at uncommon, and for artifacts there’s Prophetic Prism at common. This is not a huge amount of fixers like you would find in a set like Shards of Alara, but it seems viable to play a third or even fourth color if you’re green.
The cards you should be looking to splash are the same as always: bombs and removal. The great majority of the bombs in this set, however, are double-colored so it’s better to just make that your main color. Cards like Welding Sparks and Skywhaler’s Shot are good splash options.
Speed, Curve, Late Game, and Mana Sinks
Kaladesh doesn’t seem like a particularly fast set, but it’s also not glacial. At around 4 mana, the medium-sized creatures start outclassing the smaller ones, and then at around 5 mana you have the big Vehicles. Even then, you can still play a reasonable amount of 2- and 3-drops, because even if they get outclassed they can just crew Vehicles, and if your middle-late game creature is a Vehicle that you just can’t activate, then you’ll fall too far behind—and that won’t be an uncommon scenario if you don’t curve out, because of all the removal.
I think it’s very important to play things on curve, but it’s less important what those things are. If I’m tapping my 3-drop on turn 5 to crew a Vehicle anyway, then it doesn’t matter much if it’s a 3/2 or a 3/4—but it matters a lot that it’s there. Similarly, if I’m being attacked by a big, undercosted creature, then my 3-drop is not blocking anyway. I’d place a strong focus on not falling too far behind in the Vehicle battle, which means you ideally want to curve creatures from turns 2 through 5. The artifact creatures in this set mostly have good rates, so they should be good to fill whichever spots of the curve you’re missing.
You should also analyze your crew costs—if you have a ton of crew 3, then playing a lot of 2 power creatures doesn’t make much sense if you can somehow play 3-power creatures instead.
This set is very different than normal, because the cost for your big creatures comes in the form of a Crew and not in the form of mana. It’ll be very normal for decks to cap at a mana cost of 5, for example – there just aren’t many 6+ costed cards in the set, because the late drops are all taken by Vehicles. This creates a weird scenario where you’re waiting to be able to play your 8/8, but instead of having to topdeck a land to cast it, you need to topdeck a creature to activate it.
There are also few activated abilities and other mana sinks, because Energy takes up all that design space. Most of the mana sinks that do exist are about generating Energy one way or another, but there are also some White or Blue cards that bounce your own stuff and then wants you to replay it for extra bonuses, and that’s fairly expensive.
On that topic, there’s very little utility to be found in most of the creatures – even a lot of the activated and triggered abilities are just about making your creatures larger. You aren’t going to find many pingers, tappers or looters, and Vehicles don’t care about those anyway, so size is the defining characteristic to look for in a creature.
In practical terms, this means there’s just less uses for mana than in most sets – your expensive cards require creatures, and your activated abilities require energy. I’d be happy if I never drew a 6th land in any of my games, because in a lot of games there’s just nothing to do with the mana. I’d be very wary of playing 18 lands in Kaladesh Sealed, because flooding out is a very real concern, and I’d consider playing 16 more than in any format in recent memory. As a bonus, cards that have looting effects are better than they would normally be, because you’re very likely to have extra lands by the end of the game.
In Kaladesh, artifact removal is almost as good as creature removal—sometimes better. In Sealed, I’d consider cards like Appetite for the Unnatural and Fragmentize to be actively good, and I’ll play basically as many as I have. Against some decks it’s not going to be good, but I’d rather side them out when they’re bad than side them in when they’re good, because I expect them to be good the great majority of the time.
Sorcery-speed removal, on the other hand, is worse because it has a hard time hitting Vehicles. Cards like Revoke Privileges, Hunt the Weak, and Nature’s Way are worse than they would be in a normal set. Enchantment-based removal, like Malfunction, is also worse, because everyone is maindecking Naturalizes to deal with artifact creatures and they get hit by splash damage from that.
Every color seems to have a good removal spell at common. In white we have Revoke Privileges (which is still good even if it is worse than normal) and Fragmentize. In blue we have Malfunction. In black, Tidy Conclusion. In red we have Welding Sparks, and in green Appetite for the Unnatural. There’s also a lot of other, less premium removal that you can play in your deck, and, again, few utility creatures, so I’d be fine firing off my removal early on if I find a convenient target—it’s unlikely that they play a creature that you must kill early on. Because there’s so much removal, this means that cards that let you get value even if they die (such as enters-the-battlefield abilities) are better than usual.
One type of card that is very hard for me to evaluate in this set is counterspells. At first glance, they seem worse, because the “high end” comes down on turn 5—so you’ll have less chance of countering their monsters, because they’ll already be in play by the time you keep mana up. On the other hand, your opponent is likely to cast removal at instant speed, because of Vehicles, so it becomes easier to protect your own creatures with counterspells. My inclination is that counterspells are significantly worse as defensive cards, but slightly better as offensive cards. I would try not to play any counterspells in my control decks.
The tricks of Kaladesh are in a weird spot. First of all, they’re great cards—Built to Smash offers a powerful ability for just 1 mana, Larger than Life can deal a surprising (as surprising as a sorcery can be, anyway) chunk of damage in a format where they’re likely to tap some creatures to crew and leave a Servo to block, Subtle Strike is both a trick and removal, Rush of Vitality can kill a blocker and leave your creature alive, and Built to Last is just cheap and effective.
Then, on the other hand, there’s just no room for them! Kaladesh has many powerful creatures, and it has Vehicles, which need creatures. Then it has plenty of creature and artifact removal, which you need to stop your opponent from Vehicle’ing you to death. Where’s the room for the tricks?
In a format where you might have to topdeck a 2/2 to crew your Vehicle and kill your opponent, topdecking a trick instead is a real cost. I’d expect that most of my Kaladesh decks have 0-1 tricks because there’s just no room for more, even if good tricks are likely to exist in every pool.
Better than Normal:
• Instant-speed removal.
• Artifact removal.
• Splashable bombs.
• Random bodies to activate Vehicles.
• Cards with enters-the-battlefield triggers.
• Counterspells in an aggressive deck with Vehicles.
• Monsters with evasion.
Worse than Normal:
• Sorcery-speed creature removal.
• Enchantment-based removal.
• Discard spells.
• Counterspells in control decks.
• Ground creatures with 1 toughness.
• Monsters without evasion.
• Cards that aren’t creatures or removal (i.e. tricks).
(Likely better than anything you can find at non-rare, or on par with the top uncommons. I will go to great lengths to play these cards.)
(Cards that have an above-average power level and that you’re always happy to include.)
(Cards you will often play, but you shouldn’t be too enamored of them just because they have a rare symbol—they’re the same power level as commons and uncommons, so if you’re this color, play them, but if you aren’t, don’t worry about it.)
(Don’t play them even if you are this color.)
Top 5 Commons
Here I think 1 and 2 are very close, as are 3 and 4. There isn’t a great fifth white common, but I think Aviary Mechanic might be the best of the remaining options because it’s a 2-drop for curve purposes that also has uses in the late game, by bouncing fabricate creatures or freeing your creatures from enchantment-based removal (as there are 2 of those in the set at common). It’s possible that Thriving Ibex or Impeccable Timing are better.
White is not very powerful at common overall. It has two removal spells, but neither is optimal for the format. The white rares are fantastic, though, so you might be inclined to play white more often because you open some of them.
(Insidious Will in an aggressive deck with lots of Vehicles. I would not maindeck it in a control deck.)
Top 5 Commons
I like the first three blue commons, the last two not so much. It’s possible Wind Drake is better than what I have 4th and 5th.
Overall blue seems pretty medium to me. It has some good cards, some bad ones, and some rares that are quite good (but not as good as the white ones overall). It does seem to have a large number of flying creatures, as usual, so if the game develops into board stalls often, then the value of blue as a color will go up.
I Have No Idea
Top 5 Commons
Black has the first great common—kill anything, no questions asked, instant speed, gains you some life. The other commons aren’t bad either—you get some small removal and above-par early-game creatures.
Black seems to be more aggressive than normal in this set. It’s usually somewhere in the middle between aggro and control, letting your second color dictate which one it’s going to be, but this time around it has more aggressively-costed creatures and combat tricks. There are a lot of 2-for-1s for 3 mana in Black, but this seems to be a format where not adding to the board (or removing from their board) is bad, so you don’t have time to durdle around. Mind Rot seems especially bad because extra lands are not useful, and I’d avoid maindecking it.
Top 5 Commons
I really like red’s commons. Welding Sparks is the only awesome one, but all the creatures are well-sized with relevant abilities, and there are many cards I’d be happy to play that did not make the top 5. As always, red is quite aggressive and doesn’t tolerate much nonsense.
Top 5 Commons
Green’s creatures are just huge! Not only do they have great base stats, but they also grow bigger if you spend energy. Sage of Shaila’s Claim didn’t make my top 5, but I think it’s going to be great in a lot of green decks because you can use the extra energy to get your creatures to the size of the common Vehicles. When you complement the good creatures with the best Naturalize in the set (which might actually be the best green common—I think the top 4 are super close), you have yourself a very powerful color.
Top 5 Commons
The artifact rares are hard to evaluate, because they’re more synergistic than powerful. My inclination is that the weird ones are all bad except for special decks in which they’re great, so I’d be inclined to never play any of them unless you’re absolutely sure that you have one of those special decks (and if you just think you do but aren’t sure, don’t play them). The common artifacts also aren’t great, but there are many solid curve-fillers in the set.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and have fun at your prerelease!