12 Gearhulks And A Dream

SCG Tour ®veteran Todd Anderson was living it up with Pyromancer’s Goggles last season to great success while the whole world told him to play Collected Company! So what does Todd have planned for #SCGINDY? You guessed it: more fun done his way!

With the Kaladesh Prerelease this weekend, everyone is looking curious what it will bring to a new Standard format. I’m happy to say that Kaladesh is packed full of powerful standalone cards but also a large number of synergy-driven strategies. Artifacts are the common theme, with aggressive decks looking like they’ll get a significant boost. I’m happy to see this, as Standard has been dominated by midrange and more controlling strategies for quite a while. Now that Collected Company is rotating, we’ve got a little bit of breathing room.

We’re already seeing cards spawn new ideas for archetypes or swallow up slots in existing decks. On top of that, we also have new cards that help older cards gain a lot of value. Today, we’re going to be focusing mainly on those new role-players and their influence on how we’re going to build new decks for Kaladesh Standard.

Artifact Aggro

Whether you want to play Vehicles or Equipment, artifact-based aggro is here and it looks quite powerful. I like having aggressive decks with built-in ways to fend off sweeper effects, but I also like aggressive decks with a plethora of one-drop creatures that hit hard or provide a bit of value.

Inventor’s Apprentice and Toolcraft Exemplar are reminiscent of Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl, so long as you follow them up with a cheap artifact. I’m certainly getting a “Zoo” vibe from this duo. But turning them on isn’t very hard at all! Kaladesh is chock-full of cheap artifacts that will pump your early drops and also have great abilities. A lot of people have already discussed Smuggler’s Copter and Fleetwheel Cruiser as their Vehicles of choice. Well, let me add my name to the list.

While Smuggler’s Copter will almost undoubtedly be the best vehicle from Kaladesh, I don’t think people really grasp just how good it is. Looting before you deal damage means you get to cast Fiery Temper on their blocker. Looting in general gives aggressive decks a way to ditch excess lands, extra copies of legendary cards, or useless removal spells. We haven’t had an aggressive looter like this in some time, and especially not one that “turned on” all of the synergy cards in our deck.

And as for Fleetwheel Cruiser, I’d wager only a handful of players reading this article have ever had the pleasure of casting Skizzik.

Obviously, we’re living in another day and age, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fleetwheel Cruiser ended up being one of the better cards from Kaladesh, and it certainly feels at home in any hyper-aggressive strategy.

This thing is certainly not getting enough attention. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume most of these two-color aggressive artifact decks are going to play Aether Hub and possibly Harnessed Lightning, making the return ability almost a freeroll. Plus, it has three power for two mana. Combined with Toolcraft Exemplar or Inventor’s Apprentice, that’s a lot of power on the second turn for a very small investment. And putting that much pressure on a control player with just two cards is a very big deal when Radiant Flames and Kozilek’s Return exist.

The exclusion of this card from most aggressive lists just baffles me. Red and black decks tend to lack high-impact creatures for two mana. This one isn’t breaking the format or anything, but it literally turns on other cards in your deck while also being a virtual Watchwolf.

Kids these days…

Is this deck good? Who knows? But it is explosive, and has some goldfish draws that seem nearly unbeatable. Are there going to be problems when building two-color aggressive decks that are mostly even on color requirements? Of course. But I think having eight new virtual dual lands that enter the battlefield untapped should alleviate some of that. Do I tend to build many of my initial decks in new formats based around synergy rather than raw power? Absolutely, but I’ll never change. I always want to check off that box before I start changing stuff up. If the artifact theme is “too cute,” or doesn’t produce enough of an advantage, I want to find out quickly.

But I’m thinking this time might be different. They’ve really pushed it here, and I’m all the happier for it. But even still, you could take this deck in an entirely different direction. Just look at Craig Wescoe’s version of W/R Artificers.

I never thought I would say this, but Inventor’s Goggles is a great Magic card. Subtle yet potentially powerful, it gives us a great reason to try out many Equipment-themed creatures from Battle for Zendikar.

This version focuses more on Equipment rather than Vehicles, though it does have both. Depala, Pilot Exemplar is a fantastic card that will ultimately be the backbone of many W/R Aggro decks. Drawing extra cards and pumping your team on a 3/3 body for just three mana is absurd, but it does put some restrictions on how you build your deck.

There are multiple ways to construct your W/R Aggro decks in Kaladesh Standard, and I don’t know if one is strictly “better” than any other. They’re just different decks that happen to play a few of the same cheap, powerful, synergy-driven cards.

Happily Ever After

Twelve Gearhulks and a dream.

That’s what I want the ending of my story to be. When Ever After was printed, I was baffled at the lack of good creatures with “enters the battlefield” triggers. And like most problems in Magic over the last year, I blame the Eldrazi.

But now we have a cycle of powerful, unique creatures that give us a reason to reanimate. They bring me sheer joy with their clearly ridiculous power level and over-the-top bravado. And with Kaladesh we get a new version of Zombify, which means I get to build Solar Flare in Standard once again.

For those of you unaware, this was one of the best combos in Standard for quite some time:

While we don’t have exactly the same tool-set to complement the combo, that’s okay. We have better enablers, and our big threats are easier to cast. And while Zombify isn’t legal, we did get something on par:

Yeah, we can only get back our Gearhulks, but who cares? Those are what I’m trying to bring back anyway.

The sideboard is miserable, and I should probably try to find a way to play at least one of Oath of Jace or Fiery Temper, but here it is. This is the start of something truly wonderful, and I hope you’ll join me in exploring this new archetype.

We probably don’t need twelve Gearhulks, and we probably need some way to alleviate the pressure from counterspells and Spell Queller, but that’s how I start all of my new decks. They are, at their core, the exact thing I want to do, without any bells or whistles. But what the deck lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for in charisma.

Here we have a deck that has no balance and only a dream. And that dream is to put big, powerful creatures onto the battlefield as quickly as possible. Do we have the right answers to the threats coming at us in the format? Not likely. But we’re going to have a lot of fun figuring out just where the deck wants to go.

Against decks with large creatures, Noxious Gearhulk shuts them down and provides a nice life buffer. Against control strategies, we have bomb after bomb with more than enough ways to find them. Against a deck trying to flood the battlefield, we can deploy Cataclysmic Gearhulk on the fourth turn in multiple ways, thanks to Refurbish and acceleration.

This deck has a lot of ways to discard cards and not a lot of cards it actually wants to keep in its hand…that is, until you hit a point in the late-game where you don’t mind just casting Gearhulk after Gearhulk. While the power level is high, so is the clunk factor. As I said, I’m bad at bridging the gaps in my new Standard decks.

But all of its flaws aside, I think there is something real here. Something beautiful, and something truly frightening. I am happy to work on this deck for the first Kaladesh Standard Open in Indianapolis in just over a week. It might be twenty cards different, but Ever After is a powerful card that deserves to have a deck built around it. I don’t have much else to say about the deck other than it looks like a ton of fun. So let’s move on.

Chandra and Red Rejuvenation

For the last few months, red-based decks have been kept down by the sheer strength of Dromoka’s Command and Collected Company. Having enough removal to kill all the creatures from Collected Company decks felt impossible, and Dromoka’s Command singlehandedly shut off your major resource engine (Fevered Visions) while also potentially countering your most important spell. And on top of that, red mages are getting a shot in the arm with one of the best planeswalkers ever printed.

I talked about this card a bit last week, and I finally got a chance to play with it some in the VS. Series. And after playing with it a bit, all I can say is this:

Chandra, Torch of Defiance is not Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

But you all knew that. Just because it has an entire chest-drawer full of abilities, can kill creatures, and draw cards, and generate mana, and… there is a reason people initially made that comparison.

But what you might not know is that Chandra actually has five abilities. Mainly, her ability to “draw extra cards” gives you the option to just deal two damage to your opponent. And when you’re a red mage, that option is always something to consider. Of course, you don’t actually get an option if you hit a land from Chandra (since you can’t “cast” a land), but I found myself wanting to keep putting up damage in multiple scenarios. This is compounded when you build your deck to be burn-heavy while also being centered around Thermo-Alchemist. The damage between those two adds up rather quickly.

On top of learning this about Chandra, it got me thinking on different ways to potentially build a U/R deck in Standard. Without Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy around, the deck feels like it has less direction. I’m not sure if I want to play Bedlam Reveler, Fevered Visions, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, or none of the above.

I don’t even know if I want to play blue!

But what I do know is that Chandra is awesome, and there are a lot of cards you could build around that cost very little mana. Here’s the short list:

The rest is pretty clear: you want removal spells that can turn into burn spells targeting the opponent. Removal that can’t hit the player had better be damn good.

Either way, you should start by understanding exactly what it is you want to do. If you want to be a control deck, then having stuff like Thing in the Ice and Court Homunculus alongside Galvanic Bombardment is great. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to be a bit more burn-heavy and go black instead of blue as your secondary color. Alms of the Vein and Collective Brutality are particularly awesome in this shell, as their damage capabilities add up rather quickly. Plus, gaining life is great when racing.

If you’re going to burn resources like crazy (think Lava Spike), then I would suggest going the route of Bedlam Reveler. The card is really powerful and criminally underplayed, and it would fit perfectly in a deck that is trying to burn out the opponent. We aren’t lucky enough to be as powerful as Modern burn decks, so something like Bedlam Reveler allows us to “waste” resources just dealing damage, only to recoup later and finish the job. Don’t be afraid to cast Incendiary Flow to the dome on the second turn. After all, you’re ramping into Bedlam Reveler and just trying to kill your opponent quickly.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers gives you another big threat to build toward while also giving you a body that your opponent almost certainly has to deal with. And if they do, well, you still got some value out of it. The trick here is finding the balance (there’s that word again) between enough threats to overload your opponent’s removal as well as enough instants and sorceries to make your Thermo-Alchemist, Bedlam Reveler, and Goblin Dark-Dwellers effective. Somewhere in the range of ten or twelve creatures should be fine.

Sideboarding more creatures is also a great option, giving you the ability to cut some of your weaker removal spells in favor of more threats. Having enough threats to overload the removal of the opponent should be a common goal among red mages. Once your opponent sees that you’re playing a bunch of burn spells in the maindeck and not a lot of targets for Grasp of Darkness and friends, they might start to cut some. Then you get to run wild with Goldnight Castigator or Hanweir Garrison.

If the Indianapolis Open were this weekend, I would likely play one of the following two decks.

Well, that’s all for me today. I know this is a lot of information to digest, so please feel free to ask me questions about any of them, and I’ll answer as best I can.

As with any new format after rotation, I’ve been struggling to come up with coherent ideas. I like red a lot thanks to Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and red has been the subject I’ve put the most thought into, but I’m trying new things. I want to make Ever After into the great card it should have been from the start. I want to beat people down with one-drop creatures like Tom “The Boss” Ross. But honestly, I just want to cast Chandra, Torch of Defiance on turn 4 until the end of time.

At the very least, I hope these ideas get your creative juices flowing for Kaladesh Standard!