Even in a year in which it feels like we’re getting lots of new cards (not that I’m complaining), there’s still nothing like the excitement of a new set. Kaladesh puts an exclamation point on those recent releases by taking things to the next level.
The major splash in Kaladesh is the Masterpiece series. Mark Rosewater explained it all last week. I can’t say enough about how much I love the idea. The thing that has my motor running is that there are now new, flashier versions of a number of cards which are popular in the format, plus one which hasn’t been available in foil ever before: Mana Vault. I’d say “get ’em while they’re hot,” but they’ll probably be hot for a long time.
This is a Commander-only review. There are plenty of cards in Kaladesh which will be wonderful in other formats but don’t quite cut the mustard for the 100-card decks. As I’ve done with the last few sets, I’ll look at each color (plus artifacts), picking out some highlights, grading the color as a whole, and picking winners in each.
Acrobatic Maneuver: Save a creature I control from targeted removal, draw a card, and get its enters-the-battlefield trigger again? Sign me up.
Aviary Mechanic: Without flash, it doesn’t help you save your own things, but it can certainly be a part of a combo in which you want to recast a spell. Or imagine you haven’t played a land yet this turn and you want to activate Gaea’s Cradle or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx twice.
Captured by the Consulate: You have some politics available here, plus you keep at least one spell destined for your best creature off your back for a while. Also has the value of not allowing the controller of the creature which you enchant to cast spells which buff his or her best attacker.
Consulate Surveillance: Energy is going to be a thing. Paying no mana to prevent damage might be huge.
Authority of the Consuls: This Blind Obedience variant keeps hasty creatures in check while gaining a considerable amount of life for you. Add Suture Priest for more hilarity. Combos nicely with Forbidden Orchard, since you give someone a creature but it’s not available to block (unless they have a way to untap it).
Cataclysmic Gearhulk: The Gearhulks are all awesome; this one might be one of the most impactful cards in the set. It’s in the same color as Reveillark and a number of reanimation effects. I just wonder, with likely two white players picking in front of me, if it’s going to be available in my Rotisserie Draft League.
Fumigate: Cue the George Takei shot. A five-mana Day of Judgment which gains you piles of life is sweet. The fact that Void Winnower can’t stop it is even sweeter. Did I also mention that Reveillark is white?
Grade: A-. It’s not perfect, but it has two of the best cards in the set and some other solid role-players.
Aethersquall Ancient: Fortunately, only being able to use the ability as a sorcery keeps the card from being kind of busted. Still, getting a resource which you can keep and not having to pay anything for is strong.
Confiscation Coup: More like “confusion coup.” I had to parse the sentences a few times before I finally got what it was trying to do. The good news is that you can use it to just generate Energy counters if you need to. If you’re playing it, it’s likely that you’re all in on the Energy strategy anyway, so you’ll be able to easily pay to steal what you want.
Dramatic Reversal: In blue, untapping stuff (even if it’s nonland) smells like there are combo possibilities.
Era of Innovation: The small payment to build up Energy is nice, and being able to get some cards back when you’re done with it (or if someone decides to blow up all the enchantments) adds to the value. Again, you’ll have to be all-in on the Energy plan to make it worthwhile.
Gearseeker Serpent: Affinity is already a thing, right?
Glimmer of Genius: Good enough without the Energy counters, better with them.
Padeem, Consul of Innovation: I would play Padeem with only the first line of text. The second ability elevates it from good to very strong.
Saheeli’s Artistry: “Um, let’s see. For the artifact, I’ll copy your Solemn Simulacrum. For the creature, I’ll copy mine.” In most Commander games, you’ll always have two very juicy targets to choose from. The question is whether they’ll be even juicier next turn.
Shrewd Negotiation: I’d like it a little more if I could trade away an artifact or a creature, but I imagine there’s enough dross around to swap for something more worthwhile.
Torrential Gearhulk: Diluvian Primodial-lite (since you only get something from your own graveyard) or mega-Snapcaster Mage (sadly, no sorceries) gets pushed over the top by the fact that it has flash. Whether it’s an emergency counterspell or simple card draw, you also get a large body along with it.
Insidious Will: Wow! The flexibility is absurd. If you want to do one of the specific things, there are cheaper versions (Counterspell, Redirect, Twincast), but to have the power of any of the three at your command is worth the extra two mana. This is the kind of card we’ve been awaiting for a long time.
Paradoxical Outcome: This outcome isn’t paradoxical at all. This is a jaw-droppingly powerful card. Love the idea of being able to save whatever I want from my team and add to my hand. Just wow. In the running for my favorite card from the set.
Grade: B. The best cards are outstanding, but there isn’t all that much in the color to go along with them.
Diabolic Tutor: Mentioning it only for the art, which is fantastic.
Eliminate the Competition: It’s a nice use for the tokens you get from Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, although I wonder if just casting Hex would be a better call in most cases. Eliminate the Competition is certainly more flexible, and since you’re in black, you probably want some of your own creatures in the graveyard anyway.
Midnight Oil: It looks like there are lots of gyrations you might consider going through in order to make Midnight Oil worthwhile. If you’re thinking about using it to reduce your hand size in order to discard things to later reanimate, but aware that you lose a life when you discard (unless you’re also playing Repay in Kind, in which case, continue as you were).
Underhanded Designs: While it’s not going to do the same kind of work that, say, Blood Artist will do, there will be enough draining to make it worthwhile. That you later get to kill a creature it a bonus. I’ll take this over Seal of Cleansing any day.
Demon of Dark Schemes: You want Energy? Demon of Dark Schemes will give you more than you know what do to with. It doesn’t tap to activate, so you can reanimate all the creatures you have mana and Energy for.
Gonti, Lord of Luxury: In addition to being a potential new mono-black commander, Gonti is a great role-player in any black deck. You’re likely to get more than one use out of it, and exiling cards from opponents is always a top-shelf ability. Getting the chance to cast one of them is amazing.
Noxious Gearhulk: I told you the Gearhulks were amazing! Unlike a number of other black creature destruction spells and abilities, this one lets you destroy a black creature. I’d call than an upgrade to its closest analogue, Dark Hatchling, although you should note that the creature targeted by Noxious Gearhulk can be regenerated.
Grade: B+. Like with white, the best stuff is great (although it’s not quite as good as white’s best stuff), but the rest is less than inspiring.
Cathartic Reunion: The thing with the red version of looting is that you have to discard before you draw. Still, setting up your graveyard (or pitching two useless cards) and drawing three for 1R seems reasonable.
Chandra, Pyrogenius: The titular planeswalker from one of the two Planeswalker Decks, this Chandra is reasonably straightforward: she roasts faces. Without good reason, I imagine you’re using the +2 ability to get to the -10, which Infernos one player.
Madcap Experiment: Who cares if we get damaged? We’re madcap that way!
Reckless Fireweaver: There’s something to be said for the fact that it damages each opponent. It’s no Purphoros, God of the Forge or anything, but it also probably doesn’t get you ganged up on as soon as it hits the battlefield.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance: Both +1 abilities are strong. There are countless situations in which either will be useful. I don’t see the -3 ability getting used all that often. The emblem is quite something else. As soon as I saw this, I scrolled down the list to see if Ornithopter got reprinted, because being able to cast a bunch of spells for nothing will pile up the damage pretty quickly.
Combustible Gearhulk: I really considered making a Top 2 plus the Gearhulk for each color. Choose your fate: do I get three cards or do you get seriously domed? This is so much my kind of card it’s kind of silly.
Fateful Showdown: I’m not sad red is getting more help, since nearly everyone agrees it’s the weakest color in the format. That said, Fateful Showdown is kind of silly. How good can Chasm Skulker continue to get?
Grade: B-. While Combustible Gearhulk revs my engines, the rest is only moderately interesting.
Architect of the Untamed: Okay, here we go. I’m not sure about creating the 6/6 creatures, but piling up the Energy counters is worthwhile. I suppose you play it alongside Rampaging Baloths, so when you landfall, you get a creature and Energy.
Armorcraft Judge: You’re playing the “counters matter” deck, so you’ll be drawing some cards.
Attune with Aether: Generally, I’d rather be putting a land onto the battlefield, but for one mana it seems like thinning the deck and getting some Energy is worth it.
Cultivator of Blades: Another Fabricate card in which it seems like you’re always going to choose to put the counters on the creature; add this one to your Champion of Lambholt for devastating attacks.
Dubious Challenge: Dubious indeed.
Durable Handicraft: A small investment in mana (I’d just consider it an additional mana to cast the creature) in order to get the counter. Remember that you don’t decide whether or not you’re paying the one mana until the triggered ability resolves.
Nature’s Way: Vigilance is good. Trample is better. Dealing damage to a creature (and not getting damaged back) completes the trifecta.
Wild Wanderer: In Commander, I think I might prefer this three-power creature to Ondu Giant with two power. More damage is more damage. I’m a little confused by the fact that the Giant Druid has less power than the Elf Druid, but what are you gonna do?
Wildest Dreams: Not particularly breakable, but perfectly functional. For the mana you’ll spend, you might as well have Praetor’s Council instead.
Wily Bandar: No reason to mention it save for the fact that it’s a Cat Monkey.
Nissa, Vital Force: The +1 ability didn’t excite me in the least until I remembered that there are lands which produce lots of mana. The emblem is pretty saucy, because you know you’re playing lands. The -3 ability is useful (after all, we play Eternal Witness), but I think I’d be racing to that emblem.
Nissa, Nature’s Artisan: The other Planeswalker deck leader, this Nissa requires careful thought. Gaining three life isn’t all that impressive, but setting up the mega-Overrun is pretty sweet. Your decision tree is complicated by the -4 ability, which has no downside—you either get cards in hand or lands on the battlefield.
Verdurous Gearhulk: At the worst, it’s an 8/8 trampler for five mana. If you’re playing it in a deck with any persist creatures (such as Woodfall Primus), you’ve just given them an extra life. It’s the simplest of the Gearhulks, but that’s hardly a sin. Easily the best green card.
Grade: C-. The best cards aren’t particularly exciting save for the Gearhulk, although there are enough cards in the color worth looking at to keep it from being a complete failure.
Contraband Kingpin: Not sure about lifelink in U/B, but I’ll take it because scrying for no mana is always okay.
Depala, Pilot Exemplar: The deck you’ll build with Depala is obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. You might struggle a little to make a Dwarf tribal deck, but you know who’s a Dwarf? Mirror Entity. You’ll have enough stout folk in order to Crew those Vehicles, and that’s mostly what matters.
Dovin Baan: The card from the set that’s least likely to win you any friends, I might play Dovin Baan just for the first two abilities and promise to not go for the emblem. But then that temptation would be there…
Empyreal Voyager: Trygon Predator might still be the utility call for your 1GU slot 2/3 flyer, but if you’re on the Energy plan, the right call is Empyreal Voyager plus Verdurous Gearhulk. Having trample means you’ll get through chump blockers and might be able to sneak in some kills when people are thinking that you’re just getting energy.
Hazardous Conditions: A sweet addition to your “counters matter” deck, just remember that it’s all counters, not just +1/+1s. Age counters from cumulative upkeep count, too.
Kambal, Consul of Allocation: It’s not quite as good as having extort, but it also doesn’t cost you any mana. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many ways to force opponents to cast more noncreature spells. I was hoping Kambal would be a Cleric, because it seems like there’s a Drain Life Cleric tribal deck to be made, although you can certainly make it anyway.
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter: Two weeks ago, I wrote about brainstorming Rashmi ideas. Those two weeks and the cards we see in this set certainly haven’t dampened my enthusiasm for her. Now I want to play her even more.
Saheeli Rai: The +1 ability is simple but effective. The -2 takes some thinking, but since there are a number of cards in Kaladesh which take advantage of artifacts, making an artifact copy of one of your good creatures have a good deal of value. The -7 seems pretty combo-oriented. It doesn’t have to be the way you go (especially if you like the friends you’re playing with), but you could pretty easily search up Mycosynth Lattice, Darksteel Forge, and Nevinyrral’s Disk if you were of a mind.
Grade: A-. I’m a little more liberal on grading here because there aren’t that many cards. Even the multicolored cards which might not see play in Commander do a good job of setting up the flavor of Kaladesh.
Animation Module: Its low casting cost makes it worth working into the “counters matter” deck. Even if you’re not taking advantage of the first ability, the second has some applications, such as giving someone an extra poison counter or adding one to the cumulative upkeep of a permanent.
Bomat Bazaar Barge: Vehicles are a neat idea, although I’m not overly excited about too many of them. If you want to take advantage of cards with inspired like King Macar, the Gold-Cursed without having to send them into combat, Vehicles are nice. Bomat Bazaar Barge at least replaces itself.
Chief of the Foundry: Artifact swarms are coming your way!
Cultivator’s Caravan: An excellent combination of abilities, Cultivator’s Caravan provides you with mana acceleration early in the game; later, it’s more than that. Once you don’t need the extra mana, it’s not a dead permanent because it can get into battles.
Demolition Stomper: Ten-power things with evasion must be respected.
Fabrication Module: Again, when you get extra resources for doing things you already do, you’re pulling ahead in the game.
Key to the City: A sneakily good card. Its low casting cost and zero-mana first ability make it easy to add to a deck and be useful in it (especially if you’re making your commander unblockable). Then you can get an additional advantage for doing the thing you did.
Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot: Glissa, the Traitor is happy that this particular Puzzleknot is in her color identity.
Metalwork Colossus: Even if you’re not casting it for free, the reduced cost for a 10/10 means that face-smashing will commence. If it’s in your graveyard and someone is blowing up your artifacts anyway, you can get some use out of them (or potentially save them from being exiled with Return to Dust).
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship: The low Crew cost of three for a 6/5 flyer with an ability that can get blockers out of the way is pretty attractive. Since some folks have asked, by the official rules, this cannot be your commander, since it’s not natively a creature. If you think you’d like to run it anyway, ask your local group. I’d probably say yes.
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot: Also in Glissa, the Traitor’s color identity, it makes me wonder what you’re going to do when you’re done looping all that Energy.
Aetherflux Reservoir: The first ability is one of those which seems pleasant enough but you don’t get too excited over. Then you play with it and you realize that you’re getting great dividends on your investment, since you’re getting something extra for doing the things you already do (namely, cast spells). It gets crazier when you realize that there are a number of ways to cast additional spells for free. Cast Diluvian Primoridal in a five-player game for fifteen life. Maelstrom Wanderer’s double cascade nets you six. Then, on top of that, you get to dome people with all that life you’ve gained. I predict the card will generate some chatter, but it’s hardly ban-worthy. Just have your Angel of Jubilation ready.
Aetherworks Marvel: If you doubt how good Aetherworks Marvel is, keep track of how much Energy you’d be gaining in a normal game without any other setup. Casting cards without paying mana is very strong. Then think about the fact that you can use Janjeet Sentry to untap Aetherworks Marvel, and you’re off to the races.
Panharmonicon: Enters-the-battlefield triggers are already a major player in the format. Panharmonicon doubles up on them, and you can see it getting silly right away. Get two cards back from your Eternal Witness, or two creatures from everyone with Sepulchral Primordial. Fetch two lands with Solemn Simulacrum (but alas, still only one card when it dies). One of the chase cards of the set.
Grade: A. The top cards will have an immediate impact on the format, and there are plenty of other goodies to pick from the rest.
The set as a whole hits the right notes. It has a good number of powerful cards, opportunities for new and innovative strategies, and the brilliance of the Masterpiece Series. Once you’re done having a great time at the Pre-Release, I look forward to seeing what new ideas you’ve assembled.
Our normal Deck Without Comment feature will return after release season.
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club
Shards and Wedges
Adun’s Toolbox; Animar’s Swarm; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987 and is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”