The Fire Of Kaladesh

When you want advice on aggro decks and Chandra strategies, you go to one player: Chris VanMeter! Let’s see what fresh fire CVM has cooked up for Kaladesh Standard!

Welcome back, everyone!

Even though in my piece last week my editor so graciously put a note in the bottom about my saltiness of the new Chandra being spoiled the same that that I had already written and submitted my article for the week, I still have to take some time and say my piece about the card.

Yes, there has already been a lot written about Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Over on SCG Premium, Patrick Chapin does a good job of highlighting some of why she is great in his column this week. Ari Lax also does too.

I would like to think that I know a thing or two about Chandra, though. I championed her fanatically in my Jund Monsters sideboards and the same with G/R Dragons. I was spot-on with my initial evaluation of Chandra, Flamecaller being insane. And I may have even met the planeswalker in person.

Yeah, I bought that statue from the Star City Game Center when they did the redesign. Yeah, it is also my one regret for driving out here when I moved because I had to leave it behind. I’m not sure who has it, if anyone from the old house, but just know that one day I will be reunited with her.

As for Chandra, Torch of Defiance? Yeah, she is as good as advertised. In fact, even with how insane people think she is, I think she’s going to be even better. I want to correlate her to two particular cards: Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Dismember.

Now, I’m not saying that she is as good as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In fact, for the sake of this game that we all love, I sincerely hope that there is never another card or planeswalker printed that’s as good as or better than Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

What these two cards did though, was they set the litmus test for their respective Standard formats. If your creature or gameplan lined up poorly against Jace or Dismember (awkwardly enough, since they were in the same Standard for a bit), then it probably shouldn’t have been in your deck. Now, it would have been a bit crazy to just not play creatures with toughness five or less, but we did see a huge uptick in creatures like the Titans from the varying M-sets and Consecrated Sphinx. These were all creatures that either did something when then entered the battlefield or got some value before they could be handled by the aforementioned cards.

I believe that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is going to have the same effect. It’s not going to be too long before people just get tired of seeing their Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Thought-Knot Seer (as rightfully pointed out in Ari’s article) die before they just start picking up Reality Smasher or Nissa, Vital Force.

Building your deck with Chandra, Torch of Defiance in mind is going to be a very important part of the new Standard. Well, that and just playing the new Chandra because she is straight gas!

There are also some pretty sweet lines that you can use to take advantage. Gerry does a good job breaking her down last week in his article, but I am a huge fan of thinking about ways to maximize using her on turn four. One of the cards that I was extremely high on from its initial printing was Xenagos, the Reveler. It took a while for them to catch on, but when they did, everyone got to see just how insane the card was.

It wasn’t the token generating that I loved about Xenagos. It was the turns where you got to play Xenagos, use their +1 and then play something else that turn. The “double-spell” turns were really the ones that buried your opponent with Xenagos.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance has the same opportunities to do that. Finding the best use for RR the turn we play her, or even 1RR if we’re looking at a turn 5 Chandra, will be a key design point. The first things that come to mind are Incendiary Flow and Oath of Chandra. With 1RR we can Collective Defiance. This is all and well and will pretty much be the normal, but I like finding other quirky lines that take advantage.

What about Tireless Tracker on turn 3; getting a Clue from our fourth land; casting Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and then using the RR from her +1 to sacrifice our clue? That seems nice.

All of the Puzzleknots can be cast with her +1. On five we can +1 and cast a Filigree Familiar.

I think it’s a pretty good thing that Sylvan Advocate isn’t castable on hybrid green or red mana, because we would get really tired of seeing Chandra +1 into Sylvan Advocate.

Once we start to look at the ramping, we can get even more impact. She can help play big Eldrazi creatures. She can go right to seven for Dragonlord Atarka… wait. She’s gone. Too bad, because that would be quite a Stormbeard Dragon-worthy line!

You all know me. I am but a simple Gruul mage. Things that go “smash” are generally in my wheelhouse, and there were a couple of spoilers last week that got me thinking about a potential return for my beloved archetype.

Energy is a new mechanic in Kaladesh that is pretty simple in concept but has a lot of unique design space. It is a new type of counter, similar to an Emblem, but specified as a counter: think a poison counter from a card with infect. There currently aren’t any cards spoiled that allow you to interact with your opponents’ Energy, but I think we may see something of the sorts either here or in Aether Revolt.

For these two cards, the first that caught my eye was Voltaic Brawler. This is an aggressively designed creature as a 3/2 for GR, but it gets even better in combat when it’s attacking. We all know that I really like attacking.

When it enters the battlefield, you get two Energy counters. When it attacks, you may pay an Energy and give it +1/+1 and trample until the end of turn. That is a 4/3 creature with trample attacking for at least two turns after you play it.

Harnessed Lightning is a unique take on the “red damage spell that only hits creatures.” For 1R at instant speed, we get three Energy counters and then we can pay X Energy to deal X damage to a creature.

I think that this is very good, and while I may be misevaluating the Energy mechanic, I don’t think so and think that most people are going to undervalue it. This card in particular is like a crazy split card with many options.

For starters, by itself you can just get three Energy counters and deal zero damage to the creature. This may actually end up relevant. Next you can spend one, two, or three of the Energy gained from the card to deal that much damage. Anything less than three leaves us with residual Energy to use as we see fit. Last, if we already have some Energy, then we can do even more than three damage to a creature. If we still have two Energy from our Voltaic Brawler, then we can deal five damage with Harnessed Lightning all on its own. That is a lot of flexibility.

Now, I already had my creative Energy juices flowing, but then they spoiled two more Energy cards that seem to fit perfectly with what I was already wanting to do.

Okay, so Tendo Ice Bridge with upside and a hasting 4/4 that we can keep around by using Energy? Sign. Me. Up. Oh, and Aether Hub also gives us colorless mana so we can play those Reality Smashers that I mentioned earlier would be good against Chandra, Torch of Defiance? Perfect!

There is even an awesome Vehicle that we can add into the mix that seems like it would fit this curve nicely. Fleetwheel Cruiser is basically everything I could ask for and more, especially in this world of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and all the Ruinous Paths that are going to see play to try to contain her. Check out this curve.

That is a lot of damage very quickly, and our Fleetwheel Cruiser is going to be immune to any sort of sorcery-speed removal.

There are also a lot of other awesome creatures that we can fit into this deck.

Okay, you got me. The two Vehicles there aren’t actually creatures. Sadly, we cannot find them with Duskwatch Recruiter and they can be countered by Negate, but I think that the upside on them is pretty huge and look forward to seeing just what we can do with Vehicles, especially in an aggressive G/R shell.

I don’t have a decklist for this idea yet because I think we still have some sweet Energy cards to come with the rest of Kaladesh, but it’s definitely something that I am keeping on-hand for when we have the full spoiler.

The other thing that I talked a lot about last week was Saheeli Rai and how I was hoping for the blue and red gearhulks to be awesome.

Well, the blue one is interesting for sure, and the red one strikes me as extremely “meh.”

I was definitely hoping for a five-mana cycle, but even at six these may see some play. Most people seem to have the same impression on the red Gearhulk that I do, but I actually really like the idea of copying this one with Saheeli Rai. We get a 6/6 first strike attacker that either draws us three cards or has the potential to do a bunch of damage to the opponent. This is all after already playing the same card, getting the same effect, and potentially some turns of using her +1 ability to chip away at our opponent.

Both Torrential Gearhulk and Combustible Gearhulk (along with Cataclysmic Gearhulk and Verdurous Gearhulk, depending on counter distribution) all have toughness greater than four, which is going to be important at dodging Chandratongue Kavu hits. But with varying mana costs and effects, I think that it’s going to be a little hard to evaluate these cards. Much like the Titans, their true power isn’t going to really be felt until we can put one onto the battlefield for the first time.

The first thing that I will try to take advantage of is that these are all “enters the battlefield” effects and play exceptionally well with cards like Eldrazi Displacer and potentially the new Panharmonicon. If there are enough creatures or artifacts with similar effects, we may even see a Panharmonicon deck.

Well, if there are enough good ones, then everyone will likely be playing them so that they can gain some value when their creatures get killed by Chandra, thus making it risky to try to take advantage of Panharmonicon, but hey, I like to live on the edge a little bit.

As of writing this, we are about halfway there to the full spoiler, and much like everyone else, I can’t wait to see the rest of Kaladesh. What do you think of energy? What are your favorite cards in Kaladesh? Please let me know in the comments below!

Comments from Last Week

I like to end each article by highlighting a couple of comments from last week and responding to them here. Make sure you chime in and you may see you post here in my next article.

I hope blue and white get a little more love. I wanna rock out a Tamiyo Midrange deck post-rotation. To the drawing board it is!”

– Christopher Smith

Chris, I think there are already a lot of sweet white cards available. In fact, up until the recent Eldrazi takeover with Eldritch Moon, white was the strongest color in Standard for some time. I’m sure we will get a couple of new tools and you will be able to find your Tamiyo midrange deck in no time. Good luck, and keep drawing cards!

“We haven’t seen the whole Kaladesh set yet, of course, but losing Nissa, Vastwood Seer (Borderland Ranger side), Explosive Vegetation, and Nissa’s Pilgrimage is gonna hurt Ramp players hard.

I’m hoping for some decent replacements, but they haven’t shown up yet. If Splendid Reclamation is supposed to be the go-to card for ramp players, we’re gonna have to build around it a lot harder than what Explosive Vegetation asks.

Maybe Noose Constrictor and Nahiri’s Wrath early, then Splendid Reclamation to ramp? Sees sketchy, since Reclamation relies on other things happening first to be good, and Vegetation doesn’t.

Re-calculating… re-calculating…”

– Craig Gallagher

Craig, I agree. Losing out on those ramp cards is going to hurt that strategy, but we do still have Hedron Archive and the potential for seeing some other artifact-based ramp since that’s the theme on Kaladesh. I would also be surprised if there wasn’t another Pilgrimage-like card that sees print.

Splendid Reclamation seems unplayable in Standard, so I really hope that’s not what they leave us with. It may be time to be a little more aggro or midrange. That being said, both Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Nissa, Vital Force can ramp pretty well too.

This weekend, the SCG Tour® heads to Orlando and it’s all about Modern. I will be traveling there to battle with the rest of Team Cardhoarder. Make sure you stop by and say hi if you see us! Also, I have recently started a new Twitch show for the team that airs Thursdays at 5:30 PM PST. It is called CVM’s Brews Review, where I take viewer-submitted decks and battle with them on-stream. We make some suggestions for changes, switch it up, and battle with the new version.

All formats are welcome, so as we wait for Kaladesh to come out, we may even end up with some Legacy and Pauper action. You can find the show here, and please send in your decklists to [email protected]. Please put your deck name and format in the subject line, and type out the list in the email body.

Thank you for the support so far, and I look forward to continue having fun with all the decks people have been sending in!