Let’s get right to it. Our first planeswalker previewed is a doozy, combining some traditional elements we’ve seen in the past with some interesting new twists.
Kaya, in some ways, is a return to form of five-mana planeswalkers — traditionally framed by cards like Ob Nixilis Reignited.
- Five mana
- +1, gain some advantage
- -3 kill something
- An ultimate that probably wins the game
On the surface? Perhaps a little uninspired, boring even. Under the hood? There are actually lots of interesting things going on here. So let’s take a look.
I probably sold Kaya a little short. This is a lot more nuanced than “draw a card,” and as a result is worthy of the majority of Kaya’s discussion, given that it’s her +1 and thus her ability most likely to be used repeatedly, governing what decks that she goes in.
Kaya can function as insurance to protect herself — insulating yourself from removal spells to insure you have a blocker, as well as generating card advantage if you can force your opponent into positions where you can easily block. When ahead, it even insulates your creatures from removal. Kaya’s plus naturally plays well ahead, at parity, and behind; it just requires an investment in playing creatures alongside her. Of course, she also pairs well with powerful enters-the-battlefield effects.
Can you think of a creature that white decks are interested in playing with a strong enters-the-battlefield ability?
Skyclave Apparition looks a lot more appealing to put in front of an attacker when you’re getting re-upped, and a Yorion trigger can vary in value from being up a few cards to completely ending a game. Getting an additional shot at these abilities is an extremely attractive value proposition and Esper Doom Foretold wants to play both of these cards.
It’s true that there are a lot of five-mana cards that Esper Doom Foretold is interested in playing already, but it’s possible that Kaya can dictate a different way of building the deck.
The first copy of Yorion as a companion is “on the house.” The fact that you’ll always have access to it, given some breathing room, can mean that Kaya can start to creep in on the deck real estate that was previously occupied by copies 2-4. Kaya’s +1 is a powerful follow-up on your Yorion, guaranteeing that you’ll continue to have a windfall of value.
I haven’t even mentioned the natural synergy Kaya has with Doom Foretold. Tick up on your creature, sacrifice it, and reap the benefits.
Additionally, Kaya is extremely powerful with Adventure creatures —functionally giving you triple duty on creatures that you’ve sent on an Adventure, cast, and then given the ability to send them on an Adventure again (with a Spirit token on the way out to boot).
- 2 Giant Killer
- 4 Charming Prince
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 2 Archon of Sun's Grace
- 2 Yorion, Sky Nomad
- 4 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Doom Foretold
- 2 Glass Casket
- 4 The Birth of Meletis
- 2 Omen of the Sun
- 2 Elspeth Conquers Death
- 3 Elspeth's Nightmare
- 4 Mazemind Tome
- 4 Showdown of the Skalds
- 1 Yorion, Sky Nomad
Patrick Chapin covered a lot of different applications for Showdown of the Skalds and Kaya feels like a perfect addition to many of the different types of decks that he showed off. You’ll probably notice that I just suggested shaving some copies of Yorion in the aforementioned Esper decklist, but here I’m eschewing some copies of both Yorion and Elspeth Conquers Death. This is a perfect segue into taking a look at Kaya’s simple but effective -3 ability.
Simple, effective. Make no mistake, as powerful as Ob Nixilis Reignited’s ability to snipe creatures was, this is a massive upgrade. Exiling creatures over destroying them is in itself a clean improvement, lining up well against escape creatures and all other sorts of interlocking synergies, but the ability to cover any type of permanent, including critically “retricking” opposing planeswalkers, means that you’ll often end up in favorable battlefield positions by showcasing a little patience before deploying Kaya.
This massive coverage of permanents also naturally alleviates some of the pressure previously placed on Elspeth Conquers Death to ensure that control decks could hang with a wide range of diversification.
Kaya, simply, can answer anything.
Again, this might seem like a minor upgrade on the surface, but I assure you that the ability to handle previously unassailable battlefield positions for Elspeth Conquers Death — gigantic Shark Typhoon tokens quickly come to mind — is something to be celebrated. Even outside of the decks I’m showcasing today, this massive coverage is extremely splashable and is enough of an incentive to include or sideboard Kaya to handle many problems with upside.
That all said, am I claiming that Kaya is powerful enough to usurp Elspeth Conquers Death? No, I’m not, but the upside of a planeswalker that you can build around (or use to supplement the powerful Saga) is huge. White isn’t reliant on the enchantment to solve its problems anymore. Naturally, Orzhov is a lot more attractive too.
What other types of decks can stand to benefit from such a large amount of coverage?
- 1 Faerie Guidemother
- 3 Giant Killer
- 2 Shepherd of the Flock
- 4 Alseid of Life's Bounty
- 2 Lurrus of the Dream-Den
- 4 Seasoned Hallowblade
- 2 Selfless Savior
- 4 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Luminarch Aspirant
- 2 Halvar, God of Battle
This is a relatively simple but seemingly effective application of Kaya. Elspeth Conquers Death isn’t the most reliable card in aggressive-leaning strategies because five mana is a large ask without a guarantee of return and, most likely, a less impactful third chapter than in most other decks.
Kaya solves many of those problems for more aggressive slanted Orzhov decks. She can be the top-end of your curve to clear blockers or other problematic permanents and also insulate your battlefield position from blockers and sweepers. Further, as previously noted, there are plenty of strong white creatures with Adventure or enters-the-battlefield effects to leverage via ghostform counters.
There are also some other interesting synergies here with the one-drops. Alseid of Life’s Bounty and Selfless Savior have natural sacrifice abilities that pair well with Kaya’s +1 to protect your creatures or get them into combat and rebuy your one drop (again, a Spirit is on the house).
There’s a lot to like here, and as hopefully is evident, a wide range of applications for Kaya’s +1 that may a little difficult to process on the surface.
Kaya’s ultimate, while powerful, is not synonymous with “win the game on the spot.”
Of course, the lowest-hanging fruit is that Kaya will simply rebuy herself the first go-around, which means that you’ll be able to answer a permanent with her -3, but then what? Halvar, God of Battle; Yorion; and Lurrus are all fine supplements, as seen amongst the decklists shown today, and that’s likely sufficient.
Kaya has a fast ultimate, and as is tradition, if you’re in a game where the battlefield is managed well enough to pursue an ultimate, that likely means you’re in good shape. Post-ultimate, if an opponent is pressuring Kaya, that simply means you can then re-buy her and exile whatever permanent is bothering you and/or killed her and keep on going. It isn’t super-flashy but it’s probably enough.
While I think it’s easy to write off Kaya as another simple and traditional planeswalker, hopefully after today you see her in a new light. She’s extremely flexible and grants a great deal of texture to not only the games but the decks that are interested in including her. While she often can play like an “Ob Nixilis” by killing creatures and generating card advantage, her asks of you — to include a wide variety of creatures in your deck and play to the battlefield — are far different from those of many planeswalkers before her.
She’s a great note to begin preview season on, feeling comfortable and familiar with enough of a twist that keeps you interested in what’s to come.
Happy holidays and I hope you enjoy the ride of Kaldheim preview season!