Magic the Gathering: Kaladesh
Kaladesh is the newest set for the collectable card game Magic: The Gathering. This is my first time writing about a Magic set, so there are a few things you should know going into this post.
- If you're not familiar with Magic, this is not the post to teach you. If you're curious about what is arguably one of the greatest (if not the best) strategy card games of all time, then I recommend visiting their official primer page, downloading and playing their Magic: Duels app, or watching Sean Plott's Spellslingers series from Geek & Sundry.
- This is not a standard review with a rating, because Magic sets are not easily rated this early. The set has just been released and is not even allowed in official game formats until this weekend. There are also a lot of ways people play the game, and reviewing an entire set to address even the most popular versions are well outside the scope of this post.
- Speaking of the different ways people play Magic, here's some full disclosure for readers: I am a casual player who enjoys going to pre-release events, playing Limited (sealed and draft), and Commander.
Setting & Storyline
Kaladesh is heavily inspired by Indian art and culture and the "aetherpunk" genre of steampunk. It's a plane obsessed with machines and automatons, to the point that this is probably the first set to have anything resembling modern-day vehicles like cars and trains. The plane of Kaladesh is infused with "aether," a material that is ever-present in the atmosphere and intertwined with nature itself.
Kaladesh is made up of several fantasy races, including the standard humans, elves, and dwarves (making their long-awaited reappearance in Magic). There are also the Vedalken (a blue-skinned race of intellectuals original to Magic and present in previous sets), and the hedonistic Aetherborn, who are are born fully formed from the refined aether and live for only a few short years. Replacing the usual red-aligned goblin race are the non-sentient gremlins, which are multi-limbed hairless ant-eater type creatures that eat aether and destroy machines to get to it.
There are a lot of interesting stories being told on Kaladesh: there's the group of "renegades" fighting against the Consulate, the rediscovery and reunion between the character Chandra and her mother, the month's-long Inventor's Fair that's being judged by an old villain who hasn't been seen in awhile, and more that will be released in story-form as we make our way towards the next set in the block, Aether Revolt. For more information on the plane and who the major players are, check out the official page here.
The theme so far has been a big hit with a lot of players, and the characters, both new and old, have really given story-driven fans a lot of great material. On a personal level, Kaladesh will probably rank up there as one of my favorite locations alongside Innistrad and Ravnica. A lot of the stories being released are incredibly well-written and professional, and I would like to point out the incredible short story "Born of Aether" by Alison Luhrs. Even if you're not a Magic fan, it's worth your time to check it out. Kaladesh has brought wonder back to Magic. The aetherborn are fascinating, and I don't know what it is about the gremlins but I love them to pieces and I want even more of them. Also, there are sky whales. As in whales that fly through the sky. The implications of such a thing are mind-boggling, and yet I love every single thing about them.
Art & Design
Magic is known for its fabulous art, and this set is no different. There are a few odd pieces here and there, and a couple that look more like poorly-rendered CGI than actual artwork. Other recent sets have had similar issues, but it's less pronounced here.
Kaladesh's design is incredible. It's vibrant, colorful, and dynamic, and every location, whether fairground or forest, brims with dynamic possibility. Looking at the landscapes of buildings and artifacts, it's a wonder that any of these art pieces were ever finished in a timely fashion. The level of detail from an ounce of clothing to a towering automaton is incredible
Kaladesh introduces three new mechanics: Vehicles, Fabricate, and Energy.
The most exciting of the new mechanics, vehicles add an entirely new card type to artifacts. A vehicle can be "crewed" by other creatures to transform them into artifact creatures until end of turn. While these were a lot of fun to play, I don't see them going far outside of Limited. The fact that you have to use another creature to use one is a huge downside, and I won several matches against opponents who couldn't keep a creature in play long enough to man the one vehicle they had sitting there.
A creature with fabricate can either come into play with extra +1/+1 counters or create 1/1 artifact creature tokens. This ability works very well within the set, as it gives the player a lot of versatility. Should I put in a larger creature, or add a smaller body? The fact that it's an artifact that's added works well within the set, as a lot of cards gain extra abilities if you have one in play. This was probably one of my favorite new mechanics, and I was surprised to find myself running a lot more of these cards than my opponents did.
Energy seems like one of the weirdest mechanics to add to Magic. Players are essentially adding a new resource to their games, which adds a lot of complexity. Unlike mana, energy is saved from turn to turn and can be used at specific times depending on their cards. My first deck was energy-centric, and I used the resource to great success. It's not as clunky a mechanic as vehicles are, but it's also not as immediately powerful as fabricate. That being said, energy is incredibly versatile, and my opponents and I had to keep an eye on how much energy the other had left before making crucial decisions.
I attended the pre-release at my friendly local game store, Cardboard Castle Games, in Augusta, GA. They had decorated their store with paper cut-outs of vehicles from the game, provided to them with their pre-release kit.
Above the entrance was the following note:
The boxes came with the standard 6 packs plus foil promo of a rare or mythic card. I attended the midnight event on Friday and another Saturday afternoon.
I ended up building a rather unstoppable WG energy-based deck during the midnight game. I ended up going 3-0, splitting the fourth match so I could get home and sleep by 4:30AM like some sort of filthy casual. I won one game entirely by attacking with one of my Sky Skiffs. This card is a beast at common, and is probably one of the best vehicles in the set. My deck was slow to start, and several opponents would take huge swathes of my life before I was able to stabilize with my rhinos and ibexes, or until I dropped the Cataclysmic Gearhulk or a Bristling Hydra (or two) onto the field. Once I clogged the ground, I'd attack in the air with my pair of Skiffs, Propeller Pioneer, Aerial Responder, and Eddytrail Hawk (who could take others on the flight with her). Nissa is also an incredible card, and I was able to use her ultimate every game I played her.
My Saturday afternoon game was a bit trickier as I didn't have as obvious a direction with my colors. I decided to run a WB fabricate deck, and even though I had some solid removal in black, I went with all-white non-creature spells. They were honestly a lot quicker, and I was afraid that playing as many high-costed cards as I had would make me slower. Gonti, Marionette Maker, and Fumigate were an awesome collection of cards, and the Accomplish Automaton, Bastion Mastodon, and Prakhata Pillar-Bug kept my alive long enough to end the game. This deck was slow and the battles were pretty drawn out. Much like the previous night's deck, I would win by clogging the ground and slowly pinging with the few flyers I had. This deck went 2-1, and again I split the fourth round because I was still exhausted from the previous night's game.
The boxes also came with these fun little cut-outs to make your own thopter!
This was one of the coolest sets to come around in a long time. The new mechanics and high power level of the cards will definitely lead to an interesting Limited environment. I'm excited to see how this set affects standard, and if vehicles and energy are worth adding to the more competitive decks. In the meantime, I'll keep watching the set evolve and follow the storyline. See you all at the release weekend!