At about 100 cards down and 150 more to go, Kaladesh previews continue to excite and surprise the Modern masses. Vehicles and energy and Chandra, oh my! We've got Voltaic Brawler slugging alongside Gruul Zoo, an upgraded Steel Sabotage and Annul in Ceremonious Rejection, the three-drop Saheeli Rai (valuewalker in Kiki Chord, combo sweetheart with Liquimetal Coating), and the psuedo-hasting 3/3 Smuggler's Copter.
I'm pumped to see the rest of the set, but also don't know if it will get too much more exciting than four-mana Platinum Emperions courtesy of Madcap Experiment. Format-breaking? Not really. Awesome? You bet.
Johnny and Vorthos appeals aside, Kaladesh also promises at least five cards which are guaranteed to make impact across the tiers. Kaladesh's enemy fastlands complete the cycle started way back in Scars of Mirrodin with such format regulars as Jund's Blackcleave Cliffs and Abzan Company's Razorverge Thickets.
More so than perhaps any other format, mana matters in Modern. So does speed. The painless and aptly named fastlands rise to that Modern challenge, empowering a number of key Modern decks with resources they previously lacked. Although I think Todd Anderson goes too far in calling one of the lands the "best card in Modern," enemy fastlands will be powerful format additions which will have noticeable impact on the format's tierings.
With Jund's Blackcleave Cliffs pushing towards $20, it behooves both players and investors to get on board the Kaladesh fastland train early. In today's article, I'll assess each land's financial ceiling and strategic applications to give you all the information you need to make informed buys and smart deckbuilding decisions.
Blooming Marsh (B/G)
Ever since Return to Ravnica brought cards like Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman into the format, BGx Midrange has been a Tier 1 hallmark in Modern. Abzan may have been the darling at Worlds 2016, but Jund still remains the format king after 5-6 months on the throne.
This BGx supremacy suggests that Blooming Marsh is positioned to be one Kaladesh's best fastlands.
In evaluating a BGx Midrange fastland, both for profit and for positioning, we need to look to the BGx exemplar of Blackcleave Cliffs.
As a deck, Jund has roughly ten (depending on the build) one-drops: 4 Lightning Bolt, 3-4 Inquisition of Kozilek, and 2-3 Thoughtseize. Cliffs makes the deck tick because it allows Jund to cast any of those one-drops on turn one without spending a single point of life. That's huge in a format where Burn, Zoo, Affinity, and other strategies can knock you cold by turn four even without the benefit of a free Bolt courtesy of fetchland into shockland.
How does Marsh fit into that paradigm? Unfortunately, not that well.
Because Marsh can't produce red for Bolt, we know Jund doesn't want this card. That leaves Abzan, Abzan Liege, and some fringe Tier 3 strategies in the Death Cloud and B/G Phyrexian Obliterator strategies. In these builds, Marsh is only marginally better than the existing Razorverge Thicket, and only in certain metagames.
Looking to black-green and Abzan lists, Marsh and Thicket tie on their ability to drop turn one Noble Hierarch. From there, it's a question of whether turn one Path to Exile is more valuable than turn one discard spell. Marsh picks up some points here because turn one Path can be a risky proposition even against the lowest-to-the-ground aggro strategies. By contrast, the ability to choose between jumping the curve off Hierarch, or playing defensive off turn one Inquisition, is very valuable.
All of this suggests Marsh will see more play than Thicket in the midrange Abzan shells (and certainly in the straight black-green shells where Thicket is useless). That's even more true when you consider Marsh's contribution to Liliana of the Veil's double black.
Thicket hovers in the $6-$7 range entirely off Hatebears, Death and Taxes and Abzan Company. At rare, the new Marsh will see a massive supply glut and is unlikely to push beyond that. It's pre-selling at around $6 currently, which seems too high even coupled with projected Standard demand. Wait for the drop to $3-$4 and buy then.
Botanical Sanctum (U/G)
As someone who loves Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration and Tarmogoyf, I'm a big believer in the power of UGx. Too bad Modern has historically been hostile to this pairing, especially after Splinter Twin's departure. Temur, Sultai, and straight blue-green strategies have floundered in the past nine months, which is why many UGx mages are optimistic about Botanical Sanctum reversing the trend.
Although the fastlands are likely to breathe new life into at least one of these strategies (see the last land entry on this list), Sanctum is not the hero you're looking for and is arguably the worst of Kaladesh's new lands.
Sanctum's failures are precisely Cliff's successes: the card just doesn't cast good spells on turn one. On the positive side, Sanctum does open up a slew of impressive blue cards in Delver, including Thought Scour, and Serum Visions. On the negative, however, the green will often go unused outside of an underwhelming Traverse the Ulvenwald.
More importantly, neither side of Sanctum's mana generation opens up a removal option for UGx players. UGx already struggles with removal problems, whether it's Sultai's inability to hit small creatures outside of the terrible Disfigure, or Temur's inability to hit bigger ones past Bolt range. Sanctum doesn't help that and doesn't put either pairing's existing removal online. That unacceptable in a format of Affinity, Burn, Death's Shadow Zoo, Infect and other strategies.
To make matters worse, UGx strategies that might even want Sanctum aren't even currently in the top Modern tiers. Temur Scapeshift prefers Bolt on turn one to Search for Tomorrow, and Bant Eldrazi needs green (Hierarch, Ancient Stirrings) and white (Path). Infect is solidly blue-green but won't scrap fetches for Sanctums unless Become Immense goes the way of Treasure Cruise.
This card seems overvalued at its current $5 price-tag, and would probably be overvalued even at $3. I'd stay away from this one from a Modern perspective.
Concealed Courtyard (W/B)
As befits its name, Concealed Courtyard is quietly one of the better fastlands in Modern. It has obvious applications in B/W Eldrazi, Death and Taxes, and Hatebears. It has even more obvious applications in B/W Tokens, a consistent Tier 3 player with lots of Tier 2 potential. Less obviously, it may even find a home as the Abzan fastland of choice. That's a lot of potential for a new card, which bodes well for Courtyard's long-term price tag.
There's not too much to say about Courtyard's applications in the straight black-white strategies. These decks have lacked a painless way to cast both Path to Exile and Inquisition of Kozilek on turn one, and Courtyard goes a long way to fixing that. Between Courtyard, Caves of Koilos, Godless Shrine, Marsh Flats and Isolated Chapel, there are more than enough black-white fixers to go around and I expect the stock of these decks to rise across the board.
Abzan is the more interesting case. One of Abzan's biggest downfalls compared to Jund is its inability to cast either removal or discard on turn one without incurring heavy life loss, or without fetching a basic. Courtyard might be the card to fix this much as Cliffs was the fixer for Jund.
Jund's Cliffs can drop either Bolt (removal) or discard (Inquisition/Thoughtseize) on turn one. Now Abzan's Courtyard can do the same, enabling either Path (removal) or black discard. Both lands also set you up for the turn three Liliana off double black.
Theoretical analysis aside, this does not really address the fundamental weakness of turn 1-3 Path vs. turn 1-3 Bolt. You can't really remove a turn one Noble Hierarch against Abzan Company, Bant Eldrazi, or Infect with Path. Jund has no problem doing the same with Bolt. That said, painless turn one Path is better against Wild Nacatl, Goblin Guide, Glistener Elf, etc. than painful turn one Path. Or turn two Path, which may be a turn too late.
All of this points to Courtyard being an upgrade in Abzan but not necessarily a decisive one. It's not quite Abzan's Blackcleave Cliffs because Path isn't quit Bolt. But there are still games where that painless turn one Path/discard option is going to be the difference between a loss and a win, and that's where Courtyard will shine. This suggests a ceiling of around $5-$6 on Courtyard, similar to where Thicket is today. Buy accordingly.
Inspiring Vantage (R/W)
As we've seen in the last three fastlands, Lightning Bolt is a major factor in both Modern and our land evaluations. That's a good place for the red-white Inspiring Vantage to start, but unfortunately that's where the good news ends. White's only decent one-drop in Modern is Path, a card you almost never want to play on turn one over Bolt. The red-white pairing is also very weak in Modern, unless supported by black (Mardu Midrange) or blue (Jeskai Control).
For every fringe Tier 3 (or lower) red-white deck you find in Modern, you can also find a half dozen other red-based decks that are probably better. Boros Bushwhacker is cute but Death's Shadow Zoo, Gruul Zoo, and even traditional Naya Burn are just better. R/W Blood Moon Lockdown is a blast for prison fans, but still probably worse than both Tier 3 Blue Moon and Tier 1 Jeskai Nahiri.
Vantage's shortcomings underscore white's weaknesses in Modern. I actually think this card would be a lot better if we had access to something like Stoneforge Mystic on turn two, but with Path to Exile serving as white's only notable turn 1-2 play for most decks, Vantage just doesn't cut it. Unlike with Courtyard, Vantage also doesn't help out the varied Hatebears and Death and Taxes variants, none of which really play red.
I can't see this card sustaining a $6 price tag even with extensive Standard support. The Modern demand just won't be there. That said, getting these around the $3 range isn't a bad idea if Stoneforge ever gets released from the banlist, or if we ever get other competitive white cards to fill out an early curve.
Spirebluff Canal (U/R)
Todd Anderson went way too far calling this the best card in Modern, but Spirebluff Canal is unquestionably the best fastland in Kaladesh. It will also be the best or second-best fastland across the cycle, contested only by Blackcleave Cliffs. Following the Twin ban, blue-red lost a lot of its historic Modern power, although it remains a top pairing in Delver, Grixis, and Jeskai strategies.
Canal guarantees this pairing will only improve, and I expect multiple URx decks to advance at least a tier off Canal's addition.
Delver decks, especially the competitive Tier 2 Grixis, are by far the biggest winners from Canal. These decks have long been suppressed by a terrible Burn matchup, especially Grixis and its notoriously painful manabase. Canal totally changes this calculus, opening up a painless Visions, Bolt, Scour or Delver against their aggressive opponents. Traditional U/R Delver decks also benefit, adding Monastery Swiftspear and Spell Pierce to the mix.
Looking past the Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration strategies, Blue Moon and Jeskai strategies are also major beneficiaries of Canal. Jeskai decks in particular frequently take 2-3 damage over those first 1-2 turns, a catastrophic loss in many aggressive matchups. Canal really tightens up those contests and should allow Jeskai at least an extra turn to stabilize. As for Blue Moon, Canal solves any remaining mana oddities the deck had, which should solidify its high Tier 3 or even low Tier 2 status.
In addition to these decks, expect Canal to pump up Pyromancer Ascension/Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror strategies (a breakout hit from Grand Prix Guangzhou), U/R Storm, Temur Midrange, and a host of other URx options across the format. That's a lot of upside for a new card, with many of those strategies already having Tier 1 or 2 claim before Canal gives them a major edge.
Canals are pre-ordering around the $7 range, which is undervalued in the long term but about right in the short. Kaladesh packs might drop this to the $5 range, but expect these to grow well over $10 as Modern players adopt them. I'd get them soon after the Standard rotation and then slowly pick up copies over the year.
As much as I love fastlands, and as much as they will impact Modern, there are still plenty of limitations to Kaladesh's exciting new cycle. For one, many Modern decks which benefit from fastlands might also need to shift away from curvetopper four-drops which synergize poorly with the fastlands (not to mention any creaturelands the deck runs). The same also goes for Grixis delve strategies, which do lose out on faster Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler starts sans fetches in the graveyard.
Speaking of limitations, my own price analyses are limited due to the unknown influence of Standard. I really have no clue which of the fastlands will prosper in Standard and which will flop, especially with such Standard powerhouses as Collected Company falling off the map.
My guess is that blue-red decks look very strong in the post-rotation Standard landscape, which affirms my predictions about Canal commanding a hefty price-tag. Then again, maybe white-red aggressive decks end up shining, in which case Modern-bust Vantage might be worth much more than I predict.
No matter where the chips fall, the Kaladesh fastlands are guaranteed to make a big Modern impact, and you can't go wrong picking up a playset of all of them for the future. Head down to the comments if you have any questions about the lands or other Kaladesh cards, and I'll see you all next week with some more exciting Kaladesh reviews. Here's hoping the new Dovin Baan planeswalker gives reactive blue-white strategies another weapon alongside Nahiri!