“People of Kaladesh, whether you hail from distant fields or green belt towns or from our great city centers, this is your time. The Kaladesh Inventors Fair invites you, our best and brightest, to share your ingenuity with the world. As an official entrant you may fuel your creativity with unrestricted aether access. Demonstrate that you can channel the aether into bold new creations. Showcase your new ideas, your inventions, your genius. In this time when anything is buildable, you can invent your tomorrow, today!”
In a few short weeks we will all be invited to step into this fresh new world of Kaladesh. Chandra, along with some new friends and new mechanics, will join us on our journey through this new plane. Speaking of Chandra, everyone is going nuts for her. Before I join the masses preordering our new four mana planeswalker friend for over $50, let’s see what’s really going on.
At first glance, you mind should immediately pick up on the fact that Chandra, Torch of Defiance has four abilities. The only other planeswalker boast such a reputation is none other than Jace, the Mind Sculptor. When your immediate comparison of a new card is to a card that was so powerful it was banned in multiple formats, thoughts accelerate quickly. The preorder price mountain we just climbed is clear evidence of this in players' minds.
Although we have our second planeswalker with four abilities, this red planeswalker also gives us card advantage, mana advantage and acts as a removal spell. If we are going to compare these two cards, let’s be thorough in our break down. I’m sure you know what he does, but take a look at Jace, the Mindsculptor and remind yourself how good he is.
Jace’s first ability is basically Scry 1 on your opponent’s library. This was the mode that really took over the game. Once you created a board state where you could mess with the cards your opponent would draw, the game was likely over. There were times when you could get out of it, but often that soft lock was enough to win the game.
Instead of this level of control, Chandra has a different way to control the game and that’s by achieving a mana advantage over the opponent. If you have more resources to work with than your opponent you will likely be able to use that advantage to defeat them. In this case, you can jump from four mana to cast her up to seven mana the turn after. So as long as you hit your land drops, you get a free Explosive Vegetation style accelerant every turn. You could also think of this as a free Dark Ritual each turn.
This is a huge jump in mana and the Hedron Archive-like jump in mana is obviously powerful. The fact that you can also play a spell like Incendiary Flow or Tormenting Voice on the same turn you play her is similarly strong. That line of chaining spells together reminds me of Koth of the Hammer. This +1 mana ability of Chandra’s is very good but it’s not the same as Jace’s deck manipulation.
Next up we have Brainstorm for zero loyalty on Jace. When you take the best draw spell legal in Legacy and add it as an ability on a planeswalker, things can get out of control quickly. Chandra has her own version of card advantage but it’s toned down a lot from the power level of Mind Sculptor. You get to see an extra card per turn, which is good, but it’s nothing compared to Brainstorm. I do like the option to not draw the card and deal two damage. Every card is valuable but not every card is always necessary to win the game. Chandra’s +1 allows you to take advantage of cards you don’t need like extra lands or other copies of herself.
The third abilities on both cards match up well. They both possess minus abilities that interact with the opponent’s creatures. Our blue ability is bouncing a creature while our red one is killing it. The blue one is yet again more versatile because it can deal with any creature, while the red one only interacts favorably with four or less toughness creatures.
Once we’re through with the plus and minus abilities that we will encounter most frequently, we get to the top of the mountain. For the first time, I think Chandra has the advantage on this ability. Not only does her ultimate trigger faster, but it’s also just as lethal. Most of the time winning with a Chandra ultimate should only take a turn or two. Usually Jace’s ultimate prompts a concession but I think most players will try to win through Chandra’s.
So, to summarize, we have four similarly laid out abilities on both cards. Almost all of Chandra’s abilities are worse than Jace’s, but that’s not going to stop her from being one of the most important pillars of every format she’s in though. I’d say that once we consider all of the implications that her loyalty allows us to accomplish that $50 sounds about right for her. There will be an interesting balance between Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Chandra, Flamecaller though. Both cards do impressive things but you can only have one in play at a time. At the end of the day, I think the Torch of Defiance will lead the way. Her flame will burn through Standard and definitely leave an impression.
Up next, we have our second planeswalker spoiled so far, Saheeli Rai. While she may seem lackluster in comparison to what is likely the second most powerful planeswalker ever printed, Saheeli may find her place in the meta as well.
Three mana is a good starting point for a planeswalker. Being two colors is sometimes the downfall of cards, but I think blue and red will get a lot of support in Kaladesh. Much of her strength though relies on what the blue red color combination has access to.
Her abilities are interesting. She gives us some minor card selection and the ability to copying artifacts. We haven’t had many ways to copy artifacts in the past and certainly not on a planeswalker. What we copy needs to have an immediate impact though because we are using up a significant portion of her loyalty to execute the ability. We need something to copy that has a potent enters the battlefield ability or does something immediate to progress our board state.
Her ultimate is intriguing, but again, what three artifacts are we going to tutor for that will win us the game? This is an easier question to answer in older format so exploring her synergies in Modern or Legacy will be important, but as for Standard we have yet to see the cards that might pair well with a potential ultimate from her.
We have not seen many cards from Kaladesh that fit to pair with Saheeli Rai yet, but there are many cards left unspoiled. There is one that might pair well with Saheeli’s copying ability though and that’s Cataclysmic Gearhulk.
What we know currently is that this card has not been spoiled in English. Here’s what the translated text says.
Artifact Creature – Construct
When Cataclysmic Gearhulk enters the battlefield, each player chooses from among the non-land permanents he or she controls an artifact, a creature, an enchantment, and a planeswalker, then sacrifices the rest.
Originally there was Cataclysm, then they updated that to exclude lands with Tragic Arrogance, and now we have a 4/5 tacked onto this ability. In a control deck, this creature seems highly exploitable. In Standard we are rewarded with cards that trigger upon having different card types in our graveyard. This creature rewards us for playing different card types because we can gain an advantage. If we build our deck such that we only have one of each card type in play at a time, then this creature can seem like a one sided board wipe.
If we are able to continue playing three colors in the new format, we could not only force this condition on our opponent once, but we could copy it and do it again with Saheeli’s -3. Considering how much play Tragic Arrogance has seen, I think Gearhullk is going to fit right in.
Although Nissa, Vital Force popped up on the spoiler once I was well into writing this article, I wanted to add her in as a topic of discussion as well. She may fit in well with the cards I’ve been discussing today, but I’m worried about her fitting into the Standard format well.
Nissa’s new name implies that she is an important cog in a competitive deck’s machine, but my initial impression is the exact opposite. This Nissa doesn’t seem like a Vital Force at all. In fact, she doesn’t even seem like she will see much play at all.
Both her +1 and -3 are great abilities, but costing five mana and not being able to protect yourself create huge gaps for a deck to fill. Maybe my perspective on her is wrong but to me she seems like a finisher. I don’t think we are hurting for finishers in Standard though. Don’t get me wrong, a 5/5 haste for five mana is good, but this is more of a Ball Lighting style effect and less of a Thundermaw Hellkite one.
Being able to regrow a card is always a powerful tool, but again, with no protection, how relevant will that be if your opponent just kills her that first turn? I think Nissa is cool but if players are going to rely on her, I think it will be as Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and not Nissa, Vital Force.
Between energy counters, new shiny artifact toys, and vehicles, Kaladesh has no shortage of innovation. How good are energy counters and will we get more cards that use them in the future or is this just an ability for this block? I’m always skeptical of new mechanics like this, but there are already some cards that have proven to me that the mechanic will see competitive play. Let’s look at a couple of cards that highlight this point.
I think the best example of energy counters being constructed playable is Harnessed Lightning. This Incinerate or Searing Spear variant is just as good as those staples. The best part about our new version is that if you don’t need to do three damage, you will have some number of energy counters left over. Additionally, if you are getting these counters elsewhere, you can do more than three damage. Technically you could even cast one for zero damage and cast the second one for six. The versatility this card offers is great and provides us with a clear example of some basics that make this mechanic solid.
Another example might be Lathnu Hellion. This creature seems comparable to Ball Lightning but it could turn out to be more like a creature with vanishing counters like Blastoderm. If you have extra counters from your Harnessed Lightnings you could use them to fuel the Hellion or let the Hellion die to do more damage with the Lightning.
Either way, energy counters are most likely going to see some play in a couple decks. There will be many options when it comes to spending your energy and your opponent can’t destroy or interact with that resource. This new mechanic has some deep strategy and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
That’s all the time I have for today. Come back next week for some more great innovation from the plane of Kaladesh!
Until next time,
Unleash the Force of Kaladesh!
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