About Adam Koska
Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:
- 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
- 9th at Worlds 2009
- 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
- 64 Lifetime Pro Points
- Three times Czech Nationals Top 8
Kaladesh Tools for Standard
The new big autumn set, Kaladesh, is going to be released in just a few weeks and today, I'm going to have a look at some of the most inspiring spoilers. Kaladesh is all about inspiration and inventions and so far, we'we seen a number of "powerhouse" cards revealed, there are cards with an obvious high power level, but also some more tricky spells that seem like they could reward brewing and inventing.
This card reminds me a lot of Draining Whelk - a counterspell on wheels that is also a giant beatstick. However, the Gearhulk can be more - U/x control decks usually play a mix of counterspells and removal and by turn six, chances are that you will already have a good selection of cards in your graveyard to choose from, so the Gearhulk could also double as a giant Shriekmaw. Add to that the fact that Grapple with the Past exists, a card that can "chain" Gearhulks and mill fodder for them at the same time and we have a decent late-game engine going on. Sure, we'll have to adjust which cards we play, minimize the number of sorceries in the deck, but with removal spells like Murder and counterspells like Void Shatter and Summary Dismissal, I like the toolbox that's available for the blue Gearhulk right now and think he could very well be one of the defining win conditions in Standard, if blue control decks are good.
This is the card I'm probably the most excited about in the whole set so far. At first glance, it's obvious why this new Nissa has already created a lot of hype - she's the first planeswalker ever printed that can naturally go ultimate the turn after coming into play. But how strong exactly is her -6 ability? Unlike some other ultimates, cashing in Nissa won't necessarily win you the game on the spot. Sometimes you will be under a lot of pressure and her ultimate will equal to something like "draw two cards, scoop". However, it creates an engine that is impossible to stop (emblems can't be touched) and guarantees you a lot of cards over the course of a long game. Evolving Wilds draws you two cards, so you can even end up ahead on cards rather than just "cycle" all your useless lands. If post-rotation Standard is about value rather than about going off with some sort of combo or turbo-Emrakuling the opponent, Nissa will be one of the best late-game engines. I have a hard time seeing a B/W control or a Seasons Past deck beating the emblem.
And how about the other abilities? The +1 ability provides a decent roadblock, as well as a great tool for killing opposing planeswalkers. The new Chandra (more on her later) starts at 4 and immediately goes to 5, so a 5/5 haste creature seems like a decent answer. The -3 ability is pretty good against planeswalker removal like Ruinous Path, giving you value right away. Against a removal-based deck, you can chain Nissas this way, making it very hard for the opponent to grind you out. Also, Nissa can bring back Emrakul, which is great news for decks using self-mill to get delirium, leading to a big Emrakul turn. All in all, I think Nissa is great and will see a lot of play - perhaps not as a 4-of, but as a 2- or 3-of for sure.
I think both of these cards are powerful enough to be played in Standard and also work very well together, meaning they could form the base for a red-green aggro deck making good use of the new "energy" mechanic. Just on their own, Lathnu Hellion is a 4/4 haste that attacks twice and Volcanic Brawler is a 3-power 2-drop which can turn into a 4/3 trample when attacking. However, with the energy mechanic, you can decide where to invest your resources. Thanks to Voltaic Brawler, Lathnu Hellion can attack three times rather than two, for example, and that will often be a tradeoff worth doing. Harnessed Lightning will also work wonders in this deck. Sometimes you will ping an opposing X/1 and have two extra energy tokens left to use for your creatures. Sometimes you will need to burn a Gearhulk and that's when you can turn the Lightning into a Roast, thanks to energy from other sources. Aether Hub, the new "Tendo Ice Bridge" can also help, although I'm not sure how well it can support all the colored mana requirements, as aggressive decks with a low curve usually don't like lands that tap for colorless.
As a sidenote, it seems that Kaladesh also includes more cards that could potentially shine in the R/G aggro deck - Fleetwheel Cruiser is a great aggressive tool and Verdurous Gearhulk could be the ideal curve-topper here.
First of all, I don't think this card will ever see play in competitive formats - even if you cast five spells in a single turn, you "only" gain fifteen life, which is far from getting to the point where you could be able to nuke the opponent for 50. Also, most Storm decks will usually be able to win when they cast 5+ spells during a single turn. But the reason why I want to mention Aetherflux Reservoir is because the design just made my jaw drop - this is a perfect Magic card that sparks the inner Timmy in most of us. It's hard to break (although I'm sure many people will try), but the flavor is incredible and it can lead to some pretty epic stories, creating overkills of gargantuan proportions.
I guess no "first look at Kaladesh" article would be complete without mentioning Chandra, Torch of Defiance, so here we go. Yes, the new Chandra is very good and yes, she will see play in Standard and probably also Modern for as long as she's legal (which means forever, in the case of Modern). Fortunately, she's not the "oppressive" type of card that would render other particular strategies unplayable. Perhaps the only way she's going to affect decks that won't play her is that all decks should be capable of beating a resolved planeswalker - with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Liliana, the Last Hope, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Nissa, Vital Force and a lot of other powerful planeswalkers present in Standard, I would be surprised if planeswalkers weren't one of the dominant themes in Standard. To me, what's interesting about Chandra is how her abilities are not really bent in a single direction: the first ability's "deal two damage" clause is rather aggressive (but can also redirect the damage to planeswalkers, which can be huge), but her second +1 ability is only great in ramp decks (ramping from 4 to 7 next turn seems sweet). The only way aggressive decks will be able to profit from the "add RR" ability is with 2-drops that can be played on the same turn as Chandra. The bottom line? I think that Chandra will be very good in ramp decks that play expensive cards like World Breaker or Emrakul - the R/G Emrakul ramp deck that Ken Yukuhiro played at PT Sydney is a good example. Jund delirium could also incorporate her, if it started playing more red than black. The only disadvantage for this archetype is that the first +1 ability doesn't really draw cards - if you reveal an expensive finisher that you can't cast just yet, you will be left with "only" pinging the opponent for 2. Midrange and aggro decks will also be able to profitably play this new planeswalker, simply because of how high her power level is, but this time, her second ability won't be all that relevant. Still, the rest of the abilities make up for this shortcoming.
As for Modern, I think that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is comparable to Chandra, Pyromaster, who saw some play in Jund at certain times. Which Chandra is better depends on the metagame (a lot of X/1s favor the M13 version of the planeswalker), but in general, I believe that the Kaladesh version is a bit stronger.
While the power of Chandra is more or less obvious (she's simply just a planeswalker with four good abilities and reasonable cost/loyalty ratio), I think that the value of Metallurgic Summonings is a bit more concealed, as it requires more effort to make it work. However, I think this blue enchantment might be one of the sleeper cards of the set. We've been used to disregarding expensive enchantments because of the presence of Dromoka's Command, but since this menace will be gone after the rotation, pretty much the only thing that can go wrong now is Quarantine Field or World Breaker - and it's a question how much play these two will see.
To me, Metallurgic Summonings feels like a planeswalker that can't be killed by opposing attacking creatures. You tap five, it does nothing, but starting with next turn, it's going to potentially produce multiple creatures a turn. Every Anticipate gives you a 2/2, every Void Shatter a 3/3... Epiphany at the Drownyard can even make an X/X! The five mana ability that brings back spells from your graveyard feels a lot like a planeswalker ultimate - you need to work for it (make creatures), but you get a lot in return, an effect that should ensure that you bury the opponent under a ton of cards. The only thing that I miss is having Dig through Time around, which could produce an 8/8 for just two mana. I wonder if someone can make this work in Legacy with Force of Will and Unmask? Well, that's probably a bit too cute.
In a dedicated deck, I think this could work very well as a finisher, one that allows you not to play any creatures in your deck and blank the opponent’s removal (because when you start making creatures, you can overpower whatever removal the opponent has). The question is - how reliable is such a plan? A five-mana enchantment is an easy target for countermagic and it might be too slow in certain matchups. Also, for blue-red decks, a different plan is probably more suitable - one that involves Fevered Visions and burn. However, for something like blue-black or blue-white, a deck centered around the late game, this could very well work out, though we would certainly need some spells that can chain into one another, like Pieces of the Puzzle or Anticipate. And of course the playability of this deck also depends on the format - blue control decks with countermagic typically don't fare too well if the environment is too aggressive and the average curves too low.
The effect of this card is so unique that it's almost asking for someone to break the symmetry. I also find it funny that it sees print when Collected Company, another spell for 3G which lets you look at the top cards of your library and choose two creatures to put into play, leaves the format. So how do we get the value from Dubious Challenge? The first possibility is to play creatures that are great for your deck specifically but don't do much when the opponent has them. Something like Dungrove Elder, which is going to be a 5/5 when you have it, but a 0/0 for an opponent that doesn't have any Forests. Unfortunately, Standard doesn't have many creatures like that - Thalia's Lieutenant and Diregraf Colossus probably come the closest, but there's not really any point in tutoring up a 2-drop or a 3-drop this way (and giving the opponent a chump blocker). Also, the problem is that we would have to play a lot of creatures like that - if we only hit one in the top 10 cards of our library, we can't take it, because the opponent would always take the other one. Or how about playing a creature that dies at the the beginning of the next end step? Impetuous Devils can attack right away when you tutor them up, but don't do anything when the opponent gets them (apart from blocking). However, the problem is still that paying four mana to get a bad 4-drop just isn't good enough. Another way how to break Dubious Challenge is to play cards that give us the other creature back - either by bouncing it back to our hand or by blinking it. This time, I think we're getting a bit closer to actually hitting something that could theoretically be playable. Of all the possibilities, Eldrazi Displacer seems like the best one. Tutoring up two giant monsters for four mana and then blinking one is a pretty good deal, as long as you can reliably get to that point. The word "reliable" is crucial here and it means that we need more than just the Displacers - there are two cards with a similar effect in Standard right now: Identity Thief (his advantage is that you don't have to pay any extra mana, he just needs to be ready to attack) and Long Road Home. A Bant deck with 8-10 fatties to tutor up, 4 Displacer, 4 Identity Thief, 2-3 Long Road Home and 4 Dubious Challenges could theoretically work, as long as you manage to draw the Challenge often enough (otherwise it's just a bunch of inconsistent nonsense, which might be the biggest problem here). The consistency problem meaning we would need some sort of library manipulation like Pieces of the Puzzle (also good at finding Long Road Home). I don't think this is going to be a competitive deck, but it's interesting to stretch the creative muscles a bit and see how close to "Standard-playable" we can get.
Well, that's it from me for today. The Kaladesh spoilers are going to continue to flow in over the coming days and I'm sure there will be a lot more to talk about regarding this set next time, likely with some first decklist blueprints.
Thanks for reading and see you next time!