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Successful Kaladesh Strategies in Modern

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Hi everyone!

This past weekend, one of the largest Modern GPs of all time took place in Dallas and quite surprisingly, we could see a fair amount of Kaladesh cards in some of the successful decks. Today, I'm going to check which Kaladesh cards did well and also what this means for the format as a whole going forward.

Because of the big focus on technology, inventions and mechanical engineering, Kaladesh is a world where combo cards are more pronounced than in many recent sets. But since Standard is a format with a much smaller card pool, the combo decks there tend to be a lot more "tame" than in Modern. Because of this, I initially expected the Kaladesh combo cards to actually have more impact in older formats than in Standard. That turned out to be true only to some extent. The combo card with possibly the most potential in Standard - Aetherworks Marvel - hasn't caused any waves in Modern so far and I don't even think it will. Because of the bigger card pool, we do have better finishers to hit - Emrakul, the Aeons Torn seems to be much better than the Standard Eldrazi. There are also better ways how to search for the combo pieces: Ancient Stirrings seems like a natural fit, as it can grab both the Marvel and a Puzzleknot that you might be missing to gain some precious energy. Mox Opal could speed you up and having an excess copy of it could even give you one extra energy with a Marvel out (as do all fetchlands). However, energy - the resource that fuels the deck - is the archetype's biggest weakness in Modern: you need a lot of cards that charge up the Marvel and since the Kaladesh energy cards are the only pieces of cardboard ever printed with this mechanic, the core of the deck logically has to be the same like in Standard, but fighting with Puzzleknots against Infect and with Aether Meltdowns against Dark Confidants and Snapcaster Mages, that just seems hardly exciting. Add to that the fact that Modern's disruption is much, much better than the Standard one, with efficient counterspells and super-cheap discard and you might find yourself in a position where running any different deck just seems like improving your chances of winning.

Several other combo archetypes have fared a bit better. Paradoxical Outcome has seen some play, not in Modern, but in Vintage, where bouncing a bunch of Moxen and mana artifacts of all kinds doesn't only give you a load of cards, but also extra mana, which you can hopefully use to cast another Paradoxical Outcome and just plow through your whole deck looking for the combo kill of your choice.

As for Kaladesh cards (not only of the combo kind) that have made a meaningful appearance in Modern, here's a list of what we could see at the top tables at several recent Modern events (most notably GP Dallas and the SCG Classic in Baltimore):

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

All five "fast-lands" in all kinds of fast decks

Cathartic Reunion in Dredge

Blossoming Defense in Infect and Temur Prowess

Chandra, Torch of Defiance in Jund and Skred Red

Torrential Gearhulk in Jeskai control

Glint-Nest Crane and Inventors' Fair in Lantern Control

Madcap Experiment in Platinum Ponza and Madcap Moon

What to make of this list? Several already existing decks got upgrades of cards they were already playing. Cathartic Reunion, together with Faithless Looting, gives Dredge some of the most power-packed openings in the format. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, is another value machine for Jund, a deck that already had so much value that it was just straight out impossible to compete with the deck on this level. Torrential Gearhulk looks really cute and I would be much happier about it if it wasn't an artifact that dies to Kolaghan's Command, but even as it is, it can do a lot of work, being a really fast clock and a walking counterspell / removal spell in a single card. Glint-Nest Crane and Inventor's Fair mean that Lantern Control gets even a little more consistent (and annoying).

However, the two most important individual cards that have, in my opinion, come out of Kaladesh, are Blossoming Defense and Madcap Experiment and I'd like to talk about both of them - and what their presence means for the format - a bit more in-depth. First, lets have a look at the Madcap Experiment engine. Andrew Wolbers posted a 12-3 record and finished in 25th place at GP Dallas with this beauty:

Platinum Ponza by Andrew Wolbers

25th place at GP Dallas

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Madcap Experiment
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

The core of this deck has been known before - the R/G Ponza shell with mana acceleration, Blood Moons, land destruction, Bonfire of the Damned and big finishers like Inferno Titan. A turn two Blood Moon, which this deck can produce thanks to ten one-mana Elves, Birds and Sprawls, can shut down a big portion of Modern decks, especially if you then blow up the one single basic that they fetched up, courtesy of the good old Stone Rain. However, Madcap Experiment plus Platinum Emperion adds a whole new dimension to this deck, as it turns some poor matchups into extremely favorable ones. First of all, if you haven't seen this combination and don't know how the interaction between the two cards works, let me explain. Madcap Experiment deals damage to you equal to the number of cards you reveal. But the Emperion, in a deep booming voice, says "no" to such nonsense. Because the ability counts the number of cards when Emperion is already in play, if it is the only artifact in your deck, you won't lose any life thanks to its ability. So basically, running the Experiments with only two Emperions means that you have a playset of 4-mana 8/8s that say you can't take any damage or lose any life. Obviously, this plan has certain drawbacks. First of all, while the Emperion is extremely powerful against some decks, it's also really fragile against others, namely the ones that run Path to Exile, Terminate and other spot removal that kills big creatures. Again, the fact that the Emperion is an artifact is a bit of an inconvenience, because Kolaghan's Command laughs in its face (although to be honest, if Platinum Emperion wasn't an artifact, we couldn't even play this combo in the first place). So how good this deck is depends on the metagame. However, land destruction helps here, because together with Blood Moon, we will sometimes be able to deny the opponent the mana necessary to cast their removal spells for long enough to kill them with the 8/8 (and as it takes three swings, we don't need all that much time for that). Another downside is that Infect doesn't care at all about your life total, so you can very easily die with the Platinum guy right in front of you in play.

But then, there are decks that get absolutely obliterated by the Emperion. Most Burn decks and Death's Shadow lists don't run any main deck answers to this card which means that suddenly, we have a playset of a four-mana spell that says "you win the game". Some blue tempo decks that only have Bolts as removal will also fall short in the "Emperion test". As long as you don't attack into a Harbinger of the Tides, Merfolk should be cold to this as well, barring a Vapor Snag or two in their whole deck. The same goes for Elves and several other midrange decks.

To summarize: the Madcap Experiment - Platinum Emperion package is an engine which is available pretty much to every red deck that doesn't play other artifacts (revealing twelve cards and then a Mind Stone falls into the same category of embarrassing moments as cascading a Violent Outburst into some 2-mana spell that you thought putting into your Living End deck was a good idea). So far, we have seen it in several blue decks and in R/G ramp, but I can easily imagine it in something like Jund as well. Actually, having discard means you can clear the way for the Emperion to stick and Liliana of the Veil can serve as an outlet for your excess copies of Madcap Experiments or Emperions you might draw. The fact that so many decks theoretically have access to this combo is huge. In the right metagame, it can give you quite a lot of free wins and even if the circumstances are not ideal to main deck it, we could easily play it in the sideboard. A Jund deck with six slots dedicated to beating decks like Burn or Merfolk, that doesn't sound like such a bad deal. I wouldn't be surprised to see this as a popular move by a number of red decks in the format.

The implications of this option are massive. Decks like Infect, which are not affected by the Emperion at all, benefit from the presence of this engine in the format. Decks that get hosed by it can hope that Madcap Experiment doesn't see much play or they can adapt, running at least a couple of answers in their main deck. I can see Naya Burn decks running a couple of pre-board Path to Exile, for example. Because the Emperion is an artifact and also a creature, it's not that hard to be well prepared against it. But from now on, I know I'm going to respect the presence of the Madcap Experiment engine in the format. I don't like the idea of entering a tournament with a deck that simply rolls over when the opponent plays their 4-drop.

The second deck that I want to talk about more in detail is Austin Toler's Temur Prowess, which finished in 21st place at GP Dallas and if it wasn't for a misplay in the last round feature match, he could have actually top8ed the event.

Temur Prowess by Austin Toler

21st place at GP Dallas

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Blossoming Defense
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

The brand new cards in this list are Spirebluff Canal, but more importantly, a playset of Blossoming Defenses. We've already known this card from Infect, where it's used basically as another version of Vines of Vastwood and in Temur Prowess, it serves the same purpose - to protect your key creatures and push damage through at the same time. I think that just how important the card is for this archetype can be seen from the fact that it's the only card that requires green mana in the whole 75. Maybe instead of "Temur Prowess", we could call it "Izzet Prowess, splash Blossoming Defense". There are two most common ways how this deck can win. One of them is with Temur Battle Rage and the second one is with Thing in the Ice. Temur Battle Rage is obviously unreal with Kiln Fiend, but even Monastery Swiftspear + Mutagenic Growth + Battle Rage means 10 trample damage. The problem is obviously removal spells from the opponent - traditionally, the default card to protect your creatures in this type of decks was Apostle's Blessing, but I like Blossoming Defense more simply for the fact that it deals damage and you will often be able to win not with a "combo" kill, but simply with Swiftspears attacking for lethal.

Unlike Madcap Experiment, Blossoming Defense doesn't have an effect on Modern that could be defined in such a narrow way. However, it does provide a very valuable tool for decks that use creatures as "combo cards" - meaning decks that put all their eggs into one basket and that basked is carried by a single fragile creature. Temur Prowess and Infect are two examples of such decks, but other archetypes of this kind can certainly follow and Blossoming Defense is going to be a great tool for them.

Despite the size of the card pool, Modern seems to be an ever-evolving format and every now and then, a card is printed that provides a completely new engine, which forces the already existing decks to adapt. Madcap Experiment + Platinum Emperion is one such piece of innovation, but I have no doubt that others will follow, which is definitely good for the format. I still don't like the fact that the engines are so powerful that the games often boil down to who completes their puzzle first (or who wins the dice roll), but despite this shortcoming, I still enjoy playing Modern and am currently looking forward to try out some of the new tools.

That's it from me for today. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

Adam Koska
Adam Koska

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
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