Limited Pillars

Posted in How to Play Limited on October 7, 2016

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Welcome to the bright and shiny world of Kaladesh! We have a new Limited format to dive into, which is always exciting. Figuring out what drives a new format is the best part, and there are many moving pieces in Kaladesh.

Let's start with the broad strokes, and work our way toward the specifics.

 
 

1. Kaladesh is a two-color format

Your decks will primarily be two colors with the occasional splash. Prophetic Prism and Attune with Aether help support a third color, but most decks won't want to risk the inconsistency. That naturally leads to the ten two-color pairs being where you end up.

2. The main themes are distributed across all the colors

Energy, Vehicles, and fabricate reach across all the colors (fabricate doesn't appear in blue and red, but there are artifacts with it). That means that even though each color interacts with these themes differently, you can draft them with every color, and you will see them frequently. Despite the two-color setup, this is a very different format than something like Return to Ravnica where each color pair played vastly differently and had its own theme.

All aboard, as we look at each color pair and what it brings to the table. I will note that not all color pairs are created equal—some have more focused themes, some have more flexibility, and some are even stronger than others. It's not clear which will emerge dominant (yet), but understanding what each pair is trying to do is the first step.

Blue-Red

 

One of the more energetic color pairs is blue-red, which harnesses all sorts of energy sources and outputs Thopters, +1/+1 counters, and much more. This deck can range from aggressive to controlling, as energy is flexible and can be spent in a variety of ways. The more aggressive decks will use cards like Spontaneous Artist and Thriving Grubs to apply beatdowns, while the controlling version will lean on Aether Theorist and Thriving Turtle instead. The really valuable cards are uncommons like Whirler Virtuoso and Aethertorch Renegade, which are excellent no matter which deck they end up in.

Synergy Scale: Five energy symbols out of five

This deck has a lot of moving pieces, and they all work together to create a powerful engine. The energy cards do tend to play well by themselves, but this is still one of the more synergistic color combinations.

Green-Blue

The other main energy deck is green-blue, which focuses more on power and toughness than trickiness. Thriving Rhino and Riparian Tiger are both huge beaters and get especially fearsome once the blue energy cards show up to enable them. This deck is solidly midrange, with most of the power in the three-to-five cost slot. It does want to end the game, so it isn't control, and attacking with beefy creatures will be the main path to victory. Energy is a means to enable that more than anything particularly complicated (though the deck can end up fancy if it's heavier on the blue).

Synergy Scale: Four energy symbols out of five

Green-blue is definitely a synergy deck, but the cards are powerful enough on their own—particularly the green ones—that it's not quite as fancy as blue-red.

Green-White

 

There are two decks here, and they overlap in a very synergistic way. The first is the go-wide fabricate deck that uses Servos and cards like Inspired Charge and Engineered Might to run the opponent over. That dovetails nicely with the +1/+1 counter theme promoted by Armorcraft Judge, and the cards that support one theme often support the other. Green-white can also just curve out with high-quality creatures, which is an awesome fallback plan. Some of the green-white decks have strong endgames, but ones without mass pump will often try to finish things before it gets to that point.

Synergy Scale: Three energy symbols out of five

All of green-white's cards are solid in their own right, making this deck the good kind of synergy deck that combines well while having consistent draws even if you don't assemble your combo.

Red-Green

 

This world is full of energy, though not all energy decks are equally focused. Red-green has a minor energy theme in a beatdown shell, which is where Vehicles like Renegade Freighter come in. Red-green is largely trying to curve out with gigantic monsters and play a high enough creature count that its Vehicles are always crewed. If that means playing five or six energy cards, that's acceptable, and Thriving Rhino and company do a great job even without other combos.

Synergy Scale: Two energy symbols out of five

Red-green has energy synergies going on, but they aren't crucial to the function of the deck. Some versions will be heavier than others, but stats are more what this deck is looking for.

Red-White

 
 

This deck has many similarities to red-green in theme. It leans harder on Vehicles, with Pilots in both colors offering specific synergies, but overall it's a deck looking to curve out and get the opponent dead quickly. What white lacks in power and toughness it makes up for in evasion, and having a couple fliers can often get the last 5 or 10 damage through.

Synergy Scale: Two energy symbols out of five

Casting costs are generally more important than text boxes here, and this is closer to a traditional aggro deck than a high-synergy deck. There are some nice combos with Pilots and Vehicles or with fabricate and artifacts, but for the most part the cards stand on their own. Keeping creature counts high for Vehicles is worth noting, so consider that when drafting.

White-Black

As indicated by Restoration Gearsmith and Fortuitous Find, white-black is one of the grindier archetypes. It's looking to play a bunch of artifacts and fabricate creatures, trade off, then get card advantage with various graveyard effects. It also can use Aviary Mechanic to good effect, and there are plenty of black cards that care about having artifacts in play. Long games are its bread and butter, with blocking being one of the best things it can do. With enough Vehicles, it can finish games somewhat quickly, but most of the time it's looking to prolong them and win via attrition.

Synergy Scale: Five energy symbols out of five

This deck lives or dies based on synergy. Many of the cards it wants go from unplayable to great with enough support, and good versions of white-black will have tons of moving pieces. You don't add Fortuitous Find to a deck without having a good reason, and making sure you have all the right cogs for your machine is very important.

White-Blue

 

The Blink deck (named after Momentary Blink) is a thing of beauty when it works, while having a good fallback plan of being White-Blue Fliers when it doesn't. That's a great place to be, as synergy with less risk is a powerful combination. When the deck works, it plays a bunch of creatures or artifacts with enters-the-battlefield effects and ways to blink and bounce them. That adds up to tons of value, putting it ahead on board and cards both, which is a powerful place to be.

Synergy Scale: Three energy symbols out of five

Despite all the sweet combos, this deck mostly plays cards that justify themselves in a vacuum. Acrobatic Maneuver, Aether Tradewinds, and Aviary Mechanic get better in the right deck, but all provide ample value with most collections of blue and white cards. The fabricate creatures and fliers are all good, and overall this deck gets to pick the best parts of synergy while still being consistent.

Blue-Black

I have an affinity for decks like this, as blue-black is all about jamming as many artifacts as possible and enabling a bunch of payoffs as a result. This is the deck most likely to play Puzzleknots and have them sit in play, and the rewards range from giving your creatures small bonuses to getting to cast 5/6 Serpents for three mana. All of that is extremely sweet, even if it requires playing a lot of cards that don't impact the board to get there.

Synergy Scale: Five energy symbols out of five

This is by far the highest synergy deck of the ten, as it can end up with uncastable cards, cards that don't do anything, and cards that are underpowered, all depending on context. The combination works well together, but if you are looking for consistency, this may not be the safest deck to draft.

Black-Green

 

Black-green is the strangest deck out there. It's nominally a +1/+1 counter theme, but the energy cards in green and the artifact cards in black really limit how much crossover there actually is. So many of the cards in these colors don't work together, making this a tough deck to draft. My inclination is to draft this mostly as a good-stuff deck, with cards that justify themselves, and not end up black-green unless you are seeing a ton of high-quality cards in these colors.

Synergy Scale: One energy symbol out of five

I don't see enough synergies here to make this a synergy deck of any kind. It just has too many conflicting themes. Even if you do get there on synergies, they will be largely self-contained within each color.

Black-Red

The best black-red decks will be artifact hybrid beatdown decks, using aggressive creatures, Vehicles, and removal spells of both colors. Energy can easily be a sub-theme here too, but curve and power are the most important, with making sure your Vehicles are full being the top priority.

Synergy Scale: Two energy symbols out of five

Much like red-white, this deck is mostly based on curve rather than textboxes. There are versions that lean more heavily on energy and/or artifacts, so I'm discounting the high-synergy versions of the deck, but if you draft a good curve of creatures and a few removal spells, you will do fine.


These are the pillars of Kaladesh Limited, but by no means are they the only ways you can go. All the color combinations have other possibilities contained within them, and the ones I've noted are just the top-level decks. You can also play more colors if the cards are there, and I look forward to exploring all the other ways to go. These pillars will help you jump in, and using the main themes of a set is a great way to approach it, after which you have a better idea of what you can (and can't) get away with.

Happy drafting!

LSV

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