Roll up! Roll up! Come inside one and all and sample the delights of the inventor's fair. Marvel at masterpieces of filigree of metal and aether crafted by artificers of unparalleled genius. Watch mighty gearhulks battle in the arena. And look at all those little servos, aren't they adorable.
Kaladesh is upon us, a world of bright colors and invention. The new set has arrived, the prereleases are out of the way and now it's time to see how the new set plays out on the Grand Prix stage. This weekend we have two major tournaments debuting the brand new limited format—GP London and GP Atlanta. Myself and Tobi Henke are on coverage duties here at the Excel in London. And if that's not enough, if you're hungry for more Grand Prix action, you'll be able to find full video coverage of GP Atlanta online when that kicks off later on Saturday.
Both Grand Prix tournaments this weekend are Limited. This means the players will have six boosters of Kaladesh with which to construct a forty card deck to battle through nine rounds of Sealed Deck play on Saturday. Those managing a 6-3 record or better will return on Sunday where the format switches to Booster Draft. Two drafts later and we will have winnowed the field down to a final eight, who will battle through a final Top 8 draft to determine the champion—the most ingenious inventor if you like.
For Saturday the focus is on Sealed Deck. Magic sets come and go, but the rules for good limited decks remain fairly constant—players will likely want a base two-color deck with around 17 land, 15 creatures, and 8 spells divided between removal, combat tricks and card advantage. Normally...
You see, one of the central themes of Kaladesh is ingenuity and innovation. The set features a number of interesting build-around-me cards. It will be interesting to see if players deviate from the usual template to take advantage of these cards and try to surprise their opponents with more unorthodox strategies—will anyone manage to send 50 damage to their opponent's head with an Aetherflux Reservoir, or power out something broken with the help of Aetherworks Marvel? Madcap Experiment might be taking the whole madcap inventor thing a little too far, but who knows, this is Kaladesh, the world of invention after all.
As a new set, Kaladesh features a number of new mechanics. Players will, I'm sure, be adapting their strategies to take these into account.
First up we have vehicles. Yes, you can now have your cards drive other cards... and use them to run over your opponent, hyuk hyuk. Vehicles are a subtype of artifact (with a totally gorgeous new art frame). They are not creatures in themselves, but can be crewed by other creatures and sent in to either attack or block. They also hit very hard for their mana cost. Which makes sense. See this:
It's a freaking train. Being hit by that at full pelt will likely leave a bruise (and a few broken bones), even if you are a planeswalker.
Despite having power and toughness, vehicles are only creatures if crewed by other creatures, which means savvy deck constructors should take this into account if they want to avoid the embarrassing scenario of having their heavy-hitters lying useless on the battlefield with no-one around to pilot them (Hint: Don't count them as creatures when putting your deck together).
Mechanically I suspect vehicles will function as a sort of ‘reverse equipment' in that they provide a boost to the creature piloting them, but the vehicle is the card that is destroyed in combat rather than the creature. The one thing the vehicles do share is they hit very hard for their mana cost and games involving them will likely be short and brutal.
Next up is fabricate. Creatures with fabricate give the player options—do they want the creature to come in bigger, or arrive accompanied by some 1/1 servo tokens. This makes them versatile, and good players always value versatility.
The third new mechanic revolves around energy. Energy is sort of like an alternate mana, in that it can be paid on some cards to generate an effect. Unlike mana, energy counters persist through turn phases and can be stored until the player wishes to use them. Most of the cards that use energy also provide energy when they come into play, but the player doesn't necessarily have to use that energy on the card that created them. This also provides some interesting play choices—should the player pay two energy to pump their Thriving Rhino right now, or save it to be used by a later, more powerful card.
From my prerelease experience, one of the scariest two-drops to face while on the play is Longtusk Cub. That little cat can get out of hand very quickly, especially if preceded with a card like Attune with Aether.
No primer for Kaladesh Sealed Deck would be complete without mentioning the masterpieces. These are rare reprints of old cards with a gorgeous foil border. These cards are primarily for collectors and people that like to add a little bling to their decks. They are not Standard legal, but they are legal for Limited tournaments. This means that if a player is fortunate enough to open a masterpiece invention in either their sealed pool or draft, they can play it. Given that the masterpieces are a rogues' gallery of some of the most powerful artifacts ever printed, their presence in the card pool, albeit in very small numbers, will likely provide some interesting stories over the weekend. Everyone wants to open that shiny new Sol Ring, but I suspect some are also secretly dreading the prospect of seeing one come out against them on turn one, or of having to deal with such ancient horrors as a Sword of Fire and Ice.
Now that the battlefield is established it's time to switch focus to the combatants. Currently we're at the beginning of a brand new season, with the first Pro Tour taking place in Honolulu next weekend. This Grand Prix weekend will likely give us some pointers on what to expect during the draft portion of that tournament. Speaking of draft, last season's Draft Master, Márcio Carvalho, accomplished an astonishing record in Shadows Over Innistrad block draft, managing to go completely undefeated in Pro Tour level drafts until his run was finally stopped on the verge of a perfect 18-0 record by Jiachen Tao. It will be interesting to see if the Portuguese draft master will be able to continue his dominance now the setting has switched to the artifact-rich world of Kaladesh.
Along with Carvalho we identified another nine players to keep an eye on (which conveniently encompasses the entire 3-bye bracket). Names you might want to keep an eye on are: Lukas Blohon, Antonio Del Moral León, Martin Jůza, Grzegorz Kowalski, Pascal Maynard, Niels Noorlander, Mattia Rizzi, Petr Sochůrek, and the only Hall of Fame representative present this weekend, Raphaël Lévy.
Now you might notice there are no Brits in that list. One of the other stories of GP London concerns my own home nation. The UK has long been an underachiever on the world stage when it comes to Magic. We've never had a Pro Tour or World Champion and when it comes to the Limited format our reputation is... not good, to say the least. But here in London we have home turf and numerical advantage. Will we see a rising British star lift aloft the trophy come the end of Sunday?