With the first Grand Prix of the Kaladesh limited season coming up this weekend, it’s important to understand what each color combination provides and lacks. Leveraging this knowledge will give you an edge, as most of the field will have minimal experience with the set. At the beginning of every draft format, I create a “deck skeleton” for every two-color combination. This assists in an initial, surface level, analysis in order to understand what Wizards of the Coast intended for each archetype.
To be more specific, a deck skeleton is a two color deck consisting only of commons of both colors (and artifacts) in addition to the relevant gold card. Almost every pack in a given draft has 14 cards, 10 of which are commons. This means that the majority of the cards in your average draft deck are commons. More so, with 24 packs, and a little over 100 commons, there are slightly more than 2 of each common opened in your average draft-table. So, In order to create a realistic frame, there should not be more than two of any common in a deck skeleton. Finally, all commons were not created equal. If only two or three copies of a premium common — one that should be taken early — are in the draft, getting two, let alone one, is not so easy. I take this into account when creating the skeletons, and hence use each premium at a lower frequency.
Now let’s apply this tool to the new Kaladesh commons and see what we can learn!
Hello Mulldrifter! Well, I mean Cloudblazer. This card is spectacular! It keeps me on the lookout for fliers and enter-the-battlefield (ETB) effects, as those seem to be a recurring theme throughout Kaladesh. With Aether Tradewinds, Acrobatic Maneuver, and Aviary Mechanic, recurring your own creatures while maintaining positive tempo is certainly a game-plan I can get behind. This deck screams value and fliers. And that’s really about it, but who can complain.
We tend to not have amazing ETB effects at common, so try to prioritize good value cards when you can. Pick them up at an even higher priority than usual, which is already quite high. Also, with this self-bounce and flicker sub-theme that appears relevant to UW, don’t dismiss Ninth Bridge Patrol as another Unruly Mob. This card gets the counter whenever a creature you control LEAVES the battlefield, not just dies. So you profit from bouncing and flickering your own creatures too!
W/B has a good curve and lots of one and two power creatures lying around for vehicles. The fabricate creatures are at an ultra premium here. With the black commons existing efficiently only with an artifact, and the fact both white and black contain fabricate cards, you can curve in an optimal manner. Playing Dhund Operative on turn 2 and a Glint-Sleeve Artisan on turn 3 is a great, yet not hard to achieve! Furthermore, all of the servo producers happen to be artificers. So with the addition of Restoration Gearsmith and Aviary Mechanic, this deck of commons consists of 10 artificers. This makes Inventor’s Goggles a reasonable card. It does fight with the same slots as the vehicles, so keep that in mind if you pick it up, but they can coexist in a properly forged deck.
Another relevant note: As previously mentioned, there are many servo producers in this color combination. With Inspired Charge at common, there is likely a W/B swarm strategy. Especially since there are multiple uncommons with fabricate two.
Ah, good old W/R aggro. Unlike Shadows Over Innistrad, we don’t have playable 1-drops, but we can still hit pretty hard. So what can we learn from this? First, from Veteran Motorist we should be looking at vehicles. This deck does consist of many 3-power creatures, Yielding that Sky Skiff really isn’t great here. And with Renegade Freighter, in my opinion, as a premium common, this deck might struggle to get the three or so vehicles that could really give a good payoff and make Built to Smash more potent. I would advise prioritizing the uncommon crew-3 vehicles for this deck, as the creatures mostly have 3 power.
Another interesting observation: There are an abundance of 2-drops and 3-drops for this color combination. Usually, aggro decks need to prioritize two drops because they are irreplaceable. With so many, you still must take them, just not as highly. Hence you can dedicate more picks to removal, tricks, and vehicles without worrying about your curve!
As you will notice with many of these skeletons, there is a crisp curve without much top end. It is difficult to tell if this is going to be a definition of the format, or, and what is more likely, that this is just how the density of commons are designed. That aside, W/G looks like the classing above-average-creatures deck! We will see this in most green decks today. Kujar Seedsculptor, Thriving Rhino, and Peema Outrider are very efficient cards.
This deck doesn’t look like the best deck for Engineered Might, but with four fabricate cards at common, the Overrun effect still has potential. Additionally, with Inspired Charge at common, it is possible that a Selesnya swarm strategy exists, so look out for it regarding uncommons and the like.
Blue and black both share a desire for artifacts in this set. In fact, many of black’s good commons are only above rate if you control an artifact. Looking at Contraband Kingpin, it becomes clear that the intent of the UB archetype revolves around artifacts and the long game. This implies that fliers are going to be an important inclusion in every UB deck. Dukhara Peafowl is really the best of both worlds surprisingly enough!
From analyzing this skeleton, I believe Fortuitous Find is going to be a key card for UB. I would suggest prioritizing artifact creatures like Self-Assembler to get the most out of the raise dead effect. More so, many of the common artifacts are quite lackluster. Keep an eye out for good uncommon ones to fill the slot!
Both red and blue overlap with two separate synergies: artifacts and energy. This can be seen clearly in Whirler Virtuoso, the key archetype uncommon. But looking at most of the common payoff, it appears to lean towards artifacts to a heavier degree.
It appears that this deck can be both aggressive or midrange. Aether Theorist is a good card, but leans towards the long game. Meanwhile, Thriving Grubs and Salivating Gremlins are very efficient beaters. Deciding whether or not you are supposed to be the aggressive U/R deck will be important while drafting, so keep this in mind.
The majority of the commons we see in the U/G color combination revolve around energy, more than I even expected! Play some creatures, generate some energy, and reap the rewards. But there really aren’t efficient ways to use a plethora of energy at common. In fact, I argue that both Puzzleknots aren’t particularly good in the above skeleton. Their purpose here is to display the abundance of energy in U/G. This tells me that this archetype needs to prioritize the uncommon energy consumers in order to balance the economic system. Then, the Puzzleknots become playable.
The most important lesson to learn from this skeleton is the lack of removal. Blue and green only have one common removal spell per color, while the other colors each have two, so the uncommon removal will be even more premium here. In fact, I would not be surprised if this deck often splashes a removal spell. With access to Attune with Aether, Wild Wanderer, and Prophetic Prism at common, this will be quite easy.
It should also be noted that Riparian Tiger is very important in this deck. Not only is it one of the best sinks for your energy, but the 5-drop slot is not contested in this color combination. Usually passing up on 5 mana creatures in the first pack is correct, as they tend to be easy to pick up. As the Tiger is a good card overall, and the only good common 5-drop available, make sure to get one.
At this point I’m pretty sure red is slanted aggressive. Many of the red commons that fit best with the black cards lean towards this nature. Combine that with the black cards that get aggressive when you control artifacts and it all makes sense. With Dhund Operative and Reckless Fireweaver at the 2-drop slot and Foundry Screecher and Salivating Gremlins in the 3-drop slot, this deck wants to curve out with artifacts specifically. This makes Maulfist Squad even better! Unfortunately, there are only a few common artifacts that are aggressive in nature, so good aggressive uncommon artifact creatures, or servo producers, are likely to go up in value if you’re in B/R.
An additional lesson to learn from this skeleton is the abundance of removal. This deck has six cards that can function as removal spells, five of which are common! It’s harder to envision removal.deck from such a surface level analysis, but if you can take lots of removal and efficient finishers at uncommon or rare, the deck could be quite good in black-red. Maybe even a stream of Self-Assemblers would get the job done.
Is Hazardous Conditions even good? If all your creatures have counters, probably. It’ll swipe away servos and some annoying x/2s and then let you attack. I expected it to be more of a build around and not for every B/G deck, but after looking at the skeleton, it might be very good. The threats in this color combination are quite large. Large enough that Aradara Express might just be optimized here! The servo makers let you go wide, but at the same time can function as +1/+1 counters for the cards at uncommon that care about that. They also even help artifact count for the black cards that require that synergy! That’s a lot of moving parts though.
There are plenty of different artifact synergies and good fabricate cards at common, but few commons in green or black provide payoff for +1/+1 counters and/or going wide. I would say that the most important thing to look for during your draft is payoff for either of those two strategies.
Another aggro deck? I sense a theme. Many of these decks have a significant number of efficient two drops, and this could imply a very aggressive format. There really isn’t much to say about this deck other than it’s great! Every creature does something well, and hits hard.
The one thing really of note is that the deck has an energy subtheme. But since every producer at common consumes what is produced optimally, it’s possible that uncommon producers are more important than consumers because there are so many ways to use the energy. With this in mind, keep your eye on Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot. I did not put it in here because it’s clunky for an aggro deck, but with so many energy-using creatures, I wouldn’t throw out the idea.
Now that we have scratched the surface of each archetype in Kaladesh limited, we can try to speculate on the format as a whole.
- The format appears aggressive. With so many efficient two drops, this isn’t surprising. But the fact that fabricate is spread around at common means there are lots of blockers, which would lead to long games. I think the key is curving out and just attacking. Don’t let the board get cluttered by applying early pressure.
- Renegade Freighter is the real deal. 70% of the above decks have a copy, and the decks not playing it very well could to a successful margin. Maybe I am too much a fan, as I built these decks, but the rate on this card seems so good! It can win games on its own if the opponent stumbles, and will often force double blocks to get it off the table. All at the low price of three mana. Draft it highly.
- Combat tricks and/or good evasion are necessary. Tricks and removal are the best way to beat double blocks. With large vehicles/counter-covered monsters that must be double blocked, and servos assisting in said blocking, double blocking is likely to come up at a higher frequency. Additionally, if the ground is getting cluttered and you don’t have the tricks to push through, fliers are going to be your only easy way out.
- Splashing in green is easy if you want it. With three non-premium cards at common that green decks can play to help get a third (or fourth??) color, this might just be the norm of any non-aggressive green deck. So when drafting green, don’t be afraid to take that Harnessed Lightning in pack two even if you aren’t red.
- Green, white, and red are superior to blue and black. Without much actual testing, this is hard to sell, and I could be wrong. But I urge you to glance over the decks again and see how the commons interact in each archetype. The main problem is that many of the best commons in both blue and black require artifact synergy, while most of the best commons in green, white, and red stand on their own. Furthermore, even with the artifact synergy, the blue and black commons don’t surpass the other colors, they just move up to a similar power-level.
Hopefully this analytic technique provided insight on how to draft and build each archetype. I strongly recommend employing this technique at the beginning of each new draft format if you want to be ahead of the curve. Good luck in Grand Prix Atlanta or Grand Prix London and I’ll see you next week!
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