This is my first article here, so allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ben Pall, and my first Magic product was a Ninth Edition two-player starter set (Thanks, Mom!), from which I pulled my first rare, Righteousness. Like many of you, I learned to play Magic at summer camp, battling greats like Ryan Saxe with his OP singleton 70-card Dark Depths aggro deck. In the decade since, I have narrowed my focus down to Limited, stepped up my game on Magic Online, day two-ed my first Grand Prix, and finally reached the bitter conclusion that Righteousness is not nearly as good as I first thought it was. Outside of Magic, I am a senior at Tufts University majoring in Human Factors Engineering and Computer Science, a New York Times-published crossword constructor, and a big fan of Steven Wright’s standup. I spend a lot of time thinking about problems in those fields as well as in Magic, and I am writing to bring some of my insights to you. Let’s get going!
Get in there!
At this point, Kaladesh has been around for a while now, and while the pace of the format is hotly debated, it’s generally agreed that the format isn’t breaking any speed records on either end of the spectrum. Still, I have found myself getting into board stalls more often than I have in other recent formats. Maybe it’s the computational complexity required to use energy correctly, or the sheer number of tokens in the set, but the games that don’t end by turn seven often end up with players going draw, play a creature, go.
Luckily, I’ve found that there are certain cards and interactions in Kaladesh that can break open those stalemates. Whether by raw power or by sheer inevitability, these innocent-looking commons and uncommons are capable of quickly turning a potential loss into an all-but-guaranteed win. As a result, these cards are better than they look. I have started picking them somewhat higher than I normally would, and when I am making cuts to my main deck, they stick around more often than they used to. If you find that your deck isn’t all in on aggression, you should keep them in mind as well.
Note: I’m specifically not talking about cards like Engineered Might and Inspired Charge. While these cards are good at breaking open board stalls, they are never cast outside the specific situations where they win the game on the spot, and they are only good in a go-wide aggressive strategy. This article is more focused on reasonably flexible roleplayers that are also capable of winning games when things get slow.
Without further ado, here are some of those board stall busters:
This article has two kinds of cards. The first kind performs a modest role early and switches gears to creating incremental advantage late. The second kind arrives on the scene when the board is already gummed up and starts wrecking face immediately. Gearseeker Serpent falls into the second category. I can’t believe how late I’ve seen this card get taken. Against aggressive decks that try to end the game super early, it’s usually a Vastwood Gorger, which isn’t great but it isn’t awful either. But, when life totals are high, hands are empty, and boards are brimming, the serpent represents a three-to-four turn clock that must be answered immediately. That kind of value doesn’t always exist at common, so appreciate it while it’s here.
Spireside Infiltrator + Any Vehicle
Don’t get me wrong–Spireside Infiltrator is an aggressive card, and it works best in aggressive situations where it can smash in for four or more damage every turn. However, as you may have noticed, it also has a cute interaction with vehicles where even if you don’t attack for the turn, you can still crew on your opponent’s end step just to ping your opponent for one. Well, I’m here to tell you that this interaction is quite scary, not cute, and it deserves your respect.
When Kaladesh was first spoiled, people were comparing Reckless Fireweaver to Thermo-Alchemist, a card which is widely regarded as one of the best commons from Eldritch Moon. In my view, this was a big mistake. To be fair, the two drops look a lot alike on the surface; they are both red two-drops that deal direct damage, attack poorly, and block well. However, Thermo-Alchemist’s ability to eventually win the game on its own while it’s blocking every turn makes it immensely better than Reckless Fireweaver. The key difference between them is that the Alchemist does its thing no matter what you draw, but the Fireweaver needs you to draw a very specific subset of your deck to function, and over several draw steps at that. This is a bigger deal than it may seem at first. During Eldritch Moon, I heard many stories of Thermo-Alchemist pinging opponents all the way from 20 down to 0, but I can’t image the Reckless Fireweaver ever having that kind of output. In fact, outside of certain specific decks, the card is just plain bad.
The secret is that the real Thermo-Alchemist of Kaladesh is Spireside Infiltrator, not Reckless Fireweaver. Raw stats aside, the Infiltrator isn’t quite as good as the Alchemist, because you need a vehicle out to turn it on at all, and it will never ping for more than one damage per turn. However, the fact that you only need to draw right once as opposed to many times propels the Infiltrator’s pinging ability far ahead of the Fireweaver’s. Add in the fact that it’s excellent on offense and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded creature that’s also pretty good at creating game-winning inevitability.
Evasion is another great way to close out games, and Elegant Edgecrafters has surprised me in how evasive it is. First of all, the daunt ability (nicknamed as such by Mark Rosewater, the Head Designer of Magic, daunt means that a creature cannot be blocked by creatures with power two or less) is well above average in a set with a million cards that make 1/1s. Additionally, the card is really difficult to block without getting 2-for-1’ed; you either need a 6-power creature, or multiple 3/X’s with total toughness greater than six. Even though Kaladesh is a set that lends itself to board stalls, most of the creatures involved are usually small-ish, and there are lots of 3/2s running around, so that specific set of stats can be hard to find. As a result, Elegant Edgecrafters usually gets through or gets its controller some card advantage.
Riparian Tiger is very similar to Elegant Edgecrafters, right down to its cost, its stats, and its evasive ability. Like daunt, trample is very good against small tokens, and is therefore also good at dismantling Kaladesh’s board stalls. The only downside of Riparian Tiger is that it gets a lot worse when you run out of energy, so try to include a lot of energy sources in your deck.
Ghirapur Guide deserves a mention as the only other card in Kaladesh with daunt (Demolition Stomper is too expensive for me to acknowledge its existence in the format), but it really needs big bodies to work with before it can start punching through board stalls. The fact that Edgecrafters comes with a fat body built in makes it generally better than Ghirapur Guide. However, I will concede that the Guide outperforms the Edgecrafters when you have multiple fat bodies that need to get through.
This card is nothing particularly special, but it does one job particularly well: disincentivizes opposing attacks with its chunky body, then when the ground is too messy, uses its evasive flying ability to put the opponent on a swift clock. Out of all the cards in Kaladesh, this French vanilla avian is one of the cards I underestimated the most on my initial sweep of the set. It may be somewhat boring, but when boring is the best card in my deck for what I’m trying to do, I’m not complaining.
One quick point about this bird’s stats: in terms of generally playability, Skyswirl Harrier benefits enormously from being a 3/4 instead of a 3/3, since 3-power attackers and 3-damage removal are plentiful in this format. The extra point of toughness also helps the harrier plow through opposing Propellor Pioneer and Foundry Screecher. All in all, I probably wouldn’t put this card in my deck as much as I do if it were a 3/3. While it would be almost as good at breaking open board stalls, it would be worse enough in other situations that it would be hard to justify an inclusion. Stay tough, Skyswirl Harrier!
All of the modules are good at breaking open board stalls, and Fabrication Module is widely known to be great at it. This artifact’s threat of activation helps your creatures push through damage early, which already makes it a worthy card. Later on, the incremental advantage it provides on top of your draws for the turn will eventually outpace whatever your opponent can put out.
On the other hand, Fabrication Module’s sister, Decoction Module, is too often overlooked. You don’t need the other modules or insane energy combos to make this little artifact good. It’s strong on its own, and having a role at several points in the game is its greatest asset. In early combat, or when you have an instant to play on your opponent’s turn, Decoction Module likes to sit back with its best friends, four untapped lands, and blank all of your opponent’s tricks and removal. Later on, not only do you have the ability to remove pesky Pacifism effects, but you can also use your little module to take advantage of some of the plentiful enters-the-battlefield abilities in the set and create an impressive advantage. Perhaps you’ll create an army of servos by repeatedly bouncing a Weaponcraft Enthusiast, or deal repeated Reckless Fireweaver damage by replaying your Weldfast Monitor. Whatever your poison, you’re sure to create a problem for your opponent.
You can play a similar trick with Whirlermaker, the hidden fourth module, but try to avoid picking it highly. While Whirlermaker is good at the very specific task of creating incremental advantage during a board stall, it’s pretty dead at any other point in the game. As a result, this card is best kept in the sideboard of all but the grindiest control decks.
Break it Down Now
Several of the commons and uncommons I have discussed look fairly innocuous, and in most situations they’re about as valuable as you would expect. However, they all have the hidden talent of creating clocks out of thin air when not much else is going on, so it’s a good idea to value them a little higher when you’re drafting. Maybe next time, you’ll think back to reading this article and take that Spireside Infiltrator over that Quicksmith Genius. When you do, I hope you have fun gumming up the board so you can tear it down again a few turns later!
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