Well, rotation has officially come and Kaladesh is now legal in Standard. We expect to see a lot of new decks come out of the Pro Tour in a few weeks, but while we wait for the pros to have a crack, the rest of the Magic community is already brewing. This past weekend saw our first results from the new Standard come in, and if you were worried about Kaladesh not having much of an impact, you can officially stop worrying.
White/red decks appeared to get the biggest boost from the set and vehicles are at the middle of that. We saw so many Smuggler's Copters and Fleetwheel Cruisers this past weekend and I don't think that is going to change any time soon. Even the other non-vehicle decks have gone hard on Kaladesh offerings. Inventor's Apprentice, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Pia Nalaar were all very popular in various red and black aggro decks. Perhaps one of the more surprising standouts in these decks is Bomat Courier, who packs quite the punch when not dealt with quickly.
Kaladesh may be lighter on the artifacts than a traditional artifact set is, but it seems as though most of the power of the set is concentrated in those artifacts. This was the reality of week one in the format, at least. This got me looking into the best ways to deal with artifacts. Creature removal is plentiful in most colors, but if I wanted to specifically deal with the brown cards, what were my best options?
At first, I went in search of easy-to-main-deck answers that I was happy to play with. This included cards like Nahiri, the Harbinger and Anguished Unmaking that were great against every deck but gave me outs to vehicles and other artifact problems. Those solutions are nice, but they don't really punish a player any more than if they were just playing more creatures in those slots. Vehicles naturally dodge sweeper effects, so how can we get more of an advantage? Well, as the saying goes, sometimes you just gotta fight fire with fire.
While everyone else is using all of the new aggressive artifact options, it seems reasonable for us to counter this by going over the top using more expensive artifact options. In this case, Cataclysmic Gearhulk is the card that excites me most. It deals with any board that has multiple creatures or artifacts on it and then sticks around to deal with whatever remains. Not only that, but this is a card you can run four copies of in the main deck as it really has no "bad" matchups and can be quite punishing in multiples.
Actually, if we stick with our Nahiri and Anguished Unmaking exploration, I could see us expanding to include those appropriate Gearhulks as well. Noxious Gearhulk is a great source of life gain in the late game and deals with whatever threat Cataclysmic Gearhulk left behind.. Combustible Gearhulk is not quite as attractive in a control shell, but it still offers a big payoff, so we will keep it in mind going forward.
It would probably be fine to just include a bunch of these black and white Gearhulks in your control shell and then move on, but with Kaladesh giving us so many new toys, it feels lacking to just leave the Hulks to fend for themselves. For example, Refurbish is in this set and is a very efficient reanimation spell for either Gearhulk, giving us longevity. Once we have any desire to Reanimate things, Combustible Gearhulk starts to look a lot better with its ability to mill us for 3 cards (usually).
Refurbish is pretty awesome, but it still requires that we do some work ahead of time to Reap maximum value. Meanwhile, Kaladesh offers us a card that lets us skip the line altogether, as long as we are willing to deal with the beating we will receive as a result. If you have no idea what I am talking about, just put on your thinking Madcap.
Madcap Experiment is one of those cards just begging to be abused. There are many Modern combos that just look unfair, but even in Standard we can still use the card to accelerate out our trio of fatties.
If we have enough Gearhulks--and it seems like we should have at least eight--then you don't need to be comboing off with Madcap Experiment because the costs are much lower. If you only expect to take 5 damage on average, getting a Noxious Gearhulk and gaining some of that right back is a great play. Similarly, hitting Cataclysmic Gearhulk can save you in otherwise terrible situations.
Of course, Madcap Experiment always has the chance to turn on you and kill you out of nowhere, so it doesn't come without risk, but we can do our best to keep the odds on our side. Say we play just two copies of Combustible Gearhulk alongside the other eight we have discussed. At this point you are looking at taking 6 damage on average with Madcap Experiment and you are gaining mana and tutoring out of the deal. Later Experiments will be riskier to play once you are lower on life, but we have discard outlets to pitch excess Experiments later on anyway.
With that all in mind, I wanted to take a crack at what this Mardu monstrosity might look like. Here is where I landed:
I think that the natural direction to go with a list like this is to make it more of a pure Mardu control deck playing stuff like Painful Truths for card advantage and the expectation to grind out long games. My goal here is to have that ability, but to start things off multiple turns sooner, therefore putting pressure on the opponent. We get to play the beatdown while playing the control deck and that is pretty cool.
This does mean we need to have a little higher of a land count as we don't have any sneaky ways to help us hit our land drops. Fortunately, this is not much of a sacrifice as Mardu happens to have two great creature lands in the format with Shambling Vent and Needle Spires. Shambling Vent provides us with some more life gain in the clutch as well, which is certainly important here.
I do think we want to be aggressive about making sure we don't lose in the early game. Cataclysmic Hulk gives us a great sweeper on turn five or occasionally on turn four if we are lucky, but we don't want to have taken 10 damage in the meantime while we cross our fingers and hope Experiment doesn't kill us. We really want an intermediate sweeper like Kozilek's Return. It could be correct to just play the instant speed Pyroclasm, even without a way to flash it back, but instead I think sticking with Radiant Flames to Take Down slightly bigger creatures is a safe move.
Collective Brutality is an extremely important card in this deck as it has come to be in many other lists as well. Here, it gives us life gain to help offset damage from Madcap Experiment. It takes dangerous cards away from the opponent, such as countermagic or instant speed removal, helping to protect our Hulks. On top of all that, it is an easy way to get our Hulks into the graveyard so that we can Refurbish them out on turn four, giving us six total ways to do just that.
Our sideboard allows us to become even more controlling as we have more sweepers, more planeswalkers, and more ways to gain life. Of course, many of these cards are speculative based on some results from this weekend and some of my own observations, so feel free to make modifications as you see fit.
Standard will continue to take shape over the next couple of weeks so don't hesitate to try out your own brews or experiments. In the meanwhile, Grand Prix Atlanta is this weekend and I will be there! If you see me, definitely don't hesitate to say hi! I will be hoping for a good sealed pool just like everybody else. This limited format is quite interesting though, so it should be a fun tournament to navigate ('cause vehicles... ).
Next week I should be back with a Kaladesh draft video that should contain the lessons I learn from this weekend! So until next week, thanks for reading!