If there's one thing I enjoy more than attacking with little white creatures, it is brewing decks based around attacking with little white creatures! Now that Kaladesh has been revealed, it's brew time!
Today I have three Kaladesh Standard decks, each built around a particular card or combination of cards that synergyze in some new way. The first is a Boros Dwarf Artificer deck that is built around two complementary themes: dwarves and artificers (including vehicles) that I am dubbing Stone Temple Pilots (after Stone Haven Outfitter and Depala, Pilot Exemplar). The second is a white/green aggro deck that tops out at Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into Nissa, Vital Force. The third is a slightly different take on white/green that aims to use Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Verdurous Gearhulk to pump creatures that have flying, lifelink, and/or vigilance. I call it Build-a-Baneslayer for obvious reasons.
The idea for the Dwarf Artificer deck began with the following tweet from my spirit animal, Tom Ross:
New Standard brewing with #MTGKLD starting here. pic.twitter.com/hDKIYbJeEA— Tom Ross (@Boss_MTG) September 10, 2016
Then shortly thereafter when the next piece to the puzzle was revealed, Kai Budde outed me on a deal I made with a certain unsavory character:
@MtACast seems @Nacatls4Life sacrificing his hair paid off. although the devil probably could've gotten better for a 3 power white 1 drop.— Kai Budde (@kaibudde) September 12, 2016
Here is my first draft of the deck:
This is an aggressive yet resilient creature deck that wants to curve out with creatures and attack. Beyond the basic premise, which tends to be the premise of most decks I'm interested in, this deck has a lot going on that might not be immediately apparent.
The payoff for playing a bunch of artificers is Inventor's Goggles; you can attack with an equipped creature and then play an artificer post-combat and all copies of Inventor's Goggles will automatically attach themselves to that new artificer (if you so choose — it's optional). This is already enough incentive for me, but there is more payoff too. Toolcraft Exemplar gets a significant bonus if you control an artifact, and Inventor's Goggles satisfy that condition. The third payoff is that Stone Haven Outfitter grants another +1/+1 bonus to all your equipped creatures, and if they happen to die while equipped, you draw a card. This means that if you attack with a Toolcraft Exemplar equipped with Inventor's Goggles (which attaches to it for free), it hits for four damage! And if you also have a Stone Haven Outfitter, it's a 5/5!
Another way to pump Toolcraft Exemplar is Thraben Inspector since clues are artifacts. Perhaps the most exciting way to satisfy the condition, however, is to control a vehicle - and this deck runs six! The most exciting vehicle to me is Smuggler's Copter. It comes down early, attacks hard, evades, and smooths out draws both early and late with its loot trigger.
This deck could run any vehicle since it is full of crewmembers, but the other two vehicles that stand out to me are Fleetwheel Cruiser and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Fleetwheel Cruiser seems great at getting in fast damage to take out, say, a Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The haste makes it great against Planeswalkers and the ability to dodge sorcery-speed removal is great against control decks. Sometimes the vehicles turning off at end of turn is actually an advantage rather than a drawback. The top of the curve is filled out with a singleton Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. This one will keep your opponents guessing anytime you sacrifice your Inventor's Fair. Are you going for another Smuggler's Copter? Maybe Fleetwheel Cruiser? It could be anything; it could even be a boat!
Powering up the vehicles is Depala, Pilot Exemplar and a pile of dwarves and vehicles to find with her tap ability and get pumped by her pump ability. It's possible that there are enough artifacts that the deck should play another dwarf over Thraben Inspector, but I like the synergy between Thraben Inspector and Aviary Mechanic. You play the Thraben Inspector on the first turn, making a clue token. Then on the second turn you attack with it and play Aviary Mechanic, bouncing it back to your hand. Then the next turn you replay the Thraben Inspector and make another clue. I love Kor Skyfisher probably more than anyone, so it's possible I am overrated this interaction, but it seems super sweet to me!
Another way to fuel vehicles is to pump out Knight Ally Tokens with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a triple threat. He makes crewmembers for the vehicles, he hits for 5, and like the vehicles and Needle Spires he is immune to wrath effects. With all this built-in card advantage and resiliency to removal, this deck feels like it has what it takes to compete with any deck trying to fight it on the value axis. Its threats are also cost-effective and represent fast clocks, so it also has the potential to kill the opponent before they set up if instead of trying to win the value game they are trying to set up an Emrakul, the Promised End. Speaking of which, we have some of the best cards against Emrakul, the Promised End in Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Stasis Snare.
I have yet to play a game with the deck, and there are still a hundred or so cards that have not yet been revealed (at the time of writing this article, which is Wednesday evening), but this is the deck that excites me the most right now and the one I plan to start my testing with. Of course, as Kai pointed out, I'm obviously going to start my testing with the deck that has a three-power white one-drop.
Although Stone Temple Pilots is where I will begin my testing, there are a few other cards in the set that look really strong that I want to try out.
This deck is a little less synergistic and more one-dimensional in that it aims to hit hard and get the opponent dead. Like the previous deck though, it is not only fast and efficient but also resilient. Topping out with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Vital Force means the deck will not roll over to Wrath effects like many of the Thalia's Lieutenant decks did pre-rotation. This deck also takes advantage of the new Kor Skyfisher (Aviary Mechanic) by bouncing Thraben Inspector to replay for it value or it can bounce Oath of Nissa, a combo I played in Modern during Eldrazi Winter! Between all these early creatures with residual value, the early game is not just about pressure but also about building up resilience to removal.
The midgame does not stop producing value and resilience, nor does is let up on the pressure. Tireless Tracker continues the work of investigating right where Thraben Inspector left off. And Thalia, Heretic Cathar keeps opponents from either racing us, setting up blocks for our attackers, or pressuring our Planeswalkers.
Speaking of which, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar poses a big threat in this deck. Imagine a scenario where the opponent uses a card like Radiant Flames to wipe out all our early progress, leaving us with a mere pair of clues and some lands. We then land a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on turn four and make a 2/2 token. Next turn we play Nissa, Vital Force, animate one of our lands into a 5/5, turn Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into a 5/5, and attack for 12! The best part is that even if the opponent wraths us again the following turn, we still hit them for 10 again. It's also worth mentioning that the land animated by Nissa, Vital Force gets pumped by Sylvan Advocate to a 7/7 while the land (if it's your sixth land) pumps Sylvan Advocate to a 4/5 creature. And Sylvan Advocate's vigilance protects Nissa, Vital Force from opposing attackers. There's some mutually beneficial cooperation if I've ever seen it — very Selesnya.
The cards in the above deck are mostly just individually powerful cards that work well together whereas this next deck is more like the first one in that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts:
The idea of this deck is to build a Baneslayer Angel, so to speak. It runs a bunch of creatures with various abilities, including: lifelink, flying, vigilance, first strike, and trample, and then uses pump spells to make those abilities even more relevant. For instance, take Lone Rider. It's not the most impressive creature on its own, but pair it with Blossoming Defense and suddenly it transforms into a grossly undercosted Eldrazi.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar works especially well in this deck because it pumps all the creatures. Between Nissa and Verdurous Gearhulk, Aerial Responder's set of abilities really begin to shine.
The traditional problem with any strategy that aims to invest multiple resources into building a giant monster is that if the opponent kills the giant monster, you lost your entire investment. Given the inherent weakness of the strategy, there are a few key cards to help mitigate that weakness.
Blossoming Defense not only serves as a way to transform Lone Rider quickly and efficiently but also serves as a way to quickly and efficiently protect any threat in the deck for just one mana, similar to Ranger's Guild but with a little more upside.
Selfless Spirit protects against effects that Deal Damage or destroy, including wrath effects. Most ways to pump creatures survive a removal spell. For instance, if we -2 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to pump our Aerial Responder and the opponent kills the flying dwarf with Murder, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar lives. If Verdurous Gearhulk pumps Gisela, the Broken Wing and the opponent uses Stasis Snare on the Angel angel, they still have the Verdurous Gearhulk to deal with. So even though the deck's primary plan is to build a giant monster, it does so in a way that is quite resilient to removal.
Whether you're looking to build a giant monster littered with abilities, crash into the redzone with Planeswalkers, or crew up a bunch of vehicles and beat down with some dwarves, this set looks like it has plenty of awesome things for an aggressive white mage!