Pro Tour Kaladesh starts this Friday in Hawaii, and that means this week the pros don't have anything to say about Standard. I'm not playing in this Pro Tour, but I've competed in a couple dozen of them, so I have some small insight into what to expect this weekend.
Kaladesh has been legal for nearly two weeks now, and between paper tournaments' decklists and the set now released on Magic Online, a post-rotation metagame is starting to form. Today I'll discuss the eight most important Kaladesh cards in the new metagame — the cards that will have the most outsized impact in driving the direction of the metagame — along with the eight most underrated cards that will have more of an impact than might be apparent.
Smuggler's Copter is the best Kaladesh card in Standard, which should be a surprise to no one. Its efficient cost, evasion, powerful loot ability, and natural resistance to sorcery-speed removal makes it one of the finest cards ever printed and a defining force in Standard for the next year and a half. Its impact sends a shockwave through the rest of the format and changes what matters. Most importantly, Smuggler's Copter needs other creatures to work, so it means Standard now revolves around creatures more than it already did. It means sorcery speed removal spells are incomplete, so the age of Reflector Mage is over, and Declaration in Stone will not be the end-all removal spell to replace Dromoka's Command. Instant speed removal will become a necessity, so Grasp of Darkness becomes the most effective two-mana removal spell in Standard.
With flying, Smuggler's Copter makes Planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar more vulnerable to assault and less reliable. It also makes defensive ground creatures like Sylvan Advocate less desirable. It makes flying blockers more important, so for example Archangel Avacyn has found new purpose. Its loot ability makes madness cards better, so it elevates Fiery Temper to a format staple. Looting also enables graveyard strategies, like delirium. Card type of an artifact makes it even better in this role, and also opens up synergy with a slew of other Kaladesh cards. It's important to have an answer to Smuggler's Copter, and you'll need a good argument to justify not playing the card this season.
Scrapheap Scrounger's main appeal is its ability to return from the graveyard at the low cost of exiling another creature from it, which makes Scrapheap Scrounger a fantastic source of value over a long game, an inexhaustible source of board presence. It offers three power for just two mana, making it an extremely efficient card that compares favorably to any other two-drop available in Standard. It comes with the downside of not blocking, but it's a relentless threat for any aggressive deck.
Scrapheap Scrounger goes well with the strategies available in Standard. It's a perfect card for aggressive black/red artifact decks, where it turns on Inventor's Apprentice and Unlicensed Disintegration. It's great sacrificial fodder for emerge creatures like Distended Mindbender, and as an artifact it's going to work well in B/G Delirium. Its presence in the metagame is a struggle for control strategies, especially when it is combined with Prized Amalgam to create a creature recursion engine.
Toolcraft Exemplar and Inventor's Apprentice fill similar roles in their respective decks, and even alongside each other. They come with great stats for one-mana plays, being closer to the Modern staples Wild Nacatl and Kird Ape than forgotten Standard cards like Dragon Hunter and Zurgo Bellstriker. The pressure they apply starting from turn one demands a reaction from the opponent, which speeds up the format. Their robustness restricts what answers opponents can play, whether it's Toolcraft Exemplar's three-powered first strike pushing out three-toughness defenders or Inventor's Apprentice three toughness pushing out two-damage burn spells. Prepare for these creatures or prepare to die.
A world of efficient threats means that cheap creature removal spells are a necessity. The instant-speed Harnessed Lightning is an exciting new option that cleanly deals with Smuggler's Copter, and it can be used to stop an assortment of other threats, like Toolcraft Exemplar or Inventor's Apprentice, along with old favorites like Sylvan Advocate and Spell Queller. The energy theme gives it extra value, and even Aether Hub allows it to destroy larger creature. It gets even better in dedicated energy strategies, and in a pinch it can even be cast for zero to generate three energy to fuel another card.
The cycle of gearhulks provides Standard creatures with the most potential we've seen since the cycle of titan creatures, and none is more plainly and obviously powerful than Verdurous Gearhulk. Green was previously the best Standard in color, but the loss of Collected Company means the color has lost its identity. Verdurous Gearhulk provides the color direction, pushing it towards the aggressive end of the spectrum. B/G Delirium has adopted it into its new Smuggler's Copter-powered game plan as part of a Traverse the Ulvenwald toolbox, and it has revitalized the formerly dominant G/W Token strategy, along with a slew of other G/W aggressive creature strategies. It also sits atop the shell of the former Collected Company deck, where it adds finishing power to its utility creatures. Verdurous Gearhulk has applications in any variety of Standard green deck.
Most of the gearhulk hype thus far has centered around Verdurous Gearhulk, but Torrential Gearhulk might steal the show and prove the best of all. It's a unique card, functioning like a fusion between Snapcaster Mage, Goblin-Dark Dwellers, and Archangel Avacyn. Flash makes it tactically versatile like Snapcaster Mage, but its large size gives it significant battlefield presence and allow it to function as a dedicated finisher. Combining these into one makes it specifically deadly as a combat trick to make opponent's attack steps completely miserable, just like Archangel Avacyn. It doesn't help other blockers, but the ability to replay an instant makes it just as Meddlesome with the opponent's plans. This ability to replay an instant from the graveyard for free is only as good as the instant it's casting, and Standard has more than a few good options in blue and across colors. One of the most important and logical pairings is with Glimmer of Genius, which with scry two and draw two is deceptively powerful, closer to Fact or Fiction than to Inspiration, not to mention the possible upside of its two energy. Torrential Gearhulk is the future of blue control.
The great threats in Standard are susceptible to removal spells, which will be abundant throughout the new metagame. Blossoming Defense gives aggressive decks a versatile answer to the removal spells that threaten to stop them and generate tempo, and instead turns the tables by efficiently trading for more expensive removal spells. History shows that protections effects like Gods Willing, Apostle's Blessing, and Brave the Elements are dangerous weapons in the arsenal of aggressive decks. Blossoming Defenses also pumps power, so it doubles as a combat trick for overcoming other creatures or helps kill the opponent. Its closest analog, Vines of the Vastwood, is a Modern staple, but it is already being replaced by Blossoming Defense. I expect Blossoming Defense is going to be on all of our minds this coming year. Its mere presence in the format changes the way people will play in reaction, so its presence will be felt even when it is not seen.
Aetherworks Marvel has the potential to play Emrakul, the Promised End on turn four, which is realistically the most powerful thing to do in Standard. This deck will typically use Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger as a backup, which is nearly as powerful and will sometimes be even better.
The strategy isn't necessarily consistent, one because it relies on Aetherworks Marvel, and two because it doesn't always find what it's looking for. Its potential must be respected, because often it will do just what it set out to do and effectively win the game on turn four. With a lucky run, it could win in its current form, but if a deckbuilder can solve its problems by adding redundancy, like with Madcap Skills as a backup, or adding an effective secondary gameplan, like aggressive energy creatures, then it could be a real powerhouse.
The best cards in Kaladesh are known quantities, but there are plenty of quality cards lurking below the surface that aren't so obvious but may prove to be no less important factors in the metagame. Here are the top 8 underrated cards that you should have on your radar:
I've called Metallurgic Summonings the successor to Pyromancer's Goggles, which had a breakout performance at the Pro Tour this spring before rotating out with Kaladesh. Metallurgic Summonings has similar ability to get double value from spells, but it's not restricted to any specific color. Making creatures is also quite strong as a way to build board presence defensively or offensively, and it diversifies the gameplan in a way that might prove more effective than simply doubling spells, which is one-dimensional. It's also not a legend, so each extra copy makes an extra token. Finally, it has the ability to sacrifice itself to Recycle all of the spells in the graveyard, which is ridiculous value and something a built-in Past in Flames. It seems like it would sit very nicely alongside Torrential Gearhulk, but it also allows for a creatureless deck. I won't claim I've been testing the card, but its price growing by over 400% on MTGO since Sunday and the paper price tripling in the past two days makes me think someone has something major planned for the card.
Electrostatic Pummeler is already showing up on Magic Online as part of a combo-style deck that plays something like Infect or Temur Battle Rage decks, using Electrostatic Pummeler's ability to double it power with Undying Rage for redundancy by giving this ability to other creatures, Blossoming Defenses for protection against disruption, and Built to Smash to get it through with trample. Verdurous Gearhulk and even Pia Nalaar also boost its power.
Here's a list that puts it to use alongside Smuggler's Copter that went 5-0 in a League this week:
Minister of Inquiries mills six cards for one mana over two turns, which makes it faster and more powerful than Shriekhorn, which currently sees play in Modern Dredge, likely the best deck in the format. There are no Dredge creatures in Standard to make milling extremely powerful, but there are more than enough graveyard payoffs in Standard, like Scrapheap Scrounger, to make Minister of Inquiries a fantastic enabler.
Here's a list using Minister of Inquiries that Gerry Thompson played to a 5-0 finish in a league this week:
Like Smuggler's Copter, Key to the City offers the ability to loot, so it could sit alongside it to enable a consistent Madness deck using Fiery Temper as a very efficient removal spell and source of value, like in B/R artifact Aggro. As a noncreature it's not susceptible to most removal, so it will steadily provide a stream of cards. Its ability to push through damage adds relentless finishing power to these aggressive decks, which might otherwise have the weakness of falling short against stronger defenses. This ability is also curiously effective for pushing Metalwork Colossus past blockers.
Here's Key to the City doing work in a U/B Zombie deck that went 5-0 in a League this week:
The instant-speed Essence Extraction kills Smuggler's Copter or any other small creature, as well as Depala, Pilot Exemplar and Fleetwheel Copter, and provides a buffer that Erases aggression and buys time. Whether you call it Black Lightning Helix or Pharika's Cure Plus Power, it's going to be very effective against aggressive decks, so it will be a staple sideboard card with maindeck potential.
If stopping Smuggler's Copter is the most important thing in Standard, and Harnessed Lightning is the gold standard, then Aether Meltdown could be a staple removal spell. It's not an instant, but it has upside. Rather than spend energy, it actually produces it, and shrinking four power means it's effective even against larger creatures, even if it can't necessarily kill them outright. It's biggest downside it it can't be cast by Torrential Gearhulk, so it should be explored in more aggressive decks like Bant Midrange, or in Energy decks like those with Aetherworks Marvel.
At one time the now-rotated Nantuko Husk was a lynchpin of the format combined with Zulaport Cutthroat, and that combination could be reinvigorated with Syndicate Trafficker. It's not as effective as Nantuko Husk as an all-in play, but it's a better tool to grind with because it permanently grows and can protect itself with indestructible. It combines especially well Clue tokens, like from Thraben Inspector, and Servo tokens, like those made by Servo Exhibition or the next card on the list.
Three creatures for three mana has been missing from Standard since Hordeling Outburst, which was a staple in the format. Weaponcraft Enthusiast offers one less power, but it has plenty of other upside. The option of being a 2/3 creature in certain situations has value. It also makes artifact creatures, which come with their own value. Weaponcraft Enthusiast also come with the potential for recycling, whether being returned to hand from the graveyard, bounced from play, or targeted with a Flicker effect. It's even ripe for sacrifice to emerge on Distended Mindbender or Wretched Gryff.
What is your list of top 8 most impactful Kaladesh cards? And the top 8 most underrated? Share in the comments!