Another three months, another new set rolls on. Away from the dreary, spooky, gloomy climes of Innistrad, into the sunny, radiant and definitely India-meet-steampunk inspired plane of Kaladesh.
The story of this new set takes us to this plane in the midst of a once-in-a-generational Inventor’s Fair, where all the budding prodigies and seasoned tinkerers participate in a festival that involves a lot of inventing of machines. With the spirit of competition, the Ovalchase is throng with the sound of cheers and engines revving (and of cars crashing in a fiery explosion) and automatons and hulks duke out in the arena, Robot-Wars style.
It is a win in flavour and very fitting for pre-release- it feels like players are just one of the plane’s many aspiring inventors tinkering and launching them at the arena, to see who amongst them performs best and impress their fellows.
With the new set, and the first set of a new block, means 2 sets rotate out for the game’s most played format (Standard)- Dragons of Tarkir and Origins, which formed their own weird little block. The cards from these two latter sets formed many a core strategy for many decks. In particular one card, one that gave me of many of my top 8s, a personal love-hate relationship with it (sometimes you play it, and it whiffs) and made a bunch of mediocre players look so much better than they actually are- Collected Company. It was a problem card that let you cheat (cheap-ish albeit) creatures into play, up to 2 of them, if they were within the top six cards of your pile- on your opponent’s turn, no less, and combined with good supporting cast, like Reflector Mage, which bounced one of your opponent’s creatures back to their hand (swiftly turning what was an even combat into a very uneven one), it swiftly dominated the Standard format for nearly an entire year- forcing all other players to take that into account when building their own brew, or just play that deck if they couldn’t- which was illustrated at the World Championship earlier this month in which of the 13/24 of decks ran Collected Company. This along, with many other cards means entirely new strategies have to be invented for the tournament environment.
Without such a dominant force keeping back all the other brews in check, I hope it would lead to a much more diverse Standard format (which would provide just as many complaints because some players can’t have easy stomp as easily anymore). In any case, I’ve already moved into a new deck, one closer to something I’ve brewed at home (out of cards that couldn’t fit in a Company deck that I had), the red-white-and-black control deck that I was using for one of the Game Days, and then further tuning and testing proves its mettle against highly aggressive decks by matching speed with speed and closing out the game in spectacular fashion, usually winning by the slimmest of margins. Other people on the internet have tried my brew and failed spectacularly. This is not a boast.
Every new set introduces new mechanics, and this one is no different. The most defining mechanic is Energy. Energy functions like a secondary mana resource, except once you acquire Energy, its there to stay until you spend it. Some creatures and triggers give you Energy and some other cards gives you an outlet to spend that energy. For some people keeping track of two resources can be challenging, especially for players who didn’t delve into tinkering and brew-testing. Energy is the most dominant and a lot of archetypes can use it many different fashions- another flavour win. Vehicles is the secondary mechanic- Vehicles are artifacts that can turn into creatures by Crewing them, by turning one of your other creatures sideways (therefore it itself cannot attack nor block, nor do any other associated action), trading the ability to defend yourself in exchange for a more deadly blow. Fabricate is far more straightforward- you either buff up the creature you drop, you spread it out over a number of bodies indicated by the fabricate number.
This set also marks the beginning of the Masterpiece Series, a set of cards that only appear 1 out of 144 packs, and for the hardcore collectors (like Martin Shkreli) there are 54 of them for each two-set block altogether- they are blinged-up reprints of very ancient cards complete with new, themed art, holographic foil and exquisite bordering, and are sought after by collectors due to its rarity, and worth a large amount of money. These cards are only legal for the format that their normal counterparts were printed in, and if you happen to pull one at a draft or pre-release you can use it (and have a very unfair advantage).
On the weekend, I’ll be getting a hands-on evaluation of the set, through playing it for an entire day at a pre-release, and hopefully pull one of those Masterpiece cards.