I have to admit, this set’s been a bit rough for me to wrap my head around. There are synergies and buildarounds, but they’re not as deck-defining as they were in more recent themed sets like Battle for Zendikar and Shadows Over Innistrad. Then trying to figure out just how well blue has stacked up against the rest of the colors has been its own special brand of frustration. (It’s not quite as bad as BfZ green, but it’s still somewhat worse than the other colors.)
After banging my head against the wall of this newest draft set, I’ve finally come to some conclusions about how each color pairing is supposed to shake out. It’s a week late, but here’s a look at Kaladesh’s draft archetypes!
The theme here is bounce and flicker, but UW is still the same fliers deck it’s always been. The white fabricate cards let you gum up the board easily while you soar overhead with your fliers. Cheap stall and blowout cards like Impeccable Timing and Aether Meltdown can go a long way toward keeping your opponent’s ground-pounders in check while you close out the game, but you’ll need a way to push through any opposing fliers or reach creatures they may have as well. Big finishers like Wispweaver Angel and Long-Finned Skywhale are almost always going to be the biggest things in the sky, and should be taken highly.
Words of Caution: Tempo plays can win you the game if you get a quick start out of the gate, but neither color has very aggressive common 2-drop creatures. Make sure to pack some hard removal for enemy fliers and creatures you just can’t out-race.
White and black both have a number of fabricate creatures, so there’s a tokens deck here that can really take off if you pick up a couple Inspired Charge, but this is usually going to play as a grinder value deck with some minor artifact synergies. Like the UW deck, you’ll want to gum up the ground with your fabricate cards while you plink away in the air. With multiple ways to bring back creatures from the graveyard, trading off early and often to keep your life out of the red zone should be your top priority. The deep removal suite of white and black should carry you through the late game, especially since there’s some incidental lifegain to help stabilize in the case of a slow start.
Words of Caution: This deck can end up artifact heavy or artifact light, depending on how many fabricate creatures you get. Some of the artifact payoffs are very good, but make sure you have the numbers to support them before jumping in.
Vehicles give WR a new spin on low-curve aggro, acting as pseudo-equipment that doesn’t require a mana sink. You’ll want to punch in fast and hard in the first few turns to bring your opponent’s life down to the single digits before they can stabilize, and let your reach take over from there. If you pick up enough vehicles and fabricate creatures, otherwise questionable cards like Salivating Gremlins and Reckless Fireweaver can become extremely potent aggressive threats.. If you manage to piece together a deck with a curve that stops at 4, don’t be afraid to cut your deck down to 16 lands.
Words of Caution: The creatures in RW tend to be pretty small, so finding a way to get through or around 4+ toughness blockers is the real key to making this deck work. Removal spells that can take out big creatures, or fliers to soar over your opponent’s defenders, will make all the difference in whether or not you can shut out the game.
The tokens deck is back, and there’s a ton of support for it. 4 common and 2 uncommon fabricate creatures make it all but a certainty that any WG deck you draft is going to be going wide, then Inspired Charge and Engineered Might give you the power boost you need to shut out the game in a single alpha strike. If the go-wide theme doesn’t quite pan out, you can always fall back on green’s big beaters and white’s fliers and removal to put pressure on your opponent. And, very rarely, you’ll end up in a GW version of the counters deck or energy beatdown deck, depending on the creatures you end up with. Any version of the deck is very strong, and whether you’re planning to go wide or go tall, the core of your gameplan is going to revolve around playing creatures and turning them sideways.
Words of Caution: There are basically 4 different decks in this color pairing, and it’s easy to accidentally misdraft your seat because you missed the payoffs for the deck you were actually drafting. Some cards like Thriving Rhino and Riparian Tiger are just good cards and should rarely be passed over, but just because you have a couple Glint-Sleeve Artisan in your deck doesn’t mean you should be in tokens. Some cards play in multiple archetypes, so pay close attention to what payoffs come around the table.
You’ll occasionally see an aggro deck pull together in this color pairing, but UB is mostly just artifact control. Artifacts play a large role in this deck with repeating value effects like scrying, fetching back creatures or stealing your opponent’s bombs. Fabricate is the best way to put artifacts on the field, but most of black’s fabricate creatures are statted aggressively, which makes actual artifact creatures a little more desirable than usual. Gum up the board early with good defenders while you dig for your win conditions and you should be able to grind out the win, even against Kaladesh’s faster archetypes.
Words of Caution: There’s a delicate balance to be had in this deck. With the increased speed of Kaladesh’s aggro decks defensive speed is key, but too few win conditions at the top end could give your opponent all the time in the world to dig for a way to punch through your defenses. Pack a few expensive, unconditional removal spells for your opponent’s late game bombs so you don’t have to trade your own for them.
With a new set, UR has developed a new identity. This time around, the name of the game is “energy control.” With a heavy emphasis on ways to gain energy and dump them into big, flashy effects, this archetype is very difficult to piece together. Most of its impactful cards are at uncommon, and require huge stores of energy counters to power more than once or twice. The aggressive nature of most red spells tend to be at odds with the durdly nature of most blue spells, so without the proper uncommons this deck can easily end up as nothing more than a pile of cards. But if you manage to get the right pieces together, it looks more like a well-oiled machine that will lock down the game and just steamroll right over your opponent.
Words of Caution: Don’t jump into this archetype unless you’ve gotten some of the pieces for it relatively early. Some cards are just good in any deck, and others are good in multiple decks, so you’ll have to be seated perfectly at your table for this deck to come together.
Much like UR, UG also plays the energy game. The difference though, is that it has enough payoffs at the common level to really make it work. Thriving Rhino and Riparian Tiger are high priority commons that make the deck tick, and things only get better in the uncommon and rare slot. Access to Attune with Aether also gives the deck easy splash potential while continuing to build on the same energy synergies. The deck can play control but it usually leans toward midrange, with most of its threats being better on the attack than on defense. There are two common removal spells in Blue and green this time around, but since the color combination is notoriously removal light your best approach to winning your matches is to let your creatures and combat tricks do the bulk of the heavy lifting.
Words of Caution: The energy theme is at a premium in this deck, but it’s not worth playing bad cards to get things rolling. You’re going to win far more games by playing big beaters and forcing your opponent to have an answer for them than you will by going off with some contrived energy combo.
And “artifacts matter” subtheme permeates this set’s BR aggro archetype. Most of the time you’ll just look to piece together the most aggressive curve with punchy removal and combat tricks, but there are enough cards that care about artifacts here that they should help decide some of your closer picks. There isn’t the same focus on vehicles here that there is in WR, but being artifacts make them all slot in nicely. Black’s fabricate creatures work well here as well, having aggressive stats that also add to your artifact count. With an unconditional removal spell at common and multiple combat tricks to help break through board stalls, this color pairing has plenty of ways to close out a game.
Words of Caution: There are a lot of tricks and small-creature removal spells in this color pairing, but sometimes you’ll be playing against control decks that rely on stonewalling you with multiple big-butt creatures. Don’t be so focused on aggroing out your opponent that you forget to pick up ways to deal with larger creatures. Slow starts and bad draws can put you in a losing position if your deck can’t come back once your opponent has stabilized.
Most BG decks tend to fall somewhere in the “good stuff” spectrum, and Kaladesh’s version isn’t much different. The subtheme here is supposed to be “+1/+1 counters matter,” but all the payoffs for the archetype are at uncommon. Rather than putting undue emphasis on trying to stack counters as high as possible on the off chance that you get some payoff cards for your deck, just try to put the biggest creatures on the field you can so they can steamroll your opponent’s smaller creatures. Between black’s board interaction suite and green’s beefy beaters, you can’t go wrong with just going tall and turning your creatures sideways.
Words of Caution: Much like WG there are potentially a few versions of this deck, with artifact synergies and energy synergies taking the forefront in some deck compositions. Make sure you don’t stretch yourself too thin trying to make “sweet” cards work that otherwise don’t quite fit the deck you’ve pieced together.
This is the most aggressive of the energy decks, true to typical GR beater fashion. Unlike UR and UG that tends to want to store energy to dump into large effects, this color pairing is more interested in using energy counters 1 and 2 at a time to pump its creatures and make them harder to rumble with on the attack; GR’s curve tends to look more midrange than aggro, but the deck is at its best when on the beatdown. Trample is king here, taking chump blocks off the table and forcing your opponent to take damage over and over again until they can set up profitable blocks. Neither green nor red has unconditional removal spells, but green’s fight cards work well with its big beaters, and red’s small removal spells make it easy to blow out multiblocks after pushing the opponent’s back against the wall.
Words of Caution: There are a ton of great 4-5 CMC creatures in this color pairing, and you’ll need to make a concentrated effort to pass some of them over to fill out your curve. 2-drops are especially tricky since the best ones are at uncommon, but this deck can’t afford to get out to a late start.
I was a little concerned that the format would be too fast to make control decks viable, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my results after running quite a few drafts. The colors are balanced enough that both deck types, along with the standard midrange decks, are completely viable. The synergies built into each archetype come up often enough to make them worth considering while picking your cards during a draft, but they’re not so linear as to make goodstuff decks completely unviable. I’ve actually run across a couple 4-color goodstuff control decks during drafts that gave me a run for my money!
I’ve enjoyed my time with the set so far, and I’m planning on doing a lot more drafts over the next couple months. I hope my insight into the set will help you with your own future drafts!