Another pro tour is in the books. Welcome to Kaladesh Limited season! The format is shaping up to be powerful, explosive, and entertaining. The draft coverage from Honolulu showcased all sorts of strategies and color combinations. The spirit of invention is alive and well. I have enjoyed taking some spins at creative deckbuilding. The format feels young, alive, and laden with secrets to uncover.

When Kaladesh previews began, I predicted the Limited environment would be one of the all-time greats. We’re still collecting evidence to evaluate this claim, but I think I’m drawing live. The format has proven both fun and frustrating, and it remains to be seen which will dominate its reputation. Let’s review the early results.

Kaladesh is a proactive Limited format. You need to start implementing your game plan from the first turns. Maybe that’s Attune with Aether into Longtusk Cub. Maybe you play Thriving Turtle into Aether Theorist. Or Animation Module into Dhund Operative. The first few turns matter more than usual. Even if you want to win on turn twenty, you need to guide the game to that conclusion. If you wait until turns three and four to get going, the train has already left the station.

The cards in the set are strong. Each mechanic pushes aggression while also functioning well in a longer game. Fabricate offers big creatures when you curve out, but also makes tokens if you need to prolong the game or want to do fun things with them. Vehicles let you double your early mana, paying for creatures that also let you pump your earlier creatures. Going long, vehicles give all your creatures haste, or close to it, continually magnifying the power on top of your deck. Energy provides a manaless resource that can provide tempo and pile on damage early. But you can also collect it for swingy turns down the road.

This is all exciting stuff, and like I expected, the flexible nature of the mechanics allow you to customize draft decks in many more ways than simply the two-color archetypes. How much do you focus on energy, or artifacts, tokens, +1/+1 counters, enter-the-battlefield abilites, etc? I’ve found great variety between draft decks of the same colors. Do you want to splash a few colors in your green deck? Would you like to shift your strategy after sideboarding? You can do these things, and it is tons of fun.

Yet despite this, I’m not ready to crown Kaladesh among the great Limited formats. I prefer draft environments with low power level and many situation cards. Weaker cards leave room to maneuver without fear of sudden swings. On Kaladesh you have to go big or go home. Shota Yasooka’s day two draft deck shows how ridiculous you can get: play Noxious Gearhulk, then copy it twice with Saheeli’s Artistry. Paul Rietzl showed off the power of Panharmonicon with Whirler Virtuoso and Era of Innovation. You can’t compete with that nonsense by drafting a random pile of cards and hoping to outplay your opponent. You better come prepared for battle.

The biggest problem with a high-power Limited format is the variance caused by mana problems. You can’t beat a solid curve in Kaladesh if you miss your third or fourth land drop. But if you draw ten lands, you probably run out of gas and lose too. Your best chances of winning happen when you draw just enough lands to function but no more. This is true in most environments, but when the power level is higher, the consequences of stumbling are more severe. Thus, you can easily lose a match to a mulligan or awkward draw. Weaker formats provide more time to draw out of this. On Kaladesh, you rarely have the time.

The need to hit four or five land drops but not flood out creates tension in deckbuilding. Lands are bad draws late, so you want to play fewer, but you can’t afford not to draw four. I’ve struggled to figure out how many lands to play in each deck. The best solution is to play spells that provide lands, or use card selection to filter lands away late. Attune with Aether is a great card for managing your land count. If you pick up two or three, you can cut lands. The sorcery helps fetch lands from your deck, while thinning your land count so you are less likely to draw more land. Scry and looting effects help cycle extra lands late, and are very powerful ways to smooth the variance of the format. Cathartic Reunion looks like another good way to smooth your draws, and I expect it will emerge as a key red common for the weakest color.

The strength of the format has also made sealed more difficult. Normally, the default approach to Limited is curving out and attacking. That wins many drafts, but often falls short in sealed. You don’t need a great curve for sealed, as long as you can generate value going long. But in Kaladesh, the aggressive cards are plentiful. Beatdown decks make up a significant portion of the sealed metagame. In most formats, many more players build aggressive decks than they should. Witht he current set, that usual error is actually a good strategy, meaning that the competition on average builds a better deck than usual. Combine that with the many straightforward powerful cards, and it can be tough to navigate a large field with a less-than-broken sealed pool.

In the end, I have really enjoyed exploring Kaladesh. I don’t know yet how much I will enjoy the next two months of the format, but I look forward to experimenting and finding out.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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