When the Grand Prix calendar was announced a year ago, the last event of the year—Grand Prix Milwaukee—was a Standard event. The 2016 schedule featured a major shift toward Standard and away from Limited events. Each Standard environment would get many GPs, often including two nearby Standard GPs on consecutive weekends, like Toronto and New York in May, or Denver and Milwaukee in December. Limited only got one individual tounrament weekend per set, always the week before the corresponding Pro Tour.

People like me complained, and eventually GP Milwaukee was switched to Limited. Finally, we would get a late-format Limited Grand Prix. I believe these events are essential to the growth and health of draft formats because it gives players the chance to innovate and perfect draft archetypes and strategies in a well-known environment that most players understand. Spider Spawning became popular after Grand Prix San Diego in November 2011, six weeks deep into Innistrad season. As it now stands, almost all professional drafts are done in the first three weeks after a set’s release, while everyone races to unlock the format’s secrets. This diverts professional attention from the way that draft metagames develop and fluctuate throughout their lifespan. We should reward top players for going deep into a draft format in the months after the Pro Tour.

During Kaladesh spoiler season, I predicted that Kaladesh would be an all-time great draft format. I’m very happy they added Grand Prix Milwaukee, and that I got to play in it, because my prediction was on the money. Kaladesh is a deep and rewarding draft format.

The sealed isn’t too bad either. It’s plagued, like most sealed formats, by powerful bombs. But Kaladesh sealed offers a lot more depth than just racing to your best cards. The games are swingy, but you can manipulate those swings with a well-crafted deck of commons and uncommons. Kaladesh does have higher variance, both because of the swingy cards and the Goldilocks mana situation—you need to draw just the right number of lands, not too many or too few. It’s a volatile environment, but a prepared player can do well.

That said, it’s nice to get some bombs.

Oh boy, Bant food again!

Creatures (17)
Eddytrail Hawk
Aviary Mechanic
Kujar Seedsculptor
Glint-Sleeve Artisan
Architect of the Untamed
Ghirapur Guide
Fairgrounds Warden
Highspire Artisan
Peema Outrider
Thriving Ibex
Wild Wanderer
Multiform Wonder
Riparian Tiger
Cultivator of Blades

Spells (6)
Prophetic Prism
Blossoming Defense
Revoke Privileges
Skywhaler’s Shot
Hunt the Weak
Appetite for the Unnatural
Lands (17)

Sideboard (33)
Shrewd Negotiation
Decoction Module
Eddytrail Hawk
Trusty Companion
Eager Construct
Sage of Shaila’s Claim
Iron League Steed
Bastion Mastodon
Highspire Artisan
Fairgrounds Trumpeter
Ninth Bridge Patrol
Dukhara Peafowl
Acrobatic Maneuver
Ornamental Courage
Larger than Life
Commencement of Festivities
Aradara Express
Prakhata Pillar-Bug
Blooming Marsh
Die Young
Hazardous Conditions
Unlicensed Disintegration
Welding Sparks
Aether Meltdown
Ceremonious Rejection

My pool was very deep, but didn’t have anything to truly dominate a game. Multiform Wonder is a borderline bomb, and it helped me win a lot of games, but it’s no gearhulk. I consider this deck an eight out of ten on the Hugh Kramer patented sealed deck scale. I felt like I’d at least have a shot against the overpowered decks while dominating the rest of the field.

My assessment was correct. Unfortunately, my first two rounds after byes put me against absurd decks. I played well, and came close to winning game three in one of the matches, but there wasn’t much I could do. Quickly I was 2-2, but I regrouped. From there, I won everything except a painful round seven where I only managed to beat a turn five Nissa in one of the three games.

I felt great all day, going deep on sideboarding and generally outplaying my opponents. It was some of the best Magic I’ve played, and a lot of fun. I had hoped to make a deep run in the tournament, and I was prepared to do it, but it didn’t work out. Still, 6-3 secured my spot at the day two draft tables. I’ll take free professional drafts in a sweet and established format.

Kaladesh is a powerful draft format that is suprisingly well-balanced between aggressive and controlling strategies. As I expected, energy provides a new axis to distribute cards among archetypes, which means that you need to read signals for more than just color. As you view your packs, note whether they have more aggressive or controlling cards. This is especially important after the first six picks, when the good stuff is gone. You can get a sense of not just what will be open for you, but what your opponents are trying to do. This helps guide your choices on marginal card decisions, and makes your deck better.

I took this approach for draft one of day two, and here is the result:

The Rai Stuff

Creatures (14)
Bomat Courier
Aether Theorist
Curio Vendor
Consulate Skygate
Whirler Virtuoso
Janjeet Sentry
Vedalken Blademaster
Weldfast Monitor
Spontaneous Artist
Territorial Gorger
Weldfast Wingsmith
Wayward Giant
Hightide Hermit

Spells (10)
Shaeeli Rai
Era of Innovation
Consulate Surveillance
Select for Inspection
Welding Sparks
Chandra’s Pyrohelix
Glimmer of Genius
Prophetic Prism
Fireforger’s Puzzleknot
Sky Skiff
Lands (16)
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (17)
Renegade Freighter
Built to Smash
Ruinous Gremlin
Waywar Giant
Giant Spectacle
Inventor’s Goggles
Incendiary Sabotage
Tezzeret’s Ambition
Failed Inspection
Aetherflux Reservoir
Dramatic Reversal
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Tasseled Dromedary
Restoration Gearsmith
Dukhara Scavenger
Ambitious Aetherborn

Saheeli Rai was my first pick of the draft—lucky me—with nothing else worth taking except Ovalchase Daredevil. I hadn’t played with her in Limited before, but I had played against her a few times, so I knew she could be sweet in a Temur energy shell. Green was not open, but I was able to assemble a strong blue-red energy deck with flexibility to go between control and aggro roles as needed. I built the main deck toward control because the aggro cards were heavily drafted and blue was open.

I’d never before played a Curio Vendor, let alone two, but it was a perfect card. Not because they are good, but because I got them in the final picks of packs, freeing me from having to take two drops early. Bad 2/1s crew Renegade Freighter (leaving it in my board was too cute, I think) and trade happily for 3/2s. Territorial Gorger was another card I usually skip over, but it worked well enough here. Using unwanted cards like these helps enable a broader sideboard strategy because you get a deeper pool of playable cards. You can take sideboard cards earlier, or take chances on splash cards, knowing you won’t be stuck hunting for playables in pack three.

The deck played out really well. I stomped over my red-black aggro opponent in the first game of round ten. I was in the process of doing the same in game two when he played Skysovereign and I barely lost. Same thing happened game three. After that, I cruised through the other two rounds, beating a Bant fliers deck and a sweet green-black Durable Handicraft deck.

Losing the first round kept me away from the top decks in our pod, which I assume were either aggressive or over-the-top control. I would have liked to play against those decks, but my three matches were all sweet. I enjoyed sideboarding back and forth, bringing in the Built to Smashes and Freighter etc for the play, going more reactive on the draw, or whatever felt best for the situation.

After round twelve, I was 8-4 with very bad tiebreakers, meaning I could get a pro point or two but no shot at cash. A snowstorm was engulfing Milwaukee and nearby Chicago, ruining air travel for everyone. My original flight had been canceled, but as luck would have it, I got a seat on a 4:30 direct flight back to Denver. It meant I had to drop before the second draft. That sucked because I would play professional drafts of Kaladesh pretty much forever if given the chance, but sometimes you have to get out of town while you still can. At least I got to go out on top with one of the most fun decks I’ve played.

Kaladesh draft is a marvel to behold. I am so happy I got the opportunity to play a Limited Grand Prix in December with these awesome cards. The upcoming Grand Prix schedule has many late-season opportunities. Let us hope we continue to get them.

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

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