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September 22, 2016

21

Kaladesh: Chandra, Pyrogenius Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

So goes one of the more quotable lines from The Who’s 1971 classic song, Won’t Get Fooled Again, and it’s been the anthem of sorts around Ertai’s Lament Towers as we prepare for the arrival of Kaladesh and- more significantly- a passing of the preconstructed baton.

First introduced in 2008 with Shards of Alara, the Intro Pack has passed into history, joining the Theme Deck, Event Deck, and Clash Pack in a sort of “Jedi ghost” outro a la the end of Return of the Jedi and the Ewok village.

The Intro Pack had a difficult job to do, since it was geared towards new, returning, and casual players, but as an official Magic deck subject to judgment from the more established playerbase it was subjected to criticism from a market it was never intended to appeal to. The usually superb Tolarian Community College may have hammered home a nail in the Intro Pack’s coffin, with the video Is it worth it to buy an Intro PackTheir answer was ‘no,’ of course, but then if you were looking at an Intro Pack through the lens of “EV,” you really weren’t what the product was intended for.

So can Wizards split the difference with the new Planeswalker Deck? Early indications are that they’ve found the right solution to appeal to a broader spectrum of the playerbase in that the decks have new, deck-exclusive cards that have never before seen print. Wizards experimented with new cards in a supplemental product back in the Commander 2011 release, and it was an instant hit. Certainly that gives the Planeswalker Decks better than even odds on making it- especially since one of the new cards is a Planeswalker. Sure, it’s a “weaker” or “casual-balanced” Planeswalker, but it’s a Planeswalekr nonetheless.

And with Wizards of the Coast’s movement towards a more branded and marketable ‘face’ with the Gatewatch, that goes a long way.

So here at Ertai’s Lament Towers, it’s business as usual. Precons: they make ’em, we review ’em. But we’ll doff our caps for a moment at the demise at a number of preconstructed product lines…and then tear in eagerly into the next generation!

KAL_Cha.png

One of the first things you’ll notice about Chandra, Pyrogenius‘s suite of creatures is that they’re cheap. Most preconstructed decks offer things for you to do in the earlier turns of the game, but far fewer are so consistently populated with creatures able to be played in the early-to-mid-game. Very few of the deck’s creatures cost more than three mana.

Our first two creatures are the Speedway Fanatic and Gearshift Ace, delightfully modern-sounding names for a fantasy game. Like Allies, these carry a new and flavorful creature type, “Pilot,” that gives clear indication of their job in the deck. Indeed, these are basically the same card- a 2/1 body with a color-relevant special ability, that conveys that ability onto any Vehicle you nudge them towards. In some ways, these evoke Eldritch Moon’s emerge mechanic by turning a smaller creature into a larger threat. Fortunately for the Pilots, this isn’t a one-way ticket.

You get one of each of these Pilots, and a pair of Trusty Companions. One doesn’t normally think of hyenas as pets, but a two-mana vigilant 3/2 isn’t a bad companion to have. Of course, for tht kind of strength for the cost there has to be a drawback, and in the Companion’s case it cannot attack or block alone. We’ve seen this sort of restriction before, typically in Red (see: Mogg Flunkies, Howlpack Wolf), but with only 10 non-Creature or non-Vehicle spells in the deck, you shouldn’t typically experience a shortage of volunteers to walk your Hyena.

The final two-drop is the Veteran Motorist, a Pilot of a different sort. Rather than passing through a relevant keyword to any Vehicle he’s assigned to, the two-colored Motorist gives you two different abilities. First, you get to scry 2 when he enters the battlefield, which can help filter away a bad draw. In addition, when he crews a Vehicle, he gives it a +1/+1 buff- not a bad way of showing what a veteran’s hands at the wheel is capable of.

That’s it for the two-drops…and the Pilots. From here out, we get a bit more diversity of approach, beginning with a Weldfast Monitor. The same size as the Companion, the Monitor can be given menace to make it more difficult for your opponent to block. This can be surprisingly useful when you have so many creatures at your disposal, as it can complicate blocking assignments for your opponent.

Next up is still another 3/2 creature, the Renegade Firebrand. This creature represents the other direction of the deck- the Planeswalker theme. A new card not released in Kaladesh, the Firebrand is new to this Planeswalker Deck and is designed to reinforce your Planeswalker card. With Chandra, Pyrogenius on the board, these become three-mana 4/2’s with first strike- a fantastic deal.

Another quality candidate for driving is next in the Spireside Infiltrator. Although not a Pilot, this Human Rogue pings your opponent each time they become tapped. And since crewing a Vehicle taps them in the process, it’s a very useful tandem to squeeze out a little more damage output for your opponent.

By contrast, the Brazen Scourge– a 3/3 with haste– seems almost simple by comparison. No fancy tricks here, just a solid beater than can start punching your opponent in the face with a Gremliny fist on turn 3. The double-Red in the casting cost won’t make this fully reliable in this two-color deck, but when your manabase lines up this is one card you’ll be delighted to see.

The final three-drop on offer here is the Aerial Responder, a bit of an odd man dwarf out. In a deck with offensively-statted creatures, a more defensive-minded 2/3- and with lifelink, no less- is a curiosity. Thanks to flying, you’ll often be able to get in for some early damage, and every hit pads your life total a little more.

At the top of the mana curve- top being a relative term here- we find a four-drop Snare Thopter, which is a (what else) 3/2 body with flying and haste. There’s also a 3/4 flying creature in the Skyswirl Harrier…and that’s pretty much it. A little extra reach in the air is a nice hedge in case your troops on the ground aren’t getting it done, and while they might not be the splashiest of top-of-curve cards, they’ll do a shift all the same.

Either Crash or Win the Race

What ties the deck together (okay, besides the Planeswalker) are the seven Artifacts it brings with it- the Vehicles. This is a new Kaladesh mechanic which lets you tap your creatures to crew a Vehicle, transforming it from an inert hunk of metal into a creature-like threat. Take, for instance, the Sky Skiff. It has a crew value of 1, meaning if you tap a 1-power creature (or larger), you can turn the Skiff into a 2/3 flying creature.

Often in Magic, decks with a lot of smaller creatures see themselves begin to lose potency in the midgame. That 2/2 you got on turn 2 is useful, but when your opponent starts dropping 3/3’s, your window of victory begins to close unless you have another plan. Vehicles are certainly an option for that, since they let effectively “buff” the smaller creature into something larger or more useful. And since any creatures you use to crew a vessel aren’t destroyed if the vessel falls to misadventure (unlike, say, an Aura), you’re free to use them again and again.

The deck gives you a pair of Sky Skiffs, which can help augment an aerial strategy. The Renegade Freighter is a train that turns sideways as a 5/4 with trample. And while, yes, it needs to be piloted, it only requires the services of a pair of 1/1’s or a 2/2, and costs a very reasonable 3 mana. To be sure, there’s a hidden cost with this mechanic: a creature you own effectively skips its own attack phase (or ability to defend, if you’re the one being attacked).

But still, there’s a lot of upside. The Bomat Bazaar Barge costs four mana, and replaces itself in your hand when cast. Historically, four mana is the cost of card draw (see: Jayemdae Tome), but while the Barge only nets you one card, it leaves you with a beefy 5/5 body ready to go. Then there’s the Fleetwheel Cruiser, a 5/3 with trample and haste that essentially enters the battlefield on “autopilot,” getting one free crew-less activation.

Finally, there’s the Ovalchase Dragster, a sort of riff on the old Ball Lightning template. A 6/1 with trample and haste that only needs 1 power to crew it to life is very aggressive, even if it’s almost guaranteed to meet its end the first time you turn it sideways thanks to that 1 toughness.

Of course, the deck gives you some answers to that. Built to Last is a pump spell, but one that gives its target indestructible if it happens to be an Artifact Creature (which all Vehicles are when they’re activated).

You also have a bit of burn to clear out any would-be defenders. Flame Lash is four mana for four points of damage at instant speed. That’s a decent bit of impact, but you’ll want to pretend you’ve never heard of Lightning Bolt whenever you cast it. Trust us, you’ll feel loads better that way. Fateful Showdown and Liberating Combustion also let you deal some direct damage, with a card advantage upside. For Fateful Showdown, you get to Wheel away your hand in hopes of drawing something better, while Combustion lets you tutor up Chandra, Pyrogenius from your library.

And Chandra’s the missing ingredient here. She doesn’t do anything particularly special in terms of synergizing with the deck, since she’s one of the new Planeswalkers designed to be simple and straightforward for the Planeswalker Decks. But if we’re looking at the basics, you’ve got the good ones covered: damage your opponent; damage your opponent’s creature; damage your opponent and their creatures.

Interestingly, the old Intro Pack-level manabase is still intact here, with a Red/White creature-based attacking deck somehow still wanting twenty-five lands. Four of them are Stone Quarries, though, which can help a bit with the mana fixing.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how this new construction looks on the battlefield. We’ll next be looking at the Nissa deck, which is focused around the Energy mechanic. See you then!

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21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Icehawk
    Sep 22 2016

    So they made walkers specifically for these? I figured there’d be 2 in each set who weren’t as “good” and would be used for this. Interesting. Means we’re going to have a lot of walkers, many probably cheap.

    Of chandra what can I say? She’s Chandra. Kind of know what you’re getting when you see her. Burn baby burn. 🙂

    Reply
    • Sep 22 2016

      Yep! The walkers are product-specific for these. They’re designed more for casual play rather than Standard, though they are technically Standard-legal. Same with the other two new cards in the deck that interact with her.

      Reply
      • Icehawk
        Sep 23 2016

        Oh? 2 more cards too. Interesting. Can’t wait then for when its based around a walker I like to use in EDH.

        Reply
    • Jenesis
      Sep 22 2016

      Yeah. There’s a new Chandra and Nissa in these decks, and a new Chandra and Nissa in the Kaladesh set. If you do a line-by-line comparison the precon ones are demonstrably worse in just about every single way.

      Reply
  2. Awesome! I like how they decided to take the two big things in set (energy and vehicles) and managed to get them to work in what I think is a pretty flavorful as opposed to a stupidly clunky way

    Reply
  3. Morten Dall
    Sep 26 2016

    It is nice to see the planeswalkers being available to new players, as they are such a significant part of the face of magic now. However, I think that was a niche being covered nicely by Duel decks. I think a significant loss is the color limitation in only having two decks. One thing that really hooked me on magic when I learned to play, was to buy all 5 intro packs, and really get a feeling for what each color could and couldn’t do . This is no longer an option, with no Black intro product, and with white/blue reduced to supporting colors…

    It is elegant if they manage to showcase vehicles and energy, but who is that focus really for? New players, trying to learn magic? This is a highlight of the set, not an intro to magic in general. I can’t help but feel this is a weird compromise in trying to fuse the base set intros with the block intros, trying to appeal to new players with a flashy planeswalker, but failing to show what the identity of the colors really are… Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old man who dislikes change.

    Reply
    • I mean, I’m sure next block will have Black, blue, and white as the larger colors to try to balance it out, but I agree – I do sort of like having every color available.

      As for the “who is the for” intro stuff, I think the major problem is how the magic community is working these days – you can’t put good cards in these products (especially playsets of good cards) because then no one will buy packs, or some seedier stores/ebay sellers will buy them up and sell the cards individually. Sadly, there isn’t really much that can be done about THAT aspect of it… we’ll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out. As much as I like the idea about these (I can’t wait to pick them up on Friday and play them) the more I see online, the more I think these will go the way of clash packs

      Reply
    • Icehawk
      Sep 28 2016

      I’d be happy if at the start of each block, there was a Duel Deck. Two decks that show off the set that give you the flavor, a nice starting set of cards, a pair of decks, and all that jazz. A nice preview of the set and its themes.

      Then you’d have the 2 walker decks with the first set, that you specifically target to colors not covered by the Duel Deck. So I’m thinking.

      Block: Set 1: Duel Deck plus 2 Walker Decks of colors not covered in DD.
      Set 2: 1 or 2 Walker decks of colors not covered in the above.
      Both colorwise to the best of their ability.

      Walker Duel Decks could be like a Summer special thing like commander is becoming the year end thing.

      Just a crazy thought I had.

      We got Nissa vs Ob (love it but…) when I’d have much preferred a preview of the new set. This set snuck up on me, because the stuff I collect, duel decks, didn’t even touch it. I don’t even know if we’re getting one related to it.

      If we’re not getting core sets anymore, if we’re not getting a set of intro packs, I think Wizards, I almost said Blizz…, needs to put these Duel Decks to bigger use.

      Reply
      • Icehawk
        Sep 28 2016

        Yeah, that was random, but y’all got me thinking. xD

        Reply
        • Morten Dall
          Sep 29 2016

          I don’t think it was random, I think it was a good suggestion! Personally, I stopped buying duel decks, and began building casual decks around the various themes of the block instead. But if they made duel decks a special summer thing, I might start doing it again. I really loved coalition vs. phyrexia because it showed a piece of magic history – if they started making duel decks with key events in magic’s history, I would definetely be on board!

          It is a good point that the third-part market has made it very difficult to print good cards. This is frustrating if you are a casual collector – I love the From the Vault series, but the high price tag just makes it such a hard purchase to justify.

          Perhaps it would make more sense to make intro decks, which aren’t really part of standard, but instead is an evergreen deck of that color? After all, you can’t really buy these new decks and expect to compete with it. If it works for commander, it might also work to reel new players into the hobby…

          Reply
          • I think the problem with making them evergreen is that a person couldn’t theoretically buy one and enter an FNM or game day (they’d get rocked, but they could enter with a legal deck).

            Pokemon’s got an interesting thing going (admittedly, they only do it once every other year or so) where they essentially make good decks available as a duel deck type thing (Tolarian Community College reviewed it recently if you want to get a better idea), but I don’t think that would be possible given how huge Magic is – the average bomb rare in Pokemon is about $10, whereas Chandra’s going for, what, $50 right now?

            I’m rambling… I really like the precons, but am worried that they’ll eventually start getting phased out because competitive players want something from them that realistically won’t happen ever.

            Reply
            • Jenesis
              Sep 30 2016

              MaRo has made it pretty clear that precons are Not For players who are experienced enough to build their own decks.

              Reply
              • I know he’s said that, but that doesn’t really affect things sales-wise. I mean, look at the clash packs: 2 of the 3 are on sale for $15, while the 3rd is going for $35 because the cards are better… If all of them had a resale value of $35, they might still be going on instead of being phased out.

                Reply
            • bigfootbambam
              Jan 1 2017

              Which do you think is the best set to buy out of all of these

              Reply
      • That… actually makes a lot of sense. Which, given WotC’s weird relationship with preconstructed decks, means it probably won’t happen. So would a suggestion be something like…
        Duel Deck: The Consulate (WU) vs. The Renegades (RG)
        Walker Set 1: Chandra and Nissa
        Walker Set 2: Tezzeret and Liliana

        Cuz I would buy the HELL out of that.

        Reply
        • Icehawk
          Sep 30 2016

          Me too! I love teh DD’s where it’s PvC or Izzert vs Golghari (I killed that). A strong theme. Don’t give me Speed vs Cunning. Give me Jeskai vs Mardu(?).

          le sigh.

          Reply
  4. signofzeta
    Sep 30 2016

    I’d rather have each set come with 4 precons. 2 with planeswalkers in them, 2 with legendary creatures in them.

    They also fail with the packaging. I know I asked them for a deckbox to hold the cards in, but what good is a deckbox that is too large for naked cards, but too small for sleeved cards?

    Reply
    • Icehawk
      Oct 2 2016

      I’d like more precons too, but it seems like they’re shifting away from intro packs. Maybe we’ll get more “special” products in their place. Maybe they’re just cutting costs. Probably more of the latter.

      Reply
      • signofzeta
        Oct 2 2016

        I don’t care what they put in it or what they name the product, as long as there are 4 set associated precons. The 4 precons don’t have to be the same product, as long as all 4 precons have the same power level as one another, and all 4 cost under $15 MSRP.

        My real complaint. I don’t get how they could fail so hard with the packaging. You’ve seen the packaging for theme decks right? Why don’t they put the deck, and strategy guide and quick reference guide, in the theme deck box, put that in whatever the planeswalker deck outer box is? Do you know why the box is too big for naked cards but too small for the sleeved cards? It is because of the 2 boosters. They cram the 2 boosters inside the inner box, rather than have the inner box be the same size as a the old theme deck boxes, and have the 2 boosters outside of the inner box, but inside the outer packaging.

        When I saw that the planeswalker decks come with deck boxes, I was like, “Aw yeah, they did something right”, and then when I got the planeswalker decks, I was like “they did something right, wrong”.

        Reply
        • Perhaps they’re expecting people to either a) take them out of the box, sleeve them, and then put them in a new box (I tend to do this) or b) keep the big strategy insert inside of them so that people know how to play? The size difference isn’t that terrible if you look at it through the lens of option b

          Reply
          • signofzeta
            Oct 7 2016

            With only the unsleeved cards + strategy insert + quick reference guide, the box is still too big. I know, because I used to collect theme decks and they always have the strategy insert inside the box. In this case, the 2 boosters are also inside the box, thus adding to the width. What they should have done is have a smaller box that can hold the deck, strategy guides, and rules reference card. The boosters should have been placed outside of the deckbox. The way it is set up right now, the boosters are stuffed inside the deck box. The tops and bottoms of the boosters are crumpled, kind of like fat pack boosters, compared to booster box boosters, which are straight. Intro pack boosters are also straight.

            Reply

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