Kaladesh: Chandra, Pyrogenius Review (Part 1 of 2)
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 Pack? Their 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!
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!