Thursday, September 22, 2016

Kaladesh EDH Set Review - The Legends

Greetings, dear readers. Today I’m kicking off my Kaladesh EDH set review! We are getting a handful of potential new Legendary Creatures to choose from, so it seems logical to start there. New commanders often have the biggest impact on the format, but of course there are plenty of Legends that fail to really inspire the player base. So let’s dig into these new cards and see if we can figure out which ones are likely to spawn new decks or… not so much.

(Note: Just to be clear, this will only touch on Legendary Creatures. The set does contain a few Legendary non-creatures, but we’ll see those in with the rest of the set.)

Padeem, Consul of Innovation

Oh, where to begin. This one is a bit disappointing as far as new Legends go. I’m sure many of you are well aware of the clamor for WotC to print a U/R “Artifact” Legend, so we Izzet fans have something to do besides “Instants and Sorceries Tribal” all the damn time. Obviously, this card being spoiled led to some frowny faces among our community. I include myself in that category.

But to me this card is disappointing for other reasons. It’s a fine card, sure, and I’ll happily be slotting Padeem into my Sen Triplets and Jori En decks, most likely. But that’s why it’s a disappointment – it’s a great supporting card for an Artifact deck, but I see no reason to make Padeem your commander. Even if you want to avoid the (deserved) stigma around Memnarch or Arcum Dagsson, you’d still be better served going with Muzzio or Thada Adel.

So we have a card where the Legendary type is basically wasted on a creature that you should basically never choose as a commander. It’s fine that some Legends wind up being better in the 99 than in the Command Zone, but when we’ve been wanting “X” for a few years now, and WotC keeps printing “Close to X, but not quite”, then saying “We didn’t print X because there’s only so much room in a set…” Well, it sucks, yo. You could have just made this chick a normal, non-Legendary creature and then you’d have HAD room for a  U/R Legend that cares about Artifacts but also doesn’t suck as a Commander…

That all, said, she will be a fantastic support card in any Blue/whatever Artifact deck. Well, probably not good enough for uber-competitive Arcum decks, but the more fair decks will love her.

Gonti, Lord of Luxury

This guy, on the other hand, seems pretty reasonable in either role, as a commander or a support card. My personal preference would be to play him in Wrexial or Sen Triplets maybe, but I can definitely see some build-around potential. There aren’t a ton of these effects in mono-Black, so it’d be pretty hard to go full-on “steal yo’ shit” the way U/B can, but I’m pretty sure there are other avenues. Maybe an Eldrazi/Ingest sub-theme, along with cards like Sadistic Sacrament? Hedonist’s Trove? I’m pretty much making this up off the top of my head, so maybe that’s a bad idea, or could be a good one, I dunno. I just know that he seems solid, to me. Not likely to see Meren-levels of hype, but he’s got a lot of casual appeal and is useful and functional without being overpowered. He also seems pretty open-ended and non-linear. Like Padeem, I’m more interested into slotting him into existing decks, but unlike Padeem, I can see him also being effective as a commander.

Pia Nalaar

Put Pia and Padeem together into one card and you might have made a lot of people happy. To be fair, I think a lot of people were happy anyway, just finding out Pia was still alive! Anyway, this is an okay card, but again, one I’m pretty sure virtually no one is clamoring to build around. Again, there are just flat-out better options. The Origins version which includes both parents is one example, but if mono-Red artifacts is something you’re interested in, Pia Nalaar is probably the worst possible option you could go with.

To make matters worse, I don’t think Pia is going to be all that great even in the 99. At least Padeem was a good support card for an Artifact-focused deck, but Pia isn’t all that great. She’s not terrible, but I think she’s just sub-par enough that any play she does see will be strictly for flavor/theme reasons. Pia does still get a bit more leeway than Padeem, though, simply for story/character reasons. It’s Chandra’s mom! And we all were left to assume she died along with her husband Kiran. The reveal that Pia is still kickin’ it was a happy enough story beat that I’ll forgive the marginal-to-bad Legend in this case. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have gotten the card Cathartic Reunion without the existence of this card, and I friggin’ love Cathartic Reunion. But we’ll get to that later.

Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter

The real slap in the face is that even mono-Green is getting a (sort of) “artifacts matter” Legend before U/R does. WTF? I like that Oviya opens up some potential new design space for Green, but to what end? Green’s interaction with Artifacts is almost always antagonistic or hostile in nature. In other words, Green mostly just blows ‘em up. And even with two Mirrodin blocks before and Kaledesh now, I’m not seeing enough pro-Artifact synergy in Green to really make this archetype compelling. Perhaps by the time we’ve done another visit to Mirrodin – sorry, New Phyrexia – and Kaladesh, green will have enough support to make this an actual, real deck. Probably not, though. In the end, Oviya seems to be about as close to a strictly-worse Rhys the Redeemed as you can get without actually being strictly worse.

The funny this is that she really isn’t as Artifact-themed as she appears. She makes artifacts but in no other way does she synergize with Artifacts or reward you for playing more Artifacts. So really she’s just a generic tokens commander in disguise. Lame.

Kambal, Consul of Allocation

You know what’s odd about this set? We’re getting seven new commanders, and six of them are rare. Only one is mythic. They’ve done plenty of Legends at normal-rare but they tend to be the exception that proves the rule. But for some reason, this set is all about non-mythic Legends. Perhaps that explains why so many of these new Legends feel like they would play better in the 99 than at the helm of an EDH deck.

Kambal is certainly not unplayable as a commander, but neither is he particularly compelling. Anyone already running an Oloro, Karlov or Ayli deck should be pretty thrilled to run this guy in their decks, but I don’t foresee multitudes of Kambal decks popping up on EDHREC. There will be some, yes, and he’s at least a better option that Pia or Padeem. But at the end of the day he’s pretty “meh” – yet another W/B life-drain guy.

But as a Karlov player myself, I’m still pretty happy to see Kambal. But like Padeem I just kinda wish he was a non-Legendary creature and we’d got something truly interesting in his slot.

Depala, Pilot Exemplar

I mean, if you were hankering for a Dwarf tribal commander, and also kinda wished for your dwarves to be able to drive cars, today is your lucky day. There’s exactly one deck this Legend enables, but at least it’s a new deck. I mean it is still just another flavor of Boros Beatdown, but it’s a pretty different take on that flavor. I guess. I’m glad they finally brought back Dwarves, but I’m not a fan of the whole Vehicle shtick so tying them mechanically to Vehicles definitely hampers my enthusiasm. So much so that I’m already bored talking about Depala. Let’s move on.

Rashmi, Eternities Crafter

And here we have our one mythic Legendary. It certainly seems worthy of its upgraded rarity, I’ll give it that. If I seem cool on Rashmi it’s only because I haven’t figured out what, exactly, I want to do with her. She’s a value engine, and a pretty good one at that, and I do love me some value. I absolutely adore grindy, value-oriented decks. And I greatly enjoy durdling around, slowly burying my opponents in incremental card advantage. That seems to be exactly what Rashmi wants to do… but how, specifically? That’s what I can’t figure out. You could certainly just jam a U/G Good Stuff list and probably do well with that, but that just seems so… boring.

But I digress. I’m focusing way too much on my own localized reaction to her. Overall I think Rashmi is likely to be the most heavily-played, at least as a commander. Unlike her normal-rare counterparts, she seems much better as a commander you’d build around rather than in the 99 of an existing deck. I’m sure she’ll appear in the odd Edric or Ezuri list now and then, but you really want reliable access to her for that value engine to perform.

So Rashmi is one of those rare Legends that feels strongly “build around me” but doesn’t actually suggest or point to any one clear theme. This is actually a good thing! Open-endedness is generally a desireable trait in a commander. But with an open-ended Legend like Rashmi it helps if you already kinda have a deck idea in mind and just want a commander that fits. But when you don’t already have a deck that’s just waiting on a suitable leader, you want something that at least provides a bit of direction or theme.

Overall, I wouldn’t call this motley crew the most exciting or compelling batch of legends, but none of them are completely awful. It’s a bit of a shame that so many of them seem better in the 99 than leading their own deck. But on the other hand, they all have at least a marginal degree of playability in the format.  It also probably doesn’t help that this set is coming so close on the heels of Conspiracy 2, which had some fantastic (or at least powerful) Legends and was one of the most EDH-friendly sets ever printed. That’s bound to happen when you compare a set that must be balanced for constructed play to one that doesn’t have such restrictions in place.

I’m sure Wizards will blow our minds with the upcoming Commander decks, so it’s ultimately not that big a deal that we didn’t get a bunch of outright slam dunks. And who knows, one of them might prove to be a sleeper hit and outperform expectations. Meanwhile the rest of the set contains plenty of EDH goodies, which I will highlight in upcoming posts. And that’s not even touching on the Masterpiece series…

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