Know Yourself: Why Kaladesh is King

Hello, and welcome to another addition of know yourself. I just came hot off of the world championship finals, and by hot, I mean HOT. Something has been eating me up for a very, very long time, and this championship is just the final part for me to finally speak up as to what I have been feeling for a long time. I am ready and happy to receive the flack that is coming my way, should it, and that is fine. As a student of game design, I would like to also preface that this is purely my opinion and not at all a reflection on the wizards team as a whole. As a budding designer, I make no pretenses as to being wiser than WOTC, but do see some issues, namely the one I aim to look at today.

Kaladesh is a poorly designed magic set.

I know that isn’t a new thought, as people have been whining about certain cards in the magic expansion for years. And while I as a player can forgive certain things from a design perspective, perfect examples being a mistake like Felidar Guardian and Aetherworks Marvel being a card designed to push the playability of mythics(which has been rolled back as a design tactic for Ixalan), I am talking about the root of the problem, which often in design is what is wrong with games and card sets from the very beginning. Energy is far too powerful.

So lets break this down. Why is energy warping standard more (hopefully) than intended?

Well, it comes down to resource management and card consideration.

The resource management part is one part of a fundamental half of this problem. Energy as a mechanic in a set simply introduces a resource that non energy decks cannot utilize or interact with. Think about magic: what of your opponents can you interact with? Life total, creatures, spells, lands, hands, libraries,graveyards, exile, and even their mental state.(if you’re particularly mean) notice anything not on that list? Energy. Sure, you can force your opponent to spend energy to prevent certain things you are doing, but you cannot cast a spell, tap a creature, or use an ability to directly interact with a players energy counters outside of simple prevention (in the form of solemnity). There is not even a card that says (one black, target player loses 5 energy). That doesn’t even exist in magic.

Energy not only cannot physically be interacted with, energy cards are also parasitic. If you are playing energy cards, it is very likely that you are playing an energy deck. It is near impossible to find a deck that is playing energy cards that is not an “energy” deck. The only card that is universal in non-energy decks is aether hub for fixing mana in greedy decks and modern combo decks replacing Tendo Ice Bridge. This kind of design is warping to the game: If the best thing to do is energy, everything will be energy. And I understand that energy wanted to be pushed, that is completely fine: energy cards are fun to play with. But playing non-energy cards in an energy deck is barely occurring unless they are the best possible card for the mana slot, i.e. glorybringer and The Scarab God.

Following this, energy cards are just generally more powerful than other cards. The card consideration is no longer needed in standard, since they generate more cards that anything else worth doing. I break down this argument like this: how do you as a player value these effects for generic cost, no color required? For example, lets look at three effects: a +1/+1 counter and hexproof, a +1/+1 counter, and a 1/1 flier. Let’s assume these are all instant speed spells. Now, I can’t assume that every player values these things the same, but we CAN see what wizards sees these cards at from a design perspective.

For the first one, lets assume that the +1/+1 counter is worth half a card, since the removal of the enchantment is similar to erase and that card is only one white mana. (also this effect is half of rangers guile, a one mana spell) This may be wrong, but I can’t find another analog at this given moment. The other two effects, the flier and the counter and hexproof, are worth one mana and one card. Do you see where the problem in here lies?

If you cast a bristling hydra, a Whirler virtuoso, and an attune with aether followed by longtusk cub, (assume you’re playing a stock temur list and have had a pretty standard curve) not only does the attune with aether just replace itself, you also have overall generated 2.5 cards worth of effects by naturally playing your deck. You didn’t have to put in the effort, you generate three mana and nearly three cards, all at instant speed, without any penalty. This is why decks like U/B control and mono red are the two contenders outside of the temur midrange deck: U/B control (can answer the temur cards before those additional effects are generated) and ramunap red(who has to kill before these effects are useful) people are crying for a reason as to why Ixalan isn’t seeing that much standard play. It isn’t that Ixalan is bad, why, Ixalan is one of the best sets I’ve seen in a while. But none of that matters when extremely degenerate parasitic mechanics are ruling the rest of the format. Ripjaw Raptor and Kopala, Warden of Waves don’t generate extra cards and effects on their own. Near every effect in the kaladesh block does, naturally, without effort.

But what you do think? Let me know in the comments!

-Forrest W.

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