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Observations on the Instant-Speed Tricks in Kaladesh


Kaladesh has 33 instants and one creature with Flash. Let's see if we can find some patterns in that list, so we don't have to memorize all of them. Let's start by categorizing the spells into five categories:

  • Instant-speed creatures: Flash creatures, token generators, and spells that let you play creatures at instant speed.
  • Removal: This includes bounce, tapping, and other temporary removal.
  • Pump/protection: Pump spells primarily affect combat by giving a creature +M/+N, while protection spells are primarily used to save a creature from removal or an unfavorable combat by giving it Hexproof, Protection from a color, or preventing damage. However, +M/+N can save creatures from removal, and protection from a color can help creatures survive combat, so I combine these categories.
  • Counterspells.
  • Other: Everything else, including card draw and life gain. While they can sometimes be relevant, I don't tend to play around these cards in Limited.
  TOTAL Instant-speed
Creatures
Removal Pump/Protection Counterspells Other Spells in "Other" Category
White 6   3 3      
Blue 12 1 3   5 3 Dramatic Reversal, Glimmer of GeniusParadoxical Outcome
Black 5   4* 2*      
Red 6   5 1   1  
Green 4   1 2   1 Commencement of Festivities
Multicolor 1   1        
TOTAL 34 1 17 8 5 4  

* Subtle Strike is counted as both removal and pump, since it has one mode that does each.

I don't usually tend to play around counterspells and cards in the Other category since they don't usually affect the board. While you may want to play around Dramatic Reversal and Commencement of Festivities on occasion, let's ignore these for now. Doing so brings the total down from 34 to 26. One of these is a creature with Flash, a third are pump spells, and the rest are removal spells.

White and Red have the most, each having six instant-speed tricks that we care about, while Green has the least with only three.

Instant-Speed Removal

There are 17 removal spells in Kaladesh, and each color has at least one:

  • White has a varied removal suite: tap a creature, three damage to an attacker or blocker, and removal for a creature with power three or greater.
  • Blue has two bounce spells, both Commons: one bounces a tapped creature and the other can bounce any permanent but also requires you to bounce a permanent you control (similar to Peel from Reality). It also has an Aura with Flash that gives the enchanted creature or Vehicle -4/-0.
  • Black has four removal spells: two affect one-toughness creatures, one kills three-toughness creatures, and one is a five-mana unconditional removal spell.
  • Red has five removal spells, most of which do three or more damage: one does damage equal to the number of artifacts you control plus three, one gives you three energy counters and then does one damage for each energy counter you spend, and one does three damage to all creatures. In addition, there's an instant that does two damage as you choose among one or two creatures or players, and a Rare that does damage equal to the number of cards in your hand. There're no instants that let you borrow or steal a creature.
  • Green has an instant that destroys an artifact or enchantment. This is the only instant that destroys non-creature artifacts, although Aether Tradewinds can also bounce an artifact and Aether Meltdown can also enchant Vehicles.

There are a number of ways to kill one-toughness creatures, and Chandra's Pyrohelix and Make Obsolete let you kill multiple one-toughness creatures, so you should consider playing around those if you have multiple one-toughness creatures on the table, especially against Red since Chandra's Pyrohelix is a Common.

Instant-Speed Pump/Protection

There are eight instant-speed pump/protection effects in Kaladesh, all but one of which are Common. Six of these give a single creature +M/+N and an ability, although two only grant the ability to artifact creatures and one of those can only target attacking creatures. The two spells that don't fit this pattern are both White: Inspired Charge gives all your creatures +2/+1 and Acrobatic Maneuver "flickers" a creature (exiles it and returns it to play immediately).

Half the pump spells cost one mana, and of these, one gives a creature Hexproof and another makes artifact creatures indestructible. One of the two mana pump spells also make the creature indestructible, so when casting removal spells, be aware that there are multiple ways for opponents to protect their creatures.

Instant-Speed Creatures

Kaladesh has fewer creatures that can be cast at instant-speed than most recent formats. Torrential Gearhulk is the only creature that can be cast at instant speed, and it's a Mythic. The only other way to generate instant-speed creatures that isn't apparent from the board state is if you use Acrobatic Maneuver to exile a creature with Fabricate or another creature that creates creature tokens when it enters the battlefield.

However, there are three other ways your opponent can block even if all their creatures are tapped:

  • Acrobatic Maneuver flickers a creature and it comes back into play untapped and so can block. If it is used to flicker a creature with Fabricate or that otherwise creates creature tokens when it comes into play, it can potentially create multiple blockers.
  • Ornamental Courage untaps a creature and gives it +1/+3.
  • Dramatic Reversal untaps all nonland permanents you control. 

Counterspells

Blue has five counterspells, two Commons, two Uncommons, and a Rare. There's one each at one, two, and three mana, and two at four mana. The one mana Uncommon counters colorless spells, the two mana Common is a bad Mana Leak and counters a non-artifact spell unless its controller pays two mana, and the three and four mana counterspells all require two Blue mana and are hard counters that can counter any spell.

I don't usually tend to maindeck counterspells in draft, or play around them. Relative to other sets, Kaladesh has particularly strong creatures, so I think counterspells are even weaker than they usually are in draft, but Ceremonious Rejection is worth drafting for your sideboard.

Conclusion

Kaladesh has relatively few instant-speed tricks compared to other large sets. White and Red have six each, Black has five, Blue has four, and Green has three. Some things to note:

  • Black and Red both have ways of killing multiple one-toughness creatures at instant speed.
  • Six of the eight pump spells in the format give a creature +M/+N and an ability, although two only grant the ability to artifact creatures, and one of these two can only target attacking creatures. Four of these six spells cost one mana.
  • The only instant-speed creature in the set is Torrential Gearhulk, which is a Mythic. However, you can also use Acrobatic Maneuver on a creature with Fabricate or that otherwise creates creature tokens when it comes into play.
  • There are a number of spells that have incidental life gain, which can be relevant when you're considering an alpha strike: Appetite for the Unnatural gains two life, Essence Extraction gains three life, and Tidy Conclusion gains life equal to the number of artifacts its caster controls. In addition, Rush of Vitality gives a creature lifelink and Commencement of Festivities prevents all combat damage to players.

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