It's the most wonderful time of the year. That's right, the time of year where we eat more calories in a sitting than a typical day. The time of year we spend buying gifts for family members we see once or twice a year. But most importantly, the time of year we get to see previews for the next Magic set, in this case Aether Revolt.
Now, as of the time I'm writing this, there are only a few cards previewed and without a doubt there'll be some more coming up in between me writing this and when this is published. That said, I'm pretty excited about a few cards I have seen so far.
I'm going to get right to my favorite, Heart of Kiran.
Heart of Kiran to me looks blatantly powerful: a two-mana Vehicle that is difficult to crew with some creatures but perfectly templated with most of the creatures we already see in Vehicles decks. When crewed by a Veteran Motorist or Depala, Pilot Exemplar, Heart of Kiran can even attack freely into open Archangel Avacyn mana without fear of getting beaten up in combat.
The first thought that entered my mind when seeing this preview wasn't how good it was with planeswalkers but how good it is against them. Planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Liliana, the Last Hope; and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar all enter the battlefield and often pass the turn with only four loyalty left. Heart of Kiran chomps them up in a single attack phase, where it would normally take a Smuggler's Copter an additional attack. This is an extremely scary place to be when you've planned your turns around deploying an early planeswalker.
Another extremely important factor with Heart of Kiran is that it outsizes Smuggler's Copter. Being able to fight through a Smuggler's Copter and also block it effectively after attacking thanks to vigilance makes Heart of Kiran keep a Smuggler's Copter obsolete in the skies on both offense and defense.
Being a 4/4 gives Heart of Kiran protection from a Harnessed Lightning with no energy floating around. Not only that, we've already said we'll see Heart of Kiran played with Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar. When crewed by either of these creatures, Heart of Kiran will also be able to survive a Grasp of Darkness, thanks to the pilot's abilities going on the stack after they crew the Vehicle, making it a 5/5 before it even becomes a creature.
Vigilance alongside the ability to crew this Vehicle with planeswalker loyalty is what excites me most. We can crew Heart of Kiran with a planeswalker on offense and defense. Threat of activation is a term we use in Magic, meaning that we don't necessarily need to even activate an ability for it to get value or utility. Heart of Kiran is a perfect example of this. Though we may only use one loyalty on a planeswalker a turn to attack, threat of activation is going to provide us a blocker as well. This makes it difficult for creatures to attack into our Heart of Kiran if we have any planeswalkers on the battlefield, ultimately giving planeswalkers extra protection.
I will caution you: there will be some awkward scenarios where a creature attacks into a planeswalker with one more loyalty than the creature's power, meaning that, if we activate the Heart of Kiran and get it destroyed before it can block, we may lose our planeswalker as well. That said, I see Heart of Kiran playing a huge role in Standard, mostly alongside Smuggler's Copter for some redundancy in aggressive vehicle decks.
The biggest downside with Heart of Kiran is that it's legendary. We may not play four of this card so as to not get flooded with them, but I still expect to play two or three in all the decks looking to play any, and I may still end up on four if it's as good as it appears to be.
Here are some initial builds that come to mind.
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- 4 Depala, Pilot Exemplar
- 1 Pia Nalaar
- 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
This is a traditional W/R Vehicles deck with Heart of Kiran included to add more "turn 1 Toolcraft Exemplar, turn 2 flying Vehicle" draws. These are the hardest draws to beat out of Vehicles and the redundancy we get with both Smuggler's Copter and Heart of Kiran adds a ton of consistency. Every creature in the deck can by itself crew Heart of Kiran except for Thraben Inspector.
A deck like R/B Aggro will have a more difficult time crewing Heart of Kiran because Inventor's Apprentice and Bomat Courier aren't effective in doing so like they are with Smuggler's Copter. I think we will see more of a lean towards W/R-style Vehicles decks to take advantage of this new powerful aircraft. R/B Aggro also doesn't have Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which is extremely effective for crewing Heart of Kiran and also protecting itself with Heart of Kiran. Chandra, Torch of Defiance can play this role, but it's not as aggressive as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to go along with the Vehicles strategy.
Another way to go with Heart of Kiran is to exploit its ability to use planeswalkers to crew it in addition to creatures. One very specific archetype comes to mind for this. G/W Tokens can flood the battlefield with both creatures and planeswalkers, using Heart of Kiran to maximum effect. Here's an example list of what I have in mind:
G/W has some flexibility with its sideboard, allowing it to play the role of control, midrange, or aggro in a shell like this. This amount of flexibility always keeps me coming back to a deck like this to try again when a new set is released. The mana may be a bit off here, as it's hard to support both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar without Oath of Nissa, but we want to be proactive with our Vehicles and planeswalkers Game 1 and change gears in post-sideboard games when we know what we're up against. I think this is a reasonable starting point.
One new card you may notice in this sideboard is Ajani Unyielding.
I've heard and read some comparisons of this card to Sorin, Grim Nemesis and even Ob Nixilis Reignited. It's a fair comparison, but there are a couple of major reasons I think Ajani Unyielding may be a more played card.
Having the ability to exile both of these creatures is huge. An opponent may be able to trigger Emrakul, the Promised End and take your turn, but if Ajani Unyielding is in your hand, you can easily exile Emrakul when you get to take your own turn. It has enough loyalty to hit two creatures right away in case they take your turn with Emrakul, the Promised End.
For a deck like B/G Delirium that is planning on recurring Emrakul, the Promised End as its end-game, the exile effect can be devastating. Aetherworks Marvel decks can often lean on the inevitability of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but if we manage to get far enough ahead on the battlefield, making Ulamog target our creatures or other threats, we can land an Ajani Unyielding to exile Ulamog, the Ceasless Hunger and use it on later turns to refuel and take over the game from there.
I think we'll see some Ajani Unyielding being played this season. It's an expensive planeswalker but it has the ability to protect itself while also giving us a good card-drawing engine. If my deck has green and white mana in it and the ability to hit six mana relatively easily, I will almost certainly be including a copy somewhere in my 75, likely in the sideboard for slower matchups.
The first card I saw previewed in Aether Revolt was Yahenni's Expertise.
Wow, what an exciting card for so many reasons! Yahenni's Expertise is certainly going to see play, and it's positioned nicely within an already nearly dominant archetype, B/G Delirium. Though this card doesn't help with the troublesome Aetherworks Marvel matchup, it can help out a ton against aggressive strategies.
First things first: the deck was short Languish from last season and also short effective sorceries to add to card types. Yahenni's Expertise seems like a perfect addition. Grim Flayer wasn't great along with Languish because it just got swept up. Now Grim Flayer not only survives the sweeper with delirium, it can be cast alongside it for free. Tireless Tracker; Grim Flayer; Liliana, the Last Hope; Ruinous Path; Transgress the Mind; and even To the Slaughter are all excellent follow-up spells to cast for free with a Yahenni's Expertise.
I think, if the format calls for it, Yahenni's Expertise will replace the slots Mindwrack Demon was filling as a way to affect the battlefield, help achieve delirium early, while also adding to the battlefield with a free spell.
A card like Transgress the Mind was dangerous to play in a fast format, but with Yahenni's Expertise we can gain back the tempo lost by casting the Trangress the Mind for free, swiping the follow-up to our sweeper.
Four-toughness creature a problem? We can cast Liliana, the Last Hope from our hand for free to clean up the mess.
I expect Yahenni's Expertise to see some maindeck play depending on how the format breaks down, but I know it will least be a highly played sideboard card in black midrange or control decks.
- 1 Noxious Gearhulk
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 4 Grim Flayer
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 3 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
What excites me most about Yahenni's Expertise is the possibility we may see other cards with the same “fixed” cascade ability. This would make for some sweet gameplay where people are trading off haymaker turns with seven mana of spells being cast for only four mana.
The last card I want to touch on briefly is Disallow.
Scatter to the Winds and Void Shatter aren't very exciting cards for blue decks currently, and Disallow has some pretty widespread applications. Any blue decks we see being played now, we can quickly and easily exchange all copies of other three-mana counterspells until we have a full playset of Disallow.
First of all, Disallow most notably can counter a planeswalker ultimate. Summary Dismissal already had this capability, but four mana for a counterspell effect is pushing the boundaries of unplayable, even with Emrakul, the Promised End and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger running around. Disallow gives us a more efficiently costed answer to opposing resolved planeswalkers in blue decks.
The utility of a card like Disallow also allows for some more flexibility with Torrential Gearhulk. We can counter a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with Disallow on the play or draw and then use it to counter any pesky spell or ability later with Torrential Gearhulk.
Summary Dismissal will probably be lowered in numbers in main decks and relegated to the sideboard now that we have a more efficiently costed effect of this nature.
So far I like what I see out of Aether Revolt. I'd say one thing I'm hoping to see is maybe a card like Hero's Downfall, but instead of killing a creature and planeswalker, a creature and a Vehicle. What kind of cards are you hoping for?