We're finally in the heart of previews and things are starting to shape up a bit differently from what I imagined.
A couple of weeks ago I wouldn't have been surprised if Emrakul, the Promised End received a ban on January 20th, but it looks like Wizards has different plans:
Fight fire with fire.
Aether Revolt is one of the coolest kind of sets. Instead of being bludgeoned with cards that have absurd rates or have obvious implications for being slotted into or replacing cards in existing archetypes, we've so far been presented with a lot of enticing “build-around-me” cards.
One of my major focuses today is on one of those cards, which I think is pretty busted.
Another mana production mechanic always has the potential to be dangerous in Magic.
Thankfully, Improvise is cleverly incorporated into this seemingly innocuous artifact. Your deck needs artifacts to fuel this engine and also have major payoffs to leverage it, while also being at least largely functional should you need find the statuary in a timely manner.
Or you can just play Trophy Mage, which is the approach I'm going to take in many decks.
The title to this article isn't click-bait, nor do I have the definite “answer” to the format with a half-revealed set.
What I do have are a multitude of combo oriented decks that all the potential to execute some incredibly powerful gameplans, and I'm excited to get started on usurping the eldritch horror from her throne as the queen of Standard.
Aether Revolt is going to deliver.
Next week will feature a VS video with this archetype. I got out of my match against Todd with a healthy appreciation for what this deck was capable of, and that was before Baral's Expertise was revealed.
It's true that many tried and largely failed with Aetherflux Reservoir combo decks (and I was partial to the more controlling lifegain deck myself), but it's received a host of tools so vast that it doesn't even begin to really resemble the old attempts.
Inspiring Statuary doesn't interact with a ton of cards in this deck, but it does with those that matter. The largest payoff in the deck is Paradoxical Outcome – and when you can effectively cast the card for a single mana thanks to Improvise and generate a ton of draws while simultaneously “resetting” any of your cheap or free artifacts to allow them to aid in casting additional copies or Baral's Expertise, then it's fairly academic to build enough storm count to enable a kill with the Reservoir.
Baral's Expertise truly does it all here. The most straightforward mode is to simply buy some time while also allowing Reservoir to deploy its namesake or a Statuary effortlessly. Its ceiling is when it can pick up all of your zero-mana artifacts to generate more velocity in combination with Sram, Senior Edificer.
A few things that might stand out as strange are the inclusions of Thraben Inspector and the number of Aetherflux Reservoirs. The former is largely a nod to the Statuary and Baral's Expertise. Thraben Inspector effectively generates a mana through its Clue token, thanks to the Statuary, which is an interaction that I'm including in other decks.
The fact that it can be returned to continue building spell count or velocity through Clues on the cheap is just another great bonus. It's not particularly shocking that Thraben Inspector continues to prove to be one of the best creatures in Standard. (Not to mention how much more powerful it's going to be on the aggressive side of the coin with Metallic Mimic).
Only playing three copies of the Reservoir mostly has to do with the fact that it isn't great until you're “actually ready to win the game.” It's still a requirement that the deck assembles a critical mass of pieces, and it has to do that while playing a package of largely useless zero-mana artifacts until they're combined with a payoff like Sram or Paradoxical Outcome.
I would really like to be able to fit some copies of Anticipate or Reverse Engineer into the deck, but I simply don't have the room right now. Perhaps Thraben Inspector ultimately gets the boot for selection of this variety, but I like its incorporation for now.
This is probably my favorite deck that I'm writing about today. Control decks that are able to execute some kind of combo finish have been historically successful throughout Magic, and although deploying an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on the cheap isn't exactly the same thing, I think it's powerful enough to qualify.
Inspiring Statuary is again notably quite poor in multiples. To circumvent that fact, this U/W deck seeks to utilize Trophy Mage and a small toolbox package of artifacts.
To the above list, I want to add an Aethersphere Harvester. As I write this, the card has shown up only in Russian, but a rough translation is:
Aethersphere Harvester - 3
Artifact - Vehicle
When this creature enters the battlefield, you gain EE.
Pay E: this creature gains lifelink until end of turn.
I don't know exactly where Aethersphere Harvester is going to show up, but I love it as a powerful bullet against aggressive decks and suspect that it just has too many stats to not see play.
Metallic Rebuke is an outrageously powerful Magic card and is yet another awesome payoff for Thraben Inspector, whose list of synergies continues to grow. Being able to threaten “Mana Leak” or simply crack your Clue on the end step is a great play pattern, and Metallic Rebuke only gets better throughout the game as one builds their battlefield position while only being required to leave up a single blue mana to threaten it.
Sram's Expertise is similarly silly with Inspiring Statuary, being a functional Thran Dynamo for Ulamog that generates chump blockers alongside allowing you to cast another spell!
The inclusion of Confirm Suspicions is to some degree just me making a mental note of “this is something you can do,” but it certainly feels legitimate to me. The fact that this card isn't necessarily going to cost five mana anymore thanks to Improvise means we might be able to explode out an Ulamog by turn 5 or 6.
This is the type of strategy that is both malleable and powerful enough to legitimately threaten the reign of Aetherworks Marvel.
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Nest Crane
- 3 Greenbelt Rampager
- 4 Trophy Mage
- 2 Hope of Ghirapur
- 4 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
In addition to one Aethersphere Harvester, this deck revolves around four copies of a Korean card I've seen called Lifecrafter's Bestiary. Whatever it's eventually called, its text is roughly as follows:
Lifecrafter's Bestiary - 3
At the beginning of your upkeep, scry 1.
Whenever you cast a creature spell, you may pay G. If you do, draw a card.
This kind of effect is incredibly powerful and immediately made me scour Standard for any other zero-mana creatures. While my search came up short, Aether Revolt was kind enough to gift us both Ornithopter and Walking Ballista for now.
I admit, this decklist in its current form is largely a collection of synergistic moving parts rather than a completely cohesive strategy, but it's still capable of doing some powerful stuff.
First of all, your zero-mana creatures can simply be "G: Draw a card," with Walking Ballista having the ability to scale in whatever fashion you desire.
This, coupled with Trophy Mage for redundancy and the new powerhouse Riskhar, Peema Renegade to facilitate mana production, means that we can go full combo with Paradox Engine or build a big enough battlefield to where taking an extra turn with Gonti's Aether Heart enables a kill or sets up Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
A card like Walking Ballista is pretty beautiful. Its floor is to simply be a cantrip in combination with our Lifecrafter's Bestiary, but it can also function as a built-in win condition when we start going off. This means that having a dedicated win condition like Ulamog or something similar might just be completely unnecessary.
Hope of Ghirapur is another awesome card that fits into many archetypes. Most decks interested in playing it are probably aggressively slanted and want to put their opponents off-balance just that one extra turn to kill them, and we can do that too. It just so happens that a cheap artifact creature fits all the criteria we are interested in as well.
I keep trying to make Metalwork Colossus happen.
The answer might just be to turn it into a control deck. Tezzeret the Schemer hasn't received a ton of love, but it plays beautifully with Baral's Expertise, and there's been an overwhelming amount of powerful interaction printed in black, especially when we can fully utilize Battle at the Bridge.
It's true that this strategy is fairly straightforward, but all the cards are powerful and work well together. Perhaps it would even be best to play fewer copies of Metalwork Colossus and treat it simply as a finisher; drawing the first can allow you to tutor up the second after the battlefield has been sufficiently contained.
Pacification Array and Baral's Expertise means that clearly the way to kill your opponent in a single attack should be fairly academic, which might even mean that playing Gonti's Aether Heart could make sense to enable the “full combo.”
My final decklist is certainly my ugliest, but it also pushes Baral's Expertise its hardest as a “fair card.”
Perhaps the most obvious use for Baral's Expertise is to clean up the battlefield and deploy a powerful planeswalker simultaneously.
This deck seeks to achieve that while also incorporating the “combo” of bouncing your opponent's best card and then stripping it with Thought-Knot Seer.
Basically every card in this deck oozes quality, but it is also fairly clunky. That's another massive appeal of the Expertise cycle – you're always double-spelling!
Eldrazi Displacer might be a little bit of an odd inclusion, but if we're already playing a high number of colorless sources, it feels fairly foolish to not play it when I'm already interested in Thraben Inspector and Thought-Knot Seer.
Eldrazi Displacer plus Archangel Avacyn continues to be a powerful combination of cards despite the advent of a new set, and it feels like the perfect way to both protect your planeswalkers and clean up the game.
If this is just a small taste of what Aether Revolt is capable of with a partial reveal, what does the full set have in store for us?
I'm willing to bet we're about to be in a world where Emrakul is a player, but no longer the queen.