Wow, is Aether Revolt exciting! I keep running across cards I want to try in different ways, sometimes daily, sometimes by the hour. It feels that Wizards R&D really embraced the whole idea of Kaladesh's “Inventors' Fair” and infused the block with all sorts of crazy things to try. A lot won't work out, but it's going to be a blast giving them a try. This is truly a brewer's paradise, and coupled with the announced bannings of Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler's Copter, and Reflector Mage, in Standard there are bound to be all sorts of things we can try. I can't wait!
In an attempt to better organize all the ideas running through my brain, I thought it might be good to write them down and share them with you. That way, if you've got some ideas, we can bounce them off each other.
First off, when it comes to Commander, there are some themes that are either unique to or ramped up by Kaladesh. Now that we have the full block, let's take a look at what's available for our 100-card decks. Let's start with our brand-new artifact subtype, Vehicles!
Support Cards (13):
Wow, Wizards of the Coast did not play around when it came to introducing us to Vehicles! We've got almost twenty of the new card type, with more than half being quite playable in Commander whether or not you're leaning heavily towards a Vehicle theme. You can load up just about any artifact-friendly commander with Vehicles, but let's be honest—you're going to want either Depala, Pilot Exemplar or Sram, Senior Edificer as your Vehicle-heavy Commander, breaking towards Depala since you'll want to make use of some of the red supporting cards.
Peacewalker Colossus is a fantastic inclusion for a Vehicle-heavy deck, since one way to keep you down is for your opponents to keep killing all your creatures. You may want to toss in Sculpting Steel so you can copy it and they can wake each other up. Untethered Express has an incredibly low crew cost with fair starting stats that just get bigger each time you attack. I think it might be playable in Standard and plan on giving it a try.
I love the flavor of Caught in the Brights. The art is fantastic and I love the idea of “stunning” a creature with the Aura and then running it over when you attack with a Vehicle. The fact that this exiles the creature is doubly good in Commander, especially if you include ways to bring back the Aura from the graveyard and use it again.
The Standard banning of Smuggler's Copter is great news for Commander fans, since you can now pick up this powerful card for cheap and it fits in nearly any Commander deck. Card selection is helpful in nearly any deck, and a 3/3 flying creature for two generic mana that dodges most sorcery-speed removal outside of Akroma's Vengeance is a fantastic rate. Smuggler's Copter was costing $15-20 apiece; now you can nab them for $4-5, maybe even cheaper if you trade one away from a disgruntled Spike.
We definitely have the tools to build a Vehicle-themed Commander deck if we want.
Speaking of Depala and Sram…
Wow, we get 24 new Dwarves in the block, and only five of them would be considered questionable inclusions! Of course, one of the new Dwarf cards is our new tribal all-star Metallic Mimic, but we'll take all the help we can get!
I wrote about using Depala, Pilot Exemplar as a Dwarf tribal/Vehicle deck back in September, and with all these sweet new tools, the deck gets even better. We go from having some dubious inclusions (Dwarven Thaumaturgist) to pretty close to a real deck! I look forward to my silly Dwarf deck getting a bit more respect around the Commander table.
So the next question: can we build a Commander deck focused on energy?
Again, I have to say I'm impressed that Wizards has given us a ton of tools to build 100-card decks with a heavy energy focus. Unlike Vehicle cards, though, if we want to play with energy, we probably have to go all-in since not too many of these cards are any good solo, outside of maybe Dynavolt Tower in a deck with lots of instants and sorceries.
Since energy are counters that players receive, the mechanic works well with proliferate, which brings to mind our very popular proliferate legendary creature, Atraxa, Praetors' Voice. It's a shame that Urabrask declined to compleat Atraxa, since red gives us some very potent energy cards like Whirler Virtuoso and Lightning Runner. Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis covers most of the good energy cards, since Black doesn't have all that many.
Many of the energy cards also involve +1/+1 counters, so we could look to leadership from creatures like Reyhan, Last of the Abzan; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Ghave, Guru of Spores; and Experiment Kraj.
If you want to run all five colors and use all the good energy cards, I'd recommend Karona, False God as your commander. That way, when you make a bunch of Servo or Thopter tokens, you can cast Karona to boost them up to lethal levels.
Last, and possibly least… the Aetherborn!
For such a short-lived tribe, we've got very few Aetherborn to work with, and only ten of them are cards I wouldn't be embarrassed to run in a Commander deck. Which is a shame, considering that Midnight Entourage is such a sweet, sweet Aetherborn tribal card and that we've got not one but two potential Aetherborn legendary creatures between Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Yahenni, Undying Partisan (though using either as our Commander would mean that Contraband Kingpin gets left on the bench). Some of these are decent Rogue cards, so they might help fill out a Rogue tribal deck, and a couple decent ones are Vampires.
All right, narrowing my focus to Aether Revolt, one of the first things I do is to search for creature cards with sweet activated abilities. Why?
Necrotic Ooze Watch
Longtime readers will recall that Necrotic Ooze is one of my favorite cards. I played it when it was in Standard, and I break it out in Modern every once in a while. It's been on the back bench for some time due to splash damage from the graveyard hate people are packing for Dredge, but with the re-banning of Golgari Grave Troll, my fingers are crossed that Dredge will settle down into Tier 1.5 or Tier 2 status and not demand too much sideboard space, because there are a few juicy potential Necrotic Ooze goodies to be found in Aether Revolt!
Most of my builds can get indestructible from Thornling, but having an option that doesn't require mana could be quite helpful. Yahenni, Undying Partisan's ability can also be helpful in moving a creature from the battlefield to the graveyard, where it can join in the Necrotic Ooze collective.
I recently added Mausoleum Wanderer to my Modern Necrotic Ooze decks, since it provides some disruption against spells that Necrotic Ooze can borrow if need be. This is especially awesome when you're copying Pack Rat's ability and turning cards in hand into copies of Necrotic Ooze. I think Hope of Ghirapur adds some additional disruption along these lines, and along with Pack Rat's ability, you could potentially lock your opponent out of playing any noncreature spells on their turn for the rest of the game. In some matchups this just might be the game—Infect is going to have a tough time killing you without the flurry of pump spells they usually threaten.
Walking Ballista provides a nice kill with arbitrarily large mana, which you can get through several different creature ability combinations. Kicking it old-school like I did in Standard, you can make arbitrarily large +1/+1 counters by borrowing abilities from Bloodline Keeper and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, so with Walking Ballista's ability thrown in, you don't even need to attack to win. You can even sacrifice any creature to Eldritch Evolution to tutor up Walking Ballista and put it immediately in the graveyard for Necrotic Ooze shenanigans.
I doubt that I'll go the Walking Ballista route for Necrotic Ooze, but it's nice to have the options its abilities bring to the table. I do however see a bright future for Yahenni, Undying Partisan and Hope of Ghirapur!
Okay, now on to the lightning round.
I'm sure it surprises no one that I'd be all about the green Expertise. In Commander I can imagine drawing an insane amount of cards. In Standard, I'm envisioning pairing this up with Verdurous Gearhulk, both as a great card to set up casting Rishkar's Expertise the following turn and a great card to cast for free off Rishkar's Expertise. I'm also envisioning a Bant deck where I cast Rishkar's Expertise, then cast Baral's Expertise, and then cast Sram's Expertise and then cast… I don't know, how about Tireless Tracker? That's a pretty good turn, don't you think?
We get some more cards for our Super Friends Commander shenanigans. Dark Intimations hints at a Bolas Planeswalker card coming in the very near future, but Commander fans don't need to wait, since Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is already a card we can play. I love that Dark Intimations gives you that nice Cruel Ultimatum feel but in a must more castable form for our five-color Super Friends.
+1/+1 counters are all over Standard, and so is energy, so having this Hardened Scales (Snakes have scales, get it?) that can attack is very exciting. Now that Emrakul, the Promised End is gone, our B/G decks don't have to be warped around casting the Eldrazi end-game, so I'm looking forward to exploring the powerful things this Snake can deliver. Over in Commander land, it's another great Golgari tool that pairs up nicely with Corpsejack Menace; Skullbriar, the Walking Grave; and Reyhan, Last of the Abzan.
Wow. Just wow. Thank goodness this is legendary or we might have a big, big problem in Standard. Over in Commander world, I foresee some crazy things happening. Pretty much anything that taps to do anything good is going nuts with this on the battlefield. If you're not already playing plenty of ways to destroy artifacts, I think it would be wise to start updating your decklists.
Okay, so this card means I'm going to at least give this a try in Standard:
Glint-Nest Crane, Sram's Expertise, Inventor's Fair, maybe even Aetherworks Marvel! Sure, assembling the Modules isn't on the same level as casting giant Eldrazi, but turning each mana into a 2/2 Servo with an extra energy to use every turn doesn't seem like a terrible plan.
Speaking of Aetherworks Marvel, did anyone else notice that Aethertide Whale provides exactly the amount of Energy we need to activate Aetherworks Marvel? Sure, it's no Eldrazi, but using Aetherworks Marvel to cast a 6/4 flying Whale that gives you enough energy to do it again feels like you're doing all right.
We'll wrap things up with one of the coolest, most fun cards in the set—I mean, who doesn't love a Pirate with an attack Monkey? I mean, seriously, she makes a legendary Monkey token named Ragavan! The token is adorable—the Monkey is wearing Artificer goggles! I'm not entirely sure whether she'll make the grade in Standard, but I'm definitely looking forward to figuring out fun things to do with Kari Zev, Skyship Raider in Commander. So far I've got a plot involving Mirror Gallery and Sundial of the Infinite so I can make an army of Ragavans…
For those who may be following my Standard exploits on Twitter or my Facebook page, my Mono-Green Ramp Standard deck (nickname #CreepingMold) has been doing quite well. After my 4-0 victory at last week's Friday Night Magic, the deck is 15-3-1. Granted, that record has been accumulated from Friday Night Magic and Standard Showdown tournaments, so it hasn't been tested at higher levels, but I have certainly played against established archetypes along the way, so I think there is something to the deck. Wizards of the Coast has phased out the turn 1 mana acceleration that used to be a staple for green, since being able to play three-mana spells on turn 2 was considered too good for Standard. Well, after nearly twenty tournament matches, I can confirm that being able to play four-mana spells on turn 3 is quite good too. Thought-Knot Seer, Tireless Tracker plus a land for a Clue token, and, yes, Creeping Mold all are potent plays when you do them on turn 3.
I'm eager to see how the deck does in our new metagame going forward. Between the bans and the addition of Aether Revolt, my hunch is that the deck can survive and even thrive after the shake-up. Here's what I'm going to be testing out:
- 3 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Druid of the Cowl
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 3 Ulvenwald Hydra
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
The past few iterations of the deck, I've been running Smuggler's Copters, so I'm definitely going to be missing that powerhouse card. I loved how it could pressure planeswalkers. The card filtering was particularly great at keeping a balance between mana acceleration and large spells, so I'm definitely going to miss that consistency boost. It was also nice to be able to go “beatdown” early in the game.
That being said, there are tools from Aether Revolt that I think are going to be fantastic in the deck, with Walking Ballista filling a great role as meaningful interaction. People have mentioned that one way to combat the new combo menace (Saheeli Rai plus Felidar Guardian) is to hold up Shock to kill the planeswalker when they start the combo. Well, Walking Ballista is a “Shock” on legs for… yep, four mana, which is potentially available on turn 3.
Rishkar, Peema Renegade is a very worthy three-mana spell that synergizes with Walking Ballista and even Tireless Tracker (which can naturally get +1/+1 counters) to the point that I'm adding Verdurous Gearhulk to the mix. While I've been having a great time copying Ulvenwald Hydra with Mirrorpool, Verdurous Gearhulk might be an even better target for the land. I anticipate being able to leverage +1/+1 counters into direct damage for creatures, planeswalkers, or even players is going to be big game.
I've also decided to replace the signature Ulvenwald Captives with Druid of the Cowls. While I liked the late-game ability to transform Ulvenwald Captive into a significant threat (and have won games because of it), that didn't happen all that often. With the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo hitting Standard, I think having a creature with defender is too much of a liability. Even though Druid of the Cowl can only attack for one, it can still attack and that may make all the difference. Plus, it won't die to Shock, which might be quite valuable in the new metagame.
I'm rounding things out with two copies of Aethersphere Harvester, which do a great job of tending to the skies for a super-cheap crew cost, and the energy boost and lifelink are both going to be useful at different spots.
When the dust settled, I ended up cutting World Breaker, which was a signature card that won me some games. But the card is expensive and slow and I think it is better in the sideboard to bring in against slower decks.
What cards from Aether Revolt are you excited about for Commander, Standard or Modern?
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):