New sets mean new ideas. Like any new Magic release, Aether Revolt offers you both innovative tricks for your existing decks and springboards you into creating new ones. Let’s see what this one has to offer.
Remember that this is a review for Commander only. It takes into account how the cards might impact the format and doesn’t consider how good they might be in others. I’ll go through each color, commenting on cards which I think are worth talking about (for both good and ill). I’ll then pick a Top 3 for and give a grade to each color.
Aethergeode Miner: While I expect this to see a good amount of play in other formats, in Commander it will have narrow but potentially valuable uses. Anything that likes when creatures enter the battlefield for you will benefit from your Aethergeode Miner tricks, whether that’s Soul Warden or Ephara, God of the Polis. It’s also going to trigger your permanents with the new Revolt mechanic.
Call for Unity: Speaking of which, Call of Unity is a more sensible (meaning less crazy bookkeeping) Cathars’ Crusade. It’s a grind, but if you’re going to play it, you’ll have ways of using it on each of your turns.
Countless Gears Renegade: The gears are already turning thinking about creating Servos.
Deadeye Harpooner: Now, when people say Deadeye, they’ll have to be clear which one they’re talking about.
Felidar Guardian: Your blink decks already have enough weapons, so unless you’re doing Cat and/or Beast tribal, you probably have other choices.
Restoration Specialist: I like creatures which return stuff from graveyard to hand because they work more than once in reanimator decks.
Sram, Senior Edificer: Enchantress decks got a new weapon. It’s also probably time to consider that Vehicle deck for Commander.
Consulate Crackdown: Artifacts are a thing in Commander, and you always need a plan to deal with them. Consulate Crackdown might create some interesting situations in which a player wants to get their artifacts back, but a different opponent might have incentives for them not to. Even better, your opponent(s) will spend their enchantment removal on Consulate Crackdown instead of the stuff you really want to hold onto.
Exquisite Archangel: It would seem that this is some nice protection if you’re running a lifegain deck and are worried about getting killed with Commander damage while at 2500 life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t prevent or remove the Commander damage you’ve taken, so you’ll still meet the conditions and lose the next time state-based actions are checked. Still, the lifegain might be just what the doctor ordered under normal circumstances. It’s better than Platinum Angel in that it changes the most common condition under which you’ll lose (normal damage) and it doesn’t die to Disenchant.
Sram’s Expertise: All the Expertise cards are strong; this one is no exception. Doing something that you want to do and then casting something else for free is good value. For the same converted mana cost as Captain’s Call, you get the same number of tokens and an additional spell? This is sign-me-up territory.
Overall Grade: B-. Exploring some nice territory, especially with the Revolt mechanic, but nothing jumps out as extremely strong, and the density of good cards isn’t there like it is in other colors.
Baral, Chief of Compliance: This will be a house in other Constructed formats. In Commander, it’s worth it just for the cost advantage of instants and sorceries; the counterspell part is gravy. It will certainly make its way into Talrand, Sky Summoner decks, and maybe even Jori En, Ruin Diver. Always with the Merfolk.
Efficient Construction: You know those artifacts you bounced with Baral’s Expertise? Recast them for even more value. This will be a staple in heavy artifact decks; the thing that keeps it from being too crazy is that it’s a cast trigger, not an enters-the-battlefield one.
Illusionist’s Stratagem: Ghostly Flicker gives you more options (you can blink creatures and lands as well), but it doesn’t draw a card. If your blink deck is creature-heavy anyway, the additional mana is worth the extra card.
Quicksmith Spy: Neat idea from a design standpoint, and who doesn’t like drawing cards for zero mana?
Shielded Aether Thief: Not so much with the blocking, but as mentioned, drawing cards for zero mana is sweet business.
Trophy Mage: Regular readers know I’m not that big of a fan of tutors in the format. I’m mostly okay with narrow-focus tutors like this one. And it’s not that narrow; you have hundreds of choices at converted mana cost three.
Baral’s Expertise: Bounce annoying artifacts, reset your own with the cool enters-the-battlefield trigger or cumulative upkeep, or some combination of the two. And then perhaps recast one of those you bounced or a nice card draw spell. Card’s just absurd.
Mechanized Production: What’s cool about Mechanized Production is that the eight copies don’t have to be of what you’ve enchanted; it can be eight copies of anything, but it will still wait until the beginning of upkeep trigger resolves to check. I imagine the most common win with this will be with Clue tokens, although maybe someone has a crazy Mycosynth Lattice scenario in mind.
Whir of Invention: Improvise is basically convoke with artifacts, which makes this is artifact version of Chord of Calling—so it’s something to do with all those Clue tokens while you’re waiting to get to eight of them. Just like Chord of Calling, being an instant makes it extremely strong.
Overall Grade: B. The best cards are good, but nothing that’ll light your hair on fire. The density of good cards is reasonable.
Aether Poisoner: One of the reasons cards that do stuff when you attack can be weaker is that you might have to attack into an unfavorable position. Aether Poisoner levels that field due to deathtouch. Does anyone really want to trade their good creature for your 1/1?
Battle at the Bridge: I wasn’t particularly excited about Battle at the Bridge, but gaining life got my interest up, especially since it has Improvise. And you have to remember, you’ll occasionally need ways to kill Avacyn, Angel of Hope.
Fatal Push: A card which will have major impact on other Constructed formats might see a little play here in Commander. Generally, one-for-ones aren’t all that great, but every now and again, you need answers quickly.
Gonti’s Machinations: So cheap that you’ll want to run it. You can pile up quite a bit of energy without too much thought, especially if you’re using something like Erebos, God of the Dead. You might be getting so much that you don’t want to sacrifice it, although gaining nine to twelve life for one mana seems pretty good.
Herald of Anguish: I can see a very narrow use for Herald of Anguish. Sure, it’s a 5/5 flying Demon which you haven’t paid full price for, but its primary use will be making opponents discard so that you can regrow things out of their graveyards.
Sly Requisitioner: Burnished Hart is a nontoken artifact which doesn’t tap to activate, so I think you see where I’m going. It seems like there’s some room to get serious value out of a B/R/(X) build with Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast in the mix. Goblin Welder has to go in there somewhere. Add Blood Artist for more shenanigans. Improvise spells creating tokens which will help with other Improvise spells seems like generating serious value.
Resourceful Return: I’ve been looking for cards like this for a while now. Sure, I want to return creatures from my graveyard to my hand, but I want some value along with it. Resourceful Return provides just such value. It’s the kind of card that you’ll look past the first time but be glad every time you cast it.
Yahenni, Undying Partisan: This is my kind of card. I was so focused on the triggered and activated abilities, I missed that it also has haste. If I’ve learned anything from playing Commander, it’s that other people want your stuff. Mana-free sacrifice outlets mean they can’t have it. Yahenni also offers you some nice battlefield control options when you have Grave Pact or Dictate of Erebos on the battlefield.
Yahenni’s Expertise: Infest doesn’t have much of a place in Commander, but Infest on steroids sure does. You can wipe out (most of) the battlefield and then put something onto the battlefield, which gets you back out of the gate faster than everyone else. Alternately, the spell you cast could be Infest, for a nice -5/-5 to everybody.
Overall Grade: B+. Some very good stuff at the top end with good role-players and thought-provokers in the rank and file.
Destructive Tampering: I don’t think we’ll actually see that much of this card; I’m just wondering what the thought process was for the two different, seemingly unrelated modes might have been.
Indomitable Creativity: I like turning my trash into treasure. Here’s something to do with all those Servos, or, since you’re in red, all the Goblins tokens you’ve created. I can’t imagine too many non-emergency situations in which you’d use it on opponents’ things, unless you know that what they have left in their deck is just worse than what you’re destroying.
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider: Who doesn’t love Monkeys? And it’s a Monkey with a name! Put some pants on it and you’ll have a winner.
Kari Zev’s Expertise: Perhaps the weakest of the Expertise cards, it’s still a better Threaten, even if you don’t have too much at converted mana cost two or less to cast.
Pia’s Revolution: Combo with Goblin Welder? I guess you can say that about lots of things.
Release the Gremlins: Now you can blow up others’ stuff and get something in return, although you’ll need quite some mana to do it. I wouldn’t dismiss the value of just blowing up one thing.
Honestly, there really isn’t a top three in red.
Overall Grade: D-. Red, which has gotten some good help in the last few sets, got almost completely shut out in Aether Revolt. Sad days for the color.
Aether Herder: Because it has a more considerable body, you can be less worried about this Servo-creator than the others.
Greenbelt Rampager: Note that the ability isn’t optional. If you can pay the energy, you have to. It’s only if you can’t that you bounce it back to your hand. I imagine it came up in development this way in order to prevent easy infinite energy combos.
Heroic Intervention: I’m a fan of the instants like Rootborn Defenses and Make a Stand to protect the entirety of your team. Adding the flexibility of also getting hexproof is a decent upgrade. And it’s cheap enough to fit on Isochron Scepter.
Lifecrafter’s Gift: You don’t need to be playing a dedicated “+1/+1 counters matter” deck to get good use out of Lifecrafter’s Gift. Just a few key ones will do, especially in the era in which we have multiple methods of getting extra counters, like Doubling Season, Hardened Scales, and this set’s Winding Constrictor.
Maulfist Revolutionary: The first idea that came to mind when I saw Maulfist Revolutionary was adding another divinity counter to Myojin of Cleansing Fire. The second was adding level counters to creatures like Lord of Shatterskull Pass or Transcendent Master.
Peema Aether-Seer: Speaking of Lord of Extinction, we have another way of getting more energy that you’re going to know what to do with. Forcing creatures to block without a Lure effect isn’t all that great in Commander unless you have a particular plan (like all your creatures having deathtouch or something). Still, all that energy will be quite something to play around with.
Ridgescale Tusker: Best uncommon in the set? You don’t even need the creatures to already have counters on them to get Ridgescale Tusker’s benefit. Even with a modest number of creatures on the battlefield, the five mana you invest in this 5/5 Beast (which in the olden days of Magic would have made it a rather popular creature even with no other abilities) is going to pay good dividends.
Rishkar, Peema Renegade: Perhaps a new leader for your Elf deck, Rishkar will get those Elfballs rolling. Rishkar’s second ability is sure to create some infinite possibilities (which already exist in those Elf decks) when you can easily or cheaply untap creatures.
Aetherwind Basker: Okay, here’s what I’m talking about! Aetherwind Basker can get out of hand pretty quickly. The question is, what are you going to do with all that energy? Since it has trample, “just kill someone” might be the answer.
Aid from the Cowl: Another great one for green! I agree with fellow Commander Rules Committee member Toby Elliott, who said “the five-drop enchantments are insane!” You were going to activate Sensei’s Divining Top at the end of your turn anyway (’cause that’s how we do in Commander, in order to save time), so do it with the trigger on the stack. Remember that leaving the battlefield means more than just going to the graveyard—it can be blinking, exile, or returning to your hand.
Rishkar’s Expertise: I’d play it just for the first ability; we already play Garruk, Primal Hunter for just that. Add one more mana to that Garruk for the ability to cast a five-mana spell from your now-stuffed hand, and you have one of the strongest cards in the set.
Overall Grade: A-. Nothing busted, and perhaps a little narrow in direction with all the +1/+1 counters stuff, but plenty of fun stuff to be had.
Hidden Stockpile: Unspectacular but solid enough to play at the low mana cost in your graveyard recursion deck. You can get a nice loop of creating Servo tokens to sacrifice during your turn, which will then trigger Revolt.
Oath of Ajani: Probably of more value to your counters decks than planeswalkers decks (unless it’s a Super Friends build in which you’re casting hordes of planeswalkers), you can consider it a two-mana sorcery that gives a +1/+1 counter to everyone. It you get a little planeswalker upside to it, then great, but nothing lost if you don’t.
Tezzeret the Schemer: I’m a little ambivalent about this version of Tezzeret. The +1 ability is worthwhile enough, the -2 is situationally good, and the -7 isn’t all that exciting. The best thing about the card is that it starts with more loyalty counters than its converted mana cost.
Tezzeret’s Touch: Battling with your noncreature artifacts is cool. Getting one of them back when it gets blown up is even cooler, especially for the relatively low investment in mana.
Ajani Unyielding: If I understand the math right, the first ability is basically +2 to draw two nonland cards, which, by the time you can spend the six to cast Ajani Unyielding, you’re okay with. The -2 ability is certainly valuable, since exile is a big thing (especially on indestructible creatures and things you don’t want coming back to haunt you, like someone else’s Sepulchral Primordial). Hopefully you’re never in the emergency situation in which you have to exile your own creature just to gain life. The -9 ability is kind of silly. It will put nearly every planeswalker you have over the top and ready to activate its own ultimate ability.
Dark Intimations: Neatly crafted from a storytelling standpoint, the card is worth every one of the five mana you spend on it. Regrowing a card, especially in colors in which you’re pretty likely to already have looted, plus drawing a card is already almost worth the cost of the spell. Tacking on the creature sacrifice and discard makes it strong indeed. You certainly don’t need to play any Bolas cards to take advantage of it, but you’re in the colors, so why not?
Winding Constrictor: While it’s not quite Doubling Season in that it doesn’t double up on planeswalkers, Winding Constrictor will still be one of the players’ favorite cards in the set. It’s a little less expensive than Corpsejack Menace, and it also adds counters to your artifacts, such as Altar of Shadows (one of my Hidden Gems), or doing cool tricks with Coalition Relic.
Overall Grade: A-. Good cards which you’ll definitely want to mess around with, but nothing to go apey over.
Artifacts and Land
Cogwork Assember: Easy to cast (also vulnerable since it’s a creature), a little expensive to activate—but when you do, you’ll be very happy, whether it’s to make another copy of Darksteel Colossus to bash with or to get up to saucy tricks with an additional Mimic Vat. Note that you can copy any artifact, not just one you control.
Consulate Dreadnought: Crewing Vehicles in Commander might be easy, since you have plenty of utility creatures, like Eternal Witness, that you might not want to attack with anyway. There has to be something crazy about a 7/11 for one mana. If I were to build a Vehicles deck, I’d probably stuff it with a fair number of inspired creatures, like King Macar, the Gold-Cursed.
Gonti’s Aether Heart: While there are a number of ways to get return something from exile, I wouldn’t worry too hard about getting back Gonti’s Aether Heart. I think my plan going in would be to only take the extra turn if someone tries to blow it up or if I can use the turn to win outright (or kill a currently dangerous opponent). Otherwise, it’s creating enough energy for me that I’m going to want to keep it around.
Hope of Ghirapur: The conditions are narrow, but you can make it work to your advantage. Note that it’s legendary, so you can’t use Blade of Selves to shut everyone out from casting noncreature spells.
Implement of Combustion: I’m going to think of the Implements which aren’t additionally all that useful, like this one, as just two-mana card drawers which help with things like metalcraft.
Implement of Ferocity: It wouldn’t have broken anything if they hadn’t added the sorcery clause, although maybe they would have bumped up the casting cost.
Implement of Malice: Like most other discard things, this one as a sorcery makes sense.
Inspiring Statuary: You’ll obviously need to play a good blend of artifact and nonartifact spells in order to make Inspiring Statuary worthwhile. Pro Tip: Don’t play Winter Orb with the intention of using it for Improvise. Actually, just don’t play Winter Orb.
Metallic Mimc: It’s inexpensive to cast and creates a ton of value in any tribal deck. A fine card.
Renegade Map: Getting your land drops every turn is important, and more difficult in certain color combinations (generally those which don’t involve green). I’m happy to see more tools which smooth out manabases without requiring you to play a bunch of expensive lands.
Scrap Trawler: The artifact-heavy decks keep getting nice tools. This one is very nice at getting those Implements back into your hand, for example. There will be lots of ways folks will make great use out of the card.
Universal Solvent: Cheap to cast, expensive to activate, it’s probably useful in artifact-heavy decks which produce good amounts of mana and have things like Voltaic Key to untap artifacts and use them again.
Spire of Industry: You don’t need an artifact-heavy deck to make use out of Spire of Industry. Most decks play enough artifacts to make it worthwhile. Another move to make your manabases smoother, which I fully support.
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary: This is a card which on the surface seems rather unexciting. You’ll play it, however, and realize how strong it is. Adding just one mana to any creature spell in order to draw a card might cost you more mana in the long run than Primordial Sage, but it also won’t go away when someone casts Wrath of God. Love it.
Paradox Engine: Certainly the most potentially broken card in the set. Any time I see abilities or effects which untap multiple permanents, some kind of crazy infinite combo can’t be far behind. People have already asked if there will be an emergency ban of this. The answer is no, and it has nothing to do with the power of the card. We don’t think the format ever needs an emergency ban. Even if something is as dangerous as Griselbrand, we can let it loose until the next time bannings happen. Paradox Engine is no Griselbrand, so while I’m not making any promises, I’m reasonably sure it’s safe. I’m not sure yet which of my decks it will go in, but whichever one it is will like it.
Planar Bridge: Kicking Planar Portal up a notch by putting the card onto the battlefield instead, Planar Bridge is another one we’ve already gotten quite a few questions about. It’s strong, but it’s also extremely expensive. I don’t see it breaking anything.
Overall Grade: A. Good and fun stuff at the top end, significant density of playable cards.
Overall Grade for the Set: B. I might even drop that down to a B- for being so uneven. Red really got the short end of the stick here, which is a glaring weakness. Of course, we can’t necessarily judge every set only for its value for Commander; this one looks pretty saucy for drafting. Still, taken in the light of the format, it’s one of the weaker sets in a while. The good news is that there are still enough compelling cards for your decks to make the next few weeks exciting, as you explore all the new tricks available for your existing decks and dream up new ones.
Our regular Deck Without Comment feature will return after release season.
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; You Take the Crown, I’ll Take Leovold; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever;
Shards and Wedges
Adun’s Toolbox; Animar’s Swarm; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”