Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
Aether Revolt preview season is upon us, and it truly is the most magical time of year.
While there are just a few Aether Revolt cards seen so far, the ones we’ve got so far open a lot of doors.
“…without paying its mana cost.”
When have these words ever gone wrong?
Yahenni’s Expertise is a much different “sweeper” from what we’ve ever seen before. While it’s 75% of a Languish, the other 25% is actually Bloodbraid Elf. This card looks quite strong, both in Standard and Modern, both fair and abusive.
“What did I do?”
To start with, as a Standard sweeper, it’s already an interesting card without even getting too fancy. There are plenty of possible metagames where a four-cost sweeper that gives -3/-3 would be playable. Spell Queller, Reflector Mage, Sylvan Advocate, Inventor’s Apprentice, and Depala, Pilot Exemplar among others give us plenty of reason to particularly value that third -1/-1.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; Goblin Dark-Dwellers; and Mindwrack Demon are all potential creatures we could use alongside such a sweeper to lead to a bigger battlefield buildup and then threat living on.
If we could get a sweeper that gave -3/-3 for 1BB, it would help define the format. Radiant Flames is amazing, and it’s harder to cast, plus it loses to Spell Queller. A four-mana play does require slightly more than one additional mana worth of value to make up for the decrease in options that comes with having to wait a turn. However, if we get to cast a two-mana spell we wanted to cast, we’ve generally more than made up for it.
Keep in mind, it’s not like we’re supposed to get -3/-3 for three. Magic has never had such a card. The bar is generally -2/-2 with mild upside. I’m just talking about how much value we’ve got to get to have really got there with Yahenni’s Expertise. Of course, if you want to talk about really getting there, you’re going to be looking at playing lots of threes. Getting to sweep the battlefield and then drop a three-cost card for free? That’s a major, game-changing swing.
Liliana, the Last Hope is the most obvious three to combine with Yahenni’s Expertise. She’s the right color, she’s powerful, and she synergizes great with Expertise. Sweeping the battlefield and getting a Planeswalker is already huge, but her +1 ability can finish the job if they happen to have anything just barely big enough to live through the Expertise.
Yahenni’s Expertise is an interesting sweeper for Grim Flayer decks. While you’re only “saving” two mana, Grim Flayer is frequently a bigger game than threes by the time you have delirium. It’s a great permanent to be ahead of your opponent with on an open battlefield. It’s also usually a 4/4, letting it live through future Expertises.
Prized Amalgam isn’t the most impressive three to cheat in with Yahenni’s Expertise, but it is interesting to consider the possibility of Yahenni’s Expertise being a way to cast Prized Amalgam in a deck with no blue sources that was planning on reanimating it.
Similarly, it could serve as four of the sources of “colorless” for Matter Reshaper, which is kind of cool given how much harder it is to support Eldrazi in two-color decks right now.
For instance, imagine a manabase along the lines of something like this:
Normally, playing just eleven sources of colorless would be cutting it pretty close. You would be stuck with Matter Reshaper in your hand on turn 4 and no way to cast it about 11% of the time. However, if you’ve got a playset of Yahenni’s Expertise, now, you’ve dropped that number to about 4%!
Likewise, Yahenni’s Expertise could be used to help support Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. She’s not the most difficult card to cast, but it does take a little pressure off your need for green sources. Along these lines, if you wanted to play Saheeli Rai or Fevered Visions in a Grixis deck splashing blue or red, Yahenni’s Expertise helps make this possible.
Live Fast and Succumb to Temptation aren’t the most busted ways to follow up a Yahenni’s Expertise; but they could help fuel some sort of a midrange or control deck that doesn’t want to take a turn off to draw extra cards.
What if we added four copies of Yahenni’s Expertise to something like this?
Notice how little red we actually need. If we were so inclined, we could actually just play blue instead for Torrential Gearhulk.
While Yahenni’s Expertise is already exciting as a straight-up sweeper with upside in Standard, it’s also got a lot of really interesting interactions in Modern that run well into unfair territory.
Living End can be played off Yahenni’s Influence, similar to the interactions with cascade, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and Bring to Light. Of course, Living End is somewhat less efficient if you sweep the battlefield first. Maybe it will see play in Living End sideboards, but there are better spells to cheat this way.
Restore Balance is the “no-cost” spell with the biggest impact on the battlefield. While you’re usually wasting the -3/-3, you are getting to Balance on turn 4. Maybe there’s a new kind of Restore Balance deck that isn’t bound by the usual deckbuilding restrictions of playing only cards that cost three or more, like the cascade builds. However, it’s also possible that Yahenni’s Expertise gives us enough extra ways to play Restore Balance while also being useful on its own.
Let’s try adding three copies of Yahenni’s Expertise to this:
Now we’re getting somewhere! Ancestral Visions is a pretty good card on its own but can be kind of dangerous to play too many of right now. However, with Yahenni’s Expertise, drawing two can actually be great! Just suspend one on turn 1 and then cheat the other on turn 4. A draw-three is a fantastic follow-up to a -3/-3, and it’s such a different game when drawing Ancestral Visions later is not such a long-term investment.
What if we added three copies of Yahenni’s Expertise to U/B Faeries?
Another possible way to take advantage of Ancestral Vision is with Goblin Dark-Dwellers, which combos with lots of cards we might enjoy playing for free off Yahenni’s Expertise, like Kolaghan’s Command. However, we can actually go a step further…
Boom // Bust is typically used to target opposing lands along with our own fetchlands, letting us build a sort of Stone Rain. Then, if we play Goblin Dark-Dwellers, we can actually Armageddon. Weirdly, Boom makes Boom // Bust count as a two, but then we can play the Bust side.
To this end, if we play Yahenni’s Expertise on turn 4, we can actually sweep the battlefield and then cheat a Boom // Bust onto the stack. Armageddon on turn 4 would already be a big game, but getting to sweep -3/-3, too? There’s gotta be a deck in there, right? Add four copies of Yahenni’s Expertise to this:
Once we’ve got Boom // Bust and Ancestral Visions, we’re pretty reliably getting absurd value out of every Yahenni’s Expertise. We’ve still got the puzzle of making sure Armageddon is a good card, but Liliana of the Veil is a pretty sick permanent to have around when you give the battlefield -3/-3 and blow up all lands. Even if you just cheat her onto the battlefield when you Expertise, you’re doing some pretty good things.
Like Collected Company, Yahenni’s Expertise increases our incentive to play extra three-drops. Normally, playing more twelve three-drops is kind of clunky. With Yahenni’s Expertise, however, we actually want to draw two three-drops, not just one. As such, I could actually imagine playing fifteen or more three-drops.
Creature – Human Wizard
When Trophy Mage enters the battlefield, you may search your library for an artifact card with converted mana cost 3, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.
Speaking of playing tons of threes, Trophy Mage might open up some new Modern strategies with three-mana artifact toolboxes. Once you’re playing a bunch of Trophy Mages and targets, it’s easy to find yourself with enough threes to really appreciate a Yahenni’s Expertise.
Add four Trophy Mage and three Yahenni’s Expertise to this:
To start with, you can find Vedalken Shackles to stop small creatures or Ensnaring Bridge to stop large ones.
How much disruption we can actually play is an interesting question. Some of the targets are great bullets against the right decks: Crucible of Worlds against Tron or Trinisphere against some combo decks, for instance.
One of the reasons I’m excited about Trophy Mage is the strength of two of the proactive targets, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Sword of Feast and Famine lets us play a little bit of a StoneBlade game. Trophy Mage is a turn slower, but it might be a nice option anyway. It also turns all of our random Snapcaster Mages into must-kill threats, too. Plus, if we find our Etched Champion, we can actually build a pretty hard-to-fight threat that will rip our opponent’s resources apart.
And next, we have my personal favorite, a card that was surely designed by a very attractive card designer.
Crystal Shard is a card advantage engine that really lets us take over games that drag out. Once we’ve searched up Crystal Shard, we can bounce the Trophy Mage every turn to start searching up whichever three we want every turn. Crystal Shard is also a nice one with Snapcaster Mage, letting us get a lot of card advantage and possibly some extra blocking (and bouncing).
While Crystal Shard is primarily for bouncing our own creatures, we can also use it to make life harder for opponents, tying up their mana or punishing them for tapping out. One play to watch for is using Crystal Shard on the opponent’s turn, untapping, and using it again if they didn’t leave two up.
While Yahenni’s Expertise and Trophy Mage are just scratching the surface, they are already enough to get my juices flowing. Aether Revolt can’t get here soon enough!