Counter Insurgency

Nothing sends a brewer’s heart going pitter-pat like +1/+1 counter shenanigans! Matt Higgs couldn’t help himself, and he’s served up a G/W list to go with his Prerelease observations! How many dice do you need for SCG Columbus?

The gloves are off, the chips are down, and Aether Revolt is here to shake things up.

Every brewer in Magic has taken to Aether Revolt with a new-found fervor. It feels almost like an entirely different expansion: between the bannings, the introduction of new impactful effects, and the paradigm shift that comes with those, Aether Revolt is a small set like none we’ve seen before. From bumper to bumper, Aether Revolt is an all-new Vehicle.

Aether Revolt is full of powerful cards for Limited and Constructed both, and I hope that your Prerelease this past weekend helped you see the standouts from the set. Sealed helps you see the raw power of cards and offers the potential to be surprised by overperformers, holding their own in a battle of wits and resources. I know that, for me, Prereleases are most exciting because everyone is at the same level, putting cards through their paces to determine solid strategies for that event and for the months that follow.

For me, one mechanic stood above the rest: Revolt.

Whether it’s on your best rare or a run-of-the-mill uncommon, Revolt is the keyword that surprised me the most. Much like morbid, a similar mechanic in Innistrad and Dark Ascension, Revolt is something you must always play around. A foolish attack may have an ulterior motive, a strong line of play can provide an even stronger follow-up, and blocking in general becomes a different animal. Morbid had a specific but fairly frequent condition to be met. Revolt, on the other hand, can be triggered by a variety of actions; returning a card to hand, sacrificing an artifact, or cracking a fetchland can all trigger this mechanic. This opens the door for a wider variety of interactions, and that’s what brewers like to see.

Seventeen cards, nearly one-tenth of the set, bear the Revolt mechanic, including four different rares. The rares, for the most part, look like versions of cards that have come before them.

Most of these spells are known (or at least approximately known) quantities. Each of their counterparts has done fine in Standard before, some fitting into niche archetypes and some moving on to play important roles in Eternal formats. These cards are moderately powerful in the abstract. The potentially most powerful of the four, Greenwheel Liberator, will likely be kept in check by the actual best and likely most ubiquitous Revolt card from Aether Revolt, Fatal Push.

Basically, one-mana Smother feels good.

But more on that card later. First, I want to look from the strongest card with Revolt to my favorite card with Revolt. This card was the first card I slotted in my Peasant Cube from this set, thanks to its flexibility and limitless potential there. In Standard, I’m convinced this card will make a splash at some level. Let’s all meet Renegade Rallier.

Whether you played this card this weekend or saw it sleeved up on the opposite side of the table, you probably saw it do some modest work, coming down on-time to resurrect a 2/2 and keep the pressure on or appearing later in the game to recover a situational artifact. Either way, Renegade Rallier is a reasonable uncommon that passes the vanilla test in Limited, and it has a decent bit of text besides.

In a Constructed deck, it could be anything from a value engine to a tempo play to a combo enabler. Only time will tell for sure, but for now, I want to look at the first two.

As I said before, Aether Revolt’s release feels more like the start of a new Standard, with previous strategies significantly changing and with key cards no longer being impacted. Traditionally, aggressive decks have always performed at a higher than average level, and that’s a fun tradition to follow. Admittedly, I never get excited about a set from a control perspective (though Disallow, Aethertide Whale, and Yaheeni’s Expertise are pretty convincing this time around). No, when I see a new set, I wanna get in there, smashing face in the red zone with a new batch of 2/1s and 3/4s.

When Oath of Ajani was spoiled, I got excited for both applications. +1/+1 counters as a theme are always easy to find and fun to execute, and the planeswalker cost reduction is also highly motivating. Green and white got a couple of really nice gifts in this small set, and it only seems fair that we take them out together, alone, for our first bout of Aether Revolt.

Combining the +1/+1 counter theme alongside Revolt seems simple enough, and we can get straight to work with a deck that features some brand-new spells teaming up with some familiar faces.


Let me start with our old pal, Thraben Inspector.

Even with Mono-White Humans and Collected Company as things of the past, this 1/2 with a replacement card still manages to be one of the format’s premier one-drops. It gives a blocker or a little bit of pressure, creates an artifact, and provides something to die for Revolt. If you have a Revolt card in hand, crack the Clue and cast the spell, or crack the Clue hoping to draw a Revolt spell. This also provides early targets for bonus +1/+1 counters from the rest of the deck, and that’s not nothing.

From there, we move to Walking Ballista.

Wait, did Hangarback Walker get reprinted?

Seriously, though, this card looks an awful lot like everyone’s least favorite Construct from Magic Origins. It acts like it, too: flexible mana cost, playable for zero (to either trigger Liliana, Heretical Healer or, in this case, Revolt), and a late-game mana sink with an insurance policy on death. Not too shabby if you ask me, and this one does even better if an exile effect gets aimed at it. Just ping ’em! The manaless activation really sells it for me, and the added +1/+1 counters make it double trouble in this deck.

If green aggro becomes a thing, I feel like Rishkar, Peema Renegade will help us get there. The mana bonus may not be fully utilized here to cast big creatures, but I’m fine with casting this, having a 3/3 (he can target himself), and pumping a two-drop and swinging in. Later in the game, when Walking Ballista is your only way to close the game, tap your creatures and pour mana into the Construct!

Renegade Rallier is after that, and it’s a great card. It’s like a miniature conditional Sun Titan. This can get back a permanent card, which means creatures; artifacts; enchantments; Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded (of course I noticed); and lands. The land potential is interesting, especially with some Standard options. The one that perhaps amuses me the most is Mirrorpool. Copy the Rallier with Mirrorpool’s activated ability and then put the Mirrorpool back onto the battlefield as the copy’s trigger goes on the stack. Nice! Expensive, but nice! Maybe there’s something there? Landfall, anyone?

The remaining creatures play critical roles, too. Selfless Spirit seems like a no-brainer. It can sacrifice itself (and trigger Revolt) at no cost, and its evasiveness makes +1/+1 counters much more deadly. Renegade Rallier gets it back, too, protecting you from another removal spell. Hidden Herbalists is a potentially powerful Revolt card which can chain together like Burning-Tree Emissary. It may be a 2/2 too frequently to go anywhere, but I’m always interested.

Tireless Tracker plays off the Clue theme set forth by Thraben Inspector and it, too, builds +1/+1 counters to interact in that way. Duskwatch Recruiter is another great mana sink, and on its reverse, you can net mana with Hidden Herbalists or play the last creature, Hope of Ghirapur, for free. I’m not sure if a legendary 1/1 flyer for one is going anywhere, but I want to be ready if it does.


This deck needs Dromoka’s Command.

Still probably the best Standard Command from Dragons of Tarkir.

In lieu of that instant, we have a sorcery disguised as an enchantment: Oath of Ajani. This pumps the team, of course, but because it’s legendary, casting an extra copy will put one of them into the graveyard, triggering Revolt. See how easy this is?

Declaration in Stone might very well see maindeck play again, with plenty of unbanned targets to choose from and with the power of sorceries clearly pushed to fill the gap. It’s still such a great way to get the job done.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar was made for this deck. Her +1/+1 counter ability will be well-leveraged, and she can cost as little as GG with an Oath of Ajani on the battlefield. Making a 0/1 Plant is fine too; you have to block Gideon, Ally of Zendikar somehow.

Lastly, I want to try Lifecraft Awakening for one reason: I want to target a Clue and beat my opponent to death with it. That’s all I want. Or, you know, you can target Walking Ballista and it’s basically a green Fireball. Whatever floats your ballista.


As much as I wanted to include the cutesy interaction of Mirrorpool and Renegade Rallier, the colorless sources required to activate it reliably were far too hard for the manabase to support, even with the excellent Spire of Industry. Instead, this pre-Kaladesh manabase will do the job just fine. Evolving Wilds triggers Revolt and Tireless Tracker, and, yes, Renegade Rallier can return that.


Going into a format as blind as we all are creates a similar sideboard situation: play some good cards that crush common countermeasures to your strategy. Narnam Renegade is perhaps a bit too on the nose for theme purposes, but this deathtouch one-drop survives fights with unbuffed Sylvan Advocates, and it will always, always trade up. Typhoid Rats saw play for a reason, and this little potential 2/3 has the guts to make it happen. Bygone Bishop triggers off of every creature in this deck, pre- or post-board. That plus its evasion gives it a strong resumé for this deck.

Sram’s Expertise, I think, is being significantly underrated. It’s really hard to play this in a deck where you won’t have an excellent follow up. This deck gives a Nissa, Voice of Zendikar follow-up to pump the new Servos, or a Rishkar, Peema Renegade to buff them and provide a big mana boost for next turn. This card is designed to pull you back from a sweeper, and it does it incredibly efficiently. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is too good, man. He’s perfect for this deck, and he will continue to dominate for the next three months. Get used to seeing this guy come down fast. With Oath of Ajani, he’ll come down a turn faster.

There are lots of directions this deck can go, and I think that’s why I like Revolt so much. It can blend in with any set and almost any strategy. Careful setup, gameplay, and deckbuilding can reward you for including the mechanic in your plan, and no doubt it will interact with cards in ways you’d never expect.

On the other side of the fence, Fatal Push is good, and we’ll find out just how good soon enough.

What’s your favorite Revolt card? Have I dismissed one of the rares too early? What ways have you been testing this new mechanic of upheaval?