Early Aether Analysis

Can we please get more previews for Aether Revolt? The set name sounds awesome. The cards we’ve seen so far are awesome. And Matt Higgs is awesome. And he’s here to talk new Magic.

The first previews from Aether Revolt are trickling in, and the holidays seem to have come early! Even with just a few interesting cards, mechanics, and story arcs, I can already tell Aether Revolt is going to be a super set to bolster the successful decks of the format and provide plenty of innovation to keep brewers happy until Amonkhet in the spring. What, me? Looking forward to Amonkhet? Don’t be ridiculous.


Grixis hype aside, as of the time when this article was written, StarCityGames.com is currently pre-selling eleven preview cards from Aether Revolt, and every single one drives home the theme of Kaladesh while moving into new, exciting design space. In the past, I’ve generally done my best to pass off preview season, continuing to dig into the cards of the previous set until the release date. This time, though, I think it’s worth the time to look ahead at what Constructed will be come January 20th, 2017. I like to make predictions as much as the next planeswalker, so I’ll try my hand at divining the big-impact cards before they have a chance to prove their worth.

Let’s dig into the eleven cards we’ve got and hope the remaining 94% of the set has what it takes to keep up!

Due to my ignorance of the set’s preview season starting a little early, this was actually the first card I saw. I feel like this card is worth it only for the fact that it sweeps away Smuggler’s Copter. That’s probably enough, honestly. If they’ve got two Smuggler’s Copter and a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, sign me up for this five-mana sideboard gem. Quarantine Field will survive, but this is less mana-intensive and should provide a firmer answer for those problems which can plague this format the most. Definitely not maindeckable, but some creative brewer is going to find a deck this will love, while I’m sure to build something cutesy this will straight hose.

I love Voidslime.

This Dissension rare just feels good. Even after multiple transitions, I always find room in my relevantly colored Commander decks to lovingly slot this three-mana instant. Disallow is almost always better, being easier to cast and more flexible while performing an identical function. Voidslime has been at the center of some of my favorite “gotcha” plays in Commander, and Disallow will likely do the same thing in Standard. This will be a skill-intensive card; sometimes you’ll use it to counter a nothing creature or a tempo spell and it’ll be the right play, or you’ll use it to break their back. No Liliana, the Last Hope ultimate for you! Much like Summary Dismissal, this will provide blue mages with a distinct level of security they haven’t had in quite a while. In addition, I think it might be the illest Torrential Gearhulk target in Standard.

Trophy Mage, or (as I’ve seen it called) “Threeinket Mage,” has that structuralist construction that makes the brewer in me sing. “Find the wackiest three-drop artifact in the format and break it!” That’s what my heart says.

While clearly a Constructed homage to Trinket Mage, which itself already had one tribute in Treasure Mage, Trophy Mage is a bullet in Limited, too, helping you draw a solid card, whether that’s Renegade Freighter, which it can then crew, or Chief of the Foundry to pump your fabricated army of Servos.

In Standard, the options spread out a bit. I mean, you can get Soul Separator, cast it, pay five mana to copy the Trophy Mage (the one that almost certainly died protecting you while you finagle this plan) and get a 1/1 flying Mage that then finds you another Soul Separator. Oh? Eleven mana? What’s an “Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger?” Hah, did your grandmother teach you how to play Magic? This is how people play Magic in 2017!

No, just cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. But still, you get the point.

Improvise is a variant of convoke, an ability originally printed in Ravnica on cards like Scatter the Seeds and reinvigorated in Magic 2015 with cards like Triplicate Spirits. This is a narrow, but powerful spell. Essence Extraction being played alongside, or even instead of, the seemingly superior Murder should prove the importance of incidental lifegain in Standard. This card drains toughness, can be considerably offset by other artifacts you control, and scales to grant you lots of life in the late-game. Fabricate might get a big boost from improvise, so I look forward to seeing how many cards bear this resurrected mechanic.

Okay, this seems busted. This is busted, right?

Four mana to kill a three-toughness creature is a bit of a stretch; we all know the feeling of having Languish in our hands while we stared down a Siege Rhino, so the sweeping effect is a bit situational. But the ability to freely cast something else on top of that makes this a card I’m excited to play. For four mana, you have the potential to decimate your opponent’s start and get yourself going, either by casting a now-safe creature or a previously unsafe planeswalker like Liliana, the Last Hope, who could even finish off one the sturdier attackers with a +1 follow-up.

To be honest, my first thought with this was card was Living End.

That’s right: you can nuke your defensive team, kill anything that Lighting Bolt could, and get your army of recently deceased creatures back to the battlefield. Sure, you might bring some of their critters back, too, but ours are better. Can’t you see the Crypt of Agadeem / Architect of Will-cycling plan work with this little sorcery, maybe out of the sideboard? Even if this card is not a chase rare for the set, it will warp the format; you can be sure of that. Three toughness just became a liability again.

I’m not sure how I feel about Pia’s Revolution. On one hand, its effect is powerful and relatively easy to abuse, but it still has the Browbeat paradox to deal with: your opponent will always choose what you don’t want, and if they choose what you do want, you’re probably already winning. My first thought was to the recently retired Hangarback Walker, which you could either cycle endlessly for profit or have your opponent take a Bolt. I feel like this is perhaps better against a deck filled with planeswalkers. They already won’t be messing with an artifact-based plan very much, so you can feel free to blast their planeswalkers for three a pop. They don’t double up, really (your opponent will just choose return to hand twice), so I’m a bit more skeptical that Pia’s Revolution will be successful.

Another build-around-me all-star, Quicksmith Rebel is better than people are giving it credit for. Sure, it’s a bit soft and undersized, but with any reasonable artifact, it becomes a free Shock. Untapping with it gives you another free Shock. This isn’t nothing. I think the Rebel’s success relies heavily on its ability to survive, which is a bit more in the hands of the metagame. If removal becomes less popular, Quicksmith Rebel has game. This isn’t even taking into account its combo potential. Key to the City now just draws you a card when you tap it for damage, for example. Once you charge into Eternal formats, the sky’s the limit.

Ajani has had a hard time over the years in the Magic story, and I’m not sure this really helps his case in the game we play. I feel like Ajani Unyielding is the finisher that nobody needs. Sure, his -2 is great and all, but I don’t like the idea of paying six mana in Standard to sorcery-speed Swords to Plowshares your creature. Ajani Unyielding needs a lot of support, and the sort of attrition-based midrange decks that combine these colors don’t really need help widening the gap or closing the game. I’m a pass, I’m afraid.

Oh, boy, can I speculate about the next Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker? No? Danny’s saying no.

If you’ve been playing Magic for ten years or more, you can remember the Cruel Control days of 2007, where Cruel Ultimatum duels boiled down to whoever drew the deck’s namesake first. Cruel Ultimatum, a challenging card to cast in that era, has been diluted a bit to make it more Standard-friendly. It’s still a beating; this comes in the colors meant to decimate your opponent. Unlike Ajani Unyielding, Dark Intimations can very much get you back into a losing game and drastically slow down your opponent. Once we get a Bolas planeswalker, we’ll see just how good that second effect is.

If its pre-order price of $14.99 is any indication, Heart of Kiran is everything Smuggler’s Copter should have been, and I have to say, I’m all aboard that hype train.

Heart of Kiran is huge. This is a Serra Angel for two mana that you can turn on and off using a noncreature permanent and no mana. One of the biggest weaknesses of Smuggler’s Copter and its ilk is that you would lose every other creature you had and you’d be left with a two-mana nothing. Heart of Kiran draws on the power of your planeswalkers to bring brutal punishment.

Three-mana planeswalkers were already good, but they got a huge boost with Heart of Kiran. I particularly like a plan that includes Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Turn 2 Heart of Kiran, turn 3 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, activate Heart of Kiran with one of Nissa’s counters and then -2 her to make it a 5/5 vigilant flyer, smash you. Turn 4, follow up with a three-power creature, crew up and smash for five more. Seems hard to concentrate when you’re at ten and you can’t kill it with Declaration in Stone, Harnessed Lightning, Grasp of Darkness, Essence Extraction, Smuggler’s Copter, or Ruinous Path, huh? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Heart of Kiran also pairs well with either Saheeli Rai or Liliana, the Last Hope. The latter can kill your opponent’s offense with her +1, give the loyalty counter back for Heart of Kiran to smash, and repeat until you’ve got what you need to win the game. No joke, I think this might one of the defining cards of the set.

The final preview currently revealed is Scrap Trawler, a card packed to the metallic gills with potential. While it’s too early to tell what kind of game this card can play, it will undoubtedly be a card I cover in January once we’ve got the full set to mentally play with. And hey, Trophy Mage can find it!

As with Kaladesh, Wizards of the Coast is also releasing two Planeswalker Decks that will contain Standard-legal planeswalkers.

Blue and black are better when they have a planeswalker they can drive towards. While Tezzeret, Master of Metal has an inseparable artifact focus, I still think he has the makings of a solid card. The fact that his +1 can find that one artifact in the deck you care about is important. If it’s something that works well in multiples, that’s even better. Black and blue have plenty of energy-producing spells, so Dynavolt Tower might be a tempting target. Maybe Panharmonicon is your choice? You’re only limited by your imagination, playability be danged.

Neither Ajani has me super-pumped. Ajani, Valiant Protector’s abilities aren’t powerful enough to make it worth playing over Ajani Unyielding. His +2 should give more counters if you’re spending six mana during your main phase, and his +1 could hit the equivalent of a Llanowar Elves. His ultimate is fragile, as it requires four turns of successful +2 activations before it’s online. Even if you do manage to get a creature pumped, surprise! Murder. Sad face.

I’m probably beating up on our favorite kitty a bit too much, but his abilities feel far too safe. If his +1 put creatures directly onto the battlefield as a way to protect him or his +2 put four +1/+1 counters on the creature he targeted, I might be on board. Curiosity might have saved this cat.

Hopefully by the time you read this there’ll be even more toys from Aether Revolt to drool over, but until then, I think I’ve picked out the fun ones, the good ones, and the letdowns. I can’t wait for January to get here so I can start slinging brand new creatures, artifacts, and planeswalkers!

Which new spells have caught your eye? Has Yaheeni’s Expertise attracted the Eternal brewers at all? Maybe you’ve found the perfect artifact pairing for Quicksmith Rebel?