Tezzeret, Vampires, And Nicol Bolas

Brad Nelson is going full blown little kid on this set! He’s head over heels for the drama of Aether Revolt, but that’s not enough! The man must brew! He’s got a few decklists, lots of card analysis, and plenty of predictions for the return of Magic’s biggest villain!

The plane of Kaladesh is flush with a substance called Aether that flows through the plane as smoothly as blood through the body. With all good resources comes the inevitable war fought over it. Some on the plane feel it shouldn’t be controlled, while others believe in the harvesting of this fascinating element. Our Gatewatch heroes and heroines may have just bested some of the biggest and baddest interdimensional beings in all existence, but their next antagonist is as indestructible as it is universal: politics.

Aether Revolt is right around the corner.

Can this set shake things up, or are the toys of old far too powerful to be disrupted? Today we seek out that which can change the status quo, looking for some much-needed light at the end of this block’s tunnel.

Our journey for answers starts with my main man Tezzeret.

Your Villain, My Hero

Without Tezzeret the Seeker, I may not even be here today with the clout and expertise I’ve gained by being a professional Magic player.

Tezzeret helped win me my first PTQ, and thus begin my journey to the game’s pinnacle of success. Since then I’ve blossomed as both a player and person, but the same cannot be said about Tezzeret. He’s refused to change his ways and still continues to seek out more and more power with less and less authority.

A powerful being and big dumb jerkface.

At first glance, Tezzeret the Schemer doesn’t look like much. His -2 ability can protect him, but is reliant on already having artifacts on the battlefield. Even when reaching that requirement, Vehicles and planeswalkers both have already shown how ineffective sorcery-speed removal can be. When we can’t go down, we must go up, and that’s exactly where the planeswalker’s purest gift lies.

Creating an Etherium Cell (Lotus Petal) every turn doesn’t seem like that great of an ability on the surface, but that’s because we don’t see mana acceleration/color fixing come out of Dimir colors very often. These seemingly innocuous artifacts can help power out six- and seven-drops a turn or two earlier, cast Fatal Push while turning on Revolt the turn he’s cast, or even sit on the battlefield for a couple of turns before becoming animated by Tezzeret the Schemer’s ultimate, which only takes two turns to become threatened. Six loyalty is also nothing to be scoffed at, either, especially when the threat of untimely spells is right around the corner.

Now, I don’t think Tezzeret the Schemer is going to be the one busting down doors and winning games like Gid3on, Ally of Zendikar has been known to for some time, but that’s why he’s a schemer. His abilities are role-players that can help power out Eldrazi, other planeswalkers, or even big artifacts to stay on-theme. I wouldn’t go all-in on this card, but sleeping on it may end up being a huge mistake.

Hero’s Upswing

Standing against Tezzeret and the Consuls are a motley crew highlighted by The Gatewatch. Past these prominent members of the rebellion stand those who have much more to lose. Just like Chandra, their homeworld is at stake. One in particular has caught my attention. His fight for justice may very well jump off the pages of storytelling and into our cardboard competitions.

Verdurous Gearhulk has already shown us how the distribution of counters can have a major impact on how games play out, but also that the card without options is still a force to be reckoned with. Now, Rishkar, Peema Renegade doesn’t have base stats that can compete with Verdurous Gearhulk, but we aren’t looking for a finisher. We have that already.

Hi, I’ll be your finisher for the evening.

What Rishkar is offering us is a great role-player that we previously haven’t had access to.

Rishkar, Peema Renegade is a multi-purpose threat which, to me, is why it has so much potential. On turn 3 it comes down, strengthening it along with a previously cast creature, but at the same time it’s potentially bridging the mana gap for a powerful five-drop on turn 4. This creates a threat of the unknown that may want to be dealt with in the now, but the only way to do so is by killing Rishkar, Peema Renegade, which usually should be the weaker of the two creatures. If the other “more powerful” threat is targeted, then Rishkar, Peema Renegade can be used on turn 4 to power out a Verdurous Gearhulk or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Why don’t you look at that! He also has a perfect body for crewing such a magnificent machine as well. How the numbers are just coming together!

The initial home I found for Rishkar, Peema Renegade may seem unconventional. This list is simply a rough sketch to get my points across, which mainly boil down to highlighting the dense synergies these cards have with one another.

Let’s start the explanation with the newest and baddest Vehicle on the block.

Crew 3 for a 4/4 body seems like a steep cost at first, but Heart of Kiran does something no other Vehicle can, which is interact favorably with planeswalkers. Until now, loyalty has simply been a planeswalker’s “life total” that we could play with once a turn to get the effect out of it we deemed appropriate at the time. Now we can use that loyalty to crew a Vehicle, which is not only very cool but seems almost degenerately busted.

Don’t believe me? Well, just think about all the great cards that allowed us to use life totals as costs for alternate resources. Putrid Leech, Necropotence, and Gitaxian Probe are just some of the examples, but the list goes on and on. Now we can play with our planeswalker’s loyalty instead as we fuel Heart of Kiran proactively as well as defensively.

This changes the restraints Vehicles put on deckbuilding. For instance, when Kaladesh was first revealed, many tried to play Nissa, Voice of Zendikar alongside Smuggler’s Copter to ineffective results. That’s because a Vehicle is only as good as its crew and Plants don’t make good pilots. Nissa, on the other hand, is great behind the wheel of Heart of Kiran. So are Liliana, the Last Hope; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and Ob Nixilis Reignited, but none are potentially as potent as Arlinn Kord.

Arlinn Kord hasn’t seen much play since her release, and in all honesty it’s pretty justified why. The card didn’t have a home, nor the raw power to create one. Finally the pieces seem to be in place for her time to shine. She can help crew Heart of Kiran while also giving the Vehicle haste. In return, Heart of Kiran can protect the vulnerable planeswalker from aerial assaults, which was always Arlinn Kord’s biggest weakness.

So many copies of each legendary permanent might come off as an egregious deckbuilding error, but that might turn out to simply be paranoia. Each one left unchecked could be lights-out in a few short turns, making additional copies left stranded in-hand not as detrimental as one would think, especially when Heart of Kiran is going to be pulling double-duty as an attacker and blocker, which causes vulnerability.

I’m not sold on the small energy package, but I would start there just to have access to a strong removal spell. Attune with Aether along with Harnessed Lightning might not even be needed.

True Blood

Switching gears, something confused me deeply when looking through the revealed cards. Now, Wizards has been doing a great job infusing a rich storyline into all the cards they print, which is why I was taken aback when I saw this card in particular.

It looks playable on the surface. Haste is nothing to scoff at, especially when it’s built to benefit from as well as survive combat. There’s only one problem I have with this card: it’s a damn Vampire! Look, I get it, I shouldn’t harp on something this irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but I can’t get over it. Zero, I repeat, zero Vampires were in Kaladesh, but now already two Vampires have been revealed in Aether Revolt. How is that even possible?

“Some Aetherborn like Yahenni, Undying Partisan have the Vampire sub-typing. In universe a few Aetherborn are spawned with the capacity absorbing others’ life force, prolonging their own lives.” –MTG Salvation Wiki

Now that’s a “convenient” write-in, if I do say so myself. Okay, fine, Vampires all of a sudden exist on Kaladesh. Now that I’ve accepted it, I guess we should see if there are enough out there to finally make a functioning Vampire deck.

The deck actually doesn’t look half-bad at first glance! Both Gifted Aetherborn and Yahenni, Undying Partisan look great in this shell, giving the deck the aggression it’s looking for. Gifted Aetherborn may not end up being better than the two copies of Scrapheap Scrounger that got cut to make room for this new “Vampire NightWalk,” but my guess is the card is just great. Lifelink shouldn’t be ignored in this modern era of Magic, and neither should deathtouch. Both on a two-drop in a deck that can grow its base stats might be enough to break into a format as powerful as this one.

Now, Rakdos colors have always had a glaring weakness in sideboard options, but Aether Revolt has provided red with something it’s been desperately needing since Kaladesh released. What is it, you ask? Well that’s a good artifact removal spell…

The New Batch

“What has this world come to?”

Not to be confused with Ants, Goblins, or Krakens, Release the Gremlins is all about the destruction of shiny things. At three mana, you have yourself a Manic Vandal. With just the mere investment of two additional mana, you’ve got yourself the red version of the beloved Indrik Stomphowler, and at seven mana, you’ve practically invested into a movie franchise.

All jokes aside, this card is the real deal when it comes to sideboard options to combat opposing artifacts. I predict this card to see plenty of play in the upcoming months.

We all know speculation can only get us so far when trying to predict what’s going to happen until we have the full card set. It’s nice to start the conversation so that we have a good idea on what to pre-order, but nothing can get set in stone until all the cards get revealed. That’s why I normally wait for the entire set to get revealed before my creative juices really start flowing, but one card in particular changed that for me. That’s because it wasn’t based around how to build decks, but how Wizards might be building one card in particular: Nicol Bolas.

This card looks weak on the surface. Well, just weak enough to not overpower a game but still have an effect serviceable enough to prolong the game. That’s easy to understand when you read the second ability. Clearly this card is intended to be played alongside the new Nicol Bolas, but to what extent is still unknown.

I love the design of this card, because it excites me in a way very few cards have in the past. Seeing this card reminded me of the first time I saw Tarmogoyf and thought, “What in the world is a planeswalker?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m great.”

At 30(0) years old, I never thought this game would truly excite me in this way again, as I’ve felt slightly jaded after seeing over 50 sets be released. Well, Wizards surprised me again and left us this kernel of a clue into what Nicol Bolas may look like.

Now, speculating on its specific abilities is virtually pointless, given all the time and work that goes into the development of Magic cards, but Dark Intimations does lead me to believe that the new Nicol Bolas will have one of the most distinctive ultimates the game has ever seen, not in what that ultimate will do but what it will cost, and thus how the planeswalker will function.

I predict Nicol Bolas will not be able to ultimate without the help of Dark Intimations, meaning that it will not have a plus ability. Possibly a few 0s and a slew of loyalty-reducing abilities, but not a single one that causes the elevator to go up. Dark Intimations will get us to Nicol Bolas’s ultimate ability. Isn’t that cool!

Let’s Legacy!

All right, that’s all I’ve got for this week. By next Thursday we will have the entire card image gallery, which will let us know if we have the appropriate tools to fight Aetherworks Marvel or not, which is really what we all need to know. Until then, we have an awesome Grand Prix to get ready for. StarCityGames.com is coming to Louisville, Kentucky this weekend, and I don’t think I need to tell you how awesome it is to play in an SCG-run Grand Prix. It’s also Legacy! I can’t wait to play in it, and I’m sure you can’t either!

Oh shoot, I forgot to talk about a bunch about Fatal Push. Oh well, I bet someone out there sees the card’s potential and will write something about it. If not, there’s always next week!