There is something beautiful and pure about red. This weekend, while I piloted my favorite Legacy deck, Death and Taxes, I watched @RedDeckWinning‘s John Galli rocking Burn to a very high finish.
As I stood behind his Infect opponent, I watched his Goblin Guide getting in for a few damage at a time, and I found myself envying him. I believe Death and Taxes was the best choice for me, so I wouldn’t have wanted to change decks Grand Prix Louisville, but I did wish I could be casting Lightning Bolt and friends.
I really started doing a Red Review in earnest after Patrick Sullivan largely decided to step away from doing his Red Box Review. The goal of every Red Review is to examine a new set and think about it from the perspective of decks that are in essence red decks not decks that are simply playing red. While any deck running red mana can cast a red spell, there is something entirely different about a deck that dedicates itself to the color.
The Red Review is about specifically examining the new cards for Standard from the perspective of that dedication.
What we’ve been looking at, as of late, is a bare minimum of decks that are what we’d call “red decks.” It may be a long while before we see the true red decks again; instead we’ve gotten Mardu Vehicles and B/R Aggro, W/R Vehicles and G/R Energy Aggro, or even U/R Fevered Burn. Even though none of these decks are actually in the mode of “red deck” (instead in the mode of “aggressive decks with red”), I think it is still useful to think about red from the perspectives of purity, giving us a sort of Platonic Ideal of redness that can be used to inspire our thoughts about what we could be.
Without further ado, let’s begin the Aether Revolt Red Review!
The Card to Watch
Much like my review for Pyromancer’s Goggles in The Magic Origins Red Review, it’s true that Metallic Mimic is not technically a red card, but if we’re not fussy, we can see the ways in which it is potentially noteworthy.
First of all, I am confident you already know the combo of Metallic Mimic on Servos with Animation Module. In combination, any free mana you have can make an army of 1/1 Servos each with a +1/+1 counter on it. This colorless combination is available to any deck, but where Metallic Mimic is notable in this review is that it is an efficient creature that could make sense in a red deck of numerous types.
Provided enough +1/+1 production that naturally exists in any deck, an Animation Module could easily fit into numerous styles of Red. The least likely is a purely aggressive red deck, but it is possible; much more likely is in either an Artifact Red or Big Red shell, where there might be more payoff for the Kaladesh card. What makes it noteworthy is that the card is reasonable on its own without that payoff.
What makes it worth watching is that the combo is so damned explosive and the card doesn’t need to be making a combo to be worthy on its own. This card might not pay off today, but like Pyromancer’s Goggles, it might pay off in the future for the little Mimic.
Frankly, I’m surprised to be placing this card here in the “excellent” category. It speaks to just how much the world has changed since my M14 Red Review where I gave Shock a “good” rating.
The big thing that has changed can be summed up with the economics of scarcity. There simply aren’t any other red cards like Shock right now. Hitting players and creatures alike is an important ability, especially in a world where an instant bit of damage can stop an infinite combo.
When we look at the other red cards that we’re playing, I expect that this will supplant Galvanic Bombardment in most Standard decks. Finishing off a planeswalker is more important than ever, and every little bit of damage that can be added that goes to a player’s head is important, and might allow us to reevaluate the potential of aggressive red decks, whether Burn or simply Red Aggro.
This card isn’t just noteworthy because we no longer have Smuggler’s Copter to compete with it. It is worth paying strict attention to simply because this card creates a huge vigilant evasion creature that can be hard to kill.
When you’re trying to finish an opponent off, flying is a huge ability to have. When you’re trying to protect your own life, a huge flyer is also great. As an artifact, it can fit into a more artifact-heavy strategy. This means that Heart of Kiran can potentially be a tool that could fit into numerous different red archetypes, both aggressive and controlling. This is a rare feature for a card.
While the card is naturally held back by its legendary status, it still is going to be a huge weapon for red, especially in planeswalker wars where the card can be a party to planeswalker killing or defense. Don’t be surprised to see Heart of Kiran cast off the +1 from Chandra, Torch of Defiance, either from the mana ability or the pseudo-draw ability. The fact that the card can then be ready to defend Chandra, Torch of Defiance is incredibly notable. Any color might like Heart of Kiran, but I feel as though this Chandra, Torch of Defiance interaction makes the card especially good in red.
This is an aggressively costed card that can end up granting a ton of grinding potential for both aggressive decks and more artifact-centric decks. If we think about the most aggressive builds of red, there are a lot of artifacts that make a lot of sense already. Every single Vehicle that is Constructed-worthy is definitely on that list, as are a few other cards.
Once you open up to thoughts of a more artifact-based red deck, you can also find the cards that are more controlling come into the mix. Hedron Archive is already a fabulous card for these decks, but when you’re effectively drawing three cards, it becomes even more noteworthy.
Remember, too, that there are plenty of cards that exist in red (and affiliated artifacts) that are naturally filling the graveyard. From Chandra, Flamecaller to Cathartic Reunion to the already mentioned Bomat Courier and Key to the City, having an artifact rich graveyard is not wildly unlikely. The level of card advantage possible in this card is immense, but especially enticing in that it can be passively granted card advantage, so that if you are more naturally an aggressive deck, you aren’t expending time on that card advantage.
Unopposed, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider represents a pseudo-3/3 for only two mana. I say “3/3” because it will only take knocking out the three toughness of Kari to stop her from causing the trouble she brings to the party. Only one power of that attack has the menace that makes her potentially hard to deal with, and she doesn’t cascade in her effect on a game; otherwise I might view her as more potent. All that being said, she’s a solid creature, but not one I expect to radically affect the way we think about our red decks.
If your deck is energy-based, this could be an incredible part of a top-end plan, so it plays well with Lathnu Hellion. The double strike side of the card potentially turning into a “double”-double strike with pump spells can make the card totally deadly.
Ever since Satoshi Nakamura introduced the world to Mono-Brown, the classic Atog has always been a card to think about seriously, if only because it is fully capable of killing an opponent incredibly quickly. Even without massive creation of tokens, throwing the kitchen sink and all of the silverware at the opponent can do a ton of damage. More often, it is the threat of throwing everything in that is so dangerous. Whether it is an Atog or a Gremlin, anything like this card is always worth paying attention to.
In the same framework as Heart of Kiran, this non-legendary flying Vehicle is simply big and efficient enough to be worth thinking about in general. While more suited to a controlling deck because of the smaller power to casting cost ratio, it can also be a worthy add-in to a deck with an energy sub-theme. Anything that feeds Lathnu Hellion and is worthwhile in its own right makes me pay attention.
This card is essentially a mana rock of a sort, with the extra payoff in turning all your artifacts into mana rocks. With both Kaladesh and Aether Revolt providing a ton of great artifacts, I could see this being a core to a great Big Red or Artifact Red deck. It is especially good at paying for Eldrazi cards.
In a deck that produces a lot of mana, Walking Ballista can be a great option. While the card is definitively not Hangarback Walker, it can function like a strange sort of Seal of Fire monster and could easily kill an opponent by itself late in a game. Perhaps most importantly, this card is a “zero” in terms of thinking about cards like Scrap Trawler, which may otherwise run out of fuel down the chain after the “ones.”
The Sideboard Cards
My jaw still drops when I think about this card. I think it is that good. It could be, perhaps, the best Threaten we’ve ever seen. Threaten-style cards have long been a part of the arsenal for red decks looking to finish games. What I love about this card is that the “rebate” you get from the card can be an incredible part of building enough pressure in a single moment to end the game.
Whether it is a Manic Vandal or an army of Gremlins, this is the kind of card that I’d have loved to have had in Standard for some time now. Just the existence of this card makes playing artifacts all the less appealing in the metagame.
While this is a less powerful Threaten, if you don’t need the full effect of the card, the discount variety of the card is a great tool to have available.
There are two potent ways that this card can be great for a red deck. The first is to hold off the mass removal from an opponent as you are close to ending the game. The second is to keep a combo-oriented deck from casting the spell it needs to win. For a color like red, which often can’t interact with those two factors, that can make this an invaluable possible sideboard card.
This card is less powerful than I’d like it to be in comparison to other options in Standard, but if you’re looking for a card to take a more Burn-oriented deck over the top in damage output, this would be an option.
This card seems incredibly unlikely to see play in most styles of red deck, but it could be an answer to a top-end creature from an opponent or a part of something more convoluted working internally in the red deck. More likely, I think of this card as a choice for something more dedicated to breaking the card than a traditional red deck of any type.
Either as a card to fight against control in a more artifact-heavy aggressive deck or as a “Punisher” tool in a true artifact deck, a sliver of decks might get some use out of this card.
Scrapper Champion is a less powerful Lightning Runner, with the upside that it can kick on the Metallic Mimic / Animation Module combo.
“Creature” enchantments usually don’t end up making the cut, but this is powerful enough that I can imagine it on a Fleetwheel Cruiser.
I have a soft spot for any Icy Manipulator tapping card. A great card to Improvise with.
Treasure Keeper is at its best in a non-reactive deck, especially one capable of sacrificing it. While probably too slow for an aggressive deck, it might be an option in a proactive deck looking for a little more resilience.
If you’re desperately seeking Energy, this card is otherwise efficient.
While more flexible than Release the Gremlins, it’s also a little less powerful.
Expensive for a card that can be killed by Grasp of Darkness, it still is a card that can often hit for ten damage the turn after it hits the table.
As anti-artifact cards go, you’d need to be pretty dedicated to doing damage to your opponent rather than killing the artifact.
If you’re looking to build-your-own Orcish Artillery, this card is an option.
If you’re looking for a slower, colorless Divination, this is the card.
Even as liberally as I consider options with cards, I don’t see a place for these cards in a deck. They all feel wildly outclassed by other cards.
Aether Revolt doesn’t actually give a ton of potent cards to red, but what it does give is meaningful.
I can’t believe that Shock has become such an important card, but the way things are looking for the future, I know that I expect most red decks to be excited to be playing the card. Some much more controlling decks might choose to not play the card, but especially given the likely rising up of Saheeli Rai, the existence of Shock is a huge deal.
Aside from Shock, the two major things that we see brought to red from Aether Revolt are more cards that reward energy strategies and more viable artifacts.
Harnessed Lightning and Lathnu Hellion didn’t have all that many friends other than Thriving Grubs, but now there are an incredible amount of options to add to the mix. If you’ve played with Lathnu Hellion before, you know how big of a deal this is.
The artifact-based options for red have so many more payoffs that now it actually feels like an actual strategy that can be pursued. Perhaps that isn’t surprising, given Improvise is a mechanic in the new set.
While multi-color strategies are most likely to continue to be the direction decks with red take, for the first time in a while, I can see hope for Mono-Red to emerge once more.
This weekend, you’ll be able to find me rocking the Aether Revolt Prerelease at Misty Mountain Games. Wherever you end up playing this weekend, I wish you the best of luck, and may you fry your opponents to a crisp!