Aether Revolt has just come out and players around the world have had a chance to get to know some of the new cards, new mechanics and new play patterns. Team Axion Now have been theory-crafting, testing, discussing and furiously jamming games of Aether Revolt Limited to prepare for the coming Limited season, Grand Prix Prague and Pro Tour Dublin. In this article we hope to share with you some of the things we have learnt, our thoughts on the best ways to win in the format and ideas to help you maximise your experiences with the set.
Changes from Kaladesh
A Sealed Pool in the new Limited environment will consist of four packs of Aether Revolt (AER) and two packs of Kaladesh (KLD) which means that while KLD will still be important in your build, AER will typically be the more defining part of most players’ decks. KLD featured some interesting build around cards and a totally new resource in the form of energy. AER is nowhere near as complex in its complexion; it contains fewer unusual build around cards and engine cards and the mechanics are much more similar to previous mechanics. This means that your Sealed Pools will, generally speaking, look more like Sealed Pools you’ve experienced in the past and be based on good fundamentals instead of elaborate synergies.
Energy in AER is far less exciting and not as abundantly available as it was in KLD. In most instances two energy will equate to a Servo from the cycle of commons which can use energy when attacking to produce the Servo. This means that the KLD energy producing cards and large energy sinks are much less valuable but that the cards which can easily use small amounts of spare energy are more valuable, especially the Thriving cycle.
The Thriving cycle are also a good example of the next important difference between the two sets; if you have ever faced a Thriving Rhino crashing in as a 3/4 on turn four then you’ll know that KLD games can quickly spiral out of control due to the creature sizing. However, in AER the creature sizing is generally smaller with the typical power and toughness being either 2 or 3 and the ‘magic number’, the number at which your creature becomes a giant among its peers, for power and toughness is 4. This is worth being aware of when building your deck as any creature sporting 4 toughness is quite challenging for the opponent to break through and the KLD creatures with previously poor sizing are now much more viable.
This also means that simply having the keyword ‘large’ is now a reason to include a creature in your deck even if it is relatively vanilla otherwise. Additionally creatures such as Wind Drake, which previously was as effective only as a Welkin Tern due to being a poor blocker, is now a much more reasonable creature to play on curve as you can more reliably make use of the option to block with it.
Another experience we’ve all had in KLD Limited is the moment your opponent casts an utterly unbeatable bomb and your face falls as you realise all your skilful play and manoeuvring up until that point was for naught. Luckily for those of us who don’t often open these incredibly powerful cards, AER is actually not a set in which the power is concentrated in the rares and mythics and with a small number of exceptions the rares aren’t actually that unbeatable. The power in AER seems to be concentrated predominantly in the uncommons and cards such as Ridgescale Tusker are truly more powerful than the majority of rares in the set. This is important to note when building your deck as you can easily be lulled into a colour choice or deck building decision under the assumption that your rares should guide your building - in AER the uncommons should take over this role.
A noted feature of KLD Limited was the severe lack of mana sinks and the propensity for decks to flood out and have nothing to do with all the additional lands they had drawn. This led many who played the format regularly to advocate running fewer than the traditional seventeen lands and some contended that with certain decks fifteen was likely correct. Once again AER brings us back to a more normalised style of play with the inclusion of some mana sinks (e.g. the Automaton cycle) and as such the typical land count will likely return to normal.
Kaladesh board stalls were common in games of Sealed and often there would be strings of Servo tokens cluttering the board as both players fabricated their way to substantial board states. Fabricate is not present in AER and in fact the ability to produce Servos has been reduced dramatically. This has three significant impacts on gameplay in AER/KLD Sealed: Firstly, it means that creatures which were nigh on unplayable previously due to having one toughness and trading with a lowly Servo are now once again playable in the format and secondly it means that ‘go-wide’ strategies are far less viable. Thirdly, and this ties into the previous points about creature sizing, there are fewer chump blockers available for large ground pounding creatures, which makes these better than they previously were.
Improvise is a new mechanic in AER which closely mimics Convoke from previous sets and fundamentally is a cost reduction mechanic. The majority of Improvise cards are overcosted by their printed mana cost but if you are able to cast them at a reduction of two or more, they become very powerful for their rates. This mechanic is actually less impactful in Sealed as the tempo gained by cost reduction and the ability to correctly curve from artifacts into the Improvise pay-off is much harder to leverage in a slower format and requires a higher level of synergy than most pools will afford. However, it is worth noting that this mechanic does make artifacts which otherwise seem unplayable into reasonable cards functioning in a dual role as mana rocks plus their regular text, provided your pool has a sufficient amount of pay-off cards. This mechanic is found in the Grixis colours (Blue, Black and Red).
Revolt exists in the Abzan colours (White, Black and Green) and is conditional on a permanent you controlled having left the battlefield this turn to gain some form of beneficial effect. On initial reading this mechanic seems incredibly powerful as you will easily trigger it through playing a game of Magic and cards trading in combat, right? Well actually, the mechanic is harder to trigger at will than it may at first appear for a few reasons. Firstly, you can’t force a trade in combat if your creatures are worse than your opponent’s creatures or if they simply are wise to the Revolt mechanic and don’t allow for a trade. Secondly, you can’t always hold off on casting your high cost cards for several turns in the hope that you will trigger Revolt down the line. Once you take into account that triggering Revolt is harder than it initially seems, you have to adapt your deck building with the aim of getting mileage out of the mechanic. There are several cards which easily enable Revolt and the pay-off for the Revolt trigger often warrants slots in your Sealed Deck. These cards include: Conviction, Unbridled Growth, the Implement cycle and Renegade Map. It also increases the playability of cards which bounce or flicker your own permanents as you can flicker the Revolt card itself to get another trigger.
Revolt also has important implications for gameplay as you must be aware of the potential presence of it in your opponent’s deck when playing against anyone using any of the Abzan colours. If you are attacked on turn five by your Green based opponent and decide that trading your worse creature by double-blocking their 4-drop makes sense then be aware that you may be aggravating matters as you suddenly face down a 6/6 Trample.
Even worse than that, you could play against someone who plays a swamp post-combat and casts a Vengeful Rebel to kill your premium creature you hadn’t even risked in combat. These are things you must factor into your play when playing against Abzan-coloured decks and these factors also should influence your deck building to a degree. Creatures which have a naturally high toughness but low or no power will be able to simply bounce these attacks and prevent the opponent from initiating the trade their Revolt trigger so desperately demands. Alternatively, this mechanic can be seen as encouraging racing given that players are strongly disincentivised to block and turn on Revolt for their opponent. It is also worth considering using your instant speed removal spells at sorcery speed on your own turn to prevent your opponent from gaining the benefit of a Revolt trigger. Conversely, keep in mind that these cards don’t have to be on the battlefield when the permanent leaves to get the trigger so cards such as Solemn Recruit or Call for Unity can be played post-combat after you traded off one of your creatures.
Updates to gameplay
The removal in AER is better than the removal was in KLD. Shock, Hungry Flames, Daring Demolition, Chandra’s Revolution, Thopter Arrest and Caught in the Brights are all high quality removal spells for their mana cost and Fatal Push and Cruel Finality will typically make most Black decks as well. However, this is counterbalanced by the fact that creatures are on the whole slightly worse than they were in KLD, which means that the removal isn’t trading for as high quality or as impactful cards. That said you can expect decks to be packing quite a lot of removal in Sealed due to its relative abundance in AER. Some of the KLD removal spells have also improved a lot with the change to creature sizing, most notably Furious Reprisal, while Aura based removal is slightly improved as well due to the reduction in frequency of cards which easily answer them.
The AER vehicles are, for the most part, not that impressive. Heart of Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester are both colourless bombs and Unfettered Express is an absurd card that is potentially better than the menacing Renegade Freighter of KLD. Beyond that though, the vehicles are fine but not that exciting. Mobile Garrison is a very replacement level (some might say bad) card, Irontread Crusher is solid but a crew cost of three is a higher ask that it was in KLD, Daredevil Dragster is quite good if you can get in for some damage and then get the trigger and the crew cost of two and the size match up well in the set, but then again, a 2/2 and a 2/3 can easily block it down. Peacewalker Colossus and Consulate Dreadnought both seem quite poor even with the synergy between the two; the crew cost on both of them is simply too high to warrant a slot in most decks.
White is relatively deep in playables, it contains a lot of cards which will often make your deck if you play White but these cards don’t tend to be inherently that powerful. White is a good colour with which to fill out your deck as most of the White cards fit quite neatly into the role of filler for both curve and power level purposes. There are some solid removal spells in White in the form of Caught in the Brights and Thopter Arrest and it has some new evasive threats in AER in the form of Ghirapur Osprey, Aeronaut Admiral, Airdrop Aeronauts and the incredibly powerful Dawnfeather Eagle. White has access to one of the secretly best Revolt enablers in the set in Conviction and the card is honestly quite impactful without needing to trigger Revolt as the additional three toughness is massive in this format. White is a colour you will be looking to play when you have some of the quality evasive threats and removal and need to fill out your curve appropriately.
Blue was not a powerful colour in KLD Sealed and it remains slightly underpowered in the new Sealed format. The AER cards have two things going for them: aggressive fliers, which are better positioned now, and Improvise cards. When building a Blue deck you will be looking to be basing it around evasive threats such as Aether Swooper, Hinterland Drake and Wind-kin Raiders. However, it isn’t an especially deep colour and can’t fill out the curve that well so it is more likely to be a secondary colour in your deck. The other reason to build a Blue deck is the same reason many found themselves in Blue in KLD Sealed: bomb rares. The Blue rares in KLD are still some of the most powerful rares available and Quicksmith Spy, Aethertide Whale and Baral’s Expertise are three of the best cards in AER Sealed. Blue decks will also likely have some Improvise elements as Reverse Engineering and Bastion Inventor are typically going to be worth playing in your deck.
Black has some good removal spells but is slightly lacking in creature quality. The best Black cards are generally double coloured, Gifted Aetherborn and Daring Demolition for example, meaning that they aren’t cards which one can easily splash. Typically, Black will perform the supporting role in your deck due to the lack of high quality creatures at most points on the curve. Black will often pair with a colour with which it has synergy; either with Green in the form of +1/+1 counters or with Red/Blue and artifact synergies. The most common reason to be in Black that we have seen thus far is the gold uncommon and constructed powerhouse, Winding Constrictor, which is often a strong enough incentive when coupled with Black removal to run this colour pairing.
In KLD Red was fairly one dimensional and simply had to be attacking every turn of the game, either paired with White or Black and vehicles or paired with Green and energy themes. Blue/Red was not a viable colour combination in KLD Limited and this was amply demonstrated by the gold uncommon in this colour pair being referred to as one of the best Green uncommons. However, in the new Sealed format Red is a more able to play different roles and game plans. A lot of the Red cards still lend themselves to turning sideways, as is the predilection of Red things but AER has given Red better tools to do so in a midrange fashion backed up with removal and some artifact synergies. Red cards generally care a lot about artifacts and as such should often be paired with colours that can also use artifact synergies to their advantage. Blue/Red is also a potent archetype now, shifting its focus from an energy to an artifact theme, and the gold uncommon, Maverick Thopterist, is extremely powerful and fits nicely into its own colour pairing!
Green is doing what green typically does in Limited: It provides extremely large creatures at good rates. Most Sealed Pools are likely to be Green based as the colour is relatively deep and the base rate on almost all the creatures is very good. Lifecraft Cavalry is one of the largest creatures available in the whole set if it is revolted and it has Trample to boot. Scrounging Bandar is quietly one of the best cards in the set, having synergy with the +1/+1 counter theme but more importantly allowing you to trigger Revolt at will by sacrificing it in your upkeep and still acting as a two drop the whole time. Ridgescale Tusker, as previously mentioned is more powerful than most of the rares in the set and is commonly described by team members as the uncommon Verdurous Gearhulk. Green can likely be paired with most colours but it is typically weak to flying creatures (especially because its Reach creature this time around, Silkweaver Elite, is lacklustre) and lacks removal so when building a Green based deck these are the holes which most likely need filling.
Cards of note
There are often cards which are difficult to evaluate in a vacuum or cards with which you need to play before you realise that they are far more or far less powerful than you had previously envisaged. After having gathered some experience in the Limited format these are the cards which truly stood out to the members of Team Axion Now as differing from initial expectations:
“This is, for my money, the most powerful rare in AER if you are playing Sealed. Once it comes down you can scry into cards that you specifically need to find and if you don’t need to find something then you can turn any creature into another card. Your opponent has very few turns in which to answer this or kill you or it will bury them in card advantage” - George Channing
“Conviction came up time and time again in games where I’d dismiss it when my opponent cast it but then realise I had no good attacks anymore into their large creature. The next turn they would return it and cast a 6/6 Trampler or simply recast it with a Sram on the table. The card is a very solid role-player and has a lot of flexibility” - Tom Law
“Bastion Inventor initially looked like a very mediocre card to me, but the fact that a 4/4 is actually huge in this format, that it can come out cheaply on a turn where you cast two spells and that it is immune to removal and thus quite good at stabilising boards has solidified it as the central thing Blue wants to be doing in this set” - Raoul Zimmermann
“Destructive Tampering consists of two effects which are typically a decent sideboard card but after having played with it as an early-game Shatter and a late-game effect which can win out of nowhere I’d always look to maindeck one in my red decks” - João Choça
Aether Revolt adds some interesting new mechanics which will have an impact on gameplay and deck construction, both in Draft and Sealed. At a surface level Green appears to be the most powerful colour and doesn’t require a nuanced approach to deck construction beyond putting the most generically powerful cards in your deck. However, the other colours have a lot of potential synergies with artifact themes and counter themes very present. I expect this Limited format to be extremely interesting from a gameplay perspective due to the dance around Revolt and some cards which initially may appear quite poor will quickly shoot up player’s personal ranking systems.
Team Axion Now wishes you all the best of luck in your upcoming Limited events and reminds you that the chances of opening both Painter’s Servant and Grindstone are approximately 1 in 7.5 million, or about 50/50 if you’re Steve Bains.
About George Channing:
George has been playing competitively since 2014 and is a true grinder; with a huge number of competitive events under his belt, his results have been improving year on year. With a Grand Prix Top 8 in Modern and a few Pro Tour appearances, he aspires to become a regular on the biggest stage. George’s role on Team Axion is frequently related to metagame and decklist analysis, whilst also providing a lot of raw testing data. He most enjoys Standard with the speed and frequency of the metagame developments keeping it interesting.