Previous AER Set Reviews
Welcome to the Aether Revolt Limited Set Review! As the second set in a block, we have more to build off of, so evaluating the cards won’t be as tricky. There are two returning mechanics: energy and Vehicles (of note, fabricate did not return), and I’m going to start by assuming that energy and Vehicles are about as well supported in AER as they were in KLD. That gives us a good base to work from, and leaves the wild speculation to the new mechanics, of which there are two as well:
Found on spells and permanents, revolt is an ability word that has an additional effect if a permanent you control left the battlefield this turn. Spells check on resolution, and permanents check upon entering the battlefield.
Revolt isn’t a complicated mechanic, and for the most part I will be evaluating revolt cards as if they only sometimes work, without you going to great lengths to enable them. There are enablers in the set, such as cheap artifacts or creatures that sacrifice, and when a revolt card has an enticing enough trigger, I will discuss it.
Cards with improvise let you pay for them by tapping artifacts, with each artifact you tap reducing the cost of the card by 1 colorless (sorry, “generic”) mana. It’s basically convoke with artifacts instead of creatures—with the slight difference that it can’t reduce colored mana symbols (so a 4U improvise card will always cost at least U).
Improvise is a build-around mechanic, though many of the cards are costed such that you only need to tap 1 or 2 artifacts to be happy with the deal. As such, I’ll evaluate them as if you are lightly building around them, instead of going all-in. I will call out cards that reward you for going deep, and improvise enablers will be given credit for powering such a deck.
Let’s take a look at the grading scale, with the usual caveat that what I write about the card is more relevant, as there are many factors that aren’t reflected in a card’s grade.
Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa's Jitte.
5.0: The best of the best. (Archangel Avacyn. Sorin, Grim Nemesis.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (The Gitrog Monster. Descend Upon the Sinful. Jace, Unraveller of Secrets. Avacyn’s Judgment.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Burn from Within. Devil’s Playground. Elusive Tormentor.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Duskwatch Recruiter. Breakneck Rider. Fiery Temper.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Graf Mole. Dauntless Cathar. Niblis of Dusk.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Nephalia Moondrakes. Stormrider Spirit. Reduce to Ashes.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Expose Evil. Inspiring Captain. Lamplighter of Selhoff.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Fork in the Road. Convicted Killer. Militant Inquisitor.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Moldgraf Scavenger. Vampire Noble. Seagraf Skaab.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Invasive Surgery. Ethereal Guidance. Open the Armory.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Harness the Storm. Vessel of Volatility.)
Not only does Aether Poisoner block well, attacking with it will rarely go wrong, giving you a free Servo at the very least. The only time you wouldn’t want to bash is when the opponent has a Servo or other awful creature of their own, but even then you get a good blocker and 2 energy out of the deal. This card is great at any point in the game and in any deck.
Alley Strangler is a fine addition to any deck, though if you are choked on 3-drops you can probably give it a pass. A 2/3 menace is kind of odd stats, and this gets much better if you can combine it with combat tricks that punish double-blocks.
I’m not a big fan of this unless you are improvising. It costs too much mana to make it trade in combat, so I’d rather avoid it in decks that don’t intrinsically care about upping their artifact cound. Then again, I do remember Sludge Crawler, so I’m willing to give this just a little more credit than my instinct says to.
Battle at the Bridge
Killing a creature and gaining a bunch of life isn’t quite a 2-for-1, but it’s still better than your run-of-the-mill removal spell. Add to that the ability to pay for this with your random artifacts and you have yourself a premium card.
There’s nothing to complain about here. It’s a good way to kill small creatures or combine with combat to take down bigger ones, and getting a scry on top of that makes this an auto-include.
Unconditional removal is not something I’ll pass on these days, and Daring Demolition kills anything you need to kill. It can even pick off Vehicles, making it truly a catch-all, and I will take as many copies as I can get.
I wouldn’t look to just play this in a random deck, but it does gain value when properly supported. Where it will shine is in decks that generate a lot of cheap/free artifacts, especially if those decks also have plenty of revolt cards. A 0-mana way to enable revolt is useful, and once this eats 2 artifacts or creatures, it becomes a force to be reckoned with.
Even if this isn’t as good in Limited as it is in Constructed, Fatal Push is still efficient enough to be noteworthy. The base card will kill plenty of targets, and as an instant, it won’t be hard to set up a turn where this kills something larger.
Now we are getting to the improvise cards that demand some work. If you have enough artifacts to play this for 4 or 5 mana, it’s worth the haul, but paying full retail is certainly not. The “can’t be blocked by artifacts” text isn’t all that valuable, as dodging Servos is nice but not critical. Mostly, you want this as a 5/5 for cheap, and that means a dedicated improvise deck more than just any random collection of cards. Black does tend to reward you for artifacts, so that might represent more black decks than not.
If we had letter grades, I’d love to give this a B, but I guess I’ll have to work a little harder to make a (bad) joke. This card is fine, as a 2/3 flyer for 4 is already passable, and it isn’t that hard to get the trigger. I wouldn’t go so far as to build around this, but prioritizing +1/+1 counters slightly seems correct. There are some decks against which this will be very effective, so being able to trigger it could be worth a lot.
Fourth Bridge Prowler
There are only so many 1-damage-type effects you can play, and I tend to like starting with one unless the format particularly lends itself to that effect being good. As such, I’d begin by playing one of these and keep the rest in the sideboard, which means you don’t need to aggressively pick them up in draft.
Not-quite-Vampire-Nighthawk is still a very potent card. I wouldn’t look a gift Aetherborn in the mouth, and I’m going to take this early and always play it. It’s not quite a bomb, but it’s both powerful and efficient.
I’d be happy enough with a 2/1 menace for 2, so the extra energy and card draw abilities are just gravy. This pressures the opponent early, generates energy reliably, and gives you an appealing way to spend it later. You can even use this to draw cards once the board is stalled and it can no longer attack, given other sources of energy. That’s a great deal for only 2 mana.
I don’t like either side of this card. Getting an energy counter the first time the opponent hits you each turn (and only once per combat, regardless of how many creatures are attacking) is not worth a card, and sacrificing this to drain the opponent for 3 isn’t either. I expected more of Gonti, and I expect more of cards I’m looking to add to my deck.
Herald of Anguish
Here we go—our first true bomb. Herald of Anguish is threatening even for full retail, and devastating if you can power it out early (which doesn’t seem very difficult). Eating a card from the opponent’s hand every turn punishes the opponent even if they eventually kill this, and getting to throw artifacts at their creatures rewards you for filling your deck full of trinkets. This is a great card, and worth putting some effort into enabling.
Implement of Malice
While this usually isn’t worth playing outside of improvise/revolt synergies, it’s still a 2-for-1 when you do want the effect. That makes it a solid choice, and one of the ways to make those decks work without putting too much garbage in your deck. It also triggers when you sacrifice it to another card, so the black cards that devour artifacts can make use of this.
In a deck where sacrificing an artifact is close to free, this is a Cowl Prowler with upside. In every other deck, it’s a bad Cowl Prowler. That isn’t a range I’m thrilled with. I suggest taking this late if your deck wants it, but don't actively go after it.
Even without a full entourage, this is a 3/3 for 4 that replaces itself on death. That’s a playable card, and it isn’t too hard to pick up some Aetherborn and assemble the squad. Once you have a bunch of Aetherborn this becomes a real contender, and could be one of the better cards in your deck.
Night Market Aeronaut
Slightly too bad when revolt isn’t on, and slightly above rate when it is—thus is the plight of the Night Market Aeronaut. It’s a fine card in your average deck, and not something I’m looking to go out of my way to enable.
Cards like this tend to underperform. There will be situations where this is awesome, but there will also be plenty of times when it eats a Servo and a medium 2-drop. I’d still always play this, so I’m not saying it’s terrible, but it’s not a bomb or anything of the sort. The range is wider than a targeted removal spell, and in this format it looks like there is more room on the “eh” side of the range than the “wow” side.
3-mana combat tricks are on the pricey side, though you can usually get away with playing one in your deck. This is nominally a 2-for-1, though a Servo isn’t quite a full card, and this doesn’t make your creature any bigger. It is nice that it can protect other types of permanents, even if that won’t come up all that often. I’ll play one of these some of the time, and I will rarely look to pick one up early.
This should draw you a card more often than not, making it an easier 2-for-1 than Fortuitous Find ended up being. I like the sound of that, and I’m in for playing a Resourceful Return in all my artifact-based black decks.
There is no argument that can salvage this grade—you are never going to get enough copies of a card in Limited that this is worthwhile. Even if you do, it’s unlikely that card is a premium one, and paying 5 mana to draw extra copies after one already went to the graveyard is just too many hoops to jump through. I’ll leave this to the folks who love Relentless Rats.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
She’s not as sly as she thinks—she’s just a very obvious build-around that sits on the board and tries to generate value. It is nice that she will come out cheaply in any deck where she belongs, and it’s unlikely anyone else at the table will be looking to requisition her. She’s friends with Implements, artifact creatures, and sacrifice effects, so look to combine those for a decent engine.
I’m a fan of Vengeful Rebel. It’s cheap enough to get played on any turn where it’s active, it doesn’t have as many conditions as the Harpooner, and black is well-equipped to sacrifice permanents when need be. This is playable in a normal deck and great in a deck that can enable it, so I see upside all around.
Yahenni, Undying Partisan
Haste on Yahenni is a little strange—I’m not gonna lie. They come in as just a 2/2, and it’s unlikely any of your opponent’s creatures will die on that same turn. I guess they are fast?
In any case, they are threat while on the board, as they punish any sort of action by growing larger, they are hard to kill (undying, even), and a revolt enabler. That’s plenty for 3 mana, so even though they aren’t a bomb, they are a good card.
Yahenni's Expertise, on the other hand, is a bomb. Killing everything medium or smaller and letting you drop a 3-cost card is a great deal for 4 mana, and I’d happily play this in any deck. Sure, it’s a bit better if you have larger creatures, but you can set this up well enough even if it does kill most of your own creatures, and the potential upside is too high for this to languish in your sideboard.
Top 3 Black Commons
In a surprising turn of events, the top 3 black commons are all (essentially) removal spells! These are all quality commons, with an unconditional removal spell, a value-packed 1/1 deathtouch, and a 1-for-1 that comes with a free scry. That’s good news for any sort of black deck, though the main theme here does seem to be improvise/sacrifice artifacts.