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.)
Aether Swooper is great value. A 1/2 flyer that makes a 1/1 the next turn is efficient and powerful, and even gives you an energy sink if you end up with excess to spend. The fact that this flies means attacking with it will be very easy, and all that for only 2 mana.
It’s hard to harpoon this whale, as any removal would need to be played in response to the ETB trigger. Otherwise, the Whale has built-in protection, and at worst can be used as pseudo-vigilance or as an expensive energy-generation machine. Add that to a 6/4 flying beater and you have the kind of finisher I can get behind.
Baral, Chief of Compliance
A 1/3 for 2 isn’t that far behind the curve, and the average blue deck is likely to have a couple of spells at the very least. In a deck with more spells, this provides an early blocker and a bit of mana savings, which is reasonable for how much you have to pay for this. I wouldn’t try and draft a counterspell deck around this, as getting to loot once or twice isn’t so much of an advantage that I’d warp my deck to gain access to it.
Triple-bounce plus playing a 4-drop sounds like awesome tempo to me, and it should put you far ahead on most boards. You can even bounce and replay your own stuff if you want, and with revolt in the format, that could easily come up.
It won’t be hard to invent scenarios where this is played on turn 4, and even paying 5 mana for this is a solid deal. As such, Bastion Inventor looks like one of the better improvise cards, and will be a good inclusion for any deck that has a decent amount of artifacts. You don’t have to go all-in for this to be playable, though the reward is there if you end up building your deck around it.
This is more of a Constructed card than a Limited one, though it’s playable in any heavy-blue deck. It can lead to some unexpected blowouts, but Cancel was never a Limited all-star, and this isn’t that much more than that.
Enough decks will have artifacts that I’m always going to maindeck this and be happy doing so. It’s no Ogre Savant, but it’s still a good way to spend 5 mana. There may be some cases where you side this out, but I doubt that will happen all that often.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
Besides describing how I build my draft decks on MTGO during the Draft and submit within 10 seconds, this card also provides an exciting build-around. These are always hard to predict, but I’m going to put this on the good end, as it looks like a very powerful engine in the right deck. If you get 2 flyers out of this, it’s passable, and at 3+ it starts becoming very good.
A 2/3 is enough better than a 2/2 that I’m a fan of this card, even if it's unable to block some creatures. It’s good on offense and passable on defense, making it a reasonable play at 3 mana for any kind of deck. If you are defensive and your opponent has a lot of artifacts, maybe you should side this out.
I’m always wary of having too many removal spells like this, as your opponent gets to hit you with whatever it is at least once before you can ice it down. Add to that the vulnerability to bounce/blink effects and you have a card that’s good but not exciting.
Double Acrobatic Maneuver sounds pretty awesome to me. Not only does this let you set up blocks and save multiple blockers, but it has all this extra value when combined with revolt cards. There are decks where this is going to be fantastic, and there are decks where it’s going to be just good, which sounds like a range I can live with. The only decks that won’t be interested in this are the very creature-light ones, but that’s an easy enough restriction to keep in mind.
Implement of Examination
I like this Implement a fair amount more than most of the others (shocking, I know), but I still wouldn’t play it unless I had revolt/improvise synergies. Once you have additional justification, it’s nice that this enables those themes and leaves you up a card, even at an inefficient cost overall.
Leave in the Dust
As a lifelong fan of Repeal, I have a soft spot for bounce + draw cards. Leave in the Dust is a good iteration of such, and will often at least trade equally on mana, with a mana advantage being very attainable. You can even target your own cards if need be, making this a solid addition to any deck.
While I’m certainly going to try and win with this card, most of the value is produced by just putting it on a good card and getting additional copies of that card. It’s high risk and high reward, while also requiring you to control an artifact good enough to want copies of it. That puts it near the middle of the pack, as the number of risks and conditions do matter, even if the power level is there.
I’m a fan of incremental value cards, and this one seems handy to have around. It only costs 1 mana to play, and even provides a body if you really need it. It can also fuel improvise, and once you get to a point where you are activating it, drawing an extra card each turn (sometimes with selection) means you will outpace the opponent quickly.
Paying 3 mana for a conditional counter isn’t exactly where I prefer to land, but the upside of getting to cast this for 1 or 2 mana is significant. In an artifact-heavy deck, this can lead to some very efficient turns, as playing a 4-drop artifact on turn 5 and blanking their turn-5 play is a big swing. If you can reliably cast this at a discount, I like it, but otherwise I’d avoid it.
I like having Negate around as a sideboard option, and occasionally I’ll maindeck it in Sealed. It’s a good card to have access to, even if it’s not a high priority to pick up.
You will quickly pull ahead if this card remains unanswered, and all it asks is that you have an artifact when you play the Spy. Drawing an extra card each turn is very hard to beat, and it won’t take many turns before you have accumulated insurmountable card advantage.
If you can engineer a situation where this costs 3 or 4 mana, it’s quite good. Even at 5, it’s castable (I do like me a Tezzeret’s Ambition), and all that together leads to an efficient card-drawing machine.
A 5-mana 4/4 is nothing to write home about, but I wouldn’t be too crabby if I had to play one. This gets interesting when you have a lot of artifacts with ETB abilities, or a lot of cards with revolt, at which point it generates value with each swing. Once you have a few additional reasons to play this, it goes from filler to good, and is a solid way to top off your curve.
Shielded Aether Thief
This blanks a ground attacker, generates a few energy over the course of the game, and gives you a very good way to spend energy. What else can you ask for at 2 mana?
"That’s a Moray" Jokes: 0.0, stop please
Eels are flexible, so it makes sense that this card can be a 0/5, a 2/3, or a 4/1, depending on what the situation warrants. It also creates a fair bit of energy, and plays nicely with pump spells. Worst comes to worst, you can kill it off for revolt purposes, though that won’t come up all that often. All told, you get a lot of card for 4 mana here, and I wouldn’t think eel of you for playing as many copies as you can get.
A 2/1 flyer for 2 with an advantageous damage trigger? I am in. This fits well into any aggressive deck or any deck with counters/energy, and that pretty much describes all the decks in the format.
Take into Custody
Even in a beatdown deck, I’d take a lot of other cards over this. Locking down one creature for two turns isn’t quite worth a card, even at a discount.
If you have one good 3-cost artifact, this is about a 3.0. If you have one good one and one playable one, it goes up to the 3.5 rating I gave it, because that doesn’t seem too hard to achieve. With zero targets, it’s wildly unplayable, which I hope is obvious. Basically, if this reliably draws you a solid-to-good card, it’s an excellent deal.
I wouldn’t play a ton of these, but having one gives you a solid late-game plan on a passable body. In a board stall, scrying once or twice a turn is very powerful, and getting that on a creature that can trade off is a valuable ability.
Whir of Invention
This has a substantial setup cost, and what you get for it is selection. That’s not often enough in Limited, as how good your best card is varies so wildly, and many decks don’t have anything incredible to fetch. In a deck without a bomb, paying this premium isn’t appealing, unless you are so deep on improvise enablers that this will end up being cheap. In a deck with something like Noxious Gearhulk or Skysovereign, it gets more interesting, but I’d still want a lot of improvise support before trying to cast a Whir for 5+. You mostly shouldn’t play this, but in a deck with a lot of support and a very good card, it can be justifiable.
In an improvise deck, getting a 4/3 flyer for 4 mana isn’t too hard, and is very strong. Even at 5 mana, this is a good deal, and that makes it a solid inclusion in just about every blue deck.
Top 3 Blue Commons
Blue has a lot of solid commons here. Shipwreck Moray, Hinterland Drake, and Bastion Inventor all compete for the last slots too, and blue overall looks very deep. Blue beatdown still doesn’t seem like it’s quite there, but various blue control or midrange decks, especially with improvise, seem solid.