Well, that was unexpected.
I would have preferred to see no bans and one or more unbans for Modern. Instead, as many as 5 cards were banned. It’s possible that as a result Standard and Modern will be better formats, but these bans still come at a large cost to players who invested time and energy into decks with now banned cards.
For Standard, there are some decks (such as Green-Red Energy and Blue-Red Dynavolt Tower) that are unaffected by these bans, but the majority of the top-tier decks lose one or more key cards. It’s not impossible to adapt: we could replace Smuggler’s Copter with Heart of Kiran in Mardu Vehicles, play an Aetherworks Marvel deck with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, or run a more aggressive variant of Green-Black Delirium. But these decks will be weaker than before, and the final pillar of Standard—White-Blue Flash—lost 2 cards and probably won’t recover.
At the same time, the format shakeup likely means that the new cards from Aether Revolt will have an even larger impact on the new Standard. Aether Revolt is a deep set with many powerful cards, and today I’ll offer some early brews to identify potentially powerful strategies. They are all untested rough drafts without sideboards, but they are an honest representation of the possibilities that I have explored so far.
Red-White Start Your Engines
This deck looked a lot more promising when I built it earlier on Monday, before Smuggler’s Copters was suddenly banned. The ban reduced the amount of cheap Vehicles the deck could run, so I’m not sure how competitive a deck like this will be. But I can’t wait to see the ridiculous crewing chain of a Thraben Inspector → Aethersphere Harvester → Heart of Kiran → Peacewalker Colossus → Consulate Dreadnought.
Eight months ago, Green-White Tokens was the dominant deck in Standard. It contained some of the most powerful cards on all spots of the curve, and it featured good synergies between token makers and global pump effects. White-Blue Flash took over its spot after the release of Kaladesh, in no small part because Reflector Mage is a card and because Spell Queller is a good counter to Aetherworks Marvel and their turn-4 Emrakuls. But after the banning, Green-White Tokens might just reclaim its position. Here is a sample list.
I like how the new cards fit into the deck. Oath of Ajani can boost Lambholt Pacifist and reduces the cost of Ajani Unyielding. Ajani Unyielding’s +2 ability hits almost every nonland card in the deck, including Stasis Snare. And Sram’s Expertise is a nice way to set up a strong board presence quickly, especially when the tokens are boosted with Nissa or Gideon.
Mimic Engine Combo
Aether Revolt offers a ton of new toys for combo enthusiasts. How about we start by going deep?
This is a deck that can play a fair game of Magic but that also contains various combos. Allow me to explain step-by-step.
Animation Module and Metallic Mimic (on Servo) lets you make any number of 2/2s for 1 colorless mana each. A simple Animation Module activation is enough to jump-start the “combo.” I also considered Durable Handicraft as a less efficient stand-in for Metallic Mimic, but that one was eventually cut from the deck. Either way, it’s a sweet little engine, but it’s mana-intensive.
That’s where Cryptolith Rite and Rishkar, Peema Renegade come in. The first turn, you may only have enough mana to make, say, 2 Servos. The next turn, those 2 Servos can all tap for mana, so you can make 4 Servos. The next turn, it’s 8 Servos, and the exponential growth should quickly overwhelm your opponent.
Given that the deck contains Rishkar and Animation Module, it can’t hurt to emphasize the +1/+1 counter theme. Nissa and Armorcraft Judge do exactly that. With Metallic Mimic on Elf, Armorcraft Judge would draw even a card off of itself, so that’s a good creature type to name if you didn’t draw Animation Module. Note that Rishkar and Servant of the Conduit are also Elves.
So far, this deck is capable of generating a lot of mana and drawing a lot of cards. How about getting even better at that? Paradox Engine is perhaps a bit of a win-more card, but it’s certainly a sweet one to have if you tap a bunch of creatures for mana and cast Armorcraft Judge. And since we’re adding Paradox Engine, we might as well include the possibility of going infinite.
Greenbelt Rampager + Servant of the Conduit + Paradox Engine make for infinite untaps, so if you have another creature that can tap for mana (via Cryptolith Rite or Rishkar) then you have infinite mana. Longtusk Cub also works as a way to sink the energy generated by an ever-bouncing Greenbelt Rampager.
With Animation Module and Metallic Mimic, infinite mana and infinite untaps means an unlimited number of arbitrarily large Servos, but it’s probably better to make 45 tokens or so, draw your deck with Armorcraft Judge, and win with a hasted Westvale Abbey that gets as many +1/+1 counters as you like.
For the last couple of slots in the deck, I went with this bunch. Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and Duskwatch Recruiter would fit well with the combo orientation of the deck, but instead I went for cards that would allow us to play a normal game of Magic without being overly reliant on the combo.
A curve of turn-2 Winding Constrictor, turn-3 Rishkar, turn-4 Verdurous Gearhulk can easily win a game without requiring infinite combos. Fatal Push gives you at least a little bit of interaction—revolt is easily achieved by Greenbelt Rampager.
The reason I didn’t include 4 Winding Constrictor is that it conflicts with one of the combos: When you have Winding Constrictor in play, then the Greenbelt Rampager/Servant of the Conduit combo won’t go infinite as you get 2 energy every cycle. That’s a little awkward, and it serves to illustrate that this deck may be trying to do too many things at the same time.
It’s possible that after some testing, the deck will get more focused. If I would have to guess now, then the Animation Module/Metallic Mimic engine is likely the weaker part of the deck. But at the moment I’m just pinpointing directions that interest me, and I do like that Rishkar, Peema Renegade offers overlap between the various engines.
Other Possible Combo Decks
Metallic Mimic and Paradox Engine are just scratching the surface of what is possible with Aether Revolt. Some combos are better than others, however. While exploring Paradox Engine, I found that you could go infinite if you had Metalwork Colossus in your graveyard and the following set of permanents in play:
You tap Hedron Archive and Cultivator’s Caravan for mana, sacrifice Metalwork Colossus and Prophetic Prism to return the Metalwork Colossus from your graveyard, and trigger Scrap Trawler to return Prism. You then recast Prophetic Prism and Metalwork Colossus, tapping your mana artifacts in response to the Paradox Engine triggers, and eventually you’re back where you started, except with an extra card in hand and extra mana in your pool. You can keep doing that and win in any way you like.
Then again, it shouldn’t be hard to win from a board state with 2 Metalwork Colossus in the first place. What’s more, I sketched a 7-card turn 6 combo, so although this will be a fun one to put on your Standard combo bucket list, I don’t think it will be breaking the Standard format anytime soon.
But it does serve to illustrate two important metrics for combo decks:
- How many pieces do you need?
- How soon you can set it up?
The better combos are the ones that require fewer cards and that can win the game sooner.
Many of the infinite combos made available by Aether Revolt are 3-card turn-5 combos, or worse. For example:
Is a 3-card turn-5 combo.
Is a 3-card turn-6 combo. And I’m not entirely sure where to put a deck featuring Inspiring Statuary plus Paradoxical Outcome and a bunch of 0-cost artifacts, eventually killing with Aetherflux Reservoir, but it’s probably not much better. So there are a ton of possibilities, but most of them require too many pieces and they are too slow.
Well, except for one.
Much like the Splinter Twin decks of old, you can combine both to create an unlimited amount of hasty 1/4s. So given that everyone has been making these Splinter Twin comparisons, let’s take a look at a Standard deck list from 2011.
Blue-Red Splinter Twin
Matt Nass, Top 8 at Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011
There is a large difference between that deck and what is possible now in Standard: The card selection spells in Matt Nass’s list are way better than anything we currently have in Standard. Heck, all 3 single-blue sorceries are banned in Modern! (Yes, I rewrote that sentence after the B&R announcement too…) And I haven’t even mentioned Shrine of Piercing Vision and Halimar Depths.
In Standard, the best card selection/search spells we currently have in red, white, and blue are:
Ironically, the best card selection spells are currently in green: Oath of Nissa and Vessel of Nascency. Both of them can find both pieces of the combo, and they dig reasonably deep. But adding a fourth color, even when Oath of Nissa can fix mana for Saheeli Rai, is far from easy. I’ll try, but I’d rather start with a Jeskai version.
Saheeli Twin does have some advantages compared to the 2011 Splinter Twin deck. First, the combo essentially has haste. In 2011, if your opponent had 5 lands and was tapped out, then there was no way they could combo off on the next turn. In 2017, your opponent could untap, play a sixth land, cast Felidar Guardian, blink a land, and play Saheeli Rai to combo off. Another advantage is that the combo pieces help find each other: Saheeli Rai’s +1 ability digs for Felidar Guardian, and Felidar Guardian’s blink ability—when targeting Thraben Inspector, Prophetic Prism, Oath of Jace, or Cloudblazer—helps find Saheeli Rai.
Let’s start with a Jeskai build.
Jeskai Copy Cat
At the time I brewed it up, Reflector Mage was still legal. That card looked excellent, as it would give Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian a lot of utility if you had only drawn one piece of the combo. Alas, I had to change the list and adopt weaker cards.
This list has several artifacts with different names for Saheeli’s ultimate. That’s not the main plan of the deck, but if all your Felidar Guardians are hiding on the bottom or your opponent had too many creature removal spells, then it’s a nice alternative plan to have. One of the artifacts is Torrential Gearhulk, which plays well with Glimmer of Genius. There’s only 1 Glimmer and 2 Gearhulks because I wanted to make room for Cloudblazer. Cloudblazer has a great enters-the-battlefield ability that goes well with both Saheeli and Guardian, and 5 mana is substantially less than 6.
Another artifact for Saheeli’s ultimate is Panharmonicon, which you could get alongside Skysovereign and/or Filigree Familiar. Panharmonicon also allows for an alternative combo: You could have 2 Felidar Guardians blinking each other and a Filigree Familiar for infinite life. Cloudblazer is a good replacement for Filigree Familiar, too.
In game 1, opponents might be ready with cards like Shock (on Saheeli when she’s at 1 loyalty), Fatal Push, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar. To deal with those cards and to get an edge in the mirror, the deck contains Negate and Shock. Oath of Chandra and Harnessed Lightning also help against Thalia and aggro decks in general. Spell Queller is another interactive card that allows you to fight a fair game. When the card selection isn’t good enough to guarantee assembling the combo every game, like it was in 2011, I think that being able to play a fair game is important.
After sideboard, you may face Authority of the Consuls and Lost Legacy. If you fear your opponent has too many of those, then my sideboard allows you to “transform”..That is, you could board out 1 Saheeli and 1 Guardian to reduce your reliance on the combo and instead win with Gideon while your opponent has hate cards that are not as useful as they might have expected.
4-Color Copy Cat
The sideboard would be 15 one-ofs for Bring to Light.
This list is more all-in on the combo, with a lot of search effects and less interaction. Bring to Light can search for Felidar Guardian naturally and for Saheeli Rai via Call the Gatewatch. The mana is iffy, but could work in theory thanks to Prophetic Prism. My first impression is that the “fair” Jeskai deck is going to be better, but I think both approaches have their merit.
So, what do you think? Which of these decks do you think are most promising? If you have some sweet ideas for improving these brews, make sure to let me know in the comments!