Start with Mechanics
Whenever I’m developing my understanding of the new Limited format, I look first at the mechanics. Improvise and revolt are the type of mechanics that have the potential to have a profound influence on the Draft format. In the case of Aether Revolt Draft though, they don’t.
Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of playable revolt and improvise cards, and they do influence your picks in Draft. But there aren’t enough of them, and the commons aren’t powerful enough to lead you into some kind of all-in strategy.
Instead, they create a nice tension where they make the cards that work with them a little better than they would be otherwise. This is exactly my type of format. You’ll look at Universal Solvent and say, “well, this card isn’t very good.” 7 mana to kill something, it’s already in play, and the opponent knows it’s coming—that’s not a good card. But how many times does that card have to tap for mana before it becomes a good card? The answer is “not very many.” Lands that turn into removal spells in the late game are incredible in Draft. Now, Solvent isn’t exactly that, but if it just comes close, that’s a useful card.
That leads to the next important point about the mechanics of Aether Revolt: They change the card values from the Kaladesh. I tweeted about this as soon as I saw the cards at the prerelease. I love when R&D is able to design mechanics that greatly change the value of cards from the previous set. This makes drafting the Kaladesh pack fun and interesting. As I just talked about with Universal Solvent, a Puzzleknot is a lot better if it taps for mana a couple of times. And the Puzzleknots are reasonable ways to trigger revolt, too!
This happened partially because of their synergy with improvise and revolt, and partially because the power level is much lower in Aether Revolt than in Kaladesh. Inventor’s Goggles is another example of an artifact that hardly ever have made your deck in Kaladesh and almost always does now (assuming you have improvise cards). When I first saw Aether Revolt, I was nervous. Both mechanics point you in the direction of not blocking. You don’t want your opponent to trigger their revolt cards and you might need your artifact creatures to add mana and cast your spells later. The set is not very aggressive, though, mostly due to its relatively low power level.
Notes on the Format
The best commons in the set are the 4-mana removal spells, Daring Demolition and Chandra’s Revolution. Shock is a solid card, but surprisingly underwhelming. Even though it has the ability to trade up a mana or even 2, the games are pretty low tempo, so that doesn’t help a ton. It’s much more important to be able to answer your opponent’s better cards, which the 4-mana removal spells do well.
Thriving Rhino felt like a good common before, but now it feels like a mythic rare. The creatures are just less efficient in Aether Revolt than in Kaladesh by a wide margin.
Another important point is that in low-pressure formats, combat tricks are worse because your opponent isn’t forced to block and get blown out. Rather, they have the ability to take the attack and then adjust to the trick. So cards like Built to Smash got substantially worse.
So, what should you be drafting in this format? I like synergistic effects that produce size or value. Puzzleknots and Implements are sweet, and I draft and play a lot of them. But remember, while a card that adds mana a few times and turns into a removal spell or sacrifices to draw a card is great, artifacts that don’t give you something useful after you no longer need them for mana aren’t good. Despite Sol Ring being a broken card in Limited, Lotus Petal wouldn’t be playable. So you should be hesitant with cards like Servo Schematic. It looks great since it can add 2 artifacts to use toward improvise, but ask yourself how many improvise cards you are really going to cast in most games. If that answer is “only 1,” then this isn’t a very good card. I usually wouldn’t play it unless I had beneficial ways to sacrifice artifacts or a lot of improvise cards, like 5+.
Speaking of improvise cards, I originally thought that Bastion Inventor would be better than Fen Hauler, but I have completely changed my mind on this due to the low power level of the set. I think the extra size is more valuable than hexproof—which wouldn’t typically be true of big creatures. As a creature gets larger, hexproof becomes more desirable and additional size becomes less important. But in this case, you don’t even pay a full extra mana for the Hauler since you can lower the casting cost with improvise, and the extra power, toughness, and evasion make it a much tougher double-block than Inventor, which in turn results in it winning a lot more games.
Efficient big creatures are really strong in this Limited format, but they are also tough to find. I like Fen Hauler, Dawnfeather Eagle, Lifecraft Cavalry, and Irontread Crusher quite a bit. Bastion Inventor is solid, and I will even play Lathnu Sailback if my curve is fairly low. I also like the Servo-making Aether creatures, even if you don’t make a ton of energy. Servos can tap for mana now, so as long as they come attached to a reasonable creature, they are pretty valuable. That means that Aether Chaser, Swooper, and Poisoner are quite good. I even think Herder is fine. Inspector, though, is still hot garbage. A 4-mana 2/3 vigilance is not acceptable.
One final point before I dive into the colors: don’t automatically play 17 lands. Renegade Map is an excellent revolt trigger and a great way to search for a splash color, so you should play it a lot. Even though it looks like an artifact, it’s actually a land. Since it costs 1 colorless to cast, cut a whole land for it. Also, if you have 2-3 cheap cantrips like Implement of Combustion, Implement of Ferocity, or Unbridled Growth, then you should also cut a land.
Anyone who tells you red isn’t the best color in Aether Revolt is wrong. It has 4 commons that I will play in virtually any number. This format is fairly low pressure, so there isn’t a huge emphasis on tempo. That doesn’t mean that getting ahead on board or trading up mana isn’t a good thing—it’s just worth less than in a higher pressure format like Kaladesh. Therefore, I think that the best red common is Chandra’s Revolution. It can kill almost anything and the “tap a land” ability can be annoying.
Next is Shock. Shock is more efficient, but doesn’t always kill what you need it to. Very close to Shock is Aether Chaser. Some on my play test team even had Chaser above Shock. The synergy with 4th-best common Sweatworks Brawler is great, but Shock’s ability to trade up with 2- and 3-drops offers a little more.
Sweatworks Brawler is really efficient. If you can tap 1 artifact on turn 3, you get a 3/3 menace on turn 3—a solid creature. The red Implement is also a strong playable that you should always play as long as you have any synergies. It’s a mana with improvise that turns back into a card when you don’t need mana anymore for a total investment of 2 mana. You even get a free point of damage.
Destructive Tampering is also a nice card, and the first copy is practically an auto-include for me. I try to avoid having multiple copies of it in my main though, so I don’t take it aggressively.
One red uncommon I wanted to mention is Scrapper Champion. I think this card looks powerful, but is overrated. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a good card. It’s going to make my deck. But it trades down in mana a lot of the time with cheaper removal and doesn’t blow open stalemates either. It’s a good card, but I would take the top 3 red commons over it.
Next up is green. There’s a more legitimate debate about what the 2nd best color in Aether Revolt is. Green has zero commons that are particularly impressive, but quite a few that I will play any number of in most Draft decks. The best green common is Scrounging Bandar. It triggers revolt when you want it to, and can help you grow a creature enough to Prey Upon opposing creatures successfully. Good 2-drops are at a premium in formats where a 2-mana 2/2 with no ability isn’t a good card.
Next for me is Implement of Ferocity. It’s like half a Bandar that gives you back a card. It doesn’t deal early damage or block opposing 2-drops when you are on the draw so Bandar is better, but it triggers revolt when you want it to and creates a power and toughness without costing a card.
Next up is Lifecraft Cavalry. Originally, I thought the Leopard was better, but I’ve since been convinced otherwise. This card wins games and is a difference maker. Leopard is a good 3-drop I’m happy to play, but reasonable 3-drops aren’t hard to get and you don’t have 3 packs of Attunes to give you endless free energy anymore. Next comes Aetherstream Leopard. It might not be special, but it’s an efficient 3-drop I’m always happy to play.
Then I like Prey Upon. This isn’t a format where Prey Upon is especially good, but it’s still 1-mana removal, and I’m still going to play it. Druid of the Cowl is surprisingly bad, but if you have more 4-drops than 3-drops, or slow expensive cards that don’t help you come back well from behind, then you’ll still want it.
Silkweaver Elite/Unbridled Growth are going to go in your deck if you are good at triggering revolt or have good revolt cards to trigger, but I don’t think these cards are very powerful. I don’t think you should take them aggressively and I don’t think you should generally play them unless they have good synergy for you.
Aether Herder is pretty bad. You should avoid playing it unless you can feed it a lot of energy or can make good use of midgame 1/1s. Last of the relevant green commons is Natural Obsolescence. This is a good sideboard card, but I would much rather start a card that can kill an enchantment or artifact like Appetite for the Unnatural.
Next is black. It starts wth the best common in the set in Daring Demolition. Aether Poisoner is the 2nd-best black common. It’s a little worse than Chaser or Swooper, but a lot better than Herder or Inspector.
So far you shouldn’t really be surprised. But the 3rd best black common might surprise you. It’s Fen Hauler. This card has grown and grown on me since day 1. The creatures in Aether Revolt just don’t hit like the Kaladesh ones, and a 5/5 can dominate the board. I also love the way the big improvise cards play. If you are a little flooded then you cast them later using your lands. If you are stuck on 4 lands then you probably have cheap artifacts to tap to cast them. They’re an excellent design for Limited.
Next, I like Implement of Malice and Defiant Salvager (assuming you have Implements, Servos, etc.). I consider Alley Strangler, Cruel Finality, Fourth Bridge Prowler, and Night Market Aeronaut to be playable, but in my best decks they usually aren’t making the cut.
In 4th place comes blue. It’s close with black, and it could easily be third, but both are better than white. Blue’s best common is Aether Swooper, which is one of the main reasons I think it’s worse than black.
It does have a bunch of good commons that I’m happy to play, though. Hinterland Drake is better than it looks. It’s a nice flying body for 3 mana and it can block. Sure, sometimes it won’t be able to block the creature you most want to, but you can probably trade it for something. On the other hand, 3 toughness puts it out of range of some of the removal in this format, and a 2-power flyer for 3 can offer a nice clock.
Slightly worse but still fine are Leave in the Dust, Bastion Inventor, and Metallic Rebuke. The first two are self-explanatory, but Rebuke might be less obvious. This card frequently costs only 1 mana, and if you have an improvise deck, you should be playing as many as you can get your hands on. Think of it like this: If you pay 3 for it, it’s acceptable but not good, and you would rather not play it. If you are paying 2 for it, it is quite good—you would definitely play Mana Leak in Draft. If you are paying 1 for it, it’s not broken, but it is awesome.
Last is white. White is playable—you shouldn’t avoid it if you are seeing it. But it is bad. Its two best commons are Caught in the Brights and Dawnfeather Eagle. There are a lot of blink effects and enchantment removal spells that are played in this format, and the drawback on pacifying your opponent’s creatures is very real. That said, I’m going to play all my Caught in the Brights, but it doesn’t create as much value for you as Daring Demolition or Chandra’s Revolution.
Dawnfeather Eagle is a nice curve-topper and can swing games. But it’s still only a little more than a 5-mana 3/3 flyer, and that’s just not very good. Third is Audacious Infiltrator. On the one hand, the fact that this card is 3rd should tell you how bad white is. On the other hand, this card is underrated. It’s good at crewing Vehicles and can’t be blocked by Servos, so it plays a useful role. After that I’d play Osprey and Renegade in some decks, but not happily.
Map is overrated. It’s a great revolt enabler, but it’s not particularly great with improvise. It adds mana to cast your artifacts, then can turn into a land when lands are mostly useless. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a cheap fixer and I’m usually going to play it, but this card isn’t usually doing anything special for you and I wouldn’t take it over any of the commons I’ve listed as good or playable.
Irontread Crusher on the other hand, I get way too late online. You don’t want a lot of them, but this is a great card. It’s not hard to crew with anything you play after it, or even your 3-drop if you need it to block—and it’s huge for 4 mana. Mobile Garrison is exactly what it looks like, a serviceable 3-drop in a format with a lot of 3-drops.
• This format is lower pressure than Kaladesh, which was high pressure, so make sure you plan to mitigate losing to flood. Play the lower count if you are on the fence between 15/16 or 16/17 and draft good mana sinks aggressively.
• Revolt is tough to execute, so use it sparingly. Improvise is great, and the best enablers are the ones that turn into useful cards in the late game, like removal or card draw.
• The games don’t snowball like KLD, so drawing first isn’t out of the question if you or the opponent have a lot of cheap efficient removal—but there isn’t a lot of cheap efficient removal, so expect to be playing first most of the time.
• There are more real 1-toughness creatures, so effects that deal 1 got better.
• Aether Revolt isn’t about archetypes or color roles at all. You can draft virtually any color combination—just make sure you have a good curve and understand how your cards work together.