This is my Aether Revolt prerelease primer. Here I’ll focus on the new abilities, the tricks, the removal, the cards that I believe are likely to be overrated and underrated, and which Kaladesh cards get better or worse when you add 4 packs of Aether Revolt to the mix.
Mechanics like revolt usually come in two forms—either you need the ability to make the card worthwhile, or the ability is just a bonus and the card’s stats are playable on their own. The great majority of revolt cards are in the second category, which means that you don’t have to go out of your way to trigger them, and you don’t need many “revolt enablers” (which, in this set, are artifacts with sacrifice abilities and ways to bounce your own creatures) to make them worthwhile. I’ll play Vengeful Rebel in my deck even if I have 0 ways of triggering revolt that aren’t combat, and I won’t play an Implement or a Puzzleknot that I wouldn’t otherwise play just because I have 1 Vengeful Rebel.
The big question regarding revolt cards is whether it’s worth playing the card immediately or if you should wait to be able to trigger revolt. This decision comes down to some factors:
- Do you have anything else to do instead? If so, you should probably do that.
- Do you have prospects for triggering revolt any time soon? If you have few outlets and it doesn’t look like your opponent is going to trade much if you attack, then you might as well resign yourself to playing your revolt card without the trigger. If you have an outlet or you know they’re going to block the following turn, then it might be worth waiting.
- How good is the trigger? I’d hold a card like Vengeful Rebel if I had a way to trigger revolt soon because the effect is worth a lot, but I’d probably just play a Countless Gears Renegade, because the revolt effect is not worth the time lost not playing it.
Most improvise cards are costed in such a way that they’re clearly meant to be improvised, which makes the mechanic a lot less flexible than revolt. With revolt, you’re getting normal-costed bodies with slight bonuses, whereas if you can’t reliably use improvise you’re getting a lot of over-costed cards that you would never play. As a result, before you put most improvise cards in your deck you need at least a couple of artifacts that you think are going to stay in play. Each improvise card that you play makes each artifact better and vice-versa, so this is a scenario where either you have a critical mass of this type of effect (both enabler and payoff) and then you can play the sub-optimal ones of both types, or you do not have a critical mass and you’re only going to play the cards that are good by themselves. The most important thing here is that you shouldn’t just be jamming Bastion Inventor in your deck with 4 artifacts.
It’s also relevant to remember that improvise is not Gearseeker Serpent—you actually have to tap the artifact. This is not very important if you’re tapping a Prophetic Prism, but it’s relevant if your artifact is a creature or a Vehicle, and it’s also relevant if you get to a scenario where you want to play 2 improvise cards in the same turn.
In Kaladesh, I really disliked blue, and really liked green. This applied to drafting, but not Sealed. In Draft, it’s relevant to know which colors are good and what their strengths are so you can make your picks accordingly—for example, it’s important to know that blue decks will usually have a lot of artifacts so you can pick Gearseeker Serpent early, and it’s important to know that white-red decks have a lot of support for Vehicles, so you can pick those more aggressively. For me, it was important to know that blue was bad so I didn’t want to be blue, and I was willing to pick a worse card in a different color because of that.
In Sealed, however, you aren’t getting anything new—everything you have is already there. You don’t make any individual decisions before you have to make other decisions—you make all your decisions at once. As a result, it’s important to let go of color prejudices. It doesn’t matter how good the color is or what the color is supposed to do. It only matters what you have on your pool. If blue is bad, then that means you’re less likely to have a blue deck, but it doesn’t mean that if you have a blue deck that it’ll be bad.
If I’m forced to rank the colors, I’d say that green, black, and red are the 3 “good colors” (there are a lot of good commons, and they’re deep) and blue is still probably the worst, but I honestly wouldn’t worry much about this for Sealed.
The Speed of the Format
Kaladesh Draft was an incredibly fast format. There were two main reasons for this:
- Attacking was much, much better than blocking.
- There was nothing that played catch-up, so if you fell behind on board you were dead.
Sealed was different. Most aggressive draft decks could be aggressive because they had a very good curve, which is not always realistic when you can’t choose what you have in your pool. For this reason, Sealed is always a bit slower than Draft, and you don’t want to be the person with eight 2-drops but no way to win the game. There were board stalls in Kaladesh Sealed, and having a way to break through them was important.
That said, how does Aether Revolt match up in terms of speed and being the aggressor? Here are some things to analyze:
The Aether Cycle
One key difference between the two sets is the Thriving cycle. In Kaladesh, those creatures really wanted to attack and keep attacking, as they’d grow stronger and harder to block each time. The Aether cycle is different—they also want to attack, but they create creatures that are often better blockers than attackers and, more importantly, they don’t get harder to block as time goes by. If you play Aether Chaser and I play a 3/3, then I’m going to be able to block it no matter how many times it attacked before, and I’ll also be able to block all the Servos my opponent makes. As a result, I’m more likely to stabilize just by playing a cheap blocker, which is a point in favor of defense.
Another point in favor of defense is the lack of good Vehicles at common. Kaladesh had Sky Skiff and Renegade Freighter, both of which were very powerful in aggressive strategies and not so powerful on defense—Renegade Freighter was arguably the best common in the set, and it was very annoying to have a deck that couldn’t use it. With Aether Revolt, the common Vehicles are Irontread Crusher and Mobile Garrison—not nearly as threatening.
There are still some creatures that heavily incentivize attacking over blocking, such as Skyship Plunderer, Aetherstream Leopard, and Frontline Rebel, but there are also some blockers, so it doesn’t feel to me like there’s a critical mass of creatures that must attack like there were in Kaladesh.
Creatures in Kaladesh were a bit over-sized for their cost, but there was a peak and then a plateau—most of the truly big bodies were Vehicles. In Aether Revolt, creatures seem to have remained mostly the same. You have some 5-drops with big bodies, but almost all of the enormous things are Vehicles. There are some big creatures with improvise, but considering that Kaladesh also had Gearseeker Serpent, things shouldn’t change much in this regard.
One difference that might be relevant is that in Aether Revolt, there are more cheap creatures with toughness 3 compared to cheap creatures with toughness 2 like there were in Kaladesh. In Kaladesh, there were 27 creatures with toughness 2 that cost 3 or less, and 16 creatures that cost 3 or less with toughness 3. In Aether Revolt, there are 19 creatures that cost 3 or less with toughness 2, and 14 creatures that cost 3 or less with toughness 3. This might end up being irrelevant, but it could also mean that 2/2s as a whole are less powerful now since they’re less likely to trade with opposing 2- and 3-drops than they were before.
The Revolt Cards
One point in favor of attacking, however, is revolt. If your opponent attacks and you block and trade, then they get the full benefit of their sorcery-speed revolt cards, whereas if you just take the damage and try to race, then they have to play them without the abilities. That said, you should keep in mind that red and blue have no revolt cards, and I think the revolt cards aren’t that problematic in the early game anyway. Cards like Deadeye Harpooner and Vengeful Rebel have devastating revolt effects, but they won’t stop you from trading 2-drops because in theory, you have nothing else in play, so you should actually try to trade immediately rather than try to trade the following turn when they will have a target.
There are only 2 commons that can punish you for a trade very early on: Countless Gears Renegade and Silkweaver Elite. Given that G/W also has a very good revolt uncommon at 3 mana (Renegade Rallier) as well as cards like Narnam Renegade, Solemn Recruit, and Hidden Herbalists, my inclination is that if you can avoid triggering revolt early against specifically G/W decks, you should. If you’re against say, an U/B deck, I wouldn’t worry too much unless Vengeful Rebel is particularly devastating in that spot.
Next, we have to examine the tricks. In Kaladesh, red had a 1-mana trick that only worked on offense, which had a big impact on how you played combat. Let’s see the common and uncommon tricks for Aether Revolt:
There are plenty of tricks, but the set’s “Built to Smash” (Invigorated Rampage) is now uncommon rather than common, and does a better job of pushing damage with big green creatures as opposed to being used as a trick to save your creature, which seems to be a big downgrade for decks like W/R.
One noteworthy difference, however, is that Alley Evasion is a trick that has utility, so it can be played in slower decks that would not have played something like Built to Last. If you were playing against a very slow deck in Kaladesh, you were usually pretty safe from tricks, but Alley Evasion is one that even control decks can play, so watch out for it.
My conclusion from all this is that Aether Revolt has some of the elements that made Kaladesh an “attacking” set, but it has some “blocking” elements as well to balance that out. I wouldn’t be opposed to being aggressive (though, remember, it’s much harder in Sealed!), but I would feel a lot better being a defensive deck in Aether Revolt than I did in Kaladesh, and I would make sure to try to have a way to win the game through board stalls if I did go the aggressive route.
It’s also important to examine the removal in the set. Let’s take a look at what we have at common and uncommon:
This is a lot of removal—remember that this is a small set and has 70 commons and 60 uncommons, as opposed to 101 commons and 80 uncommons from Kaladesh. Some of the removal doesn’t really count (Ice Over?), but a lot of it is solid too—Prey Upon, for example, is a big upgrade over Hunt the Weak, which was already a good green common.
This glut of removal makes me think that individual cards aren’t that important. Sure, a bomb is a bomb, but there are so many ways to deal with one that I would rather build my deck in a way that it has a consistently high power level than to rely on a bomb from a certain color. Adding to that is the fact that the rares from this set aren’t even that good—there isn’t anything outstanding that can’t be dealt with. In Fate Reforged, if you opened Citadel Siege, you really wanted to make an effort to play it in your deck because it was both insanely better than anything else you could have and hard to remove. In Aether Revolt, if I open a card like Freejam Regent, I’m happy to play it, but I’m not going to play a bad red deck just because I have it—it’s not that much better than other cards, and there are plenty of removal spells at common and uncommon that kill it. So consistent power level and good strategy are more important than spikes in your power curve, and you should go for the best 23 cards instead of the best 2, so don’t be lured too strongly by your rares.
Overrated and Underrated
Here are a few cards that I think are most likely to be misevaluated at the prerelease:
This card seems good in magical Christmas land where they take 6 damage and then you recur your Puzzleknots forever, but in practice they just have too much control over it, and what’s going to end up happening is that they take 3 damage and then this does nothing a lot of the time. It takes a combination of being aggressive and having a ton of artifacts with sacrifice abilities to pull this off, which means that you shouldn’t just jam it into a deck because you have some artifacts.
Kari Zev’s Expertise
Kari Zev’s Expertise is a card that the great majority of decks will not want to play, and it’s easy to be fooled by the fact that it’s a rare and has extra text. The “Expertise” clause will rarely come into play since Threatens are late-game cards, so when all is said and done, you’re left with a worse Hijack, which almost no one even sideboarded.
4 mana is just too much, even if it gives you the possibility to kill 3 creatures. This is easy to play around and even when you “get” them, you aren’t getting that much. To give you an idea, I played my first 5 or so drafts assuming that Impeccable Timing dealt 3 damage split, and I still didn’t think it was that good.
The intention is appreciated, but by the time you get to attack with this card, they’ll likely be able to block and kill it. I’d stay away.
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Baral is another card that seems better than it is because of its rarity and Constructed applications. Some decks will want Baral, but it’ll be a 1/3 for 2 in others, so it’s definitely not a must-play. You certainly should not play any instants or sorceries that you otherwise wouldn’t just because you have Baral in your deck—build your deck first and then add Baral to it if it works, not the other way around.
I’ll admit to not knowing exactly how good this card is going to be, but my inclination is that it’s not as good as it seems. You look at this and think “2-for-1!” but it costs 5 mana and they can choose which two cards for the most part. It can be a devastating card if they curve 4-mana artifact creature into 5-mana creature, but it can also be bad if they curve a 2/2 into a Servo. I’m not saying “don’t play this” because I truly don’t know how to evaluate it, but I am saying that it’s probably not worth going too much out of your way, or alternatively, don’t go splashing for it in most decks (though it’s possible it’s a great sideboard card against some decks).
3 mana for a trick that doesn’t even help your creature kill theirs is a lot of mana. Getting a Servo out of the deal is OK, but still doesn’t make this good.
I’ve been burned by Lust for War and Stab Wound enough times to recognize the power of a card that deals unblockable damage every turn. There are a number of ways to bounce or sacrifice your own permanents, so it’s rare that this will 20 them, but even if they get rid of their card, you’re usually going to get the first 2 points of damage (they happen on your end step), and then you force them to kill their own creature. Best used on artifact blockers.
Putting multiple conditional-but-powerful effects on the same card is always a good thing, and Destructive Tampering delivers. “Creatures without flying can’t block” is a very powerful effect in a lot of situations, but one that you usually can’t afford to play because it’s so inconsistent. Getting it as a “freebie” on your artifact removal is great, and this card will be responsible for a lot of wins that will leave the opponent feeling aghast. I would always maindeck this in Sealed.
Wind Drake wasn’t very good, but that was because blue wasn’t an aggressive color, and white is. Flying was very good in Kaladesh, so I expect Osprey to be a little underrated at first.
This card is obviously good, but I just want to highlight how good it is. It’s amazing! If you have two creatures in play you’re already getting 7 power out of the deal, which is almost a Verdurous Gearhulk, and it has the potential to escalate much higher with Servos. This is one of the best cards in the set.
2/3 flier for 4 is almost playable by itself, and this ability is excellent if you can trigger it. If you have at least a couple of ways to add +1/+1 counters, I’d expect this card to be very good in your deck, finishing off creatures in combat and getting rid of all your opponent’s Servos.
Red decks are usually interested in some number of 2-drops, and, though you’d rather have a bigger body than a 2/1, the fact that this enables artifact synergies is relevant. The part I like is that its ability can help finish them off in board stalls, which are common in Sealed—so this becomes a curve filler early and an actual threat late, which is a lot from a 2-mana artifact.
How Kaladesh Cards Are Affected
With 4 packs of Aether Revolt, some cards in Kaladesh are bound to change value.
What Gets Worse
- Creatures that interact with Vehicles, such as Speedway Fanatic or Spireside Infiltrator. There are simply fewer good aggressive Vehicles, so cards that benefit from a high number of Vehicles also get worse.
- Energy cards. My impression is that energy in Kaladesh is more “combo-oriented”—you can have Modules and Virtuosos and Marvels and Towers and whatnot, so you’re both constantly generating and spending energy. In Aether Revolt, it’s a lot simpler—you get 2 energy, and you make a Servo. There aren’t many constant energy makers and sinks, and the payoff for reaching a high energy count seems to be smaller.
- Super aggressive cards in general, as this set seems to be a little bit less aggressive than Kaladesh was.
- Swarm strategies. There’s no Inspired Charge (there’s Dawnfeather Eagle, but it’s different), and there is no fabricate. The cycle of Aether creatures that spend energy to make Servos can create multiple bodies, but a lot of them will not be able to attack without killing themselves, so it’s not as easy to get actual 2-(or 3-) for-1s as it was with fabricate.
What Gets Better
- Cards that enable revolt by bouncing or sacrificing themselves, such as Aviary Mechanic and the Puzzleknots.
- Cards that interact with artifacts, such as Glint-Nest Crane, Inventor’s Apprentice, Dhund Operative, and Salivating Gremlins. Comparatively, there are more artifacts in Aether Revolt than in Kaladesh, and they’re a bit cheaper as a whole.
- Defensive cards in general, as this set seems to be a little less aggressive than Kaladesh was.
- Cheap artifacts that help with improvise.
- Inventor’s Goggles. Not only is it a cheap artifact, but there is a higher percentage of playable Artificers in Aether Revolt than there were in Kaladesh.
- The 17th land. There are more activated abilities that rely on mana rather than energy in Aether Revolt, so you have some more mana sinks. Not that many more, though, so I’d still rather play 16.
That’s what I have for today. Good luck at the prerelease!