I think Aether Vial is broken in Modern. Tournament results do not reflect this.
So am I crazy? Probably. But I think I might be sane this time.
Most people just don’t know the history.
History of Aether Vial
Aether Vial got banned in Extended in 2005 and banned in Mirrodin Block Constructed in 2006. It wasn’t legal for very long.
It won the Pro Tour almost immediately in the totally broken Ravager Affinity deck, but saw a lot of play in a variety of creature decks. Personally I used it for a never-ending stream of Goblin Matrons and Goblin Ringleaders.
The banning kind of wiped Aether Vial from my memory. I thought that the PTQ-winning Goblin deck I played had Aether Vial, and the reality is it had been banned for three years.
I only found out because I was wondering why the blue decks we remember from Extended didn’t play it. There were Faerie and Wizard decks that abused Riptide Laboratory. Why weren’t they playing Aether Vial? It was banned dummy.
Aether Vial got “unbanned” with the birthing of Modern, and basically nobody has paid any attention to it or tried to break it other than Shouta Yasooka. People didn’t remember it in the blue decks, because it was banned at the time. It’s been forgotten.
Aether Vial has seen play in Modern in Legacy ports Merfolk and Death and Taxes, but neither of these decks has ever made a final table out of Shouta’s hands.
The card is totally slept on, totally forgotten, and totally broken.
Aether Vial has become something of a lost art.
Today we bring it back.
Why is Aether Vial Good?
Aether Vial is good because it produces tons of mana.
We talked about how Aether Vial curves out in an ideal world:
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10 mana produced by turn 5
Yeah, this is pretty ideal, but it gets better. There are long games where it taps for 4, 8, 12, 16.
Here’s an Aether Vial making 10 mana all on the 6th turn:
This is just ludicrous mana for Modern. It’s too much mana.
Aether Vial is good Because it makes lots of mana.
Why is Making Lots of Mana Good?
Making mana is good because, in general, the player who spends the most mana wins.
If we hold power and interaction per mana spent constant, it’s a truth that the player who spends the most mana wins.
There are lots of ways to lose by getting outspent on mana.
You might get mana-screwed, and have barely any lands to make mana to spend from.
You might get mana-flooded, and have all these lands but no spells to spend mana on.
You might be empty handed watching a control deck outspend you on the 7th, 8th, 9th turns.
You might get blitzed out by the 4th turn with 30 mana to spend in hand but only slow tapped lands in play.
In general, the player who spends the most mana wins, so we want to make lots of mana, which Aether Vial does.
But still, not every mana is spent equally. We need to consider power level, interaction, option, or whatever other variables could be in the mix.
But let’s pretend everybody plays equivalently powerful cards, which is pretty much true in tournaments.
But still, that’s an equal trade if the Lightning Bolt player can’t spend that mana they saved. If they just pass with 1 mana wasted, there is no advantage gained.
It’s all about spending mana. So let’s make an Aether Vial deck that is really good at spending mana.
How Do We Spend Lots of Mana?
Another option is to play tons of mana sink lands. This way we can scale our mana up and down depending on how much mana we have access too. If we have lots of Aether Vial mana we can sink that into our lands.
But, perhaps the best way to build a deck that is good at spending mana is by having a “nice curve”
A nice curve, in a format as broad as Modern has tons of options on 1 mana, with additional options unlocked at 2, 3, 4, and 5 mana.
This way we build a spellbook straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons wizard: a descending curve.
A descending curve unlocks the most combinations of mana use as it scales up in power. Ideally we are spending all of our mana and also playing a variety of kinds of spells, and this is the way to do it.
At one mana we have access to all 1-mana options, at two mana we have access to any two 1-mana options and all 2-mana options, at three mana we have access to any three 1-mana options, any 1-mana option with any 2-mana option, or any 3-mana option. It scales up from there.
You could probably use this to show some cool graphs.
Look at that descending curve in the main!
Look at that ascending curve in the board!
Even the 75 has a nice descending curve. We are going to have a variety of sideboarding options for adjusting our curve and spells against a variety of kinds of decks.
Personally I’m trying to move away from playing specific hoser cards to make up for weak matchups. I’d rather find a nice curve in my 75 for any particular matchup while only playing broadly powerful cards against the format.
I think this kind of thinking is great for adjusting against a varied OR specific field. It makes sure your curve isn’t too messed up against a specific kind of deck and that you have, in general, powerful plays for any matchup.
Vial Fae Matchups
Today I’ve got matchup guides for you guys. I’m doing it because I want to play this deck in tournaments and I’ve gone through the major matchups.
These are plans you can take to a tournament and use to success.
Vial Fae vs. UWR
UWR has a natural advantage against us as our deck is full if pointy creatures that explode to their Electrolyzes and removal. We need a plan.
We have a natural advantage over them because we play Serum Visions. We are more likely to hit early land drops which means initiative is often on them to do something or start discarding due to hand size.
We have another natural advantage in playing Aether Vial. We have access to much more midgame mana to work with.
We can let them discard and try to grind them with manlands or we can overload their mana to drop a Mistbind Clique and ride it to victory. That’s the main plan preboard, but postboard we have access to 4 Tectonic Edge and Crucible of Worlds. This is a pretty unbeatable mid-game trump that they would need a Rest in Peace or artifact removal to counter.
If you want another trump, Keranos seems like the best one. We can sneak it in with an Aether Vial and ride him to victory in a long game.
I’m not a huge fan of Remand as it’s just air that you’re hoping to cycle with most of the time. It can be really good to protect one of your own spells from a counter, so I could imagine leaving them all in and planning to that.
Vial Fae vs. Affinity
I like Crucible of Worlds against Affinity because Mutavault is our only source of interaction against Etched Champion and I want to be able to brick that card. There are also a lot of air battles against Affinity, and things can get grindy at time. Buying back Faerie Conclave to fight a Blinkmoth army comes up.
Remand can be incredibly slow and bad against Robots, but it does cost 2 mana. I’m not a huge fan myself.
Scion of Oona is a nice plan against Affinity for trying to win the air battles, and it’s a solid option after board as well.
Natural curve of Aether Vial, Pestermite, Kiki-Jiki is a nice one
Pod decks usually don’t play too much instant speed interaction, so Pestermite plus Kiki-Jiki has lots of opportunities for wins. Pod also wants to trade a lot of mana for life to operate Pod so our fliers can get there reasonably as well.
Since both of our plans can be effective, I like boarding to both with Scion of Oonas. This gives us tons of air pressure, and if we want to combo kill we can probably chump off Scion.
Anger of the Gods is a much more powerful option than Pyroclasm for clearing their persist creatures in one go, but I prefer what Pyroclasm does for our curve. Here and especially against Affinity. We want to start playing early and we don’t want to get choked at the 3-mana slot. Pyroclasm is fast and effective.
Birthing Pod might bleed their life too much
Vial Fae vs. Jund
Jund has a lot of Abrupt Decays and discard, so it has traditionally been strong at stopping Twin decks from combo’ing.
Jund is weak at blocking fliers and bleeds life to Dark Confidant, so Faeries has always been reasonable against Jund. Against Jund we want to be the Faeries deck.
If we want an easy mode win, our trump is Sower of Temptation. Abrupt Decay can’t touch it and if it doesn’t get removed it will win the game on its own. Sometimes pairing it up with a Spellskite or Scion of Oona is enough.
One thing to be concerned about against Jund is how back-breaking Golgari Charm and Jund Charm can be. It can be a fine line to play around a card they only have a couple copies of, so it’s definitely situation dependent, but something to keep in mind.
Vial Fae vs. UR Twin
Aether Vial is really insane in the Pestermite mirror. It generates so much midgame mana that it gives you opportunities to overload their mana or advance your board without giving them a position.
Historically Dreadship Reef-type charge lands have been good sideboard cards for blue mirrors and Aether Vial brings that idea to the main deck.
I feel like the best way to really push this advantage is through the Tectonic Edge Crucible Plan. If they never have more than 4 mana to play an unprotected Splinter Twin it could be really hard for them to win.
I think Sower of Temptation and Sword of Feast and Famine could be trumps against them as well but I want to play a better mix of spells that work well in the matchup without Aether Vial. I feel like if we have Aether Vial early we’re fundamentally advantaged and if we don’t I don’t want to have a hand with Sowers or Swords.
Vial Fae vs. Living End
I have a pretty good idea of how to not lose to Living End with blue from beating blue with Living End so many times.
Living End wants to overload our mana somehow, with Simian Spirit Guides, end-of-turn Violent Outbursts, and suspended Living Ends. Plan B is Deadshot Minotaurs on our Pestermites and Pale Recluses to stabilize.
If they’re trying to overload our mana and ramp, we want to never miss a land drop and attack their lands. Again, Crucible seems insane.
Sower of Temptation vs. Mistbind Clique is a bit of a toss-up because Mistbind is an easy body to sneak in but Sower cleans up nice against a resolved Living End. Stealing a Jungle Weaver can bring us back from a lost game.
Adjustments for PTQs
I highly recommend an Aether Vial strategy like this for PTQ season. It doesn’t need to be this exactly, as we have a lot of options for making personal tweaks.
This deck in particular has a lot of options; mine guided first by curve, then by power.
In particular there’s Snapcaster Mage. The problem is that we only have at most 15 targets in our 75, and only 4 options within those 15 targets. This is the price of building a creature-heavy deck for Aether Vial… sometimes the best creatures get left by the wayside.
You could also try to clean up the mana base to prevent screw, but that’s going to happen with this deck.
Aether Vial solves a lot of mana problems:
No colored mana, no problem!
Personally I think the cost for Kiki is worth it, but if you wanted to cut Kiki completely and move into a mono-colored deck, I think that wouldn’t be unreasonable.
We have lots of options.
The point isn’t that this deck is absurd (which it is), the point is that Aether Vial is absurd and I want you to know how to abuse it because it’s an unfair advantage to have in Modern PTQs right now.
That’s it for today people. Aether Vial this, Aether Vial that. Simply put, it’s too good and you should be playing it.