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Aether Revolt Standard


Hello everybody!

Aether Revolt spoiler season has begun and as I'm writing this article, more than fifty cards have already been revealed. Today, I'm going to look at some of them - the ones that seem particularly powerful or interesting for one reason or another.

Let’s start with a pair of cards that might not be the staples that scream "busted" the most from the whole set, but that are fairly powerful and together create a shell for an engine that just might be good in Standard:

Not so long ago, there was a successful deck in Standard centered around Hardened Scales. Winding Constrictor is basically a 2-mana Scales that's also a creature with reasonable stats. Some of the cards from that deck have rotated out, most notably Hangarback Walker, Dromoka's Command and Avatar of the Resolute, but others are still in Standard, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar being likely the most powerful one. Putting two +1/+1 counters on each creature you control seems incredible with the Constrictor in play. And then there is Rishkar, Peema Renegade: again, he's a creature with above-average stats (a total power/toughness of 4/4 for 3), but his biggest strength is that he essentially brings his own Cryptolith Rites with him. In a deck where abusing the +1/+1 counters is the main theme, Rishkar in play basically means that all your creatures tap for mana and that's a pretty dangerous ability to have, especially with pretty solid payoff cards higher on the curve. One that hasn't seen much play yet but easily could in this kind of deck is Armorcraft Judge - following a turn three Nissa or Rishkar, it shouldn't be a problem to draw two or even three cards with him.

Are there any other good cards that support the same theme already in Standard? Verdurous Gearhulk jumps to the forefront as probably the best one. Again, having a Winding Constrictor in play when you cast the Hulk means that as long as you have enough targets, you can end up with as many as eight +1/+1 counters on four different creatures. Considering we're combining two cards that are already powerful, we're getting into a pretty solid territory in terms of power-level. After that, the bar drops a bit - we have Tireless Tracker, Drana, Liberator on Malakir, Bristling Hydra, Thalia's Lieutenant (which brings us in a completely different direction and doesn't combine with the Constrictor particularly well), Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Olivia, Mobilized for War, Undergrowth Champion and that's pretty much it. You can probably see that half of the cards on this list see zero Standard play, but creatures like Drana or Undergrowth Champion could do some serious things with the Constrictor. However, none of them costs less than three mana, which could be an issue. If we want to go deeper, we can be looking at something like Longtusk Cub or Fretwork Colony. Playing Endless One as a possible 1-drop could be a desperate move if you really want to push the limits of this archetype, but right now, I have the feeling that we might have to look for good cheap creatures that could complete this deck elsewhere or wait until the whole Aether Revolt spoiler is revealed. So far in the new set, we have mostly Ajani, Valiant Protector and Oath of Ajani, but I'm not sure if either of these cards is going to be good enough.

Revolt is a new keyword that has already caused quite a lot of buzz, mostly for how easy it is to trigger in Modern and Legacy because of fetchlands. Each card with Revolt has two modes - a normal one and then a better one which only applies if a permanent you control has left the battlefield this turn. Fetchlands basically mean that the better mode always applies and especially these two cards are pretty much guaranteed to be great in Modern:

Fatal Push seems to be poised to be the single best removal spell in Modern, as it's basically a Terminate for one black mana, making it accessible to every black deck in the format. The only relevant creatures that it can never kill are Reality Smasher and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Greenwheel Liberator seems to be a bit less busted, but still reasonably good. One fairly big downside is that the Liberator dies to Lightning Bolt (which Tarmogoyf usually doesn't), but nobody's perfect. But how good are these two cards in Standard?

Reliably triggering Revolt is not too hard, but it requires more effort than in Modern. In Standard, we have Evolving Wilds and then cards like Vessel of Nascency, Puzzleknots or clues from Thraben Inspectors. Another pretty common way how to trigger it would be with something like using the -4 Gideon ability to create an emblem, but that requires some more setup. The biggest difference between Modern and Standard in terms of Revolt is that while with fetchlands, triggering it doesn't cost any mana, in Standard, you will either have to trade your creature in combat or invest some mana into it if you want to get the better version. With Fatal Push, this won't be such a problem most of the time, since in the first few turns, you will want to kill small creatures anyway. But casting a 4/3 Greenwheel Liberator on turn two will be very difficult in Standard. And since it's not a 2-drop in this format, I don't think it will see that much play, unlike Fatal Push, which still seems excellent.

Renegade Map might look like material for limited games only, but based on how much the keyword "Improvise" will be pushed in Aether Revolt, it could see a decent amount of play. We already have a 3UU sorcery that draws three cards where the mana can be paid with artifacts and I can easily imagine a control deck that would want such a cooperation, possibly with Dynavolt Tower that can tap for mana for Improvise as well. But there's another application that Renegade Map might have: triggering Revolt, especially for Fatal Push. Innocent-looking cards like the Map are easy to overlook, but they can then be the key pieces to support a certain strategy.

Greenbelt Rampager is a very interesting card. Without any other cards that create energy, it's a 3/4 for GGG, which is not that bad of a deal. But two energy is not much and with Attune with Aether, you can easily cast it on turn two. However, I think that we could actually turn Greenbelt Rampager's ability from a disadvantage into an advantage with a little bit of effort. First of all, he triggers Revolt for just a single green mana, as long as you don't have too much spare energy. Second, he can be used not to use energy, but to create it. Aetherworks Marvel decks don't always have an Attune on turn one and even if they do, they can instead go "turn 1 Rampager, make 1 energy, turn 2 Rampager, make another one, then Attune with Aether" and you're already up to 4 energy on turn two. Rampager is also a pretty incredible late game engine with Longtusk Cub. Since the Cub can sink any energy you might have, the Rampager turns into a spell that says "GG, put a +1/+1 counter on Longtusk Cub and feel free to do it as many times as you like".

The last possible use for Greenbelt Rampager that I can think of is that as weird as it might sound, he's quite an exceptional pilot. Since his enters-the-battlefield ability triggers, you can play him, tap him to drive a vehicle, then bounce him back into your hand, cast him again and crew another vehicle. The elephant will then be driving two vehicles at once, even though he won't even be in play anymore when the vehicles attack. This might be more cute than realistic, but with some of the new pieces of machinery in Aether Revolt, especially Heart of Kiran, which - conveniently - has a crew cost of three, I think it might even become relevant at some point in Standard.

Yaheeni's Expertise seems like a card with a very high power level. Unfortunately, because of the presence of vehicles and also Aetherworks Marvel decks, now is not the best time for a sweeper that gives creatures -3/-3. But still, the "free spell" clause is really interesting and makes the card worth looking at. There are two important questions we need to ask when evaluating this card: the first one is what deck would be interested in playing a card like this and the second is what cards we would want to play with the ability. Naturally, a sweeper is a card for control decks. U/B control has seen some play in Standard, either with Metallurgic Summonings or without, and Yaheeni's Expertise could find a home there. It could be a bit problematic to use the second ability reliably, though. Most cheap spells in U/B are removal and countermagic and you usually want to cast neither right after you have wrathed the board on your turn. Glimmer of Genius could be the perfect card to cast after the Expertise, but unfortunately, that costs four and not three. One way how to utilize the ability that gives you the "free" spell would be to focus more on artifacts rather than on counterspells. There's a number of cards that could fit into such a shell: Scrap Trawler, Filigree Familiar, Deadlock Trap, Trophy Mage, Foundry Inspector, Dynavolt Tower, Inspirational Monuments or even Renegade Map. And sometimes you will be able to use the "free spell" clause to finish off something that doesn't die to -3/-3: Essence Extraction could help there. Obviously, we can't be sure just yet if this archetype is even going to be a viable one, but I like how some of the cards interact with one another.

B/G Delirium is also a control deck of sorts and Yaheeni's Expertise could be pretty good there as well. Here, the making use of the "free spell" ability is easier than with U/B control, since B/G has a lot of cards it wants to play on their own turn - and some of them are even creatures that want to be cast post-wrath, like Grim Flayer or Tireless Tracker. But even something like Vessel of Nascency or Grapple with the Past is certainly nice when you cast it for free on turn four. Also, I like another fact about the Expertise in B/G: playing a Grim Flayer on turn two and then attacking with him on turn three will often give you delirium, so that you will be able to cast the -3/-3 sweeper on turn four and still have the Flayer live. This might not look like much, but it's these small pieces of synergy that make decks work. I still remember sweeping the board with Languish and having a Sylvan Advocate live through it - in the B/G Seasons Past deck, it was pretty important to be able to cast your Sylvan Advocates early on as blockers and then setting up a wrath on turn six that still left you with a threat - the Grim Flayer / Yaheeni's Expertise combo seems like it could produce a similar kind of synergy.

There are many cards that we've seen so far in Aether Revolt that promise to do great things in Standard. Emrakul and Aetherworks Marvel unfortunately set quite tight restrictions on what's playable in the format and what's not, as most cards simply can't compete with the power level of these two. But this makes me want to try even harder to see whether the stuff from the new set can stand up to the current hegemons of Standard. Some of the new additions look like they might have enough potential.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!


Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8
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