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Modern Revolt


Hey everyone!

A lot has been written about the possible applications of Aether Revolt cards in Standard and in just a few weeks, Pro Tour Dublin will show what the best players in the world have to say about this topic. In general, cards from any new set have a much higher chance to succeed in Standard than in Modern, simply because of the size of the format, but Aether Revolt is a pretty specific set in that it focuses on combo more than any other edition in recent memory. And when we go from cute limited interactions to Standard combinations that give you a significant advantage or win the game outright, we can continue also to a lot of combo potential in Modern, where we have more cards to interact with.

Fatal Push
Aether Revolt (Foil)

However, apart from combo cards, Aether Revolt also contains one stone-cold bomb for Modern in Fatal Push - likely the best removal spell this format will have. I think there's no question about the fact that this card is going to be incredible in Modern - what's uncertain is how the card is going to influence the format as a whole. I think that especially together with the recent Modern bannings, it's going to strengthen control and because black now replaced red as the color with the best removal spell (I think the top 3 is now Fatal Push - Lightning Bolt - Path to Exile in this particular order), it helps color combinations that struggled before. The one that benefits the most is, in my opinion, Esper - an archetype that desperately lacked a removal spell that you could play on turn 1 or 2 (Path is great later, but you don't really want to cast it on the first turns).

There are several ways how to build Esper Control and I think that the card that they all have in common is Lingering Souls - the reason why to play white over red and a tremendous help against other control decks, G/Bx midrange and Affinity. But besides that, you can either go for the Thought Scour, Tasigur, Snapcaster package or perhaps for the Wall of Omens, Kitchen Finks, Restoration Angel route. You might also eschew creatures completely and instead rely on planeswalkers - if G/B midrange becomes more popular, Ashiok's star is going to rise. But then there's another possibility - one that uses some combo synergies from Aether Revolt:

Esper Brain Tokens

One part of this deck has been out even before Aether Revolt and I've seen it in action a couple of weeks ago for the first time. Brain in a Jar lets you "cheat" on casting split spells, so with Beck // Call, you only need to have two counters on the Brain in order to cast both halves at once: Brain in a Jar asks "is the cost of this card 2?" and for "Beck", the answer is "yes", but then when you put the spell on the stack, you can actually cast both halves, getting four 1/1 flying spirits and drawing four cards - certainly a backbreaking play against any fair deck.

Brain in a Jar is one of the "combo" pieces of this deck, but the nice thing is that even without any card that could "go off", the Brain is still a solid value card. On top of that, casting some of the sorceries in this deck as an instant is a pretty big bonus: Supreme Verdict is at its best on the opponent's turn (ideally after they activated their Raging Ravine) and post-board, we can check their hand with Thoughtseize in their upkeep after they've drawn a card for the turn. Instant-speed Timely Reinforcements are also sweet against burn, since red has a lot of haste creatures, so instant speed should make sure that you get the tokens for having fewer creatures (and it's also much easier to play around Skullcrack this way).

The second combo engine of this deck is Sram's Expertise. Just like Brain in a Jar, the Expertise can let you cheat on the Beck // Call cost - again, the "Beck" half counts for the clause of the free spell, but then you can decide to actually cast both halves, giving you four new cards and a massive board presence for just four mana. This is a pretty nice overlap, because if we only played Beck // Call with Brain in a Jar, we could easily get stranded with no way how to play the expensive split card unless we actually had six / eight mana, but this way, with multiple combo pieces, it's much easier to "go off".

Making Beck // Call happen is one thing Sram's Expertise does, but there's more - it can also cast Ancestral Vision, since the casting cost of zero is definitely less than four. Ancestral Vision has already been a great card in Modern ever since it left the ban-list, but this deck has even more uses for it, making sure you can draw three cards immediately even if you draw it in the mid/late game, as long as you have Sram's Expertise in hand.

Despite having access to two combo engines that overlap, this list is very much a value deck at its core. After all, neither of the two combos wins you the game outright: it just progresses you to a point where you have a dominating board presence and draw a bunch of fresh cards. That's why we also play some cards that support the token theme or help in the late game. The singleton Calciform Pools, for example, is there to make sure that if the game goes long, we can have enough mana to "hard-cast" Beck // Call, with the help of Breeding Pool that we can fetch. Intangible Virtue and Sorin, Solemn Visitor should boost your tokens and speed up the clock (or give you life if the opponent is trying to race).

Trying to fight for a better board position logically also means that we don't have much space for cards that protect us from opponents that fight on a completely different level, like Ad Nauseam or Tron. These are going to be pretty bad matchups pre-board, but luckily, black and blue offer rather good disruption and permission spells, so post-board, things should get much better. It's also possible to move some more disruption to the main deck, perhaps cutting Intangible Virtue and Sorin - that largely depends on the metagame. If it has more "fair" decks, I'd lean towards cards that improve your position on the battlefield, but against unfair decks, you can tune the deck to be more control-like even in the starting 60.

Fatal Push is certainly going to be the Aether Revolt card with the biggest impact in Modern, but there are many other cards that could shine. Baral, Chief of Compliance, could act as Goblin Electromancer no. 5-8 in Storm. The archetype suffers from the splash damage of having Gitaxian Probe banned, but it has been on the verge of Modern playability for years, with such stars as Jon Finkel playing the deck at the PT level.

Heart of Kiran also sounds interesting, because there are more 3-mana planeswalkers in the format than in Standard - mostly Liliana of the Veil, but also Jace Beleren, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver or a flipped Jace, Vryn's Prodigy (although it's unfortunate that Jace can't pilot anything when he's still a human - getting a driver's licence with power 0 is not easy). Especially with Liliana, the Heart seems promising, since you can keep +1ing her and at the same time play offense and defense with the Heart.

The last card that I want to mention today is Greenwheel Liberator. A couple of months ago, I really enjoyed playing Elves in Modern, but then I got tired of losing to Dredge hate such as Anger of the Gods or Izzet Staticaster. Now that Golgari Grave-Troll is gone from the format, chances are that the Dredge hate will die down a bit as well and if the attention moves elsewhere, Elves could be good again.

One problem that I had with the old Elves deck was that it lacked creatures that could attack. My list, just like most stock lists, was closer to a combo deck than an aggro / swarm strategy: it was basically all mana elves plus Shaman of the Pack and Ezuri to beat down. Elvish Archdruid could boost your team, but it rarely lived long enough, being super-fragile, and even as 2/2s instead of 1/1s, the Elves couldn't really attack into any sort of defense the opponent had unless you were willing to lose one attacker for each blocker they had. On top of the creature suite, the deck also had four Collected Companies and four Chord of Calling, but again, these mostly felt like "combo enablers", digging for Shamans (a.k.a. the "Fireball Elves") and Ezuris. And because in the late game, most of the deck was "air", Collected Companies would frequently hit something like a Heritage Druid + Llanowar Elf, which would be close to a miss.

In other words, the deck could really use some elvish beaters, cards that wouldn't disrupt the "combo" feel of the deck (dropping your whole hand on the battlefield on turn 2 or 3, thanks to Heritage Druid, Nettle Sentinel and Dwynen's Elite), but could attack and deal some points of damage before Shaman of the Pack could deliver the rest. For some time, I've already had my eyes on Talara's Battalion - with a mana elf on turn one, it's not so hard to play another 1-drop + the Battalion on turn two. Adding some number of Manamorphose can help you cast the Battalion even without such a setup, but I definitely wouldn't play many, since there's no space in the deck for many non-elf spells. Now Aether Revolt brings another Elf beater: Greenwheel Liberator. Elves are not the best deck to trigger Revolt, but my latest versions of the deck ran a lot of fetch-lands anyway (mostly because I have black cards in the sideboard - Cavern of Souls can't help with casting Thoughtseizes) and Horizon Canopy can  trigger Revolt as well. Right now, I'm testing this version of Elves to try to see if this tribe can actually also be good at attacking, not just swarming the board with 1/1s. Here's my current list that uses this approach:

Modern Power Elves

Greenwheel Liberator
Aether Revolt (Foil)

The biggest downside is cutting Chord of Calling, but to be honest, I didn't like them in the deck anyway and boarded them out in almost every matchup. Also, this version is more interested in attacking, so tapping the creatures into convoke can be pretty inconvenient. Casting the Battalion on turn two should be pretty easy with eight mana elves and four Heritage Druids, but even later on, a 4/3 trample is still a creature that can attack in most board states and it's also a good hit with Collected Company.

There are many cards with Modern potential in Aether Revolt, but these lists are the ones that I'm trying out at the moment. Let me know if you're working on something else with Aether Revolt cards!

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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