It has been a while since my last Limited article, which is unusual for me, since my modus operandi is usually to just grind Limited online - which in turn means that in those rare moments when I actually have something useful to say, it is usually about Limited. Recently, I was ranting more than a bit about Magic Online, since I have almost no Limited events to grind and this situation forces me to play Constructed. Some of you probably don't see much of a problem in this, but since I am rather easily bored when it comes to Constructed, I end up wasting a lot of profits on building new decks and trying out new strategies. Wizards didn't help Constructed either, with changes in prizes for online Constructed tournaments they really discouraged many Constructed grinders from trying to profit. All of this actually made me play Magic with real cards a lot more than usual, and with the prerelease, sealed PPTQs and sealed GPs all happening in a span of a few weeks, I decided to focus on Aether Revolt Limited as much as I can.
Aether Revolt in a Vacuum
Aether Revolt isn't a very specific set in any regard - recent sets really look very much alike with similar themes going around and with more and more abilities getting the 'evergreen' treatment and appearing in each and every set. Aether Revolt is no exception, we see similar themes across the colors - U/W fliers, R/B sacrifice, G/W tokens/counters, U/B control/value, R/W aggro...sounds familiar? Well, yeah, this is really something that is more or less expected in every set, but each time it has a bit of a twist to make things interesting. Aether Revolt combines the usual with a few old and a few new spins - it continues the artifact and energy theme somewhat, but it also introduces the new Revolt and Improvise mechanics. Neither of these is something to get too excited about, at least as far as Limited goes. Revolt is pretty much a 'fixed' version of Morbid since it can be far more easily set up without disrupting your whole game plan and Improvise is a fixed Affinity for Artifacts, since it just isn't nearly as broken while still providing interesting interactions and making unexciting cards playable in Limited.
Revolt is mainly found in green and white, which is logical from the flavor standpoint, since the good guys are the ones that are getting angry when their friends leave the battlefield, but there are also a couple of black Revolt cards as well, since, well, black knows how to channel the power of death, I guess. Just to be clear, Revolt checks if something left the battlefield, not if something died, so it can be triggered in many different ways, especially with blink effects and bounce like the now already infamous Felidar Guardian or the severely underrated Aviary Mechanic from Kaladesh. Cards with Revolt mostly have decent mana costs for what they do, even without the trigger, which means when you build a 'Revolt' sealed or draft deck, you shouldn't really break your back fitting in Revolt enablers like Implement of Ferocity because this will only dilute your deck for something you might not need at all. I am not saying that Implement or other Revolt enablers are bad cards, I am just saying that you shouldn't cut better cards just to be sure you will have the trigger. There are actually very few Revolt cards that you really, really want to trigger and will keep them in hand until Revolt conditions are met.
Improvise is different in this regard; even though cards with Improvise aren't horribly costed for what they do, you still want to have a decent number of early game artifacts so you can cast your big cards ahead of the curve. There are quite a few artifacts in both Aether Revolt and Kaladesh that play thisrole, but not all of them are really useful in Limited, or at least not in every Limited deck. The best Improvise enablers are obviously artifact creatures, since this literally means Improvise becomes Convoke, and Convoke was always an amazing Limited ability. Obviously, there are decent noncreature artifacts for this purpose as well, but not developing your board with creatures on the first couple of turns can be a deadly thing in this format. While Improvise might not seem like much, casting big spells ahead of the curve followed by removal or tempo cards is a very strong game plan for the blue and black decks, where improvise is mostly found. Red also has a couple of Improvise cards, but red decks are rarely really relying on the artifact ramp to cast those.
As far as commons go, most of those are somewhat underpowered in Aether Revolt, at first often making me feel like there are no good picks in draft or that my sealed deck has far too many fillers. After a couple of Limited events, I came to realize that it is not that my deck is full of fillers, all Aether Revolt Limited decks are like that. This is a direct effect of far too many commons in the set that are here merely to provide support for Improvise or Revolt while not really doing much else.
On the other hand, the uncommons are a totally different story - Aether Revolt has a number of super strong uncommons that border on rare power level. Good examples are most of the multicolored uncommon cycle, but also cards like Gifted Aetherborn, Ridgescale Tusker or Vengeful Rebel. Very strong uncommons, especially multicolored ones are something I never liked very much, especially in draft, since it often forces people into two colors very early on, thus making the draft less smooth and adaptive and more like hit or miss, depending on how lucky you were with your seat. On the other hand, an experienced player passing a strong multicolored uncommon early on can be a clear signal meaning he isn't really in any of those colors at the moment. As far as sealed goes, strong uncommons can somewhat mitigate the lack of strong rares in your pool, but can also push your already strong pool over the top. With masterpieces still around in this set, I am afraid that this sealed format might be heavily affected by variance, producing super strong and super weak pools, especially since really aggressive decks aren't too viable.
Talking about viability of aggressive decks, this is very much open for debate, since there are many quite impressive tools that red has to push through damage or just outright win games. There are three threaten effects in this Limited format (Hijack, Wrangle, Kari Zev's Expertise) as well as a maindeckable Falter effect (Destructive Tampering) which is certainly quite more than we are used to for red Limited decks, but there are also some very strong combat tricks as well as the best Goblin Piker red ever had in Aether Chaser. Taking all of this into account how can I claim that very aggressive decks aren't really too viable in sealed? Well, even though it shouldn't be too hard to prey on relatively slow Improvise decks in Limited; I feel that 'Revolt' token/counter strategies simply clog the board with sizeable creatures too quickly for really aggressive decks to deal enough damage in time. There are quite a few life gain effects and most midrange creatures are very good defensively, which stops small, aggressive creatures dead in their tracks very early on. Even the aforementioned Aether Chaser was easily stopped every time I had it on turn two. This made playing an aggressive deck rather hard, fighting for every point of damage, thinking very hard on how and where to spend the combat tricks and then barely winning against decks with a far lower power level and/or with pilots that made quite a few mistakes. This isn't something that Limited aggro aficionados aren't used to, but the situation feels even worse than usual.
Board stalemates and a bunch of mid-sized creatures might not be something an aggressive decks want to see, but on the other hand, some other decks might be quite happy with this. Decks that profit most from the slow-ish format are usually the blue ones, and my experiences really told me this is true in the set. U/W fliers and U/B improvise control both really looked amazing whenever I ran them or played against them, utilizing strong tempo cards in combination with flyers and card advantage often just left the opponent without any resources very quickly while applying some pressure.
Aether Revolt with Kaladesh
Now, this is the interesting part. Obviously, there are no Aether Revolt Limited tournaments without a few Kaladesh boosters brought into the mix, which means the sets are bound to be rather compatible, right? Well, the general feeling I had was that these two sets are rather ill-fitting compared to what we are used to. Maybe this isn't a very precise analysis, since I feel it only works one way - Kaladesh cards compliment Aether Revolt build-around cards, but Aether Revolt cards do not compliment Kaladesh build-around cards. It is far harder to supply enough energy for some of the energy-hungry Kaladesh cards now, so many Kaladesh cards lost their value in the new Limited format, while some others gained. Fabricate is a very strong ability now that Improvise is around, and cards like Weaponcraft Enthusiast really look far better than they did before, but so do Revolt enablers like puzzleknots or bounce creatures/spells. Some other cards that gained a lot in value are maybe less obvious, but due to the very strong counter theme in Aether Revolt, both Fairgrounds Trumpeter and especially Armorcraft Judge both rose in power level quite a bit. On the other hand, almost all energy cards are at least a bit worse than before, while some other went from 'ok' to barely playable. It is not that Aether Revolt has no energy producers, it is just that they are far scarcer in the common slot, and even many of those are not even playable in Limited. There are some that are quite good, like Aether Chaser and Aether Poisoner , but there are more of them that aren't really very appealing, even in Limited.
Colors in Aether Revolt
White is where we are used to see it, very versatile, filling important roles in both aggressive and defensive decks, with a decent suite of removal (other than Deft Dismissal, who designed that atrocity?), well costed creatures and some nifty enablers/tricks. I would say white is the most solid color and it will rarely be a mistake to start off a draft with a white card.
Blue, on the other hand, is usually the nominally weakest color in Limited, with most mechanics that are either too slow or not doing enough to beat strong early game/mid game decks that red, white and green usually bring to the table. This time around, blue has quite a few strong defensive cards, as well as great card advantage and big payoff spells. Going improvise or just going for tempo flyers, blue has all the tools it needs.
Black is somewhat similar to white, that is why they often make a great pair. Very versatile, with decent aggressive and defensive cards and many cards that fill out both roles very well, black is a great support color in Aether Revolt.
Red...well, red is doing nothing new - going for the face fast, faster or crazy is the plan here, depending on what you pair it with. So far, I feel that R/B deck that focuses on synergy and a sacrifice theme might be the best way to utilize red cards.
Green is all about counters and power in this set, and I feel it fits rather well with any color, but by far best with white and maybe least with blue. Green has a lot of well costed creatures, as usual, but it also has some monster uncommons like Ridgescale Tusker and Monstrous Onslaught that are just outright crazy. Do not underestimate the power of nature!
I wouldn't give Aether Revolt Limited a perfect score, it deserves maybe a solid 7,5/10. I really feel there is a huge gap between good pools and bad pools in sealed and that the synergy between the sets isn't really amazing, but I also think that the gameplay is very challenging, that there are many intricate synergies and combinations that can be taken advantage of and that it won't get boring quickly, which is the most important part.
Do not forget to play the Limited Championship on Magic Online (if they didn't discontinue that as well) and good luck if you are playing sealed GPs or PPTQs in the coming weeks.
Good luck and have fun!
About Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes, and a GP top 8, with 61 pro points total.
During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.