by Tom Vandevelde
Fresh off the banning of three powerhouse cards, Standard is shaken up by a new set. It’s as if some revolution is upon us.
While the banning of Smuggler’s Copter will undoubtedly leave aggressive decks scrapping for another suitable rare, it’s the bannings of Emrakul and Reflector Mage that will truly change the Gentry landscape. Emrakul was the best finisher in the format by miles, and the endgame for many control and Delirium strategies, while Reflector Mage was an essential part of many white-based beatdown decks, as well as one of the most important pieces of the very popular “Blink” deck, which sought to abuse enter the battlefield triggers with cards like Acrobatic Maneuver, Essence Flux and Panharmonicon. Reflector Mage provided the deck with a powerful ETB effect (editor’s note: Enter the Battlefield effect) that is good at any point in the game, but particularly devastating as a first line of defense against aggressive and midrange strategies, where it provided enough of a tempo swing for the slower Blink deck to recover from an early onslaught. Both of these bans will surely help reshape the Gentry format. To name but a few consequences, Delirium strategies will lose their way to go “over the top” of control decks and other decks with plenty of inevitability (I’m thinking of Emerge, for instance), control mirrors will no longer revolve around who finds their Emrakul first, and three to five mana creatures, which Reflector Mage ate for breakfast, suddenly find their stock on the rise.
Ok, enough about the bannings. That’s not what I am here to talk about. Today, Magic’s newest set released: Aether Revolt.
As the second set in the Kaladesh block, Aether Revolt is a so-called “small set”, which means that it gets added to the already existing pool of cards, without any other sets or blocks rotating out of the format. Most of the time, cards from the “small set” provide additions to already existing decks and themes, as several of the set’s mechanics (Energy, Vehicles, etc.) were already introduced in the “big set”. Sometimes, however, the new mechanics provide fresh deckbuilding opportunities, or a card proves so powerful that it enables an entirely new strategy.
In the following article, I take a look at what I think will be the most important cards from Aether Revolt for the Gentry format. As always, I only take commons and uncommons into account, as rares will typically show up far less in games of Gentry, due to the format’s deckbuilding restrictions. Those who have read similar articles of mine before will know that I usually start off with a whole host of “honorable mentions”, cards that didn’t make the Top 10, but that I still wanted to mention because they serve some use here or there. For this article, I’ve decided not to do that, for three reasons. First, I really wanted to keep myself in check (to give you an idea, the original longlist for this article included 37 cards!). Second, because it’s fun to find out what cards you, the readers, think should have been on the list. So if you read this and disagree with my choices, don’t be shy to post in the comments, either here or on Facebook. And third, finally, because I feel that Aether Revolt provides us with plenty of cards that are similar in power level and tricky to evaluate, requiring more than just one line of text. With that in mind, I’m already thinking of providing a follow-up article that explains some of the more controversial cards I left off of my list. Alright, let’s get started!
Though on the pricey side for constructed, the power level of this card is off the charts. Another card in this set is a 4 mana sorcery that puts a +1/+1 counter on all of your creatures. Tusker offers you the same bonus, but has a 5/5 body attached for just one extra mana. The fact that you can abuse it with all kinds of blink effects is just gravy. One thing that pushes this card down in my rankings is that is costs 5 mana, which is on the high side for a card that seems to fit best in a creature-heavy aggro or midrange strategy. Another is that will often compete with Relief Captain, which is smaller, but fulfills a similar role for one mana less.
(Note that the Tusker is not the only card that suffers from comparable cards in other Standard-legal sets. Thopter Arrest suffers the same fate, lying in the balance with cards like Stasis Snare and Angelic Purge.)
This creature is almost too efficient for a common. A 2/1 first strike attacks very well in the early game, and in a deck featuring burn spells, which should apply to all red aggressive decks, this will often kill 4 toughness creatures in combination with Shock, while staying alive itself. This means it will almost always create a Servo as well, giving you 3 power and 2 toughness, 2 of which has First Strike, for 2 mana. This fits all kinds of going wide strategies (Reckless Bushwhacker anyone?), will work well with decks that provide bits of energy here and there (Harnessed Lightning and Thriving Grubs come to mind) and even crews Vehicles well (imagine this attacking for a few points of damage, then crewing a Renegade Freighter, and its Servo friend crewing an Untethered Express in the late game). Put all of that together at common, and you have an excellent addition to aggressive strategies.
An integral part of the “Cat Combo” that is being hyped as the new rage in Standard (for those not in the know: copying Felidar Guardian with Saheeli Rai, blinking Saheeli Rai and thus resetting it provides infinite hasty cats, making for a two-card combo), I don’t expect many Gentry players to “die by cats” as it were. The restriction on rares and the fact that the only tutors in the format are either rare, or have a 2BB mana cost tagged on make that quite unlikely (though I’m not saying I won’t try…). Felidar Guardian is a fine card on its own though. Though it suffers from the banning of Reflector Mage, there are plenty of other creatures it works well with. Among these are the new Revolt cards, as these see themselves leave the battlefield, therefore giving you the Revolt bonus when they come back into play. In a deck that is built to abuse it, the Guardian’s enter the battlefield trigger will almost always net you the equivalent of a card. Keep in mind that its text box says “permanent”, not “creature” (like Wispweaver Angel), thus allowing you to blink a Prism or a land, basically shaving a mana off the cost when playing two things in one turn. One particularly fun trick to keep in mind with the Guardian, is that you can play it on an empty board, flickering a black source, to then follow it up with a Revolting Fatal Push to take out their 4-mana creature. It will be interesting to see if there is room for this cool cat in Blink decks, though, as many of the best ETB creatures also take up uncommon slots.
Hungry Flames’ cousins Searing Blaze and Searing Blood were both staples in their respective Standard formats, and sometimes see play even in Modern Burn. That testifies to how good the combination of removal and damage to the player is. Costing one mana more is a very significant downside, which means this falls down the rankings, but I still expect this to show up in aggressive red decks. It is just too good of a deal to pass up on.
Reviewing Kaladesh, I wrote that Experimental Aviator may have actually been good enough to see play in Gentry, even though it was such a significant downgrade to Gentry all-star Whirler Rogue. Imagine how happy I was when finding out about Maverick Thopterist. Though it lacks Whirler Rogue’s important “unblockability” clause, the Thopterist is very similar to Whirler Rogue in the stats department. Sure, sometimes it will cost a mana more, but often (especially in the late game), it will cost four or less, which is a tremendously good deal for 4 power on 3 bodies, 2 of which is flying. The fact that this plays well with the different blink effects in Gentry right now (Illusionist’s Stratagem and Felidar Guardian add two more, with Essence Flux, Displace and Acrobatic Maneuver already in the format) makes it even more plausible that this will see plenty of play. Maverick Thopterist may be the card that pushes UR Eldrazi back into Tier 1 territory.
This may be the most surprising inclusion on the list. It may seem innocuous, yes, but think of all the different things this little card does. It fixes your mana, enabling splashes (or the full-blown three to four colour decks I am known to like), while also providing fodder for Revolt (this works with Renegade Rallier, by the way, making it a 3/2 draw a card in a pinch), and adding enchantments to your graveyard for Delirium. And it replaces itself, making it basically free! Last but not least, this is a common too, which may not be important in Standard, but is in Gentry. The combination of all of the above makes this one of the cards I’m most likely to try out once Aether Revolt is legal. I’ll admit I may be overvaluing the card, as its inherent power level is certainly lower than that of the other cards on this list, but don’t sleep on this one, it may surprise you.
I’m in love with this card. It does everything I want to be doing, and at an efficient rate at that. A 2/3 for two mana is already above the curve, and a decent to good blocker in a deck that wants to pull off all kinds of shenanigans. That’s where this little guy truly shines. Whether it’s a deck with a +1/+1 counter theme (most likely) or an Energy deck (go on, try!), Winding Constrictor provides tons of incremental advantage, making it a must-kill. Just imagine how sick this card is with Ridgescale Tusker or Aetherborn Marauder. At common, this snake pairs well with Scrounging Bandar (especially if you have two). Cat monkeys and snakes, now that’s an unlikely combination. The only thing that keeps this card out of the top 3 is that it is fairly narrow, fitting only a few strategies and color combinations.
Like Fatal Push, this card is more difficult to set up in formats without true fetchlands (4 Evolving Wilds barely count), but the power level is certainly there. A 3 mana 3/2 that kills a creature when it enters the battlefield is nothing to sneeze at. Remember that the Revolt cards also work very well with blink effects, as they come back having seen themselves leave play. In the case of the Rebel, it comes back with a Vengeance. Kind of like Die Hard. But in Magic. You know what I mean. Yippikayee m….. Ok, I’ll shut up. Point is, out of all the “blink” creatures, Vengeful Rebel has the highest potential, which is why it is highest on my list.
What!? The card hallowed as the most powerful in Aether Revolt, and the most powerful removal spell for Modern, Legacy and Vintage since Swords to Plowshares is not number one? Yes, hear me out. Fatal Push’s strengths shine most in formats that thrive on efficiency, like Modern or Legacy, where 90% of the creatures cost 4 or less and where fetchlands easily enable Revolt. In a format like Gentry, it’s the downsides to Fatal Push that start to shimmer through. Revolt is much tougher to enable, making it more probable that Fatal Push will only trade with a 2 mana card instead of a 4 mana card. While trading one mana for two is still a decent deal, I’m not sure that’s what you want to use your uncommon slots for in Gentry. It is still a very powerful card, but I feel people have been overhyping it for this format. Originally, I had it barely making the list, because I just know people will put this in decks where it won’t work well. Fatal Push is very average in a typical control deck for instance, as these will have a much tougher time enabling Revolt. Due to sheer potential, however, I’ve reconsidered, and put it a few placer higher on the list. Fatal Push should work well in creature-heavy midrange shells, where attacking and blocking should make it easier to turn on the Revolt on this and where one mana removal could help turn the game in your favor. That it’s an instant also helps significantly. Not for the first or the last time in this article, I’ll again point out that this becomes much better in a blink shell. Blinking something, getting value from the ETB trigger and then killing a 4-mana creature for just one mana is a great deal. Oh, one more type of card that works well with Revolt? Eldrazi Scion makers. I fully expect Catacomb Sifter and Eldrazi Skyspawner to return to the forefront once more.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone too much that this little card tops my list. “Fixed Lightning Bolt” has been a staple in Standard formats for countless years now, and I don’t expect that to change. That Shock goes for the face as well makes it a definite upgrade to Galvanic Bombardment in aggressive decks, though control decks may still prefer the upside of Galvanic Bombardment in a long game. Aggressive decks will also welcome a common burn spell, as so many recently have been printed at uncommon (see also Incendiary Flow, Hungry Flames). All in all, though its power level may be lower than that of many of the other cards on this list, its common rarity and wide utility should make Shock show up in a wider variety of decks than all of the cards above, making it nr. 1 on my list.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, Aether Revolt provides many cards that are very close in power level, making it quite difficult to pick out the ten best cards. In order to provide more context, I may write another article on ten cards that barely missed the list, but that I still consider very potent additions to Gentry. Can you guess which ones? Let me know in the comments.
Until next time, may you live the dream of Siege Modifying your Dreadnaught!
Tom Vandevelde has been playing Magic since Tempest, and competitively since Time Spiral. Deckbuilding is his favorite part of the game, which has led to him taking an interest in less conventional formats like League Standard. Alongside his teammates on Team Wrecking Ball he is shooting for the Pro Tour, but you will just as often find him playing Pauper, Pack Wars or Mental Magic, or helping out newer players. You will often find Tom streaming on twitch.tv/wreckingballmtg, where you can actually challenge him to League Standard matches in between rounds! Be sure to come hang out and don’t be afraid to ask questions!