The Return of Splinter Twin
This weekend, pre-release events for Aether Revolt will be held. Many hopefuls will be looking to achieve a turn 4 infinite cats kill. We, on the other hand, are looking for those innocuous finds that push our Battle Boxes into the only direction that matters: more fun (spoiler: Splinter Twin combo might not be it).
Beyond the Combo Kill
At first glance, Aether Revolt is a powerful if not very original set. It basically pushes all the main elements of the Kaladesh set even further. There are some powerful new vehicles to crew, it throws out some new artifact tokens (without using the fabricate keyword, but we can see through that) and energy gets another push as well. I think this is the first set where we see Wizards’ new 2 set block strategy really beginning to take shape. Aether Revolt seems to pack everything you would normally expect from two small follow-up sets into one small set. It has little identity of its own, certainly less than we’ve seen in earlier second sets; its main purpose is really to make Kaladesh shine brighter than ever before. I would classify myself a half-Vorthos: I cannot really be bothered by the whole planeswalkers Superfriends storyline, but I do like the worlds we visit to be colorful, inspiring and believable. I think the new 2-set paradigm works great to this end. Every two sets we get to visit a new world which will then be fleshed out more a few months later before hopping to a new setting again. The only thing I really didn’t like about the new set is its spoiler season setup. Wizards crammed every new card into a one week timeframe, which is nice for someone who just wants to read every card, but if you have to write articles about those cards on top of your regular day job, one week feels a bit crowded. I’ve heard this echoed by other writers, so hopefully Wizards will rethink this for their next spoiler season.
Time to get to the meat of this article. What do we Battle Boxers have to gain from Aether Revolt? First up is the only new mechanic in the set that matters to Battle Box: Revolt. The second mechanic, Improvise, is very dependent on artifact synergy, and in most Battle Boxes that will just not be achieved. Anyway, revolt is a keyword mechanic that triggers every time a permanent leaves the battlefield. We’ll get to the effects when we discuss the Top 20 cards, but let me note that there are quite a few common actions that trigger the Revolt mechanic: bouncing permanents to your hand, flickering permanents on the battlefield, sacrificing permanents, even chump blocking creatures in combat. Even without adding any extra support, many of these things are already going on in most Battle Boxes. Of course, Wizards has thrown in a few enablers that are extra good at it, but unless they have a strong enough effect on their own, Battle Boxes will likely not need them as the Revolt synergy is too specific to support. That said, bouncing or flickering your own permanents can have useful applications outside of Revolt, so as long as something isn’t too specific it could make the list.
Aether Revolt Mini Battle Box?
I always thought the smaller sets were not very suitable to make a Mini Battle Box, and I would have to focus on the bigger fall and spring sets instead. Although that is still true, the closer fit with the original Kaladesh set means that I could go in a different direction. I could adjust every spring or fall Mini Battle Box once the follow-up set comes out. I really like that idea, and I might do that in a few weeks time. At the moment I am unfortunately very busy with some non-Magic projects, so redesigning the Kaladesh Mini Box just doesn’t fit my schedule. Apologies if you are waiting for something like that, and please feel free to do your own update and e-mail it; your ideas might be taken aboard if and when I do get around to it.
The Aether Revolt Top 20
I guess there is not a lot more to say, except to have a look at my personal top 20 for Aether Revolt. As always, there were more cards that could have made the list, and inclusion is a matter of personal taste, so please leave any cards you think I missed in the comments section; you might also be helping out others looking for inspiration.
Honorable Mention: Gifted Aetherborn
I have seen quite a bit of excitement about this card from constructed players, and a Vampire Nighthawk without flying for only 2 mana is certainly cheap. However, I’m not including it because of the double black requirement. It means you will hardly ever play it on curve, which means you play it later in the game and if that is the case, I’d much rather have the actual Nighthawk.
20. Hidden Stockpile
Our first revolt card. The problem with these enchantments in general is that they don’t affect the board, so they must have quite a payback afterwards to make it worth the investment. On the other hand, two mana is quite cheap, and being able to replace a lost blocker or attacker every turn is nice. The second ability allows you to cycle servos for scries on the turns when nothing leaves the battlefield. It’s not very flashy, but certainly the advantages will pile up.
19. Aid from the Cowl
Hey look, it’s our second revolt card already. It’s actually similar to the last one, except you get to play a random permanent for free about 70% of the time. Plus you get to choose whether you put the card on top or bottom if it’s not a permanent, which is a nice addition. Of course, 5 mana is quite a lot, so I’m curious to see if it will measure up.
18. Perilous Predicament
I would only include this card in multiplayer boxes, but it is quite nice. Forcing your opponents to sacrifice one creature is already OK, but being able to make them sacrifice two is just icing. I think I would only include this if your Battle Box has >5% artifact creatures, otherwise it will just be a false signal to players.
17. Quicksmith Rebel
Creating a Shock engine is obviously powerful, but the fact that you need an artifact to pull it off dampens the effect a little. If your Box has a decent amount of artifacts, I think it would definitely be worth including it.
I love these subtle twists on existing cards. For one mana less than a Threaten, you get the same effect most of the time. It is certainly a better tempo card, although you’d probably prefer to draw Threaten in the late game. I like steal effects in general, and I think this is a great little addition.
This is just a straight-up improvement on Cancel, which was still in my Box. I think counterspells are a little underpowered in Battle Box (because there are so many things to do with your mana), so maxing out their power level and flexibility seems like a good thing.
14. Baral’s Expertise
A spin on “free-to-cast” cards of Urza block, this new incarnation is less likely to enable all kinds of powerful combos. It does give us a nice effect, and bouncing three opposing creatures or artifacts is not bad to begin with. Of course, five mana is a bit much for the effect, but if you have a good 3-4 mana follow-up card you can now cast for free, you are actually getting the effect for only 1-2 mana. It’s a card that allows for some fun choices; you could even bounce your own 4 mana creature and recast it again for free immediately (triggering any enters the battlefield abilities obviously).
13. Greenwheel Liberator
It’s Tarmogoyf‘s little brother. In modern, it is not hard to set up events so you can sacrifice a fetch land on the turn you play this, giving you a 4/3 beater on turn 2. In Battle Box, setting up revolt on turn 2 is a bit harder, but later on in the game it is not hard at all. Getting a 4/3 for two mana is good value, even if it is otherwise a bit vanilla.
12. Maverick Thopterist
I think Whirler Rogue was a great card. This is slightly more expensive but you can reduce the cost by tapping artifacts. If your Box contains any number of bounce effects, the Thopterist is great because its Thopters will make it cheaper to cast every time it is returned to your hand (which is not accidental given the nature of the Aether Revolt set).
11. Yahenni, Undying Partisan
Depending on the game state, Yahenni can grow big pretty quickly. He also has some inbuilt protection against removal, although sacrificing another creature is a real cost. I don’t really get the haste ability, because it seems to me you are likely to let him hang back a couple of turns so he can build up his strength.
10. Ajani Unyielding
I don’t often include planeswalkers on these lists, because their power is usually too far out of balance in Battle Box. I think Ajani deserves a chance. His 4 starting loyalty is nothing amazing for a six mana planeswalker and all his effects seem good but not overpowering. Sure, two Swords to Plowshares is good, but for six mana it seems fair enough.
9. Heroic Intervention
The problem with protective cards is that they are so often underwhelming. Although this runs that same risk, at least it will protect your team agains most sweepers. I think it will be a nice addition to the Commander Box, where sweepers are not uncommon and this could be a real blowout.
8. Fatal Push
Cheap, instant speed, conditional. I think the conditions are easy enough to meet, although the base mode does seem a bit weak. A great tempo card, which loses a little bit of value later in the game.
7. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Pirate. Check. Pirate with a flying ship. Check. Pirate with a flying ship and a monkey with goggles. Double check. I think the card is decent if not terribly overwhelming, but the flavor this oozes is just too strong to ignore.
6. Paradox Engine
Again, a card that does not impact the board immediately. In this case, it is abundantly clear that this provides power in exchange. I think it is a bit too flashy for a standard Battle Box, but I am eager to give it a go in the Commander Box.
5. Renegade Wheelsmith
Every time you attack (or on Kaladesh crew a vehicle) you can disable a blocker. If nothing else, this will make combat math a lot trickier for you opponent. I don’t think the card is exceptionally strong, but I think it is fun and rightly powered.
4. Yahenni’s Expertise
It’s a slightly smaller Languish with a free spell attached. I think in Battle Box, the -3/-3 might often be as good as the -4/-4 because it gives you an opportunity to save some of your own bigger creatures. It could turn out to be too powerful, but I hope it’s conditional enough to be OK.
3. Solemn Recruit
Similar to Yahenni, except it triggers off your own permanents leaving the battlefield. This gives you a bit more control over how quickly you can grow the recruit, plus the double strike ability means it will effectively grow twice as fast. On the downside it’s a lot more vulnerable than Yahenni, so making it stick around will be a challenge.
2. Vengeful Rebel
A 3/2 for three mana is nothing amazing but still a nice enough presence on the board. And getting to kill one of your opponent’s creatures as well (assuming you set it up right) makes this great value. A comparison to Nekrataal suggests itself, and I think it compares quite favorably. The one mana discount is very relevant early in the game and the bigger body (without first strike) makes it a comparable blocker and attacker. The killing ability is of course a point to the Nekrataal.
1. Untethered Express
The only vehicle on this list. I thought most of the new vehicles were either too expensive or too powerful, but the new train works well. Cheap to crew, and a 5/5 trampler the first time it attacks, I think this is a beater to be reckoned with. And all that for only 4 mana…
And so we come to the end of the list. A general observation is that the power level of the uncommons in this set is, for want of a better word, uncommonly high. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or it signals a philosophy shift in Magic R&D, but for us Battle Boxers I hope that this trend continues in Amonkhet. That’s it, please leave any thoughts in the comments below. What great card did I miss?