Aether Revolt prereleases will send us flocking to our favorite game stores this weekend to get our first taste of a brand new set. It feels awfully early in the year, just the second Saturday in 2017, but here we are. The full spoiler has been out for days now. All that remains is to rip into these new cards on Saturday and find out how they do in actual games. I’m not a maniac, it’s not like all I care about are competitive Magic tournaments, but at the same time, if there are prizes on the line and someone is keeping score, I want to do well. I hope you feel the same way. My primary desire this weekend is to have fun and explore the new set as much as I can. I also like surprises. At my house, we don’t open presents before Christmas Day. I don’t want to know what I’m getting for a birthday present before my birthday. I pay as little attention to the early spoilers for a new set as possible. But once the full spoiler is available, I feel like it’s only smart to study a little in advance of playing in prereleases all weekend. I’m studying the new set for my own advancement, but I also want to help you win more boosters at the Aether Revolt prereleases.
What do you get to play with? The product mix changes occasionally for prereleases. This weekend, each player will receive four booster packs of Aether Revolt and two boosters of Kaladesh. You also get a prerelease foil that can be any rare or mythic from Aether Revolt.
The sealed deck rules are the same as always, you have to build a deck with a minimum of forty cards including lands. The process for checking out your cards before building should also be done the same way that you’ve done in the past. The first thing you should do is open up all of your cards, from both sets, and sort the cards by color. Then lay out the cards into columns, one column for each color, such that you can see the name of each card. I put the creatures in the top part of the column (because creatures are the most important cards in a sealed deck) and I put spells in the lower part of the column. While you always want to be open-minded about each card’s playability, especially at a prerelease where you are trying out cards for the first time, you can still eliminate certain cards from your columns of cards for either being completely unplayable or else because the card is clearly a sideboard card. Culling a few cards at this early part in the deck building process will save you a little bit of time. That’s important because you are likely to be building your sealed deck with a thirty minute time limit. I lay out my white cards, then my blue ones, then black, red and green followed by an additional column for colorless cards. For multicolored cards I might make an additional column but I’m more likely to place those cards with the cards they share a color with. If white looks really deep at first glance and green less so, I would place a green/white multicolored card with the green cards as a reminder of the risk that would be necessary to play the multicolored card.
The first new mechanic is called “improvise.” When you play a spell that has improvise you can pay for the generic mana portion of the spell by tapping untapped artifacts you control. The ability works a little bit like convoke, but only for your spell’s generic mana component. For example, Bastion Inventor is a 4/4 Vedalken Artificer for 5U with improvise. You could play this spell by paying the 5U mana cost as you normally would, or you could tap a single blue mana source and then tap five Servo or Thopter creature tokens. Because these tokens are artifacts, you can tap them to help pay for a spell with improvise. The important thing to remember is that improvise never lets you pay for anything except for the generic mana portion of the casting cost.
Revolt is a new ability that cares about whether a permanent has left your side of the battlefield earlier during your turn. Airdrop Aeronauts is a 4/3 Dwarf Scout with flying for 3WW that has revolt. If, when you play Aeronauts, you have already had a permanent you controlled leave the battlefield earlier in the turn, you gain five life. Revolt is a triggered ability with an “intervening ‘if’ clause” meaning that it will only trigger if the condition occurred. I hate to muddy the waters, but this means that you could cast Airdrop Aeronauts without having previously had a permanent leave the battlefield and still get the effect as long as you could cause a permanent to leave the battlefield before Airdrop Aeronauts resolves as a spell and enters the battlefield as a creature. It also means that if you haven’t had a permanent leave the battlefield previous to Airdrop Aeronauts entering the battlefield, the revolt trigger won’t even happen. Tokens leaving the battlefield previously in your turn will satisfy a revolt triggered condition, but spending energy counters will not. Energy counters are counters that are on you, the player, they are specifically not permanents on the battlefield.
Aether Revolt contains a cycle of five sorcery spells named after legendary personalities in the game. This cycle of sorceries allow you to play a spell for free when you play one of these special spells. For example, Sram’s Expertise is a rare sorcery for 2WW that creatures three 1/1 colorless Servo artifact creature tokens. When you play Sram’s Expertise you may also cast a card with converted mana cost three or less from your hand without paying its mana cost. If you choose to play a spell that costs three or less from your hand for free, you play that spell while Sram’s Expertise is still on the stack. First, the non-confusing part. You’re getting to play two spells while only paying mana for one. That sounds pretty good to me. Now the confusing part, state based actions aren’t checked in the middle of spell resolving. This is a good way to remember how these Expertise spells work. With Sram’s Expertise, you will choose a spell in your hand to play for free and put that spell on the stack. Then Sram’s Expertise will resolve and put four Servo tokens onto the battlefield with the spell you chose to play for free still on the stack. Opponents can still respond to the spell you played for free even after Sram’s Expertise resolves.
Of course, since Aether Revolt is the second set of the Kaladesh two-set block, all of the Kaladesh mechanics and game play themes are also a part of Aether Revolt. Things like energy counters, vehicles and the crew ability.
This is my favorite part, taking a look at some specific cards in the new set. I’m not going to spend our brief time together worrying about rares and mythic rares. Most of the time, it’s easy to know when you have a bomb. Facts are facts, however, and statistics indicate that you are only going to open about six rares/mythics in your sealed pool (apart from a lucky dog foil). By way of contrast, you will open three times as many uncommons and ten times as many commons. That means that the commons and uncommons are going to be a much more important part of your prerelease sealed deck. For that reason, the only cards I’m going to talk about are commons and uncommons. For your consideration, I present my selections for the five best commons/uncommons in each of the five colors as well as colorless cards. After that, I’ll mention a couple of the uncommon multicolored cards (there are no common gold cards.) My card reviews have nothing to do with playing Constructed. In this article, I’m only interested in these cards ability to help your prerelease sealed decks.
Deadeye Harpooner is an uncommon 2/2 Dwarf Warrior for 2W that has a revolt ability. When this enters the battlefield, if you have already had a permanent leave the battlefield previously, you get to destroy a target tapped creature that an opponent controls. This is one of those spells you’re going to almost always want to play after combat. Here’s a nice example. You draw Deadeye Harpooner. You send in a significant attack that your opponent can’t afford to ignore. If any of your creatures die in combat, don’t get too bummed. You’ve just fulfilled your revolt requirement. Now you can play Deadeye Harpooner in your second main phase and send that tapped Aethersquall Ancient or Gearseeker Serpent (that you weren’t able to block anyway) to its final reward.
Aeronaut Admiral is an uncommon 3/1 Human Pilot with flying for 3W. This creature gives vehicles you control flying. An easy way to make this card good might be to play Renegade Freighter from Kaladesh on turn three. Now you play “Admiral Ackbar” on turn four and immediately tap it to crew Renegade Freighter. Now you’re attacking with a 5/4 trampler (after its attack trigger resolves) through the air on turn four. I assure you, it’s not a trap.
Conviction is a common aura enchantment for 1W. The creature you enchant with this spell gets +1/+3. You can spend one white mana to return Conviction to your hand. Sealed decks almost always need to have more creatures than spells in order to be successful. That makes creature pump spells a valuable commodity in your deck that you can’t afford to waste. Conviction stretches your non-creature spell value by allowing you to use it on one creature early in the game and then, if you’re careful, return it to your hand and use it on a different creature later in the game.
Alley Evasion is a common instant for one white mana that allows you to either give a target creature you control +1/+2 until end of turn (we used to call this card Holy Strength twenty-five years ago) or return a target creature you control to its owner’s hand. Flexibility is the name of the game with this card. It’s not super-powerful, it just gives you good options in combat or out. Need a slight pump to keep a creature alive in combat? Use the first ability. Need an emergency evac to save your best creature from being killed on the battlefield? Use the second ability. Blue mages may scoff at a bounce spell that you can only use to bounce your own guy. I think of this as a pump spell that can be used as a personal flotation device.
Audacious Infiltrator is a common 3/1 Dwarf Rogue for 1W that can’t be blocked by artifact creatures. This is a simple and very useful common. It fills an important slot in both sealed decks and booster draft decks and it has a little bit of evasion. If your opponent plays a creature with fabricate and makes Servo tokens they can choose to block your Infiltrator with their creature, but not with the Servo that came “free” with their creature spell. This card has additional value as a Dwarf. Also, its power is high enough to satisfy the higher crew requirements of certain vehicles that you might like to play.
Shielded Aether Thief is an uncommon 0/4 Vedalken Rogue for 1U that has flash. Whenever this creature blocks you gain one energy counter. Furthermore, you can tap this creature and spend three energy counters to draw a card. In the right deck, you’ll use this guy to block a lot of damage and draw a lot of cards. The flash ability won’t matter all that often but by all means use the element of surprise to throw off your opponent’s best laid attack plans.
Ice Over is a common aura enchantment for 1U. You can enchant an artifact or creature and that enchanted permanent is no longer able to untap normally. Kaladesh’s Malfunction does this trick and taps the thing it enchants, but it costs four mana and there are fewer Malfunctions available to you because you only have two Kaladesh boosters in your card pool. Ice Over can be a better card although you will typically take a hit from a creature before you choose to play Ice Over to keep the offending creature locked down. Blue mages always have it rough when it comes to creature removal.
Bastion Inventor is a common 4/4 Vedalken Artificer for 5U with improvise and hexproof. Improvise means that in a deck full of artifacts you could pay much less than six mana to play this beefy twelve-fingered bastard, er, I meant Bastion. Hexproof means your opponent can’t use spells to get rid of him. Blue doesn’t get a lot of common creatures that hit this hard.
Dispersal Technician is a common 3/2 Vedalken Artificer for 4U. When this enters the battlefield you may return a target artifact to its owner’s hand. Five is a lot to pay for a card that might not bounce anything, but if you find that you are consistently able to bounce an artifact for value this can be a very good card. Maybe you’re setting back your opponent by moving a large artifact creature they control back to their hand. Maybe your opponent has played an enchantment you don’t care for on one of your own artifacts, maybe on one of your artifact creature or a vehicle you like. You can bounce your own artifact with Dispersal Technician and play it again later.
Efficient Construction is an uncommon enchantment for 3U. Whenever you cast an artifact spell you create a 1/1 colorless Thopter artifact creature with flying. The danger of a card like this is that you could play it and never get any value from it. On the other hand, if you play at least two or three artifact cards after playing Efficient Construction you will be ahead of the game. Flyers are hard to come by. Lots of cards in Kaladesh and Aether Revolt are generous with the creation of earthbound Servo tokens, but the opportunity to passively create flying Thopter tokens is one you have to take seriously. Make sure you have plenty of artifacts in your deck before you play this one, though.
Daring Demolition is a common sorcery for 2BB that destroys either a target creature or vehicle. Simple and effective destruction. Yes, Tidy Conclusion from Kaladesh can destroy a target creature at instant speed for just one more mana. Daring Demolition is hobbled by being a sorcery. Tidy Conclusion, as an instant, can destroy a vehicle once it’s been crewed. It’s exciting that Daring Demolition can get rid of a vehicle without it being first crewed and turned into a vehicle.
Fatal Push is an uncommon instant that costs just one black mana. You get to destroy a target creature if it costs two mana or less. This card also has a revolt ability that allows you to target and destroy a creature that costs four mana or less if a permanent you controlled left the battlefield this turn. This card is already headed to Constructed greatness but I rank it slightly behind Daring Demolition for sealed deck use. The more creature removal you have in your deck, the better Fatal Push gets.
Vengeful Rebel is an uncommon 3/2 Aetherborn Warrior for 2B with revolt. When this creature enters the battlefield you can give a target creature -3/-3 until end of turn if a permanent you controlled left the battlefield this turn. You could send a 3/3 into battle, have it blocked and killed by a 6/6 monster, then finish off that monster with Vengeful Rebel. There are, it has been said, a million ways to die in the West. I wouldn’t worry too much about how to get one of your permanents into the graveyard. Attack first and ask questions later. If you do find a way to have a permanent leave the battlefield before you play Vengeful Rebel you’re going to love the ability you have to take out an unsuspecting member of your opponent’s team.
Fen Hauler is a common 5/5 Insect for 6B that can’t be blocked by artifact creatures. This card has improvise meaning that you will often be able to tap less than six mana to pay for this big monster if you have some untapped artifacts in play. You can’t turn your nose up at a 5/5 monster like this one. It’s a big deal that your opponent can’t chump block it with Servo tokens.
Fourth Bridge Prowler is a common 1/1 Human Rogue for one black mana. When this creature enters the battlefield you can give a target creature -1/-1 until end of turn. Kaladesh and Aether Revolt are both full of creatures with one point of toughness. Make your opponent pay for that design choice by playing Fourth Bridge Prowler. There will be plenty of games where you play this creature to take out the creature your opponent likes to use to crew Sky Skiff while providing yourself with your own Sky Skiff crew mate.
Enraged Giant is an uncommon 4/4 Giant for 5R that has improvise, trample and haste. In a deck with a fair number of artifacts you might be able to play Enraged Giant as early as turn four. Whatever combat advantage you lose on that turn by tapping a couple of Servo tokens or other artifact creatures to help pay Enraged Giant’s cost will be regained by the Giant’s ability to attack right away. He’s an excellent late game play as well. I might play a single copy of this creature in a deck that had no artifacts, but he’s clearly better in decks with a lot of them.
Embraal Gear-Smasher is a common 2/3 Human Warrior for 2R. When you tap this creature and sacrifice an artifact this creature deals two damage to each of your opponents. Now you can chump block a larger attacking creature with one of your Servo tokens and then sacrifice it to Gear-Smasher to deal two more points of damage to your opponent. With red decks, the problem is rarely dealing the first twelve points of damage, it’s getting the last eight. This is a perfect common creature to help you deal the last points of damage in a game.
Reckless Racer is an uncommon 2/3 Human Pilot for 2R with first strike. Whenever this creature becomes tapped you may discard a card from your hand and draw a card. This creature passes the most basic of tests, it’s good enough to play simply as a 2/3 with first strike for three mana. It’s ability to passively loot whenever you tap it makes it even better. If you play this creature on turn three, particularly in games where you played first, it is fairly likely to attack on turn four giving you a chance to throw away an extra land or something from your hand replacing it with a fresh draw. Other times you will tap Reckless Racer to crew a vehicle.
Frontline Rebel is a common 3/3 Human Warrior for 2R that attacks each combat if able. With aggressive red decks, this card’s rules text is less of a drawback and more of a serving suggestion. You also have the ability to block with the Rebel on your opponent’s turn after you first play him. He can also get out of attacking by crewing a vehicle.
Destructive Tampering is a common sorcery for 2R that can be used to either destroy a target artifact or to make it so creatures without flying cannot block this turn. In sealed deck formats involving sets with lots of artifacts, like Kaladesh/Aether Revolt, there is always the question of whether or not you should play dedicated artifact removal in the main deck. Fragmentize from Kaladesh is almost always a main deck card. Destructive Tampering reminds me a lot of another Kaladesh card, the green instant Appetite for the Unnatural. This card found a comfortable home in just about every sealed deck in which green was a primary color. I think the same will be true of Destructive Tampering. Defensively, you can use it to destroy an artifact. There are plenty of them to be dealt with. Other times, this will literally be the last card you play in the game because it lets you attack unblocked except by flying creatures. Your opponent doesn’t have that many flying creatures and the ones he does have are probably tapped from attacking you last turn.
Ridgescale Tusker is an uncommon 5/5 Beast for 3GG that puts a +1/+1 counter on each other creature you control when the Tusker enters the battlefield. You might put a total of ten or more points of power on the battlefield when you play this card with five other creatures in play. Did you know that green and white are an extremely popular color combination in this sealed deck format? Did you remember that Kaladesh has a white common instant called Acrobatic Maneuver that you can use to exile and then return Ridgescale Tusker to the battlefield while drawing a free card? You might wanna look into that combo this weekend.
Monstrous Onslaught is an uncommon sorcery for 3GG. This spell deals X damage divided as you choose among any number of target creatures where X is the greatest power among creature you control as you cast this spell. Green occasionally gets these powerful spells that help you push through huge amounts of damage. Usually it would be a spell that powered up all of your creatures and gave them trample. This is a rare case of green getting a spell that directly deals damage to opposing creatures. I like that you can spread the damage around any way you like among any number of creatures. I also like that the value of X is locked in as you cast Monstrous Onslaught. For example, if the largest creature you control when you cast this spell is a 5/5 Ridgescale Tusker your opponent can’t ruin your plans by destroying your Tusker while Monstrous Onslaught is on the stack. This spell would still deal five damage divided up among whatever creatures you chose to target. While this card is more trouble to play than Prey Upon or a Kaladesh card like Nature’s Way or even Hunt the Weak, you can do more with it than eliminate a single opposing creature.
Aetherstream Leopard is a common 2/3 Cat for 2G with trample. You get one energy counter when this creature enters the battlefield. When the Leopard attacks you can spend one energy counter to give it +2/+0 until end of turn. This is a slightly more aggressive version of Kaladesh’s battle-proven Thriving Rhino. Yes, the Rhino gets bigger permanently when it attacks and you can spend two energy counters, but Aetherstream Leopard can hit harder faster for a smaller investment of energy counters. The trample matters a lot as well.
Druid of the Cowl is a common 1/3 Elf Druid for 1G that you can tap to add one green mana to your mana pool. There will be plenty of times when you are simply happy to be the first one with a three-toughness creature on the battlefield for blocking purposes. In many cases, however, you’ll play Druid of the Cowl on turn two and follow with a four-drop on turn three. Now you’re really getting ahead on the board. The kind of cheap removal available in this sealed format isn’t likely to take out Druid of the Cowl on turns two, three and four, the most important turns for this creature. In a deck featuring green as a main color and with eight or more Forests, two copies of Druid of the Cowl would move me from seventeen to sixteen lands.
Highspire Infusion is a common instant for 1G that gives a target creature +3/+3 and gives you two energy counters. Imagine, you have no energy counters and have Riparian Tiger from Kaladesh. Play Highspire Infusion targeting your Tiger turning him into a 7/7 from his normal 4/4. Now you have two energy to spend when the Tiger attacks to give it +2/+2 until end of turn. Now you’re attacking with a 9/9 trampler!
Pacification Array is an uncommon artifact that costs one generic mana to play. You can spend two generic mana and tap Pacification Array to tap a target artifact or creature. This one really takes me back. Icy Manipulator, a card from Magic’s first edition of cards, cost four mana to play but just one to activate and could tap lands as well as creatures and artifacts. What fans of Icy Manipulator will remember is how great it was to keep an opposing creature from attacking you for just a little bit of mana each turn. This card is a must-play and belongs in every sealed deck.
Untethered Express is an uncommon artifact vehicle for four generic mana that has trample. Additionally, whenever this vehicle attacks it gets a +1/+1 counter. Oh, and it has crew 1. This is the best non-rare vehicle in the set. Trample helps you push damage past chump blockers and because this vehicle gets bigger every time you attack with it your opponent has to find an answer for it quickly. This feels like a must-play to me for every sealed deck.
Universal Solvent is a common artifact that costs just one generic mana to play. For seven generic mana you can sacrifice this card to destroy a target permanent. This card may not be as good in the faster booster draft format, but in sealed decks, this card puts a very strong piece of removal in the hands of every player no matter what colors their deck is. I don’t know how many copies I would risk playing, but I’m sure the first copy is a given.
Barricade Breaker is an uncommon 7/5 Juggernaut artifact creature for seven generic mana. This creature must attack each combat if able. This card has improvise to help you play it sooner than turn seven if you have other artifacts to use to help cast it. In a deck with a moderate number of artifacts and possibly a few effects that put Servo tokens into play, Barricade Breaker might only require you to tap four or five lands to cast it. This is a very big creature that you are being forced to attack with every turn. I don’t think your opponent is going to like it very much.
Consulate Turret is a common artifact for three generic mana. You can tap it to give yourself one energy counter. You can also tap it and spend three energy counters to deal two damage to a target player. This is an automatic play for any deck that has good uses for energy counters. The fact that you can spend energy to deal damage to your opponent is merely the backup plan.
Aether Revolt, like Kaladesh, rewards you fairly nicely for paying two different colors for a spell. The multicolored cards in Aether Revolt are pretty strong. I leave you to figure out which rares and mythics are the best. Here are the three uncommons I like the best among the gold cards.
Tezzeret’s Touch is an uncommon aura enchantment for 1UB that can only enchant an artifact. The enchanted artifact is a creature with base power and toughness of 5/5 in addition to its other types. When the enchanted artifact is put into a graveyard return that artifact card to its owner’s hand. Wow! Play a two-casting-cost artifact on turn two, any of them. Then play Tezzeret’s Touch enchanting that artifact on turn three and swing for five damage. You pretty much can’t lose with this card since it gives you back the enchanted artifact if it ends up being destroyed at some point.
Renegade Wheelsmith is an uncommon 3/2 Dwarf Pilot for 1RW. When this creature becomes tapped, a target creature can’t block this turn. It’s a little risky that your opponent would only have one creature in play that could trade with Renegade Wheelsmith on turn four (your first opportunity to attack with Wheelsmith). However, what if you played Renegade Freighter on turn three, or on any previous turn. When you play Renegade Wheelsmith you can immediately tap him to crew your Freighter and give your opponent one less creature with which to block your vehicle.
Spire Patrol is an uncommon 3/2 Human Soldier with flying for 2WU. When this creature enters the battlefield you tap a target creature that an opponent controls. That creature does not untap as normal on its controller’s next turn.
Reviewing the Troops
I have to say, at least from the perspective of commons and uncommons, I don’t see a lot that I want to play in a sealed deck from blue. White looks solid, as does red. The colors that impress me most for Aether Revolt sealed deck, are green and black. I may not decide to put those two colors together (they weren’t much of a combination in Kaladesh sealed) but I bet I play either black or green in all my decks this weekend. Of course, it all depends on what cards are in your sealed deck pool.
The last good tip I want to leave you with, if your aim is to win as many boosters as possible at your prerelease tournament, is not to be disappointed if your strongest cards come from Kaladesh. I’m not saying this because I think the Kaladesh cards are stronger. I just want to urge you to use the best cards that you find in your pool to build the strongest and most competitive deck that you can, even if the MVPs of that deck are boring old Kaladesh cards that you have already been playing with for four months.
Good luck in your sealed decks this weekend and thanks for reading.
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