Top 10 Build-Around Magic: The Gathering Cards in Aether Revolt, by Joseph Dunlap
It’s here! We’re nearing the end of spoiler season and the release of Aether Revolt. As Magic players begin to look over which cards will strengthen their various Constructed decks, what Limited archetypes will be strongest, and what new Constructed archetypes will be possible in different formats.
Today we’ll be looking at the build-around cards in Aether Revolt, or cards that form the basis for new deck ideas. I have tried to avoid cards that simply improve pre-existing archetypes. Now then, let’s take a look at the Top 10 build-around cards from Aether Revolt…
[c]Efficient Construction[/c] squeaks in the list at #10 as a Limited build-around. Expect this Thopter engine to make a splash in Sealed, Draft, and even Cube. At uncommon rarity, Efficient Construction is going to be a go-to closer for Limited control decks with its ability to churn out 1/1 flying Thopter tokens.
Outside of Limited, it’s doubtful this card will see play. There are strictly better versions of it in each format, or strictly better archetypes that accomplish the same sort of strategies. However, be on the lookout for Efficient Construction at your pre-release weekend and in subsequent months of drafting.
While [c]Midnight Entourage[/c] is the Aetherborn lord nobody was really expecting (or asking for), it is by design intended as a build-around. There is a possibility that some Sealed decks will be able to make use of this 4-mana card draw engine, but its mana cost alone makes it close to unplayable in most Constructed formats.
At 4 mana, it isn’t even possible to piggyback Midnight Entourage onto a resolved [c]Yahenni’s Expertise[/c]. Entourage will be a fine card for casual play, but it’s unlikely to make any sort of impact on competitive Constructed.
[c]Hidden Herbalists[/c] has some potential to be a second-rate [c]Burning-Tree Emissary[/c]. Let me clarify: Emissary did some amazing things in an explosive variant of RTR-Theros Standard Mono-Green Devotion, and fills a similar role in Modern’s Bushwhacker Zoo, where it combos off into a Turn 2 [c]Reckless Bushwhacker[/c] swing for 6, 8, or even 10 damage.
Herbalists has the potential to do something similar in Standard and possibly a few other Constructed formats. Even in Limited, the ability to refund a 2-drop opens up the possibility of getting slightly ahead on board. In Standard, as long as: 1) You have a way to trigger Revolt, and 2) You have a way to produce red mana after you’ve resolved 2, 3, or 4 Herbalists – neither of which will be easy on Turn 2, but possible starting on Turn 3 – Herbalist might open up the possibility for an explosive Standard Bushwhacker Zoo deck. And if you know anything about my deck building preferences, you know I like to abuse Bushwhacker in any way possible.
Outside of Standard, let’s look at Frontier. Is a Turn 2 Herbalist chain + Bushwhacker possible? While fetchlands are able to trigger Revolt and fetch up an untapped mana source on Turn 2, there is no reliable way to produce the red mana necessary to cast Bushwhacker on the same turn. However, it is possible to chain them all together on Turn 3, which is less explosive but opens up some other possibilities as well. One such possibility might be:
- Turn 1: Land, [c]Attune with Aether[/c]. Hand size: 6 cards (assuming on the draw).
- Turn 2: Land, [c]Lupine Prototype[/c]. Hand size: 5 cards.
- Turn 3: Fetchland, crack, [c]Hidden Herbalists[/c], [c]Hidden Herbalists[/c], [c]Hidden Herbalists[/c], [c]Greenbelt Rampager[/c] (pay 2 energy), [c]Reckless Bushwhacker[/c], attack for 21.
In Modern, if you’re one for fragile but dangerous combos, play around with adding some Herbalists to Bushwhacker Zoo for redundancy. Start off Turn 2 with Herbalists, followed by Emissaries for red mana, and finish up with Bushwhacker. As far as other combos go, such as [c]Cloudstone Curio[/c], [c]Greenwheel Liberator[/c] / [c]Talara’s Battalion[/c], or [c]Panharmonicon[/c], Herbalists can enable the same sort of combos as similar effects have (for example, Curio was already able to combo with Emissary).
Why is Hidden Herbalists so far down my list of build-arounds? Primarily the fragility of the combo. To truly abuse Herbalists, you need 2-3 in your opening hand. Will I try to brew with it? Most likely.
[c]Mechanized Production[/c] is the definition of a mythic build-around. It provides an ability that rewards a specific strategy, multiple copies of the same artifact, and rewards you by letting you win the game outright.
What kinds of artifacts will you copy? That’s up to you, depending on what format you’re playing. It goes without saying that a deck that has the ability to produce, for example, infinite Thopters (see below) doesn’t need Mechanized Production in order to win the game, but there are other artifacts worth copying. The best targets are probably noncreature artifacts, since a mass quantity of artifact creatures will probably swing wide enough to win the game anyway.
How about Clue tokens? Instead of building around [c]Metallurgic Summonings[/c] in Standard/Frontier, why not a control deck that combines [c]Trail of Evidence[/c] with [c]Mechanized Production[/c]? Trail of Evidence provides a steady stream of card advantage that can later win the game on the spot. Outside of Limited, Standard, or Frontier, Mechanized Production doesn’t really have what it takes. The mana cost is too steep, and infinite combos are far more common. But more on infinite combos later…
While [c]Walking Ballista[/c] probably won’t see play in Modern, Legacy, or Vintage, it has real potential both as a combo piece and as a strong card in general. First off, it’s a [c]Hangarback Walker[/c] with a ping ability. Second, in Standard and Frontier it combos nicely with [c]Metallic Mimic[/c]. Third, if you’re able to generate infinite mana, it can win the game on the spot.
Since it goes without saying that infinite mana is possible in EDH, let’s look at Standard. [c]Cryptolith Rite[/c] + [c]Paradox Engine[/c] + [c]Greenbelt Rampager[/c] provides infinite mana as long as you float mana during the loop. Hypothetically, it could work like this:
- Turn 1: One or more [c]Ornithopter[/c]s
- Turn 2: [c]Cryptolith Rite[/c], followed by [c]Servant of the Conduit[/c] (this is essential to the comb, as you have to spend energy as you gain it).
- Turn 3 (or 4): [c]Paradox Engine[/c]
- Tap all your creatures to float mana.
- Cast [c]Greenbelt Rampager[/c], you can’t pay the energy cost since you tapped Servant of the Conduit for mana, so you return it to your hand. You’ve only spent 1 green mana.
- Untap all your creatures thanks to Paradox Engine.
- Tap all your creatures to float mana again.
- Cast Greenbelt Rampager. Repeat over and over. Infinite mana.
You could also use this combo to win with [c]Aetherwork Reservoir[/c]. It would look like this:
- [c]Servant of the Conduit[/c], [c]Paradox Engine[/c], and [c]Aetherwork Reservoir[/c] on board.
- Use mana from Servant of the Conduit to cast [c]Greenbelt Rampager[/c], trigger Aetherwork Reservoir, gain 1 life, trigger Paradox Engine, untap Servant.
- You can’t pay the energy cost, so Rampager returns to hand and you get 1 energy.
- Use the energy to tap Servant of the Conduit for mana again and cast Rampager. Repeat the loop, gaining infinite life with Aetherwork Reservoir.
Speaking of [c]Paradox Engine[/c]… How long until this gets banned in EDH?
Ever wanted a 3-mana [c]Ensoul Artifact[/c] that protects your artifact? How about [c]Tezzeret’s Touch[/c]? Did I mention [c]Ornithopter[/c] is getting a reprint?
Scissors is back, baby!
If you’ve ever brewed with [c]Goblin Electromancer[/c], it’s time to have fun with [c]Baral, Chief of Compliance[/c]. It’s slightly harder to kill, legendary, and also rewards you for playing counterspells by providing a looting ability.
Some control decks may choose to forgo Baral since it will provide a target for otherwise “dead” kill spells, but any creature-based control-combo decks will make good use of Baral. ([c]Rashmi, Eternities Crafter[/c], [c]Docent of Perfection[/c], [c]Spell Queller[/c], [c]Mercurial Geists[/c], [c]Manic Scribe[/c], [c]Thing in the Ice[/c], [c]Sphinx of the Final Word[/c], and [c]Jori En, Ruin Diver[/c] all come to mind, and I bet you forgot a few of those cards even existed!)
I’m cheating a little bit with this one, as we’ve already had an infinite Thopter combo, but [c]Gonti’s Aether Heart[/c] now makes the combo way more viable. Previously, the Thopter combo consisted of [c]Decoction Module[/c] + [c]Panharmonicon[/c] + another Module/Panharmonicon + [c]Whirler Virtuoso[/c] and was able to produce infinite Thopters and, if the combo consisted of two Modules and a Panharmonicon (as opposed to the other way around), also produced infinite energy.
Gonti’s Aether Heart, reduces the combo to three cards: Heart + Panharmonicon + Virtuoso, producing infinite Thopters and infinite energy. In addition, at the end of the combo you can sacrifice Heart to take an extra turn, essentially granting haste to the newly generated Thopters.
I would not include Gonti’s Aether Heart if it wasn’t also an all around strong card in its own right. Infinite combos aside, it might slot nicely into an energy-based control deck (the first archetype that comes to mind that would benefit from taking extra turns is planeswalker superfriends, though a [c]Dynavolt Tower[/c] deck could potentially work as well).
1. Felidar Guardian (aka Cat Lady Combo)
Finally, we arrive at [c]Felidar Guardian[/c], aka Cat Lady Combo. No doubt you’ve heard of the new [c]Splinter Twin[/c] combo that’s about to hit Standard, Frontier, EDH, and potentially Modern.
For those not in the know, Cat Lady Combo consists of: Turn 3 [c]Saheeli Rai[/c], Turn 4 Felidar Guardian, copy Guardian with Saheeli, blink Saheeli, repeat. The Guardian token copies have haste, so it plays out similarly to Splinter Twin with one drastic difference: the combo can’t happen at instant speed. While Twin decks could flash in its 3-drop at end step and attempt to land a Splinter Twin on the following turn to win the game, Saheeli will have to survive a full turn in order to “go off” (her loyalty on Turn 4 doesn’t matter, as you can just flicker her when you cast Guardian).
It’s a much more “fair” combo that should see play in most of the newer formats. Whether it sweeps Modern in the same way as Twin remains to be seen, especially since it’s a three-colour combo this time around. It’s still susceptible to the same answers as Twin – removal, countermagic, and [c]Ensnaring Bridge[/c] – but decks that can quickly steal games if left unchecked will always have a place in Magic.
Did you enjoy my list?
What build-around are you most excited to try out? Did I miss a card or combo you felt should be on the list? Is there a new card you’re looking forward to playing in one of your current decks? Leave a comment below and I look forward to chatting with you!
Thanks for reading,