First Pass at Aether Revolt

Posted in How to Play Limited on January 10, 2017

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

When trying to assess the Limited environment early in a format, we look for big-picture views until we have enough experience to start narrowing down the little things. I like to start with the commons and uncommons for the biggest-picture view and then narrow my way down as the set progresses.

For this initial pass at Aether Revolt, let's look at the colors individually while we try to incorporate the new mechanics into our worldview.

There are a few things to keep in mind before we dive in. Kaladesh will still be a factor in both Sealed Deck and Booster Draft, representing a full one-third of the packs in both formats. We already know a lot about how Kaladesh works, and while the influence isn't as strong as it once was, it's still factor here and can give us hints as to how the new format will play out.

As for the new mechanics, revolt seems tricky to set up, but ultimately may prove easier than it seems. The bonuses you get for revolt vary wildly—everything from gaining life to making Servos. We'll have to take these cards on a case-by-case basis.

Improvise seems like a great way to power out expensive threats, but sometimes at the cost of combat for a turn (in the case where you are tapping artifact creatures like Servos to improvise). It may well prove worth it, though, as you can make a threat much bigger than opposing blockers early in the game.


Big Picture

White looks aggressive in Aether Revolt! Most of the cards are highly aggressive, encouraging you to attack and keep on attacking with efficient threats like these:

As you can see, white is slanted toward getting the opponent dead quickly.

Let's check in with the good removal in white and see how it faired.

Removal Check-In


Both of these cards are premium removal for this set, and both do quite well when it comes to beating down. They are both splashable and will be snagged early by decks looking to fill in removal gaps. Take these early, as you won't get another shot at them.

Build-Around Spotlight

For each color, I picked one card that caught my eye as a potential build-around. For white, it's Restoration Specialist.

This card is quite powerful in that it comes down early and delivers some beats, but can give aggressive decks a nice late game two-for-one. The hard part is getting the artifact and the enchantment into your graveyard. If you take the effort to build around it a bit, it may be a very nice payoff late in the game.


I am going to look to pair white with another aggressive color when possible. It just doesn't have great tools to be a controlling color, and I find it's best to let a color be what it wants to be.


Big Picture

Blue has a lot going on, but the two biggest things are that it cares a lot about artifacts, and it has some interesting improvise cards to pay you off for the artifacts. It also carries over some energy cards like from Kaladesh, so you can go that direction if you want. Cards like Wind-Kin Raiders and Reverse Engineer are tempting payoffs for heavy artifact decks. Drawing three cards for just two mana is insane!


Removal Check-In

As you might guess, the removal in blue isn't great.

Yep, not great. But this is blue; it's more about generating weird advantages than outright getting rid of opposing creatures anyway.

Build-Around Spotlight

Efficient Construction could be one of those cards. You know, the one where someone beats you with it but you always kind of felt like they shouldn't have? Or, in a super-heavy artifact deck, it could be a sick payoff.

When do you know it's good enough? If you make three Thopters with it, you are getting your mana's worth. If you make two, you'll live with it, but not be excited. If you make more than three, it's great. If you make one or fewer, it's awful.

There. A handy guide just for you. Now go forth and make Thopters!


Blue continues to be a tricky and not-straightforward color in Aether Revolt. It looks like it may be better as a support color in a control deck, but with enough artifacts it could be the main color in a good deck.


Big Picture

Artifacts still matter here, the removal is great, and it looks like we have a few tools to grind with. Black looks like a strong midrange option, and should pair reasonably with multiple different colors.

Check out this guy:

Yowza. This is the kind of card that plays well both on defense and on offense. It's not easy to cast on turn two, but it's relevant going late into the game, so you'll forgive it for being stubborn early in the game.

Another good defensive creature is Aether Poisoner:

You get energy, sometimes you get a Servo, but mainly you get a blocker that green decks will hate to see on the other side of the battlefield.

Removal Check-In

Wow. Black really shines in this category.

These are some premium removal spells! On top of those, you get cards like this:

Talk about a reason to go for revolt; this guy is nuts! Black may end up being the strongest color in Aether Revolt simply based on how good the removal suite is. A lot of people are going to take black cards early, and the splashable removal will get snatched up even quicker.

Build-Around Spotlight

Sly Requisitioner cares a lot about artifacts. Through both improvise and its second ability, you'll want to surround this card with as many artifacts as you can. The nontoken clause makes things a bit more difficult, but between Puzzleknots and Implements, you can generate a nice little army with this card.


Black seems very strong. The removal is the highlight, but there are grindy midrange cards as well as solid creatures available. It's an early frontrunner for best color in Aether Revolt.


Big Picture

Red remains aggressive in Aether Revolt, packs a big punch with some explosive elements, and has a great removal suite to boot.

Check out these beaters:

Assertive indeed. And red has a lot of cards designed to help get your creatures into the red zone. You'll see these effects around and will be able to tune your deck to your preferred level of aggression.

Removal Check-In

Chandra's Revolution is just plain mean, Hungry Flames is instant-speed and represents a total of 5 damage for three mana, and Shock is, well, Shock. These removal spells cover a lot of ground and are all good at reaching out and knocking off potential blockers.

Build-Around Spotlight

Remember this guy?

He's back!

Okay, this might not be a pure build-around, but it does conjure images of making your Ravenous Intruder massive and killing your opponent in one big hit. With enough expendable artifacts around, this guy can represent big-time damage! He's also a good revolt enabler, don't forget.


Red is strong. It has a cohesive, aggressive game plan and much-improved removal to back it up. It is also capable of piling on a lot of damage in a single hit, keeping the opponent guessing.


Big Picture

Green was the best color in Kaladesh, and it seems strong here as well. Green does what it does best: make big creatures. The creatures seem very high quality, with a subtheme of +1/+1 counters.

Some of these cards are just bonkers. Ridgescale Tusker is absurd at uncommon and will be a true handful for any deck. Sure, it doesn't have trample, but don't underestimate how powerful huge creatures can be.

Removal Check-In

Typical for green, the removal depends almost entirely on having big creatures on the battlefield. Prey Upon is back and wants your creature to fight another creature for a very low cost. Monstrous Onslaught has a massive payoff against small creature decks, but is expensive, sorcery-speed, and requires you to have a big creature to be great. Still, it looks like it will be exactly great, given that there are a ton of big creatures in green.

Build-Around Spotlight

Oh good, another Cat Monkey.

This one is really cool, though. If you can get enough +1/+1 counters on it, it becomes a nightmare for your opponent. Every upkeep you can just toss some of the counters from it to another creature, changing the board state significantly. The key is to have renewable sources of counters.


Green goes big once again and looks very strong. Sure, the removal is a bit conditional, but what else do we expect from green? The creatures do the work here, and they look up to the task.


Big Picture

Vehicles are back in Aether Revolt, and it looks like some have emerged from the garage with a fresh coat of paint, plus some more modifications.

Check this one out:

Goodness. This will remind you a bit of our old friend, Renegade Freighter. This card is a turn slower, but it's easier to crew and gets better the longer the game goes. It's a real handful and an early frontrunner for Groan Test winner. Staring down one of these on turn four is scary to say the least.

Even though there technically are some cards that resemble removal in the set, I'm not going to touch on them here as they can go in any deck that wants them and they won't differentiate the colorless cards from the rest.

There are plenty of cool artifacts to build around as well. A few examples here:

Between revolt, energy, +1/+1 counters, and everything else going on, we'll just have to see where these colorless cards fit in.


Artifacts are critically important to how Aether Revolt works. From cards that care about them being on the battlefield or them leaving the battlefield to using them to pay for spells with improvise, artifacts are super important and will be a major part of some of the better archetypes.


As we know, the only true way to get to know a format is to play it. You simply have to crack those packs and start battling to get that intricate feel down for a set. Aether Revolt Prereleases are January 14–15, so be sure to find a store near you to catch all the action!

Hopefully this intro helps you take the first steps toward mastering Aether Revolt.

Until next time!

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