Bottling It Up

Posted in GRAND PRIX GUANGZHOU 2016 on August 28, 2016

By Chapman Sim

Æther Vial has been a Constructed powerhouse ever since it was released in Darksteel. Since then, it has been reprinted not only in Modern Masters, but also in From the Vault: Relics. Despite Merfolk being the predominant deck in Modern to utilize Æther Vial, we're here to explore other ways to use the amazing artifact in other shells, as several other players have done at Grand Prix Guangzhou!

But before that, how about a crash course highlighting the powers of Æther Vial?

Shota Yasooka's Cryptic Vial

2012 Player's Championship
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What properties of Æther Vial can we appreciate from Yaso's masterpiece which he piloted to a second place finish at the 2012 Player's Championship? In a nutshell, here are the fundamental benefits.

  • Æther Vial provides mana advantage, allowing you to summon creatures for free while keeping your mana available for other business.
  • Æther Vial provides tempo advantage, allowing you to recruit multiple creatures ahead of schedule to overwhelm your opponents with.
  • Æther Vial offers mana fixing, allowing to put creatures onto the battle even if you don't have the correct amount of mana or the correct colored mana to cast it.
  • Æther Vial breaks the rules that creatures can only be cast at sorcery speed and effectively grants all of your creatures flash.
  • Æther Vial allows you to evade opponent's countermagic and sorcery speed removal. Since you're putting a creature into play directly, your opponents cannot use cards such as Spell Snare or Mana Leak to counter it and neither will they be able to kill your creature with Maelstrom Pulse or Wrath of God if you "vial out" your creature at end of your opponent's turn.
  • Æther Vial allows you to disrupt your opponent's hand after the draw step. Vendilion Clique can pluck away a card which your opponent freshly-drew, and if you use (spoiler alert!) Thought-Knot Seer he won't even get to replace it immediately.

Now that we've taken a brief trip down memory lane, let us check out three decks which made it to the top tables here at Grand Prix Guangzhou. Coincidentally, they're all tribal decks as well!

White-Blue Spirits

As established, this article is not about Merfolk. Far from it. Instead of Cursecatcher, how about upgrading it into Mausoleum Wanderer?

Han Ho Joe's W/U Spirits

Grand Prix Guangzhou 2016
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Sideboard (15)
1 Kitchen Finks 3 Stony Silence 3 Rest in Peace 2 Sunlance 2 Spellskite 2 Blessed Alliance 1 Ephala, God of the Polis 1 Pithing Needle

The White-Blue Spirits deck has a very similar goal as Merfolk, to quickly whittle away at your opponent's life total while countering key spells and keeping your team alive. The idea is to use Æther Vial to "gain" mana such that you're able to play two or more creatures on a single turn. For example, once you get two counters on Æther Vial, you'll be able to summon both Leonin Arbiter and Kitchen Finks on turn three. Such a line of play forces your opponent to deal with multiple threats, but they may be unable to because they might be bottlenecked on mana during the early turns.

Free Spell Quellers? Sign me up!

"Vialing out" Flickerwisp is one of the most annoying plays you can imagine. Conveniently, it is also a Spirit which pumps Mausoleum Wanderer. Not only can it remove an attacker or blocker temporarily (a lifesaver against Emrakul, the Aeons Torn), it can also save your creatures from spot removal, preserving your army in the process. Han throws in Restoration Angel for more blinking goodness plus additional attackers in the sky. In conjunction with Reflector Mage, Spell Queller and Kitchen Finks, Han has a lot of tools in his arsenal against various decks out there.

I bet many of you would have LOVED to see Rattlechains in action, huh? As we speak, I'm figuring out how to incorporate a couple of copies into Han's list.

Sliver Company

Takuya Tomomizu's Sliver Company

Grand Prix Guangzhou 2016
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Sinew Sliver and Predatory Sliver turn harmless looking 1/1s into monsters of elephantine proportions. Sedge Sliver is basically "Muscle Sliver" numbers 9 through 12 and Leeching Sliver might as well be one of them, considering that it helps all your creatures "deal additional damage" when attacking.

The caveat of playing a 4-Color deck is usually a painful manabase, since you'll usually take a lot of damage from Fetch lands and Shock lands. However, Æther Vial mitigates a huge part of that because it happens to be an excellent mana fixer itself! Cavern of Souls and Sliver Hive are also perfect since they are essentially Mana Confluence without a drawback.

Using your bottle to summon creatures also allows you to devote your mana resources towards other meaningful endeavors, such as casting Collected Company, activating Mutavault and holding mana back to regenerate your team with Sedge Sliver!

W/B Eldrazi

Cai Jia Hui's W/B Eldrazi

Grand Prix Guangzhou 2016
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Last but not least, Cai's W/B Eldrazi has the same concept Legacy's infamous Death and Taxes archetype. However, he added black mana for a generous portion of hand disruption and removal. Functioning like a traditional Hatebear deck, it aims to disrupt with an assortment of annoying weenies. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is very upsetting to a combo or control player, as are Thought-Knot Seer and Tidehollow Sculler.

The synergy between Path to Exile and Wasteland Strangler isn't new tech, but for it to be housed alongside Æther Vial makes it a rather fresh prospect. To make things even crazier, Flickerwisp and Eldrazi Displacer help you re-trigger Wasteland Strangler as well as Blade Splicer. In conjunction with the capabilities of your mighty bottle, you'll be able to present a ton of mischievous pranks at instant speed.

Now that we've seen Merfolk, Spirits, Slivers and Eldrazi in action this weekend, which genie should we let out of the bottle next?