Greetings, folks. Sorry for the long silence, but I’ve had writer’s block lately. And by writer’s block, I mean I’ve been binge-watching Supernatural, playing Settlers of Catan, and generally just playing far, far less Magic than I’d like to, but right now it’s just not my #1 focus. That said I’ve got a lot of unfinished projects in the works, some farther along than others. I have also just been having a hard time writing lately, independently of any distractions. I’ve began, then scrapped, about three previous attempts at an EDH set review for Aether Revolt. So I finally decided this would be a good time to fall back to the trusty ol’ Top 10 format.
I think one of the problems with doing a broader set review this time was that, while there are a LOT of EDH-playable cards in Aether Revolt, most of them are only good in specific archetypes – so I was just spending a lot of time saying things like “obviously good in artifact decks”, or “obviously good in +1/+1 counter decks”. If you are playing one or both of those two archetypes, you are probably very excited about this set. If you are not, well, luckily there are still some more generically-good cards as well!
Wouldn’t be much of a Top 10 list if I didn’t cheat by throwing out a few Honorable Mentions, so let’s start there.
These are all pretty good and might make the Top 10 of a lesser set, but Aether Revolt is actually a deceptively strong set loaded with sweet cards. First up is Metallic Mimic, which is just a good Tribal option. That he gives +1/+1 counters instead of the usual “anthem” effect common to most tribal lords gives the Mimic some extra utility. For one thing, if the Mimic dies, the existing +1/+1 counters on your creatures stick around. And of course he synergizes with any effects that care about +1/+1 counters, everything from Hardened Scales to Rage Forger. If you are running a tribal deck and need a cheap lord, you might want this. If you’re running tribal AND have some +1/+1 counter synergies, you definitely want this.
Next up, we have Dark Intimations. This is another card that seems really strong in the right decks, but is pretty limited in what those decks are. In short, it wants to be run in any Grixis deck that is also running Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Of course we are almost certainly getting a new version of Nicol Bolas in the next block, so this card’s stock may go up if the new Bolas is any good. But for now it’s just a decent card you’ll probably happily play in decks that happen to be running Bolas already.
Ajani Unyielding is a bit tough to pin down. He’s got a respectable if not exciting +2, and his “Swords to Plowshares” -2 is great. His ultimate is pretty unexciting, basically requiring you to already be way ahead in either creatures or planeswalkers for it to do much. A lot of ‘walker Ultimates feel “win more” but in reality many of them also can also help you catch back up when you’re behind. This Ajani’s ultimate is very unlikely to matter if your behind and will very likely be truly win-more if you’re not. But really it comes down to the bane of all 6-mana planeswalkers: being compared to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The six-mana Elspeth is pretty much the gold-standard of 6-drop planeswalkers in EDH. In a broader sense, I don’t think Ajani compares all that well to Elspeth, but of course if you’re going deep on the Superfriends plan, you are clearly running Ajani anyway.
With our honorable mentions out of the way, let’s move on to the proper Top Ten.
10. Planar Bridge – Yes it’s insanely expensive, which is why it barely squeaks onto the list rather than topping it, but I think there are a lot of decks that can very reasonably afford the cost, and virtually no decks wouldn’t want this effects, were cost not an obstacle. I’m mainly thinking of mono-color decks here. For starters, most mono-color EDH decks are loaded with mana-doublers like Caged Sun or Extraplanar Lens, as well as busted lands like Gaea’s Cradle, Cabal Coffers, or Nykthos. Green decks in particular seem well-poised to abuse the Bridge with commanders like Selvala, Heart of the Wilds. Indeed, 8 mana per turn will be downright trivial to many decks. Adding to that, many mono-color decks lack tutors or at least can only tutor for certain things. Being able to tutor any PERMANENT in your deck directly into play, at instant speed will be an insanely valuable ability to some decks, as this will feel very much out-of-color for them. But, yes, at the end of the day this does cost a TON of mana, and so only decks that are very effective at setting up broken mana production will really be able to make great use of this.
9. Winding Constrictor – One of those niche cards I spoke of, but a very good one nonetheless. A 2/3 for two mana is already a good rate, though the body is still virtually insignificant in EDH terms. But that ability is what we’re really after. This goes in virtually anything that cares about counters. Atraxa, Varolz, Ghave, etc. It works with Poision and Experience counters. It cuts the clock from Darksteel Reactor fully in half. Has fun synergy with any charge-counter based mana rocks like Coalition Relic or Everflowing Chalice. Sadly, though, it does not work with Planeswalkers. Well, maybe that’s a good thing, actually.
8. Inspiring Statuary – Another niche card in that it needs to be in decks with a very high number of artifacts that aren’t just mana rocks, but also needs a lot of non-artifact spells for it to be of use. But most artifact-centric decks do tend to run a lot of non-artifact spells, and so this is probably very strong in any artifact deck that isn’t just mono-brown. By itself the statue basically reads “Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool. Only use this mana to cast non-artifact spells”. That’s not good enough to run if that was all it did, but that’s its WORST CASE state. Once you have even a single other “do nothing” artifact like, say, Alhammaret’s Archive in play, it starts to really pay dividends. Being able to tap an army of thopter tokens or myr tokens for 1 colorless can be very powerful.
7. Heroic Intervention – Mono-green Boros Charm? Sure, we’ll take it! Actually the additional utility of granting Hexproof should not be overlooked. Obviously you still want try to use this in response to a sweeper for maximum value, but saving a single critical permanent from spot removal can sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing. There really isn’t too much more to say about this card – if you’re in green and you’re playing the sort of deck that has to really respect a Wrath of God, then you probably want this in your deck. And most green decks do tend to run out a lot of creatures.
6. Lifecrafter’s Bestiary – Speaking of green decks running out creatures... In some decks this will be largely inferior to Elemental Bond, but at the same time, I have seen and played quite a few green decks that were too low to the ground to reliably trigger Bond. If you’re running out a lot of Elvish Mystics and other small-fry critters, you’ll probably want this. That said, I’d still be inclined to run the Bestiary in decks alongside Elemental Bond because frankly there is no such thing as too much card draw. At this point I think Green might be better at drawing cards than Blue! And I don’t see that as a bad thing. Oh, and I should mention the upkeep Scry is not to be disregarded. It’s a small thing, but it’s still actually very good to have.
5. Sram, Senior Edificer – The sole Legendary creature to make the list, not because Sram is the best in a vacuum, but because he’s a mono-White legend that says “Draw a card” in his text box. He’s great in the 99 of any white or boros Equipment list, probably decent in Rafiq or any other aura or equipment –based voltron decks, and most importantly he has tremendous potential to make mono-white decks actually good in EDH. Not, like, COMPETITIVE good, but, like, not a joke even at kitchen tables. Cheap draw in your command zone is always fun to have, in any color, but White clearly needed this the most.
4. Trophy Mage – This uncommon is so good, I could see her being #2 or even #1 on this list, were the set not so ridiculously good. At first glances she may not seem that great, but just do a Gatherer search for 3-mana artifacts and see for yourself how many good-to-amazing targets there are for this chick. Just the selection of equipment alone is enough to ensure she’d see play. Then you add all the mana rocks at three, and she gets really enticing. Finally, throw in all the amazing stuff like Oblivion Stone, Crucible of Worlds, Mimic Vat or Vedalken Shakles and honestly I’m starting to think she’s actually just plain better than Trinket Mage. Absolutely a fantastic card.
3. Baral’s Expertise – I could easily see this card and my #2 pick swapping places, and almost hedged by calling this a tie. But ultimately I settled on this being my #3 pick simply because it doesn’t draw cards (well, it can, if you cast a draw spell off it, but you get the point). At any rate, this is just a phenomenal tempo/control card. Bounce three opposing threats, then get a four-drop spell for free? Insane value, especially if you just Winfall or Wheel of Fortune so those threats you just bounced don’t get to come right back. Personally I’d be just thrilled to get a Deep Analysis or a Hedron Archive off this, but honestly virtually ANY spell + the Expertise’s main effect is going to be solid value.
2. Rishkar’s Expertise – You can easily draw three to five cards reliably off this Expertise, which for six mana wouldn’t be that great, but once you add the free five-drop into the mix and you’d easily be coming out a head even if this is “just” a Harmonize. And in many green decks, that free five-drop is likely to be a significant threat. Or a Seedborn Muse, the best five-drop in green! Yeah, any card that both helps you dig for Seedborn Muse, then lets you cast her if you find her seems good to me. But as we all know I love to draw cards. Casting stuff for free is just a great bonus. Like Baral’s Expertise above it just seems ridiculously easy to get way more than six-mana worth of value out of this card. Six mana is not cheap, but I still think this is going to feel very undercosted much of the time.
1. Paradox Engine – And here we have just the nuttiest card in the set, hands down. At first I was thinking this might not be that bonkers outside of an actual combo, but after slotting it into a couple of decks and playing around with it, I realized how utterly wrong I was. Of course it doesn’t just go into any ol’ deck and suddenly turn broken, but if you have more than a smattering of mana-rocks, this is going to be good. Once you add in any other valuable tap effects… holy shit. I’ve already goldfished more than one game where I was able to effectively draw more or less my entire deck without actually going infinite. It does absurd things with Cryptolith Rite and a Cryptbreaker. It does absurd things with Selvala (either version, but especially the mono-green one). It just does absurd things. It is indisputably the most powerful and most breakable card in the set. I can absolutely envision a future where this gets banned, though I don’t necessarily think it will come to that. More likely, I think it will get a ton of play, but over time those players like myself and my group who do not like to combo off will just slowly weed it out of one deck after another until it sees little to no play anymore.
All in all, I think Aether Revolt is a mostly a strong set, with several very impactful cards at the top of the curve. Artifact decks and +1/+1 counter decks are the biggest winners, with an absolute crapload of playable, but for there’s a little something for just about everyone. On the other hand, Red got shafted even more than usual, getting two mythics to the other colors’ one each, yet still somehow coming off as the worst color by a mile. Sure either of Red’s mythics could see a smattering of play here and there, but the regular rares are almost entirely crap-tier. Red got the worst legend in the cycle in Kari Zev (though she is hella cool, flavor-wise, I’ll be the first to admit), and similarly the red Expertise is the worst of that cycle (for EDH at least).
Another downside of the set is that a disproportionate number of the set’s playables are concentrated in the mythic/rare level, with very few commons and uncommons making much of a splash (though the few that do make the cut are above par). I mean, that sounds pretty typical of any set, right? Rares and mythics are usually better than uncommon, I agree. But most sets have a pretty good spread, at least at uncommon, of utility cards I could at least conceivably play. Aether revolt even has a cycle of 10 two-color uncommons which out to have produces some really gems, but of those only Winding Constrictor seems destined for heavy play, and only two or three others seem worthy of niche play. That said, we did get Trophy Mage so I can’t complain too much. So ultimately this is a set with a few number of desirable cards overall, but those cards you will want, you’re likely to want very badly and in multiple copies.