Comboing and Brewing with Aether Revolt
by SaffronOlive // Jan 09, 2017
We finally have the Aether Revolt spoiler after one whirlwind week of official previews, and the set looks absolutely absurd. In fact, from my perspective, Aether Revolt may be the most powerful set since New Phyrexia (possibly discounting the Eldrazi tribe in Oath of the Gatewatch, although the set wasn't really overpowered in general), and I wouldn't be surprised to find that Aether Revolt Standard is the most broken in a long, long time. Looking over the cards, I'm not sure I've ever been so excited to brew, and that's saying something because I love brewing. Not only are there a lot of synergies that seem powerful, but there are also a lot of fairly unique effects, which makes brewing even more fun. Cards like Siege Rhino and Collected Company are clearly powerful, but they don't really lead to brewing—the best thing to do with them is fairly obvious. On the other hand, a card like Paradox Engine is obviously powerful, but the best way to harness that power isn't immediately clear, which makes the card a lot more fun for people who like to brew!
So today, we are going to look at four of my early brews for Aether Revolt. However, I should warn you that most of these ideas are essentially untested first drafts, which means that, while they should be helpful for showing off some potentially powerful synergies, it's very likely they'll need some fine-tuning before they start breaking formats, if they ever do. As such, if you have some sweet ideas for improving these brews, make sure to let me know in the comments. Oh yeah, and then to close out the article, I wanted to mention some combos / synergies that seem powerful but that I haven't made actual deck lists for yet, so make sure you send me your lists for these as well! Maybe together we can come up with a sweet Aether Revolt brew that breaks Standard or even Modern!
Free spells are inherently dangerous and have the potential to be broken, but for some reason, Wizards keeps experimenting with cost-reduction effects. This time around, it's the expertise cycle, which allows players to cast a card that costs less than the CMC of the expertise itself from their hand for free when they resolve the expertise. While there are some sweet value plays with the expertise cycle in Standard, like wrathing your opponent's board with Yahenni's Expertise and dropping a Liliana, the Last Hope, or drawing some cards with Rishkar's Expertise and slamming a free Ishkanah, Grafwidow, I'm mostly excited for these cards in Modern, where they allow us to break some pretty important rules.
In the past, we've played decks that use Brain in a Jar to fuse a Beck // Call on Turn 3 or 4, and while a Turn 4 Beck // Call is pretty powerful, the addition of the expertise cycle to the format lets us go all in on powerful fuse cards. The above deck, Expertise Fuse, can not only resolve a Beck // Call on Turn 2 with some consistency, but it can also give us a Turn 2 hasty [[Emrakul, the Aeons Torn] or Griselbrand. We've seen Goryo's Vengeance decks twist themselves into knots for the possibility of a Turn 2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, so we know the payoff is worthwhile, and in some ways, our deck is even better because our Emrakul, the Aeons Torn sticks around, rather than dying at the end of our turn.
So, here's the plan. On Turn 1, we play a mana dork—either Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch. These creatures are actually extremely important to our deck because our game-winning Turn 2 play—Kari Zev's Expertise—requires that we have a creature to target, and in Modern it's very possible that our opponent plays a Serum Visions on Turn 1 or simply plays a land and passes. On Turn 2, we cast an expertise. Kari Zev's Expertise (targeting our own Birds of Paradise, if need be) is easiest because it's only three mana (which we should have, thanks to our mana dork, after playing our second land), but we can also make due with Sram's Expertise with the help of a Simian Spirit Guide. Then, we drop one of our fuse cards. If we have the choice, Breaking // Entering is probably best, since it gives us a 75% chance of getting a hasty Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Griselbrand, or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, but Beck // Call is pretty powerful as well, giving us four 1/1 fliers and, more importantly, drawing us four cards, hopefully setting us up to use an expertise to cast another fuse card again the next turn.
And that's pretty much the deck. Apart from our expertise / fuse plan, the only other card in our deck is Through the Breach, which is pretty important because it gives us a way to get Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play from our hand, and thanks to our mana dorks and Simian Spirit Guides, it's very possible that we'll have a Turn 3 finisher even without the help of our expertise / fuse plan.
From a more meta perspective, the deck looks extremely powerful—as I mentioned a moment ago, we've already seen that the payoff of a quick, hasty Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is enough to form a real deck in Modern. As such, we can beat literally any deck in the format. We also have a lot of redundancy in our effects—having a massive 12 ways to cheat a creature into play means that we have an 80% chance of having one or more in our opening hand! This said, I expect that the biggest problem with the deck will be the same problem other Turn 2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn decks have: consistency. There will be some games where our opponent Thoughtseizes a combo piece on Turn 1, we draw a bunch of uncastable fuse cards and no expertises, and our deck does literally nothing. Despite this potential problem, I still really like this deck and could imagine it winning a lot of games in Modern. I mean, people have 5-0ed leagues with decks built around Brain in a Jar and Beck // Call, and this build seems much faster, more redundant, and more powerful.
Renegade Rallier Combo—Modern
Maybe the best part of Aether Revolt is that the deck is overloaded with powerful uncommons, and discounting Fatal Push, Renegade Rallier might be the best of the entire bunch. On one hand, it's very strong as a value card, especially in Modern, where it can not only get back Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Dark Confidant, and about a million other playable creatures but also a fetch land (so on Turn 3, or even Turn 2 with a Noble Hierarch, you can crack a fetch, play Renegade Rallier, and get back the fetch). And remember: unlike Eternal Witness, the card comes back to the battlefield rather than to your hand, so it works like ramp with a fetch land and allows you to cheat on mana with a creature. However, I'm mostly excited about Renegade Rallier not as a value card but as a combo piece.
In the past, there have been fringe decks built around the combo of Saffi Eriksdotter and Crypt Champion, which together can generate infinite enters-the-battlefield and leaves-the-battlefield triggers (Crypt Champion gets back Saffi Eriksdotter, which we immediately sacrifice targeting Crypt Champion with the "sacrifice unless" trigger on the stack, and when Crypt Champion dies, it returns to the battlefield thanks to the Saffi Eriksdotter ability and then gets back the Saffi Eriksdotter again, allowing us to repeat the process). Renegade Rallier allows us to replete the same loop, but it requires an extra card: a sacrifice outlet. So, why would we want to add an extra piece to the combo?
The biggest problem with Crypt Champion is that it's really expensive—so expensive, in fact, that it can't be "hit" by Collected Company, which is one of the best ways to set up creature-based combos in Modern. Since Renegade Rallier costs only three mana, this is no longer a problem. As a result, putting together the infinite combo is a ton easier now than it was with Crypt Champion, even considering we need to throw a sacrifice outlet into the mix. In fact, with Renegade Rallier, the combo is very similar to the Melira, Sylvok Outcast / Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit infinite combo in terms of how easy it is to set up.
The basic plan of the deck is simple. We get a sacrifice outlet on the battlefield (either Viscera Seer or Cartel Aristocrat), and then we get a drain creature on the battlefield (either Zulaport Cutthroat or Blood Artist) when we assume the Saffi Eriksdotter / Renegade Rallier combo. We then simply keep looping Renegade Rallier and Saffi Eriksdotter (using our sac outlet to sacrifice the Renegade Rallier after it's targeted by Saffi Eriksdotter and then getting back the Saffi Eriksdotter with Renegade Rallier to repeat the process), which gives us an infinite amount of drain triggers from our Zulaport Cutthroat or Blood Artist, so we just keep looping until our opponent's life total hits zero.
Maybe the best part of Renegade Rallier Combo is that the deck can win in a bunch of different ways: beating down with creatures backed by Gavony Township, sacrificing its own board in a sort of Aristocrats strategy, or randomly going infinite and killing the opponent with Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat. The above deck is my first draft, and while I think it's very solid, I'm also interested in trying something similar but built around Return to the Ranks or Rally the Ancestors, since all of the creatures (minus Renegade Rallier itself) cost two mana or less.
The bad news about Renegade Rallier Combo is that Abzan Company, which works in a similar way, has been on a downswing in Modern thanks to Dredge forcing players to have graveyard hate in their sideboard, and graveyard hate is just as good against Renegade Rallier Combo as it is against Abzan Company. This might keep the deck floating on the fringes for the time being, but it's worth keeping an eye on—if Dredge every fades (or even gets targeted by a banning), it's very possible that Renegade Rallier Combo could be an extremely competitive deck in Modern.
Pia's Eggs—Budget Standard
I should start by saying there's a fairly high probability that this deck won't be super competitive, but I don't really care because it looks incredibly fun to play. Plus, it falls into the budget range and could be even cheaper if you cut the playset of Spirebluff Canal, which probably isn't really necessary, since we only have a single blue card and we have eight five-color lands along with a set of Prophetic Prisms.
With the addition of Aether Revolt to Standard, we can now play a massive 12 one-mana artifacts that draw us a card when they go to the graveyard between Implement of Improvement, Implement of Ferocity, and Terrarion, not to mention two-mana options including Prophetic Prism and Metalspinner's Puzzleknot. As such, we have a ton of redundancy with the effect. The important aspect of these cards is that they trigger whenever they go to the graveyard, not when we use their sacrifice ability, which means we can use a couple of other Aether Revolt cards to help us combo off.
Before Aether Revolt, we didn't really have any good options for sacrifice artifacts in Standard (actually, the best option was Metalwork Colossus, which is super expensive and only works from the graveyard), but now we have not one but two solid options. Ravenous Intruder (a functional reprint of Atog) and Defiant Salvager allow us to sacrifice artifacts for free and get bigger as a result. As such, if we can flood the battlefield with cheap card-drawing artifacts, we have the potential to make a huge Ravenous Intruder or Defiant Salvager—maybe even big enough that we can win the game in just one attack, assuming our opponent doesn't have any removal or blockers. Of course, this plan is risky, since a single Fatal Push or Murder, or even just a blocker could ruin our plans, so rather than being our primary game plan, getting in combat damage is more of a backup plan, which also supports our main combo:
The real goal of the deck is to get a Pia's Revolution on the battlefield, hopefully along with a Foundry Inspector to make all of our eggs free. Then, we simply sacrifice all of our eggs to Ravenous Intruder and Defiant Salvager, drawing extra cards in the process and giving our opponent a choice of either taking three damage each time we sacrifice an artifact or giving us back our egg, which we can then immediately recast (hopefully for free) and sacrifice again, drawing even more cards!.
Sooner or later, our opponent will get to such a low life total that they pretty much have to let us put our artifacts back into our hand, and at this point, we should be able to (essentially) draw our entire deck, which in turn means we'll draw into our Reckless Fireweavers. Then, we simply cast a Reckless Fireweaver, cast a few more artifacts, and burn our opponent to death with Reckless Fireweaver triggers.
The upside of this deck, apart from being super cheap, fun, and unique, is that Wizards once again decided to leave graveyard disruption out of Standard, which means our graveyard-based combo should be extremely difficult for our opponent to interact with. Plus, we draw a ton of cards, so even though we need a few specific pieces to truly combo off, it shouldn't be too hard to put everything together. On the other hand, while Pia's Revolution and our artifacts are quite resilient, if our opponent can kill our Ravenous Intruder and Defiant Salvager, they can fizzle our entire combo. One possibility would be to play some copies of Hope of Ghirapur to protect our combo by keeping our opponent from casting non-creature spells during our big turn. The only question is whether the Thopter deserves a slot in the main deck or if it's better off in the sideboard, and we probably won't have an answer until we see exactly how the Aether Revolt Standard format shakes out.
Paradox Engine might be one of the hardest cards from Aether Revolt to brew around because the possibilities seem limitless. In Modern, it can work like Jeskai Ascendancy (or even with Jeskai Ascendancy) to go infinite with cheap card-draw spells and mana producers, but unlike Jeskai Ascendancy, it works with mana rocks as well, so it's just as easy to go infinite with Mind Stones and Signets. On the other hand, the options for going infinite in Standard are much more limited, with the best option likely being Cryptolith Rite turning all of our creatures into Birds of Paradise.
So, here's the plan: we get a Cryptolith Rite on the battlefield along with a Paradox Engine (with the help of Whir of Invention, if need be), which means we can tap all of our creatures for mana of any color, and then whenever we cast a spell, we get to untap all of our creatures, which allows us to tap them again for even more mana. The trick to the deck is not only that we are playing a ton of creatures, but that most are inexpensive (either one or two mana) and have haste. As a result, every time we cast one of our creatures, we are not only getting more mana from all of the creatures we have on the battlefield, but we add a new mana source to the battlefield as well. This means that every time we cast a creature, we have more mana at our disposal, so in short order, we should have infinite mana (well, not technically infinite but more mana that our deck could possible use). The next problem we need to solve is cards. While having infinite mana is great, it doesn't do anything if we don't have a steady stream of cards to cast. Thankfully, there are some good options available for churning through our deck.
Duskwatch Recruiter is probably our best source of card advantage. Since we have 25 creatures in our deck, every time we activate the ability, we should "draw" another creature spell; then, we simply cast the creature we draw and untap all of our creatures, which makes more mana for us to activate Duskwatch Recruiter again. In the end, we should be able to "draw" every creature out of our deck with the help of Duskwatch Recruiter. As backup plans, we have Soul of the Harvest and Lifecrafter's Bestiary (which is in the deck mostly because it's another good target for Whir of Invention once we've already gotten a copy of Paradox Engine on the battlefield). With either of these cards on the battlefield, each random haste creature we cast not only gives us more mana to work with but also draws us another card to make sure we keep finding more creatures to untap everything.
As for winning the game, we'll eventually have every single creature in our deck on the battlefield, including 17 creatures with haste, which means we simply draw into one of our two copies of Decimator of the Provinces (which we can hard cast because we have essentially infinite mana) and trample over with our team for an absurd (and game-ending) amount of damage.
The good news about Paradox Rites is that the deck, with its best draws, is actually extremely fast. If we can play a one-drop on Turn 1, into Cryptolith Rite on Turn 2, into two more creatures (with our four mana, thanks to our one-drop being a Birds of Paradise) on Turn 3, we should be set to combo off and win the game on Turn 4, which means Paradox Rites is fast enough to compete in our crazy Turn 4 Emrakul, the Promised End Standard. Plus, once the deck assembles its pieces, it's pretty hard to stop. Creature removal doesn't really do anything, so our opponent's only hope is to have a way to kill our Paradox Engine at instant speed.
On the other hand, the deck does have one big problem: it's extremely dependent on Cryptolith Rite. While Whir of Invention makes sure we'll have a Paradox Engine or Lifecrafter's Bestiary when we need one, we don't really have a way to search out a Cryptolith Rite, and when we don't have a copy of the enchantment, our deck is basically just a bunch of underpowered haste creatures. Still, you could say the same thing about Aetherworks Marvel combo decks. One possible solution would be to play cards like Vessel of Nascency or (god forbid) Contingency Plans to help us find our combo pieces, but these cards would eat up slots we want to dedicate to creatures to help combo off and would likely increase our fizzle rate. It will take some playtesting to figure out just how consistent the deck can be, but the raw power for Turn 4 combo kills is there if we can figure out the right mixture of creatures, combo pieces, and tutors.
Other Notable Combos
Standard Splinter Twin
This one might be the most powerful of the bunch because it's quite literally a reverse Splinter Twin. All you need to do is play a Saheeli Rai on Turn 3; then, on Turn 4, you play a Felidar Guardian (blinking a random land or something). Then, you copy the Felidar Guardian with Saheeli Rai's −2 ability and, when the copy enters the battlefield, use it to blink Saheeli Rai. When Saheeli Rai comes back into play, it's technically a "new" Saheeli Rai as far as the rules are concerned, which means we can activate Saheeli Rai again, making another copy of Felidar Guardian, blinking Saheeli Rai. The end result is an infinite number of Felidar Guardians, all with haste, attacking the opponent for lethal on Turn 4!
Standard Wake Thrasher
This combo may or may not be viable because it technically doesn't do infinite damage until Turn 5, but it's still pretty sweet. Crackdown Construct gets bigger every time you activate a non-mana ability, and Wandering Fumarole has a non-mana ability that costs zero mana. As a result, you simply attack with your Crackdown Construct, activate Wandering Fumarole, activate its ability some arbitrarily large number of times, and hit your opponent for an arbitrarily large amount of combat damage with your Crackdown Construct. If you can't get in combat damage, you can toss Barrage Tyrant into the mix to sacrifice the Crackdown Construct and deal an infinite amount of damage directly to your opponent's face!
The Richard Special
There's likely about a million Paradox Engine combos we could include, but we'll settle for just one more. This one comes from Richard, who somehow thought of this combination of cards almost as soon as Greenbelt Rampager was spoiled. The basic idea is that you get a Paradox Engine on the battlefield along with a Servant of the Conduit. You also have to get rid of all your energy (likely by tapping your Servant of the Conduit for mana). With this setup, you can cast your Greenbelt Rampager and it will make an energy, bounce back to your hand, and untap your Servant of the Conduit (thanks to Paradox Engine). Then, you can use Servant of the Conduit to turn that energy into a green mana to cast Greenbelt Rampager, which will again bounce back to your hand after creating an energy—rinse and repeat. Throw in an Aetherflux Reservoir, and you can gain infinite life and also dome your opponent for 50 damage an infinite number of times!
Standard Thopter / Sword
This one isn't really an infinite combo, but then neither is Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek, which, until recently, was banned in Modern. The good news is that both pieces of the combo are super-efficient, with Animation Module costing only one mana and Metallic Mimic costing two mana. Even better, both pieces are colorless, which means this combo can theoretically slot into any deck.
The basic idea is to get both pieces on the battlefield at the same time with Metallic Mimic set on Servo. Then, whenever you get a counter on a creature (which you can do with Animation Module if need be), you start a loop where you get a 1/1 Servo with a +1/+1 counter thanks to Metallic Mimic, which triggers Animation Module, allowing you to pay one to make another 1/1 Servo (which enters with a +1/+1 counter thanks to Metallic Mimic), which lets you pay one to make another Servo. The end result is that you can make a 2/2 Servo token for each mana you spend, allowing you to amass a huge board of Servo tokens in just a couple of turns!
Our last combo of the day isn't so much a combo as a synergy, but it's still pretty sweet. There was a time when Legacy—one of Magic's most powerful formats—had a tier one deck building around playing Phyrexian Dreadnought and then using Stifle to counter the sacrifice trigger, leaving you with a 13/13 for only two mana! Well, we can do something similar in Standard by combining Consulate Dreadnought with Siege Modification, giving us a 10/11 first striker (which essentially has haste, because the Consulate Dreadnought is already on the battlefield) attacking on Turn 3!
Anyway, that's all for today. I'm sort of at a loss for words regarding Aether Revolt. The set is absolutely overloaded with crazy combos, and it seems like we may be entering into one of the most powerful Standard formats of the mythic era of Magic! So, what do you think? Which combos are most playable? Which are your favorites? Do you have a deck list for any of the combos? Let's me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com!