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Vintage 101: Aether Revolt Part Two

The Ban Heard Around the World

This week I figured I'd review a few more cards from Aether Revolt from a Vintage perspective, but a bombshell was dropped this past Monday and I figured I'd address that first. There was a banned list update for Modern and Standard, and while that usually isn't relevant to Vintage I think that this announcement is different.

If you haven't read the official explanation for these bannings you can do so by clicking here. To sum it up though, a lot of people didn't like Emrakul in Standard and found it unfun. Reflector Mage and it's associated decks were too good, and Smuggler's Copter was too good and it hurt diversity. I haven't played Standard in some time so I can't speak on the subject of how "fun" Emrakul is, but the Vintage player in me sure loves to Mindslaver people (I also used to love doing it in Modern U-Tron as well). Still, I understand how being hit with a 'Slaver makes for a bad time for many folks.

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The Modern changes were to slow down combo decks by taking away their biggest universal enabler, Gitaxian Probe. Probe doesn't enable the combinations themselves, but just like it does in Vintage it tells a combo player when the coast is clear to do something degenerate. The fact that Probe is a free roll with a cantrip attached makes it very attractive, and ultimately too powerful. Grave Troll was only released from its exile on the Modern Banned list relatively recently, but when combined with new printings it enabled a competitive Modern Dredge deck. Modern already had a lot of powerful linear strategies, and Dredge had a bad reputation, so I'm sure that having a viable Dredge deck upset a few people. Modern players didn't enjoy having to put Ravenous Trap in their sideboards, and now I guess they don't have to.

The reason that this announcement is relevant to Vintage players is that all of the cards that were banned have seen play in the format. If you're a Vintage player and you don't yet own any of these cards you can likely pick them up for much cheaper now than they were a week ago. If you're looking to break into the format with something cheap like Dredge, this is even better news because Golgari Grave Troll used to be one of the most expensive cards in that deck (on Magic Online that is; in paper that honor goes to Bazaar).  As of right now you can build an optimal Vintage Dredge list complete with Undiscovered Paradise for only 167 tickets thanks to the rock-bottom price of Golgari Grave Troll

Personally I have considered making brews with Emrakul, the Promised End quite a bit, and now that it's less than half as much as it was a week ago I'll be picking one up. The new Emrakul has shown up in various Landstill decks, famously winning the 2016 Vintage Championships in the hands of Joseph Bogaard.  I've also seen a Mystic Remora-based control deck that utilized Emrakul, the Promised End, and I suspect there may be other decks it could be good in. The Mindslaver ability is especially potent in a format like Vintage as the average deck has many ways to harm itself. 

Smuggler's Copter is also another card I am keeping my eye on. Copter has only had one strong finish in Vintage that I'm aware of, but I think that it could do a lot more. Perhaps if something like Tiny Robots (Workshop Affinity) made a comeback Smugger's Copter could find its way into that deck.

This list is just a stock Tiny Robots deck from several months ago that has been outfitted with a few new toys. I'm not sure if a deck like this is viable in the current meta, but I am sure that Smuggler's Copter is a viable option. It's easy to crew the Copter, it flies over Moat, and looting away unneeded cards for more gas is always awesome. I also love the synergy that Smuggler's Copter has with Crucible of Worlds. Just loot, discard Wasteland, replay it, smile, and be happy.

If you look carefully at this particular Tiny Robots list you will also see the first Aether Revolt card that I'm going to review for this article...

Walking Ballista

I know for a fact that Walking Ballista will see play in Vintage. Normally I'm not quite as assertive about making such predictions, but this card already has an obvious home in Workshop decks. Walking Ballista is basically the new Triskelion, a card that is a staple of the Workshop archetype. 

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Since the 2015 Vintage Championships we have seen Triskelion go from a bit player in Workshop decks to one of the most-commonly played creatures in the archetype. Triskelion acts as removal for Shops decks and it has deadly synergy with Arcbound Ravager. Aether Revolt has introduced Walking Ballista to Vintage and it too can do copious amounts of damage when combined with a hungry Ravager.

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Walking Ballista is basically an upgrade to the "Thrash Can" (Triskelion). It is true that if you have exactly six mana to spend Triskelion will yield a 4/4 (1/1 with three counters) body while Walking Ballista would only be a 3/3. The thing that makes Trike inferior is that Walking Ballista offers a very important flexibility.

If you're stuck on mana but desperately need to keep developing your board Walking Ballista is very helpful. If your opponent manages to cast a Young Pyromancer through your Thorn of Amethyst you can simply make a 1/1 Ballista for two mana and shoot the Pyromancer before it gets out of hand. It's sort of like having a main-deck Dismember that can be played with Mishra's Workshop mana. Since Ballista is a creature it can easily be played through Thorn, unlike Dismember

Walking Ballista can also pump itself for four mana. This ability isn't as efficient as the self-pumping of Hangarback Walker, but it doesn't require tapping as part of the activation cost. Your Ballista is free to grow and attack as you see fit. This could also come in handy should you need to damage a creature or planeswalker later on in a game.

In the past Workshop players have used Arcbound Ravager to exile their Dredge opponent's Bridge from Belows. Walking Ballista can perform a similar trick by casting it for zero mana. This isn't the ideal use for the artifact creature, but it could potentially salvage an otherwise unwinnable game.

My Verdict

While I'm not the ultimate authority on Mishra's Workshop decks, I feel that I can safely proclaim Walking Ballista as the real deal. Workshop decks often have trouble if their opponent casts certain creatures on turn one or two. Ballista gives Workshops a way to kill those early threats without spending four life on Dismember. Often times these Shops decks will only play a card like Dismember in the sideboard so having a main-deck removal spell that's live on turn one or two is amazing. If you're planning on playing Shops any time soon I'd pick up four of these right away.


Spire of Industry

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Rainbow lands are always cool. They're not always playable in Vintage though as the fetchland/dual land mana bases in the format are usually good enough on their own. Still, some four or five color decks utilize some number of Rainbow lands.

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Each of these five-color lands see play in Vintage, but only in specific decks. Mana Confluence, City of Brass, and Undiscovered Paradise see play in Dredge, while Forbidden Orchard is only used in Oath of Druids decks. Spire of Industry has some pros and cons that limit what decks might want it.

Spire can be tapped painlessly for colorless mana. This is a nice bonus, but the damage from lands like this is often negligible in the grand scheme of things. There is a small drawback with Spire though, and that is it doesn't work if you don't control any artifacts. Dredge is the archetype that plays the most Rainbow lands, but that deck doesn't play artifacts so Spire of Industry is a no-go. The only decks I can think of that might want a Spire of Industry are the four or five color decks that play a full compliment of Moxen. A deck like Two-Card Monte might be able to benefit from running Spire over Mana Confluence.

Decks like Two-Card Monte and Five-Color Stax need rainbow lands to cast some of their spells. Typically these decks are comprised mostly of artifacts but splash powerful spells from each color. Cards like Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Wheel of Fortune, and Goblin Welder are attractive to this sort of deck as they are very powerful and only require one colored mana to cast. Lands like City of Brass are perfect color fixing for this type of deck.

Having access to another Rainbow land that won't eat away at one's life total is great. Ancient Tomb is a necessary evil that's already doing a number on life totals, so Spire of Industry should be a welcomed reprieve. It's also worth noting that the colorless mana is also relevant should someone decide to mix Eldrazi into an archetype like this. Currently I have not seen anyone running Thought-Knot Seer in a colored Workshop list, but it's certainly not outside the realm of what someone might brew up.

My Verdict

Spire of Industry is likely playable in Vintage, albeit only in decks that occupy the fringes of the format. Two-Card Monte and similar decks aren't exactly the most popular, but occasionally people play them and some folks do well with them. Occasionally I have seen people run a single Mana Confluence in a four or five color control deck. Robert Greene placed second at Vintage Champs 2015 with a Grixis Control deck and he had a single Mana Confluence in his list. Even though Grixis Thieves plays a relatively high number of artifacts I'm not sure if it's enough to support the Spire. You'd only want the card in a deck where you could always activate the colored mana ability. 


Hope of Ghirapur

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Here we have an interesting card that was first spoiled on the So Many Insane Plays Podcast. Hope of Ghirapur is certainly an interesting card, and it does somewhat resemble a card that's been played in past Vintage decks. The easiest comparison to make here would be Xantid Swarm

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Both the Swarm and the Hope of Ghirapur seem like great combo enablers. The idea is that you sideboard these cards in against opposing counterspells. Typically people will sideboard out their creature removal against combo decks because those spells end up useless. Xantid Swarm still sees a small amount of play in Legacy and Vintage these days, but for the most part it seems to have fallen out of favor. 

Hope of Ghirapur has an effect that lasts longer (until your next turn) than Xantid Swarm, but it also requires a sacrifice as part of the activation cost. Xantid Swarm also only has to attack, so in the case your opponent happened to have a flying blocker it will still do its job. The Swarm will also function fine through an opponent's Leyline of Sanctity, which is another thing that Hope of Ghirapur cannot do. 

Hope of Ghirapur also has some advantages that Xantid Swarm does not. It could be possible to build a deck to recur Hope of Ghirapur and that would create a soft lock on an opponent. The effect from Hope stops opposing spells until its controllers next turn so any sorcery speed spells are now useless. There would still be a window in which to break out of this lock, but I suspect it would be quite a hindrance in the mean time. 

My Verdict

 I think that people will try this card in combo decks, but I don't think it will ultimately replace Defense Grid. It's vulnerable to Mental Misstep, and it dies to more removal spells than Xantid Swarm too. For example I would bring in Nature's Claim or other artifact removal against a combo deck to take out Defense Grid, and in that case Xantid Swarm would be a decent answer to counteract that strategy. Hope of Ghirapur is somewhat hurt by the fact that it is an artifact because it opens it up to more removal spells that wouldn't have killed a Xantid Swarm.

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That's it for cards that look like they have some Vintage potential. The set has a ton of other cool cards though and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see some new stuff make its way to Modern and Legacy. I hope you have fun at your Aether Revolt Prerelease and I hope you open something sweet like a Masterpiece Series Defense Grid or Arcbound Ravager!

I'll see you in seven days for more Vintage content. You can chat with me about #VintageMTG on Twitter,, and Magic Online @Islandswamp 

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