Controlling the Meta With Aether Revolt

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Posted December 6, 2016 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Nerdy Bits

Give me a new Standard legal set, and I’ll build a UBx control deck out of it. This isn’t even a joke – my first priority upon seeing new cards (after evaluating them in Limited) is to build control decks. Even when I know they won’t work, I spend the weeks leading up to a set’s release brewing some sweet decks. Well, I think they’re sweet at least. Usually they’re just kind of bad and play too many counterspells.

But I digress, because my inability to play a deck with less than eight counterspells isn’t the point of this article. Instead, I want to write a little bit about the new tools Control decks pick up from Aether Revolt, because wow. We’ve had ten cards spoiled and four of them look like they have the potential to be excellent in control shells.

Yehenni’s Expertise

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This is the card that I’m most excited about. People have tried UB control lists – I had one really early on in the format, but hadn’t figured out the Dynavolt Tower tech. But, even when testing newer versions of the deck, built by better Magic players than me, the lack of a sweeper has really felt awful. And sure, Yehenni’s Expertise isn’t a true sweeper. -3/-3 makes it worse than Languish, but it still deals with relevant threats in the format, especially when cast on turn four. On its own, it would likely be playable just because the deck needs a sweeper.

However, and this is key, it does have a second clause, which is what really pushes it over the top for me. Casting free spells, even with a mana restriction, is huge, especially since they can be any card type. In addition to killing all the Creatures with three or less toughness, you can point a removal spell at a larger creature or Planeswalker. Grasp of Darkness, Ruinous Path, Unlicensed Disintegration, and Murder all come to mind here. If that isn’t necessary, you can draw a couple cards off of Succumb to Temptation or drop a Planeswalker like Liliana, the Last Hope into play. Oh yeah, I mentioned Succumb. It may be interesting to go back to the last few sets, since there may be gems that get the little push they need from a card like Yehenni’s Expertise (though in this case I suspect Glimmer of Genius is just better). Regardless of what you do, Yehenni’s Expertise is a card advantage spell. Sure, some boards will render it useless but firing one off early on can be the difference between a win and a loss. Plus, it gets around a Flashed in Archangel Avacyn or a sacrificed Selfless Spirit.

I’ll definitely be tossing this in a couple builds to test once we’ve seen the whole set.

Battle at the Bridge

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Battle at the Bridge is an interesting card. It’s our introduction to an exciting new mechanic in Improvise, but for control decks, this is unlikely to matter. I mean, control decks probably have Torrential Gearhulks and maybe Filigree Familiars, but I can’t imagine a deck in which Improvise is really going to be relevant. Regardless, it seems like a card control decks want. At some point in the game, it does basically become an unconditional removal spell. It’s also not awful early, though it’s definitely not quite as good as Grasp is.

That said, control decks can afford to hold off on Battle of the Bridge for a few turns – for the same reason that Fumigate is fine at five mana. It also solves the problem of lacking access to a good way to gain life in Standard. It’s not exactly a 2-for-1, but it gives the control decks time to implement their powerful late game. You also are less susceptible to dying to Flash creatures, like Spell Queller and Archangel Avacyn, or to a Reflector Mage bouncing your blocker and enabling an attack. Not to mention that Battle straight up kills all of those cards, which is pretty good.

It’s also possible that we see more Artifacts that control decks want to play in Aether Revolt – specifically cheap Artifacts. Alternatively, Artifacts that are already legal may find homes in control shells if there are enough powerful Improvise cards that fit the strategy. I know that I, personally, would not mind putting a Prophetic Prism in my Constructed deck. Am I alone in that sentiment? Probably, right? This is why Magic is a hobby rather than a career.

The card does have downsides – its speed being at the forefront. It also can’t be cast off of Yahenni’s Expertise or Torrential Gearhulk, which isn’t great. But as a two-of or so, I can see it shoring up multiple matchups for control decks in Standard.

Disallow

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Disallow is not exactly an easy card to evaluate in Standard. Obviously, three cmc counterspells are solid, with Void Shatter being playable in multiple different decks. So the question is: is Disallow a better card than Void Shatter? In a vacuum, I’m actually inclined to say that it is. The upside of countering an activated or triggered ability can be a lot higher than exiling a random card. That may just be the EDH player in me speaking, but I do value Voidslime higher than Dissipate.

However, in the current Standard format, exiling cards is highly relevant. Despite kind of getting wrecked at the latest Standard GP, Delirium is still a widely played (and very good) deck. It’s also a deck that recurs creatures from its graveyard and actively wants certain cards to hit the yard. Void Shatter throws a wrench in that game plan. That said, I don’t know if it’s enough better to not play a mix of the two cards, and if three cmc counterspells are still good when Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch rotates, Disallow will definitely earn its keep in that slot.

To be fair, hitting activations and triggers can be relevant – Stone Raining an Evolving Wilds is sweet, as is countering a Planeswalker ultimate – both Liliana and Gideon seem to get their emblems with some degree of regularity. Interestingly, it also gives you the option of letting an Emrakul, the Promised End resolve, but Stifling her trigger. If you can deal with the card in other ways, this is actually pretty good. These are obviously more fringe uses of the card, but they’re likely to come up.

I’m not convinced that this is the counterspell that control decks in Standard are looking for. But my immediate inclination is that it’s worth testing anyways.

Dark Intimations

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Poor Cruel Ultimatum. What’s happened to you? Dark Intimations, well… it’s no Cruel Ultimatum. And I’m not even sure it’s good. Actually, let me backpedal. I don’t think this card is good. I’m writing about it because, despite not thinking very highly of it, I can’t wait to play with the card goddammit. And look, maybe it will be good. Edict effects aren’t great, but dealing with a creature or Planeswalker and getting back one of your own is a solid effect.

It also partially depends on the Nicol Bolas Planeswalker, which will presumably show up in Amonket. It may breathe new life into this card a few months from now, as giving it an extra loyalty counter could be incredibly relevant. Until then, it’s fine. If it were maybe a mana cheaper, or hit both a creature and a Planeswalker… I don’t know. I don’t get payed to design cards.

That being said, I can’t wait to brew around this one. I just so desperately want Grixis to be a great deck that I will contrive any reason I can to be in those three colors (Gearhulk + Unlicensed Disintegration might already be good enough but hey).

In a few weeks, I may very well have to revisit this type of article. The early spoilers (barring the new Ajani) have been pretty exciting, and I’m looking forward to picking up some more control cards from the set.


About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.