Bannings Behind, Aether Revolt Ahead

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
1/12/2017 11:01:00 AM
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On Monday, Magic R&D made the announcement that they would be moving the banned list announcement for Aether Revolt forward by a week, to later that day. This unprecedented move made it clear that there were serious changes in store for Standard. Hours later it was announced that Smuggler's Copter, Emrakul, the Promised End, and Reflector Mage were banned.

Standard without Smuggler's Copter

Not many can say they expected Smuggler's Copter to be banned, but it truly had an oppressive effect on the format by invalidating other creatures with its extreme efficiency and flexibility, which as an artifact allowed it to push out other two-drops in every color. Smuggler's Copter constrained deckbuilding options because it so far outshined other creatures that it was almost a requirement for aggressive decks. Last week I wrote an article about Making the Most of Metallic Mimic, and Smuggler's Copter created awkward tension in all of the decks I brewed because it seemed foolish not to include the card in decks focused around cheap aggressive creatures, but it also lacked synergy with the decks' tribal themes. Now decks won't be forced into this predicament, and they will be free to expand their strategies with a wider selection of cards.

The best two-mana creatures before Smuggler's Copter, like Sylvan Advocate and Lambholt Pacifist, will return to the metagame. We will also see a surge in Kaladesh cards that were previously suppressed by the relative power of Smuggler's Copter, like Longtusk Cub and Syndicate Trafficker. The Copter's departure will also open room to be filled by the excellent new two-drops from Aether Revolt, including Heart of Kiran, Sram, Senior Edificer, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Winding Constrictor. All of these creatures demand support in different ways, and it will lead to more diversity in the format compared to when every creature deck had to support Smuggler's Copter.

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 Heart of Kiran
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Smuggler's Copter demanded a specific set of support creatures to pay its crew cost, which restricted what creatures were played by aggressive decks. The banning has opened up the creature space considerably, which will allow a more diverse set of alternatives to shine across various colors. Cards like Pia Nalaar and Catacomb Sifter were played specifically because of their ability to consistently crew Smuggler's Copter, so with their niche removed they will be pushed from the metagame and a wider selection of creatures will take their place.

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 Tezzeret's Touch
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Aether Revolt is rich in excellent new three-mana creatures that will support aggressive strategies, particularly the gold uncommons Rogue Refiner, Weldfast Engineer and Renegade Rallier, all of which have the potential to become role players in Standard. Tezzeret's Touch, while technically an aura, can enable an artifact to attack for five damage as early as turn three, making it one of the most potent threats in all of Standard, especially in a world without Reflector Mage.

Standard's creature space has opened up even more with the banning of Reflector Mage, which was nearly as influential as Smuggler's Copter in defining what creatures were viable. Reflector Mage effectively invalidated midrange creatures that didn't offer any sort of value proposition against being bounced, which severely limited what creatures can find success. Now the Floodgates have been opened; with nothing to hold them back, we will see all variety of midrange creatures begin to pour into Standard. For example, a major winner from the bannings is Red-Green Energy, which also gains another efficient creature from Aether Revolt, namely Greenbelt Rampager.

Standard without Reflector Mage

Reflector Mage demanded that creatures offered some sort of immediate value, which further explains why three-drops like Pia Nalaar and Whirler Virtuoso have been commonplace, and most creatures costing four or more mana are absent from the metagame unless they offer some sort of resiliency against Reflector Mage, like Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Now the midrange creature space has opened up considerably, so standouts like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet will see more play, and Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher will finally have room to operate in Standard.

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Metalwork Colossus stands out as a big winner from the banning of Reflector Mage. Metalwork Colossus has always been on the brink of being competitive because it offers a big payoff for going down its path, but as a bulky midrange creature it was acutely susceptible to Reflector Mage. Its deck has also gained some great new tools from Aether Revolt, including Tezzeret, the Schemer, so there are good days ahead for Metalwork Colossus.

Smuggler's Copter also had a warping effect on what removal spells and disruption could be played in the format. With it gone, players can bring a more diverse set of answers to the table. Instant-speed removal that can deal with a 3/3 is the gold standard, so Harnessed Lightning, Grasp of Darkness and Stasis Snare have been the defining removal spells of the format, but now the rules have changed. Sorcery-speed removal is no longer invalidated, so there will be a return of Declaration in Stone, which was previously the best removal in Standard, and red decks will be able to play the now-excellent Incendiary Flow.

Aether Revolt comes with some important removal spells of its own. Fatal Push would have been the most efficient and flexible answer to Smuggler's Copter in Standard, but it will still be fantastic as an all-around removal spell for all early threats. It's a boon to all variety of black decks, and it's a major problem for aggressive strategies. The reprinting of Shock gives Standard a very easy way to disrupt the new Saheeli Rai-Felidar Guardian combo, so it's going to be an important fixture of Standard that will mostly replace Galvanic Bombardment. It also gives red decks yet another way to go to the opponent's face, so it could help fuel their resurgence. Another possible tool for red decks is Hungry Flames, which mimics old stars Searing Blaze and Searing Blood. It would be at home in an aggressive red deck, but I think Standard's best home is the old Fevered Visions deck.

One effect that Smuggler's Copter had on the metagame was oppressing planeswalkers, which struggled to protect themselves against it flying over blockers and quickly diminishing their loyalty. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar was once a cornerstone of Standard as part of Green-White Tokens, but it was completely eliminated from the metagame because it was so poor against Smuggler's Copter. Now that there is no longer such an egregious threat that can evade Plant Tokens, the planeswalker will reassume its former role to gum up the ground and to build up an army.

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 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
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Another planeswalker vulnerable to fliers—Gideon, Ally of Zendikar—has also gained ground from the banning of Smuggler's Copter, and on its own merits is arguably the best card in Standard. It will be the premier threat of all white aggressive and midrange decks in Standard. It's also likely to take the stage in a reinvention of Green-WhiteTokens alongside Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Oath of Ajani. The enchantment helps to accelerate into Ajani Unyielding, and as an anthem effect it's great for getting more aggressive, especially on a board filled with tokens from Sram's Expertise.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar also finds a new home in Black-Green tokens, which finds itself as a realistic competitive option with the printing of Winding Constrictor, similar to Hardened Scales decks from last year. The strategy gains Rishkar, Peema Renegade as the perfect follow-up to Winding Constrictor, and its mana ability will help to charge another new tool, Walking Ballista.

Standard without Emrakul, the Promised End

Emrakul, the Promised End was a clear candidate for a banning as the most oppressive card in Standard because its extreme power level and attainable cost invalidated other win conditions. Now players are free to explore other end-game options. One that comes to mind is the combination of Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light melding into Brisela, Voice of Nightmares. With Reflector Mage out of the picture, midrange creatures like Gisela, the Broken Blade will be less restricted, and the sort of grindy games where Bruna, the Fading Light is excellent will be possible when not decided by Emrakul, the Promised End.

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 Torrential Gearhulk
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The most influential winner from Emrakul's removal is Torrential Gearhulk, which is the key win-condition of the control decks that will emerge from Hibernation. Control decks seek to play a long game and exhaust their opponent's resources, but the strategy is effectively invalidated by Emrakul, the Promised End controlling their turn and completely ruining their plans. Control strategies originally succeeded at Pro Tour Kaladesh, but they were soon ushered from the format due to being squeezed from two sides. Smuggler's Copter forced control to focus on cheap interaction for the early game to beat White-Blue Flash and Mardu Vehicles, while Emrakul, the Promised End made playing and winning a long game a nearly impossible task, so it struggled against Black-Green Delirium and Red-Green Marvel. There's now not much stopping control decks from playing their traditional game of grinding out the opponent over an extended game with an attrition plan backed by card advantage. Torrential Gearhulk is the primary way these decks will win the game, but there is also room to explore other powerful control threats, like Dynavolt Tower and Metallurgic Summonings, or planeswalkers like Dovin Baan.

Torrential Gearhulk got even better from the printing of Fatal Push, so black control decks are suddenly attractive. Grixis, like Shota Yasooka's Pro Tour Kaladesh-winning deck, is a possibility, but we could also see the arrival of traditional Blue-Black Control. The deck gains a new sweeper in Yahenni's Expertise, which seems like a perfect pairing with Thing in the Ice to quickly turn the tables on the opponent.

The biggest development for Torrential Gearhulk is Jeskai Control adopting the new combo of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai. The combo is reminiscent of the Splinter Twin-Deceiver Exarch combo that once dominated Modern in a control shell before being banned, so it's logical that the combo would be successful in Standard in a similar control shell. Jeskai Control was already a reasonably successful deck before, and it has seen its two major enemies just banned from the metagame, so all signs point to this being a successful strategy in the new metagame, if not the frontrunner as the best deck in the format.

The Saheeli Rai-Felidar Guardian combo is so clean and simple that it can be played in any style of deck that can cast it, so it will inspire many different brews. One idea is to combine it with Aetherworks Marvel, which does a good job of digging to find combo pieces.

Standard has been reinvented with the banning of Smuggler's Copter, Reflector Mage and Emrakul, the Promised End, and the release of Aether Revolt has made things even more interesting. Aether Revolt has expanded the world of Kaladesh and will allow its themes and mechanics to shine by adding new tools for every strategy, and it has provided great new cards to build around. It's an exciting time for Standard, and I'm looking forward to see what great ideas people come up with and what decks people design. What are you planning for the post-ban world of Aether Revolt? What does your deck look like? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions!

-Adam




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