Gears are Turning: Testing Aether Revolt

Kaladesh block has been very intriguing. There have been a lot of cards and even new decks that looked Modern-playable, and yet the impact so far has been limited. I’m not sure if that is the fault of misplaced expectations or the cards themselves, but only Blossoming Defense has had a noticeable impact. The enemy fastlands have seen play certainly, but the actual effect they’ve had is relatively limited. Aether Revolt may or may not continue that trend. Excepting Fatal Push, which will see considerable play whether or not you think it should, there aren’t many cards that clearly benefit Modern. That’s not so surprising considering the power barrier to entry, but it is surprising when you consider the theoretical power of some of the cards. There are several decks from Tier 3 or lower that could benefit a lot from Revolt, enough that I thought it worthwhile to test them out to see if appearances were deceiving.

Last week I mentioned a number of new cards that looked Modern-playable. Most of them were niche, situational cards. However, a few stood out. The first was Metallic Mimic, which looked like a Merfolk addition. Less a lord, and more a weaker, colorless Bramblewood Paragon, Mimic provides an effect that Merfolk doesn’t have (at the right rate). In a metagame that’s likely to see more removal-heavy midrange decks, the permanent boost may be necessary.

Secondly, some low-tier combo decks received significant boosts to their consistency, which had previously been one of their barriers to playability. Eggs can draw a lot of cards but fail to go off without Krark-Clan Ironworks, while Cheeri0s does nothing without a Puresteel Paladin or Monastery Mentor in play. The addition of Whir of Invention and Sram, Senior Edificer may be their Blue Fairy that can turn them into real decks. So I proxied some decks up and gave them a try. But first, the card that my preferred deck cares about.

Mimic Merfolk

Merfolk is a deck because of its lords. Silvergill Adept, Cursecatcher, and Master of Waves make it powerful but if it weren’t for Master of the Pearl Trident, Lord of Atlantis, and Merrow Reejerey you’d never play the deck. As such, something close to another lord would seem to be a natural boost. However, we have seen something similar to Metallic Mimic before in Adaptive Automaton, an actual colorless lord for any tribal deck. And it saw no play because it cost three mana without a compensating ability like Reejerey’s.

There are two differences with Mimic. The most important is that it costs two. Cost is everything, especially when you consider its other ability. This is not a true lord that gives boosts to other members of its tribe. It’s Bramblewood Paragon, rewarding tribe members with +1/+1 counters. This is critical, especially when you consider the mana cost. Merfolk already has access to this effect with Sage of Fables, but that card is unplayable because it costs three. Paragon doesn’t see much play, but some aggro Elf decks do use her, though mostly for trample. Tribal strategies need to be fast, and a three-mana creature is simply too slow. It comes down after you’ve played a few creatures and doesn’t benefit them. Playing Mimic before other creatures is still playing on curve. Therefore, in theory, this card is acceptable.

On that basis, I proxied a few up and tried them in my pet deck.

UW Mimic Merfolk (Test Deck by David Ernenwein)

Creatures (26)
Cursecatcher
Silvergill Adept
Lord of Atlantis
Master of the Pearl Trident
Metalic Mimic
Merrow Reejerey
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Master of Waves

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Enchantments (4)
Spreading Seas

Instants (6)
Path to Exile
Echoing Truth

Lands (20)
Wanderwine Hub
Seachrome Coast
Mutavault
Island
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It Was… Okay

I wasn’t exactly impressed. Mimic isn’t bad but it isn’t particularly special either. If you played it on curve then it was roughly equivalent to the other lords. If it was later then it was just a 2/1 that didn’t cantrip. It’s just not that special. The fact that the counters stayed after it had died was nice, but not particularly relevant. Your creatures were still small enough for toughness-based removal to kill them and weren’t big enough to attack through other creatures. Against control decks the cards with counters almost always died before anything else, meaning the clock didn’t change. The most exciting thing that happened was when a 2/2 Cursecatcher did nearly 20 damage in a test game against Jeskai where the removal flew thick. Maybe that is enough.

The problem is that Merfolk lists are very tight and you really can’t cut much to fit in Mimic. The staples are mandatory with the numbers consistent across nearly all lists. There just aren’t many flex spots and you do need some interaction. Harbinger of the Tides will get a little worse with gotcha! decks likely to fall off, but I don’t think you want to cut them or any instants. If you’re the sort of deck running cards like Tidebinder Mage or Phantasmal Image, then Mimic will be better in most cases, but otherwise I’m not convinced you need it.

Strangely, the best use of Mimic in my games was when he wasn’t a Merfolk at all. Naming Elemental proved to be far more impactful. Master of Waves is a powerful way to generate board presence, but the tokens are tied to his survival. With the expected increase in black removal this becomes problematic. Mimic lets them live past their Master’s death more often, and if Grixis Control becomes a larger metagame presence, this might be a reason to play Mimic.

An Ethereal Home

Mimic may or may not have a home in Merfolk, but I definitely think that it has a place in Modern. A two-mana pseudo-lord might be what some less popular tribal strategies need to move up the tiers. Elves doesn’t need it, Goblins has turned into 8-Whack, and it would be redundant in Slivers or Allies, but I think it is what Spirits has been looking for. In my previous investigations of the deck I’ve noted that it needed more two-drops, since most good Spirits are three mana, and it wanted another lord to help Drogskol Captain. The only problem is that Mimic doesn’t fly, but that may not be so bad if it closes those other gaps. I will definitely try it soon. If a 2/2 Cursecatcher is good, a 2/2 Mausoleum Wanderer will be much better.

Support Whirled Eggs

In the history of Magic, the most frequently banned decks are combo decks. By themselves, they’re not that much of a problem as most combos are fragile and inconsistent. They become a problem when you throw them the right combination of consistency tools and protection pieces. Eggs is a rare case of a combo deck eating a ban without becoming a dominant player in the metagame. It saw very limited play for a few months before Brian Kibler F6’d and Wizards banned Second Sunrise to reduce the appeal of the deck. And it worked. While the deck is still viable, it’s hard enough to go off that the other flaws in the deck keep it from any metagame share.

And the flaw is rather crippling. The one that isn’t its weakness to Rest in Peace and Stony Silence. The deck must draw enough Open the Vaults/Faith’s Rewards and (in most versions) Krark-Clan Ironworks to actually combo. The deck has to generate a lot of mana and draw a lot of cards, and without KCI it struggles to do both. Second Sunrise made things easier, since the mana required to start the process was low, but since Open costs six you really need KCI to combo off.

As a result, the deck is always at risk of doing nothing until death. It has a lot of cantrips but can’t always deploy them quickly enough to find the critical pieces and go off. It has Reshape to find artifacts, but the cost is prohibitive to find KCI, meaning Reshape is mostly used to find Lotus Bloom. Whir of Invention might have a higher color requirement, but it is easier to tutor for anything now. On that assumption, I’ve been goldfishing the following deck:

Whirled Eggs (Test Deck by David Ernenwein)

Artifacts (28)
Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Star
Ichor Wellspring
Krark-Clan Ironworks
Lotus Bloom
Mox Opal
Codex Shredder
Pyrite Spellbomb
Conjurer’s Bauble

Instants (8)
Faith’s Reward
Whir of Invention

Sorceries (7)
Open the Vaults
Reshape
Banefire

Lands (17)
Adarkar Wastes
Darksteel Citadel
Island
Ghost Quarter
Plains
Academy Ruins
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Tutors are Good

Four tutors made the deck playable. More might actually make it good. The only problem I had initially was that I lacked the patience to get to the Conjurer’s Bauble/Pyrite Spellbomb kill, so I cut a Lotus for Banefire.

It is far easier to assemble the combo now. A typical hand will be full of redundant cantrips and enough mana to get started. All you need to do is find KCI to actually cycle cards into your graveyard and then a return spell. Whir allows you to find KCI if you don’t have it to get started, and if the combo stalls you can find an Ichor Wellspring to keep going. Unlike Reshape, you can use it even when you’ve gotten caught with all your artifacts in the graveyard. Before, Eggs was prone to doing a great deal of stuff without doing anything. Now it does something most of the time. It still has a reasonable fail rate, but not so much as before. That is good news for its adherents.

How Good?

This version of Eggs is less likely to lose to itself. It’s not impossible by any means, but Whir reduces the risk of mid-combo fizzling or failing to draw KCI. However, it changes nothing about its vulnerabilities to hate and to countered Open effects. The odds of starting the combo have only improved slightly, since KCI isn’t critical to all lists, meaning the overall impact of Whir is limited.

Whir also doesn’t necessarily improve Eggs’ speed, since you’re still going to have to spend several turns setting up before you can tutor and start comboing. My preliminary analysis is that Eggs combo will more consistently succeed, but it will not make it more dangerous. That said, I’m a researcher, not an enthusiast. The dedicated combo players may know something I don’t about this deck.

Cheeri0s

It is tradition for combo decks to be named after breakfast. I have no idea why, but it exists nonetheless. Which brings me to the last deck of the week, Cheeri0s. For those who have never heard of this deck, it is Storm with permanents instead of rituals. You play 0-mana equipment (the “0” in the name) to draw lots of cards with Puresteel Paladin, then use Retract to do it all over again until you find Grapeshot for the win. Another feature is that, outside of the Mox Opals, Cheeri0s is easily the cheapest combo deck in Modern that might actually win a tournament.

And I stress might. This is a massive glass cannon, and a particularly fragile one at that. I’ve played against this deck a number of times and never lost a match. It’s hard to find paper results for it and you rarely see it on MTGO because it is bad. Even the dedicated adherents on MTGSalvation, which I was surprised to find was a thing when doing my research, acknowledge that it is weak. Their dedication is mostly aspirational—the deck has gotten more toys than Storm recently, so they’re hoping that soon it will be a real deck.

Which is why I’m going to see for myself if their new messiah, Sram, Senior Edificer, will actually deliver them to relevance. Even if it doesn’t, good on them for trying. Innovation and discovery are why we’re here in the first place and I keep saying the Modern cardpool is far deeper than players let on. Thanks to those starry-eyed hopefuls for proving my point.

Even without dedicated hate the deck is very easy to disrupt. Most of the deck is air, and it cannot win without Paladin. There have been attempts to develop a backup plan on the thread, including an alternate win condition in Monastery Mentor, but they haven’t solved the problem.

The deck simply can’t beat Jund. This was not only my personal assessment, but also appears to be the consensus of the Cheeri0ists. The fundamental problem is that Paladin is a fragile 2/2 that has to stick in order to combo. Play it early and they’ll probably just kill it; try to slow-roll it until the combo turn and they can just Inquisition it from your hand. Jund is the best at exploiting this flaw, but Cheeri0s suffers against any deck with removal. And this is on top of the high risk of having to mulligan into oblivion for a chance to actually play the game. Before the deck could spike a States here and there, but that was it.

Sram the Savior?

The Cheeri0ists are excited about Sram because they finally have redundancy. Sram is mostly the same as Paladin, so instead of four critical pieces, they have eight, which means that the loss of one is less burdensome. It also means that you don’t need to mulligan as aggressively just to find real action anymore. With additional consistency comes power and wins. I tried out this list:

Cheeri0s (Test Deck by David Ernenwein)

Creatures (11)
Puresteel Paladin
Sram, Senior Edificer
Monastery Mentor

Artifacts (22)
Accorder’s Shield
Cathar’s Shield
Kite Shield
Paradise Mantle
Spidersilk Net
Mox Opal

Enchantments (2)
Sigarda’s Aid

Instants (8)
Noxious Revival
Repeal
Retract

Sorceries (1)
Grapeshot

Lands (16)
Flooded Strand
Windswept Heath
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Plains
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I started with a list from the community page and then cut what I thought were odd cards for lands. The enthusiasts seem to prefer aggressively small land counts and mulliganing. I wanted to cast my spells reliably so I played more lands.

Does it Work?

Well, it was better than the old deck. Think moving from woeful to merely bad. Sram did exactly what he was supposed to do and the deck appeared to be better for his addition. However, in test games I still lost to any interaction from my opponents. Sometimes they did need more interaction than before, but the deck can also still peter out on its own. Basically every deck has a few pieces of interaction thanks to Infect, so without ways to protect Paladin or Sram the deck just couldn’t put its plan together. The fundamental problem of the combo has not been fixed, but a flaw with the deck has been improved. So no, I still don’t think the deck is a deck yet, but it’s closer than before.

That said, I can recommend the deck as an inheritor to Storm. That deck is dead according to the many, many adherents lamenting the loss of Gitaxian Probe. Cheeri0s is a storm deck that plays very similarly to Storm. It’s much more fragile, but the enthusiasts are right: Wizards does know to avoid throwing gifts Storm’s way; they don’t have the same discipline toward Cheeri0s. They’re not there yet, but maybe soon they will be. It’s worth a try if you’re so certain that traditional Storm is dead.

More to Come

These are just my initial impressions based on early testing. There are a lot of other interesting cards to judge and potential decks to explore once Aether Revolt officially releases. I haven’t found anything format-shaking yet, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to find. If you’ve had different results or found something else interesting, I’m eager to hear about it in the comments.

David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.

13 thoughts on “Gears are Turning: Testing Aether Revolt

  1. Metallic Mimic can look good in spirits, but if you want a fringe tribal deck that has been around for awhile. You might want to check out R/G Shamans. Having creatures gain counters and then Rage Forger could provide the boost that this Shaman tribal needs to be better.

    I am personally not sure if Vial or Birds/Company is the best shell. Without a Shaman 1 CMC mana dork. I don’t think CoCo shells are the right place. At heart, Shamans is a combo tribal deck with Rageforger with an aggro back up. There is a lot of brewing potential after the core of the deck (Rageforger, Bosk Banneret, Elvish Visionary, Burning-Tree Emissary, Flamekin Harbinger). Like CoCo, Lead, Oath of Nissa, Atarka’s Command, Vial. There is Eternal Witness, Reclamation Sage, Burning-Tree Shaman, Goblin Ruinblaster, Fulminator Mage, Blood Moon, Thrun, Troll Ascetic, and other options for shamans on the whole. I say Oath of Nissa as this is an aggro-combo deck and green selection could improve it.

    1. You know, I hadn’t thought of Shamans, but that seems like a good place to start testing Metallic Mimic. I’m not really an expert on either of the combo decks mentioned, but Cheeri0s getting Paladins 5-8 seems like a big deal. It’s probably going to have a pretty decent matchup against opponents light on countermagic/removal.

      1. Combo is my jam. And I actually play Cheerios. Gitaxian probe getting banned hurt it but sram buffed it a huge amount.

        Ghirapur aether grid is incredible. I play it mainboard. It’s an alternate win con but can also just buy time for many many turns.

        In the sideboard I play more mentors and mass hysteria to have a consistent t3 combo kill even against leylines, plus the mentor win is way more resilient. Once people bring in hate you want to be more flexible.

        SRAM also invalidated the noxious revival, which was basically puresteel 4.5

        I run full 4 sram 4 puresteel and no mentors mainboard.

        It’s pretty brokenly strong TBH

        Except vs jund which… yeah we know how that goes. Although 8 paladin effects makes topdecking before they can finish you off (assuming no liliana, which is really just nails in the coffin) actually decently likely

        1. I just wanted to say kuddos to you good sir for playing Cheeri0s. I play mono green stompy occasionally and I feel like those decks are in the same tier. It’s just nice to see people playing these fun non-tier 1 decks. Shoot a g/r tooth and nail deck took first at my local GPT a few weeks back because no one saw it coming (I was on mardu nahiri that event,turns out bolts and IoK isnt very good against that deck…) 😛

  2. I would think metallic mimic giving counters only to future cards would be enough to tell you its not good. It forces you to sequence it asap because its stock rapidly declines as the game progresses. Where a topdecked lord of atlantis means profitable attacks or lethal damage, a topdecked mimic means goblin piker.

    It might have some play in allies with hardened scales but if thalias lieutenant didnt work there im skeptical mimic will.

    1. You never know for certain until you try. With the likely increase in removal heavy decks it might be that you want additional redundancy for your creature boosts. I expected what you say to be the case, but it was worth making sure.

      I really doubt that it has a home in Allies. It’s nothing special there either, they already have plenty of ways to boost creatures. If it sees play it will be somewhere that lacked on curve boosts.

  3. Thanks for a great article taking on some unusual decks :). In defense of kaladesh, the fastlands did enable a jeskai aggro deck that went 7-1 at a major event, though what becomes of that shell with Probe gone remains to be seen. On the subject of metallic mimic, this little beauty alongside an expected decrease in dredge makes it a good time to re examine zombie tribal. Before cathartic reunion I was working with the available options to see what game the deck had, and in the middle of testing we got dredge that was, thereby invalidating other graveyard strategies. Now, however, it’s gotten a number of new tools in push, brutality, and a 2 mana lord.

  4. I think the obvious playable cards from the set will be the white and black expertise cards. B/W token will like the white one while Jund/junk will want the black one in some situations being able to cast a lilly off it. The one card I’m most excited about is Narnam Renegade the “kird ape w/ death touch” which I’m pretty sure is a no-brainer as well. Zoo players rejoice!

    p.s. kind of off topic but a sleeper i know i overlooked was gonti, lord of luxury. his ETB ability is busted! even if he eats removal its card advantage for you and denies your op from beating you with the card you select. I feel like he might just be that 1 or 2 of value creature for junk that Pia and Kiran Nalarr is for jund.

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