I do not think Aether Revolt is great for Pauper. The cards are interesting but there isn’t anything specific to Aether Revolt about these cards that make them stand out.
Yet I think the set will have an impact.
To me, Aether Revolt is the most backwards compatible set in recent memory.
Part of the joy of Magic is that everything fits together. There is something primal about uncovering an interaction between game pieces designed (at this point) decades apart. Think about other games and how this would work. You cannot take the Mario from the original NES game and pit him against the Bowser from Super Mario 64 because those are fundamentally different games. At the other end of the spectrum you have a pawn in Chess. It’s going to function the same way every. Damn. Time. There’s a reason that patterns of play have names in Chess — they’re known and quantifiable.
Magic is not static. The Dark Ritual from Alpha can cast Hypnotic Specter just as easily as it can cast Vampire Nighthawk. The cards from Aether Revolt, to me at least, do not stand on their own merits as much as they enhance the strength of previous Pauper staples. Specifically Trinket Mage and Nest Invader.
These are the best cards from Aether Revolt in that they get the most out of the next release. Trinket Mage is a powerful tutor stapled to a 2/2. Gray Ogre’s that come with an effect are the bread and butter of Pauper, but despite the clear power Trinket Mage has largely dwelled on the edge of playability. Despite the ability to go and get any color of mana thanks to Artifact Lands the Fifth Dawn common has, to this point, seen heavy play in one deck:
Dimir Trinket ? Pauper | darvish
- Creatures (15)
- 1 Archaeomancer
- 1 Bottle Gnomes
- 2 Crypt Rats
- 3 Fume Spitter
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 1 Sanitarium Skeleton
- 3 Trinket Mage
- Instants (13)
- 1 Agony Warp
- 4 Counterspell
- 1 Diabolic Edict
- 1 Disfigure
- 1 Echoing Decay
- 1 Grim Harvest
- 1 Muddle the Mixture
- 2 Mystical Teachings
- 1 Soul Manipulation
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Chainer's Edict
- Enchantments (1)
- 1 Dead Weight
- Lands (22)
- 2 Seat of the Synod
- 1 Vault of Whispers
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 4 Dimir Aqueduct
- 2 Dimir Guildgate
- 4 Dismal Backwater
- 3 Island
- 1 Mortuary Mire
- 1 Radiant Fountain
- 3 Swamp
Aether Revolt should change this thanks to one important addition.
Universal Solvent is Pauper’s second tutorable Vindicate effect. The first is Scour from Existence which can be retrieved with Mystical Teachings. Scour is quite powerful and can take out any permanent. The problem with the Battle for Zendikar spell is that it costs seven. Universal Solvent costs more mana total — 8 — but it can also come down on turn one. While Daze exists and people do run Artifact hate, it is far more likely for the Solvent to perform its duty. Coming down on turn one to threaten any late game threat (or break up the UrzaTron) can be a powerful deterrent.
Part of the power in Solvent is how it can change the nature of Trinket Mage decks. Look at the list above. Trinket Mage can get Sylvok Lifestaff, Executioner's Capsule, or lands. These are all fine cards but they lack any late game relevance. The Capsule has the most but on a heavily developed board the cost efficiency is relatively minor. The presence of Universal Solvent means that a latter game Trinket Mage now has far more relevance. It is not too far outside the realm of possibility now to find a home for Trinket Mage in a deck packing the UrzaTron to help facilitate common Vindicates.
The other two trinkets of note are Augmenting Automaton and Renegade Map. Renegade Map fits a similar role to Wayfarer's Bauble, Traveler's Amulet, and Wanderer's Twig. Unlike the others it cannot be used the turn it enters the battlefield but the Map has the advantage of having no mana in its activation cost. While I doubt this card will see heavy play it is an option that should be noted. The fact that it helps to trigger Revolt (for free) while also facilitating Affinity, Metalcraft, and Improvise means that it has enough intrinsic value to warrant consideration in deck-building.
The Automaton fills a different role in that is is the first true threat that Trinket Mage can tutor up. While Bonded Construct and Flayer Husk fit the mana constraints they are woefully inadequate as the turns tick up. Augmenting Automaton is not going to be the best threat on any board but the ability to pump itself into something resembling respectable gives Trinket Mage strength in a former weak spot.
Revolt is interesting as it rewards the natural progression of a game. Elements are going to leave the battlefield and Pauper has plenty of ways to get things off the board. Nest Invader and Eldrazi Skyspawner already see heavy play. The associated Eldrazi Spawn and Eldrazi Scion tokens not only help to cast these spells but automatically turn on Revolt. Lifecraft Calvary is fine, if expensive, and if it can come down on turn four (thanks to an Eldrazi token or a Devoted Druid) and survives the Calvary can completely take over a game.
Silkweaver Elite has tons of moving parts. Phyrexian Rager is a key card in Pauper and the ability to upgrade it with Reach and no life loss is interesting. On its own Silkweaver Elite can trade with Insectile Aberration and Glint Hawk and help to enhance Elf synergies. Once Revolt is triggered Silkweaver turns into one of the best 3-drops in the format. Setting it up is not hard but the question is whether or not the sequence of Nest Invader into Silkweaver is better than Nest Invader into Hunger of the Howlpack. Currently I would err on the side of the Morbid Instant but that may very well change as White flying creatures continue their current dominance.
Countless Gears Renegade may be the best Revolt creature of the bunch. The Renegade comes in a color that already loves when its own permanents leave the battlefield thanks to Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher and unlike the other cards with the ability it is at least reasonable without Revolt. 3 power for 2 mana is a great deal and it can be set up on turn three with relative ease. Playing an Ancient Den on either of the first two turns sets up a Glint Hawk on three to then replay the Den (two lands total) and following it up with the Renegade to present at least 5 power of turn four. And that’s only scratching the surface of what the Revolt Dwarf can do.
The rest of Aether Revolt provides Pauper with interesting tools. Both Ice Over and Natural Obsolescence have utility against Affinity. The Green Instant is one of the few cards available that can handle Darksteel Citadel. Affinity also runs a scant 16 lands and no shuffle effects so sending a key land to the bottom could be backbreaking. Ice Over is similar in that it can lock down a land in the early turns while also reducing the ability to filter mana via Springleaf Drum or Prophetic Prism. Each of these spells can also save damage from a Myr Enforcer but neither have the same strength once Atog hits the table.
Fourth Bridge Prowler is the first time we have seen this effect on a 1/1. A cross between Blister Beetle and Fume Spitter, the Fourth Bridge Prowler is evocative of Forge Devil. At times, it is correct to run Forge Devil as an answer to important X/1 creatures on the draw. Fume Spitter accomplishes a similar role without leaving a body behind. Sometimes the creature is important and in these instances I can see going with the Prowler over Fume Spitter.
The final few cards that catch my eye are all role players. Dawnfeather Eagle is a solid threat that can bolster a team of tokens. The ability to give them vigilance can change race math when it involves Battle Screech and the like. I can see this being a key card in mirror matches where the person who blinks first loses and Dawnfeather Eagle helps to keep your eyes open.
Defiant Salvager’s Sorcery speed limitation is real. Cards like Bloodthrone Vampire and Carrion Feeder thrive on the fact that they can turn a doomed creature into a bonus. The Salvager has no such line of play. Instead it provides another outlet for a Disciple of the Vault build of Affinity. Eschewing Green and Carapace Forger for Black and Salvager and Disciple gives the deck the option for a more focused combo build.
Scrounging Bandar gives Pauper an effect it has not seen before. The ability to move counters is strong ; and, combined with Servant of the Scale or Simic Initiate, the Bandar could provide decks a significant power boost in the midgame.
Unbridled Growth is an Abundant Growth that works better with Revolt, Auramancer, and Bloodbriar. Like Abundant Growth it replaces itself but it does not stick around the same way for Ethereal Armor and Ancestral Mask. I don’t think there’s enough out there for this Growth to see play but I’ve been wrong before.
Aether Revolt does not present Pauper with any options that on their own significantly alter the power level of the format. Instead it provides plenty of tools to help enhance existing cards and strategies. The set will see play but I don’t believe it will represent a seismic shift.