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Aether Potpourri


People last week were pre-releasing with Aether Revolt. People this week will be releasing with Aether Revolt. So here's a novel idea: what if my article this week discusses Aether Revolt?

Standard Bans

Reflector Mage
A few weeks ago, I discussed what I thought was wrong with Standard. Last week, Sam Stoddard discussed what Wizards of the Coast thought was wrong with Standard. From reading Sam, it appears there's been a paradigm shift in ban philosophy, in that Standard bans might be used in the same way Modern ones already are: "[W]e often attempt to weaken decks in a way that doesn't remove them entirely from the metagame if we can help it . . . we did something similar with Standard and Reflector Mage."

The article also mentions that expansion sets need to have more answer cards printed in them now that core sets aren't available to include them. While this doesn't solve my concerns about the seeding of linear decks, it does acknowledge two things I brought up. One is that some decisions on removal need to be made that improve Standard — something they've moved away from since discovering that conditional/mediocre removal makes for a better Limited environment. The other is that "moving to two-block world" has resulted in consequences for Standard that seem far removed from the original decision to go that direction.

I am concerned that the way the decisions were described — looking at the most prominent decks and their matchups and banning whatever cards are considered to bring a deck down to the rest of the field — might result in some clinical bans just to make an upcoming set more relevant. Obviously, Wizards has to move product and get tournament attendance up, and hope for the future metagame is vital to both goals; that's not my problem. My problem is that it might be banning-by-numbers from now on. If a deck goes above an as-yet-undetermined percentage of the metagame, then a card will be banned to bring it just under that threshold percentage. If W/U Flash had been 50 percent of the metagame and they wanted it to max out at 25, then maybe they ban Spell Queller and Archangel Avacyn; at 40 percent, they just ban one; at 30 percent they ban Reflector Mage. Is there a difference at Wizards between a very good deck and a metagame-warping deck with the new Standard approach? I hope so, but I don't yet have confidence.

Putting the Gist in Logistics

My local game store got to have a prerelease, although not with prerelease boxes. The shipment of prerelease boxes was affected by the winter weather in Portland, Oregon that stopped shipments from going anywhere. The store got a distributor to overnight enough boosters to at least give six boosters to tournament participants, but the extra content of the prerelease boxes (including the promotional rare) and prizes have to wait until this week. The store gave vouchers for redemption and made do as best it could. I don't know if this is connected — I assume it is — but the store also offered ten percent off prepaying for release day drafts.

I'm told that stores around St. Louis, Missouri had the same problem as stores around Portland and that many stores closer to those areas had to cancel their prereleases entirely for lack of product. This isn't the first time it's happened in the history of the universe, but it's certainly (and thankfully) rare.

I've emphasized this before in other contexts, but every store ought to treat its customers respectfully when things like this come up. Check that — every store ought to treat its customers respectfully before things like this come up so that emergency remedial measures aren't met with booing and a flurry of rotten tomatoes. During prerelease time, it's easy for players to equate "respect" with "extra prizes" in this circumstance, but respect is much deeper than that. It's transparency about what happened; it's full explanations of the solution; it's clear messaging when things are fixed. The store owner checked the package's tracking mid-tournament, so by the time vouchers were handed out it could safely be said that players could pick up prizes on Tuesday.

If the store you go to isn't handling these small-to-medium items well, it's going to let you down when something big happens — a fight in your playgroup, a bad actor, or a canceled prerelease. If you have multiple game stores in your area, prioritizing good ownership increases the likelihood the store's group will stay together. If you don't have multiple game stores in your area, do what you can to improve that store. Weekends like this past one were a great reminder of the need for stores and their groups to work well with each other.

That Is Our Magic Color Pie. It Goes All the Way from Sealed to Sealed's Teeth.

As is recent custom, Wizards R&D member Rob Schuster stopped by the store to spellsling in the prerelease tournament I was judging. And his prerelease deck, listed below without lands, was absurd (although the absurd deck name is mine):

Rob went 21-2 in games with this deck, and it isn't hard to figure out why. A beautiful curve with large creatures, some of the best Vehicles, Ajani Unyielding, and Sram, Senior Edificers for card draw means the deck's highly unlikely to stall out. If you wondered what a dream Sealed deck looks like in this format, I think this is it.

For my own prerelease, I lost to a similarly great deck in the first round with a B/W build, the White largely being for two Revoke Privileges and two Decommissions. Combined with a good Black core, I thought all that removal would make a good midrange deck, but the problem was that I lacked 2-drops and had to use two off-color Welder Automatons just to have enough creatures. We rebuilt by swapping White for Green — my green was shallow but made for a better curve — and I went 2-0-1 with this:

Marionette Master
This deck was good at one thing and mediocre at another thing. Marionette Master is a great Limited rare, but I didn't have as much support as I wanted for it. What I did have was four early menace creatures in Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and three Alley Stranglers, and this deck was maximized to deal all my damage with them. Having two Scrounging Bandars, an Inventor's Goggles, and a Lifecrafter's Gift meant I could get my menace creatures to be sizable threats reliably, and cards like Prey Upon and Daring Demolition helped me keep just enough creatures off the board to turn menace into unblockability.

To be clear, the plan had holes — I made a lot of attacks bluffing a combat trick to try to stop my opponents going wide, and it rarely worked. The theory was that Marionette Master would show up eventually and make the trades worth it, but that didn't happen much. When the deck worked, it worked well; when it didn't, it was ugly.

Rob's deck and the before-and-after versions of my deck illustrate a lesson continued from Kaladesh: curve matters. If you build a good-looking deck but it lacks 2-drops, it will be an uphill battle for you to win. Revoke Privileges and Decommission are fine cards, but by the time they could come online for my deck, they were defensive one-for-ones on boards that had gone too wide for my responses to matter.

One of the other big reasons curve matters so much in this format is that the mix of Vehicles is now higher on the curve than in Kaladesh. At common, here are now fewer Sky Skiffs and Renegade Freighters to open, replaced by Mobile Garrison and Irontread Crusher. So for those more expensive Vehicles to be relevant, they need to have crew available before they enter the battlefield — and that requires a bunch of random creatures you'd prefer not to have in your deck.


Despite the hiccups — not only was prerelease product different, but Wizards Event Reporter had some issues in the morning and Seattle-area prereleases were competing with the Seahawks game — Aether Revolt made a fun-filled introduction to the world. A new set plus Standard bans means that the new Standard could look markedly different. Hopefully that's a good thing by the time it's all settled.

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