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A Boy and His Box: New Toys

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Aether Revolt has been kicking around for a couple of weeks now, and it's time to update the Battle Box with some new toys. Before we get stared I want to review some of changes that we talked about in the last article. This will allows you to catch up if you missed last article, and it will give some context to this article since a lot of the Aether Revolt additions are informed by these changes.

  • We swapped Guildgates for Khans Tri-Lands
  • We moved the Signets from the main box to the pregame selection phase.
  • We shifted our focus to developing turns 2-3.
  • We’re also focusing on giving players access to more complex plays.

If all this sounds like Greek to you, and this is the first time reading about the Commander Battle Box, I recommend that you at least read the “What’s In the Box” which is a primer for Commander Battle Box. My articles tend to build on the previous installments, so forgive me for jumping right into things. Once you get caught up, come join us. For the rest of you let’s sally forth.

Methodology

I've decided with new sets, instead of sticking to a strict "in/out" policy, I'm going to add whatever cards that I want to try, and cut the weak links after a few play-throughs. This allows me to be surprised by new cards or unforeseen interactions. It also fits the spirit of a Battle Box project — it's always evolving and changing.

Changes to the Commander Pool

I've been wanting to add some mono-colored Commanders to the Commander pool and Aether Revolt gives us the opportunity to do that. I don’t expect all of these additions to stay in the pool - over time some will be replaced with other mono-colored commanders. I want to try each Legendary Creature before ruling them out, except Hope of Ghirapur. As neat as this card is, it doesn’t have a high enough impact on the games to warrant inclusion. Even if you manage to use its ability, the affected opponent can simply play creatures on their following turn. I think we have to keep Hope’s feelings in mind here, we don't want to subject the little thopter to having to sit on the bench every time someone goes to pick a commander.

Since all of these Commanders are 2-3 mana, adding them nicely supports our new focus of developing turns two and three. It also considers the signet change and makes turn two more interesting. With 2-mana Commanders, players now have a tougher choice of what to do on turn two. This will help to vary the plays on turn two, instead of producing the same thing (signet, go) every time, which can make for uninteresting, and unfun gameplay.

I wanted to get maximum exposure for the new cards, because it will help us make cut decision later on down the line. So, I also added one of each Legendary Creature to the general Battle Box. This will allow players who didn’t pick them as a Commander an opportunity to play with them. I made an exception for Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, it’s too low impact for the general box.

The Commanders

Kari Zev, Skyship Raider

Kari Zev, Skyship Raider has some features that makes her passable as an aggressive Voltron style Commander. The Menace ability and 2-mana casting cost can start to stack the Commander damage on early, especially when combined with a piece of equipment. The monkey, which seems useless at first, can be used as sacrifice fodder with any "Sacrifice a creature" effect. I’m suspicious that there’s not enough Voltron support cards to make Kari viable, but this is a great reason to test her out.

Expectations: Low

Yahenni, Undying Partisan

Yahenni, Undying Partisan carries a strong, and relevant feature in their Sacrifice ability. Not only do they give you a "free” sacrifice outlet for things like Reveillark combo, but they also makes themself indestructible. This makes for interesting, and punishing board-wipe plays. For example, you can sacrifice one of your creatures then cast Wrath of God — now you have a giant Yahenni ready to do some serious damage! This takes me back to a play from one of our testing sessions where Hallowed Spiritkeeper had died leaving behind 22 spirits. My buddy Jake, promptly cast Fumigate gaining 22 life, I can only imagine if he also had Yahenni out! Yahenni also“turns on” Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos, which is always welcome.

Expectations: High

Rishkar, Peema Renegade

Rishkar, Peema Renegade is an intriguing and powerful creature because he comes with an effect that can “go wide”— granting all creatures with counters the Llanowar Elves ability. Keep in mind, this is not only +1/+1 counters, this also goes for level counters, -1/-1 counters, and even bribery counters (my dude can’t attack or block, but still got all this mana). The +1/+1 counter theme has not been fleshed out in the box yet, but it's not needed to make Rishkar a worthy addition. At worst he’s a ramp spell, and at best you can tap your 11 plant tokens (from Avenger of Zendikar) to cast an Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre!

Expectations: Medium

Baral, Chief of Compliance

Baral, Chief of Compliance a bit of “soft ramp” to the table in the style of Goblin Electromancer. He can be as good as a Signet if you have Instants or Sorceries in your hand, and even better if those spells are counterspells. His second ability is perfect for the box, I’ve talked about how great looting is for allowing players to craft their plays in previous articles, and it certainly applies here. The only drawback is that I don’t expect his second ability to trigger much, unless you get Ertai, the Corrupted online.

Expectations: Medium

Sram, Senior Edificer

Sram, Senior Edificer can add value to cards like Sword of Fire and Ice (you know, because we need more value from cards like this) and for the few Aura cards that we have like Control Magic. I’ve been toying with making some slow changes to the box over time. One of these changes would be to increase the number of Auras in the box, some for control (like Darksteel Mutation), and some to support Voltron playstyles (like Unquestioned Authority). There are also a couple of Vehicles that I’d like to add. Sram is a decent addition with the current number of relevant cards, but I expect that he’ll get better as the box matures.

Expectations: Medium

Low Expectations

These are cards that I wanted to try but they are the most likely to get cut on my next pass through.

Scrap Trawler

Scrap Trawler was not on my radar, until I had a conversation with Jason Alt. After our chat, my interest was piqued. I’ve recently added a handful of bigger artifacts to the box, and with the shared graveyard, I think Scrap Trawler could make for some interesting plays. I’ve been on the fence about adding a Faerie Artisans to the box and possibly a Thirst for Knowledge. I think this inclusion is enough to get these both added.

Expectations: Low

Winding Constrictor

Winding Constrictor is an innocuous little creature that interacts well with a handful of cards in the box. However that alone is not enough to earn a spot in the box. It’s the way that Winding Constrictor interact with some of the Commanders is what really warrants an inclusion. I’m looking at you Jenara, Asura of War, and you Animar, Soul of Elements – these aren’t the only ones, but they’re probably the most exciting. If Winding Constrictor ends up staying in for the long haul then, I’ll definitely pull the trigger on adding the Skullbriar, the Walking Grave that I’ve been considering.

Expectations: Low

Herald of Anguish

Herald of Anguish is not impressive to me. Maybe my card evaluation skills are waning in my old age, but I may have to play with this card to really know how good it is. As I was opening my box of Aether Revolt, Jake opened this in a pack and said, “This is going in the box right?” I typically trust Jake’s card evaluations for Battle Box, so on his suggestion Herald of Anguish gets a pass.

Expectations: Low

Pia's Revolution

Pia's Revolution reminds me of Athreos, God of Passage because it has a similar effect. The only issues is that there are not a lot of ways to sacrifice artifacts in the box, so you can’t aim it at someone and then bin (sacrifice) all your artifacts for value. Where I do see this coming into play is on a political and incremental value front. Things like sacrificing an Aether Spellbomb and making a deal with someone at table to get it back, is one way that players can team up and work through difficult board states. It can also be used with Breya, Etherium Shaper, or Cluestones for small incremental value. If this card can carry its weight in the current set up of the box. I might consider adding a Krark-Clan Ironworks or an Atog to spice it’s interactions up a bit.

Expectations: Low

Gonti's Aether Heart

Gonti's Aether Heart is on the razor’s edge of viability in the box. It’s an “Artifacts matter” card that also uses the Energy mechanic. Since it makes two energy for itself, you’ll need three other artifacts to get an extra turn. I’m hoping that we have enough incidental artifacts to help support this card, but I fear that we probably don’t. I will say that incidentally, casting Breya, Etherium Shaper will do the trick. To be honest, the Johnny in me, really just want to see someone Open the Vaults after discarding this into the graveyard.

Expectations: Low

Mechanized Production

Mechanized Production is probably not going to be winning any games with its game-winning text, but with the low-level of enchantment removal in the box, this has a decent chance of making a bunch of copies of something – like say, Mindslaver. That is until someone plays Consulate Crackdown!

Expectations: Low

Medium Expectations

These are cards that I expect to be moderately good in the Battle Box. They are cards that I think could go either way, but I lean toward keeping them in the box for the long haul.

Baral's Expertise

Baral's Expertise is a bit of a wild card. I’m not sure what to expect from this inclusion. If it’s anything like what happened on this past week’s episode of “Game Knights” then sign me up. I think the best thing you can cast off the Expertise is a 4-mana Planeswalker, a Grave Pact, or depending on what’s on the board, a Clever Impersonator. I’m excited to see how it plays.

Expectations: Medium

Indomitable Creativity

Indomitable Creativity is for the Commander personality that I call “the Jester”. This is the person who wants to roll the dice and just to see what happens. This card can also be used strategically, like turning a bunch of tokens or mana-rocks into some statistically better random creatures and artifacts. That’s the beauty of this card! “The Jester” can watch the world burn, and the Spike can get value, everyone is happy! With Red being a weak color, I wouldn’t be surprised for this to find a home in the box.

Expectations: Medium

Consulate Crackdown

Consulate Crackdown is the nice guy’s way of “blowing up” your opponent’s artifacts. It’s not as efficient as something like Austere Command but it also does not affect your own artifacts. One of the benefits of cards like this is that it gives Zedruu players something to donate to another player. These kind of cards are in short supply so I like to add them when I can. Consulate Crackdown invites drama into the game in a way that Austere Command cannot. A well-timed Disenchant can totally swing the game in a new direction.

Expectations: Medium

Cogwork Assembler

Cogwork Assembler has symmetric mana, which means that it can be cast, and activated on the same turn within the box’s mana cap (11 lands). There are a handful of great targets in the box including things like, Cataclysmic Gearhulk, Sharuum the Hegemon, or Magister Sphinx to name a few. Keep in mind that any “enter the battlefield” effects will trigger for the copy. It’s hard to fully conceptualize the impact of this card, but I feel like it might make some awesome stories. I can’t wait to see it in action.

Expectations: Medium

Battle at the Bridge

Battle at the Bridge is a kill spell that I initially underrated until I played with it in my 1v1 Battle Box. I think it was the “Improvise” ability that threw me off, but as it turns out, it seems like a decent addition to the box. It deals with indestructible threats like Avacyn, Angel of Hope, and it gains life. When you combine it with a Mana Flare or an infinite Mana combo it can easily put a player out of reach of killing.

Expectations: Medium

High Expectations

These are cards that I expect to be in the Battle Box for the long haul. I’d be surprised if I ended up cutting any of these in the near future.

Hidden Stockpile

Hidden Stockpile is the type of “engine” style card that I want to include in the box. It Scrys, which can give a player card selection as well as mess with an opponent’s draws. It also serves as a low-cost sacrifice outlet. At 2 mana I can’t ask for much more.

Expectations: High

Restoration Specialist

Restoration Specialist is essentially a really good Divination. For 3 mana you “draw” two cards from the graveyard. It’s an early drop which means you might even be able to do some damage before drawing cards. This is another example of how the shared graveyard really shines, without it, this card probably wouldn’t make the box.

Expectations: High

Felidar Guardian is a solid role player. Allowing players to “blink” permanents opens up a many lines of play and gives the gameplay of the box depth. Besides the countless interactions with many of the cards in the box, Felidar Guardian really enables some strong combos with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (I’m such a sucker for this combo) and Reveillark.

Expectations: High

Paradox Engine

Paradox Engine is probably the card that I’m most excited about playing with. I’m curious about how it will play in the box, but it seems like it going to be really solid. At its worst, it grants creatures Vigilance and may offer some mana ramp by untapping mana rocks. In other scenarios, a player may get to cast Capsize over, and over, and over, and over again.

Expectations: High

Lifecrafter's Bestiary

Lifecrafter's Bestiary does everything. It gives players card selection with its Scry ability. It drops on turn three, which is great for early game actions, and it draws cards! There’s not much else to say about this card, other than I think it’s currently being underrated by commander players.

Expectations: High

Rishkar's Expertise

Rishkar's Expertise is the kind of card that I typically don’t like to play. Most of the time you have to sacrifice a creature (See: Life's Legacy or Momentous Fall) but Rishkar's Expertise is worlds better than those cards and probably one of the best of its kind. This card reminds me a lot of Prime Speaker Zegana, the difference is that instead of being left with a (hopefully) huge merfolk, you get to cast a five-mana spell. The dream is to cast this into Time Warp, I would not be disappointed if I was able to pull that off!

Expectations: Very High

Walking Ballista

Walking Ballista was included because of its midrange prowess and ability to kill an entire table if its controller has infinite mana. It does have some tension with Triskelion, let’s just say, you won’t see them eating lunch together. Triskelion kills a table with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed out, where Walking Ballista does not (without a Sacrifice Outlet). Triskelion is not scalable, and cannot kill a table with infinite mana. It’s hard to say if both of these will cohabitate in the box or if I’ll have to cut one in the future. In the meantime, we’ll just schedule them separate meal times.

Expectations: High

Disallow

Disallow is a “meat and potato” kind of card. It’s a 3-mana counterspell, which will be countering things that cost much more than it. There will also be those moments, where its secondary mode counters a crucial ability (like an Annihilate trigger). Disallow offers an important level of flexibility in a format where you can truly expect the unexpected. Thinking about the role of this card in the box has prompted me to consider adding its elder brother Voidslime.

Expectations: High

Dark Intimations

Dark Intimations is a simple value card, which scales with the amount of players at the table. It’s very powerful, but not in a threatening way. It’s the only card that replaced an existing card in the box (Cruel Ultimatum). The problem with Cruel Ultimatum is that it makes an enemy really fast since you target only one player. Dark Intimations doesn’t do this, instead it causes all your opponents to sacrifice and discard. I really like the ordering of the card, after everyone sacrifices something you get your pick of the loot (shared graveyard, being awesome again).

Expectations: High

Heroic Intervention

Heroic Intervention does a lot of work for 2 mana. It can protect your single threat, whether it be a huge artifact, or a game-dominating creature. I can also protect your entire board from a board wipe. This card is terrifying for the person casting the wrath effect, unless that person is you, then you can just laugh maniacally while you clear everyone else’s permanents.

Expectations: High

Exclusions

I tried to add every Commander relevant card that I could from Aether Revolt. There are some cards that break my box rules (namely no tutoring), which were excluded; Trophy Mage, Whir of Invention, and Planar Bridge. I also excluded a couple of cards that I felt were either too weak or not supported enough to make them interesting; Release the Gremlins, Ridgescale Tusker, Lightning Runner and Exquisite Archangel. All things considered, Aether Revolt was an amazing set for Commander and I cannot wait to take the Battle Box for another spin with these new toys in the mix. If you want to see the full list with all the Aether Revolt changes you can see it here.

Shout-Outs

I have a couple of the normal shout-outs, but I also have a big shout-out at the end, based on some real-life stuff that’s been going down this week.

Tomer and Seth of MTG Goldfish — For set reviews, I typically make my set picks and form my thoughts before listening to anything, but after I do that — I jump right in and consume as much as possible. I typically want to see if I might have missed something, or maybe if someone can change my mind on a card. I found this Aether Revolt Top 10 video to be a good review, check it out if you have a moment.

Jason Alt — He was one of the first guys that I compared notes with after reviewing the set. As you seen above, he changed my mind on Scrap Trawler. Will I thank him for that? Time will tell.

My Father Above — I just wanted to add a small note here about how thankful I am to God for His provision this week. I know that not everyone shares my views on faith (I respect that), but this week has been a crazy week. On Sunday my son Isaac was born 10 weeks early. It was totally unexpected and as you may know, there’s a lot of danger that comes with that kind of birth. It’s been a week now and my wife and Isaac are doing great. It is big moments like this which puts things in perspective for me, and it makes me grateful! I hope your week was as good but maybe not as crazy!

Next time, I’m going to try to make our Commander Battle Box, into a Budget Commander Battle Box! I’ll be honest, I’ve been avoiding this one, because it’s going to be really hard. It’s time to put on the big boy pants and get to work! See you next time!

<3 Jonathan


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