Magic the Gathering: Aether Revolt
Aether Revolt is the newest full set release from the world’s most popular trading card game, Magic: The Gathering, and is the 73rd overall expansion to the game. Aether Revolt is the follow up to last September’s Kaladesh, previously written about by Jacob. As with Jacob’s review of Kaladesh, I’ll provide a disclaimer:
If you are not familiar with Magic, this post will not be the one to teach you. If you are curious and want to learn about Magic: The Gathering, I recommend visiting the official Wizards of the Coast product page, downloading and playing Magic: Duels (available on PC, Android, and iOS), or watching any number of YouTube series about the game. You can also contact me personally if you wish.
This will not be a standard review with a rating, as Magic sets are not easy to rate as a whole. The set itself has not been fully released yet, and is not allowed in official gameplay until this Friday. In addition to that, there are myriad of play styles found throughout the game’s player base, no one player is like any other, and last but not least, cards from this set may not interact well within this set, but may be extremely powerful when combined with cards from previously released sets.
Art, Setting, & Storyline
As always, the art in Magic is wonderful and full of detail, but unlike the sense of wonder that a lot of the art of Kaladesh brought us, Aether Revolt has a sense of reality. A sense of urgency. This is a revolt, this is a revolution. The time for wonder and awe is over. Now we fight. This is a message that a lot of the art of the set sends out, especially when you compare the key art of the set, which features Chandra Nalaar, our favorite pyromancer, leading a group of renegades into battle as consulate banners hang on surrounding buildings, some tattered and burned. The renegades have also repurposed the symbol of the consulate for themselves by simply turning it upside-down.
Following where Kaladesh left off, Aether Revolt has the Gatewatch, or, as fans have dubbed it, "the Jacetice League," fighting against the oppressive and controlling Consulate of Ghirapur, a city on the plane of Kaladesh.
The Consulate, using the planeswalker Tezzeret as the head judge for the Inventor’s Fair, has stolen all of the inventions and locked down the city of Ghirapur. After the Consulate restricts the use of aether, a facet of everyday life on Kaladesh, The Gatewatch with the aid of Renegade Prime (and Chandra's mother) Pia Nalaar lead the people of Ghirapur to revolt. On Kaladesh, everything runs on aether. From factories, to trains, skyships, and even automobiles. Without the aether, life itself seems to stop moving for the people.
If you want to catch up on the story to Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, head to the official pages for either of the respective products on the Wizards of the Coast website. Kaladesh can be found here, and Aether Revolt here. My personal favorite story entry in the Aether Revolt saga so far is "Burn," written by Chris L'Etoile.
I can’t say for certain, but following Aether Revolt, I think that a certain evil dragon planeswalker is going to show back up. The next block, Amonkhet, takes place on the plane of the same name, which is ruled over by said evil dragon planeswalker, and Tezerret (the main villain of Kaladesh/Aether Revolt) is his lackey. We also got a card that directly references said evil dragon planeswalker in this set. Will the Gatewatch be able to withstand their next test? Or will Bolas break them?
New & Returning Mechanics
Revolt can take a lot of different forms! Sometimes letting creatures hit the field more powerful than they might normally be, or maybe as a bonus effect on an instant or sorcery spell! Revolt will trigger only if a permanent you control has left the field of play in a given turn.
Improvise is a brand new mechanic that allows you to tap your artifacts to pay for a spell’s casting cost, but only after you’ve finished activating the mana abilities of your lands and any creatures. This mechanic reminds me a lot of Delve, in that it might let you cast a large, powerful spell much earlier in the game than you would normally be able to. For example, you could cast Herald of Anguish here as early as turn 3 with the right setup on the field. It looks like a lot of fun!
Vehicles return from Kaladesh and the mechanic itself remains largely the same. A vehicle sits on the battlefield as an artifact until it is “crewed” by a creature you control so that it can become a creature itself. I’m particularly interested in the new legendary vehicle, Heart of Kiran, as it’s crew cost can be paid by removing a loyalty counter from a planeswalker you control. Something about this just screams “WEATHERLIGHT!!!” in the back of my head.
Also returning from Kaladesh is energy! Energy can be gathered through myriad sources and can be spent in myriad ways! A new legendary artifact even lets you spend your energy to take an extra turn, and if there’s one thing I love doing in Magic, it’s taking extra turns.
A cycle is usually a set of cards, one of each color, that all do something similar or have a very similar effect. Aether Revolt has three new card cycles.
The expertise cycle is a cycle of five sorcery cards in Aether Revolt that all have a significant impact on the field, followed by letting you cast a card for free from your hand. My favorite card among this cycle is Yahenni’s Expertise as most of the time in a situation where the card will be played, it will have a massive impact on the field. I’m also fond of Sram’s Expertise though, as it gives you additional creatures that let you pay Improvise costs, as well as certain card's Escalate costs from Eldritch Moon.
The implement cycle was designed, as noted by Wizard of the Coast, to represent what an artisan or engineer would do without a set of finely-crafted tools. Each implement has an activated ability in a single color. This however, in a sense, “breaks” them, but you get a brand new card when they “break”!
Just as with the implements and expertise cycles, the automatons are a five-card cycle. Each automaton, like the implements, has an activated ability. However, unlike the implements, the automatons don’t break to use them. None of these cards are particularly impressive or powerful, but in the right situation, as everything turns out to be in Magic, they might just help you win the game.
For both events, I ended up having to build a red/white deck. The deck I built on Friday evening was far more reactive than it should have been, and after having lost the first two rounds, I dropped the event because it was 3am, I was tired, and I wanted food. Saturday went a bit better for me, I ended up going 3-2, but failing to make the cut to top 8 for any prize payout. But I had a lot of fun with the new cards.
Ultimately, I’m interested to see where the game goes right now in every format. There are a lot of very good cards that were printed in Aether Revolt. Coupled with the recent banned & restricted announcement that Wizards recently put out that is in effect this coming Friday, I think that things will shift for a little while before a new meta is established in the competitive formats of the game, as this is what usually happens after a set’s release.