The Pro Tour is in the books, and we now have a draft metagame for Aether Revolt. People were split on what to do in Kaladesh draft. Did the small set change things up? You know it. But how much?
Let’s ask the top eight from the Pro Tour what they think of the draft format. “What’s the key to drafting Aether Revolt/Kaladesh?” This was one of the questions posed by coverage staff in the top eight player biographies. Here’s my paraphrase of what each said:
- Lucas Esper Berthaud: I don’t know.
- Liu Yuchen: I don’t know.
- Jan Kzandr: Draft the open archetype.
- Eduardo Sajgalik: Draft the open archetype.
- Martin Juza: Draft the open archetype/I don’t know.
- Donald Smith: Read signals pack one to see what will be open in pack three.
- Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Take enablers before payoffs.
- Marcio Carvalho: Play a nonwhite aggressive deck.
These responses say a lot more than they seem. “I don’t know” and “stay open” are pretty close to the same thing, since looking for the open colors is what you do when you don’t have a specific plan going into the draft. Paulo’s comment is along this vein too—he also said that every color was good—with the added insight that the enablers that turn on synergies in your deck are more important to pick up first.
Donald Smith makes a good point about how to read signals, which also hits at a fundamental truth of the format: Kaladesh has more powerful cards than Aether Revolt. Whatever color that flows to you in pack one will likely also be open in pack three, where the rewards will be higher. Kaladesh has a lot of strong rares. You are very likely to get passed strong on-color rares in pack three if you read signals properly. The big Kaladesh bombs tend to cost at least four mana, so it is nice to be able to bank on filling the top of your curve later in the draft.
And thus to Marcio’s comment. The format can be fast, and aggression is rewarded. To do that, you need to curve out. And to do that, you need plenty of two drops. Kaladesh has a lot, but now you only get one pack. Plus, with good two drops more scarce in Aether Revolt, many drafters will be desperate to pick up good twos in Kaladesh. This is another reason why bomb rares get passed around—when you really need a two drop, you have to take them early in pack three.
Marcio also calls out white as the weakest color, and I agree. White is very deep in Kaladesh, but got much less power in Aether Revolt. Even though white is usually a good aggressive color, and it still pairs well with red, it’s creatures and tricks don’t quite line up as well as they used to. It’s funny, white got weaker and more controlling, while blue got stronger and more aggressive. Blue and red were the weakest colors in Kaladesh, but got the most help in Aether Revolt. Green is still strong, but not as deep at common in the first two packs, thus harder to fight over during the draft. Black stayed about the same.
Paulo is right that all the colors are good, Marcio is right that white is the weakest color now, and everyone else is right that reading signals while being open to anything is the way to go. But what does that mean? As I discussed above, it is important to develop your gameplan in the early turns using your mana as much as possible. You have to have good plays on turn two, and one mana spells play a much bigger role than they usually do in draft. You really want to have your first three turns mapped out well after the two Aether Revolt packs. Kaladesh can bump your power and provide key cards for your archetype. If you’re the only drafter in your color pair, you will get hooked up.
Improvise has proven to be a great mechanic. Mana reduction? Who could have guessed? The mechanic only appears in blue, black, and red, which also happen to be strong colors to draft. In an aggressive improivse deck, you can seize tempo by playing Sweatworks Brawler and Bastion Inventor ahead of the curve. Turn three Maverick Thopterists feel really good. In controlling improvise builds, Fen Hauler and Aether Poisoner can lock up the ground while Metallic Rebuke and lets you spend most of your mana developing your board while still holding up counter magic. All of the Grixis puzzleknots and implements are great. Even the lowly Glassblower’s Puzzleknot goes a long way to hitting a turn three Sweatworks Brawler, while the extra energy keeps Aether Chaser and friends pumping out servos. Fireforger’s Puzzleknot and Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot are straight gas.
Revolt, however, has been less impressive. There are a few great revolt cards, like Lifecraft Cavalry and Vengeful Rebel. Others, from Airdrop Aeronauts down to Hidden Herbalists, are pretty good but mostly not worth spending resources to trigger revolt. White-green is the color pair most heavily focused on revolt, and those colors also happen to be weaker in Aether Revolt because of it. You can still make great revolt decks, but they aren’t any better than good versions of other archetypes, and they are really bad when you are behind and can’t afford to set up revolt when you need it. The go-wide strategy got a lot weaker with so many fewer fabricate creatures and copies of Inspired Charge.
Green is interesting, because it was the best color in Kaladesh and is still quite strong in Aether Revolt. However, the power of green in the small set is more concentrated at uncommon and rare, with a decent but not deep pool of commons. I really like Scrounging Bandar, and look for late copies to suggest green is open, but the rest of the commons are hard to pick early. Everyone still knows green is great, though, making it overdrafted. Combine fewer commons with greater demand for power cards, and it is hard to assemble a green deck unless nobody else does.
All of this pushes me strongly to favor improvise decks in grixis colors. If green is open, I’ll happily play it. It takes some good signals to get me into white, but at least you get rewarded in Kaladesh if you’re the only white drafter. The real power of drafting improvise lies in the artifacts. Staying open means taking colorless cards whenever you can, and every artifact has additional value in an improvise deck. I suspect blue-red will get harder to draft as more people figure this out, but in general I’m happy taking Aether Chaser and Implement of Combustion early in pack one.
And finally, just like Zach Barash told you last week, Renegade Map is really good. Take it highly, play less lands, draw more spells, cast them more easily, and profit. Go forth and explore Aether Revolt draft. I’ve enjoyed exploring the format so far, and I’m excited to see how the draft metagame evolves over the next couple months. Will green stop being overdrafted? Will implements be first picks? We get another Limited grand prix with these cards next month in Orlando, and I’m stoked to see where the metagame goes. I’ll see you there!
Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.