Aether Revolt is on sale in stores and, as of yesterday, on Magic Online. The Pro Tour comes up in another week. You know what that means? It’s time for some sealed grand prix! Many of us are headed out to play some competitive sealed on Saturday. Many of you will head out to the big tournaments at Grand Prix San Jose and Grand Prix Prague. Plenty more will head out for local sealed tournaments. I’m headed to California this weekend, and I can’t wait.

Kaladesh was a great draft format, but it could be frustrating for sealed play. The set was filled with powerful, swingy cards across all rarities. With six packs in your pool, the best commons and uncommons showed up in so many decks. If your opponent led off with a forest, you could expect Thriving Rhino and Peema Outrider to come to play. Blue didn’t show up as often in Kaladesh sealed, but when it did you needed to prepare for Aether Theorist on the low end and Saheeli’s Artistry on the high end. Mythic bombs like Demon of Dark Schemes, Angel of Invention, and the gearhulk cycle showed up often enough, and they tended to congregate at the top tables. Silly rares like Smuggler’s Copter and should-have-been rares like Whirler Virtuoso were frequent headaches. Welding Sparks and Tidy Conclusion were everywhere.

The format wasn’t “bomby” the way Fate Reforged was, but it was high-powered. The best Kaladesh sealed decks were very strong, but even the average ones were solid decks. Aggressive strategies wer more viable than they usually are in sealed. The fundamental draft strategy of curving out with efficient creatures, backed up by removal spells, worked well in sealed too.

Mana was also tricky in Kaladesh sealed. Hitting your first five or six land drops was crucial, but hitting the tenth land drop was detrimental. Without mana sinks, and with so many powerful cards, you really didn’t want to draw tons of lands. But you needed to cast four and five drops on curve. Attune with Aether was a key card in ensuring you drew just the right amount of mana. Sealed pools with two or three Attunes could hit a higher consistency than the rest of the field. At the end of the day, you would usually get run over if you missed early land drops, but you would get overwhelmed if you kept hitting land drops later in the game.

All of that made Kaladesh a high-variance sealed format. This meant it was harder for top players to get a big advantage in competitive matches. A sealed format filled with powerful midrange cards starts to resemble recent Standard metagames. The top fifteen cards of each player’s library determine who will win. The end result was many games where you played well, understood what was important, but couldn’t do much to change the outcome. It’s hard to achieve sustained competitive success in such an environment, especially when you don’t get your card pool until the beginning of the tournament.

Good news is here, however. Aether Revolt really tones down the power, especially at common and rare. You still have great uncommons that will take over games, like Ridgescale Tusker and Scrapper Champion, and ubiquitous power artifacts that get played in all decks, like Treasure Keeper and Untethered Express. The rares you will see over and over are more often small creatures that are powerful but easy to kill, like Sram, Senior Edificer and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, or the flashy expertise cycle, which can be explosive but only happen once and can be answered with Negate.

The format is slower and has plenty of mana sinks. This means you can play seventeen or eighteen lands and be happy hitting a ton of land drops. You don’t have to play that many lands, though, if you have a ton of improvise, Druid of the Cowl, Renegade Map, etc. Unlike Kaladesh, mana isn’t just a necessary evil that you need to curve out. In Aether Revolt, you can find all sorts of good things to do with your mana. You need to build your sealed deck with that in mind.

Speaking of mana sinks, though, there is one that you will get sick of seeing in Aether Revolt sealed unless you have it in your deck: Walking Ballista. This card is doing crazy things in Standard, which isn’t too surprising as it’s a better version of Triskelion. And wouldn’t you know, it’s absolutely crazy good in sealed. If you also have Winding Constrictor? Yeah, that combo is hard to beat. In fact, green-black will be a common archetype in Aether Revolt sealed in part because Winding Constrictor is absurdly good and those colors already have plenty of good cards that use +1/+1 counters. Let’s hope that doesn’t overshadow the entire format, but I don’t think it will.

Color balance generally is better now than with only Kaladesh. In Kaladesh sealed, white and green were by far the best colors, with black being pretty good, and blue and red quite bad. With Aether Revolt, blue and red got a lot better, white got much worse, green got a little worse, and black stayed about the same. Green might still be the best color, but not by much. Energy is less important, while artifacts are more important, but neither affect your color choice as much as in Kaladesh. The prominence of artifacts does justify playing artifact destruction in your main deck, though.

What about the eternal question of sealed: can I choose to be on the draw? I think the answer is yes, but not obviously so. Aether Revolt sealed reminds me of Theros sealed, where the play-vs-draw question was hotly contested. The real test for when you can draw is whether you care what happens on the first three turns of the game. In Kaladesh sealed, you did. Back in Theros, you mostly didn’t, except when someone dropped an early Ordeal of Purphoros on your face. Aether Revolt, like Theros, has some potentially explosive decks, but mostly the games will come down to card advantage and hitting land drops. If that’s true, drawing first is a good place to be. Even if you prefer not to risk the draw in game one, don’t be afraid to take the draw after sideboard once you know you aren’t going to get run over.

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.

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