Magic-League is a group of players who play a generic version of Magic Online using independent software, and their decklists have always been my favorite way to get an early look at the metagame when a new set is released. Aether Revolt became legal on Magic-League once the full spoiler hit, so they have been playing with the cards for almost two weeks. At this point their decks are more than just concepts, and they have been refined with actual playtesting. Last weekend featured a "Master" tournament, which drew out 30 players to compete in the new format. There are also decklists available from a handful of smaller tournaments. Taken together, these events begin to paint a picture of the emerging metagame.
The most successful deck in Magic-League events have been Jeskai Control decks focused on the new infinite combo of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai.
Jeskai Control was a second-tier deck last season, and the banning of Emrakul, the Promised End and Smuggler's Copter would have put it back into contention for a top deck even without any new cards from Aether Revolt. The strategy also happens to be the perfect home for the combo of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, which elevates the deck to the next level. The combo is reminiscent of the Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch combo of Modern – which was most successful in the shell of a control deck – and this Standard deck recreates that same strategy. The lynchpin of the deck is Torrential Gearhulk, which provides a potent source of card advantage and battlefield presence, and an alternative way to win when the combo can't be assembled, much like Snapcaster Mage allowed the deck to play a fair game in Modern.
A basic sideboard plan of the strategy is to shift away from the combo, if not entirely cut it, and play a fair game after sideboarding. Torrential Gearhulk is essential to this plan, but the deck will go further by bringing in more threats, including planeswalkers like Nahiri, the Harbinger and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. Another consideration is Wall of Resurgence, which the winner of the Magic-League Master tournament played a pair of in the sideboard. It's remarkable for its interaction with copy and blink effects from the combo pieces, which will turn an additional land into a creature or put more counters on a land. It will quickly accrue a board presence and gum up the ground against creature decks, or it will pave the way for an alternate path to victory.
The most popular version of Jeskai on Magic-League has moved even closer to a typical Splinter Twin shell by moving Torrential Gearhulk to the sideboard and using the space to play extra support spells like Dispel to protect the combo.
Finishing in second place of the Magic-League Master tournament was Blue-Black Control, which is now competitive in a world without Emrakul, the Promised End and Smuggler's Copter. The strategy is equipped with a high concentration of disruption, which makes it a perfect foil to the Jeskai combo decks that are poised to take over the metagame.
Blue-Black Control is perfectly equipped to deal with the Saheeli Rai combo decks. A combination of removal for Felidar Guardian and counters for Saheeli Rai means that the opponent will have a hard time assembling the combo. Blue-black has more disruption and card advantage than Jeskai, which sacrifices space for the combo pieces, so it will be advantaged over the long games that the matchup will devolve into.
The Magic-League Blue-Black control decks are centered around Metallurgic Summoning, which will produce an insurmountable card advantage that provides game-winning inevitability. It functions as a win-condition with its ability to make tokens, and its activated ability will produce massive card advantage later in the game when the deck runs out of fuel. Metallurgic Summoning decks have seen scattered success in the past, but the bannings and Aether Revolt changes the picture and may put the enchantment directly into the spotlight.
Blue-Black Control also gains some great new tools from Aether Revolt. Fatal Push is a boon to control decks, which are strong at playing the late game but can stumble against the fastest opponents. It's absent from the main decks of the Magic-League lists, but it's at least a great sideboard card and an important tool in the Blue-Black arsenal if aggressive decks become popular. Another new addition is Yahenni's Expertise, which gives Blue-Black Control a board sweeper and tempo tool. The potential for plays like Yahenni's Expertise into Liliana, the Last Hope, and then even using the +1 to finish off a larger creature, is too great to ignore.
Temur Aetherworks Marvel was the best deck in the metagame before Aether Revolt, but it has been hit hard with the banning of Emrakul, the Promised End. The deck will be forced to reinvent itself and find a new way forward if it is to survive, but there's no clear direction on where to go next. Initial results from Magic-League show two different directions with promise, one that seeks to keep the Temur deck alive with a renewed focus on Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and another that radically reimagines Aetherworks Marvel as an engine to assemble the Felidar Guardian // Saheeli Rai combo.
The real strength of the Temur Marvel deck was its ability to consistently cast Emrakul, the Promised End, and while Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is a fine replacement as an Aetherworks Marvel target, it's anything but easily castable. This deck attempts to fix that with extra acceleration in Hedron Archive. The new Whir of Invention makes the Aetherworks Marvel plan more reliable, or it can find Hedron Archive to help ramp towards casting Eldrazi, so it's a great addition to the deck. It's also conveniently paid for by Clue tokens from Tireless Tracker, which has moved into the main deck.
The other Aetherworks Marvel deck that has appeared on Magic-League is a Saheeli Rai // Felidar Guardian combo deck built into the Marvel shell as an alternative win-condition.
This deck plays a set of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to steal games with Aetherworks Marvel, which also functions as a Brute Force way to put the Saheeli Rai // Felidar Guardian combo together. The deck is sure to have some awkward draws, but there's no doubt it's extremely powerful. To help add some consistency, new addition Rogue Refiner generates card advantage and Energy, and it's the perfect card to blink with Felidar Guardian or copy with Saheeli Rai. From the sideboard, Tireless Tracker helps the track to transition to a fair game to beat people disrupting Aetherworks Marvel and the combo, and Dispel and Negate protect the combo or disrupt the opponent.
While White-Blue Flash decks have been eviscerated by the banning of Smuggler's Copter and Reflector Mage, White-Red and Mardu Vehicles will survive. Rather than be crippled by the banning of Smuggler's Copter, they have found a new lease on life with Heart of Kiran, which they are perfectly staffed to crew with creatures like Veteran Motorist and Toolcraft Exemplar. These decks are now even faster and more aggressive than before, but at the cost of some inconsistency and Staying Power from losing Smuggler's Copter.
At this point it seems that the stock Mardu Vehicles deck from last season with Heart of Kiran replacing Smuggler's Copter is a very reasonable contender in the new metagame, but there are more extreme directions to take the deck.
This list from the Top 8 of the Magic-League Master is deeply committed to vehicles with its inclusion of Sram, Senior Edificer and Peacewalker Colossus. Each of these works very well with Consulate Dreadnought, which with both in play would draw a card and then turn into a 7/11 attacker for just two mana. Aethergeode Miner is an interesting inclusion into White-Red because it's great for crewing vehicles as an alternative to Scrapheap Scrounger in decks without black mana.
Aethersphere Harvester is fantastic sideboard card against aggressive decks as a robust lifelink creature, and it's something I recommend playing more of in this sideboard and vehicle decks in general. It's worth of main deck slots in the right metagame, and with a Crew cost of just one, it can be supported by the creatures that formerly crewed Smuggler's Copter.
An alternative to Heart of Kiran replacing Smuggler's Copter is to leave Vehicles behind completely, and instead move to a Thalia's Lieutenant-based Humans shell that is better than ever with the new Metallic Mimic.
This deck is supercharged by Hanweir Garrison, which puts humans into play with +1/+1 counters from Metallic Mimic. Metallic Mimic also brings the artifact count higher for Unlicensed Disintegration, which is notable as disruption in the new format because it can destroy Felidar Guardian and Redirect the damage to Saheeli Rai.
An alternative to white-based aggro is Black-Red Artifacts, which has also suffered from losing Smuggler's Copter. It can easily replace it with Heart of Kiran, especially because Aether Revolt provides Weldfast Engineer to crew it. Its artifact trigger provides extra damage to any attacker, which will open up attack options and lead to a lot of extra damage over the course of a game.
Weldfast Engineer is also used to great effect in this Black-Red midrange deck, which also includes Chandra, Torch of Defiance to help fuel Heart of Kiran.
A popular version of the Black-Red Artifact deck on Magic-League gives up Vehicles, and instead focuses on exploding into play with cheap and even free artifacts. These enable Improvise to accelerate into Enraged Giant and allow for quick kills with Ravenous Intruder, so the deck resembles something like Affinity. This strategy supports Lupine Prototype, which might have found its first legitimate home in Standard as an undercosted threat.
Sitting in ninth place of the Master tournament was Black-Green Counters, which is a new contender to the metagame created by the printing of Winding Constrictor and Rishkar, Peema Renegade in Aether Revolt.
This innovative take on the Black-Green counters deck incorporates an Energy theme, which supports both Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra as fantastic ways to generate +1/+1 counters.
The Energy subtheme also allows the deck to include the new Glint-Sleeve Siphoner as one of the best repeatable source of card advantage on a creature since Dark Confidant. Walking Ballista is on the counters theme, and it' an important tool for killing Saheeli Rai and disrupting combos.
Another Magic-League deck to pay attention to is this reimagining of the Temurge Deck that combines Elder Deep-Fiend with the Saheel Rai // Felidar Guardian combo.
Elder Deep-Fiend can tap down the opponent's lands and remove their ability to defend themselves from the combo, which gives this deck a superior ability to protect the combo compared to other shells. Both combo pieces can be cast on the same turn, even at a discount of one mana with Felidar Guardian coming down first to blink a land, so the line of end of turn Elder Deep-Fiend followed by the combo is one that few can beat.
Of the previous top-tier decks in the metagame, Black-Green Delirium was the clear biggest winner from the bannings. It did suffer from losing Emrakul, the Promised End, but this was a far bigger blow to its worst matchup, Red-Green Marvel. That said, Black-Green has lost its best matchup, White-Blue Flash. Along with the new combo in the format, Delirium may have to reinvent itself for the new world. One way forward is to take on a more aggressive orientation that is better suited to end the game quickly against combo decks. Adding Sylvan Advocate as an additional two-drop is a good start, and this deck goes further by splashing into white for the new Renegade Rallier as a potent way to develop the board.
Another winner from the bannings is the Blue-Red Dynavolt Tower deck, which was always on the outside looking in against Emrakul, the Promised End. It has also gained some new tools, with Trophy Mage finding Dynavolt Tower, and Baral, Chief of Compliance helping to charge it faster.
Magic-League events give us a look at the new Aether Revolt Standard metagame, and it's an exciting place. There are many different decks represented, but they don't paint the entire picture. There are other decks sure to be out there this weekend. What other decks do you expect to see in the new metagame? What have you been playing? Share your thoughts on the metagame and the new cards in the comments section below, and I'll answer any questions.