CFB Ice’s Rejected Pro Tour Aether Revolt Brews

After each Pro Tour, I bring you the decks we tried during testing but ended up not playing. This time, we didn’t have particularly innovative lists, but there were a few that we rejected based on our expected metagame, which I believe would have been very good in the actual metagame at the event.

Let’s start with the deck I would play if I had a tournament tomorrow.

U/R Zombies

Potential sideboard cards:

This deck is modeled after the French build from PT Kaladesh, and is almost identical to the version played at GP Denver by Andrew Wolbers. I tried to incorporate Aether Revolt cards, but the deck is so tight that there’s basically nothing you can add. It feels bad to play a deck with no new cards, but I think it’s pretty good.

How it Works

This deck consists of throwing a Skaab in the graveyard and eventually reanimating it alongside a couple of Prized Amalgams, with a Deep-Fiend to tap your opponent out and close the game. It’s very reliant on a first discard outlet (either Tormenting Voice, Cathartic Reunion, Lightning Axe, or the often-forgotten discard step), but once you get 1 Skaab in the graveyard, then you should have no trouble getting everything else in place. In most of the games, it looks like you’re losing by a lot until turn 4 when you turn the tables on your opponent. This deck mulligans aggressively, and the average starting hand size is closer to 6 cards than 7.

U/R Zombies has one enormous strength in a field of Mardu and B/G: Kozilek’s Return. The ability to throw Kozilek’s Return in the graveyard basically at will, coupled with flashing it back at instant speed is devastating against those 2 decks. Once you’re doing your thing, you will trump whatever almost anyone else is doing, which is why this deck can afford to play a card like Fevered Visions.

Why We Didn’t Play It

The deck had trouble with blue cards, especially Negate and Disallow. Originally I thought it’d be great against decks like U/R and Grixis since you have recurring threats, but Disallow changes everything, because they can stop a Skaab from returning and that will also stop your Prized Amalgams, and Torrential Gearhulk means you don’t have all the time in the world. Jeskai Saheeli was also problematic, because Negate targeting your Cathartic Reunion was very bad for you (hence why we played Key to the City sideboard), and we didn’t want to play a deck that felt disadvantaged versus Saheeli.

What It Needs

U/R Zombies needs a metagame with few Negates and even fewer Disallows. This seems to be the exact metagame we’re in, so I expect this deck to be very good at least in the immediate future.

Jeskai Saheeli

Potential sideboard cards:

This is likely the version of Jeskai Saheeli I would have played if I had played the deck. The main difference between this and other versions is that I expected a field with a lot of mirror matches, and thus wanted 4 Negates.

How It Works

This is a control deck with a combo kill. You can win the long game with counterspells, Glimmers, and Gearhulks, but the threat of a Saheeli + Felidar Guardian combo looms at every stage. If you’re on the play and cast turn-3 Saheeli, what is your opponent to do? They can hold their Unlicensed Disintegration up, but that’s usually great for you, as you’re the one with a planeswalker and the one who wants to develop your lands without any pressure on your life total. The opponent is usually forced to tap out and hope you don’t have it, and then if you do have it, you just win the game.

Why We Didn’t Play It

There were 3 main reasons: first, I didn’t want to play the deck everyone was gunning for. Sometimes people think they have a deck beat and they are just playing against bad opposition (e.g., Faeries), and this could certainly be the case here (I didn’t think cards like Authority of the Consuls were very good, for example), but this deck was so popular in the weeks leading up to the tournament that no one would play something that had a horrible matchup to it. As a result, a lot of the free wins that you would normally expect from playing a deck like this would disappear.

Secondly, I couldn’t find a sideboard plan that I loved for the mirror. Sure, I’d be good against it with my 4 main-deck Negates, but they would match me post-board, and I estimated that people would just have everything I had. If anything, my advantage would be small.

Third, it was bad against Mardu, a matchup I expected to be popular (though not nearly as popular as it actually ended up being). You can make your matchup against Mardu good post-board, but it’s not free, and I wanted to make my deck strong for the mirror, which left me no slots.

What Needs to Happen For It to Be Good

You need to be able to target one specific metagame. If you have to worry about the mirror and Mardu, two decks on opposite sides of the spectrum, then there’s no right way to build your deck. Right now, I think you have to worry about Mardu and B/G more, which is a good place to be since those decks require the same type of cards. If I were to play Jeskai Saheeli in the near future, I’d play fewer Negates and more removal, and I’d sideboard Aether Meltdowns, which I think is the best card you can have versus Mardu.

U/R Improvise Deep-Fiend

Potential sideboard cards:

Improvise seemed broken at first, so we tried a lot of different versions of it. This was the one I liked the most, but in the end it was still not very competitive. It’s not running the best improvise card (Herald of Anguish), but it’s more aggressive and can combo improvise creatures with Elder Deep-Fiend for some very quick wins. I also liked that Enraged Giant had haste and was just the right size to kill a Saheeli that had just been played.

Why It Didn’t Work

The deck is just inherently flawed. You’re playing a bunch of suboptimal cards like Schematics and Puzzleknots to power up your improvise cards, but the improvise cards aren’t even that good. Nowadays, creatures are just too strong, and getting a 4/4 for 4 as your payoff is just not strong enough to compete. I’d rather play Mindwrack Demon, which requires almost no setup and is much stronger, and Mindwrack Demon isn’t even good right now.

What It Needs to Work

Right now, with the cards we have, I don’t believe a deck like this can work. There are two things that can make it work in the future, though:

  1. Enablers that are actually good. Give me a good way to flood the board with artifacts that actually do something, and maybe this deck can work.
  2. A payoff worth enabling. Again, this deck can have some draws that appear busted, but in reality you’re going through all this trouble to get something that all the other players in the tournament are simply tapping 4 mana for. You need an improvise card that is way above the curve once you manage to cheat it into play. Otherwise, I’m just going to cast Woodland Wanderer instead.

I wouldn’t hold my breath for either of those, so it’s unlikely you’ll see me playing an improvise deck any time soon.

Grixis Tower

Potential sideboard cards:

We chose to play Grixis instead of straight U/R because we identified problems with B/G’s big creatures. A lot of them don’t die to Shock but do die to Push, and there’s nothing in the U/R deck that can deal with a big Gearhulk, whereas black let you play Disintegration. The mana was never really a problem, so I think Grixis is just a better version of the deck as you aren’t so reliant on countering the problematic spells. Having black also lets you sideboard Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which was one of my favorite sideboard cards throughout testing since people usually have to cut all their cheap removal against you.

Why It Didn’t Work

There isn’t really one major reason why this deck was bad. Rather, I didn’t want to play such a reactive deck in an unknown field. Pro Tours have a way of surprising you, and this deck is very bad at being surprised. If someone plays something you aren’t expecting (say, a Metalwork Colossus deck), your chances of winning the game can approach 0% since you can’t even capitalize on their mana problems. I also didn’t like that a lot of the time you’d trade 1-for-1 for 10 turns and then die to something like Gideon or Chandra, as you drew a removal spell every turn of the game.

We thought this deck was good versus B/G and advantaged versus Jeskai Saheeli, but not overwhelmingly so. You were basically the same deck but you had a little extra kick.

What It Needs to be Good

I’m not sure. As I said, there wasn’t really a major problem that needs to be fixed. It was more of a structural problem with playing a very reactive control deck. I think that if you know the metagame (as you should now), then Grixis Tower can be a very good choice.

4-Color Marvel Saheeli

Possible sideboard cards:

This deck is similar to the one CFB Fire played, but a little more Marvel-focused and less Saheeli-combo-focused.

How It Works

This is basically 3 decks mashed in together: Saheeli combo, Marvel, and value creatures with blink and copy effects. There’s already a 4-color Saheeli deck that runs Rogue Refiner, Oaths, and Cloudblazer, but those decks don’t play Marvel, which strikes me as a huge mistake since a lot of the cards you’re already playing will enable Marvel on their own.

When testing this deck, I found that the Marvel part was actually the one I liked the most—moreso than even Saheeli. A lot of people had cheap interaction (Shock, Fatal Push, Implement, and so on), but many decks were surprisingly cold to a resolved Marvel. You didn’t need any major hits early on since those decks weren’t pressuring you enough, and you could just re-spin Marvel over and over and eventually find Ulamog. If both combos failed, you still had the grindy plan, which consisted of copying or blinking Rogue Refiners, Oath of Nissa, and Whirler Virtuosos.

Why We Didn’t Play It

It wasn’t good versus Jeskai Saheeli. We had no way to beat their turn-3 Saheeli on the play, and they had Negates to beat our nut draw. Once the game progressed, their card advantage + Disallows would take over.

What it Needs to Be Good

A way to beat other Saheeli decks without sacrificing too much in other matchups. This was a constant problem we had throughout testing, and perhaps now that Saheeli is not going to be so popular, you can actually skew every deck a little to beat creatures. That said, there isn’t much you can do here since you kind of need every slot to execute your game plan. The best card you can play is likely Aether Meltdown.


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