While I was excited for the new blue control tools in Amonkhet, I realized quickly that I could not figure out a strong build. So until we find an adequate control package that consistently beats Mardu, I’m on the best proactive game plan in the format. While some would argue that’s Mardu, I’m in the Marvel camp. Not only do they have the better selection of movies, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger just gives you a bunch of free wins, and in a tournament there’s nothing sweeter than free wins.
Not only that, Aetherworks Marvel is just a respectable draw and value engine on its own, usually netting you a relevant spell or creature so that even whiffs aren’t the end of the world. I’ve had plenty of games where I only hit Harnessed Lightning, Whirler Virtuoso, and Rogue Refiners and still won. Nissa’s Renewal feels closer to a 5th copy of Ulamog, since you can hard cast one from your hand shortly thereafter.
My primary issue with many of the Aetherworks builds I played was the lack of a good draw option. Too many of my games were decided by the top of my deck, more so than my Marvel spins. Glimmer was just so slow against Mardu and in the mirror. So I looked to the past for some inspiration and found Modern all-star Cathartic Reunion. It turns out that when a bunch of your hands are virtual mulligans already, trading for 3 fresh cards is pretty nice.
I ended up going 4-2, losing to U/R Improvise and Sultai Aetherworks. My friend Stefan played the deck the next day at his PPTQ and lost the finals to Mardu when he couldn’t find a 5th land for Baral’s Expertise. I haven’t had time to jam many Leagues with the deck, but I’ve been happy with how the deck plays and how powerful it is.
No Servant of the Conduit
After jamming the standard Temur Marvel decks for a bit, I felt that Servant of the Conduit was a waste of space in the Temur builds. What are you ramping to? Marvel? Turn-3 Chandra with no protection? They just sit there and fix mana if you have low-land-count hands, and offer an additional energy source. Except you already have eight 2-drop plays that generate energy. There’s just not a lot of benefit to energy Grizzly Bears when you aren’t trying to play Felidar Guardian or a 6-mana card.
Cathartic Reunion, really?
Cathartic Reunion is a card that has been overlooked from its time in the G/R Aetherworks builds of yesteryear. Heck, Reunion isn’t even that bad against the current crop of blue decks. They don’t have many Negates, and if they want to spend one on your draw spell, so be it. You board one out post-board anyway. Don’t get it hit by Censor and you’ll be just fine.
Why Reunion over Glimmer? One is a 2-mana spell that ditches a land and an Ulamog, or extra copies of something, and you dig deep for Marvel or energy producers on one of the only turns you can take off. Obviously, it is much worse to hit off Marvel compared to Glimmer of Genius and that’s a legitimate concern, but there are only two situations in which Reunion is outright bad. Meanwhile, Glimmer is typically bad until you’ve completely run out of gas or hit it on a bad Marvel spin.
Is the back-up energy plan still good?
I won nearly as many games off Whirler Virtuoso, Lumbering Falls, and Chandra to the dome as I did with Ulamog/Marvel shenanigans. To that end, my next build will try Glorybringer as an additional threat. I’m also toying with the idea of Chandra, Flamecaller as a split card, Wrath, Fireball, or Wheel. She serves the same purpose as Glorybringer, and sometimes you just want to produce threats that the opponent has to deal with. She can also act as an additional wrath effect if you hit her off Marvel early. Not only does this plan take some of the pressure off Aetherworks Marvel hitting Ulamog, but the more resources they invest into addressing these threats, the longer you have to naturally hit 10 mana for Ulamog.
So I had Censor in my early builds and it was… fine. Not great, but it gave you another decent play on turn 2 (especially on the play against Mardu) and on turn 4 if you didn’t have Marvel (since it countered Gideon or an opposing Marvel). Ultimately though, Negate sold me, and it was gas all weekend. 4 was likely too many, especially with my suite of conditional countermagic. I do think 2 main, especially with Aetherworks picking up steam, is good overall.
Temur Aetherworks’ primary selling point is that it combines the efficiency of the energy cards in Temur and the best cheap draw spell in the format. Someday people will get tired of losing to Whirler Virtuoso making a squadron of Thopters. That day has yet to arrive, though, and they keep getting embarrassed by that card. You also get some really good throw-ins like Chandra, Torch of Defiance (which, other than Tireless Tracker, is the best grind card in the deck), and Harnessed Lightning is miles better than any other 2-mana removal option.
Meanwhile, Bant Aetherworks’ primary selling points are Fumigate and Cast Out, which are reactive cards aimed at Mardu and at having a catch-all answer in game 1. Cast Out is obviously more versatility than Fumigate, but at the cost of being a very slow answer in a relatively quick metagame. The other problem with Bant is that it’s limited when it whiffs on Aetherworks. Consistently building enough energy for another spin is actually difficult and devalues your early Aetherworks plays. With Bant, you have more haymakers against aggro and a better mirror matchup, but at the cost of your early game and weakening the namesake of the deck.
The other issue I’ve had with many Bant lists is the lack of good filtering. Glimmer of Genius is slow and while it can dig deeper than other options, it can’t really compare with Cathartic Reunion for efficiency. Pull from Tomorrow is amazing as a late-game option, but all too often the game is decided before you’re able to use it to pull away and reload. The lack of life gain compared to Sphinx’s Revelation is a much bigger drawback than it first appeared. Still, if you stabilize off, say, Nissa’s Renewal, and cast a Pull for 5 or more, you should never lose.
Sultai Aetherworks is a cool deck design with many of the same issues facing Bant. Energy sources are limited in the early game without a Puzzleknot, and it can be hard to turn on your turn-4 Marvel. Rebuying on Marvel later is actually quite difficult, which means playing the mirror is awkward if you whiff on your first spin*. You also have a very high curve, which can lead to hands full of clunky spells—a death sentence against fast decks. Vessel is a nice go-between for setting up your hand early, but unlike Reunion it can’t salvage a bad hand. Ishkanah is pretty sweet though I have to say, both as a back-up plan and as another Marvel hit. If Temur could consistently turn on delirium without significantly compromising the deck, I’d try the Spider queen.
I tried a straight R/G Marvel (read: bad deck) for about an hour before setting the deck down and questioning my life decisions when I played 3 straight mirrors against Negate and Ceremonious Rejection. Since you play a deck with fastlands and Attune with Aether, I see no real upside to sticking with just 2 colors.
The Updated List
Cutting the 4th Rogue Refiner was a tough call, and perhaps it’ll be back in the deck soon. If Glorybringer doesn’t offer enough additional value, then Refiner is the first card back in the deck. Main-deck Dissenter’s Deliverance doesn’t need to be there, but the opportunity cost is so low and it’s good against Heart and Aetherworks Marvel, which represent half of your opponents in the average League on Magic Online.
I’ll say this: Even if you hate Aetherworks Marvel, I’d much rather play either side of this deck over another 6-12 weeks of 4c Saheeli.
Except when the scum online slowroll the Ulamog hit off Marvel. Who does that?!