One of the biggest tensions I have found in Aether Revolt limited is whether to play out your Revolt cards on curve, or wait until you can turn their bonuses on. Sometimes, you might even make a bad attack just to turn on Revolt, and your opponent refuses to block so you still have to make that awful decision.
This decision will decide so many games over the course of the format, and it’s actually very challenging to decide a lot of the time. Think of it this way: sometimes your opponent is at 2 life and has no fliers out, so it’s clearly the play to run out your flying creature and threaten lethal. At the other end of the spectrum, your opponent has a few of 2/2’s out, you’re at a healthy life total, and you need just one more turn before you can guarantee turning on your Narnam Renegade. Here, you’re pretty sure to keep your creature in your hand for the time being.
If both of these situations exist, that means that there are tons of situations in the middle where the ideal play isn’t so clear. Our job today is to identify the factors that pull us one way or the other. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:
1. Do I have a Revolt Enabler Easily Accessible?
If you have an Unbridled Growth in hand but not enough mana to cast both the Growth and your Lifecraft Cavalry this turn, it can often be correct to lead with the enchantment and follow it up with a 6/6. Don’t go too far on this idea, though. Say you have six lands, a Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot on the battlefield, and a Lifecraft Cavalry in hand. A lot of the time, the cost of waiting until you draw two more lands to turn on Revolt is not going to be worth the extra two +1/+1 counters, and you’re better off pulling the trigger now. Either way, it’s best to weigh your options while considering these other factors.
Sometimes, you can only enable Revolt by attacking and hoping your opponent makes the intuitive block, but they won’t always do that. In the event that your play depends on whether they make that block, the best you can do is try to calculate the probability that they will block based on everything you know, and make a decision accordingly.
2. Does It Significantly Change the Clock on My Opponent?
When your opponent’s life total is low and you’re likely to win a race, the clock you put on your opponent matters a ton. Consider this situation:
Just the other day, I was playing in a draft match on Magic: Online (against Chris Pikula, no less) and I made a play with a Revolt card that usually has very little to do with card advantage: our favorite example card, Night Market Aeronaut. Here’s the situation: I had a few 2/3s on the board, my opponent also had some stuff, and I had seen off a Harsh Scrutiny that my opponent had Shock in hand. I specifically chose to wait to play the Aeronaut until I could send it out as a 3/3. Why? I wanted to deny my opponent the ability to use Shock as a 1-for-1 removal spell. This way, my opponent had to choose between having the Shock rot in his hand (essentially discarding it) and killing one of my creatures but 2-for-1ing himself in the process.
The Night Market Aeronaut example above turns a ∞-turn clock into a 1-turn clock, but you should settle for margins much thinner than that as well. Continuing that example, try to think about what you would do if your opponent was at 12. What if they also had a Midnight Oil that was drawing them an extra card every turn, making you want to try to kill them as fast as possible?
“Okay,” you say, “I am approximating that I can turn on Revolt in two turns. If I play the Aeronaut now, I put my opponent on a six turn clock, but if I wait the two turns for Revolt, they’re also on a six turn clock, total. So in the end, it’s hard to tell.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. In this situation, you’ll probably rely on one of the other factors to help you figure out the correct play.
But what if I told you that your opponent has a Hinterland Drake, and they’re not attacking with it? This changes everything, and it’s pretty clear that you should be waiting to play your Aeronaut as a 3/3, so you can continue to attack through. (We’re using the same logic in different contexts to draw opposite conclusions. Tricky!)
3. Does It Slow Down My Opponent’s Clock?
Similarly, if your opponent is presenting a dangerous threat that’s consistently ticking down your life total, whether you manage to turn on Revolt or not can be the difference between tossing out a chump blocker or pushing back with a body sizable enough to stop your foe’s creature in its tracks. Using Night Market Aeronaut as an example once again, say your life total is hanging around 6 and your opponent is swinging in with their Hinterland Drake. You’re most likely better off investing the extra damage now, so that in a turn or two you force your opponent to have an answer if they want to break through to your face.
4. Does It Net Me Card Advantage?
Some games care more about card advantage than others. But when hands are near empty and the board is at parity, getting an extra card or two often means winning the game. And when your Revolt cards can net you a few cards, it’s likely that you should wait a bit to turn them on.
Sometimes, though, card advantage matters less than creating an immediate board presence. Deadeye Harpooner is a Revolt card that is good only for its card advantage-creating Revolt ability. But when your opponent gets out an aggressive start and you stumble, you might have to bite the bullet and throw down your Harpooner. Hopefully, you’ll survive the onslaught long enough to stabilize.
I hope that this article helped you better understand the tough decisions that come from the Revolt mechanic. It’s a tricky thing to do well, and the especially tough decisions can be game-deciders.
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