Spoilers for the next Magic set, Aether Revolt, have already begun, and there’s a lot of great information we can glean from them. More important than the cards themselves are the glimpses they give into future mechanics and their implications for other cards. The earlier we know what’s going on with new next set, the better predictions we can make financially.
Battle at the Bridge introduces the improvise mechanic, which is essentially convoke for artifacts. Cost-reducing abilities are always powerful – and potentially broken – so they are always worth a deeper look. Battle at the Bridge doesn’t scream out to me as being a tournament staple, but it looks playable. More exciting is the prospect for even more powerful cards with improvise. If these cards are worth playing, then artifact-heavy decks built around them will appear, so I’d pay attention to the cards that could potentially enable them. Servo Exhibition and Cogworker's Puzzleknot come to mind as two of the most efficient options available. Clue makers like Thraben Inspector and Tireless Tracker are also strong with improvise cards.
Trophy Mage is simple to understand, and its ability to search for three-cost artifacts is a source of card advantage that is surely competitive. It will increase demand for said artifacts, and there’s a few in particular that will be better than ever upon the release of Aether Revolt. Trophy Mage will be particularly fun with Renegade Freighter, which it could propel to Standard playability because it also crews the card by itself. Cultivator's Caravan requires more help to crew, but it’s another vehicle that I expect to be commonly found by Trophy Mage. Pilgrim's Eye and Filigree Familiar will keep the chain of value going. Deadlock Trap is a powerful option even in a deck without energy producers. Trophy Mage could act as redundant copies of Electrostatic Pummeler in a combo deck built around it, and it conveniently finds Dynavolt Tower, too. Chief of the Foundry and Foundry Inspector are two creatures that could be great targets in the right deck.
Heart of Kiran doesn’t offer much of an upgrade over Smuggler's Copter when crewed with creatures because it offers four power for three (as opposed to three for two), but the potential to crew with a planeswalker makes it a very efficient threat. What makes the card particularly threatening is its vigilance, which means it can attack for four, but stay untapped to protect its planeswalker for the cost of another loyalty. It’s a natural pairing with Liliana, the Last Hope, which follows it on curve, and with its +1 ability containing an enemy creature, is likely to stay around for a few turns. Heart of Kiran also plays well with the three-mana planeswalker Saheeli Rai. There’s no direct synergy between them, because making a copy of the legendary artifact won’t accomplish anything, but the planeswalker is a sustainable source of loyalty. Heart of Kiran is also deceptively powerful with Chandra, Torch of Defiance, because her +1 mana ability can put it into play immediately and set up a defensive position.
Scrap Trawler could set up some value in a Standard deck with Bomat Courier and Scrapheap Scrounger, and it will only get better with any new playable artifacts. It certainly helps the competitive prospects of Syndicate Trafficker, which is competitively costed and slated for Standard success if the right support cast appears.
I’ll admit I wasn’t considering Scrap Trawler for Modern, but Ryan Overturf mentioning its potential in that format got me thinking. Modern Affinity already plays Arcbound Ravager as a sacrifice outlet, and Affinity has a curve of cheap artifacts, even down to zero mana, to gain a lot of value. The deck currently relies on Etched Champion primarily as a way to beat interactive midrange and control decks, and in theory those are the exact decks that would struggle keeping up with Scrap Trawler’s ability to generate card advantage, so it could be switched in as the three-drop of choice in the right metagame. I could see Scrap Trawler being effective in the stock Affinity deck as it stands now, but the deck could also be pushed further to really make the most of it. Disciple of the Vault might be worth dusting off, because it can be paired with Scrap Trawler to set off chains of drains that will quickly end a game. It also could mark the return of the sacrifice-friendly Arcbound Worker. It could even improve the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo, which if combined with Mox Opal will allow Mox Opal to be recurred by Sword of the Meek for each iteration. This can be tapped for mana and sacrificed by Thopter Foundry, so it effectively doubles the efficacy of each activation. Adding in Arcbound Ravager as a way to sacrifice the Mox Opal for free will net a mana each activation, which can be paid into Thopter Foundry to effectively go infinite.
I think Quicksmith Rebel is better than it looks for Standard. Its ability is effectively a come-into-play effect that gives you access to the ability for a moment even if the opponent can immediately kill your Rebel, so you’ll always be able to use it has you intend, at least for one turn – assuming you control an artifact, of course. If left in play for longer, its ability will slowly generate value by controlling the battlefield and eventually killing the opponent.
I'm not quite as excited by Quicksmith Spy, but it could be better because drawing a card is so strong in certain matchups, and its higher toughness makes it more likely to stay in play to generate value. These two new cards are promising with Clue tokens or Terrarion, but they are best of all with Key to the City, which will then be able to tap without discarding.
Tezzeret the Schemer is designed for competitive play, and its affordable four-mana price tag and high starting loyalty of five are both great signs that a deck could be built around the card. Its second ability gives it the potential to protect itself from creatures by functioning as a removal spell, another strong sign, but it will require building an artifact-heavy deck to make the most of this ability. Also consider that the ability could be used on one's own creatures as a way to pump power, assuming it has enough toughness to stay alive, so it's also a flexible option that could benefit a more aggressive artifact deck. The first ability of essentially creating a Lotus Petal token is an interesting way to fix and ramp mana, but it might be more important as a way to generate artifact cogs to support things like the second ability or Quicksmith creatures. The ultimate ability is quite affordable, and can be activated just two turns after casting, so it makes the planeswalker a potent finisher and a real threat. It will require loads of support, and that might not even come until a future set, but make no mistake that R&D slated Tezzeret the Schemer to be under the Standard spotlight.
What are your thoughts on the initial Aether Revolt spoilers? Are the planeswalkers Constructed playable? What existing cards do you see as getting better from the new set? Let us know in the comments!