Walking Ballista: The Best Card in Aether Revolt?

Walking Ballista
Walking Ballista combines flexibility, combo defense, and raw power.
Possibly the strongest card in Aether Revolt, Walking Ballista is the true inheritor to Hangarback Walker.

“There is such an incredible diversity of green-black decks, we have barely scratched the surface. The one thing they all have in common — at least the ones that win — they all have Walking Ballistas as far as the eye can see.”
-Patrick Chapin

Walking Ballista had a heck of a coming out party at the Columbus Open! Heavily featured in several different successful Golgari decks, this new Artifact Creature – Construct will have a massive impact on Standard for months or even years to come.

Walking Ballista can potentially find a home in green-white or other color combinations, but it may be at its best in green-black. This is because of the great synergy the card has with the many +1/+1 counter cards in that strategy.

  • Winding Constructor – The best buddy unique to green-black, Winding Constrictor on turn two allows you to drop Walking Ballista as a 2/2 on turn three (maybe even playing a land like Hissing Quagmire). After that, every four mana is actually worth two +1/+1 counters!
  • Rishkar, Peema Renegade – The combination of extra +1/+1 counters and ancillary mana ramp contribute both size and staying power to this great creature.
  • Nissa, Voice of Zendikar (or Verdurous Gearhulk) – These cards are great with any creatures, sometimes going wide, sometimes going tall… What about when they can give you an instant machine gun?

Walking Ballista is a value-laden creature. It is hard to trade with profitably, and is hell on little guys. Given time, it will take a game over all by itself. And of course, any and all synergies with green’s +1/+1 counter cards.

None of those things is the most important part of Walking Ballista, contextually.

Walking Ballista can break up (or at least slow down) the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo by itself.

When Saheeli Rai first uses her [-2] ability to pair up with Felidar Guardian, she will momentarily drop to one loyalty. Even the smallest “Mogg Fanatic” Walking Ballista can execute her with ease. Will that stop an opponent unconditionally? Of course not. But it can buy you time… Time that you can use to just make bigger Walking Ballistas! At some point you can out-damage even a sandbagging Saheeli, or at 4/4 or greater, shoot down the Cat Beast instead.

This is just the beginning of this great card’s story in Standard:

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All the Ways to Play Saheeli Rai

Saheeli Rai
Saheeli Rai is suddenly the most popular Planeswalker from Kaladesh!
What are different ways we can play her?

We’ve touched before on the Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo…

There are many ways you can achieve nigh infinite damage. You can start on Saheeli Rai on turn three and follow up with Felidar Guardian on turn four; you can play Felidar Guardian on turn six, “blink” one of your lands, and then play Saheeli Rai. In either case the planeswalker will copy the Cat Beast, which will then blink the planeswalker. Rinse and repeat.

This combo is exceptionally powerful. It can do an amount of damage with almost no ceiling.

The combo is so compact (maybe eight slots in a deck) that it can be “fit” into not just decks that are dedicated to the combo itself, but hybridized in other strategies. Here are three places you might see Saheeli Rai in the upcoming Standard:

  1. A Control Deck – This version will be full of cards like Disallow and Torrential Gearhulk. This looks to be the intuitive way to build the combo in Standard; the problem is that — aside from Felidar Guardian blinking Torrential Gearhulk, neither card is particular good with the other fifty-two.
  2. A Ramp Deck – Not necessarily a green deck… Inspiring Statuary or other artifacts can work here.
  3. A 187 Deck – This deck would play cards like Pilgrim’s Eye or other value-rich creatures. The advantage here is that both Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian can be synergistic with the other creatures in a deck. Maverick Thopterist, for instance, can protect Saheeli Rai with multiple bodies, and also enjoy copy- and blinking-based 187 synergies.

How to Fight Saheeli Rai

Far and away the most common, and mana efficient, spoiler to this strategy is the simple Shock. Its inclusion in Aether Revolt may be almost prophetic; Shock has always been super cheap and reasonably flexible… It can add “combo killer” to its roles as quick creature defense and pillar of The Philosophy of Fire.

Saheeli Rai drops to Shock range when she moves to copy a Felidar Guardian, even if you spent the previous turn ticking her up.

The combo can be vulnerable to other interaction and removal (even a 1/1 Walking Ballista, if well placed); and Felidar Guardian is just a creature, if four toughness.

The Kitchen Sink

You may have seen Hall of Famer Raphael Levy Tweet about “Team Top Level” …

Cheer Patrick and the rest of Team Top Level on at PT Dublin and all year. The rest of these guys include multiple Pro Tour winners and the reigning World Champion. Go Team Top Level!

Patrick and Mike apparently had about an hour to talk NBA prior to recording this week’s episode. The NBA chats are immortal on the Patreon feed. The whole thing is patrons-only but we excerpted a little Insta video anyone and everyone can enjoy / check out / share:

Bring it, Saheeli Rai!

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Gifted Aetherborn and the “Fair” Side of Aether Revolt

Gifted Aetherborn
“Fair” card Gifted Aetherborn is a huge upgrade to a longtime favorite.

Aether Revolt is busted wide open… Right?

Much of the chatter around new set Aether Revolt is around its powerful combos and mana engines. Felidar Guardian is the most visible combo option at this point (one half of a Splinter Twin-like strategy in Standard), but it is not alone.

Crackdown Construct and Wandering Fumarole together create a single infinite/infinite attacker.

Inspiring Statuary threatens to headline an abusive new mana engine.

The widest of wides…

The tallest of talls…

However much mana you can tap…

This is the Aether Revolt we are all looking at, right?

It turns out that — in addition to the mana engines and sources of infinite damage — Aether Revolt is chock full of some of the tightest, most efficient, “nuts and bolts” cards in many sets. “Fair” Magic here we come!

Gifted Aetherborn is just one of many outstanding “fair” cards in a supposedly broken set.

Let’s talk about Gifted Aetherborn for a second… This is a creature that trades Vampire Nighthawk’s flying for a single mana. Wow, what a trade-off! Flying is nice, and it certainly mattered some of the time, but Vampire Nighthawk’s reputation was never made on the basis of flying.

Vampire Nighthawk was played — at least initially — due to its mix of enough toughness (3) to survive some fights, a “must kill” status as an anti-burn tool, and a continual source of value (or even card advantage) via its combat abilities. To wit: Vampire Nighthawk was a great 3-4-5 setup man Vampire into Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk… The Nighthawk was itself a great stop sign against other Huntmasters.

But cutting a mana from three to two? Sure there is a mild decrease in functionality, but that’s like transforming Incinerate into Lightning Bolt! Consequently, Gifted Aetherborn is going to be an exciting “fair” card that will see a ton of play in a ton of different strategies.

But, like Felidar Guardian, Gifted Aetherborn is not alone…

  • Kari Zev’s Expertise – Mike is already partial to Threatens; this is the best Act of Treason ever printed. Think about playing Ancestral Vision for free in Modern!
  • Kari Zev, Skyship Raider – Somewhere between “a Watchwolf with upside” and “a red Brimaz” this card will be *ahem* bananas (Mike almost wants to play it in Modern)
  • Baral, Chief of Compliance – “It’s okay to play this card in decks with no Counterspells” – Patrick. “This card is better than Omenspeaker.” -Mike
  • Metallic Rebuke – Substantial upgrade to Spell Shrivel; turn two Metallic Rebuke is going to be really good friends with turn one Thraben Inspector.

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Out with the Old, in with Felidar Guardian

Felidar Guardian
Felidar Guardian is going to enable [at least] one new infinite combo in Standard.

Bonus episode!

New busted engines and combo decks in Standard!

A new world order from at least two different directions!

But first, the bans…

We will certainly get to the powerhouse that is Felidar Guardian, but the reason Top Level Podcast recorded a new “emergency” episode this week is the bans. A ton of cards were banned in both Modern and Standard. We devote most of the podcast to the justifications, implications, and ramifications of the bans, but briefly:


  • Gitaxian Probe: This card probably had it coming for a long time; it’s hard to balance any card that costs exactly [only] one Phyrexian blue mana. It mostly just drew you into your Become Immense while reducing its mana cost for free. Infect will remain super viable (but will have lost a little juice, which is justifiable), but the jury is out on Death’s Shadow, Storm, etc. Mike predicts the big winner will be Affinity.
  • Golgari Grave-Troll: When this was recently un-banned, Cathartic Reunion had not yet been printed. Don’t look for Dredge to die completely in Modern. There are plenty of Dredge cards to replace this card, just at a downgrade. The graveyard will be “fine” … Just a little less powerful (which is fine).


  • Emrakul, the Promised End: “She is the problem.” -Patrick. If there were only one card to be banned, this would have definitely been the one.
  • Smuggler’s Copter: If you were only going to ban two cards, it should have been Emrakul and this one (so WotC got that right). Smuggler’s Copter, remember, is the first card in years to post thirty-two (32!!!) copies in a single Top 8.
  • Reflector Mage: Patrick’s argument around this ban is perfect and you really just have to listen to it. Reflector Mage isn’t the intuitive right choice for blunting U/W (heck, they don’t even always play it, as it has neither Flash nor Flying), but it is not only perfect but a contextually better choice than Spell Queller. Trust us… err… Patrick, rather.

The World According to Felidar Guardian

The spoiling of Felidar Guardian has caused unprecedented interest in Saheeli Rai. If for no other reason than that, banning this new card prior to Pro Tour Aether Revolt would be a disaster. So, they didn’t.

The simple combo is turn three Saheeli Rai, turn four Felidar Guardian. Saheeli Rai copies Felidar Guardian (with haste), the Felidar Guardian blinks and resets Saheeli Rai; rinse, repeat, attack for a ton.

The combo can also be accomplished cleanly on turn six by playing Felidar Guardian and blinking a land (so your two mana becomes three, or enough to cast Saheeli Rai). Infinite again.

Whether this combo wins Pro Tour Aether Revolt or not remains to be seen… But it will certainly be something Pros will be thinking about.

Your bonus episode, “Out with the Old, in with Felidar Guardian”:

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Back Thursday, per usual.

Winding Constrictor is Great with Energy

Winding Constrictor
Winding Constrictor will be a two drop of choice.

Silly Mike!

He saw the old…

“If you would get one or more counters, you get that many counters plus one instead[.]”

… line as a “bad” thing.

After all, it is pretty easy to not want Winding Constrictor on the battlefield if you imagine yourself playing against Infect. Every usually 1/1 Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, or Inkmoth Nexus starts hitting with extra force, after all.

Mike didn’t think about other counters that “you” get. Sure, it’s bad when you might be acquiring poison counters… But what about energy counters? All of a sudden Winding Constrictor is great again! Winding Constrictor being great at energy, remember.

Winding Constrictor’s “rate”

As a 2/3 creature for two mana — abilities aside — this snake can be considered playable on the merits. It might not be Tarmogoyf, but it is unlikely to be completely outclassed on turn two. With a third toughness, the Constrictor can intimidate “industry standard” 2/1 or 2/2 creatures that you might see in the first two turns of the game; and even “bounce off” of a Sylvan Advocate that rumbles in with vigilance.

Abilities aside, the card provides a reasonably sized body for the cost. But there are two abilities to be discussed…

Winding Constrictor combos

Just think about the first ability in conjunction with Rishkar, Peema Renegade for a moment.

If you start with the Constrictor on turn two, then follow up with the Top Level Podcast preview Elf, you will quickly have a dominating board position. Winding Constrictor will go from 2/3 to 4/5 and Rishkar will be 4/4! Imagine something as simple as playing an Aether Hub as your third land. You would start by getting two energy counters (instead of one energy counter) and still go from there.

Any cards with a +1/+1 counter theme are game, not just Rishkar.

Imagine instead of Rishkar on turn three, you played Evolving Wilds into Greenwheel Liberator. The Greenwheel Liberator would not only trigger its Revolt mechanic, it would get an additional +1/+1 counter, making for a 5/4 creature for just two mana.

Winding Constrictor is just one of several cards that Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J Flores discuss in this week’s podcast:

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Revealing Rishkar, Peema Renegade

Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Rishkar, Peema Renegade is bursting with combos

The World’s Best Trained Armodon Gnarled Mass

Let’s say you ain’t got nothin’. It’s turn three and you play your Rishkar, Peema Renegade… This new Legendary Elf Druid comes down as a 2/2 with one +1/+1 counter (so a 3/3). That is essentially sized as a Trained Armodon Gnarled Mass. Difference is, this one can tap for G. And any future creatures with any counters on them can also tap for G!

That’s right. “Each creature you control with a counter…” not each creature with a +1/+1 counter (i.e. from Rishkar, Peema Renegade itself)… Any kind of counter! So if you block and get a -1/-1 counter from, say, Infect your now-downsized creature gets to become a Llanowar Elves.

Rishkar, Peema Renegade is part of multiple cycles

We’ve already seen Yehenni’s Expertise from Aether Revolt. Rishkar has apparently got an expertise as well. Based on Sram’s Expertise we’re guessing Rishkar’s Expertise will let you play a three mana card for free.

But who knows?

Actually the Command Zone knows. Check out the Command Zone later today to find out what the other side of Rishkar, Peema Renegade looks like.

All those +1/+1 Counters…

Aether Revolt looks to be thick with +1/+1 counters and +1/+1 counter synergies. Limited Resources revealed Winding Constrictor. It’s hard to imagine a better setup man for Rishkar, Peema Renegade than Winding Constrictor.

  • The Winding Constrictor comes down as a 2/3 on turn two.
  • You play Rishkar, Peema Renegade on turn three; due to Winding Constrictor, Rishkar will deploy four +1/+1 counters! It will be like a mini-Verderous Gearhulk!
  • Winding Constrictor will be 4/5 and Rishkar will be 4/4! More than pure size (which is great for five total mana), you will have additional mana and +1/+1 counters possibilities locked and loaded for future creatures.

All this and more in the recording proper. Check out “Revealing Rishkar, Peema Renegade”:

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