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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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.

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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Breaking Oath of Ajani

Oath of Ajani
Oath of Ajani is a strategy-specific mana accelerator that might just change everything.

Decks that want to play their Planeswalkers early will want to play Oath of Ajani early.

Decks that have a lot of creatures might want to cash in on Oath of Ajani by playing it late(r).

Some decks have both lots of Planeswalker and lots of creatures!

The most obvious use case is to play your Oath on turn two… Then follow up immediately with a turn three Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Lots of decks fold to a Gideon when you play him on the usual schedule… But turn three? That is going to be a straight up game winner.

Cheating mana with Oath of Ajani

Oath of Ajani might be even crazier when paired with Oath of Nissa, plus Planeswalkers that can produce mana. Here’s an example:

  • Open on Oath of Nissa for G.
  • Turn two: Oath of Ajani; between these two Gatewatch Oaths, it is now really easy to cast Planeswalkers
  • Turn three play Chandra, Torch of Defiance. You can [+1] Chandra to add RR to your mana pool… And then immediately play Nissa, Voice of Zendikar!

How would this work?

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar [normally] costs 1GG to play. But because of Oath of Ajani, Nissa costs effectively GG. Oath of Nissa lets you spend mana of any color to cast Planeswalkers. Ergo Chandra’s RR can pretend to be GG. So… “GG” (opponent)!

This is a reasonably tame use case. What if you went G, GW, 2BU instead? Discounts and rainbows are both at your command between Oath of Nissa and Oath of Ajani.

In any case, this is a heck of a turn three! You got to tick up the loyalty on Chandra and probably will have a Plant token to block. Next turn, with a land drop, you will have access to at least four mana (six with Chandra) meaning you can easily deploy two four mana Planeswalkers; maybe an even bigger payday!

Buffing Creatures with Oath of Ajani

The Oath isn’t quite a Crusade. Creatures have to be in play when you play the Oath to get the buff; but it is worth noting that the card is reasonably cheap, and putting a bunch of +1/+1 counters on an undetermined number of creatures is definitely something you might want to do.

We can see playing Oath of Ajani in a regular creature deck… But also in Planeswalker decks that produce lots of token creatures. It can be good friends with 0/1 Plant tokens, 2/2 Knights, Liliana’s Zombies, etc.

But wait! There’s more!

If you haven’t subscribed to the Top Level Podcast Instagram yet, what are you waiting for? Can you afford to miss the impending Flores Swimsuit Calendar?

In the meantime, at least check out our podcast “trailers” … This week’s mostly talked about another Aether Revolt card: Tezzeret, the Schemer.

New podcast up on toplevelpodcast.com tomorrow! Here's an early look:

A video posted by Top Level Podcast (@toplevelpodcast) on

Okay, give “Breaking Oath of Ajani” a listen now 🙂

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The Advantages of Dark Intimations

Dark Intimations
Before we dig into Dark Intimations…


Top Level Podcast is now on Instagram! Check out these two teasers for tonight’s episode:

A sneak peek into this week's episode…

A video posted by Top Level Podcast (@toplevelpodcast) on

So… No swimsuit calendars (yet) but some fun, actually podcast related stuff for now.

Dark Intimations

Like one of the Instagram videos says, Mike is a little noncommittal on this one; Patrick just likes it. Here’s why…

Dark Intimations costs five mana. Its front side produces four cards:

  1. The opponent sacrifices a creature or planeswalker.
  2. The opponent discards a card.
  3. You return a creature or planeswalker from your graveyard to your hand.
  4. You draw a card.

Patrick’s argument is that, five mana against five mana, Dark Intimations far outstrips Tidings; Tidings was of course a Staple in Standard with “just” the text “Draw four cards” on it.

Let’s set aside for a moment the possibility you don’t actually get four cards when you cast Dark Intimations. Obviously you will sometimes cast this card when you don’t have a creature or planeswalker in your graveyard, or your opponent doesn’t have any cards in hand. That’ll happen sometimes… And sometimes you will get a full four in a fashion that compares favorably to Tidings.

The argument is that while drawing a card is approximately the same as drawing a card, forcing the opponent to sacrifice a creature or planeswalker is worth more — in the range of 1B or 2B. Moreover, returning a creature or planeswalker to your hand is more powerful, generally, than plucking a random card off the top of your deck.

The “Bolas planeswalker” clause makes this card very interesting. The assumption is that you cast Dark Intimations prior to the Bolas planeswalker (powering it up)… But you don’t have to in order to get the bonus. For instance, you can discard Dark Intimations to Tormenting Voice or Cathartic Reunion just to load up Bolas.

Lots more from Aether Revolt in this podcast including:

  • What Mike wants to Disallow
  • How Patrick flips Mike’s opinion on Battle of the Bridge
  • How quickly you can win with Pia’s Revolution
  • Building your own Cursed Scroll with Quicksmith Rebel

Give “The Advantages of Dark Intimations” a listen!

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Heart of Kiran and Three New Planeswalkers

Heart of Kiran
Heart of Kiran is one of the exciting new vehicles from Aether Revolt.
We know from Smuggler’s Copter how good a two mana vehicle can be.

Aether Revolt is pushing that limit even more with Heart of Kiran. Make no mistake… This card might be bananas. Imagine playing Heart of Kiran on turn two, then following up with Liliana or Nissa on turn three. You can slam with the Heart of Kiran and still gain ground on the battlefield by destroying a threat or making a Plant.

There are two important things to take away from this card:

  1. You basically get to access Planeswalker loyalty twice per turn. The first use is the regular one; the second is a swing with Heart of Kiran.
  2. Because Heart of Kiran has vigilence, it can block. Got a spare loyalty? You can spring a 4/4 blocker on demand. The best thing? At least early in the Heart’s career, you may be able to steal a body or two.

Some of the cards in Aether Revolt — most notably Ajani Unyeilding — imply a Planeswalker collective deck. Heart of Kiran might be great in that kind of deck, a two drop that comes down faster than any Planeswalker in Standard, and capable of thriving in a context rich with loyalty.

As explosive as the loyalty-leeching alternate crew cost may be, the regular crew cost on this card is challenging. Crew 3 is much harder to hit than Crew 1; Nissa was already struggling in a Smugger’s Copter-first format, but at least Gideon could make 2/2 creatures. Now even [one of] Gideon’s tokens need assistance. Not a fatal flaw to this card at all… But something, certainly, to be wary of as you select your creatures.

More, and three (!!!) new Planeswalkers here:

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