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I'm pretty much a beginner at deck building, and I'm toying around with a Modern GR Shaman tribal deck. It's too slow to be competitive, but there are a lot of options and things to try out.

I find it hard to decide whether Aether Vial is good in it, and what adjustments I should make to the deck if I decide to include it. Aether Vial seems like an awesome card at first sight (putting creatures on the board for free, at instant speed, for an initial 1 mana? Huh?) but I note that very few competitive decks run it.

Arguments against and for I can think of: by itself, it doesn't do anything yet, and having multiple in your starting hand means you probably have too few creatures. You can only use it for creatures with the right CMC, and you can only add counters, not remove them. On the other hand, it does save mana that can be left up for other things, and instant speed is nothing to sneeze at. My creatures have CMC of 1, 2, 3, 4 (too spread out?) but I don't have many 1-drops, and Vial is one, so that helps. Those are things I see. But I can't decide.

What kind of reasoning should I use to decide whether Aether Vial is worth it in any given Modern deck?

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    I don't have an answer, but this article has a lot of info: channelfireball.com/articles/woo-brews-aether-vial-and-pack-rat – ghoppe Nov 26 '14 at 23:06
  • The other thing vial does is make your creatures instant speed. Such as the use of Vial + Flickerwisp in some HateBears builds. Flickerwisp is suddenly much more interesting when you can use it to counter removal spells or rescue chump blocks. – Affe Nov 27 '14 at 0:05
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Obviously Aether Vial does best in a creature-heavy deck where many of the creatures have low CMC. Having to tick up a Vial to 3 or 4 means waiting 3 or 4 turns before it gives you any value.

In addition to the points you listed above, one advantage that you missed is that creatures put into play by Vial are not cast, and therefore sidestep counterspells and related effects.

This property also enables the Vial to break symmetry on effects that prevent players from casting spells, or affect the costs to cast spells: (e.g., Trinisphere, Standstill, Sphere of Resistance, Rule of Law).

Multiples are not completely redundant: in addition to being able to vial in multiple creatures per turn, you can hold the vials at different number of counters, for creatures with different CMC.

I would say the reason you don't see it more often in competitive play is that simply putting more creatures on the board isn't always that strong of an effect. Many decks with lots of cheap creatures are on an aggro plan, and so Vial is both tempo loss and card disadvantage. The positive benefits of Vial accrue over multiple turns, so it does the most work in a deck that wants somewhat longer games, and also has lots of cheap creatures, preferably with redundant synergy (e.g., Fish).

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Merfolk decks in Legacy are a good use of AEther Vial, because they're packed with 1- to 3-cost creatures and their play strategy is to dump a bunch of them on the board quickly. To take an arbitrarily selected decklist:

Lands:

  • 4 Cavern of Souls
  • 4 Mutavault
  • 12 Island

1-cost Creatures:

  • 4 Cursecatcher

2-cost creatures:

  • 4 Silvergill Adept
  • 4 Lord of Atlantis
  • 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
  • 3 Phantasmal Image

3-cost creatures:

  • 3 Merrow Reejerey
  • 4 True-Name Nemesis

Noncreature spells:

  • 1 Relic of Progenitus
  • 2 Umezawa's Jitte
  • 4 Æther Vial
  • 3 Daze
  • 4 Force of Will

A web search for legacy merfolk will find you plenty of other sample decklists with similar distributions. The point is, this is the kind of mana curve it takes to make AEther Vial good, but it's also important that the creatures have strong synergies, because any random bunch of small creatures doesn't make a competitive deck. (anymore :-P) That's why putting together this kind of deck is not quite as viable in Modern; it doesn't have as many synergistic creatures. You can still do it though.

Maybe there are some cool tricks you can pull using AEther Vial to put out a giant creature late in the game, but I don't see that being very likely, and as far as I know it's never been exploited successfully in a competitive deck.

  • Modern merfolk is also sometimes a thing. It loses TNN, Jitte, and the free counterspells, but is otherwise a very similar list. – Hao Ye Nov 27 '14 at 8:27
  • Ah, well then I'll edit accordingly. I haven't followed Modern that closely so I guess I missed it. – David Z Nov 27 '14 at 8:48
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Besides the fact that you need a critical mass of creatures with a certain curve to make vial good you should probably look at the format you want to play it in.

Things to consider here include:

How long do games last, do you have manasinks in your deck, how prevalent is countermagic, do you need to play around (mass-)removal, can your creatures provide tricks when they etb, are there some special synergies your deck can make use of (e.g. Standstill, Affinity), etc.

Legacy Merfolk is one of the decks that profit from almost all of these points. Since the Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top two card combo is so strong in Legacy Vial is much better there than in Modern.

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