When Gifted Aetherborn was first spoiled in Magic the Gathering’s Aether Revolt set, it wasn’t hard to compare it to the classic Zendikar creature, Vampire Nighthawk. Not only did the 3-mana flying 2/3 Vampire see a good amount of play in Standard, but it has since sneaked into competitive Modern decks in years since. It’s also become a casual staple for quite some time. What made the Nighthawk so good is that not only did he fly, but he also had deathtouch and lifelink. He could not only trade with almost any creature, but also gain you a couple of life points in the process.
Gifted Aetherborn doesn’t have flying, but also costs one fewer mana to cast. While the Aetherborn tribe hasn’t really become a thing competitively, this guy can hold the ground very well in much the same way that Vampire Nighthawk held the air. When it comes to Gifted Aetherborn VS Vampire Nighthawk, the Nighthawk is clearly superior. But, while we haven’t seen Gifted Aetherborn nearly as much in Modern, it does serve a similar purpose to the Nighthawk in casual play, as a complement to Nighthawk in the singleton Commander format, and of course, in Standard. It also doesn’t hurt that Gifted Aetherborn’s subtype is Vampire.
Was Gifted Aetherborn the Next Vampire Nighthawk?
Interestingly, despite some initial pro hype, Gifted Aetherborn took some time to be picked up in competitive play. After being tested in Magic Online brews consistently, players discovered Gifted Aetherborn did fill a similar niche to what Vampire Nighthawk once did. The first major pro appearance of the Aetherborn was in an Ixalan Standard Blue/Black (Dimir) deck featuring the powerful Locust God from Hour of Devastation and Torrential Gearhulk from Kaladesh as the only creatures in the main deck. The three or four copies of Gifted Aetherborn were relegated to the sideboard in this high-powered blue/black Control deck. Still, despite being a sideboard-only card, its price took off as players scrambled to acquire their playsets. The Aetherborn also saw play in the sideboards of Black/Red Aggro decks performing well on Magic Online.
There was occasional play for the Gifted Aetherborn in the mainboard in some decks, as well. But, outside of Blue/Black Midrange, most of these decks didn’t have strong showings in tournament play. In most cases, Gifted Aetherborn remained relegated to the sideboard as a way to match up against certain decks. Despite becoming a valuable uncommon always sought after by game store buylists and pro players alike, it didn’t see enough widespread play to maintain any more than a $2 price tag.
However, when it did rotate from Standard, there were odd Modern decks that would run it over Vampire Nighthawk purely due to costing one fewer mana to cast. In fact, even in 2020, Blue/Black Faeries decks continued to play two copies in the side board. Besides that and the occasional rogue Mono Black Aggro deck, it didn’t make a huge impact in that format.
Gifted Aetherborn Becomes a Competitive Staple in Pioneer
Going into 2019, Gifted Aetherborn continued to see significant play at the kitchen table and a fair number of Commander decks. That’s primarily because it’s a Vampire, an extremely popular tribe in Magic, and not so much because of its own merits. That all changed with the announcement that Magic was creating a new competitive format, one that would have a much lower cost of entry than Modern. Whereas Modern has its card pool beginning with expansion sets beginning with 8th edition, the new format would begin with Return to Ravnica. This new Pioneer format would ban the “fetch lands” from Khans of Tarkir, as well as some formerly “broken” cards that made a mockery of the Standard format.
The Pioneer format was a welcome come-up for many cards, including Gifted Aetherborn. Suddenly, Gifted Aetherborn became a staple in Mono Black Aggro decks and even has worked into some Red/Black (Rakdos) Aggro decks as well in Pioneer. Various White/Black (Orzhov) Vampires decks in Pioneers have also invited the Gifted Aetherborn to play. Once a solid creature who lay on the fringes of competitive play, the Aetherborn became a welcome addition to some cheap, but effective decks in Pioneer.
With his reprint in the Jumpstart expansion set, Gifted Aetherborn still remains more valuable than a great many rare cards in today’s card. The solid combination of deathtouch and lifelink makes the Aetherborn a tricky creature to deal with in combat, while also giving its controller a few cheap life points when it does enter combat. If you’re ever looking for a two-drop creature in Black, and if you’re partial to Vampires, Gifted Aetherborn is definitely worth your attention.