The full spoiler for Amonkhet is up and I have to say I’m absurdly excited for this new set! Being a Magic fiend, I find myself overwhelmed with excitement for any new set (yes, even Battle for Zendikar and Avacyn Restored) but I’m approaching self combustion levels of excitement here. Everything about Amonkhet gets me excited. The flavor, setting, art aesthetic, and mostly its more synergy-based mechanics and interactions.
Just like every other Standard player, I’m hanging on the edge of my seat for the upcoming Banned & Restricted announcement. I’ve tabled testing and tuning until we get a clear picture on what exactly will be legal in Amonkhet Standard. No sense in testing anything sweet and new if it immediately folds to infinite 1/4 kitties. So what’s a spikey constructed player like me to do?
Talk about limited of course!
Oh yeah! This one format pony is branching out and talking about 40 card decks! Please enjoy a whole bunch of thoughts and concepts on limited and how they pertain to Amonkhet!
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve never considered myself to be much of a limited expert, despite the fact that I actually love 40 card formats. While waiting on the B&R announcement, I’ve been digging deep into the hordes of new commons and uncommons that Amonkhet brings to the table. Not to scope out potential constructed playables mind you, but to get a sense of what might be some of the key cards in limited archetypes.
Generally when I approach any limited format, I try to do some basic research on what the consensus is on the two most important questions that should be asked of any limited format.
1. How many lands do you play in this format?
2. Is this a format where I’d rather be attacking or blocking? (And subsequently, how does that impact assessing creature sizing?)
Let’s jump straight into trying to answer the first question.
How many lands do you play in this format?
The bread and butter idea of 17 lands+23 non-lands is a core, but oversimplified, concept in limited. And while it may be the default in many formats, it is not necessarily always a given. Knowing how many lands you should be playing is a simple, but under-appreciated foundation for understanding any limited format.
For example, if you approached Aether Revolt with the typical 17 lands mentality, you’d be severally disadvantaged. Both the format’s aggressive nature and its inclusion of Improvise as a mechanic have made Aether Revolt an outlier in the 17 lands mentality. If you came to the table with 17 beautiful unhinged basics in your Aether Revolt draft deck, there’s a good chance you’ll be getting flooded while your opponent rolls you over with their higher threat-dense deck.
Khans of Tarkir is another example of straying from the 17 lands mentality, but in the opposite direction. Morph’s presence in the set simply gave you an over-abundance of things to be doing with your mana. Playing a morph and making the necessary land drops in order to un-morph it was an important component in Khans of Tarkir limited, and if you were playing with 17 lands you might find yourself at a disadvantage. Being stuck on lands with your measly pile of 2/2’s was a dangerous place to be when your opponent started flipped big fat creatures like Wolly Loxodon.
So what do the cards and mechanics of Amonkhet tell us about its land count?
Embalm in some ways will play like morph in the sense that you will get to play your creature early, and then use your mana later to play them again. With embalm in the set, you should have no shortage of things to do with your mana. While morphs were static 2/2’s that upgraded with a mana investment, embalmed creatures will simply come back as slightly more vulnerable versions of themselves. The necessity that morph required (in that you really really wanted to flip your creatures and upgrade them) is less present in embalm however, and it won’t be dire if you don’t hit the land drops needed to embalm your creatures.
And if manasinks on your creatures wasn’t enough, we also have aftermath! Double your spell pleasure with a 2nd effect stapled onto your instants and sorceries. Which half is “better” seems to vary from card to card, but similar to embalm, aftermath rewards you for hitting your land drops by giving you plenty of things to do with your mana.
And as much as embalm and aftermath pull you in one direction (encouraging you to play more lands), cycling pulls you in the other. Letting you still utilize expensive spells in hand while potentially stuck on lands, cards with cycling help mitigate potential “land screw.” Keeping a 2-lander on the draw is definitely less risky in a format with cycling, as you know you’ll be able to see more cards than you would in a more typical format. It’s been a long time since cycling was in a Standard set however, and for this prerelease weekend I’ll be erring on the side of caution and most likely putting 18 lands in my sealed deck. Embalm and Aftermath look like the perfect mana sinks and I’m not worried about flooding out as much as in most sets.
Cycling also has an interesting impact on cards that would typically be relegated to the sideboard. The classic green common that does damage to a flyer is often left stranded in the sideboard, but Amonkhet’s version, Stinging Shot also comes with cycling. No targets for the green flying creature hate card? Simply cycle that bad boy away for the low cost of 2! Cycling as a whole raises the floor on any and all playable limited card. A card can never be dead or worthless if it has cycling. That’s not even taking into account all the cards that trigger or benefit for cycling!
Is this a format where I’d rather be attacking or blocking? (And subsequently, how does that impact assessing creature sizing?)
The other concept I like to research before playing any limited format is how do the creatures generally size up? Looking back to Khans of Tarkir, the constant morphs everyone had in their deck made the format particularly great for 2/3’s. Cheap 2/3’s were great at both holding off morphs, or attacking through them, and otherwise boring or typically unspectacular-looking creatures were better than they normally were. Formats that have an overabundance of 1/1 tokens often have a similar impact in lessening the strength of any 3/1 or similarly powered-up X/1. Playing a pile of aggressive 3/1s for 2 certainly looks worse when a format is cluttered with servo-generating commons.
Looking through the commons and uncommons of Amonkhet though, creature sizing seems to be, quite frankly, all over the place. There are a number of beefy commons that we typically wouldn’t see in most limited formats. The caveat is, of course, that they come with -1/-1 counters. Ornery Kudu is a 3/4 for 2G that comes into play and puts a single -1/-1 counter on one of your creatures. Does this mean it is most likely actually a 2/3 for 3? Or will you have enough cheap fodder or doinky early creatures to put the counters onto instead?
Honestly, I have no idea! And it’s one of the things I’m most excited about for Amonkhet limited. Creatures like Oashra Cultivator might end up being much better than they typically would be, because it’s a cheap body you can dump counters onto, then sacrifice later for added benefit. These beefy -1/-1 counter-bestowing creatures obviously make cards like Doomed Dissenter better, and might even make unimpressive 1/4s like Dune Beetle playable. Additionally, any creature with deathtouch is also a potential great partner, as it doesn’t matter how low its power gets, as long as it’s still got one!
In another vein, exert also plays differently with our typical conventions of creatures sizing. When assessing Nef-Crop Entangler, do we think of it as a 2/1 for 2 or a 3/3? Both of these mechanics make assessing average creature size particularly difficult, and it might just be a case of playing with the set first and learning first-hand. I’m also interested in seeing how aggressive the format ends up being.
The massive creatures plus those with exert benefits might be enough to motivate you into always wanting to attack. Gatecrash is a perfect example of how a mechanic, battalion, had a similar impact on a format. It was simply always best to be attacking and triggering battalion, rather than hanging out on defense and not getting your bonus. (Plus all the other mechanics and creatures were far below in power level.)
Hope you enjoyed my early insights into Amonkhet limited and some basic principals of how I approach any limited format! Next week we’ll hopefully have a Copycat ban and a whole bunch of sweet Standard stuff to talk about!
Looking for an early Amonkhet Standard decklist that has many of the top players excited? Read this article from Roman Fusco where he discusses his build of a control deck featuring the new powerful Amonkhet enchantment Drake Haven.
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