If you weren’t convinced that Amonkhet is a fast draft format before this weekend, you should be now. The top uncommon in undefeated draft decks was Ahn-Crop Crasher, and the majority of winning decks played either red, white, or both, and those are the two fastest colors in the format. Christian Calcano (who eventually made the top 8 of the tournament) stunned the world when he spiked his Pro Tour draft pod with a 10 one-drop deck, six of which were Slither Blade, a card that would be very unplayable in most formats. And to prove his stunt wasn’t a fluke, I one-upped him by winning out with a seven Slither Blade deck the other day:
“Okay,” you may be saying, “it’s a fast limited format, and I can expect to play against a lot of fast decks. What should I do with that information?” Valid question, but we’ve got answers. Knowing the speed of a format can help you adjust your pick order to beat the best decks. You can also use that information to tweak your playstyle, especially in later rounds of a tournament where if you’ve done well, you’re more likely to see those aggressive decks. Here are four things you should keep in mind knowing that Amonkhet is a fast format.
1. If you want to play big bombs, you’ve got to structure your deck around beating the aggro decks first.
Have you first picked a Sandwurm Convergence, built an awesome blue-green ramp deck, and proceeded to get wrecked round 1 by someone who closed out both games on turn 5 yet? It’s a terrible feeling, but there are ways you can avoid this fate. If you want the game to go long, you must come prepared with creatures that block well.
Dune Beetle and Ancient Crab should be your bread and butter. Cards with embalm that come back on the cheap work almost as well, provided you can stall out enough to activate them. While this principle is true of control decks in any format, Amonkhet’s aggro decks are much leaner and meaner, so this is important to the point where if you don’t have a dedicated plan against aggro, it will be impossible for you to win those matches.
2. Cheap disruption is a lot better than it looks.
Speaking of having a plan against aggro, playing spells that make your opponent’s curve awkward are great at that, and are thus better than they look! This is true even if you’re playing an aggressive deck yourself. For example, Magma Spray is a good card already, but being able to remove a threat on the cheap makes it vital in certain matchups.
Similarly, Winds of Rebuke looks like a marginal card on the surface, but it’s actually a pretty good card against aggro for a few reasons. First, if your opponent is trying to all-out blitz you, simply bouncing their two drop so they can’t play it until turn 5 is surprisingly potent, and will likely save you upwards of 5 to 7 damage over the course of the game. Second, bouncing a creature that’s about to get Cartouche’d- a common occurrence in aggressive decks- will both temporarily remove the creature and negate the aura’s enters-the-battlefield effect, getting you a lot of value out of a single spell.
Third, there are quite a few tokens in the set, whether they’re embalmed versions of creature cards or just a 2/2 created by a Cradle of the Accursed. In any case, Winds can just kill these creatures cold. While that often means you’re behind since you’re effectively handing your opponent a 2-for-1 much of the time, it’s a nice option to have when it’s necessary. By the way, I’m generally interested in playing Winds of Rebuke in all of my blue decks these days, whether I’m aggressive or controlling. In a fast deck, it’s a great tempo play that gets me well ahead on board for a low cost. In a slow deck, it’s a flexible spell that can gain me some life, set me up to remove a problematic creature with Essence Scatter, or get me an Embalm creature, an Aftermath spell, or a Wander in Death target thanks to its incidental mill clause.
3. Cards that are good in a race are absurd in this format.
When you’re aggressive and your opponent’s aggressive, chances are you’re both going to want to attack. What’s that called again? Oh, a race. And in a fast format like Amonkhet, you’re going to be racing quite a bit, so cards that are good in a race are going to shine in your Limited decks.
So what cards are those? The first one that comes to mind is Cartouche of Ambition. Seeing this card drop from your opponent’s hand can be devastating to a game where you think you’re ahead, and that’s pretty unusual from a lowly common aura. You see, if you were playing around M14, you might remember a card from that set called Mark of the Vampire. While that was one of the slowest formats of all time and thus very different from Amonkhet, people slowly started to realize that Mark of the Vampire was very playable. If you put it on one of your creatures and got at least a couple of hits in, the game was basically out of reach for your opponent, as you were suddenly at 35+ life. The chance of that happening was often enough to mitigate the inherent downside of auras, and obviously it was especially absurd if your opponent was trying to race you.
Flash forward to Amonkhet, and we’ve got the return of Mark of the Vampire, except this one’s even better. While a point each of power and toughness is shaved off, you get the effect for one mana cheaper, and on top of that you get to shrink or even remove an opposing creature! Forget about the synergy with Trials- that’s just gravy at this point. Trust me, when you’re trying to take your opponent to zero before they do the same to you, Cartouche of Ambition is one of the last cards you want to see.
Another card that’s similarly groan-inducing is Unwavering Initiate. Generally, while in a race, neither player is blocking very much; if you’re in a situation where you have to leave a creature back to block, you’re probably losing the race. However, Unwavering Initiate changes that math. Thanks to vigilance, it can attack in, and then threaten to soak up some damage on the backswing. On top of that, it’s not a creature your opponent wants to trade with very much, since you can embalm it once you hit your fifth land, and then they’re stuck in the same position all over again. The bottom line is that if you’re aggressive and you want to beat other aggressive decks, you should try to make sure you have at least one or two copies of either the Initiate or the Cartouche.
4. All the one mana creatures are at least playable
The Slither Blade effect doesn’t only apply to one card- all of the one-drops in this format are at least a bit playable if your deck is aggressive enough, even though most of them are cards everyone thought were bad from the start. Flameblade Adept, for example, acts as extra Blades if you’re in the U/R version of that deck. Sacred Cat is a resilient curve-starter and gets extra value if you’re the U/W or B/W Zombie deck.
In a R/G deck, Bloodlust Inciter attacks for extra damage early, then pumps your Emberhorn Minotaur and Bitterblade Warrior onto the battlefield with frightening speed. No matter the one-drop, each has its role in the format, even if it’s only in one specific deck.
What’s the best thing to do when you’re faced with an aggressive format? I assure you, the answer is not to panic. Instead, take a deep breath, and try thinking about how the speed of the format impacts what kind of deck you want to end up in, what you can expect to face, and how to play your hand when your opponent starts their curve on turn 1.
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