As we leave a world of full of trains, boatships and gremlins, a new limited format is approaching with snakes, crocodiles and hippos. This article is meant as a preliminary guide to Amonkhet limited based on Team Axion’s first impressions of Amonkhet, after the prereleases, a few drafts and few sealed pools. Keep in mind that this early on in the format it is difficult to accurately evaluate everything and things might change as we get used to the new cards and mechanic.
Rather than looking at single cards, I will present the set in the following way; firstly we shall take a brief look at the mechanics and how these fit into the typical styles of aggro, midrange and control. This will be followed by an analysis of the archetypes corresponding to the 10 two-color combinations. Finally, I will be a identifying a few “traps” of the set; these are cards that might look appealing but are underperforming, and conversely at unassuming cards that are actually centerpieces of the format.
The first original mechanic, exert is obviously there for the aggressive decks. It allows creatures to get past blockers that in other sets would have been nullified by decent defensive creatures such as Dune Beetle or Ancient Crab but with exert they suddenly have a hard time blocking a Gust Walker or a Hooded Brawler. Exert is one of the better mechanics, because it fits nicely in what a normal aggressive deck is supposed to do; play some well sized creatures and when the opponent plays a blocker, you can go over it using exert.
While this is not an original mechanic, this set has a new take on it with a set of cards that will place the counters on your own creatures, including on themselves, and are generally oversized creatures for their cost. More of a theme than a mechanic it is well supported because the base stats of the creatures are HUGE, and the set provides numerous targets for the counters in the form of creatures that would be played regardless of their size. Some examples of this are Naga Vitalist, Wasteland Scorpion and Fan Bearer, which are great on their own, and excellent recipients of a -1/-1 counter. The payoff comes in the form of creatures like Crocodile of the Crossing or Baleful Ammit which will vastly outclass any creature that might try to block them.
The other original mechanic and one that represents a form of card advantage. This can be both a defensive mechanic, by trying to trade an attacker for a creature that is coming back to do more, or an offensive one, by providing a constant stream of threats. Defensively, I don’t find the mechanic very appealing because of the difficulty to block many of the attackers having exert or simply being giant monsters as mentioned before. Unfortunately many of the embalm creatures come with a small body that often isn't enough to effectively trade. Offensively, it can still offer viable options in the form of Aven Initiate or Aven Wind Guide, or can be used as synergy engine for the zombie themed archetype.
The other returning mechanic, and one that is both very hard to evaluate and to play. It is certainly a fun and interesting one, allowing cards that normally would be average to unplayable, to really shine because of the versality. Examples of this are cards like Censor, Unburden, and Wander in Death with narrow effects that can sometimes be very high impact. Cycling fits nicely in any deck, and is best on cards like the ones I mentioned that are situationally amazing but often better to be replaced by the next card. I prefer cycling cards that support your main game plan, rather than going all in on it, as we’ll see later with the blue-black archetype.
Cartouches and Trials
Once again this is not a mechanic and more of a theme but I think it is worth mentioning these two cycles. In short, they are very good, all of them. Besides the ones that are premium cards by themselves (Blue and Green Cartouche, Red Trial), they all overperform when you get to rebuy any Trial. Also the set is rather scarce on quality instant speed removal so all the Cartouches tend to overperform and fit nicely in the game plan of their own colors.
In summary, it is probably clear by know that I believe this set favors attacking whether it is with exerted and difficult to block creatures, in one big attack with many small creatures, or simply with big fat crocodiles. This is somewhat contradictory to the fact that there are only a handful of good common two drops, like Gust Walker or Nef-Crop Entangler. This means that picking these early in draft will be key. Removal is also hard to come by, which again limits the possibility of control decks, since blocking with creatures is already rather hard.
Let’s now take a look the various archetypes and try to figure out what they are meant to do and how they actually play out. Keep in mind that I will mostly be not taking rares into account, since a good archetype should be functional just by its most available cards. I will place them roughly in power level order, but again keep in mind that this is mostly an early evaluation.
As I mentioned already, this is one of the best supported decks. It aims to have a constant board advantage by playing value creatures like Naga Vitalist, Wasteland Scorpion or Doomed Dissenter, and shrinking them by playing giant undercosted creatures like Decimator Beetle, Baleful Ammit or even just an Ornery Kudu. Quarry Hauler is a great common for this deck as it mitigates the effect of the counters while sometimes adding extra value to spells like Splendid Agony. This archetype is one of the best as it’s well supported in both colors at all rarities and the payoff cards are really hard to deal with. Its signpost uncommon, Decimator Beetle, is one of the best uncommons and can really take over the game on its own.
This deck aims to combine the great ramp options in blue-green such as Weaver of Currents, Vizier of Tumbling Sands and various others, with the good expensive, mostly green, creatures. The Green and Blue Cartouches are at their best here, since giving flying to a Colossapede or a Scaled Behemoth can be game ending, and all your creatures will be able to fight theirs favourably. Other notable inclusions are the blue cards like Lay Claim as another payoff option and Winds of Rebuke. This is one of the best archetypes since it can capitalize on the inefficacy of removals and has access to a variety of utility effects that offers great supports to it’s threats.
As usual, white-red is the most aggressive archetype. Small guys that start to beat early and and get overwhelming later. Of the three archetypes based on exert (WR, GW, RG) it is the most aggressive. Remember though that two drops are hard to come by, and these should be your premium picks. Whilst white-red has a lot of cards that get better by having more creatures, token generators are basically nonexistent, and you should prioritise getting over blockers by abusing exert and avoiding trades. The payoffs if this is done correctly are huge. Trueheart Twins can lead to attacks for absurd amounts of damage if you manage to save enough of your board until you can cast him.
A slightly different and more synergistic take on aggression. The zombie deck basically tries to deal damage in ways that are hard for your opponent to prevent with life drain effects (Wayward Servant), tapping blockers (Fan Bearer, Binding Mummy), and evasion (Cursed Minotaur). This is the aggressive take on the white embalm ability, combined with solid black attackers and good synergy cards.
A different style of aggressive exert deck, GR wants to take advantage by presenting large threats around the middle of the curve. Cartouche of Strength really overperform since evasion is hard to come by in these colors and killing something plus giving trample can be huge against an opponent that is trying to hold off the big creatures by chumping. This deck can make great attacks in later turns but suffers from the fact that it will have a hard time pressuring at the beginning of the game, since green doesn’t have many options for aggressive two drops.
Green-White Untap Exert
The third exert deck. It is meant to abuse exert by using ways to untap the exerted creatures or giving them vigilance. However, this one is a bit below the other two. Firstly, its game plan is supported by cards that are okay at most like Synchronized Strike, and often just underwhelming, like Initiate Companion and Sparring Mummy. Secondly, the two colors are essentially trying to do two different things. White offers great early aggression, however green doesn’t have good aggressive early drops and green combat tricks or the Cartouche are just not as good when combined with white.
An old classic. Attack in the air while maintaining the ground with cheap bounce or removal spells and effective blockers. Sadly, effective blockers are hard to come by, and flyers themselves are also not abundant at common. This archetype should employ the embalm mechanic, however it is hard to really gain value from the embalm blockers, and many embalm creatures are just not good at attacking either.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t think cycling should represent the main gameplan of your deck and the blue-black archetype is the proof. This deck can generate a ton of value by recurring it’s cyclers, drawing cards and playing the cycled creatures later in the game. However, cycling is not free, it costs mana and tempo, and it is very easy to get eaten by a crocodile while durdling around. Additionally, the cycling creatures at common and uncommon gets easily outclassed with the exception of Horror of the Broken Lands and Shimmerscale Drake. Still I would only adventure in this archetype with one of the big rare payoffs like Drake Haven or Archfiend of Ilfnir, but keep in mind that they will be key to the gameplan and without drawing them in time you’ll have a hard time winning.
Black-Red is meant to be a Hellbent aggro deck, which means the aim is to quickly deplete your hand by means of cost effective cards like Bloodrage Brawler and symmetric effects like Miasmic Mummy. The payoffs, however, are not great. If we could always attack with a Hazoret it would be good but this is a Mythic and therefore it will not always be part of the deck. At common and uncommon level, unfortunately, the payoffs are much more marginal, going from giving +1/+2 to a Thresher Lizard to having a 6/6 Grim Strider. While this might not seem too bad, they don’t justify not having cards in hand and playing in a way to reach the Hellbent state early enough that these creatures can represent sizable threats.
Blue-Red Spell Mastery
The last archetype is blue-red and here we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. The game plan of placing spells in the graveyards could maybe be feasible with cycling and given enough time but the payoffs for doing so are just not there. Even a sufficiently discounted Cryptic Serpent will rarely come down soon enough to be a threat and Warfire Javelineer could be a 2 for 1, but there won’t be many uses for the 2/3 body. As an aside, these are the color with the most insane rares and mythics, so if you get some Sphinxes and Glorybringers feel free to crack on.
Tops and Flops
Finally, we take a look at some of the trap cards that will be played more than they should, and also at the unassuming cards which are instead really powerful in this limited environment.
7 mana for a 4/4 flyer is not a great deal. Am I forgetting something? Indestructible? No, not really. White and black can still deal with it at common, blue can bounce it or make it a 0/2. Electrify won’t kill it, but that is about it.
While a 4/4 for 4 is always ok, the ability is really marginal, since you have to exert what is probably your best attackers to untap one or maybe two other typically weaker creatures. Not a bad card really, but it definitely does less than what it looks and shouldn’t be what pulls you into the colors.
While this seems like just free life, the effect is marginal enough that I would not advise spending time cycling or casting this.
Raise Dead effects are often average at best, but in this set this type of card is very easy to turn on and can provide a lot of value. Again, it’s probably best not to go all in on this, but rebuying a couple of cycled Sandworms once in a while feels great.
Another great cycler. Mind Rot can range from insane to a card that does nothing, and this one can be cycled when it’s the latter. I believe this deserves a spell slot in any black deck.
This card is just great. It is the perfect ramp payoff and is definitely one of the biggest pull into the blue-green archetype.
So that is it for my first article with Team Axion! Hopefully this will help people trying to win flights to Vegas at the upcoming Sealed event in Birmingham, or to top 8 GP Bologna. I’ll see you at these events and will be back with more insight on the format in the near future.
And if you're looking for a chance to put your sealed skills to the test, check out the Axion Now event page!
About Francesco Giorgio:
Since he started playing Magic in 2012, Francesco has fully immersed himself in the competitive aspects of Magic. After moving to England in 2014 he became a Silver Level pro and has been a constant presence on the Pro Tour ever since. Francesco joined Team Axion in 2016, with the aim of contributing to the development of a major mainstay team at future Pro Tours. Francesco is at his best with a 40 card deck, but also enjoys the Standard format. His achievements include 2 Limited GP Top8s and a 3rd place in the 2014 World Magic Cup. Francesco is the current captain of the English National Team and aims to bring the team to another important finish at this year World Magic Cup. His main objective for this season is to Top 8 the WMC and maintain his status as captain for next year.