Amonkhet in Standard

Posted in Latest Developments on April 7, 2017

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Hello and welcome to another week of Latest Developments! We are thick into the Amonkhet preview season, and I am loving seeing so many of the reactions to cards in the set. I was super happy to get the opportunity to preview the cycling duals before the preview season started in full so that people would know what kind of mana fixing they were looking at in Standard.

Amonkhet is a really cool world, and I personally really enjoy all the Egypt-themed stuff. I was on the early design team, and it was fun to delve into all the different mythologies and cultures of ancient Egypt, which were frequently different than what I thought I knew—being that most of my knowledge came from pop culture and some elementary school books. It's always great to see what our worldbuilding team manages to do with these kinds of remnants and how they can manage to make a world that is both new and familiar. That and all the Cats.

Sacred Cat
Sacred Cat | Art by Zezhou Chen

As much as I wish I was here to talk about every Cat, I can't talk about every Cat. I'm here to talk about Amonkhet in a much wider context—that of its impact for Standard.

Standard with Amonkhet

Amonkhet, as a set, is positioned very differently in Standard than Kaladesh. While Kaladesh's main mechanics (energy and Vehicles) were pretty prescriptive in deck building, Amonkhet's mechanics are much less so. Sure, there is some ability to use Always Watching and exert to get the abilities each turn, but on a whole, the mechanics require much less out of deck building than Kaladesh's or even Shadows over Innistrad's mechanics. Cycling, for example, was intended to work with delirium, but you can also just run some sideboard-y type cards in your main deck and cycle them in useless matchups. Basically any deck can run one of the aftermath cards if it can cast both halves; you don't need to build an aftermath deck to make the cards work. If you have a deck that was a little below the line, then Amonkhet may have the tools that were missing for it.

As a whole, I really like sets like Amonkhet that provide a wide variety of tools for people to use in Constructed, and really in all kinds of formats. It would be hard to not find something in Amonkhet that would fit into an existing deck, no matter the format. There is just so much here, and it has a wide range of versatility. Toolboxes are fun because of all the options they provide, and I believe that Amonkhet will bring a lot of options for main decks and sideboards, hopefully in a way that will break the format open a bit.

That's not to say that Amonkhet doesn't provide new footholds to create brand-new decks in Standard that couldn't have existed three months ago. There are the tools to create a cycling deck, an embalm deck, or an exert deck—but there is not the same requirement to run a critical mass of those cards to get the maximum effect, as was needed for energy or artifacts-matter themes. Much like in Theros, the Gods are asking for some amount of attention as you are building your deck, but they can also fit into a lot of existing decks with a few alterations. The black-red madness deck that has been showing up as a tier 2 Standard deck, for instance, can probably find room for Hazoret the Fervent. The Monuments can be very powerful if you stretch your deck in the right way to take full advantage of their mana savings and abilities off casting colored spells—which might also mean playing fewer artifacts.

Beyond all of that, Amonkhet does some other great things for Standard in offering a lot of high-utility spells with secondary benefits. Some of those are the aftermath cards, but cycling also has a lot to do with it. Sure, Cast Out is weaker than Banishing Light most of the time, but between having flash and cycling, you can make sure to get the most out of it when it's needed, or you can cycle it when you just need a different answer. One of the great things that cycling lets us do is create very narrow cards that can show up in sideboards—or even the main deck if the metagame gets to a point where you just need it. Case in point, my preview card today:

Sideboard Options

Looking back over the last six months, I think that Standard was lacking enough strong sideboard options to hate on many of the environment's stronger themes. Graveyards and artifacts should've had more options for interaction, options that fit into a variety of decks.

While Dissenter's Deliverance might not be the most exciting card in the world, it serves a very important service. It's generally a bit weaker than Natural Obsolescence against a few cards, but it makes up for that in the ability to easily cycle itself away if you need something else. For example, what if your opponent is beating you down and you just need to draw your Fumigate? You can cycle Deliverance. Missed a land drop? You can always cycle Deliverance.

Beyond the normal "This is what sideboard cards do" that we can do in almost any environment, cycling lets us make sideboard cards that could actually see main deck play. Yes, in a regular environment, you aren't going to play Dissenter's Deliverance in your main deck. But if the environment is ripe for it (which the Aether Revolt Standard environment has been), it is a pretty easy include into many decks that want to run green. Worst case scenario, cycling it for one green isn't going to put you that far behind in a game. We didn't want the card to be strong enough that you would always run it in your main deck no matter what, so that cost is real, but I think if the rest of the metagame were to stay the same as it is today, almost all green decks would run it main deck.

In my opinion, the best four mechanics in Magic's arsenal are flashback, kicker, cycling, and double-faced cards (DFCs), for various reasons. DFCs are great for telling a story and designing new cards, flashback is a wonderful mechanic for allowing us to balance cards well and give people a fun amount of value, and kicker is just a super clean way of allowing interesting upgrades on cards. Cycling isn't as clean as the rest in terms of story or mitigating mana flood, but it provides a lot of very good options for card flow and for including a different suite of cards in your deck.

Urza's Saga didn't explore cycling nearly as well as it could have, only having one cost and no cycling triggers, but it did know what kinds of cards to put cycling on for interesting deck-building decisions.

Okay, not all of these were the most fun cards, but they had the right idea. Sideboard cards tend to make things better for Magic tournaments, but we don't like the gameplay where they are so strong that games come down to "I drew it" versus "I didn't draw it." The risk to not having strong enough sideboard cards is that people who are looking to hate on a specific strategy have nothing even worth playing. We hit a bit of that over the last six months with graveyard hate because we were overly cautious about hating out Amonkhet before the set was even released. Putting cycling on these kinds of cards is a really good way of making hate cards that are pretty weak but can still see play in decklists. It's not the only way, however. We are definitely looking at different ways of improving the quality of sideboard cards in Standard, and Amonkhet has a few cards that should help with that.

That's it for this week. Join me next week when I talk more about Amonkhet and you get a chance to see the full set.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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