Every time the Olympics come around, I consider what sport, if any, I could still learn and excel enough at to make it to the games. It's a short list, and only getting shorter. I really ought to stop waffling and pick up archery or the biathlon, starting tomorrow, if I'm serious about this.
I like to think that the citizens of Amonkhet and I have a lot in common because, just like once every two years I spend 15 minutes thinking about what I could achieve at the Olympics, they spend every day of their lives training for and thinking about how they can excel at the Five Trials of the Gods.
Okay, maybe we only have a little bit in common.
The Trials of the Gods are an important part of life—and death—on Amonkhet, and they're the first of two cycles that I'm thrilled to preview today.
We already became acquainted with Trial of Knowledge in the Amonkhet mechanics article, but I love drawing cards, so I'm still going to take a second to talk about it.
Trial of Knowledge only nets you a single card on the turn that you cast it, but it's more powerful than that simple math would have you believe. Though you're only netting one card (drawing three, minus the Trial and the card you discard), you're still getting three cards deeper into your deck and that much closer to finding your most powerful spells. You're also able to discard the card you need the least, or, perhaps, a card with aftermath or embalm that will still have utility in the graveyard.
Now, I could move on to the next Trial, but I'd feel like I was only showing you half of a picture or giving you only the edge pieces to a puzzle and expecting you to assemble the whole thing. That's because I have a second cycle to preview today that works in conjunction with the Trials to create sums greater than their independent wholes.
The Cartouches are a mark of excellence in the Trials, and just as there's one Trial in each color, there's a matching Cartouche in each color as well.
When any Cartouche enters the battlefield, it generates, on average, about half a card's worth of value. That's assuming that you have no Trials in play and the creature the Cartouche is attached to dies almost immediately. Cartouche of Knowledge, for instance, draws a card.
But if the enchanted creature does stick around, then you're getting a full card's worth of value. And if you have a Trial in play that you're able to return to your hand, the Cartouche's benefits (and the Trial's benefits) really begin to stack up. The more pieces of the puzzle you have in play, the better the picture.
While each Trial has a Cartouche in the same color that echoes its effects, remember that any Cartouche will bounce each of its controller's Trials, regardless of color.
Trial of Solidarity is an effect that many aggressive decks want at least one of. The trade-off of giving creatures vigilance for having to cast it during a main phase is one I'll happily take because in a race, vigilance gives you the upper hand. It means that you can attack with your powered-up creatures without having to worry about dying to your opponent's retaliatory swing.
With a Cartouche or two, you can get the same effect from a single Trial of Solidarity multiple times while only taking up one spot in your deck, and that's especially fantastic.
Each Cartouche has echoes of the Trial in the same color, and in this case that means vigilance on the 1/1 soldier the Cartouche creates. You're also adding +1/+1 and first strike to another creature, all for the cost of a single white mana.
The power level of sacrifice effects varies greatly from set to set, and from opponent to opponent, but it's an effect I'm always happy to have access to, especially for only two mana. If you bounce this Trial even once and recast it, it makes up for its lack of pinpoint precision with brute force. If you can't remove the exact creature that you'd like to see gone, why not just remove them all?
Cartouche of Ambition echoes Trial of Ambition's theme by putting a -1/-1 counter on a creature. Sometimes it'll be clear-cut removal, and sometimes it'll be a slight downgrade to their best creature.
I particularly like this Cartouche's pairing of removal with lifelink because life gain can be an important part of control-oriented Limited decks, meaning that both halves of this card work toward developing a longer game plan. Lifelink means that while you're working toward stabilizing the board with removal, you're also giving yourself a life-total buffer to work with should your opponent topdeck a great creature or pump spell.
Trial of Zeal is a not-quite classic burn spell that can either kill a creature or target a player. It's not quite classic because, of course, it's an enchantment rather than an instant or a sorcery. We don't get a burn spell you can point at your opponent's face every set, and it's nice when one comes along to provide a little bit of reach for aggressive decks. In this case, Trial of Zeal can double that reach if you have a Cartouche to go with it, providing 6 points of burn from a single source.
Like Trial of Zeal, Cartouche of Zeal is all about dealing damage to your opponent. If an opponent worried about the aggressive bent of your deck leaves back a big blocker to handle what you have on the board, Cartouche of Zeal helps you both get in with a creature you cast that turn while handily removing that pesky blocker.
When you add the power of recasting a Trial of Zeal returned to your hand with this Cartouche, you're looking at an enormous chunk of your opponent's life total dealt with in one fell swoop.
Trial of Strength creates a 4/2 beast token for three mana, and if you're on a plan to beat your opponent down with big creatures, 4 is a lot of power. A 4/2 for three mana is nice because when it's pushing through damage, it's taking out big chunks of your opponent's life total. If, on the other hand, it needs to hang back on defense, it can trade with at least another three-drop, and often with something higher up the mana curve.
The Trial and Cartouche of Strength make the tidiest pair of all in this cycle since a 5/3 is going to be able to kill a large majority of creatures. If you lose the creature in the process, you still have the Trial of Strength that you returned to your hand, ready to make another 4/2 to maintain your board position. Even better, if the 5/3 survives the fight, trample is a great keyword for a creature with that much power to have.
Cards like these that have important functions on their own but so much more potential when used in conjunction with each other form some of my favorite Limited environments. With interesting interactions and so much potential for sweet plays, I can't wait to dive into an Amonkhet draft and see exactly how much value I can wring from these Trials and their accompanying Cartouches.
And then I'm going to figure out exactly what activities a biathlon includes.