Building Flavorfully with Amonkhet

Posted in How to Build on May 23, 2017

By Cassie LaBelle

Cassie LaBelle is a freelance writer. When she's not at her keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find her playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

Nothing is as it seems on Amonkhet. A sparkling oasis in the desert is really a plane on the edge of collapse, and a society built on seemingly honorable principles has been twisted and corrupted by our old friend Nicol Bolas. There are gods, pyramids, mummies . . . what's not to love?

Today, my goal is to help inspire your next flavorful Amonkhet brew. I've been building with these cards for a couple of weeks now, and I'm excited to share the results of my experimentation. If you're a flavor fiend like me, read on—I'll do my best to guide you through the fascinating and mysterious world of Amonkhet.

A Trial Run

The more I learned about Amonkhet, the more I knew that my first task would be to recreate the Trials in a game of Magic. They aren't just an important aspect of life in Naktamun; they're the apex of its culture. They're also really darn cool.

Of course, if you're going to complete a Trial, you're going to need to join a crop. Let's make a deck reflecting that, shall we? Glory-Bound Initiate feels like an easy inclusion to me, as does Devoted Crop-Mate. Beyond that, Amonkhet gives us a bevy of other interesting initiates to choose from, including Trueheart Twins, Rhet-Crop Spearmaster, Nef-Crop Entangler, Pathmaker Initiate, Honored Crop-Captain, Ahn-Crop Champion, and Unwavering Initiate. You can even bring along Gideon of the Trials if you're lucky enough to open one. Since crops can be combined or re-formed after enough of the initiates die, it's okay if your batch is a tad motley. All initiates have the same goal in the end.

Beyond that, our deck-building options open up quite a bit. In my first brew, I added all the cards from the Trial cycle as well as all the Cartouches. I love the interaction between these two sets of cards (once you "complete" a Trial, you can send in your next initiate), but I found it almost impossible to get any of my initiates through more than one or two Trials before they died—especially since I refused to award any Cartouches that didn't match their proper Trial. Completing them all is supposed to be difficult, though, right?

In this build, I found that pretending to be the leader of a crop myself provided me with the most fun avenues of play. My goal became to bounce each Trial with its proper Cartouche, and I soon became willing to sacrifice any and all of my fellow initiates in the service of this goal. This did a good job of capturing the needless horror of the Trials, and I soon understood just how horrified Gideon felt at the end of his Trial of Ambition.

If you've got an opponent willing to play along, building Trial-specific challenge decks to fight against is also a lot of fun. I brewed one up for each Trial and filled it with the sort of challenges I expected to face from each of the five Gods. For example, I made sure that Oketra's deck was full of smaller creatures willing to fight together, while Kefnet attacked libraries and summoned illusions.

In this mode, I fiddled with my mana base between challenges so that I could insert four of each on-color Trial and Cartouche based on which God I was facing. Not only did this allow me to help my fellow initiates complete the proper Trial, but I was also able to reward the ones who succeed by giving them their hard-earned Cartouches at the start of the next challenge. If one of my Glory-Bound Initiates ended the Trial of Knowledge with a Cartouche of Knowledge attached, for example, I created a rule allowing it to begin the next game already enchanted by that Cartouche. This created some fascinating game-to-game scenarios where some of my initiates gained power and prominence, only to be destroyed by some needless trap. Ah well—not everyone can have the highest station in the Afterlife.

The God-Pharaoh's Return

I don't know about you, but Approach of the Second Sun was one of the first cards in Amonkhet to give me that giddy Vorthos feeling. Once I realized that Nicol Bolas would (presumably) return as soon as Amonkhet's second sun was perched between the plane's gigantic horns, I knew that this card was a ticking clock I had to build around.

Did you notice that the second sun is moving closer to the horns in each of Amonkhet's full art basic lands? It's a little hard to see in the Swamp (I think it's behind the tree on the left) but there's a clear progression from the Forest, to the Island, to the Mountain, and finally to the Plains. We're absolutely going to have to use these lands in whatever we create. We'll also need to include Throne of the God-Pharaoh so that Nicol Bolas will have somewhere to rule from after his return.

The citizens of Naktamun may not understand the dangers that will arrive once the second sun reaches its final position, but your opponents sure will. How will you stop them? You're going to need a strong interim leader (Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, perhaps?), and he'll need a way to enforce the rule of law in Bolas's absence. The leaders of Amonkhet use Angels to remove dissenters from the city, so cards like Angel of Sanctions and Seraph of the Suns should help. Removal spells like Cast Out and Compulsory Rest seem both flavorful and useful as well.

Don't forget to put the God-Pharaoh himself in the deck if you can. While we haven't seen Nicol Bolas in a while (crossing my fingers for Hour of Devastation!), the Elder Dragon has shown up on cards in the past. Just make sure you know what you're doing if you play him before casting Approach of the Second Sun—your loyal subjects are likely to be quite confused by his sudden arrival.

Beyond the Hekma

Let your opponents enjoy the safety of Naktamun's protective barrier. Much like young Djeru, Nakht, and Samut in "Trespass," you and I both know that the world beyond the Hekma is worthy of exploration. What really lies beyond those city walls? A lost civilization? Forgotten gods?

In one of my favorite Amonkhet deck-building challenges, I decided to make a deck that only used cards depicting life outside of the Hekma. My main color was black, and I included cards like Cursed Minotaur, Doomed Dissenter, Wander in Death, Gravedigger, and the bone-chilling Grim Strider—all cards depicting the undead bodies of cast-out dissenters and the wasteland beasts who share a home with them.

Don't forget about the Wurms, too. Greater Sandwurm and Sandwurm Convergence depict powerful creatures from beyond Naktamun's borders. Sunscorched Desert, Grasping Dunes, and Cradle of the Accursed are flavorful additions to your mana base, while Forest #269 and Swamp #261 are your best choices when it comes to basic lands.

Death Works Differently Here

One of Amonkhet's major mechanical innovations, embalm, is designed to showcase that death doesn't quite work the same way on Bolas's desert plane. Dead initiates come back as mindless mummies to do the bidding of the living.

After filling my Trials deck with a bunch of exert cards, I wanted to see what stories I could create by finding a home for all my creatures with embalm. Then I added all the other mummies I could find: Binding Mummy, Those Who Serve, Sparring Mummy, Fan Bearer, etc. I ended up with an army of undead that was incredibly hard for my opponents to kill.

But the undead of Amonkhet aren't really warriors; they're servants. So instead of just throwing my mummies into combat, I tried to find interesting tasks for them to do. By adding in some Embalmer's Tools, my mummies were able to increase their ranks very quickly. This is how the undead are created on Amonkhet, as Jace and Liliana discovered in "Servants."

After that, I decided to have my mummies get to work making Naktamun beautiful. Pyramid of the Pantheon, Oracle's Vault, Edifice of Authority, and Luxa River Shrine are all buildings that use brick counters to represent their construction on the board. While Edifice of Authority is the only one that I can directly use my mummies to help build, having them on the board as I increased my collection of undead servants gave me the feeling that I was helping to assemble Amonkhet one brick at a time. And don't forget about Stone Quarry and Quarry Hauler—all that brick must come from somewhere!

As the Hours Approach

I've just scratched the surface of what Amonkhet has to offer from a flavor perspective. Each of the Gods is worth building around, and their individual personalities come through very clearly in their game mechanics. Want to create an alternate "win" condition where your only goal is to make sure that one of your multiplayer partners successfully completes her Trial in the coolest way possible? Glorious End has you covered. Sick of Bolas and his meddling ways? Team up with Samut, Voice of Dissent and see how many of Temmet's mummies you can take down before the Angels come for you.

We may not be able to stop the God-Pharaoh's return, but we can certainly have a lot of fun between now and the Hour of Devastation. See you all at the play tables!

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