First Pass at Amonkhet

Posted in How to Play Limited on April 18, 2017

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

I gotta say, this set is looking spicy for us Limited players. We get some new mechanics, some new interactions, and some great returning mechanics as well. Many of them work together in weird and exciting ways. We'll start with the mechanics and interactions then look at the removal in Amonkhet to see if we can get a feel for how this set may play out.

Exert

Exert is the easiest of the mechanics to sort out. Whenever you attack with a creature that has exert, you can choose to exert it or not. If you do, you get a bonus, but the creature won't untap as normal during your next untap step. It's kind of a classic tradeoff of getting more now at the cost of less later.

In games where now is all that matters, your decision will be easy—exert away. But in closer games where you may need a blocker next turn or an additional attack, the decision becomes much less clear.

There are some cards in the set that untap creatures, and those get around exert quite cleanly as exert only affects the next untap step.

Normally I would guess that exert is the type of mechanic that is more focused on individual cards rather than being a mechanic to build around, but I do see a few opportunities to keep it in mind as you craft your deck. My guess is that if you can exert a creature more than a few times in a row during a game, you'll be in great shape.

Embalm

Embalm is an incredibly powerful yet straightforward mechanic. Basically, a creature with embalm can be "flashed back" from the graveyard for an embalm cost, which puts a copy of the original creature onto the battlefield at sorcery speed while exiling the creature from your graveyard. The copy is also a white Zombie, and there are some cards that care about Zombies, so look out for this.

This is my kind of mechanic. It's just straight-up value. Even a pedestrian card like this one becomes much better with embalm:

You should be looking to trade off your embalm creatures when possible. If the game goes long, you'll have the cards in your hand as well as some embalm cards in your graveyard to bring back later. You can make life rough for your opponent if their plan is to trade their creatures and removal for your embalm creatures on a one-for-one basis.

There are a number of cards that care about cycling or discarding a card, and these embalm creatures seem like ideal fodder for discarding since you can embalm them later for value.

I'm not sure if there will be much self-mill in this set, but any effects that put cards from your library into your graveyard bring with them the chance to hit embalm creatures and should be leveraged when possible.

Aftermath

Speaking of cards going to the graveyard for value[nbsp] . . .[/nbsp]

Aftermath are a new kind of split card where you cast the first part from your hand, then the other from your graveyard. The cards behave like separate cards since you can't cast them both simultaneously, though if you have enough mana you could cast one half and then the other half in the same turn.

As you can see, these cards have wildly differing effects on the game. I don't imagine building around these cards per se, but they do seem strong on their own. And again you can benefit by putting these in your graveyard through discard or mill.

With both embalm and aftermath cards, I think we'll have plenty to do with our mana in the late game. Aether Revolt had relatively few mana sinks (a mana sink is a place to spend your mana in the late game that isn't a card in your hand) and as a result we often ran sixteen lands. In Amonkhet we will definitely be back on seventeen lands, with eighteen being a possibility as well.

And what's the best way to make sure you hit your land drops? Cycling, of course!

Cycling

Cycling is one of the best mechanics in the history of Magic. You'll often hear me talk about ceilings and floors on Magic cards. This is a tool I use to evaluate cards. The floor represents the realistic worst-case scenario for a card. The ceiling is the realistic best-case scenario for a card.

With cycling, the floor is essentially always high enough to play. Since most cards cycle for around two mana, the worst-case scenario is that I have to spend two mana to cycle it and try to find something that I need with it (usually land drops).

Even if the ceiling isn't that high, it's hard to argue with a floor like that.

When you look at these slightly over-costed, late game threats, you may wonder if the floor is too low. In this case, the floor is that you don't hit your lands and you never get enough mana to cast these cards. Cycling to the rescue! If you are light on mana, you just cycle away these expensive cards and dig yourself to something more castable. But late game, if you draw one of these cards, you just cast it as normal. It's the best of both worlds.

There are even cards that reward you for doing so!

Drawing a card while getting bonus triggers is nice.

-1/-1 Counters

This last one isn't exactly a mechanic, but it's something that you'll see a lot in Amonkhet Limited, and therefore we should talk about it.

First off, there aren't +1/+1 counters in this set. Just -1/-1, and strangely, you'll be placing them on your own creatures sometimes. There are also several cards that care about these counters.

Evaluating cards like Crocodile of the Crossing is kind of tricky. Your first instinct should be to assume you have no other creatures and that the croc itself will be the recipient of the -1/-1 counter. Sometimes you'll put them on another of your creatures, one that doesn't mind having the counter or one where it doesn't change how it interacts with the board.

As you can see with Ruthless Sniper and Soulstinger, you also have the ability to throw some of those counters at opposing creatures as well.

Removal

The removal in Amonkhet follows the trend we've seen for a while now: it's a bit slow but gets the job done. I've picked some of the staple removal spells to look at; let's start with white:

Cast Out may be the best non-rare removal spell in the set. One thing we'll keep in mind as we consider the removal spells is how they interact with embalm creatures. Exiling is always best, but with embalm it's especially important. Cast Out prevents embalming and also somehow has cycling attached to it, though it will be rare for you to cycle a premium removal spell like this.

Compulsory Rest is so close to being great, but falls significantly short thanks to embalm. Your opponent's option to just sacrifice the creature from under the Compulsory Rest and then get it back later makes it so much worse than it normally would be. Still, people tend to overreact to cards like this by declaring them unplayable, when in fact this card is very playable, just not as good as it normally would be.

Impeccable Timing and Fan Bearer look a bit clunky, but could still see play. If Fan Bearer lives for a long time and you have enough mana, it can do some seriously good work. It's even good against embalm creatures!

Blue typically doesn't get much in the way of removal, and even though we've seen the advent of a bunch of "freeze"-type cards that lock down opposing permanents by keeping them tapped, we don't see much of that here.

Illusory Wrappings feels like tier-two removal at best. The creature retains any abilities it had as well as the ability to chump block and then get embalmed back later if it's an embalm creature. Might be a necessary evil against big bombs, though.

Lay Claim is a bomb: cycling when it looks like you won't have time but becoming the best card in your deck late in the game is no joke. I figure these will be first picked and played all the time in this format.

Winds of Rebuke is the type of cheap interaction I like, though it's not true removal. Remember: when it comes to embalm creatures, if you bounce the token, it's just gone forever. It can also hit any nonland permanent, which could matter, and the mill two could be a side benefit for you as well. Likely not a high pick, but also likely to be worth a card in your deck.

Black is next, and it's traditionally a great color for removal.

Final Reward is the most prototypical removal spell for the current era of Limited. It's expensive, but it certainly gets the job done. Exiling is of course important for embalm, and normally being instant speed would also be pretty nice, except leaving five mana up is going to be a serious red flag for your opponent.

Still, we'll take it.

Splendid Agony is a very nice removal spell. It's only three mana, it's an instant, and those are counters it's distributing, so the creature will stay smaller even after the turn is over. You can even mess with combat really hard by putting one -1/-1 counter on one creature and the other on another. Makes blocking hard!

When it comes to red removal, you know we're talking burn spells, and this set doesn't disappoint in that department.

I deem Deem Worthy worthy. Of being first picked. That card is fantastic! Even if you have to cycle it, you are still picking off a small creature and drawing a card. And I have to imagine it kills just about anything when you cast it for full price.

Electrify is much more straightforward, but still a very solid removal spell. It's annoying in a world of embalm creatures, but that's the world we live in and you still need to be able to kill your opponent's creatures.

Fling is a mediocre card that sometimes sees play and may see a bit more play given that you can get some of your creatures back anyway.

Magma Spray is very efficient and works well against embalm creatures. Remember, you can block with a creature and then finish off the opposing creature with Magma Spray, and it will still be exiled.

Green usually gets some fight cards. Sometimes they even get "punch" cards where their creature just deals damage equal to its power to your creature.

But here in Amonkhet, green gets very little in the way of removal.

This is a fine fight card, I suppose. It's a bit slow, but at least it makes your creature even better at fighting than it was. Remember, the enchanted creature is the one doing the fighting, so you'll want to put it on something big. The trample you get from the cartouche also leads you toward putting it on a bigger creature.

Those are the highlights from the removal. Things look straightforward, but always keep embalm in mind when you are considering firing off a kill spell.

Wrap Up

Amonkhet Limited looks like it will play out way differently than the set that preceded it, Aether Revolt. I enjoyed Aether Revolt, but I think Amonkhet will be even more my speed. I like long game plans, getting value, and not missing land drops.

I think I'll be happy here. Heck, I may just stay a while.

Until next time!
@Marshall_LR

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