When we first looked at Amonkhet, it looked like it might be one of those slow, grindy, formats that many of us love. Embalm and aftermath looked especially well-suited for the late game, but there was one factor we didn't fully grasp until we played the set: exert.
Exert is the mechanic that shaped Amonkhet Limited more than any other.
The difference this time is that we know what Amonkhet is all about. We just need to integrate the new information and cards from Hour of Devastation with what we know of Amonkhet, and we'll be off to a good head start on the new format.
So let's start with aggression and how it looks to shape up in Hour of Devastation since it's the baseline in Amonkhet.
First, exert is back. This is a big deal because of the profound impact the mechanic had on Amonkhet. That format was fast, in large part because of exert. The thing to note here, though, is that exert was primarily an attacking mechanic in Amonkhet. In Hour of Devastation, we get a different look at exert as some of the cards exert when tapping for an ability not related to combat.
A good example is Oasis Ritualist:
This is an interesting use of the design space and may shape the way the format plays out a little differently than before. Because exert changed from a strictly combat-based mechanic to a more wide-ranging effect, blocking could be great again on Amonkhet.
That said, there are still some pretty aggressive-looking exert creatures in the set . . .
Yeah. Combine these type of cards with the cards from the one pack of Amonkhet and we still may be dealing with a very blocker-hostile environment.
Adding to this is one of the new mechanics in Hour of Devastation called afflict.
Afflict is yet another aggressive mechanic that—once again—makes blocking a big problem for the control decks in the format.
Here are a couple of afflict creatures you'll see on the battlefield once the set comes out:
If you don't block, you take damage. If you do block, you lose life.
You'd better make sure you are trading with the creature if you do decide to block. This mechanic further reduces the value in cards similar to Dune Beetle and Ancient Crab, as cards that plan on continually blocking will often not be able to against a creature with exert and won't want to against a creature with afflict.
Additionally, some of the afflict creatures really incentivize you toward blocking, as they carry a bonus for doing damage to a player.
Check out this little number:
How sweet is this? I think I'm in love with this card already. If your opponent blocks it to prevent you from getting the card (which they probably should), they lose more life than if they hadn't blocked at all. Super cool card.
One other note about afflict—especially this type that incentivizes your opponent to block—is that it raises the value of combat tricks in the set. Your opponent wants to trade with your afflict creature in many cases, forcing them to block at times when they may not want to. This is the perfect opportunity to leverage a well-timed combat trick.
Eternalize is an interesting twist on embalm, bringing your creature back as a 4/4 rather than a direct copy of itself. It also makes the creature a black Zombie rather than a white one.
I love the idea behind eternalize. The creature is coming back, but it's coming back bigger and badder than ever. That's sweet. Strategically speaking, though, the question isn't of design—it's of time.
Embalm ended up being too slow. It's hard to claim that an ability as solid as embalm just wasn't good enough, but it certainly didn't excel against many of the commonly seen decks in the previous format.
Will eternalize change that? Remember, we are getting an improved version of the creature, so it's scaling with the late game much better than embalm did.
If the eternalize cards in the set look more like Sunscourge Champion and less like Proven Combatant, then yes, eternalize could prove a powerful ability that lets you go toe-to-toe with the aggressive decks in the format.
I'm skeptical, however. Eternalize tends to be more expensive than embalm since you are getting an improved version of the creature. And that means slower. And slower is death in an aggressive format where you need to get out early and affect the board in meaningful ways.
Before I go, let's take a quick gander at the removal we are getting in this set, as it dictates quite a bit when it comes to which colors people end up favoring and how the early part of many booster drafts goes.
Black and red typically get the best common removal, and here we see that holding true. Here are a few examples:
Lethal Sting is a little slow at sorcery speed and comes with a real drawback, but it's also unconditional and will be able to deal with even the biggest threats. Torment of Venom is also kind of pricey at four mana, but it packs quite a punch at instant speed and presents a bonus choice for the opponent.
If you want cheap removal, Blur of Blades does nicely as it can kill a low-toughness creature outright or mess with combat enough that the creature dies anyway. The extra 2 damage is also relevant, especially if you are an aggressive deck.
Puncturing Blow is another nearly unconditional removal spell that also happens to do work against eternalize and embalm creatures. Again, it's a bit slow at four mana and sorcery speed, but it certainly gets the job done against most of the creatures you'll face down.
Blue actually gets good old Unsummon again.
Unsummon isn't a "real" removal spell, but I tend to value it fairly highly given that it's a super cheap way to interact with opposing creatures, and in a fast format, that can be the difference between a stable board and getting rushed right out of the game. I usually try to engineer a situation where I get a card of value out of it if I can, like if my opponent is going for an Aura on their creature or a combat trick, for example.
Green actually gets a legit removal spell again this set with Ambuscade:
Sure, it costs three mana, but it's instant speed, pumps up your creature a bit, and is not a fight card. It's a punch card. Or whatever you want to call them. Your creature is dealing damage to the opposing creature, and the opposing creature is not returning the favor. I like it.
Honestly, from what I'm seeing, this format looks like it will stay fast like it was in Amonkhet. There are still exert creatures, but now you get afflict creatures as well. Blocking looks like it will stay difficult, and if you want to play a long game, you'll need to really make sure you have the ability to affect the board early and to do it in a way that actually matters to these creatures.
But who knows. Maybe we'll all be scoffing at attacking and first-picking eternalize creatures in a month's time. A guy can dream, right?
Until next time!