Ever since I was young, I’ve been a big fan of ancient Egyptian culture. In Brazil, we study the history of Egypt extensively in school, and I always loved everything about it, particularly their religion. For bonus points, I also really like the animated movie Prince of Egypt. Whenever Mark Rosewater asked, “which culture do you want us to visit?” my answer has been “Egypt!” every time. In sum, Amonkhet is the set I’ve always wanted. Time to see how my expectations compare to the reality of what we’ve seen so far of the story, Invocations, mechanics, and cards.
Most of the time, when people complain about something, I understand it. I’m not a “let’s look at the bright side!” or “hey, at least it’s free” person, and I do my share of complaining as well. That said, I do not understand the main complaint against the Amonkhet Invocations—that the text is hard to read and the name hard to identify.
I’m not saying the Invocations are perfect. The art on some of them is confusing. It took me a while to understand the art of my preview card, Cryptic Command. If you dislike the new border, then that’s also your right. Saying “I wish they were just normal cards with the new art” is also a valid point of view, of course. So don’t take this as me saying “you have to like them,” because I don’t think you do—I just don’t want you to dislike it for the wrong reasons. The number one reason right now is that the cards are hard to read and identify.
Sure, reading this Daze might be hard. But can you read this card?
Or this card?
How about this one?
It’s likely you can’t, yet I don’t see people claiming those cards shouldn’t exist. Invocations are specifically chosen as iconic cards (plus Aggravated Assault)—cards that we haven’t had to read in about a decade, so why do we have to read them now? If you must read them, just pick them up and do so. It’s not like they’re literally illegible.
People seem to think that it’s going to be hard to identify which card is which from afar, and to that I ask, “so what”? When do you need to see them from afar? If you Thoughtseize your opponent, can’t you just pick it up? Once you do, it’ll be obvious which card it is due to the combination of mana cost, name, text, and art. If you still don’t know, just ask a judge like you’d ask if it were a foreign card. If I had an Invocation in my deck, I’d probably want people to pick it up and admire it.
Invocations have different font and text, yes, but they are supposed to—it’s a way of making them different. The kind of people who want Invocations in their decks are the ones that are deeply entrenched and willing to pay the premium they command. You won’t see those cards on the kitchen table, people aren’t going to have to read them for the first time and if they have to, then they’ll be able to do it.
Personally, I love the Invocations. I think their art is amazing and the Egyptian theme ties in well with the set (well, duh). The art on some of them is undeniably gorgeous. That said, I would change two things:
The first is that I think there’s too much innovation at once. Different text and name, sure—different border, also sure. Both together? Probably too much, and they end up detracting from each other. I think if you change one thing only, then it’s going to be more palatable for more people.
The second is that I would have made them all spells. Expeditions are lands, Masterpieces are artifacts, and Invocations are instants and sorceries… plus random cards like Aven Mindcensor and Counterbalance. When you say “Invocation,” I imagine a spell—I do not imagine a Bird. I really do not understand why we have creatures and enchantments as Invocations.
As a bonus, here’s my ranking of the top 8 Invocation card art from Amonkhet:
Top 8 Invocation Card Art
7. Dark Ritual
6. Loyal Retainers
3. Spell Pierce
2. Wrath of God
1. Pact of Negation
The Story and the Gatewatch
As mentioned before, I absolutely love Amonkhet and ancient Egyptian culture. In this regard, the set has lived up to my expectations. We have pyramids, animal-faced Gods, mummies, and everything I’d expect from an Egyptian set. And it all makes sense too. The mechanics, the art, and the story are tied together well, and it’s not forced. I barely know Amonkhet and I already know that I will like the final product.
There is one thing I think could be improved about the story, though:
As SaffronOlive pointed out, this Tweet could just be applied to most of the past, and probably future stories. I think he’s right.
I’m just a bit tired of the Gatewatch. To me, they’re not appealing heroes. They’re not complex, and they’re too stereotyped in an attempt to make them fit the color pie. They’re cool for specific adventures, and I loved their Origins stories and the flip ‘walkers, but they do not captivate the audience enough for us to follow them across so many blocks and years, because, deep down, they’re kind of shallow.
Chandra wants to burn things, but she’s been wanting to burn things for 5 years now. There’s a point where, “haha, let’s burn this” stops being interesting. I think we’ve reached that point. All their stories are interchangeable, and other than Nissa’s cameo in the latest Power Rangers movie, the Gatewatch never does anything different.
When reading the story of Amonkhet, I realized that I just didn’t care about the Gatewatch. All I wanted was for the Amonkhet Gods to appear. I absolutely love the story of Amonkhet and its setting, but it’s the world and its characters that I want to see. Liliana I’ve seen many times, and she hasn’t changed much, so show me the new worlds, the new heroes, and the new villains. It’s unclear to me what the Gatewatch being there does for the world—a world that could have its own exciting heroes and villains but instead will take a back seat to the 5 characters we’ve already seen many times, facing a villain they’ve already faced before.
On top of that, they just aren’t very smart:
“Deciding that a proactive approach is best, most of the Gatewatch has gone after Nicol Bolas on Amonkhet to attack him head-on before he can set more of his schemes in motion. With no plan and no information, five planeswalkers set off to take down an elder dragon on a mysterious and unfamiliar plane.”
I mean, isn’t Jace supposed to be really clever or something? Who can read this description and think it’s a good idea? I’m kind of thinking they all deserve to die here.
A big part of what makes Magic’s story great is that we can see the characters we’ve grown to love personalized in a Magic card, or we can learn about the story and personalities of the cards we like by reading the books. Take, for example, what is arguably Magic’s most successful story, the Weatherlight saga. We were following the story and we knew the characters, but we didn’t know their cards, and when we got to see Mirri, Ertai, Gerrard, that was exciting. I had the same experience in Ravnica. I could discover the history behind the guild leaders. With the Gatewatch, this doesn’t happen. There’s no excitement about revealing the eighth Chandra. It’s just another Chandra (yeah, there have been 7 Chandras!).
I also believe the Gatewatch inflicts a non-negligible cost on professional Magic. WotC wants those characters to be the face of the brand, and they push them competitively because of that, ending up with the likes of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Jace, Telepath Unbound, and Emrakul, the Promised End. That planeswalkers in particular are so pushed is a big reason why the pendulum has swung so far from answers to threats, and they will continue to be pushed as long as the Gatewatch is the premier story in Magic.
I’m a big fan of all the mechanics in Amonkhet because they are flavorful, skill testing, and work mitigate flooding and mana problems. We haven’t had the chance to see many cards yet, but from what we have seen, I expect the Limited game play to be some of the most complex in recent years.
Embalm seems to be mostly geared toward Limited, but could see a lot of Constructed play if it’s put on the right cards. Take, Unwavering Initiate:
This isn’t a broken card by any means, but it’s solid. Vigilance on a 3/2 body will force a trade most of the time (since you can just block if they don’t), and then you get your 2-for-1 when you can spare the mana. It might be awkward to represent those tokens with abilities on the battlefield, but I have to assume a token will always come in the same pack as the card that generates it, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s hard to say how aftermath will play out exactly, as its effects can differ a lot from card to card, but there’s certainly a lot of potential there, either by simply casting the card and recasting it, or finding a way to put it into the graveyard directly. It’s not the most elegant layout, but it should help people remember it’s there.
Overall, there seems to be a big graveyard focus in Amonkhet, and I wonder if this means we’ll finally see some graveyard hate or if it actually means we won’t see any since they want the new mechanics to thrive.
Cycling is probably my favorite evergreen mechanic and I am so happy that it’s back. The ability to cash in your card for a new one leads to fewer non-games, and it’s a skill-testing mechanic that rewards knowing exactly how much value you need from any of your cards. People usually think that “patience” is the skill that the pros have, but I’d argue that once you reach the highest level, it’s actually the opposite. The good players are the ones who know when taking a small advantage now is more important than a big advantage later, and cycling lets you leverage that.
Then, we have another skill-testing ability in exert. Exert means you get an effect now in return for your creature not untapping the following turn, which also gives you options. As a bonus, cards that give your exert creatures vigilance (such as Always Watching) become a lot better, as they double their efficiency.
We haven’t had many spoilers so far, and Glorybringer is by far the best. The 4/4 flying, haste for 3RR combination has proven itself as a prime set of stats for Constructed play, and Glorybringer gives you the ability to kill a creature immediately, which is super valuable, especially if it’s also killing a planeswalker.
Imagine your opponent plays a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and makes a token. You can play Glorybringer, attack Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and kill the token, and in the end you’re left with a 4/4 flyer. It’s hard to find a card that will trade 1-for-1 with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and this one will actually leave you ahead!
For whatever it’s worth, Glorybringer also happens to work well with both parts of the Saheeli combo. You can play it, kill a creature, and then the following turn you can blink it with Felidar Guardian and attack again, or you can use Saheeli’s -2 ability as a mega Searing Blaze.
I’ve seen some people saying that Mindcensor is going to be amazing against Attune with Aether and Traverse, but I don’t buy it. It’s a nice card, and the stats by themselves would perhaps be good in a world without Walking Ballista, but as an Attune hoser it’s not doing enough (as Attune costs 1 and it’s not that hard to find a basic in 4 cards in the late game anyway, and even if you don’t it’s not that big a deal). As a Traverse hoser it’s certainly much more respectable, but the metagame would have to change a lot for me to want a Traverse hoser.
Dusk // Dawn
This card seems great to me. Right now, we have a deck full of small creatures and Vehicles that already boards into Wraths against the bigger decks. Dusk // Dawn is the same, but better on the front side, with a randomly good second side. Can you imagine killing your opponent’s Rishkar and Verdurous Gearhulk while keeping your Gideon, Ally of Zendikar token, your Toolcraft Exemplar, and your Heart of Kiran? Then, if the game goes on, you can get back your Toolcrafts and Walking Ballistas. If every card with aftermath is like this, I think they’re going to see a ton of play.
As much as I like the name Serpopard, I don’t think this card is that good. It looks strong since it’s a 4/3 for 3 with two abilities, but in practice the abilities will almost never be relevant and 4/3 for 3 is not even good in today’s world when you can play cards like Rishkar and Tireless Tracker instead.
I’m not a huge fan of what this card means, though, because it’s yet another card that follows the philosophy that “answers are bad.” Standard needs general answers, has needed general answers for over a year, and this is a card that is made to beat them. That said, this card might end up enabling more answers in the format, as they can push counterspells a little more if cards like this exist to fix it if it goes terribly wrong, so perhaps it’s a good card to have after all. In the end I just don’t think the timing of the spoiler is ideal, because everyone is looking at Amonkhet with the expectation that it will maybe “fix” Standard by providing better answers than we currently have, and one of the first Constructed cards to be spoiled is the complete opposite of that, so it just makes you think that’s where the set is going to go.
Overall, I’m really enjoying Amonkhet so far, and I have every reason to believe the block will live up to my expectations. I hope you are too!