Welcome to the Amonkhet Limited Set Review! Before we dive into the cards, I’ll make my usual note: The rating on each card is less important than the commentary—the numerical value is more to provide a relative value than to define the card. This is especially true from 2.5-3.5, as those ratings are more contextual than the best or worst cards.
Previous AKH Set Reviews
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Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa's Jitte.
5.0: The best of the best. (Noxious Gearhulk. Verduous Gearhulk. Aethersphere Harvester.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Untethered Express. Herald of Anguish. Whirlermaker.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Renegade Freighter. Winding Constrictor. Thopter Arrest.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Welding Sparks. Prophetic Prism. Aether Chaser. Daring Demolition.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Dawnfeather Eagle. Scrounging Bandar. Dhund Operative.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Wayward Giant. Leave in the Dust. Countless Gears Renegade.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Bastion Mastodon. Implement of Malice. Highspire Infusion.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Renegade’s Getaway. Reservoir Walker. Watchful Automaton.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Ironclad Revolutionary. Precise Strike.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Take Down. Natural Obsolecence.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Secret Salvage. Lost Legacy. Gonti’s Machinations. Other complicated black cards.)
Creatures with embalm can be recast from the graveyard, in token form. This makes all of them easy 2-for-1s, as long as whatever kills them doesn’t exile or incapacitate them without sending them to the graveyard. It’s a very strong ability, and expect to see high grades across the board for creatures that have it. It also makes bounce/Arrest/exile effects stronger.
Another form of 2-for-1 are the spells that come in two modes, the second of which you cast from the graveyard. These often synergize with each other, and are naturally quite powerful. They don’t require much special analysis, as their strength is largely what’s on the card, on a case-by-case basis.
Cycling is the trickiest of the mechanics, as it adds a ton of power to a card in a somewhat innocuous way. Being able to cash in a card for something new makes the cost of adding cycling cards to your deck very low. Any card with cycling is baseline good, and cheap cycling makes situational cards much more appealing. I’m going to be high on cycling cards because of this, even if I don’t explain it each time. Trading in a card for a new one when the card isn’t useful reduces both mana screw and mana flood, and is a huge shaper of how this format will play out.
Keeping a creature tapped for an extra effect is pretty straightforward. Cards with exert don’t impact the shape of the format all that much, and can be evaluated on their own merits easily. This does make untap effects stronger than they otherwise would be, though.
Archfiend of Ifnir
An under-costed flyer with a powerful ability is already great, and adding cycling means there's really no way for this to be a bad draw. It's even cute that you can splash this and just cycle it if you don't draw the right mana, though that may be ambitious. Hitting all your opponent's creatures is just absurd, and I can't imagine a world where this gets anything less than a 5.0.
Because this has lifelink, you have a pretty big incentive to put the -1/-1 counter elsewhere. Once you do, this is a brawler with big upside, and that's without factoring in the inherent synergies that -1/-1 counters have in this color. A powerful card that has additional upside in the right deck is a good place to be, even if I find this art quite aggressive.
This is a fine playable in most decks, though it skews a little aggressive. I wouldn’t be too hasty to cut it from the average midrange deck, but I could see control decks passing on it.
I don’t have a single bone to pick with this card, as it’s good to cast and great to cheat into play. Cards that are good on their face and very good when you enable them are ideal, and a 3/2 flying deathtouch for 4 easily clears that bar. If you can play a removal spell plus this or trade off a creature and play this alongside a 4-drop, you are going to be significantly far ahead.
Bontu the Glorified
It takes a little bit of work to restore Bontu to its full glory, but it pays you off when you do. The ability to sacrifice a creature for a drain and a scry is good if you can assemble some fodder, and getting to hit for 4 every time you eat a creature makes Bontu a legit threat. It’s even better that you can just sit there and threaten to make Bontu a huge blocker if your opponent attacks, meaning that it’s doing work without forcing you to commit anything. The power level is here, though you need to do some work to make sure Bontu is well fed.
Cartouche of Ambition
The combo of killing a 1-toughness creature (or weakening something bigger) and getting at least one big lifelink hit in makes this a solid card. Having ETB effects really mitigates the risk of Auras, and +1/+1 and lifelink is no joke. I’d play this without any Trials, and all it asks is that you have large or evasive creatures.
While this does cost 7 mana, it wins the game quickly once you cast it. It essentially acts immediately, as you pass the turn and they are already under the gun (or water, if you look at the art), and it rapidly incinerates their board presence. Note that they have to sacrifice a creature, so there’s no paying life to get around this. Cruel Reality may cost a lot, but this looks like enough of a payoff that it is a legit win condition in a control or midrange deck. If you can trade off creatures and stick this, you are going to be in good shape unless you are horrifically far behind.
I like a 3/2 menace much more than a 2/3 menace, so this looks better than Alley Strangler to me. It’s a solid addition to your deck, though like Blighted Bat, you will want to be aggressive for it to really shine.
I feel like I’ve given the Surgical Extraction rant enough times that I’m just going to give this a 0 and move on. Don’t play this card—it will never be worth it.
By itself, this provides a free chump blocker, which is passable. It will keep you from getting run over early, and sometimes your opponent will have a 2/1 and they will feel really embarrassed. Once you add sacrifice synergies, this goes up in value significantly. It’s also a card I wouldn’t be afraid to side out against opponents with fliers, or controlling opponents. It’s a fine main-deck card, but does have weaknesses.
This type of card often can’t block, and entering the battlefield tapped is way less of a drawback. I’d play this in any black deck, even controlling ones, as it comes out cheaply and can trade off for value. It’s not hard to get this back late-game, and you aren’t really paying a cost for the extra ability. I also like that Jackals are becoming a thing, as they are pretty cool, but I’m waiting on the Jackal Assassin before bestowing the nickname of “Carlos.”
If you’re in the market for Ancient Crab, here’s a cheaper and less delicious option. This sure blocks well, and I’ll be happy running one in any control deck.
Faith of the Devoted
Limited: 1.0 // 3.5
I have faith that this is a great build-around. I love cards like this, and there seem to be enough cyclers that you can play Faith of the Devoted in a deck with 12+ cycling cards and drain the opponent out without attacking. If you go down this road, off-color cyclers seem fine, and prioritizing 1-mana cyclers will be important.
Festering Mummy looks like sideboard material to me, though a truly dedicated -1/-1 counter deck may end up running it. It punishes small ground attackers, but isn’t powerful enough to be worth a main deck slot.
Final Reward deals with any threat forever, embalm or no, and being an instant somewhat justifies the fifth mana over Oblivion Strike. Let’s be real—this may not be the most satisfying reward for being in black, but you will always play this and you will take it early.
Gravedigger has always been good value, and it gets even better alongside cycling. You can build your own Nimble Innovator at worst, with the best-case being that you dig up some bomb that died or some 7-drop that you cycled early. This is a great card, and easily splashable.
A deck full of expensive cards won’t play this, but it’ll be a fine fit in most decks, and great in a deck with a low curve. It’s not hard to get a 4/4 out of the deal, and it’s worth taking some strides to get a 6/6 for 4 mana (especially in a deck that’s doing things like discarding excess lands to fuel your Minotaurs).
Horror of the Broken Lands
I wouldn’t call this card broken, but it’s very solid. I guess Horror of the Solid Lands doesn’t sound as good. Horror of the Quite Good Lands? In any case, a 4/4 for 5 with cycling for just B is not a card I’d ever cut, and this threatens to attack as a 6/5 or even 8/6. The fact that your opponent doesn’t know how big it is makes combat very difficult for them, and all told this is a strong and flexible threat. Maybe Horror of the Broken Lands isn’t as far off as it seemed, name-wise.
Lay Bare the Heart
As much as I loathe discard, this is pretty hard to miss with. I’m sure I’ll cast it turn 2 and see a handful of broken legends in my opponent’s hand, but for most people it will hit even deep into the game. It catches anything, and that sets it apart from cards like Duress or Harsh Scrutiny.
Liliana, Death’s Majesty
Liliana is about as good as it gets, mainly thanks to her very high loyalty. She protects herself on the ground via Zombies, can summon flyers if your graveyard is well-stocked, and her ultimate is cheap enough that it’s actually relevant. Going up to 6 loyalty is just so much, and means that even if the opponent has a 3/3 flyer or multiple ground creatures, she’s likely to survive the turn, at which point you can deploy more defenses. She’s great when ahead, in a stalemate, and when behind, though she won’t get you out of a board where you are getting crushed.
If you have literally 0 other Zombies (or embalm creatures) in your deck, this is more like a 4.0, but even then it’s two 3/3s for 5 mana. It won’t be hard to pick up more good Zombies, so you aren’t paying much of a price to enable this, and it’s a substantial payoff. It doesn’t take a master to make this card work, and I’d be happy slamming it at any point in the Draft.
Lord of the Accursed
This also strengthens the Zombie tribe, and like Liliana’s Mastery, isn’t hard to get going. It does need other Zombies, as it’s putrid by itself, but it’s going to range from playable in the average black deck (that will naturally have a few Zombies) to great in a dedicated Zombie deck.
If you need a 2-drop or a Zombie (or both), this is a fine addition. It also has minor synergy in the R/B empty-hand deck, as you get value from making both players discard, which means that this adds up to playable in a bunch of different situations.
Nest of Scarabs
Limited: 1.0 // 2.0
This is unplayable outside of a dedicated -1/-1 counter deck, and doesn’t seem like a huge payoff even when you get there. I will note that Marshall and I misread the card in our LR set review, and didn’t realize it’s 1 Insect per counter, but even then this doesn’t look as motivational as something like Faith of the Devoted. I will still be trying this, I just don’t see it as a Burning Vengeance level of card.
Read the Bones this is not, but Read the Palms is still pretty good. You won't target the opponent all that often, though the option is nice, and paying life to draw some cards is a fine deal for 3 mana. This gets weaker if the format ends up being very aggressive, so it may adjust accordingly. Also, life loss like this doesn't stack well, so don't go nuts picking up 3 of these.
The cycling trigger cards have a lot of hidden threat to them. When you attack with Pitiless Vizier, or leave it back as a blocker, the opponent can't really commit to combat without taking on a ton of risk. 1-mana cyclers are at a premium when you have this, and I'd gladly play this if I had even 3 or 4 cyclers. It's pitiful without cyclers, so don't run this on its own.
If you can play a Doomed Dissenter into this, you probably just win, and dropping 2 counters on another random creature you control makes this a huge threat at any point in the game. Once you start doing more work to synergize with it, things get even more sick, making this a card with a high floor and a high ceiling (which seems like an uncomfortable place to live, to be honest).
Limited: 2.0 // 3.5
While this is a build-around, it's not bad even with a medium number of cyclers. Once you are at 8+ it becomes a premium card, and you have to invest so little that it's hard to lose out. Ruthless Sniper punishes 1-toughness creatures like no other, and makes combat impossible for your opponent.
I'm actually a bit higher on 1-mana cyclers than I was initially. I wouldn't play this without synergies, but black has enough cards that care about cycling that I can see taking this mid-pack and being happy with it (somewhat like Implement of Combustion). Plus, worst comes to worst you can eat some embalm creatures, though that's a fairly weak use of a card.
Shadow of the Grave
How much work am I willing to do to build a Divination? While the answer is "a lot," this still is just too much. You need tons of 1-mana cyclers and this still costs 5-6 mana before you are getting a big edge. Save this one for your busted Constructed decks.
By itself, this is a 2/3 that generously gives away two -1/-1 counters upon death. That’s a great way to lock up the ground, and a good creature to sacrifice for profit. You can get a fair bit trickier too, from putting more counters on this for a bigger death effect or by putting them elsewhere and just getting a 4-mana 4/5. That amount of power plus potential for shenanigans makes this a solid pickup for any black deck.
This looks like a splendid combat trick and a decent removal spell all in one, and that’s without factoring in the extra synergy that -1/-1 counters have in this format. It will be a disadvantage when playing against a deck that thrives on -1/-1 counters, but this is still quite good, and will be one of the more sought after commons.
Stir the Sands
This has two modes, and both are great. Ideally you are casting this, since three 2/2s is a bit better than a 2/2 and a card, but the flexibility adds a lot to an already good card. It’s also mandatory that you make an exaggerated stirring motion while casting this (I know I will).
I like 1-mana combat tricks well enough, and this does re-trigger any enter the battlefield abilities your creature has. It is unfortunate that it doesn’t work with embalm tokens, which I have to assume is intentional. You don’t have a ton of space for cards like this in your deck, but I don’t mind playing one or two if I’ve got a lot of creatures.
If you can prevent this from trespassing on your deck, you’ve done good work. It does nothing as a topdeck, is barely passable when played early, and is just not worth a card.
Trial of Ambition
Limited: 1.5 // 3.0
Trial of Ambition is an odd one. By itself, it’s an edict (named after the original, Diabolic Edict), which is usually not great in Limited. Some decks are vulnerable to this effect, but most are going to shrug it off. Where this gets interesting is when you can bounce it with multiple Cartouches, at which point it goes from a trial run to a full-fledged subscription. The second or third edict starts eating real creatures, and this is cheap enough to be used fairly easily.
“Those cards look pretty heavy, friend, let me lighten your load.”
Add another to the list of good cycling cards. Discard 2 is a nice bit of card advantage for 3 mana, and this cycles when your opponent is out of cards or you need to hit a land drop.
Wander in Death
Similarly, Wander in Death is a good 2-for-1 in the late-game, while cycling when you don’t have a full graveyard. I won’t run this quite as often as Unburden, but I still like the card quite a bit. Drawing 2 creatures is a great way to avoid running out of gas, and the fail state on a cycling card is basically non-existent.
I was already in for a 2/2 deathtouch, so getting to cycle it is a sweet bonus. This is a good card for any black deck, and not one I anticipate cutting.
Never to Return
Unconditional 3-mana removal is great, and this even nets you a 2/2 later in the game. I’ve seen harder cards to evaluate.
Top 5 Black Commons
I like the top 2 black commons a fair bit more than the rest, and there are plenty of other playable ones that could occupy the next 3 spots. Cycling lends itself to an abundance of playables, and black is not short on ways to get value.