Another 6 months have passed, which means that it’s time to planeswalk from Kaladesh to Amonkhet. We’re traveling from a world of invention, gizmos, and gadgets to one of mummies, death, and an all-dominating Bolas. While that sounds like doom and gloom, I for one could not be happier, because this set looks totally awesome so far! Let’s start with the obvious candidates:
These will have huge implications on Standard and allow decks to play more lands. I don’t think they’re quite as good as the scry lands were because they won’t help you fix your early draws like those did, but there are upsides over the scry lands. The most important is when you have 7+ lands in play and want another crack at a spell right away. With scry lands you had to wait a whole turn if there was a good spell on top, but that’s no longer the case. This ability is better in midrange decks and lower curve decks that can now run a few extra lands to help their curve consistency but still dig into reach in the late game. Midrange decks typically just want to cast a 4-6 mana haymaker every single turn but don’t care as much about lands 7+. These lands help find those haymakers more consistently.
True control decks will still very much like this cycle, but they’re also the decks that want to hit their land drop every single turn. That means these will just be tap lands in control decks more often than they would be in lower curve decks. The upside though is that control decks want to run even more lands than usual, and these push that to the extreme. If there’s an Esper Control deck in new Standard, it can get away with 28-29 lands fairly easily because 8 of them can just cycle in the late game. The presence of more lands also makes the shadow and battlelands better because their conditions are easier to fulfill. This means every deck can take advantage of the new cycle in different ways and that’s exciting to me as a deck builder.
As excited as I am for upcoming Standard, I’m even more hyped to see what else is in Amonkhet for Limited. Kaladesh was interesting to me because it was such a hard departure from where Limited is usually at. It was about maximizing curves in the extreme, and Pascal did a good job covering the crazy 13-15 land decks of the format. That was a fascinating development, but the extreme curve-outs also had downsides for me. My two major criticisms were that it was often very difficult to come back from a great curve out. Both players built their decks to maximize curving, but that meant that if one player stumbled they’d just get run over. Missing land drops was particularly brutal for this reason.
The second was that some commons and uncommons were just miles ahead of the competition. Every time my opponent cast a Renegade Freighter or a Ridgescale Tusker, I couldn’t help but feel that my chances of winning that game decreased tremendously. These cards were worse too because there weren’t any real ways to play around them. You often had to just double-block a Frieghter and hope to get 2-for-1’d, at which point your opponent would cast a combat trick and you’d practically lose on the spot. I’m in for cards that can help end games of Magic, but this was a bit too much for me and I hope Wizards learned its lesson about pushing the best commons and uncommons to this degree.
So far, Amonkhet provides hope about both of these issues. We’re moving back to a 17+ land format and the rest of the set will clarify just how many lands most decks should play. Currently, my guess is that it will be an 18-land format.
Embalm functions similarly to morph. A big reason that Khans of Tarkir block was an 18-land format was that every morph card was essentially two spells. You were often spending 8+ mana on a single card, but spread that over the course of the game. This meant you had an abundance of places to use your mana, and embalm offers much of the same utility. Once you trade off your Trueheart Duelist you’ll need to ask yourself whether you want to embalm it or cast another spell when you have access to 3 mana. This effectively adds another spell to your hand, and having access to more mana means casting more spells, which indicates that 18 lands is likely where you’ll want to be.
Destined // Lead
Split cards are back! This time the cards are quite a bit different, but I like that you’ll almost always have the chance to get full value from the card. Paying in installments is a big bonus and allows you to get small value in a couple different places or set up a game-winning play where you cast both halves in a turn. Once again these spells are a great mana sink and help mitigate flood. There will also be times where you might be able to discard these to your graveyard to get the aftermath effect right away and finding those spots will be an interesting challenge.
I’ve already mentioned how the cycling lands will impact Constructed, but cycling also helps smooth out your draws in Limited. Instead of mitigating flood, cycling helps you hit your land drops early by turning spells into potential lands. Ironically, this is the opposite of how it will impact Constructed due to the cycling lands, but that’s the nature of things. What’s intriguing to me is how far cycling will be pushed. Sure, it helps you hit land drops early, but we’ve also seen some incremental value from a few cards:
Getting 2 life while smoothing is pretty nice, but I wonder if this effect will be uniquely tied to Renewed Faith because it’s a reprint. This type of card is actually a sweet split card and choosing between the mode of 2W: Gain 6 and 1W: Gain 2, draw a card is a real skill tester. I have seen plenty of games won and lost on this choice, as players often err on the side of drawing a bit too often when 6 life would have been better. What can I say—Magic players love value, huh?
What I can be sure of is that there are payoffs for cycling, which means you might want to cycle your card even when you have a good mix of lands and spells. Take a look at:
Archfiend of Ifnir
Carnifex Demon was a messed up Limited card and Archfiend is capable of similarly disgusting things. It will obviously be at the upper bound of cycling rewards, but goes to show that there will be choices on when to cycle or cast them just beyond smoothing out your lands. What I’m hoping for is a card with cycling and embalm. Do you want 2 copies of the creature or a new card and a single copy from the graveyard? Now we’re talking!
Amonkhet has all the signs of a truly skill rewarding Limited format and pushes hard from the direction of Kaladesh Limited. Regardless of your love or distaste for KLD-AER, Amonkhet will offer new surprises and will require a lot of in-game decisions. Mastering those will be a great challenge and one I’m personally looking forward to.