This Thursday, the Chinese language version of the Dominaria release notes was inadvertently posted by Wizards of the Coast, immediately catching the attention of the Magic community. After players worked on translations for a few hours, Blake Rasmussen released an article confirming that the document was real. To prevent inaccurate translations from making the rounds, he also released the correct English language version of the Dominaria release notes.
The leak sucked for everyone involved, especially given that it spoiled as many as 142 out of the 269 total cards in Dominaria. But Wizards of the Coast handled it with transparency and grace, in a way that retained my enthusiasm for the upcoming preview season. Although it was only supposed to start in a few weeks from now (given that Dominaria’s release date is April 27) I am still excited to learn more about the backstories and history of Dominaria over the course of the next month.
From the looks of it, Dominaria is driven by nostalgia. It contains plenty of iconic reprints and references to important historic characters and events. Fittingly, one of the primary themes of Dominaria will be legendary cards.
And one legend in particular caught my attention.
As someone who has exploited Mox Opal for years, I can confidently state that 0-mana acceleration should never be overlooked. Yes, it comes with a restrictive condition, but if you can turn Mox Amber into an actual Mox with sufficient consistency, then you have a very powerful card.
Before I analyze the deck building implications, I want to clarify three rules-related aspects:
- Mox Amber only keys off of creatures and planeswalkers. Legion’s Landing or Oath of Nissa don’t activate it—you need a legendary creature or planeswalker.
- Colorless is not a color. So if your only legendary permanent is Hope of Ghirapur, then you won’t be able to add any mana.
- Mox Amber’s ability is a mana ability. This means that it happens immediately and doesn’t use the stack. So once you tap the Mox, your opponent doesn’t get a chance to kill your Isamaru, Hound of Konda in response.
How Many Legends Do You Need for Mox Amber?
The answer to this question will depend on the turn you’re interested in. But since the mana boost of Mox Amber is at its most relevant on turns 1 and 2, you will mainly be looking for cheap legends.
To get a quick feel for the number of legendary creatures or planeswalkers required to activate Mox Amber consistently enough, you could look at simple hypergeometric probabilities. But these wouldn’t account for mulligans or for the fact that at least one “slot” in your hand is already taken by a Mox Amber. To get more relevant probabilities, I coded a simulation under the following assumptions:
- I consider a 60-deck with 21 lands, 4 Mox Amber, and a certain number of legendary creatures or planeswalkers that aren’t colorless. (The numbers for a deck with 3 Mox Amber and 22 lands will be extremely similar.)
- I mulligan a hand if it contains 0, 1, 6, or 7 lands. For the purpose of this analysis, Mox Amber is counted as a land. In case of a mulligan, I ignore the free scry.
- I assume that I am always able to cast any legend I draw. That is, the availability of colored mana to cast my legends is disregarded. This assumption is reasonable if the majority of my legends cost 1 or 2 mana. Suitably, those are exactly the type of legends that are ideal to support Mox Amber.
- I am on the play and on the draw with equal 50-50 probability.
- I consider the following question: If I have a Mox Amber in hand on turn 1, then what is the probability of also having a legend in hand? In other words, I determine a conditional probability for settings where at least one of my cards (not necessarily the first one I draw) is already taken up by a Mox Amber. I consider the same question for turns 2 and 3.
Having determined these probabilities, the next question is what a “good” number would entail. Traditionally, I want 80-90% consistency. If I apply that to turn 2, it would correspond to 11-15 legends, depending on the degree of consistency that I desire. (This is in line with the recommendation of 13 Dinosaurs for Thunderherd Migration that I made earlier this year and roughly corresponds to 9 legends in Limited and 21 legends in Commander. Of course, the more legends you have, the better your Mox Ambers are going to be.)
But I can accept lower consistency if the payoff is high enough. Especially if my deck contains ways to exploit a free artifact without a legend (for instance, by triggering Toolcraft Exemplar or boosting Arcbound Ravager) then I can live with fewer legends. Still, I would feel uncomfortable with fewer than 10 legends that I can cast on turn 1 or 2 (giving a 77.2% probability of being able to activate Mox Amber by turn 2).
My absolute minimum would be eight legends that I can cast on turn 1 or 2 (giving a 68.5% probability of being able to activate Mox Amber by turn 2) and only if I can support Mox Amber with at least 2 more legends that can come down on turn 3. Otherwise, I don’t think it will be worth it.
Brewing with Mox Amber in Modern
So can I make it work? Let’s start with a (non-exhaustive) list of the best legendary creatures and planeswalkers of 3 mana or less in Modern:
This list already suggests plenty of options for brewing:
- Start with Mountain, Zurgo Bellstriker, Mox Amber, and Kuldotha Rebirth.
- Use Mox Amber to provide free mana in a Storm deck (since Baral, Chief of Compliance is legendary) or a Cheerios deck (since Sram, Senior Edificer is legendary).
- Increase the speed of white aggro strategies. With Mox Amber, they can now start with Kytheon, Hero of Akros and Isamaru, Hound of Konda on turn 1. Add some 2-mana legends like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and you have a strong foundation for a deck. A Zoo-style deck that adds Zurgo Bellstriker as an additional 1-drop is also a possibility, but it’s less appealing since it’s in a different color—you can’t use Mox Amber to cast both Kytheon and Zurgo on turn 1.
- Take the white aggro idea in a top-heavier direction with Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper. The land can be exploited via Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Hokori, Dust Drinker (which doesn’t lock down your Mox Amber).
- Include Mox Amber in Esper Goryo’s Vengeance. This deck already has Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Tasigur, the Golden Fang as cheap legends, and Obzedat, Ghost Council can enter the battlefield on turn 2 via Goryo’s Vengeance.
- Go deep with Leyline of Singularity. If you have it in your opening hand, then any creature you would play (Hunted Horror would work well in such a deck) will turn on the Mox.
But given that Affinity is my favorite deck in Modern, it felt more natural to start with decks in which Mox Amber could become Mox Opal numbers 5-8. Of course, this required me to add legends to add to the deck.
In terms of 1-drops, Kytheon, Hero of Akros and Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter aren’t terrible. Transforming Kytheon into Gideon, Battle-Forged can be quite powerful on turn 2, and Oviya Pashiri could start churning out 4/4s or 5/5s by turn 3 in a mana-heavy draw.
But one legend stands out as particularly suitable: Erayo, Soratami Ascendant. Various people have tried it from time to time in Affinity decks. For example, Olivier Ruel piloted an Erayo Affinity deck to a Grand Prix Top 8 in 2005, Oleksandr Onosov posted a positive record with a list that could set up an Ethersworn Canonist list at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011, and my 2014 WMC teammate Iso Been found online success with his Erayo Affinity build recently.
Their attempts never truly caught on for several reasons: Erayo, Soratami Ascendant is a bad topdeck that comes with a hefty deck building cost, Erayo’s Essence is not immediately game over in Modern, and the deck is plagued with inconsistency issues. But perhaps Mox Amber can change that. Inspired by the aforementioned pioneers, I brewed up the following.
Amber Erayo Affinity
It’s possible that Arcbound Ravager should be Steel Overseer instead, as a turn-2 Overseer demands an immediate response from the opponent, giving you a window to transform Erayo on turn 3. But in a deck with 8 legendary Moxen, the ability to turn duplicates into +1/+1 counters was too appealing. Also, by combining Arcbound Ravager and Moxen, I anticipate that you can frequently attack with a 5/5 Inkmoth Nexus on turn 2 for the turn-3 infect kill.
Mox Amber also opens up Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas (which for an Affinity deck should be stronger than Dominaria’s Karn, Scion of Urza). Tezzeret had always been difficult to slot into the mana base, but when your 1-drop legends already require more lands that tap for colored mana and when Mox Amber can sometimes produce blue mana, I think you have enough sources to support Tezzeret.
That said, the deck currently hinges on two thoughts. On the one hand, you want to use Mox Ambers to ramp into Master of Etherium on turn 2 and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas on turn 3. On the other hand, you want to keep the curve as low as possible to transform Erayo more reliably. If testing indicates that you can’t transform Erayo reliably enough, then you may need to replace some copies of Master of Etherium and/or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas with Thoughtcast, Frogmite, and/or Mishra’s Bauble. But the resulting lower-curve deck risks mana flood without enough ways to spend its mana. Maybe Steelshaper’s Gift or Walking Ballista are good compromises.
After brewing up the above deck, I realized that Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Master of Etherium got worse since I cut Signal Pest and Steel Overseer for colored legends. I then remembered a deck that I ran at Pro Tour Paris seven years ago, based around Quest for the Holy Relic and Argentum Armor.
What’s more, Glint Hawk, which is essentially free when you can pick up a Mox, becomes really strong in a deck with 8 Moxen.
Finally, if your opening hand doesn’t contain Erayo or Quest for the Holy Relic, then Day’s Undoing is a good way to refill. With enough mana ramp, you can reliably cast Day’s Undoing on turn 2, which can often yield Erayo or Quest for the Holy Relic on turn 3.
Amber Erayo Quest
The Thraben Inspector may look a little weird, and I’d rather have included a pair of Kor Skyfishers. But I really need to up the artifact count for Mox Opal. Even now, it’s still a bit on the low side. Yet what this deck lacks in consistency it makes up in its potential for broken opening hands.
I haven’t been playing as much Magic lately as I used to, but once Dominaria releases, I am really excited to try out this deck! I like it better than my first Affinity shell. Even though Erayo and Argentum Armor may not be ideally positioned if everyone is cascading into Kolaghan’s Command, this deck is still much better against Stony Silence than traditional Affinity, and it looks like an absolute blast to play.
I don’t yet have a sideboard, but the following new card from Dominaria at least deserves strong consideration.
Damping Sphere will probably become a Modern sideboard staple, as it can hit Tron, Storm, Ad Nauseam, Grishoalbrand, and Amulet Titan all at the same time. It even turns on your Mox Opals, and for a regular Affinity deck it’s better than Blood Moon against Tron because it doesn’t nullify your creaturelands.
On the other hand, Damping Sphere does nothing against Valakut decks, and it’s susceptible to the artifact destruction that opponents are likely to bring in. Also, cards like Rule of Law are arguably better against Storm and Living End. Weighing the pros and cons, my first thought is to put a singleton Damping Sphere in the sideboard of Affinity (with or without Erayo), likely alongside a singleton Blood Moon and a singleton Rule of Law. Such a split maximizes sideboard space while minimizing the downside of drawing multiples.
Brewing with Mox Amber in Standard
Let’s start with an exhaustive list of non-colorless legendary creatures and planeswalkers of 3 mana or less in pre-Dominaria Standard:
So Oviya Pashiri is the only available 1-drop, and all 2-drops look somewhat situational. But since Dominaria is a legend-themed set, it will bring plenty of new characters. Let’s take a look at all legendary creatures that cost 3 mana or less.
This might fit in an Aura-based shell together with Sram, Senior Edificer. That yields eight legends to activate Mox Amber by turn 3, and you can get more by adding a few Kari Zev, Skyship Raiders. Since a W/U Auras deck already exists in Standard, there’s certainly some potential here. But I don’t think such a deck can support Oviya Pashiri, and I’d rather start by looking for decks that can run the only 1-drop legend we have access to.
A 2/3 for 3 mana is below the curve, and Slimefoot’s activated ability is way overcosted. Since Overgrown Armasaur and Tendershoot Dryad are the only ways to generate Saproling tokens in pre-Dominaria Standard, I don’t see much potential here.
This is a strong card for a U/R Wizards deck. Baral, Chief of Compliance is also a Wizard, but Baral seems to fit better in a spell-heavy control deck, whereas Adeliz seems stronger in a creature-heavy aggro deck. Since the two cards seem to pull us towards different strategies, I don’t think a U/R deck will be the perfect home for Mox Amber.
A 3/3 for 3 mana is mediocre, so the value of Hallar lies in its kicker bonus. Since kicker cost are generally high, it will be hard to construct a deck that can reliably kick its spells.
Marwyn is a build-around card for the Elf tribe. The playable Elves in pre-Dominaria Standard include Narnam Renegade, Druid of the Cowl, Greenwheel Liberator, Servant of the Conduit, and Rishkar, Peema Renegade, so it’s not hopeless. Also, Llanowar Elves is confirmed to be in Dominaria—something that must have surprised Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa just as much as me:
That was also one of the few questions I got wrong. Lightning Bolt is better than Shock, but we've always had good one-mana burn spells. A one-mana ramp creature would have a huge impact on Standard and would be a drastic departure from recent designs.
— Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) February 19, 2018
But even if you can cobble together enough Elves, you generally want to cast your 1-drop and 2-drop Elves before Marwyn, turning it into an awkward card to build around.
This is slooow.
Naban is interesting, in particular because it’s the first Dominaria legend that only costs 2 mana. As I mentioned earlier, the sooner you can get the mana boost from Mox Amber, the better. And I would really like to have eight legends that cost 2 mana or less.
How can we abuse Naban’s ability? Well, Resilient Khenra, Silvergill Adept, Champion of Wits, Sunscourge Champion, Trophy Mage, and Watertrap Weaver are playable Wizards whose enter-the-battlefield abilities will trigger twice. There is some potential here, but these creatures seem all over the place, and I don’t see a coherent deck yet.
You could brew up something spicy with Combat Celebrant, but I’m not quite seeing it yet.
Now we’re talking! Shanna is a perfect fit with Oviya Pashiri, the only 1-drop legend we have in Standard. Shanna can potentially attack for 3 on turn 3 and can even turn on Rhonas, the Indomitable—also a legend—in the midgame. Overall, Shanna could be a strong addition to a G/W Swarm strategy.
After a frantic brewing session, I concocted the following deck.
Turn 1: Forest, Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter, Mox Amber, Llanowar Elves.
Turn 2: Plains, Huatli, Radiant Champion.
Turn 3: Forest, Rhonas the Indomitable, activate Huatli’s -1, Ghalta, Primal Hunger.
Welcome to the new Standard!
Even without any mana ramp, this deck can reliably cast Ghalta on turn 4, as Toolcraft Exemplar and Heart of Kiran add a lot of power to the board for a low mana investment. (Although at first glance it might look like there are not enough artifacts for Toolcraft Exemplar, don’t miss the fact that Oviya Pashiri makes artifact tokens.)
This deck also seemed like the perfect home for a final new addition from Dominaria.
If it weren’t for Urza’s Ruinous Blast, I would have built a token deck with Sram’s Expertise and Pride Sovereign. But a one-sided sweeper effect is worth building around. The only nonland, nonlegendary permanents in my list are Llanowar Elves and Toolcraft Exemplar. I’m okay with losing a 1-drop that is outclassed on turn 5 anyway if it gets me a one-sided sweeper.
0-mana acceleration should never be overlooked. It’s not easy to build a deck that can exploit Mox Amber—for real consistency you want to have at least 13 legends that cost 1 or 2 mana, which is nearly impossible to achieve, and even my absolute bare minimum of eight legends can be tough—but my lists show that it’s possible, and I believe they have potential in both Standard and Modern.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Mox Amber becomes one of the premier cards in Dominaria. What are your first impressions of Mox Amber or other cards confirmed to be in Dominaria?