How to Find Amonkhet's Star Players - Massdrop East/West : Article #14
Hey, this is Ari Lax, Gold Pro and member of Team Massdrop West. I'm back for my second article, just in time for the new set Amonkhet to get released.
Amonkhet is entering Standard in a somewhat unique place. Full on fresh blocks have rarely been dropped into a Standard format like this without a rotation. Almost every previous comparison I can think of has been a single, stand alone set: Rise of the Eldrazi, Avacyn Restored, Dragons of Tarkir.
You get a bunch of new cards that don't have obvious synergies with the old ones, but are designed to work closely with cards being printed in Hour of Devastation. Even if you don't play Standard, it's not a set that lends itself to easy deck building. There's a couple cards like Drake Haven that play off Cycling, but Cycling, Exert, and Embalm aren't really mechanics that directly build decks off themselves. With Energy or Improvise it was easy to put the pieces together because they were labeled as Energy or Artifacts.
And now add the gap left by the banning of Felidar Guardian. What are we supposed to look for now?
Simple effects that get better in multiples are one thing to find. The easiest example of this is red aggressive cards. You need a certain amount of good one cost creatures and burn to make a good aggressive red deck, so adding another set with another version of each of those brings you closer to the finish line.
Looking a bit closer at the red cards in Amonkhet, there a trio that catches my eye: Soul-Scar Mage, Cartouche of Zeal, and Trial of Zeal. Soul-Scar Mage isn't quite Monastery Swiftspear, but it's close enough. Considering Monastery Swiftspear is one of the best Modern red aggressive creatures, close enough is good. When Monastery Swiftspear was in Standard, it saw play along side Hammerhand, which is just the same card as Cartouche of Zeal. There's even more benefit as Soul-Scar Mage doesn't naturally have haste!
Trial of Zeal looks inefficient, but Cartouche of Zeal being playable makes it worth another look. If you get return it and get another three damage you are reaching peak red mage. Producing six total damage is a big hit for a single card, which is basically the goal of most red decks. Convert every card into as much damage as possible, usually with some element of speed so they don't become useless in the face of more expensive ones.
Comparing to some of the Hammerhand red decks is a great start. Those decks had to face down Siege Rhino and Mantis Rider. You aren't going to have play against those specific enemies.
4 Bomat Courier
4 Soul-Scar Mage
4 Falkenrath Gorger
4 Insolent Neonate
1 Village Messenger
2 Bloodrage Brawler
2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
2 Ahn-Crop Crasher
4 Consuming Fervor
4 Cartouche of Zeal
3 Fiery Temper
3 Trial of Zeal
2 Magma Spray
3 Release the Gremlins
2 Hazoret the Fervent
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
3 Harsh Mentor
2 Key to the City
1 Canyon Slough
Some of the key elements here:
-Menace is a very strong way to force in damage with pump spells like Consuming Fervor and anti-blocking effects like Cartouche of Zeal.
-The land count is deliberately low. So many of your cards are only good early that you need to be able to flood as many of them as possible into play early on for them to count. That means having less lands in your hand around turn three, even if it means waiting to cast your three cost cards. The sideboard land is admitting that when you want more powerful cards you have to change this up a bit, and it's possible you want a second there.
-I'm aggressively limiting how many copies I play of cards I don't want to draw multiples of. Most of that is three cost cards or Legends, but Bloodrage Brawler in multiples ensures you can't play one as your last card and discard nothing.
If you are looking at weird single cards that require a deck built around them, odds are they are short some support that is in the second set of the block. The unique build around cards that have potential to be immediate hits tend to fall into one of two categories: cards with high enough impact that they don't need specific help, or cards with existing support from previous sets.
In Kaladesh, the high impact single card was Aetherworks Marvel. Maybe your deck was a little better with Rogue Refiner to produce Energy, but it didn't matter a lot because making a big thing was still game ending. Amonkhet's Champion of Rhonas has a similar cost-avoiding effect, and naturally slots into the existing Aetherworks Marvel decks. Drawing an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger used to be pretty miserable, but now there's a way to exploit that.
The standouts for back compatibility have to be the Zombie cards that play with the Shadows over Innistrad Zombies. The new Zombies don't work well with Prized Amalgam, which is sad because that gets out of hand quickly, but they do benefit from the fact that previous Zombies exist that are simply good cards. Here's a quick pass at tribal Zombies that incorporates a lot of the best parts I've seen so far.
4 Dread Wanderer
4 Crypt Breaker
1 Festering Mummy
4 Relentless Dead
4 Metallic Mimic
2 Miasmic Mummy
4 Lord of the Accursed
3 Plague Belcher
3 Diregraf Colossus
2 Dark Salvation
3 Grasp of Darkness
3 Fatal Push
4 Tresspasser's Curse
3 Liliana, the Last Hope
4 Transgress the Mind
1 Fatal Push
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
-I have Relentless Dead on turn two and one cost creatures. I don't want to mess with my mana, all Swamps and no value. At most I would consider a single copy of a Cycling land.
-Unlike the red deck, you don't have the density of good one cost options to just play all of them and make it work. Instead you have to actively improve them, hence the focus on cards like Lord of the Accursed and Metallic Mimic.
-I've tried to cap the number of non-creature spells and mediocre to cast creatures in my deck. There aren't quite enough creatures that directly improve those cards to get away with just playing the mediocre creatures that cost the least, and your lower per card impact makes drawing too much removal and not enough threats a bit of a problem.
Clean, broad, and efficient answers always have a place. But which cards fall into this group?
Efficient is really a measure of mana. If your opponent spends part of their turn playing a Relentless Dead and the rest of their turn playing a Dread Wanderer and you spend your whole turn playing Cast Out, they still get to attack and you still have to spend more time answering their other creature. They spent a turn, you end up spending more than a turn and losing life. Enough bad trades like this and you will lose when you miss a beat or the damage just adds up.
Broad is a question of how situational the card is. On one end you have Void Shatter, which is always going to hit its mark. Cast Out is another pretty broad answer that just takes care of whatever non-land permanent happens to be causing trouble at the time.
Clean is a measure of how likely you are to end up behind on the exchange. A card being a clean answer often depends a ton on what you plan to answer. Ruinous Path is not a clean answer to Planeswalkers because they get to activate once, which is usually worth a card, a token creature, or simply damage. Immolating Glare isn't a clean answer to Winding Constrictor because by the time it attacks the G/B Counters player probably got a bonus somewhere.
A card doesn't have to hit on all of these points to be good, but the more the better.
Amonkhet has two answers that immediately pop out to me. Magma Spray is not very broad, but it's efficient at one mana, with notable misses on killing Heart of Kiran and Winding Constrictor balanced out by cleanly answering Dread Wanderer and Scrapheap Scrounger.
Censor is the other one, and possibly my pick for the best card in the set. Counterspells are usually clean and broad and two mana is absurdly efficient. The situational drawback of being something they can easily pay for is completely removed by the cheap cycling cost. If Censor isn't going to be effective, it turns into a random other card without significantly disrupting your other actions. If your opponent decides to play around it, you lose nothing and they lose time as you get closer to whatever finisher you choose.
And wouldn't you know it, one of the first successful decks on Magic Online after the release of Amonkhet was a control deck with four of both of these cards.
4 Torrential Gearhulk
2 Essence Scatter
4 Glimmer of Genius
2 Pull from Tomorrow
4 Harnessed Lightning
4 Magma Spray
2 Sweltering Suns
1 Commit // Memory
1 Highland Lake
4 Aether Hub
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Wandering Fumarole
1 Brutal Expulsion
2 Confiscation Coup
2 Dragonmaster Outcast
2 Essence Scatter
2 Release the Gremlins
2 Thing in the Ice
Note that part of this is a result of Censor and Magma Spray being good, but not super unique. Blue already had some counter magic that was at a similar place to Censor, and red already had Shock to rival Magma Spray. Simply better answers tends to point towards control decks, but completely new answers help out midrange decks and promote good threats that just didn't quite get there before. Cast Out and Angel of Sanctions are two cards that might do that, allowing white to play a role in decks that it hasn't had for a while.
The final category is just cards that land and completely change a game. These are your flagship “good cards” of the set, but sometimes they go unnoticed. How can your predict the next Glorybringer or Walking Ballista?
If the card is inexpensive, check if it hold up in combat and threatens to run away with a game if unanswered. Winding Constrictor is a great example of this, where you have a 2/3 creature that can easily represent a bonus two power the next turn and more after that.
If the card is moderately costed, think if it can immediately turn around a game from slightly behind to ahead and then win from there. Glorybringer falls in this group. It won't completely win a lost game, but attacking and killing a creature quickly puts you further and further ahead.
If the card is expensive, which usually starts around six mana, will it almost immediately take over the game. Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Primeval Titan, and Torrential Gearhulk are some of the best six cost threats of all time, and they all have this characteristic.
Of course, once you find the potential game breaker, you are still left with a problem. This card is great, but what’s the best shell for it. Do you just slot the card in with a bunch of other good cards, or do you start really adding synergistic cards to make it hit as hard as possible?
Honestly, I have no idea. That’s a case by case question. But at least looking at one card you know is good and figuring it out is easier than looking at three hundred and having no clue where to start.
Thanks for reading, and please post any questions or feedback below!
We had an exciting reveal of two Amonkhet masterpieces , check out the video here: https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1482/scouting-report-massdrop-east-west-on-2-amonkhet-masterpieces
If you are curious about our team, check out our intro: https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1117/announcing-team-massdrop-east-west or, read our previous weekly articles:
1. How to Prepare for an MtG Pro Tour by Ben Weitz (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1158/how-to-prepare-for-an-mt-g-pro-tour)
2. Approaching New Magic Drafts by Ari Lax (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1193/approaching-new-magic-drafts)
3. Constructed Testing for Pro Tour Aether Revolt by Jarvis Yu (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1213/recap-of-constructed-testing-for-massdrop-east-west-for-pro-tour-aether-revolt)
4. Breaking into Eternal Formats - Case Study: GP Louisville by Jon Stern (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1240/breaking-into-eternal-formats-case-study-gp-louisville-massdrop-east-west-article-4)
5. In Good Company - Top 8 at GP Vancouver by Eric Severson (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1285/in-good-company-top-8-at-gp-vancouver)
6. Adapting to Full Block Kaladesh Limited by Jiachen Tao (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1323/adapting-to-full-block-kaladesh-limited-massdrop-east-west-article-6)
7. Sorry My Felidar Guardian Ate My Homework by Mark Jacobson (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1364/sorry-my-felidar-guardian-ate-my-homework-massdrop-east-west-article-7)
8. Taking a Mardu Vacation - Top 8 in New Jersey and Heading to an Eternal Extravaganza by Jarvis Yu (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1401/taking-a-mardu-vacation-top-8-in-new-jersey-and-heading-to-an-eternal-extravaganza-massdrop-east-wes)
9. A Guide to the Grind by Pascal Maynard (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1448/a-guide-to-the-grind-massdrop-east-west-article-9)
10. Asking Aggro-vating Questions by Timothy Wu (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1493/asking-aggro-vating-questions-massdrop-east-west-article-10)
11. The Meat and Potatoes of Jund by Paul Dean (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1534/the-meat-and-potatoes-of-jund)
12. Hidden Values in Magic: The Gathering for Kids and Parents by Scott Lipp (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1572/hidden-values-in-magic-the-gathering-for-kids-and-parents-massdrop-east-west-article-12)
13. The Importance of Preparation in Competitive Magic: The Gathering by Ricky Chin (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1606/the-importance-of-preparation-in-competitive-magic-the-gathering-massdrop-east-west-article-13)