Amonkhet Limited is an interesting environment, where fast aggressive gameplay dominates but archetypes such as midrange, control, cycling or even 4-5c are feasible. This is a format that many had high hopes for going into it (mostly because of cycling returning). Expectations have mostly been met (Ben Stark gives this set a B+/A-), but not quite in the way that was anticipated. Here’s a brief history lesson on how attitudes and approaches to the format have progressed, and how that shapes the way in which the average drafter might see Amonkhet Limited.
Grindy environment thanks to Embalm/Cycling, Exert’s quality is unknown, x/1s look bad, everything with cycling is “playable”
Whispers of aggro being overpowered are heard, UG is the worst deck due to it’s inability to stop any of the common exert creatures reasonably. Complaints of bomb rares abound, and Glorybringer brings its namesake to many hopeful FNM heroes.
A P1P5 Decimator Beetle sets the stage for shenanigans as blades slither around the table. Various teams had shown up with a specific vision for the format, dubbed hyper aggro (read more here if you want). Hyper-aggro was not the only successful deck at the pro tour, but was successful. To reinforce the point of hyper-aggro not being infallible, let’s break down the draft two decks Gerry T used to win the Pro Tour (first midrange, second controlling).
Here we have a BW deck with 13 creatures (+2 Start // Finish, basically Raise the Alarm), 2 removal spells, 2 tricks, 2 Wander in Deaths (mid/late 2 for 1 or a cycler), Oketra’s Monument, “win the game” (Trial of Solidarity), and a Liliana . His mana base is 8 Plains, 7 Swamps, 1 E. Wilds (16 lands is standard for this format).
It’s worth noting that this deck is technically a bit low on creatures for a Monument (only 13), but it’s powerful with his Trial, Wander in Death, and Start // Finish. Thanks to the nature of cycling, Gerry is able to leverage cards that aren’t always awesome (Djeru’s Resolve and Wander in Death) without risking cards getting stranded in his hand.
I really appreciate Gerry playing Supply Caravan here, as his curve isn’t too high but he certainly has the late game advantage over your average aggro deck (Lily, 2x Wander in Death, curve with 4s/5s instead of just 1s/2s). In my opinion Vizier of Remedies is easily the worst card in this deck, and would likely have been better as any 3 CMC White or Black creature (Those Who Serve, Rhet Crop Spearmaster, Blighted Bat, etc). As a final thought keep in mind that while BW is the chief Zombie archetype in draft, Zombie synergies are hardly necessary for making a good BW deck (more of a bonus). Every Zombies card other than Time to Reflect is playable on its own.
Here’s a fun one. This is a dream UR spells deck, which one can infer when they see the paltry 10 creature count. Gerry is once again playing 16 lands, with a 10/6 split on Islands Mountains. UU is important as it casts Ancient Crab, Cancel, and cycles early Hieroglyphic Illuminations. Having three Hieroglyphic Illuminations is perfect for a deck like this, as the card has use whether you are screwed (hit lands, cheapen Serpents) or flooded (wait and hard cast it for gas). In my opinion the worst cards in this deck are Pursue Glory (essentially a blank cycler) and the second Floodwaters.
As for how one might end up in a deck like this, I imagine this is the result of one color (blue) being very open, with a secondary color composed mostly of high picks and a snapped off Glorybringer PxP1. If Gerry started base Blue, he could stay open to a number of controlling Ux archetypes (UB, UR, UW). It’s also possible Gerry simply first picked the Glorybringer but was cut on the red all draft and simply took Ancient Crabs and card draw while early picking his few good red cards. The lower quality of his final playable cards might be indicative of this.
Post-Pro Tour Honeymoon
Ben Stark gave his solid grade for the format about a week ago, but as far as I know “Features” such as Team Draft Super League (TDSL) and Christian Calcano’s 6 Slither Blade masterpiece have helped contribute to the image that Amonkhet Limited is some of the best in years. In terms of format approach, one takeaway is that these hyper-aggro decks are not particularly common on MTGO, largely victims of their own success. If Slither Blades aren’t going 12th pick anymore, you generally won’t be able to draft the deck. Another change is a very negative outlook towards UGx decks (ramp), and a depression regarding the playability of various cyclers (mainly River Serpent, Desert Ceradon, Greater Sandwurm, etc). These “fat & average or just cycle them” cards have fared worse than expected, as neither “7 mana 7/7” or “2: something else” are appealing in a format with 2 mana 3/3 fliers, 3 mana 5/4s, and regularly drafted 15 land aggro decks.
I’m going to pause for a bit while I think about how to structure my next points, but if you need a one liner take away for Amonkhet, mine is as follows:
Be aggressive, or at least have a plan to deal with aggression.
You don’t need to play Slither Blades, but even “good” cards like Binding Mummy can 20 to 0 you in a very non interactive fashion, tapping your blockers over and over while leaving you feeling helpless. Having a plan beyond playing “2 for 2 into 2/3 for 3 into 2/4 for 4 on the draw” is important. If you can’t break serve, you may never get to the point in the game where what your deck is doing matters.
Sealed vs Draft
Amonkhet Sealed vs Amonkhet Draft differs in some important ways. These differences are fairly typical of most Limited environments. Amonkhet Sealed is slower, less synergy driven, and more focused on rares and individually powerful cards. A lot of the power of the best exert commons isn’t fully felt, due to print runs and the presence of other filler cards that get played (i.e. you’ll play Ornery Kudu/Pounching Cheetah for 3s if you don’t open Hooded Brawler). It is also possible to open pools where your best colors don’t grant you an awesome curve, leading to more of the awkward, dynamic game play that Sealed MTG is known for.
Some cards that are better in Sealed: Electrify and Final Reward (expensive removal that can kill most rares), Open Into Wonder and Oracle’s Vault (board stall breakers), fliers (Aven Initiate in particular is excellent), strong expensive creatures (Scaled Behemoth, Angler Drake, etc), Forsake the Wordly (answers various rare enchantments or cycles), anything with cycling (the common River Serpent cycle in particular), and enchantments like Illusory Wraps (answers powerful creatures).
Some cards that are worse in Sealed: Bloodlust Inciter/Honed Khopesh/Consuming Fervor (hyper aggro cards), mediocre early drops (Nimble Blade Khenra, Binding Mummy as just Grizzly Bears, Festering Mummy), low impact combat tricks in decks just trying to leverage rares (your Pull From Tommorrow/Glorybringer/Curator of Mysteries deck probably doesn’t need that 2nd Brute Strength), build around cards (Faith of the Devoted, Zombies matter cards, etc.).
Every deck should have a plan to win the game. If your deck is on the scrappier, less bomby side, you’ll probably want to play more cheap creatures and pump spells to push them through. If you have awesome rares, you’ll want curve filler and card draw to minimize losses to nut draws and mana problems and let your deck’s naturally high power level shine through. Here’s an interactive build through with what I would consider a well above average pool.
This is a full pool, with the rares plus the Trials and Cartouches dragged out to the bottom. For convenience, when evaluating a new pool, I color sort first (setting the rares aside). I also like to pull out or note fixing quickly thereafter. Afterwards you can pull out cards with specific payoffs (Cartouches/Trials, multicolor cards, build arounds, etc) that seem enticing, or just uncommon/common “rares” (here are some examples: Angler Drake, Lay Claim, Scaled Behemoth, Deem Worthy, Electrify, Final Reward, Splendid Agony, Magma Spray, Emberhorn Minotaur, Gust Walker, Compulsory Rest, Fan Bearer, Hooded Brawler, and more).
Every rare in this pool is at least playable, with one mega bomb (Glorybringer), two powerful rares (Prepare // Fight, Curator of Mysteries), two good rares in Channeler Initiate and Bounty of the Luxa, and one build around in Anointed Procession. Typing in “token” quickly rules out Anointed Procession, due to a lack of cards that interact with the rare.
A quick look at the Trials and Cartouches shows us Red packing double Trial of Zeal (the best uncommon in the set in my opinion) and green offering two Cartouche of Strength (the best green common). Our pool’s fixing is limited to Channeler Initiate and a trio of Oashra Cultivators, a very mediocre card that probably gets played more often than it should. I’m immediately drawn to Red Green, as we could leverage our best cards and many of our rares while possibly splashing Prepare // Fight or Bounty of the Luxa, but let’s give each color a full overview to better understand what to look for out of your pools.
Fan Bearer, Gust Walker, and Unwavering Initiate are good cards. Tah-Crop Elite * 2 plays well with a high creature count, and Sacred Cat/Binding Mummy/Anointer Priest are all curve filler. We also have an Oketra’s Monument that plays great with our high creature count and go wide theme. However White offers no individually exceptional cards.
Blue is usually the worst color in AKH Sealed from my experience, although this pool’s Blue isn’t horrible. I find Blue to be weak mostly because of how unappealing cards such as Decision Paralysis, Floodwaters, Compelling Argument, and the like are (do nothing cyclers or plain do nothings). The best Blue cards in the pool are Curator of Mysteries, Lay Claim, Essence Scatter, and the Trial of Knowledge. If we ended up building a Blue controlling deck, we’d have Tah Crop Skirmisher, Seeker of Insight, and 2x Ancient Crab to fill out our curve, and Hieroglyphic Illuminations for a bit of gas.
Black is probably the worst color in this pool, but this pool is good enough that Black isn’t awful. Our best cards are two Stir the Sands (an average 4 drop/above average 6 drop all in one card), Final Reward, and Splendid Agony. Black’s main weakness here is that our creatures are largely defensive filler and that our best cards serve mostly to stall the game (kill spells, Stir the Sands) rather than win the game. If we played a base black deck here, we would likely flood out and die.
Glorybringer with 2x Trail of Zeal, of course we are playing Red. Honestly we got lucky here to have just enough playables beyond our 3 nutty cards. Our best other red cards are Magma Spray and Emberhorn Minotaur. Bloodrage Brawler is an exciting card in a deck with 2x Cartouche of Strength, but usually would be worse than it is in Draft (where you draft low curve aggro decks with it). Nimble Blade Khenra, Pathmaker Initiate, Hyena Pack, etc give us playable filler to slap Cartouches on.
Our strongest green cards are 2x Cartouche of Strength, Trial of Strength, Channeler Initiate, and Crocodile of the Crossing. Cards such as Colossapede and Greater Sandwurm are quite solid in Sealed, and Synchronizing Strike is a great trick too. We also have acceptable curve filler in Bitterblade Warrior/Kudu. As expected I’m looking at RGx first, as our creatures promote our Cartouche/Trial game play really well.
Not too much here, just Wayward Servant, Bounty of the Luxa, Prepare // Fight, Spring // Mind, Onward // Victory. Prepare // Fight is the most appealing splash option for a RG deck.
Hazoret’s, Kefnet’s and Bontu’s Monuments are 100% unplayable and should never be considered. This pool has both Oketra’s and Rhona’s Monuments, both are which are playable and not necessarily restricted by color. The key to using both is a high (15+) creature density, with Rhonas Monument asking for big hitters and Oketra’s Monument asking for go wide payoffs (Tah Crop Elite, In Oketra’s Name, Pursue Glory, etc). Since we’re talking about Artifacts and the set has so few, let’s just go over the other artifacts in the set.
Honed Khopesh: Decent card, good in decks with small efficient creatures or fliers, most often base white decks thanks to Gust Walker, Sacred Cat, Unwavering Initiate, etc. Not worth it in big green decks, or decks looking to block and cast rares.
Throne of the God Pharaoh: Almost unplayable. This is a hyper aggro card for Bloodlust Inciter/Fan Bearer/Slither Blade decks, as it deals a lot of damage if you can keep a lot of terrible creatures tapped over and over. But otherwise it’s a mulligan and excessive win more card. I would essentially never expect to play this card in Sealed.
Oracle’s Vault: Interesting card to evaluate. It’s an excessively slow but powerful card that plays best in lower curve decks that want a value play. If your deck is 3c, playing counter spells or tricks, packing lots of other powerful slow options, or relying on certain cards to win the game then Vault gets a fair bit worse; if you exile your win cons to early Vault spins, you could deck yourself as 2 cards a turn goes by quickly in a 40 card deck. Another note on this card is that it plays awfully with cards that mostly cycle (Scarab Feast, Compelling Argument, Unburden, etc). So this isn’t a must play rare or anything, but it’s at least worth considering.
Edifice of Authority: Slightly overrated but generally quite good. I would play the first Edifice of Authority in every Sealed deck, and the 2nd in most decks. The overrating of this card comes from its spot in Draft, where “good colorless card” leads to this card getting picked a bit earlier than it should be. Still an always safe/strong choice though. If you haven’t played with this card it’s basically build your own Icy Manipulator/Prison Term, starting defensively at first but eventually upgrading to the real thing. The first aspect to this card makes it better in less proactive decks, but even aggressive decks enjoy the Edifice.
Luxa River Shrine: Hard to say anything good about this card.
BUILDING THE DECK ALREADY
Alright that’s enough analysis, let’s build the deck! Our best cards were identified early (Red + Green Cartouches/Trials/high card quality). I like to throw in all the premium stuff first, then add playable filler, then cut/adjust and/or consider splashing. Our splash options are Bounty of the Luxa, Prepare // Fight, and Final Reward.
I would basically be happy to play everything dragged down so far, but these aren’t all our playables. With more playables added it looks like this:
Trial of Strength is basically a creature so slotting it there makes sense. As such we essentially have 14 Creatures/ 8 Spells. With this curve I’d want to play 16 lands, as our curve isn’t exceptionally high. We have no Evolving Wilds or additional fixing so Cradle of the Accursed’s potential for creating mana problems outweighs the minor flood insurance that comes with having a late game Grizzly Bear. We need to add 2 more playable cards to this deck, either splashed or otherwise; if we splash, we probably have to play an Oashra Cultivator. Our deck’s power level is high enough (and we have enough playable cards) that RGx is the only config I would consider; true bad mana 3c is not a competitive option (if it was, we’d likely be Temur for the powerful Blue late plays).
Let’s break down the options for we have for our last two slots:
Oashra Cultivator + Bounty or Prepare or Final Reward: 1 Cultivator/1 basic/Channeler Initiate provides us 3 sources of a color, just enough for a splash. Of these cards I’d snap off Prepare, as it has the highest power level and can be pitched to Bloodrage Brawler to get Fight into the yard for free if we’re missing White.
Monuments: Our creature count is too low for Oketra’s Monument, given how little we do with the 1/1s it makes. Rhona’s Monument is worth considering but is yet another 3 and mostly plays to the same strengths our Cartouche/Trial game does (win with our dudes).
Shed Weakness/Brute Strength: Shed Weakness works with our Kudu/Croc/Channeler and is pretty efficient. Having a cheap trick makes fighting with Cartouche of Strength a bit safer, although never forget that Cartouche of Strength is a “may” ability. You can always opt out on the fight at the last second if your opp responds with a pump spell. Brute Strength plays well with our high power 4 drops and generally aggressive game plan. I have my hesitations on playing more pump spells though, as we already have 1 +3 Auras and only 13/14 creatures (counting the Trial).
Dissenter’s Deliverance/Pursue Glory: D.D is a nice hedge against Edifice in Sealed (which I would expect every deck to play if available). Edifice is 1 of 87 possible uncommons (3 uncommons per pack) and everyone opens 6 packs of Amonkhet. I’m not Frank Karsten and print runs could complicate things, but seeing Edifices won’t be that uncommon.
However, the nature of Edifice (it being a colorless card that can go in every deck) means you’ll never know about one until it comes down, and as such you’ll be blind cycling D.D. everytime you draw it. This makes D.D. play almost identical to “G: Draw a card” which is passable but not exciting at all.
Pursue Glory is a win more pump spell that can be something else if you aren’t winning. Our creatures are probably a bit too expensive for Pursue Glory to be awesome, and I have trouble imagining it outperforming Shed Weakness or Brute Strength (which play better with our naturally big dudes).
Tormenting Voice: Mediocre filtering spell that has no synergy with our deck, pass. You’re looking to play this card in spells matter decks, decks with graveyard/Aftermath synergy, or decks that just need velocity to find their new good cards. Our deck doesn’t fit the bill and thus we pass on this.
I settled on Shed Weakness plus Pursue Glory for the 23rd and 24th cards. Shed Weakness is efficient and works well with a few of our guys, helping us win combat, push tempo, and setup multi spell turns. Pursue Glory can win us the game or just cycle us into our good cards. It makes the cut over the more efficient Brute Strength because we can cycle it if we have an unfortunate aura/pump spell heavy draw (a fear I have with this deck). Our mana base is a simple and imperfect 8/8, as we have slightly more green cards but early red plays and RR Hyenas.
Dissenter’s Deliverance is an obvious answer to Edifice/Oracle’s Vault once we see one, and can come in over Pursue Glory/Stinging Shot (if no fliers and not in U or W). Against Angel of Sanctions I’d probably consider Oashra Cultivator + Final Reward +1 Swamp so we don’t automatically lose to that card. Against a more grindy deck Bounty of the Luxa + Oashra Cultivator + Island could replace weak cyclers/pump spells, or maybe even one of our low powered creatures (Pathmaker Initiate most likely). Normally I would not advise cutting creatures here, as we have 3 Cartouches and a lowish creature count.
This pool has two clearly superior colors in Red/Green which interact well with each other. However, not every pool is like this, and many pools will have multiple decks that are competitive with each other, leveraging different cards/synergies. If you have one of those pools, you’ll want to go through this process for each deck and be ready to switch based on what your opp is playing. A common juke is to have a G1/draw deck (often a midrange deck leveraging your pools best cards), and an aggro deck for when you are on the play. You can also do the reverse, boarding into a slower deck on the draw after winning G1. If you do this in person it pays to have all your cards sleeved in advance, so as to make the process much less transparent. For this deck I’d have the 40, the three splash cards, a Swamp, Island, Plains, Oashra Cultivator, and Dissenter’s Deliverance all sleeved.
I hope you enjoyed this walkthrough of Amonkhet Limited. I’ll have more to say next week, as I plan to write about the RPTQ where I put all of my practice to use. Turns out I’m heading to Kyoto in 2 months; my first Pro Tour awaits!