Amonkhet is right around the corner and like any new Magic set it brings with it a ton of new archetypes and build-around-me cards to potentially shake up the Standard format. Amonkhet is dripping with awesome flavor – from embalmed, zombified creatures to building your own wondrous monument, brick counter after brick counter. As a natural Johnny I want to build something new, innovative, and fun to play with. That ounce of Spike in me, however, wants me to make these cool decks as competitive as possible. Here are several cards from the new set that I will be itching to try out in some fashion.
Pyramid of the Pantheon
If you’ve played cube on Magic Online you know how good Gilded Lotus is. Now it’s back in Standard for just a single mana (after some work, of course). By making your spells cost 1 more mana for three turns your great Pyramid will be complete, enabling you to cast giant spells way earlier than intended.
Pyramid has the makings of a solid brew card because of the reward you get after putting three counters on it. There are many spells in Standard that do not see much play because of their mana costs, cards such as Part the Waterveil and Crush of Tentacles. An activated Pyramid of the Pantheon enables you to play all the expensive spells to your heart’s desire.
Players have always found ways to abuse cheap artifacts with powerful effects in Magic’s history. Can the same be done for Pyramid of the Pantheon? Enter Paradox Engine.
It looks like Paradox Engine and Pyramid of the Pantheon were made for each other. The untap effect will allow you to put more than one counter on Pyramid a turn, and once you have it activated you get three free mana per spell cast from this alone. I can see Pyramid slotting in nicely in a Metalwork Colossus deck like the one DZYL brewed on Magic Online.
There are other decks to try this out in if you are looking to be more experimental. Personally, I want to try out a crazy Blue/Green deck that uses the new Nissa and ways to really pump out counters to accelerate my pyramid. She can really benefit from a deck that produces a lot of mana.
It might not be as competitive as DZYL’s awesome Colossus deck, but it does look fun! Whichever route you choose, Pyramid of the Pantheon will be both a very exciting card to play and a card that can be a cornerstone for a competitive Standard deck.
Shadow of the Grave
The moment this was spoiled I couldn’t stop thinking of the possibilities. This might not appear to do too much but being able to return all the cards back to your hand that you either discarded or cycled for value is a very powerful thing. This seems potentially busted in older formats but can still find a home in Standard.
Why is this so good? Because of the value it can generate. There are a lot of ways to get loads of value off of this. Your opponent Mind Rots you, causing you to discard two cards. At end of turn, you can simply cast this and get those two cards back, making Shadow of the Grave a 2-mana counterspell in black versus discard spells. Turn 4, play Cathartic Reunion, draw three cards, play this, get the reunion fodder back into your hand. You can also cast Chandra, Flamecaller, use her plus ability, next turn use her zero ability discarding your hand and drawing that many cards plus one, then using Shadow to get all the cards you pitched.
And that’s just the start.
Combined with any of these cards you’re setting yourself up to easily have more cards in your hand than the opponent. With Bomat Courier, you might as well ignore its downside, with each counter on it stating “draw a card.” Stormkirk Condemned may only be able to activate once a turn but there are other vampires who have no such restrictions, plus you can have multiple on the field at a time. And Noose Constrictor with Shadow can crush your opponent’s face if he/she is tapped out, essentially allowing you to pump it for free or deal double the damage it normally would have done.
And this is just looking at the discard half the card. Amonkhet reintroduces cycling, and there are plenty of cheap cyclers to keep your hand full. In blue and black alone there are seven 1-mana cycle cards. Shadow of the Grave enables so many potential game-breaking shenanigans and is also a great candidate with the next card I want to play with.
With cycling back in Standard it brings with it a spicy workhorse in New Perspectives. This card, while having a strong effect on the game, has some tight restrictions put onto it before you can just “go off.” And that’s what makes this appealing. Historically, making anything free in Magic has been seen as “busted.” (Force of Will, Gush, Cascade mechanic, Phyrexian mana, etc.) Turning all of your cyclers free will enable you to go through your deck extra fast, and when combined with Shadow of the Grave you get to go off twice as fast. Let’s look at some of the roadblocks this card faces before it turns on.
First, it costs 6 mana. If you can get to that point in the game without just dying on the next turn that will go a long way. Now, onto step two. Having seven or more cards in your hand after playing a 6 drop is going to prove challenging, even if this card helps you from the draw three. So what else can help you keep a large grip?
These are all pretty strong cards on their own and they were all introduced in Amonkhet. Even Take Inventory might find a home in this style of deck. When you manage to have New Perspectives in play and have seven cards in hand you can cycle for free. If we are going to chain off card after card there needs to be some sort of payoff.
Archfiend fits in right at home in this type of deck, acting as a large body and a one-sided board wipe. It’s a great board staller. Faith of the Devoted and Drake Haven serve a somewhat similar purpose, sustaining you by either providing blockers or gaining life. They both can also slowly attack your opponent’s life total.
The deck looks incredible durdly but that makes the end game that much sweeter. If you can manage to stay alive early you’ll be able to draw your deck, find your combo, and win late with style.
It may not be a huge build-around-me card like others on this list but it’s definitely a sweet one. It’s strong enough to rekindle my interest in a zombie tribal deck. Amonkhet certainly was kind to the walking dead, providing players with a good one-drop creature and a 3-mana lord that provides evasion and doesn’t strain your mana base.
Outside of Amonkhet, the zombies of Innistrad are (un)dying to see some competitive play.
Zombies now have enough cheap, powerful creatures to challenge other decks, but what makes Plague Belcher so special? For one, it’s very large; a 5/4 body with evasion is going to be a headache for people to deal with, especially since this is out of Shock range, dodges an un-revolted Fatal Push, and even avoids Harnessed Lightning if your opponent has no prior energy. The large body is needed in a deck full of 2/2s. The belcher also provides you a bit of reach, something non-red aggro decks usually have issues with. Since all of your creatures are zombies, (and a lot of them recursive), you’ll be able to get a lot of mileage out of Plague Belcher’s life drain.
Plague Belcher deserves mention on this list because it’s clear Wizards wants to see some sort of zombie tribal deck pop up in Standard, and this is the zombie that stood out to me. If backed up by a suite of removal spells few things are going to stop him from spreading his sick beats. If zombies can’t put a dent in the format after this guy gets introduced, I’ll be really surprised.
Bontu the Glorified
More black cards! Many people were initially undecided on the gods when they were spoiled. Some argued that they were boring or didn’t feel good enough. I think they are all strong in their own way but none say “build around me” like Bontu does. The reason is because sacrificing a normal creature is a real cost. Often it doesn’t feel correct to sacrifice a whole card to be able to attack for 4 one time. So how can we take advantage of his stipulation? By putting him in a token deck.
As soon as I saw him I quickly thought about one of the more solid plays you can make in Aether Revolt limited on turns 1 and 2. Then I thought about a card I also hated playing against in Battle for Zendikar limited.
Hidden Stockpile with an early revolt enabler gives you cheap fodder to feed your hungry god, allowing him to easily swing as a 4-power menace every turn. You also have access to Weaponcraft Enthusiast and Yaheeni, Undying Partisan to fuel both Bontu and revolt cards. Access to Anguished Unmaking and Fatal Push ensures that you will be interacting with your opponents while you assemble your board.
With these pieces you are ensuring Bontu gets to attack every turn for 4 menacing damage, putting the opponent on either a real clock or losing a blocker or two each turn. You definitely can’t shove him into every deck like, say, the green god. Making it so you can attack with Bontu by sacrificing a mere token will feel painless and powerful.
If you decide to go a more green route you have options in creatures like Eyeless Watcher and Scion Summoner, both of which are small eldrazi creatures that make another body or two. Who knows, maybe you can even tutor out Decimator of the Provinces with your From Beyond if your board gets big enough. There are plenty of options with Bontu, proving him to be a well-designed card worth checking out.
There are so many new toys in Amonkhet that I am eager to play with. This set promises to shake up standard from the downpour of vehicle and cat decks. Maybe old Standard will bend the knee and pay homage to its new gods soon enough.