Amonkhet 2: Electric Brew-galoo

In news that will surprise exactly no readers, Chris Lansdell has been brewing with Amonkhet! Get his latest takes on cycling (with bonus Travis Hall decklist), ramp, and Paradox Engine/Cryptolith Rite ahead of SCG Atlanta!

Very soon after this article is published, we will know if any of the defining cards of last season’s Standard metagame have been removed from the format. Normally that would make it very hard to write an article about building decks, but fortunately for people who like to play with different cards and decks, we can ignore any potential bans and just do our thing. And that thing is brewing, and brewing hard.

Hitting for the Cycle

Cycling has a history of being a mechanic that is ripe for abuse. When it first appeared it led to the banning of Fluctuator, a card that fundamentally broke the entire mechanic. Oops. Astral Slide and Lightning Rift were major players the next time we saw the mechanic, and although Shards of Alara block didn’t break anything on its own, it did lead to the Living End deck that is still a contender in Modern.

There are a couple of cards in Amonkhet that might make their way into the Living End deck, but we’re talking Standard today. It’s clear that cycling is being pushed as an important mechanic, as we have cards like New Perspectives, Archfiend of Ifnir, Drake Haven, and Curator of Mysteries all waiting to make an impact. I want to start with a deck conceived by my good friend and former podcast co-host Travis Hall:

For some reason, Travis insisted I refer to him as “The All-Powerful and Impotent T-Hizzle” if I used his decklist. I am not sure why he would want to publicize that, but who am I to argue?

I like a lot of what is going on here. Travis is looking to win chiefly through cycling value from Faith of the Devoted, recurring the cycling cards with Seasons Past to cycle them again for more value. A few quick games with this deck proved that it is scarily trivial to see more than 60% of one’s deck. As we want to be cycling multiple times in a turn while also paying one for Faith of the Devoted, we need cards that cycle cheaply. That said we also need to ensure we aren’t dying to creature onslaughts, hence the inclusion of Renewed Faith and Yahenni’s Expertise. I would like a Fumigate or two in here somewhere as well, just because so many decks run cheap threats that get out of range of Yahenni’s Expertise in a hurry.

Given the provenance of this deck, I am shocked to not see a single copy of Emeria Shepherd anywhere. The All-Powerful and Omnipotent T-Hizzle is an even bigger fan of the recursive Angel than I am, and this seems like a good home for it. Tinkering with the manabase slightly would help make the Plains trigger more likely, although the value of just returning a permanent to hand in order to cycle it again should not be underestimated.

Two glaring omissions for me are Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Benefaction of Rhonas.

Ishkanah in my mind basically belongs in any graveyard deck, especially one where delirium appears trivial to attain. Although we are looking at a deck that wants to minimize the creatures it plays in order to blank opposing removal, we are also well-situated to recur the creatures we do have. Grapple with the Past may help do some work in that regard, but we are probably too low on creatures for it to be optimal. Baloth Null is not out of the question, but playing that card would push me even further in the direction of Liliana, Death’s Majesty or even Liliana, the Last Hope. The value to be had by using the -3 on Liliana, Death’s Majesty to return an Emeria Shepherd to the battlefield and then playing a Plains to return a Baloth Null…well. Well, indeed.

With Faith of the Devoted being so important to the deck, Benefaction of Rhonas can help us dig to it. It also has the advantage of finding Cast Out and Vessel of Nascency in a pinch, and if we wanted sideboard help, we could look at Dead Weight. There’s probably a Sultai version of the deck that also plays Drake Haven, which again would be something to find with Benefaction of Rhonas.

With that in mind, this is a list I have had floating in my head:

If you had told people twenty years ago that a 4/4 flyer for four mana with no drawbacks that cycled for a single blue mana, would get cycled more often than cast, they would have wept for the state of the game. And yet, here we are. The cycling creatures in this deck are, in my mind, the best options for both drawing cards and providing utility in the mid to late game, helping to find Liliana, Death’s Majesty or Ever After to return the beef to the battlefield. In the event that we can’t take that route to victory, we also have the ability to just drown our opponent in Drakes.

The light green splash is for two cards that I think are natural fits in the deck: Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Shefet Monitor. The latter of those is the card of which I expect to have more copies in more decks than is healthy. It draws a card, it ramps, it stops the Saheeli Rai combo (thanks to Sunscorched Desert), it hits hard if we ever need to cast it, and it’s a Lizard. Who doesn’t want to beat down with a Lizard?

That said, it’s possible we are better off switching out the green for white to give us Cast Out and, yes, Emeria Shepherd. We do lose out on a big beater to cycle, but we gain four more lands we can cycle, so…tie? Winged Shepherd might be fine in Limited, but it is underwhelming in Standard. Perhaps we could squeeze an Oketra the True into the Esper version?

Taking the On-Ramp

Sometimes, it’s okay to play the obvious deck. Bounty of the Luxa and Weaver of Currents are so obviously pushing us towards a G/U ramp strategy that I cannot resist going with the flow. Just because the setting is Egyptian-influenced doesn’t mean we have to live in de-Nile. Oh, and I guess that new Nissa lady isn’t too shabby either. We should probably do something with her.

The deck basically builds itself here. The synergies all work nicely with each other, with a couple of exceptions for cards that we just want in the deck. Weaver of Currents and Gift of Paradise are great friends with Kiora, Master of the Depths and can lead to some truly incredible turn 4 plays. I have often wondered why land Auras didn’t see more play, as land destruction is virtually unheard-of, so hopefully this one will stick. Walking Ballista is solid early and even better late. Both Bounty of the Luxa and Nissa, Steward of Elements help solve one of the biggest problems with ramp decks: drawing ramp when you already have all the mana or drawing beef when you need to ramp. The large creature package is designed to be something of a toolbox as you can tutor up whichever one you need with Sanctum of Ugin after you cast the first one. Oblivion Sower might be better as Drowner of Hope, but otherwise I like where we are.

Nissa is at her best in this style of deck. If you are able to cast her with X=3 relatively early, her +2 ability will not only be likely to put her out of range of most attacks but will also set up your draws to ensure you can protect her and find whichever piece you are missing. Later in the game, she can often just be a ten-point Fireball to the face, and one that might even stick around at that. Don’t overlook the power of that zero ability either, especially once we start scrying and we know what we are revealing.

A Paradox, a Paradox

Paradox Engine is a most ingenious card that really is just begging to be broken in half. Numerous brewers tried to do something with it and Cryptolith Rite, or with mana rocks, but there always seemed to be one card missing. The Cryptolith Rite version was so reliant on Duskwatch Recruiter staying alive that it often ended up being a bad G/B Artistocrats-style deck. The artifact mana version could do some very silly things with looped Metalwork Colossus and Aetherflux Reservoir, but it required a few too many pieces to get going.

I wouldn’t be writing this of course if I didn’t think Amonkhet had provided a couple of potential answers to one of those problems, notably the Cryptolith Rite problem. Several answers, in fact, some of which provide redundancy with effects that the deck sorely needs to do its very powerful thing. One of the biggest problems was that the new creatures you cast did not have haste, making it hard to clear through clumps of noncreature spells on the turn you want to go off. We can solve that issue with Samut, Voice of Dissent, who also happens to hit very hard.

Duskwatch Recruiter is not only vital to the combo, it is fragile. We have redundancy now with both Vizier of the Menagerie and Oracle’s Vault, which both help us manipulate the top of the library. Oracle’s Vault in particular plays very well with Paradox Engine, clearing nonland spells off the top of the library for literally no cost once we get that third brick counter. As we already want to be playing a lot of cheap creatures, getting those brick counters should be relatively simple. Here’s what a potential list could look like:

I am not sure if I want Druid of the Cowl (will always tap for mana) or Channeler Initiate (will almost always be bigger) in the long run, so we’ll start with a pair of each. Having the singleton Decimator of the Provinces is mostly a way to give us a way to win in case we can’t cast our whole deck at once, especially if we have Samut, Voice of Dissent as well. Some of these numbers might need tweaking before this list becomes solid, but Paradox Engine is an exciting card and we might finally have a critical mass of enablers for it.

And Still They Come

Friends, we are still not done. Normally I would be spending this week telling you about my impressions from the Prerelease and how it has changed my thoughts on the power level of various cards, but I did not get to play any Prereleases this time, alas. That’s not to say I haven’t been tinkering with the new cards, and I will have even more ideas for you ahead of #SCGATL next week. In the meantime, check out Sam Black on Premium and Todd Stevens on Select for some more great deck ideas.

That’s all we have for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB – where Lansdell’s Always Brewing. Until next time…Brew On!