Amonkhet Decks And Analysis!

Patrick Chapin has gone Cat crazy over Regal Caracal! But that’s not the only surprise lurking in his first Amonkhet brewing blockbuster. Is Manglehorn the unsung key to Standard’s future? And the Cartouche and Trial cycles can’t be Constructed-worthy…can they? Patrick has it all here!

Less than half of Amonkhet has been revealed, but already there are some really important cards that will meaningfully change the face of Standard. While a lot of attention has gone to planeswalkers, Gods, and Dragons, I think one of the most defining cards of the set has been flying in a little under the radar.

It may look unassuming, but Manglehorn lines up extremely well against the format. It’s not the most busted card or anything; however, it may prove to be one of the most impactful.

On the surface, Manglehorn appears to be a fancy Uktabi Orangutan.

Uktabi Orangutan is an appealing card, but isn’t Release the Gremlins just better?

Release the Gremlins is a powerful staple of the format, and just getting access to this type of effect in another color would be relevant. However, there are actually tons of advantages that Manglehorn has over Release the Gremlins in the new format.

To start with, Manglehorn is a creature, not a sorcery. This means we can just play it proactively as a 2/2. It even has an advantage over Uktabi Orangutan with the trigger being optional!

Yeah, of course, three mana for a 2/2 isn’t a good deal. However, it is a helluva lot better than a card that doesn’t do anything (or, at best, destroys our own stuff to make 2/2s). We don’t exactly see that many Release the Gremlins maindeck, do we? Manglehorn is extremely maindeckable.

Because it’s a creature, we can search it up with Traverse the Ulvenwald, which is pretty convenient, seeing as it’s green and all. This also means we can blink it or retrigger its ability in a multitude of ways. For instance:

Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai are both excellent combos with Manglehorn, either one letting you destroy another Heart of Kiran, Walking Ballista, Key to the City, Scrapheap Scrounger, Cultivator’s Caravan, Aethersphere Harvester, or even a Gearhulk. However, the Manglehorn is actually an extremely effective predator of enemy Felidar Guardians and Saheeli Rai. Emphasis mine:

“Create a token that’s a copy of target artifact or creature you control, except it’s an artifact in addition to its other types. That token gains haste. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step.”


Now Manglehorn’s second ability comes into focus. So long as we can keep a Manglehorn, no one is comboing off against us. Oh, they can do the combo, all right, but all of the Cat copies will be tapped, since they are artifacts.

Yeah, this is far from a hard lock. There are some cards they could potentially add as a third combo piece to get around this, but the same is true if they just kill the Manglehorn. Maybe they’ll have a removal spell, but as with Thalia, Heretic Cathar, they can’t win until they find the spell and successfully remove it.

It’s not just that Manglehorn is a Thalia that’s actually very effective against Mardu Vehicles. Manglehorn gives nonwhite decks access to this kind of effect. For instance:

While B/G Energy wasn’t as omni-present as Mardu Vehicles and Four-Color Saheeli, it did put up lots of great finishes and wasn’t far behind. The addition of Manglehorn gives us important maindeck percentage against both, which is particularly important for helping overcome the strategy’s inherent weakness to Four-Color Saheeli. We’ve even got Blossoming Defense to help keep it alive!

While Manglehorn can just go into basically any green and black deck, Delirium makes especially good use of it:

We could definitely play fewer than four Manglehorns, no question. With Traverse the Ulvenwald to go find them and Liliana, the Last Hope to reuse them, we’re not exactly short. Still, the card seems like it would help us so much where we need it, I’d like to experiment with overshooting (just to be sure it really is overshooting). It’s awesome against both Mardu and Four-Color Saheeli, and what else are we even facing?

Manglehorn answers Dynavolt Tower on-curve, and against Torrential Gearhulk, we can play it proactively as a threat that largely neutralizes the Gearhulk’s flash. We can also hold it, using it to get a Gearhulk off the table (which used to be a little challenging sometimes).

I’m torn. On the one hand, this is a fairly low opportunity cost for such a valuable option, especially in a deck without one-drops. It also gives us delirium faster (and sometimes by surprise). On the other hand, it is also more artifact hate in a deck loaded with Manglehorns. Tempo can actually be pretty important for B/G too.

Just to get it out of the way, yes, it is a somewhat awkward design in that it can’t hit legendary creatures but can hit planeswalkers. Nevertheless, this works out well for us. It is definitely not a clear choice between Transgress the Mind and Lay Bare the Heart, though. Lay Bare the Heart does hit quite a few more cards than Transgress the Mind does, but we may especially care about the cards on Transgress the Mind’s list (or value exiling/devoid).


  • Almost every spell that costs two or less


While I suspect the above deck isn’t the absolute best home for the new Liliana, I do want to try her anywhere she possibly can go.

Liliana is a complex subject, well-deserving of her own article. The short version is:

  • Her +1 ability makes her function like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, except she starts a loyalty higher and gains a loyalty every turn in exchange for that extra mana. The icing on the cake is that she aggressively self-mills, fueling delirium, making Torrential Gearhulk stronger, finding Scrapheap Scroungers, whatever.
  • Her -3 ability is great. If you cast her and use the -3 ability immediately, it’s like you cast a five-cost Reanimation spell and got to cast a Gideon-like planeswalker. Just getting back something like a Tireless Tracker makes her play like Bloodbraid Elf. Get back an Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and she’s having a profound impact on the game. In the right deck, you might even be able to get back Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or some other bomb.
  • Her -7 doesn’t take much time at all to get to, forcing opponents to attack into us. It’s not as big a part of the power as the other two abilities, but we will get to use it more than most planeswalker ultimates. Just be careful not to throw her away against a battlefield full of Embalmed creatures!

Okay, just to get a taste of what Liliana, Death’s majesty is capable of:

The addition of Curator of Mysteries and Archfiend of Ifnir means it’s actually fairly trivial to get a relatively big flying threat into our graveyard by the time we drop Liliana. Then, when we cast her, we get to commit two powerful permanents to the battlefield at the same time.

Amusingly, Oath of Jace might actually want to discard Torrential Gearhulk, letting us deploy it ahead of schedule. Of course, we might also just want to use Oath of Jace to give our opponent’s side of the battlefield -2/-2 when we have an Archfiend on ours (since it triggers on any discard as well as straight-up cycling).

Curator of Mysteries and Archfiend of Ifnir are probably going to be most commonly played in Drake Haven decks; however, it is interesting that you can play so many fatties in your deck without them getting stuck in your hand. For instance, in an Aetherworks Marvel deck, you can actually fairly easily ensure every activation is strong:

Depending on what else gets revealed, we might even see some extreme cycling decks that go well beyond Drake Haven. For instance, the following list is probably bad as-is but might be a promising play for innovation:

The mana is kind of rough, since we’re playing all twenty cycling duals. However, at least our Choked Estuaries are mostly untapped!

If we can somehow untap with a The Gitrog Monster (sic), we can drop New Perspectives and basically go off. Now, assuming we have seven or more cards in hand after the draw-three resolves, we can cycle half our spells for free and cycle our lands for two cards apiece. Even if we don’t win that turn, drawing 30 extra cards can have a huge impact on the game. Even without The Gitrog Monster, Drake Haven goes berserk with New Perspectives.

This deck isn’t trying to Splendid Reclamation the hardest, but it is interesting to consider the possibility of running it alongside twelve to twenty cycling duals. If we are playing all twenty cycling duals, we could also consider Cast Out and Renewed Faith for additional cycling options.

This is all getting a little crazy.

Back to Manglehorn.

Manglehorn really can just slot into basically any green creature deck, if we’re so inclined. Here, it helps the G/R Energy deck win the race against Four-Color Saheeli with that Blossoming Defense approach to protect it. Even when we’re just on the mediocre beatdown plan, though, we do still need something to target with all our pump spells. In a pinch, Manglehorn will do.

It might actually be the case that we don’t get enough value out of getting to keep the Consuming Fervor on the following turn, but it is a lot of damage per mana. Of course, we might also just want Built to Smash or Larger Than Life.

Manglehorn is well suited to a two-for-one sort of Nekrataal game if we can find enough other cards that play into this kind of a plan. For instance:

This list packs a deceptively great amount of card advantage, with Tireless Trackers and Chandras finding cards every turn, and Glorybringer and Manglehorn also giving us two-for-ones.

Glorybringer is a lot like Stormbreath Dragon, but with a Flametongue Kavu option rather than protection from white and monstrosity. It’s great for beating up on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and generally just an efficient threat. As long as we’re careful about Archangel Avacyn, the card seems excellent.

Channeler Initiate is much better than most of the two-cost accelerator options. Obviously, Servant of the Conduit plays well with energy, but for everyone else, Channeler Initiate seems like it might be a little better. Compared to the Servant, it has an extra “charge,” and then we end up with a bigger, beefier threat.

Even though it produces all five colors, it might still be right even in mono-green. For instance:

I want to be cautious about playing too many artifacts early that enemy Manglehorns can blow up, but Rhonas’s Monument might just be a sweet way to accelerate straight into Verdurous Gearhulk ahead of schedule.

Of course, if we do actually get Lifecrafter’s Bestiary going, it is sweet that Rhonas’s Monument saves us a mana on every creature (offsetting the mana to draw an extra card for each). In addition to saving all that mana, it represents two or more damage a turn, plus bigger, harder-to-stop threats. While I didn’t put any flash creatures in here, it might also be reasonable to play Rhonas’s Monument in a deck with two or more colors. Obviously, we’d probably want to be fairly heavy green to take advantage of the mana savings, but it does give +2/+2 and trample regardless of what color of creature we cast. This could make Rattlechains and Spell Queller even more dangerous as combat tricks.

Okay, I’ll admit, that’s kind of sweet.

Crocodile of the Crossing has a great rate, with the floor basically a 4/3 with haste for 3G. However, often, we’ll get extra utility out of putting the -1/-1 counter on a creature that wasn’t rumbling anyway, like Duskwatch Recruiter. We can even put the counter on Channeler Initiate, turning it into an extra mana rather than a drawback.

Rishkar actually turns Crocodile of the Crossing into a serious value-added creature, since whatever you put the -1/-1 counter on can now be tapped for mana. Just make sure you don’t put it on a creature with a +1/+1 counter, or else they will annihilate each other, antimatter-style.

Manglehorn may be kind of fancy, but not every Manglehorn decks needs to be. For instance:

I’m pretty excited about the possible return of Duskwatch Recruiter, though if the format ends up involving too many Shocks and Magma Sprays, we could also look to Syvan Advocate and/or Lambholt Pacificist.

Archangel Avacyn is just too good, so I’d like to keep us fully stocked on her if possible. Nevertheless, Angel of Sanctions seems pretty exciting. A 3/4 flying Oblivion Ring for five would already be worth at least considering; but on top of that, she has Embalm. It’s not just an extra card, since when you Embalm her, a two-for-one flying threat plus removal spell is just about the best you could hope to draw.

While she seems fine in the above deck, I am especially excited about finding a home for her in a deck with a self-mill component, or possibly some amount of looting. It’s about time there was a Scrapheap Scrounger for control decks!

There’s an unusual amount of potent white graveyard recursion in this set, and not all of it pulls in the same direction. For instance:

While the card quality in this list is fairly high, basically everything lines up right with Dusk//Dawn.

Dusk//Dawn is fairly mediocre as a sweeper, but it can be game-winning against a B/G deck. That said, maybe we can get away with using Rishkar, Peema Renegade. Sometimes the +1/+1 counters will come back to haunt us; but it is pretty cool that Rishkar can actually target our opponent’s creatures, making them big enough to die to Dusk. Either way, once we Dawn, we basically draw so many cards that we’re nearly assured of winning any attrition battles.

Dusk//Dawn is a very exciting card that is too slow for most decks, yet has the potential to draw cards like few white cards ever have. I’d love to find a home for it that can actually loot it away, however. Having to cast Dusk makes the card even slower, and the option to draw tons for five instead of nine will make all the difference in the world in some matchups.

I didn’t include any in the above list, but it’s worth noting that returning Walking Ballista is pretty sweet, letting us replay it for much more. It’s also worth noting that Winding Constrictor and Rishkar, Peema Renegade all coming back could lead to seriously explosive turns in some kind of Abzan Constrictor deck.

As if Angel of Sanctions and Dusk//Dawn weren’t enough of an addition to the Archangel Avacyn, Angel of Invention, Cataclysmic Gearhulk, Fumigate spot on the curve…

Regal Caracal is already extremely beloved, since you know, a lot of people like Cats. However, it is not just for funsies. Regal Caracal has a massive impact on the game. It’s like Cloudgoat Ranger and Baneslayer Angel decided to get kittens.

Seriously, though, seven points of damage a turn and lifelink? Even if they have a removal spell, you’re ahead a couple of Cats (which potentially makes the next Caracal even better).

One really cool way to abuse Regal Caracal is with Eldrazi Displacer. The Caracal basically instantly locks up the battlefield, and it doesn’t take much Cat blinking to completely overwhelm our opponents.

Packing enough colorless mana for Eldrazi Displacer is definitely not trivial. An alternative approach, if we want to reduce our exposure to Manglehorns, is to build around Traverse the Ulvenwald and Evolving Wilds instead.

I worry that this list is going to be too clunky, with Duskwatch Recruiter, Tireless Tracker, and cycling cards all competing with the Displacer for our mana, and that’s to say nothing of just wanting to cast our epic five-drops.

Now, if want to get really frisky, we could also look at going full-on hard-core kitty:

Okay, I guess Thraben Inspector over Scythe Leopard means we’re not full hard-core kitty, but this is pretty damn close. I just want something else to blink with our Guardian besides the Caracal!

You know, Cast Out and Drake Haven do make Felidar Cub more defensible…

Sadly, this list is working pretty damn hard to get what Verdurous Gearhulk gives away for free. I still think Regal Caracal will find some homes. I’m just not overly optimistic about such hard-core kitty action.

I mean, you will get the +1/+1 and lifelink sometimes, but I think you’re not really “kitty tribal” until you’ve got the ninth one. It’s like the whole “nine lives” thing. Now, if you put together a four-color build with Longtusk Cub? Ok, that’s now that’s a Cat tribal deck!

Ahh, yes, of course, the missing link for Cat tribal is clearly a Cartouche subtheme!

I’m in for trying to get extra value out of the Trials, but this has got to be too much of a stretch, right?

One thing I do like above these Trials is how well they work with Felidar Guardian. Nevertheless, this list is surely overly ambitious. Part of the problem is that by the time Trial of Solidarity is good in this deck, we could have just been playing any other expensive cards. If we want to make Trial by Solidarity good, we’d be better served running it in some kind of a Human aggro deck. For instance:

All these enchantments mean Soul-Scar Mage will get to use its prowess a fair bit, and it is a Human.

It’s also kind of nice that Trueheart Duelist gives us protection against sweepers and potentially a second Thalia’s Lieutenant trigger.

Cartouche of Zeal is actually extremely exciting. That is an incredible amount of action for one mana, and that’s not even counting the possibility of rebuying a Trial. Trial of Zeal, on the other hand, is only okay. Still, Cartouche of Zeal is so exciting, I expect we’ll see some Trial of Zeal show up.

This version is probably still too fancy, as I’m guessing we’re not really going to want this many Cartouches and Trials, as too many can get pretty clunky. Still, a nice W/R Humans deck makes great use of Trial of Solidarity.

Glory-Bound Initiate and Combat Celebrant especially appreciate the vigilance provided by Trial of Solidarity (since Exerting a creature doesn’t actually tap it, meaning vigilance totally cheats the system). At the end of the day, however, we could just be using Always Watching.

What about something like:

This list goes hard on Exert plus Always Watching, but Ahn-Crop Crasher and Glorybringer are just good cards anyway.

In my heart, I want to brew with Combat Celebrant. In my head, however, I would be mildly surprised, if that turned out to be the way to win the Pro Tour…

Untap two creatures? Very nice with exert. Very nice indeed.

Eldrazi Obligator is not a bad card on its own. In a deck with Ahn-Crop Crashers and Glorybringers, however, it might get enough extra mileage to cross over. Remember, Eldrazi Obligator can target your own stuff, so you can untap the Glorybringer you exerted last turn.

Even if we weren’t so into the red cards, though, we could still take advantage of Always Watching with Glory-Bound Initiate (which is basically Baneslayer Angel attacking on turn 3). For instance:

Gryff’s Boon on a Glory-Bound Initiate? Yes, please!

While this list uses Inspiring Vantage purely to fuel Needle Spires, we could also look at green. The addition of Scattered Groves means we’ve got plenty of two-color lands. Heron’s Grace Champion is also kind of an exciting Human, and Duskwatch Recruiter, Lambholt Pacifist, Renegade Rallier, and Tireless Tracker are no slouches.

It’s just too bad Manglehorn isn’t a Human…