Boss Previews: Liliana, Siege-Cat Commander, And More!

Tom “The Boss” Ross has his eyes on the Amonkhet previews! How will Cast Out and cycling duals shape control decks? Are Gideon of the Trials and Glorybringer as powerful as they seem? And is the second coming of eighteen-land Boss Sligh archetype at hand?

Preview season is here and we’re all digging into the treasures that Amonkhet has to offer. In no particular order, here are my first impressions from Amonkhet cards that’ve caught my eye.

Few things can catch a King Cheetah. Power creep is one of them.

I had to shout out King Cheetah right quick. One of the best flavor texts of all time. Sad to see a youngster replace the King.

The Trials looks to all be reasonable Limited spells on their own. Nothing wrong with playing a Sift, Cruel Edict, or Alpine Grizzly. Obviously, it takes a little more to enter the Constructed realm. Something that rewards enchantments entering the battlefield and staying there could do it. Then there are the Cartouches that are built to interact with the Trials.

We’ve come a long way with Auras in Magic. The Cartouches each provide a card or a partial card in value as an enters-the-battlefield trigger along with the usual +1/+1 and ability-granting keyword that we’re used to with Auras. These cards are cheap enough in cost and provide enough value that they could see play in Constructed on their own in the right kind of deck. In fact, I’ve already played with Cartouche of Strength in Constructed!

Playing a Cartouche with a Trial on the battlefield is like drawing an extra card. However, if you have multiple Trials, it only takes one Cartouche to rebuy all of them. The Trials are similar to the Oaths, like Oath of Liliana, except they aren’t legendary and thus play well if you draw multiples.

I can see the black or red Trials and corresponding Cartouches seeing play. The black Trial and Cartouche interact with opposing creatures on both ends and in somewhat synergistic ways: pick off the small creatures with -1/-1 and have them sacrifice the big one. It’s a shame that the sacrifice has to come down first for max value.

Gideon of the Trials is getting some hype, but I’m hesitant to buy into it.

First off, it clashes with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The argument of creating an emblem early with Gideon of the Trials for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to sit behind is just nonsense.

Gideon of the Trials may have a place in older formats. The first place to look is Modern Ad Nauseam. Gideon of the Trials basically forces them to play removal like Echoing Truth before going off. Gideon is also a consideration in the Ad Nauseam deck. Gideon’s emblem prevents you from losing to anything, including Pact of Negation’s trigger and going to negative life from Ad Nauseam. The +1 of Gideon of the Trials will certainly prove useful against Inkmoth Nexus… more so than Phyrexian Unlife would.

Glorybringer is neither Stormbreath Dragon nor Flametongue Kavu. It’s a different animal that games and decks will warp around to play and/or deal with.

The ideal scenario is to exert to kill a creature while attacking a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with four loyalty.

I expect for people to get mangled by Glorybringer the first week that Amonkhet is legal. I remember playing for Top 8 with G/W against (the winning) R/W Vehicles deck and laughing over how embarrassing Fairgrounds Warden was against Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Glorybringer is much like the sky boat and will take over games from unsuspecting people.

After the first-week dust settles, I expect Grasp of Darkness to come back and for all white decks to have a full set of Cast Out as well as some number of Archangel Avacyn. Sigarda, Host of Herons might pop up as a creature that matches up well against Glorybringer. I also expect a downtrend of cards vulnerable to Glorybringer, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and four-toughness creatures such as Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

At first glance, Channeler Initiate looks to be the acceleration creature that we’ve been missing in Standard. Sure, there are Servant of the Conduit and Druid of the Cowl, but those are rather meh and Servant of the Conduit is weak outside of surrounding energy cards.

I played G/W in the first Standard Open with Kaladesh in Indianapolis last year. Curving Servant of the Conduit into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar seemed like the thing to be doing. When it happened, it was great. Other times, I had a Grizzly Bear.

Channeler Initiate will become a 3/4 given enough time. In a pinch you can take out one of your smaller creatures like Thraben Inspector, a Plant token, or a 1/1 Walking Ballista (and still shoot). If there’s any Constructed-playable card that benefits from having/placing -1/-1 counters, then Channeler Initiate jumps from a decent playable to very strong.

The Human subtype on Channeler Initiate is a little relevant too. G/W Humans was almost a thing last season in the hands of Craig Wescoe and those crazy enough to try it out (like me).

This is my updated take on the deck. It has the ability to sideboard into a “real deck” without Human synergies if the opponent shows up with too much removal to make the payoffs worthwhile.

More like Kefnet the Handful.

Kefnet the Mindful looks primarily to be a card advantage source. It’ll be extremely tough to get it into combat if the opponent has literally anything that entices you to cast your spells. These are a couple of cards that Kefnet the Mindful remind me of.

Drawing cards for four mana at a time has never been a potent strategy. Thassa, God of the Sea saw play because her devotion was reasonable to achieve. Kefnet the Mindful seems impossible if you ever have to mulligan or get hit by a discard spell.

So you wanna play with Magic?

I see Liliana, Death’s Majesty as of similar power level to Ob Nixilis Reignited. The abilities closely line up in effectiveness. A 2/2 Zombie and two cards in the graveyard feels about as strong as drawing a card for one life. Resurrecting a creature of your choice versus killing one. Then, of course, an achievable ultimate that doesn’t outright win the game but comes close.

In the right shell, Liliana, Death’s Majesty can outshine Ob Nixilis Reignited. If the graveyard is crucial to the deck, she could outshine any of her previous incarnations too. It’s strange to follow Liliana, the Last Hope with another Liliana that’s bigger and better at graveyard shenanigans. Something as simple as a cycled Archfiend of Ifnir into a turn 5 Liliana, Death’s Majesty is a strong play that I expect to see as a line for black Standard decks to take in the future.

Archfiend of Ifnir is one of those cards that will show up in many decks across all formats. It can be cycled away early or be an unbeatable threat early. It also works well in multiples!

The biggest winner here is Modern Living End. There hasn’t been a cycler for the deck since Alara Reborn brought the fringe-playable Architects of Will to the archetype. Archfiend of Ifnir will undoubtedly replace filler cyclers like Pale Recluse, Twisted Abomination, and Jungle Weaver. Living End gains a huge creature, extra action, and the ability to play the game “fairly” better when it’s under a Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void. It’s tough for opposing Modern decks to keep in creature removal that hits Archfiend of Ifnir while adding in graveyard hate.

As far as Standard goes, we’ve seen Drake Haven as another payoff for the cycling archetype. Archfiend of Ifnir is a one-card combo that doesn’t take much fanciness to get its engine rolling. Some Cast Outs, cycling duals, and whatever cheap yet efficient cyclers that the Amonkhet previews have yet to reveal have me confident that Archfiend of Ifnir will be an impactful part of Standard very soon.

Cast Out is my pick for the best white card in Amonkhet. It’s so good that it’ll take something incredible to take if off the pedestal I have it on. Cast Out is Fatal Push and Path to Exile levels of good. Cycling for a single mana completely changes the game on how playable a card is. A four-mana flash Banishing Light would be a fine card without the cycling text. We haven’t had a good answer for planeswalkers lately, one reason Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has been oppressive.

I like Cast Out the best when it’s surrounded with other instant-speed spells.

Control players are going to love being able to remove any nonland permanent while threatening anything from Archangel Avacyn to a counterspell to card draw. Dealing with Scrapheap Scrounger just became easier too.

This level of versatility on an enchantment is strong enough to enter Modern. Abzan Death’s Shadow just finished second at Grand Prix San Antonio in the hands of Reid Duke. I’m sure Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald are itching to meet a one-mana cycling enchantment that also deals with whatever, whenever in the late-game.

I’ve gotten a couple of matches in with Dusk // Dawn in Versus videos and gotta say that it’s my favorite of the split cards so far. Dusk is a pretty good four-mana sweeper that catches you back up if the opponent bursts on the scene with a quick start like Winding Constrictor into Rishkar, Peema Renegade. With a touch of mindful deckbuilding, you can have a deck full of smaller creatures that avoid the wrath of Dusk while benefiting from the renewal from Dawn.

These are a few cards I’m looking to run alongside Dusk // Dawn:

Any planeswalker or Vehicle works nicely with Dusk. If you can get a two-for-one with Dusk, that’s great. If you only get one creature, then it’s passable. There’s always Dawn lingering around to brighten your day with fallen small creatures.

This Aftermath card takes a little finesse to play. I quite like the rate that Prepare gives. We’ve seen most of the effect of Prepare in cards like Moment of Heroism. Once the rate is right, the casual pump spell becomes playable. If Blossoming Defense were any weaker, if it gave +2/+0 or +0/+2, it would never have seen the light of Constructed play.

Prepare is quite a tight package that is close to having all the modes of Blessed Alliance rolled into one. There’s the risk of getting “blown out” mid-combat that comes with any trick, which will dissuade people from giving it a try. On the flip side, we have an overpriced Prey Upon that hangs out in the graveyard afterwards, wanting to renew value. If you’re ahead, then Fight can really snuff out the opponent’s fighting chance. Then there are times when you draw Prepare // Fight with six mana and go off with a double shot of lifegain with a high attack and a creature battle, with an untapped creature after it’s all said and done.

The Meowfather.

I love me a tribal deck and always look for the chance to play one. Slivers, Goblins, Humans, Zombies, Vampires, doesn’t matter. If it looks like there are enough players to make a competitive squad, I’ll definitely try it once.

It’s ambitious to think that Cat Beatdown will be a killer of Mardu and Four-Color Saheeli. Felidar Guardian is the best in Standard at the moment, with a huge crosshair on it from the ban cannon. If a couple of really good Cats show up from the rest of the Amonkhet preview, it’s on. A few as strong as Brimaz, King of Oreskos would do the job nicely.

What should we call this cycle of lands? The pictures look like fun places to go off-roading. BMX lands, perhaps? [Copy editor’s note: No.]

I see these cycling duals taking the place of some or all of the two-type lands from Battle for Zendikar, like Prairie Stream. The Shadows of Innistrad lands like Port Town work well with Irrigated Farmland and friends, since they have basic land types to show. With more nonbasic lands to choose from, I expect to see fewer basics in decklists and for Prairie Streams to enter the battlefield tapped more often.

I expect the average land count to rise by one or two lands now that mana flood is mitigated by cycling lands. The Theros Temples had a similar effect on Standard. Hopefully the slower manabases will leave a window for a quick Mono-Red deck to run people over.

Speaking of Mono-Red, we’re getting pleasantly close to having a critical mass of one-drop red creatures to have the next coming of eighteen-land Boss Sligh.

Soul-Scar Mage is likely just worse than Monastery Swiftspear unless a really good way to place precisely -1/-1 counters pops up in red. Shrinking creatures permanently is neat and all but will be irrelevant most of the time.

Flameblade Adept has a lot of text jammed onto a one-mana creature. Very reminiscent of Insolent Neonate, a card that was previewed late in the season and wasn’t initially given much press but turned out the be a multi-format all-star.

I haven’t formulated a list just yet, as even one or two more cheap creatures could change the structure of a Mono-Red deck from 22 to twenty or even eighteen lands. I imagine that Fiery Temper, Incendiary Flow, and Shock will be piled along with one- and two-cost creatures and a few discard outlets. If Standard slows down because of the cycling duals and printed solutions to Saheeli Rai combo, then a garbage bag full of batteries will be my weapon of choice.

I’m looking forward to future previews from Amonkhet. Just need to see Dune Swiftspear, Desert Guide, and Grim Sandmancer as functional reprints!