Cycling And Then Some: Early Amonkhet Builds

Anything that lets you use your mana and draw cards (cycling) is awesome. Anything that lets you make tokens is awesome. Needless to say, Michael Majors is already a fan of this set! See how he plans to slow things down with some proper Magic! Gideon? You’re not welcome here!

We’re starting to get deep into preview season and Amonkhet is looking to serve up some very exciting new designs and many different takes on old favorites.

Many would say that we still don’t have enough data to start building decks. Of course, I disagree, as Amonkhet is already offering up some powerful build-arounds with still much of the set unrevealed.

Before we get to that though, I am going to talk about a few choice cards that are interesting, but don’t quite spark my creative interest just yet.

Embalm is a really interesting mechanic. It’s functionally “creature Flashback,” but it also makes a creature token – which is a fairly clean way to manage the cards moving from zone to zone in terms of design challenges.

This has also incentivized Wizards to expand more into “tokens matter” territory, as can be seen with Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun and a few other cards that have been previewed like Anointer Priest.

Temmet feels a bit like a more powerful exalted card, but there’s more going on than just the surface. This is potentially a powerful inevitability creature similar to Scrapheap Scrounger – in very large contests, Temmet can be embalmed and start clocking an opponent three at a time while being unblockable.

This card is clearly great. Whether it’s going to function as Servant of the Conduit five through eight, a mana creature in a more aggressive shell, or as a centerpiece of some sort of thematic negative counters deck is to be seen, but Channeler Initiate is going to put in work for its entire life in Standard.

Channeler Initiate is another card that’s a little more sophisticated than it looks. We clearly are going to be on the lookout for anything that directly synergizes with it, but the floor on this card in the late-game is potentially “leveling up” any garbage creature you have lying around into a 3/4, a respectable rate for two mana.

Cast Out is pretty busted. Of course, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar occupies the majority of space for a four-mana white card, but Cast Out represents the first wave of powerful new answers we need in Standard.

I don’t really even understand why this card only costs W to cycle. It would be still excellent with “Cycling 2,” so my only real conclusion is that this card was likely pushed at the last minute. There’s just no reason to not play four copies of this card in a more reactive white deck. When it’s paired with Renewed Faith (it’s pretty awesome to be able to say that), white decks both have the ability to prolong games and generate a ton of velocity. Thraben Inspector has a ton of new friends.

It feels like Amonkhet is a set that wants the games to go longer in general. Between cycling and Embalm, there are lots of ways to use your mana. Trial of Knowledge is potentially a very powerful engine if the Cartouche cycle ends up with cards we are interested in playing.

Cartouche of Solidarity points towards a more aggressive deck, and it is possible that Trial of Knowledge will end up being the top of the curve of some sort of deck that wants to utilize Embalm as their end-game.

As it stands, playing some subpar Auras in an attempt to supercharge your card advantage engine is not something I’m interested in, but these cards are worth keeping an eye on.

This is of course a popular card to talk about, and many other authors have offered their analysis of this new “Stormbreath Dragon.” I personally think the card is fairly powerful, but it is entirely possible that it will make no sizable impact on Standard. Glorybringer does have the potential to slay planeswalkers at will, but Archangel Avacyn easily sits on top of the new Dragon, and that’s a card all Gideon decks are already firmly playing. That, combined with the potential for it just to be susceptible to Grasp of Darkness and any movement back towards Ishkanah, Grafwidow, leads me to believe that this Dragon is overhyped.

What does make sense to me is Glorybringer being part of an excellent sideboard plan for Mardu Vehicles that eschews the traditional planeswalker plan for a more aggressive slant.

Hopefully Glorybringer doesn’t simply make the best deck better, but I don’t have high expectations for it being the card that usurps it either.

The blue God card, Kefnet the Mindful (currently only available in Japanese), is interesting but fairly bad, especially compared to the red god Hazoret the Fervent, which I’ll be putting in a deck later.

Magic is just not in a space where you can ever afford to sink your mana, especially when your payoff is “just” a 5/5 indestructible flier.

The ability to return your cycling duals in the late-game to build up an advantage and inevitably turn on Kefnet is certainly cool, but I just can’t see it being worthwhile in practice.

If you’ve been consuming my content for a while, you know that I always have interest in any types of cards with mana cost reductions. They are always the biggest potential red flags in sets for degenerate nonsense. The Monument cycle overall looks fairly tame, as they are pretty heavy restrictions – three-mana legendary artifacts that do “nothing” when they enter the battlefield and only enable one color of creature are pretty rigid parameters. Yet I still think that the white and red versions of this cycle have a lot of potential.

These colors are aggressive and are interested in go-wide strategies, which makes Oketra’s Monument look reasonable.

Hazoret’s Monument can turn on any of the “cycling or discarding a card matters” cards while also just being a way to mitigate flood in any aggressive strategy.

I think it’s fairly difficult to actively build a deck around the Monuments, but they may make great support cards. Who knows, though, maybe these are potentially great targets for Trophy Mage.

(Even if, once again, Kefnet looks to have the weakest structure.)

Let’s get to some decks.

I’ve always liked the R/B Aggro deck, and I played the old powered-up version with Smuggler’s Copter to a respectable Standard finish in the Atlanta Invitational way back.

The ability to set up a game where you get aggressive out of nowhere by setting up a madnessed Bloodhall Priest or a chain of removal spells is an awesome capability that is fairly lacking in recent Magic gameplay.

Amonkhet has provided quite a few cards that appear to work well on the surface with this strategy. Flameblade Adept especially is a very powerful one-drop that is effective when we are just playing normal Magic instead of having to go through large deckbuilding restrictions to enable something like Inventor’s Apprentice.

Archfiend of Ifnir’s capabilities are shown off well here, I think. At first glance, it sort of looks out of place, but just the ability to have this dominating finisher that can completely take over creature mirrors if the game plays out appropriately is powerful. In the incorrect matchup or if your draw doesn’t pan out, it can simply be cycled or put through whatever discard outlet is necessary.

This deck is simply trying to do the same thing every game. Perhaps too high a percentage of the lands in this deck enter the battlefield tapped, which might make for some awkward games, but if this control deck is firing on all cylinders, then it should be easy to easily overwhelm an opponent with an army of Drakes.

Drake Haven is by far my favorite card in Amonkhet so far, and cycling makes it possible to execute a linear gameplan consistently.

Of course I’m going to try to update one of my failed brews from a few sets ago.

Lupine Prototype got some fresh support!

Level 1 of course is just to go all-in with your Noose Constrictor and apply way too much early pressure for your opponent to handle with Drake Haven. The deck can also get fairly tricky, although at its core we’re still just an aggressive deck, and I think we can actively utilize Hazoret the Fervent, which is not something many shells can easily do.

Nahiri’s Wrath might be pushing the “theme” a bit too much, but it is a powerful enabler for your various discard synergies while also cleanly answering problematic planeswalkers.

Perhaps Metallic Rebuke doesn’t have enough support here to be worthwhile, but I’m a massive fan of the card in any deck that is playing incidental artifacts. It is also possible to move towards some Tireless Trackers to complement our Whirler Virtuoso in turning on the powerful counterspell as well.

We’re just getting started, but Amonkhet already has some interesting cards and mechanics that look poised to change Standard. What cards are you the most interested in? Will cycling and Embalm finally slow the pace of play down to what it was years ago, or will Gideon be setting the pace until his rotation?

I’m looking forward to finding out.