Finally! It’s my favorite part of the season. A new Limited format is just around the corner, and it’s time to stretch those card evaluation muscles. We are halfway through Amonkhet previews and I’m already excited about this format. My favorite zone of the game is the graveyard, and I love when Limited cares about it. With Embalm and Aftermath as new mechanics of the set, I’m hoping the environment will be conducive to some graveyard shenanigans. For the next couple of weeks, until I get my hands on some packs, I’ll be showcasing some of the new cards and evaluating them for Limited.
That said, it’s hard to evaluate cards without playing with the set. Remember Herald of the Fair from Kaladesh? Without the full set available, that card looked like a solid C/C+, a card that makes my deck most of the time. Well, it turns out that there were enough better three-drops and too many four-toughness threats to the point where I just didn’t want to put the card in my deck. But then Aether Revolt came around and Bastion Enforcer — a strictly worse Herald of the Fair — saw a fair amount more play. In that format, the creatures were smaller and there was a good “crew 3” Vehicle at common.
Nonetheless, being wrong is just a catalyst for learning. So let’s get our hands a little dirty and delve into some cards with the four core mechanics of the set: Cycling, Embalm, Exert, and Aftermath.
Cycling is one of my favorite mechanics of all time. It plays in an incredibly smooth fashion. Cycling reduces mana screw and it lets you maindeck sideboard cards like Disenchant. In fact, if there are enough solid cards with very cheap cycling abilities, it’s possible this becomes a sixteen-land format. Just some food for thought.
Almost every Limited set tends to have a Threaten variant. And it’s quite possible that Limits of Solidarity is the best one in recent years thanks to Cycling. Threaten is a very potent card in three scenarios:
1. You’re ahead.
2. You’re in a race.
3. You just need a window to get in a little more damage, since your opponent stabilized at a low life total.
These situations come up a lot in Limited, and it’s why most aggro decks can really get some mileage from cards like Limits of Solidarity. But since they aren’t worth a card enough of the time, you often don’t end up playing them. Now you have the ability to cycle the card when it’s bad and, well, win when it’s good.
I think Limits of Solidarity is going to be quite good. Not an early pick, unless maybe there is some sacrifice synergy, but not a late pick either…although I wouldn’t be surprised if it performed much better than expected, given that the card is uncommon. This is the kind of card that would be designed as a common, and maybe Magic R&D decided they didn’t want it to be as accessible. Just something to think about.
Pro tip: When you have Limits of Solidarity in hand, your opponent doesn’t know. Think ahead and attack. If you can convince your opponent that they are supposed to be the beatdown, you’ll increase the potency of this card. And if not, you can still just cycle it!
Embalm is a mechanic that is reminiscent of unearth, except you get to keep the creature (and it’s a token)! Card advantage on creatures is a pretty big deal in Limited, so any Embalm creature that you would play without Embalm is going to be pretty good. The mechanic incentivizes trading card for card. It also makes me believe Magma Spray, an already premium common, is going to be better than usual.
I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback towards this card in Limited, but I’m not impressed. It seems to me that people keep thinking about Embalm as comparable to the card Call of the Herd or even Lingering Souls. I suggest you get this thought process out of your head. A crucial aspect to those cards is that you can flash them back immediately. On turn 3, you cast Call of the Herd to make a 3/3, and then on the following turn you can always do it again (as long as you have another land drop). Embalm does not work like this. You have to trade away your card before you get the benefit.
Now we see that Sacred Cat is not even close to analogous to WW for two 1/1 lifelinkers, which would actually be a reasonable card. As the Cat only ever enables one power and toughness on the battlefield at the time, it is unlikely to have a sufficient impact on any game of Limited. I don’t think the card is unplayable, but I’m expecting to wheel it, and unsure if it’ll make my deck.
One thing to look out for is the amount of one-toughness creatures once we have the full set preview. If it turns out that there are a lot, this card could turn out to be quite good.
Exert is a pretty flavorful mechanic (although probably not as flavorful as Embalm). Creatures can “exert” when they attack to get some positive bonus, but this comes with the caveat that said creature cannot untap during your next untap step. This mechanic looks pretty interesting for Limited, as combat is such an important aspect of the game. Removing a blocker for two turns (and an attacker for the next turn) is a larger cost than most players realize. I’ll be on the lookout for cards that give vigilance or untap creatures.
People like cards that say “draw a card” way too much. I’m pretty sure this card is bad, and it looks to me like it could have been a common. It reminds me of Silkweaver Elite, which was quite terrible. A three-mana 2/2 is just too below rate. Yes, you’re guaranteed to draw the card, unlike Silkweaver Elite, but a 2/2 tends not to survive in combat anyway.
I’ve heard players argue for this card with the ceiling: “It could draw you a card every other turn! Card advantage on a creature is great.” But let’s really evaluate this ceiling. What games of Limited are you losing if you can attack with a 2/2 every other turn? I’m guessing this is a card I don’t want to put in my deck. Sorry for all you Naga lovers out there.
Most of us are familiar with Flashback, and the only difference between the two mechanics is that what you “flash back” is a different spell. Evaluating Aftermath cards should be notably similar to Flashback spells.
This might be my favorite combat trick in recent memory. Rush of Vitality was a very good combat trick, and we are trading the keyword lifelink for drawing the card Lead. Now, it’s important to note that the Aftermath half of this card gets a lot worse when the opponent knows about it. But the fact of the matter is, this card has the floor of being a good combat trick and the ceiling of being Plague Wind when you cast both sides of the card.
Destined//Lead has pretty powerful capabilities, but it’s also very flexible. Destined can counter removal spells, while Lead can act almost as a Falter effect to get in the last points of damage. The other nice thing about an Aftermath combat trick is that it mitigates the major downside of combat tricks, getting your creature killed in response. You’ll still “draw” Lead in this case, and hence not necessarily go down on cards.
Overall, I don’t think this is an early pick, but only because it’s two colors. If I’m already B/G, I’ll try to pick up the card, and if I’m only black, I still may play it (although not always). Last, if you have drafted Destined//Lead, be on the lookout for deathtouch creatures. None have been previewed so far, but there are usually a few in every set.