Linear Amonkhet Decks

Sometimes the only way to find out what’s possible in Standard is to push a theme to the limit! From Zombie and Human tribal to Nissa, Steward of Elements, Sam Black has your linear deck inspirations for SCG Atlanta!

Today I’m going to look at some new linear decks made possible by Amonkhet. I think the strongest ways to use the new cards are to augment existing strategies or to build control decks that take advantage of the flexibility of cycling, but I still want to start by exploring the proactive side of the set. These decks are rarely the best, but they’re often the best way to play a lot of new cards, and I always like tribal decks.


I can’t help myself; whenever there are new Zombies, I want to start there. Zombies as a tribe usually pull in a lot of different directions. They have small creatures, but they’re rarely the most efficient at ending a game quickly because some of their power is usually in some kind of recursive or attrition-based element, but they tend to play a small-ball game that doesn’t really let you try to be the control deck, so they end up being scrappy aggro decks that try to make things difficult for your opponent while chipping them away, which is a strategy I really enjoy.

Recently, we haven’t had the tools to build Zombies as an aggro deck because we just haven’t had enough playable one- or two-mana Zombies in Standard. With Amonkhet, we might finally have enough. I’m generally skeptical of trying to build around the most efficient Zombie creatures, because they’ll almost definitionally be less efficient than the most efficient creatures in all of Standard without the type restriction, which makes it hard for this to be a better aggro deck than something like Mardu Vehicles. Basically, this can only happen if we have efficient synergy-based aggressive creatures.

As it happens, Amonkhet offers some good ones. Plague Belcher is the top of the list on that axis. A 5/4 with menace for three mana is huge, and a 3/2 menace for three isn’t even that bad when it hits your opponent whenever another Zombie dies. On top of that, we have Lord of the Accursed and Liliana’s Mastery as potential “lords,” though I’m not actually very optimistic about either of them, but we also have Wayward Servant for additional reach, and I’m very interested in combining a lot of instances of making my opponent lose one life.

If we’re trying to build a good curve of Zombies, what do we have to work with?

At one mana:

Cryptbreaker and Dread Wanderer are the highlights for sure; then we can round out with the others. Festering Mummy and Sacred Cat give us creatures that we might want to put Plague Belcher’s -1/-1 counters on, and Sacred Cat also plays extremely well with Cryptbreaker. Fan Bearer is a weird one. In testing Improvise decks, I was pretty happy with Pacification Array, and this can just attack if I don’t have mana to spare. Additionally, if I’m going for an extremely low curve, this can be a sweet way to spend my mana after I empty my hand. It would be a weird way to go, since Zombies tend to have a lot of black mana symbols and token creatures, but it’s also pretty good with Always Watching, as is half of Cryptbreaker.

At two mana:

Relentless Dead always reads as being pretty awesome, but it has never played well. Is this finally a deck that’s aggressive enough to make use of it? Maybe. Wayward Servant and Binding Mummy have pretty bad stats, but both can make it easy to push damage as long as you can keep playing Zombies, and we might be able to do that. Doomed Dissenter and Miasmic Mummy are narrower. You really need to want to sacrifice creatures consistently to play Doomed Dissenter, which is basically a worse Butcher Ghoul, which was never good to begin with, and Miasmic Mummy is similarly weak unless you’re actively trying to discard cards, most likely because you’re playing Prized Amalgam, but I’m not sure that that’s really enough.

At three mana:

Plague Belcher is the new hope, while Diregraf Colossus looks good but has already disappointed. Plague Belcher might follow suit, or maybe it’s what we needed to give Diregraf Colossus enough support. Prized Amalgam is a powerful card that’s great at doing the things it usually does, and Lord of the Accursed is a Zombie lord with an additional line of aggressive text.

Other creatures of interest:

Gifted Aetherborn is a pretty good creature if you have a lot of black mana. Cryptbreaker is sometimes really looking for some more lifegain, and Bone Picker looks like it might be great to me. It’s exceptional with one-mana removal and plays well with the sacrificial nature of Zombies, particularly on “chump attacks.” It’s not entirely clear whether Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is better or worse than Gifted Aetherborn. Both are 2/3 deathtouch creatures that can gain additional life. Ayli probably forces you to work harder to gain the life, but if you’re looking to trigger Plague Belcher, it’s not the worst sacrifice outlet, and it might be easier to cast, depending on how much white we’re playing. Yahenni, Undying Partisan is another sacrifice outlet that can get pretty crazy against creature decks if we have a lot of removal.

Other spells of interest:

For the most part, we’ll want to use black removal spells to round out the rest of our deck, but if we have enough white mana, Cast Out can give us access to answers to a variety of things black usually can’t deal with, like artifacts and enchantments. Graf Harvest is a little better than it looks if you’re a very aggressive deck, as menace is actually a fairly powerful keyword, though I doubt I’d want to play more than one. Supernatural Stamina is a weird choice, but I wanted to note that it interacts very well with Prized Amalgam. Liliana, the Last Hope is just a great black card that costs about the right amount of mana, and obviously the ultimate would be particularly incredible in this kind of deck, but it’s usually good enough regardless.

I’m a little worried about the colored mana in this deck. Relentless Dead wants a lot of black mana, but I’m playing six white one-drops, and my curve is low enough that I don’t want a lot of lands. I think I’m a little short of everything as-is, but it might not be as bad as I fear. I wanted to play Binding Mummy over Relentless Dead, but it just felt like giving up too much against creatureless decks, yet it still might be right.

It’s possible the deck should have a little more white mana, possibly giving up on Relentless Dead, and playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and/or Dusk//Dawn in the maindeck or sideboard.

The easiest way to fix the mana is to give up white:

This build has fewer Zombies and fewer payoffs. It’s less linear but tries to make up for the loss of synergy with perfect mana.

I love Bone Picker with Fatal Push and Dark Salvation offering up to eight one-mana removal spells that allow you to cast it in the same turn, and I think it also plays very well with Gifted Aetherborn, which will often trade when it attacks, and you can also play it after killing your own creature with Plague Belcher for four total mana. I’m optimistic about the card, but I can imagine it getting stuck in your hand, so I’m hedging with only two copies here. There’s a good chance the two copies of Festering Mummy should be additional Bone Pickers, but I wanted plenty of things to do on turn 1 to take advantage of not having any tapped lands.

There are definitely other ways to build Zombie decks, but I’d like to take a look at another tribe supported by Amonkhet: Humans.


Amonkhet ended up offering a lot of good Humans for W/R Humans:

These are the new Humans I’m interested in. Bloodlust Inciter and Pathmaker Initiate in particular look like cards designed purely for Limited, but I’m not so sure. I definitely like the idea of playing Bloodlust Inciter into Pathmaker Initiate into Hanweir Garrison. That’s not the most explosive curve, but I think Pathmaker Initiate might be a really good way to finish someone off in the late-game, though it doesn’t play well with cards like Always Watching and Thalia’s Lieutenant.

This deck doesn’t play Always Watching. Instead, it tries to keep its creature count high to make the most of Bloodlust Inciter with creatures like Honored Crop-Captain and Hanweir Garrison, which are particularly good to give haste. Keeping the creature count high allows the deck to use Outnumber, one of the best removal spells in Standard, and Reckless Bushwhacker, which is potentially more explosive than Always Watching. Without Always Watching, I didn’t include any Exert creatures, focusing instead of having as many attackers as possible every turn.

This is another attempt to be slightly more explosive than Always Watching, and this is really leaning on the strength of the Cartouches. As much as I like Hammerhand, I suspect that they’re ultimately not quite strong enough because it’s so bad if your creature is killed in response to either one, which makes Fatal Push too much of a problem.

The Steward

Last, I want to look at a very different kind of deck that’s still a linear creature deck that uses new cards. This one is built to maximize another of my favorite new cards, Nissa, Steward of Elements:

The goal here is to maximize Nissa’s ability to scale so that I can use it as a regular cheap planeswalker and defend it with my creatures in most games, yet also use it as a huge finisher when I have Cryptolith Rite or if I’ve resolved a large Harvest Season.

As currently constructed, the idea is that the opponent will likely bring in answers to your creatures, which you can sidestep by using Aetherworks Marvel to cast your expensive spells and playing more planeswalkers. Chandra, Torch of Defiance would be a good fit, but I’m trying to minimize red mana.

Realistically, this deck probably doesn’t have enough removal for the format as it stands and can’t compete with Felidar Guardian, but this is an interesting direction to consider taking a similar set of core cards if Felidar Guardian or Saheeli Rai ends up getting banned. If nothing is banned, I still think Nissa, Steward of Elements will have a place in the deck, but it’ll simply be a matter of slotting a few copies into a much more familiar shell.