The Good and Bad of Amonkhet (So Far)

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Uncategorized

The Good and Bad of Amonkhet (So Far)

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

Spoiler season is well under way, and we should have the full spoiler for Amonkhet in a few days, but I’m too excited and also nonplussed by some of the new cards in Amonkhet. Especially in a format dominated by almost exclusively two strategies that sometimes just end the game on turn 4 with little interaction, I’m looking for something to shake this Standard format up. Initial previews for Amonkhet over the first few days gave us mainly sideboard cards, and nothing that could compete with the raw strength, power, and speed of either the 4 color Saheeli combo deck or Mardu Vehicles, but after a few more cards were spoiled, I feel like we’re the ones who are spoiled! So let’s take a look at some of the new cards to try and predict at how well they’ll do in Standard when they’re released.

The Good:

1. Rhonas the Indomitable

Far before previews began, we were made privy to a new God cycle. These were some of the first images of Amonkhet card art that we were given. The wild speculation began. How similar to the Theros gods would they be? Would they be multi or single colored? How strong would they be? The first few we were given were pretty lackluster in my opinion. The first three were Hazoret the Fervent, Kefnet the Mindful, and Oketra the True. While these creatures seemed pretty impressive on the stat line, and they didn’t seem too expensive in terms of mana cost, they seemed difficult to turn on. Far from the days of simply getting a high Devotion count, having seven cards in your hand in this current Standard seemed pretty difficult for Kefnet to be exciting, and Oketra relies on little interaction from your opponent to be relevant. The only one of the first three that I would consider to be a hit would have been Hazoret the Fervent. It seems that we’re going to be given cards to try to support a Red Deck Wins strategy, and Hazoret the Fervent seems like the kind of curve topper that sort of deck is looking for most of the time. Its activated ability is relevant as it turns bad top decks into burn spells at a reasonable cost.

And then they spoiled the bomb. I’m going to call this card the best card in the set. Say what you want about current Standard, but this guy already has a home in the BG Aggro decks. Rhonas the Indomitable seems straight up busted. He’s undercosted, his ability allows for reach and makes his Deathtouch stat better, and he slots into an already competitive deck without really changing too much in it. Unlike Oketra, which requires you to critically mass creatures, Rhonas turns on just by playing the strategy that Green decks play.

Dropping this guy on turn 4 behind a start of Winding Constrictor into Rishkar or dropping him on turn three behind a Winding Constrictor with a Rishkar on four seems very powerful, and he even plays well without Winding Constrictor given creatures like Longtusk Cub, Grim Flayer, or Mindwrack Demon. Not to mention he plays very well with a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on turn four after making a Heart of Kiran on turn two and a Rhonas on turn 3.

He’s also out of range of Grasp of Darkness, which is one of the only playable removal spells that deals with him. Sure you could play Declaration in Stone, but sorcery speed removal isn’t great right now, and while Declaration in Stone may see more play now due to the gods, there’s nothing stopping the Black Green decks from playing vehicles and beating you that way, or just out-valuing your Declaration in Stone with Lifecrafter’s Bestiary or Tireless Tracker.

So overall the Gods are a hot medium unless you’re talking about Rhonas the Indomitable, who is an absolute beast, and one of my candidates for best card in the set so far.

2. Harsh Mentor

Again, at the beginning of Amonkhet spoiler season, there wasn’t too much to be excited about, with all the mediocre cards bubbling to the surface not really affecting the already dominant decks. However Harsh Mentor looks to be a sort of Eidolon of the Great Revel for activated abilities. Typically a Grizzly Bear with a decent ability is likely to see play in a Standard format. This guy fits right into the Red Deck Wins sort of decklist that seems to be pushed in this set. I think the most important and obvious reason to play this guy is that he is pretty decent against Vehicles. Being able to shock your opponent’s Gideon, Ally of Zendikar every time they crew Heart of Kiran or whichever other vehicle they’re playing makes their decisions a lot more difficult, especially when they’re using Planeswalker Loyalty to crew.

He’s also decent against Walking Ballista, causing your opponent to take four damage before shooting your Harsh Mentor with the Ballista. Whirler Virtuoso also gets a touch worse with this guy on the battlefield. Clues now cost two life to pop in addition to the mana requirement. Evolving Wilds actually just becomes the absolute worst fetchland in existence. Creature lands are more difficult to use.

Overall I believe that if a Red Deck Wins strategy is a viable one, Harsh Mentor will be a decent way to sneak a few pot shots in at opposing planeswalkers and opponents. He may be decent in some other strategies as well that aren’t as obvious, and he may become an all-star if there are more artifact-centric decks made popular if the format widens post-Amonkhet.

3. Manglehorn

Since she’s been printed, Thalia, Heretic Cathar has been played as a 1 or 2 of in most of the Standard formats in which she was legal. She is very good at what she does, providing a creature that is very good at both attacking and blocking in this format, while potentially affecting your opponent’s land drops, ability to crew vehicles, and ability to block your attacks.

Manglehorn sort of feels like a Thalia, Heretic Cathar that should just be relegated to the sideboard of the decks that it’s played in. I think that’s incorrect though, especially in the current standard format. The ability to destroy a Heart of Kiran the turn after it comes down, and not allow subsequent vehicles to block the turn they come in, while also preventing Scrapheap Scroungers from doing their thing unless they’re brought in on the end step for the next turn is pretty great going into a Standard format full of vehicles.

Manglehorn is also sneaky good against the Saheeli Combo. While not only making Whirler Virtuoso’s thopters come into play tapped, Manglehorn also prevents the combo from happening, since Saheeli makes the creatures it copies into artifacts. While obviously nowhere near as strong as Thalia, Heretic Cathar at the roles she plays, an Uktabi Orangutan with corner cases in most matchups might just be good enough to maindeck in the coming Standard. Regardless, this is a stellar sideboard card that will have a slot in any green 75.

4. Gideon of the Trials

Yes, another one of these. While we’ve had Gideons being jammed at us for about two years now, here comes another little nerd that isn’t terrible. While I don’t think Gideon of the Trials will see either the same amount of play as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or be seen in the same types of decks as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, at least while Ally is still in Standard, I do think Gideon of the Trials gives decks a way to fight Heart of Kiran while also providing an attacker. Gideon of the Trials is certainly a very good card, but I think it’s more of a control player’s card. Something that they can get out early while the board isn’t too crazy to handle the best creature your opponent has each turn while you’re able to fend off your opponent’s other stuff they have on the table.

I’m not saying that Gideon of the Trials won’t see play in aggressive decks, I just think that for right now, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is the better card for aggressive and midrange styles of play, while Gideon of the Trials is more for people looking to defend for a few turns and get to the late game. Either way, more Gideons for the Gideon god.

The Bad:

1. Liliana, Death’s Majesty

I’m not sure what I was expecting with a new Liliana coming in this set, but this just seems extremely lackluster to me. A five mana planeswalker that only draws you cards if you have creatures in your graveyard, doesn’t kill anything, and doesn’t have an ultimate that wins the game. Heck, if zombies becomes a deck (which seems like the case), her ultimate isn’t even something that you may want to do. I would play Ob Nixilis Reignited over this card probably nine times out of ten. Sure you can live in a magical Christmas land where you get to live to turn five and bring back your Noxious Gearhulk or Ishkanah, Grafwidow with Delirium that you set up a few turns earlier, but if your deck is just full of 5 mana planeswalkers that don’t really affect the board and five and six mana bombs, I want to know how your getting to that sixth mana alive, because I’m not really convinced.

I doubt that this card will see Standard play unless something in Standard shifts dramatically.

2. Never /// Return

A lot of people have been clamoring for a lot of things in this current Standard format. Everyone knows that Ruinous Path is simply a very close to unplayable card in this format. It can’t hit vehicles, it can’t really interact with the Saheeli Combo, it gets out valued by Planeswalkers a lot of the time, it makes turns awkward a lot of the time, and it puts you in a bad position because it doesn’t allow you to interact on your opponent’s turn at all. Essentially it never really punishes your opponent in this format. It feels most of the time like it punishes the person casting it.

When the theme of Amonkhet was revealed, and everyone saw that there were no bannings in this format at the new mid-season ban/restricted update, the majority of people were claiming that they just HAD to reprint Hero’s Downfall. It’s not a bad card, in fact, it’s a good card in Standard. It does all the things that Ruinous Path doesn’t do. It interacts on your opponent’s turn, it interacts with vehicles and creaturelands, it interacts with Archangel Avacyn and other flash creatures, it gives the black decks a very good tool to use in most matchups.

But instead we were given this heap of dog doody. It’s just the same as Ruinous Path but different. In order to get the second half, you don’t have to spend it all in one turn. The trade off is that you don’t get as powerful an effect on the second half, but it does actually interact with a graveyard, which is pretty decent I guess.

I understand that having Hero’s Downfall in the same format as Torrential Gearhulk could be an oppressive thing, but the least they could have done was give us a card that was at least DIFFERENT from Ruinous Path. The card is literally unplayable in the current format, and I don’t see Never /// Return being played in a constructed format any time soon either. Just a slap in the face disappointment.

3. Censor

When Amonkhet was revealed to have cycling, there was a lot of speculation on a Miscalculation reprint. Miscalculation seemed like a fine card at least to me. Not as powerful as Spell Pierce early no, and gives the deck that it’s in the option to redraw with it later on. I guess I’m just too old fashioned. I guess the type of effect that Censor gives is fine, and without having played any games with it, I’m just underwhelmed. I feel like it’s just another slap in the face.

There just doesn’t seem to be good interaction at almost any level. Sure we have Metallic Rebuke and Disallow, and Torrential Gearhulk, but is Miscalculation really that good of a card for this current Standard? I guess Censor does a decent enough job of making your opponents play off curve, so they can’t just always jam a Heart of Kiran on turn 2 or a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on turn 3, but it’s still frustrating that the option you’re given for this slot is just an overcosted Force Spike.

These are just some of the thoughts I have on some of the cards I’ve seen so far. Really Amonkhet feels a lot like Battle for Zendikar when it was being previewed. They are just trying to design cards for a Standard format that is completely different from the reality we live in currently. And I do understand that these cards were designed when Amonkhet was meant to cause a rotation for Standard, but I’m just frustrated when a lot of people aren’t really enjoying playing the current Standard, and Wizards doesn’t seem to be doing much to fix it. It is what it is though, I guess. I just hope there are enough tools in this new set to change Standard in a positive way without breaking more than it tries to fix.

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