With the Amonkhet prerelease weekend well behind us, this new set is about to be drafted into oblivion by players of all skill levels and of course the professional players, who are trying to crack and solve the puzzles of this new limited format. After participating in a single player event as well as a two-headed giant event on prerelease weekend, I felt like it would be appropriate to express my thoughts, opinions, and predictions for the set from a limited stand point. At first glance over the spoilers before the prerelease I was very excited for the format, the different mechanics and cards made it look very enjoyable to play, after playing with the cards however, my overall expectations were not met.
I’ll be going over the main mechanics of the set as well as some removal, as I believe that these factors are what makes a set enjoyable to play and draft as well as determine winning and losing. This won’t be a full limited set review as I’m only going over a few specific cards, it’s mainly an overview of the set and how it plays out. The Pro Tour will also give everyone a good indication of how the set plays out and which cards live up to their expectations, as the best players in the world show off their knowledge on the format.
Exert: Overall as a player I am a fan of the exert mechanic, as well as being the easiest to understand. Whenever you attack with a creature that has exert, you may choose whether to exert it or not. If you do you get a bonus, but that creature wont untap during your untap step as normal. I felt like exert was a lot more relevant during two-headed giant games, as blockers are a lot more important with two opponents, the mechanic is great in the sense that it makes you think about your opponent and several turns ahead which I like, the only down side to the mechanic I found was that there are only very few cards that help make it part of a semi-archetype. With very few untap abilities in the format it makes it so that cards that have exert in your decks are only in there for value and not synergy and cannot be built around. However, if your able to exert your creature multiple times during a game you should be looking good. Exert made gameplay more enjoyable and added another level of variety to games, which is why it’s one of top mechanics in the set for limited.
Embalm: The first time I read the embalm mechanic I was honestly blown away, it seemed extremely good to me at first as players good literally get two creatures out of the one card. It basically gives the creature flashback, which is straight up value. This first prediction was correct, especially in single player matches were you only had to focus on the one player, the embalm mechanic made it so you had a great advantage over your opponent when it came to cards. By trading your embalm creatures whenever possible, your creating card advantage against your opponent(s). Having embalm creatures in your graveyard as the game goes long means that you’re going to have threats while your opponent is trying to draw answers. There was also quite a few discard cards in the set which was perfect for your embalm creatures as you could bin them and then bring them back. I think that in future drafts and limited that these embalm creatures will be highly prioritised, as they are great for trading with creatures when the board is stalled up.
Aftermath: I’m going to be talking about the new aftermath cards overall and not just a mechanic because they are very interesting inclusions in the set. Firstly, as a mechanic in limited, I think that the mono-coloured cards are powerful in the certain decks however the multi-coloured ones just seemed to either lack in power or not fit into their colours archetypes at all. None of the multi-coloured are very good just as their top half in my opinion, it seems like to make the card worth playing you need to be in both colours, but those colours wont synergise in the format which makes the cards just outright bad. There is just too many other cards worth playing over them, however the mono-coloured cards performed a lot better as you could safely cast both pieces of the card for full value. The mechanic is powerful if performed well, however it’s just not supported by the other cards in the set, making it not as powerful as the other mechanics.
Cycling: Many players will agree with me when I say that cycling is one of the best mechanics Magic has ever had. The cycling cards in this set just all seem very playable, just as a cycling card it adds that little more consistency to your deck, which wins you more games. In your sealed pool, instead of running a medium card at the twenty second or twenty third spot, you can run a card with cycling in your colours which is a lot better. Being able to cycle your cards at instant speed in this format is also highly important, with most of the removal in the format being at instant speed it’s important to always keep your opponent thinking about what you may have, just by cycling end of turn is good card advantage. The cycling cards in this set are specifically good in limited, as they are usually all late game threats that you love to draw anytime in the game, making it that your topdecks are better than your opponents. I think from a limited standpoint players highly underrate their cycling cards, the average player will just see a bad and over costed card, when they create a variety of consistency and card advantages for the player. Coming back to synergies and archetypes, cycling works well with several others spells in the set. However, these cards didn’t seem powerful enough to just support the cycling mechanic, I found a little disappointing but can understand why Wizards didn’t want to make it so dominant. Cycling should be used as individual cards that add consistency and allow for card advantage, occasionally little synergy’s will appear, but cycling doesn’t seem powerful enough to support a full deck or the one strategy.
-1 / -1 Counters: This last ‘mechanic’ doesn’t really count as a mechanic, however it’s so present in the format that its mays well count as one. For the first time in a while, there are no +1 / +1 counters in a limited format, and the -1 / -1 counters will be mostly placed on your own creatures instead of your opponents. Trying to evaluate cards like Crocodile of the Crossing is kind of hard, at first glance the counter would go onto itself, however the counters will sometimes be placed on other creatures you control. Few cards can put the counters on your opponent’s creatures, and there are cards that remove them. But just having the counters on your creatures in the early game especially just felt bad, sometimes having to kill off one of your creatures to create tempo loses you card advantage, this allows your opponent to be ahead of you on cards and answers. Having very few answers to deal with flyers in this archetype made it feel bad when playing, especially single player games. Unless you have the specific cards, the matchup is terrible, and in limited the bad matchups are very punishing. However, overall the interaction and ‘mechanic’ of the -1 / -1 counters is a good addition in the set, and if performed correctly the right deck can be very powerful and hard to beat.
Next, I’m going to be focusing on the removal, because removal is the way most games are won in limited, whether your able to two-for-one your opponent or just play your big bomb while you destroy theirs is game defining. The removal in this set tends to follow the patterns of recent sets, it’s a little slow but powerful and that there are two or three cards that are the stand out picks.
Starting with white, Cast Out is pretty much the most premium and best non-rare removal spell in the format. One of the most important things to keep in mind about removal spells is how the interact with the embalm mechanic. Exiling is very important, making embalm completely irrelevant, it’s also important against strong tokens as even if your opponent has enchantment removal, the creature token is exiled anyway. For some reason it also has cycling, which will probably never be used but may come up some time. Compulsory Rest is very close to being great, however it falls short to embalm, but always very playable and a strong removal spell overall. Final white cards such as Impeccable Timing and Fan Bearer are both strong cards, Impeccable Timing is strong against pesky two and three drops, while if Fan Bearer goes unanswered it can cause huge tempos swings late and even early in the game by utilising your excess mana.
Blue doesn’t typically ever get that much in the way of removal, even in the most recent sets we have seen various effects that tap down your opponent’s creatures and ‘freeze’ them. However, in Amonkhet we don’t see much of that. Illusory Wrappings appears very clunky to me, the creature retains all abilities that it previously had, it’s very weak against embalm creatures as they are able to chunk block then embalm back. But it could be strong against late game bombs with high power and toughness. Lay Claim is just outright a bomb, the ability to cycle it makes it very appealing to me, when you don’t require it or have nothing worthwhile taking while your ahead, your able to draw other answers in your deck that are better for the current situation. Winds of Rebuke again just seems like a clunky piece of interaction that buys you some time. However, it kills any tokens which is especially relevant against all embalm creatures which is very relevant. Another downside is that you could mill an opponent’s embalm creature, but you could be lucky enough to do the same yourself.
Black is traditionally the go-to colour for removal. In this current era of limited, Final Reward is the usual spell of choice when it comes to removal. Even though it comes at an expensive cost it gets the job done against everything in the format, and at instant speed. Exiling the creature is also especially important against embalm creatures, not allowing that embalm mechanic to be activated creates a stronger long game. Overall very strong as black’s best source if removal. Splendid Agony is a nice addition to the set, not only is it one of the few -1 / -1 counter abilities that’s placed on your opponent’s creatures, but at only three mana and instant speed it’s hard to pass. Splendid Agony’ becomes especially powerful against your opponent’s creatures that distribute -1 / -1 counters on themselves, as you can ‘snipe’ off the weaker creatures that have the potential to be powerful. Probably the best part about the card is that it’s able to be used as a combat trick, easy two-for-ones and value creator on your side of the board.
Red in this format is straight up burn burn burn! Deem Worthy is the most powerful card over all the rest, even if you don’t need the full seven damage your able to cycle it and kill off smaller creatures, creating very good card advantage over your opponent. Even though Electrify is more straight forward it is still very powerful, you still need to kill creatures even with embalm, but at instant speed it can be a strong addition to all decks. Fling is a strange card for limited, back when it was originally printed in Standard I couldn’t play enough of it as a young red mage, I feel like it’s solid in the sense that you can respond with Fling to waste your opponent’s removal spell and kill something of theirs off. In certain situations, it’s a blow out, but I believe that its rightful place lays in the sideboard and will be very strong against heavy removal decks. Magma Spray will always be a cheap and efficient removal spell, it reminds me of Fiery Impulse from Origins. A cheap card in the early game that does work, and can ruin cards with embalm.
Finally, we come to green which sadly, gets very little in the way of removal. Cartouche of Strength is a fine fight card, in addition to its minor buff and trample enable. The card fits well in any green deck, and can easily win a game or a simple two-for-one on your side. Stinging Shot seems always main deck playable, with such a dominant presence of flyers in the format green has little interaction with them on the ground, so it is very important to be able to deal with then, if worst comes to worse the card can just be cycled.
The format is not as fast as Aether Revolt and Kaladesh, with less removal spells and not as many cheap efficient creatures many games tend to drag out until someone is able to break through, much like Eldritch Moon and Shadows over Innistrad. But unlike past formats the presence of flyers seems very powerful, as many of the flyers can block just as good as they are able to attack, this makes evasion one of the biggest problems with the format. If you can deal with your opponent’s flyers at the exact time you’re just going lose, which is something I think that is unhealthy with a format. The UW flyers archetype from this format feels a lot like the UW blink deck from Modern Masters and the UR devoid deck from Battle for Zendikar, many people want to be in it, but only the player who gets the right materials will stomp everyone else. However, I could be wrong, this is a brand-new format and these general ideas are just from my observations and knowledge of two prerelease tournaments, it is very important to keep an open mind in a new limited format as new strategies can come from nowhere and there could just be a stronger archetype than mot evasion strategies, but it certainly feels like an evasion dominant format.
Overall, the format doesn’t play out as enjoyably as I would have thought and hoped so. Evasion feels to powerful and with the lack of more quality removal spells, it seems like removal will be prioritised over most other cards. Long games of limited Magic are not the kind I prefer; however, this cannot be said about everyone. Sets such as Aether Revolt and Oath of the Gatewatch are more in the style of limited that I prefer, but that’s just me. If the powerful creatures and ones with evasion go unanswered than it seems like you will just lose the game, it’s not good for a limited format if a player knows that their dead when their opponent drops a god on turn three. The Pro Tour will be very interesting to see how things shape up, how dominant with evasion be? How will the players think about removal? There are still a lot of questions to be answered. Hopefully the draft portion of the format will rise above the sealed side of things because when the guy next to you opens two gods you really question what the sets intentions were.
I hope everybody is enjoying this new set, whether you like the gameplay or not, the sets flavour and artwork is just superb. Best of luck in all your future drafts and sealed events! Prioritise your removal and flyers, and believe in the heart of the cards!
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