Win More Boosters at the Amonkhet Prereleases

Written by Jeff Zandi on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

Win More Boosters at the Amonkhet Prereleases

Jeff Zandi

Jeff Zandi is a level 2 judge and an eight-time veteran of the Pro Tour. He has written continuously about Magic for over eighteen years. His team, the Texas Guildmages, have the longest running regular game in history, meeting at his home every Tuesday night since 1996.

Amonkhet is finally here! I’ve been drafting Kaladesh and Aether Revolt for so long that the Kaladesh cards are starting to seem really old, like I’ve been playing with them for years. We’re all ready for something new. No problem there. Our friends at Wizards of the Coast have delivered a very new and very different large expansion set for us this spring in Amonkhet. Set in an environment similar to our ancient Egypt, Amonkhet provides a pyramid scheme that you won’t mind at all sharing with your friends.

While everyone is able to check out the full spoilers this week on the mothership or possibly some other internet location, the real deal happens at midnight Friday night when prerelease weekend begins. That’s when it really matters, when we finally get to put our hands on the actual cards. Amonkhet will certainly shake up Standard and possibly Modern, but those are problems for next week and the future. The thing we’re trying to do this weekend is to make the most of our Amonkhet sealed deck experience. Sealed deck has been my favorite format since Ice Age (the set, not the cataclysmic dinosaur-killing climate disaster). My job today is to share some ideas for how to make the most of this new set in your prerelease sealed decks. I want to help you win more boosters at the Amonkhet prereleases.

First, the basics. Some things about solid sealed deck play never change. Even though you probably know these things already, it doesn’t hurt to go over the basics every once in a while. It helps me, too. First of all, the most important number is forty. One of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams, would have you believe that the most important number in life, the universe, and everything, is the forty-two. Be that as it may, the most important number in Magic limited formats is forty. This is the minimum number of cards in a legal sealed or booster draft deck. It’s also, according to the best players in the world, the maximum number of cards. In most limited formats, the right numbers are seventeen land and twenty-three spells. Occasionally, it’s sixteen and twenty-four. Forty is always the correct number for total cards in your library. It’s especially hard at a prerelease to make yourself cut that forty-first card from your deck because you don’t know which cards are the best yet. You also tell yourself that the prerelease is just for fun, a time for exploration. I agree with all of that reasoning. Now cut a card and get your deck down to forty. It’s better. It’s always better. Magic is the best game in the world, and a subtle and complicated game. There are few things that we can know are always right in Magic. Forty cards in sealed deck is one thing we do know for certain, so why not start on the right foot and play the right number of cards? If your deck is full of awesome cards, playing exactly forty will help you draw those priceless gems more often. If your deck is devoid of bombs, you have an even stronger need to keep it tight so that you have the best possible chance of winning.

As soon as I’ve opened all my boosters, I like to sort the cards by color and then lay them all out in front of me, one column for each color. I put the creatures at the top of the columns and the non-creature spells at the bottom of each column. This lets me get a sense of my pool as a whole so that I don’t get so distracted by one particular cool card that I end up ignoring a better strategy in another color. For example, if my best card is blue but my blue cards are bad on the whole, I will either have to give up on the blue card that I really like or else figure out a way to make blue a smaller part of my finished deck. You only have a little bit of time at the prerelease to build your deck but you still want to be sure to check out every one of your cards before deciding what colors you are going to play.

New Game Mechanics

Embalm is a sorcery-speed ability that some creatures have that allow you to exile them from your graveyard to put a token copy of them onto the battlefield. The token copy has no mana cost and is a white Zombie Cat. Why a Zombie Cat? Because if the internet has taught us anything, and the jury is still out on that, it’s that zombies and cats are cool. Embalm is a powerful way to get more value out of the creatures in your deck. It might even allow you to dial down the number of creatures in your deck in order to let you play more non-creature spells.

Exert is an ability that some creatures have that allows you to choose not to untap your creature during your next untap step in order to gain some advantage right now. The creatures with exert are found in white, red and green.

Aftermath is when you treat yourself to milk and cookies after solving a difficult math problem. Actually, aftermath is an ability that split cards in Amonkhet have. The split cards in Amonkhet are functionally two different spells. One of them is castable from your hand. Aftermath means that you can play the second side of these split cards only when the card is in your graveyard. The rules for split cards are changing with the release of Amonkhet. From now on, the converted mana cost of a split card is always the combined costs of the two halves of the spell. Aftermath works a little like flashback in that when you play a split card with aftermath from your graveyard they will be exiled afterwards whether the spell resolves or not.

Cycling is an old, proven ability that first appeared in Urza’s Saga back in October, 1998. Cards with cycling have a cycling cost that can be paid. When you do, you discard the card with cycling and draw a card. Some cards with cycling also trigger when you cycle them to do other things. When you cycle a card from your hand you are playing an activated ability of that card while it’s in your hand, you are not casting the spell. A card with cycling is never a dead card in your hand because you can always pay the cycling cost to discard it and draw something that will hopefully be more useful. In the history of Magic, cycling is regarded as one of the best mechanics to help solve the game’s resource scarcity problems. You know, mana screw. You can often keep an opening hand with two lands and a card that cycles for two generic mana more easily than you could keep another two land hand because you know that you could cycle a card on turn two extending your reach into your library one card further than normal.

Now it’s time to talk about the actual cards. While the cards you are naturally going to be the most excited about are the rares and mythic rares, I suggest that the most important cards in your deck are the commons and uncommons. The reason is simple, you only get a half dozen rares in your pool while you get three times as many uncommons and ten times as many commons. The commons and uncommons are the ones that you most need to be right about. I’m going to trust you to figure out which of the rares and mythics in your pool are really fantastic. I’m more interested in helping you put the best commons and uncommons into your sealed decks this weekend. For each of the colors, I have ranked what I think are the best five or six commons and uncommons for sealed deck. I present these to you in best to worst order, including the colors themselves.

White Cards

The white commons and uncommons of Amonkhet provide you with a wide array of creatures featuring a lot of what this set has to offer. You get cycling with many of the more expensive cards. You get a lot of creatures that have exert abilities that are very useful in combat. You get creature synergies with Zombies. White Zombies… I guess Rob Zombie really was ahead of his time…

Cast Out is an uncommon enchantment for 3W that has flash so that you can play it anytime you could play an instant. When this enchantment enters the battlefield you get to exile a target nonland permanent that your opponent controls for as long as Cast Out remains on the battlefield. This is an instant-speed removal spell that also has cycling for one white mana. There won’t be many times when you want to cycle away a creature removal spell but the added flexibility makes Cast Out an excellent must-play for every white deck.

Devoted Crop-Mate is an uncommon 3/2 Human Warrior for 2W. This creature has an exert ability that you can play when it attacks. When you exert this creature it won’t untap on your next turn but it will return a target creature card with converted mana cost of two or less from your graveyard to the battlefield right now. I’ve got good news and bad news that isn’t really all that bad. The good news is that you aren’t going to need to use this exert ability that often. The bad news that isn’t really all that bad is that 3/2 attackers tend to get blocked and killed in combat. If you send an attacker into battle who brings back a dead creature back to the battlefield, you don’t mind as much that your attacker died and you suffer no penalty for exerting him.

Gust Walker is a common 2/2 Human Wizard for 1W. When you attack with Gust Walker and exert it, it gains +1/+1 and flying until end of turn. The downside is that he won’t untap at the beginning of your next turn. That means that instead of potentially dealing two points a turn you are potentially dealing three points every other turn. The difference is that the three points every turn is coming from an evasive flying creature. Gust Walker’s exert ability makes him an excellent turn two play in every game and increases the chances that Gust Walker will stick around for multiple attacks unlike a lot of landlocked 2/2s I could mention.

Fan Bearer is a common 1/2 Zombie for one white mana. You can spend two generic mana and tap Fan Bearer to tap a target creature. Simple and very useful. This is essentially reusable removal for white decks. It’s a bit deceiving that as cheap as Fan Bearer is to cast, its ability costs two mana to use. Still, you will always want at least one of these in your white decks. He doesn’t help you win the game directly but he can be a very good tool for keeping a wide array of your opponent’s threats in check.

Compulsory Rest is a common enchantment aura for 1W. The creature you enchant with Compulsory Rest can no longer attack or block. The enchanted creature gains the ability for its controller to spend two generic mana to sacrifice the creature and gain two life. You don’t care. You nullified a creature on the other side of the battlefield for just two mana. This spell is not quite as good as the old spell Pacifism but these days, enchantments that stop creatures from attacking or blocking usually cost three mana whereas Compulsory Rest costs only two mana.

Binding Mummy is a common 2/2 Zombie for 1W. Whenever another Zombie enters the battlefield under your control you may tap a target artifact or creature. First of all, you might easily want this 2/2 for two mana in your deck simply to give your deck a good curve, to give you something useful to do on turn two. Binding Mummy does more than that. How often will you put a Zombie onto the battlefield to activate Binding Mummy? Remember that when you use the embalm ability of a creature in your graveyard it puts a token copy of that creature onto the battlefield only its creature types become Zombie and Cat. Also, what if you have two Binding Mummy creatures in play, something that could easily happen because it’s a common. You would get two triggers, two opportunities to tap an opposing creature, for each Zombie that enters the battlefield on your side. This is a solidly playable common for decks that can use the embalm mechanic.

Black Cards

The black commons and uncommons in Amonkhet feature a lot of good sealed deck creatures. You get plenty of cycling options, some good Zombies and a number of ways to kill your opponent’s creatures.

Lord of the Accursed is an uncommon 2/3 Zombie for 2B that gives other Zombies you control +1/+1. You can spend 1B and tap Lord of the Accursed to give all Zombies menace until end of turn. It’s amazing to have a Zombie lord that pumps your other Zombies as an uncommon, first of all. His activated ability helps you Zombies attack through when the battlefield gets jammed up. All you have to do is figure out how to fill your deck with Zombies and cards with embalm.

Stir the Sands is an uncommon sorcery for 4BB that creates three 2/2 black Zombie creature tokens. You can also cycle this card for 3B to draw a card AND create one 2/2 black Zombie creature token. I’m not sure how much your fortunes will change on turn six when you put three Zombie tokens on the battlefield but I know that this card’s cycling ability makes it always worth having in the deck.

Grim Strider is an uncommon 6/6 Horror for 3B that gets -1/-1 for each card in your hand. Do you like aggressive decks? If I had two of these in my pool I might be tempted to play a very fast deck with either red or white playing a bunch of two and three drops so that my hand would be almost empty when I played this on turn four. If this creature is ever smaller than a 4/4 you’re doing it wrong.

Baleful Ammit is an uncommon 4/3 Crocodile Demon for 2B with lifelink. When this monster enters the battlefield it puts a -1/-1 counter on a creature you control. When considering this creature’s true value you have to consider the possibility that you will have to play it occasionally on an empty board and therefore put the -1/-1 on the Baleful Ammit. There’s nothing wrong with a 3/2 lifelink creature for just three mana, particularly in black. You would just rather put that nasty -1/-1 counter elsewhere.

Bone Picker is an uncommon 3/2 Bird with flying and deathtouch for 3B. Those statistics are fine for that mana cost. However, if a creature died earlier in the turn, Bone Picker only costs one black mana to play. The more aggressive your deck, the more times you will get to play your 3/2 flyer for just one black mana. Impressive and probably a must-play.

Horror of the Broken Lands is a common 4/4 Horror for 4B. Whenever you cycle or discard another card this gets +2/+1 until end of turn. Additionally, you can cycle this card from your hand for one black mana. I’d be happy to have two of these in most of my black sealed decks. The cost is just fine for a 4/4. The Horror’s triggered ability amounts to a reusable combat trick that only requires you to have cards with cycling in your deck. Very good.

Cursed Minotaur is a common 3/2 Zombie Minotaur for 2B with menace. Menace means that your cheap common three-drop has a little bit of evasion. This creature’s three power means that when two smaller creatures block it there is a good chance both blockers will be killed. Nice common creature.

Supernatural Stamina is a common instant for one black mana. Until end of turn, target creature gets +2/+0 and if it dies this turn it returns to the battlefield tapped under its owner’s control. This can be better than making your target indestructible until end of turn or regenerating your target creature. Supernatural Stamina returns your creature to the battlefield if it dies this turn triggering enters-the-battlefield effects. At any rate, this one-mana combat trick pumps your guy and gets him in the fight for your next turn.

Red Cards

The red commons and uncommons are a desperate bunch in Amonkhet. This is fine a lot of the time. These cards are going to play better with the white cards than with the black cards, I predict. I like to play aggressive sealed decks and these red cards more or less require you to think aggressively.

Ahn-Crop Crasher is an uncommon 3/2 Minotaur Warrior for 2R with haste. You may exert this creature when it attacks. When you do, a target creature can’t block this turn. This is a very useful ability that will put a target on this creature’s head as soon as you play it. That’s a good thing. Any creature that worries your opponent is a good thing. You won’t always need to exert this creature when you attack and that means it will attack more often than every other turn. Because this creature has haste, your opponent will have problems maintaining a defensive line of creatures.

Bloodlust Inciter is a common 1/1 Human Warrior for one red mana that taps to give a target creature haste until end of turn. Essentially, it’s just this easy: play Bloodlust Inciter on turn one and then look forward to the rest of your creatures having haste for the rest of the game. It won’t take your opponent long to figure out that he needs to kill your tiny turn one play. Whatever resources he is forced to employ to get rid of this card will be more than you invested in this clever one-drop.

Emberhorn Minotaur is a common 4/3 Minotaur Warrior for 3R. If you exert this creature when it attacks it gains +1/+1 and menace until end of turn. I see this as a four-drop monster that’s going to attack for five on turn five with the certain amount of evasion that menace provides. If he gets blocked by two creatures he has a good chance of taking both of those blockers. This is low-risk way to get some two-for-ones on the board.

Pursue Glory is a common instant for 3R that gives attacking creatures +2/+0 until end of turn. You can also cycle this card from your hand for two generic mana. This is what cycling is all about. When you aren’t in a position to turn all your creatures sideways and play Pursue Glory in order to win the game, you can cycle it and try to find a better answer from the top of your library. It’s very easy to play two copies of this spell in your deck because you are never stuck with it in your hand for very long when it’s not a good play for you.

Consuming Fervor is an uncommon enchantment aura for one red mana. The encnanted creature gets +3/+3 and gains a -1/-1 counter at the beginning of your upkeep each turn. I like playing aggressive decks and I bet I’m going to like this card, particularly on a smaller flying creature that I don’t mind losing after a few turns. This costs no more than Giant Growth and pumps your creature for at least two turns. I’m fine with the risk/reward this card presents as long as the deck is aggressive enough.

Blazing Volley is a common sorcery for one red mana that deals one damage to each creature your opponents control. An army of 1/1 tokens on the other side of the board. Not for long. Just as often, however, you will attack in with some number of creatures and then use this spell to finish off your opponent’s creatures that managed to block and survive combat. I wouldn’t want too many copies of this spell in my deck, maybe two though.

Blue Cards

Flyers, counterspells and card drawing, these are the normal hallmarks of blue. Amonkhet has plenty of each of these among its blue commons and uncommons. The flyers alone make me think blue will be better than usual for sealed decks. Just try not to make your deck overly complicated with the complexities of blue unless you’re really comfortable with it.

Angler Drake is an uncommon 4/4 Drake with flying for 4UU. When this enters the battlefield you may return a target creature to its owner’s hand. First of all, 4/4 flyers have won a lot of games in Magic’s history, so you can count this six-casting-cost card among your deck’s win conditions. This card’s enters-the-battlefield ability can help you the turn you play it, moving a big monster out of the way on the other side of the table or returning a creature of your own to your hand to replay later.

Open into Wonder is an uncommon sorcery for XUU. When you play this spell X target creatures can’t be blocked this turn and until end of turn these creatures cause you to draw a card if they deal combat damage to a player. This is often the last card you will want to play. By that, I mean you will play this card and then the game will be over and you will be the winner. Typically, you’re going to spend six or seven mana on this spell to make four or five of your creatures unblockable. They will attack and then the game will end with the “draw lots of cards” trigger on the stack. You don’t care that you don’t get the cards, you just won the game. Other times, you can get a couple of critical hits in earlier in the game for just four or five mana and draw some cards with this spell. Either way, it’s a must-play for blue.

Shimmerscale Drake is a common 3/4 Drake with flying for 4U. This card also can be cycled for two generic mana. This is a simple but useful common creature that will fit in most blue decks. I’m happy with a 3/4 flyer for 4U.

River Serpent is a common 5/5 Serpent for 5U that can’t attack unless you have five or more cards in your graveyard. You can also cycle River Serpent for one blue mana. You won’t have six of these in your card pool, but if you did, you could simply cycle the first five of them and then play the sixth one. That’s kind of a joke. The bottom line with this card is that you get a very big common monster for six mana that can easily be replaced by cycling it from your hand when it’s not useful to you. This is exactly what cycling was meant to do, to take the risk out of putting a card with somewhat narrow usefulness in your deck.

Hekma Sentinels is a common 2/3 Human Cleric for 2U. When you cycle or discard a card this gets +1/+1 until end of turn. When you are looking over your card pool you should be able to see how many cycling cards you are likely to play in your deck. As that number grows beyond three or four you can see how you could get a lot of value out of Hekma Sentinels.

Cartouche of Knowledge is a common enchantment aura for 1U that you have to play on a creature you control. The enchanted creature gains +1/+1 and flying and you draw a card when you play this enchantment. Is that enough upside for you for two mana? This isn’t the kind of candy that you can build your whole deck around but a couple of these in a blue/white or blue/green deck with big creatures could be pretty good.

Green Cards

The green commons and uncommons of Amonkhet are as honest and straight forward as they can be. You get some large creatures and you get some very tasty combat tricks. These commons and uncommons would not steer me towards green but it’s good to know there are plenty of sealed deck playables in green if I need these cards to support a powerful green rare that I want to play.

Crocodile of the Crossing is an uncommon 5/4 Crocodile with haste for 3G. When this creature enters the battlefield you put a -1/-1 counter on a creature you control. At worst, this is functionally a 4/3 haste creature for four mana. I love it. Maybe red and green are going to be good friends in Amonkhet sealed.

Synchronized Strike is an uncommon instant for 2G that untaps up to two target creatures and gives each of them +2/+2 until end of turn. This is an excellent combat trick on offense or defense. You might pump up one or two creatures on the attack to make them kill a blocker and survive combat. You might instead play this spell when your opponent thinks he can safely attack past all of your tapped creatures.

Hooded Brawler is a common 3/2 Naga Warrior for 2G. When you attack with Hooded Brawler you can exert it to give it +2/+2 until end of turn. This card’s exert ability makes it very hard to kill in combat and worth more than your three mana initial investment. A very good common.

Greater Sandwurm is a common 7/7 Wurm for 5GG that can’t be blocked by creatures with power two or lower. You can also cycle this card from your hand for two generic mana. I like this card because you can eject it from your hand if it seems unlikely to be helpful to you. When you do manage to play this giant seven-drop, your opponents can only block him with their good creatures, they can’t just chump block your Wurm every turn while they wait to draw an answer for it.

Shed Weakness is a common instant for one green that gives a target creature +2/+2 until end of turn. You may also remove a -1/-1 counter from it. You would play this card a certain amount of the time as a simple combat trick. Sometimes you will actually pump your creature +3/+3 when you are able to remove a -1/-1 counter from it. Not astounding or anything, but obviously useful.

Multi-Colored Cards

Destined // Lead is an uncommon instant sorcery for 1B and 3G. When you can play both halves of this split card in succession on the same turn, you’re in a great position to win the game. Give one of your creatures +1/+0 and indestructible until end of turn and then play Lead to force all of your opponent’s creatures to block your pumped up indestructible creature.

Aven Wind Guide is an uncommon 2/3 Bird Warrior for 2WU with flying and vigilance. This card gives your creature tokens flying and vigilance. Also, this card has an embalm cost of 4WU so that you can reuse this card even if it ends up in your graveyard. It could be a very disappointing moment for your opponent when you play Aven Wind Guide and then immediately attack with a bunch of tokens that your opponent thought he was going to be able to block.

Merciless Javelineer is an uncommon 4/2 Minotaur Warrior for 2BR. For two generic mana you can discard a card from your hand to put a -1/-1 counter on a target creature. That creature can’t block this turn. This card is a potential game finisher in the right situation. Most of the time I believe it will be more important to make a creature unable to block than to give it -1/-1. On the turn after you play Javelineer, turn your team sideways and discard two cards and take two potential blockers out of the equation.

Spring // Mind is an uncommon sorcery instant for 2G and 4UU. You’ll play Spring on turn three and accelerate your mana while fixing your deck’s colored mana needs. Later in the game, probably much later, you’ll play Mind at the end of your opponent’s turn and draw two cards. It’s not a broken card, but it offers real value for multicolored decks that will have two blue mana available later in the game.

Artifact Cards

A word about the Monuments. There is a colorless Monument card that does something special for each of the five colors. Each makes your creature spells of the given color cost one generic mana less. Each Monument also provides you with some passive ability that you gain whenever you play a creature spell. Bontu’s Monument helps you with your black creatures, Hazoret’s helps you with red creatures, Kefnet’s helps you with blue creatures, Oketra’s helps you with white creatures and Rhona’s helps you with green creatures. I don’t think you play a Monument unless you are playing a large number of creatures of that color. That being said, I love that Kefnet’s Monument lets you tap a creature and keep it from untapping during its controller’s next untap step whenever you cast a creature. I love that Oketra’s Monument gives you a 1/1 white Warrior creature token whenever you cast a creature. I don’t like the way these cards ask you to slow down your board development early in the game in order to gain some advantages in future turns. It’s tricky. These cards can be powerful but they can also be super-dead draws late in the game.

Ediface of Authority is an uncommon artifact for three mana. You can spend one mana and tap this to make a creature unable to attack this turn. You also put a brick counter on the Ediface. When you have three or more brick counters on Ediface of Authority you can spend one mana and tap the Ediface to make a target creature unable to attack, block or use its activated abilities until end of turn. This is an interesting effect that can help any deck. It’s not something I would always play but I might have to try it.

Honed Khopesh is a common artifact equipment card for one mana. It costs one mana to equip this to one of your creatures. The creature this equips gets +1/+1. This is as simple as equipment gets and it’s good in most decks though I would be unlikely to play more than one.

Land Cards

Cradle of the Accursed is a common Desert land that taps for one colorless mana. You can also spend three generic mana and sacrifice Cradle of the Accursed to create a 2/2 black Zombie creature token. Unfortunately, you can only activate this ability when you could play a sorcery. Still, this card is an easy way to put an extra creature into your deck. I would only risk it if my deck was only two colors. If I’m splashing for a third color I doubt this card can make the cut.

Grasping Dunes is an uncommon Desert land that taps to give you one colorless mana. You can also pay one mana and sacrifice this land to give a -1/-1 counter to a target creature. You can only activate this ability when you could play a sorcery. This restriction makes it harder to use this card for value. I would only play it in a two-colored deck and not always then.

Putting It All Together

The central tension of this set is between the angry aggressiveness of the cheap efficient creatures with exert and the more elegant long-game strategies involving tokens and possibly three colors. This weekend, I believe the straight forward efficient creature strategies will be the most successful. A few weeks from now, Amonkhet sealed deck may mature into a more complicated format.

I’m going with seventeen lands in most Amonkhet sealed decks even when my deck is fairly aggressive. The green cards give you enough ways to splash for a third color but I doubt I will try to go that way unless I can make my deck significantly more powerful with a few cards of a third color. The green cards aren’t interesting enough to me to want to have a green base for my deck unless I just have to. White will be the most commonly played color this weekend. You might want to take some Plains with you in case your store runs out. I don’t know for sure what the second most popular color will be but I don’t think it will be green.

I hope you have a fun prerelease weekend. I’m going to play in a midnight prerelease and probably one other event over the weekend. Good luck, I hope you open some amazing treasures, but even if you don’t, I hope you win some booster packs.

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