One of the biggest complaints about Magic Online has always been that new sets are released weeks after the official paper release, and this lag-time made the program something of a lame duck that was living in the past and useless for any sort of serious preparation with the new cards. Things have changed with Amonkhet, and the online release for this set and those in the future have been pushed ahead to coincide with the paper release. Online Prereleases this past weekend means that new cards are in circulation and are legal for tournament play, so leagues are firing and we already have decklists that provide a look at the immediate impact Amonkhet is having across formats.
These events have also given Wizards valuable data about what the Standard metagame looks like after Amonkhet,and on Wednesday afternoon they announced that Felidar Guardian would be banned because of that info. They claimed that data showed Four-Color Copy Cat actually increasing its metagame share and win rate after Amonkhet, and that they decided a ban was necessary for the health of the format. There was an incredible amount of chatter online about how Wizards messed up their decision not to ban the combo on Monday, but they found the error in their ways and mitigated the problem. Assuming Splinter Twin is banned in Modern, it's without question that Felidar Guardian or Saheeli Rai should be banned in Standard, and the community has come together in support of the decision and excitement about the future of Standard.
The banning means that Amonkhet is going to play a much bigger role in Standard, and today I'll look at what new cards are already having results and analyze the decks that use them. I'll also identify where Amonkhet cards can be found in other formats including Modern and even Pauper, and explain the role they play in those decks.
All of the new disruption in Amonkhet is ideal for a control deck, and they come together with the best existing control cards and Torrential Gearhulk to create one of the more streamlined control decks Standard has seen in a long time.
One of the best new tools for control decks is Magma Spray, which is now a strict upgrade over Shock in a world where destroying Saheeli Rai and breaking up the combo is no longer necessary. Magma Spray is prized for its ability to permanently deal with Scrapheap Scrounger. Mardu Vehicles has traditionally given control decks big issues because of Scrapheap Scrounger, but Magma Spray puts control on the winning side of the battle. Control decks played Dynavolt Tower in part for its ability to deal with threats like Scrapheap Scrounger, but with Magma Spray that's not necessary. Magma Spray is also useful for dealing with embalm creatures, like any Trueheart Duelist that make it to Standard.
Essence Scatter gives control decks an efficient answer against any of the creatures that define the format and can be found in every deck. Essence Scatter is especially important because it deals with creatures before they hit play, so it stops the many potent enter-the-battlefield triggers in the format, like Verdurous Gearhulk and Torrential Gearhulk, and it catches Walking Ballista before it can ever do any damage.
Sweltering Suns gives control decks a battlefield sweeper that is never at risk of being useless because of its ability to cycle and replace itself. The fact that it takes three mana to cycle compared to the typical two is a tip-off that the development team found the card to be quite strong, so it's likely going to be an important card in the metagame. It's especially strong in blue-red because it does three damage without the need for a third color like Radiant Flames, and it's more powerful than Kozilek's Return.
Commit is a versatile and powerful answer to any sort of threat the opponent can play, including spell-based threats. There are few spells in Magic with such a unique ability to interact with the opponent's cards, and it's a great new tool for control decks in a world where death comes in all forms. It's also fantastic to play again with Torrential Gearhulk. Otherwise it offers Memory as a way to exchange dead cards and extra lands for fresh ones, which will be useful in long games and control mirrors.
Censor gives control decks a versatile answer to anything the opponent can play, and it's especially strong against the most troublesome cards that might otherwise require more specialized solutions, especially planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Its presence will be felt by opponents even before they've seen it, and its existence will have a profound effect on the way opponents play their game. Opponents will often leave open mana by playing a turn slower, and that falls right into the control plan of buying time for Torrential Gearhulk or what might be control's most important new card, Pull from Tomorrow
Pull from Tomorrow is the most powerful card drawing spell for control decks since Sphinx's Revelation, and it's brought about a new era of control that will features decks like this one. It offers an unmatched ability to refuel the hand with an extreme amount of card advantage and bury the opponent through sheer attrition. For this strategy to be effective the control deck must be full of cheap disruption, both so it can quickly and consistently slow the opponent down, and then so it can efficiently deploy more disruption after it refills with Pull from Tomorrow. The plethora of new disruption Amonkhet is perfect for this plan, so it all comes together to make a very nice looking control deck that is already proving itself.
Blue gained another new tool in Kefnet the Mindful, and this deck attempts to make the most of it in a Temur control shell.
This deck plays a similar core of cards to the old Temur Tower decks, but rather than use Dynavolt Tower as a card advantage engine and win condition this uses Kefnet the Mindful as a card drawing engine that can turn into a threat. Dynavolt Tower was prized for killing Saheeli Rai and breaking up the combo, but now it's less necessary than ever, especially with Magma Spray stopping Scrapheap Scrounger.
This deck plays Nissa, Steward of Elements primarily for its ability to scry two, which will help the deck hit its land drops or dig to the best disruption spells in different situations. It's also a backup win-condition with its ultimate ability.
One advantage of playing green is the new artifact removal spell Dissenter's Deliverance, which will be more important now than ever with Mardu likely increasing in metagame share after the banning of Felidar Guardian.
Prowling Serpopod is a very interesting sideboard card for green decks in a world where control is on the rise, and it looks great in control mirrors where opponents will have a hard time dealing with it, which allows Torrential Gearhulks to come down without fear of counters.
The Amonkhet God that's expected to make the biggest immediate impact is Rhonas the Indomitable, which offers a huge body at a great rate and a potent ability that even helps make sure there's a four-power creature in play. It can already be seen in aggressive Black-Green Energy decks.
Rhonas, the Indomitable is a great fit into the aggressive black-green shell, where it's aggressive posture helps the deck push through defenses and win the game quickly. Never // Return is right at home in this deck, where it deals with the planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar that the archetype can struggle with.
Amonkhet is expected to have a Modern impact with plenty of new playables, and initial results shows that the new cards are making their presence felt immediately. The most-hyped new card for Modern has been As Foretold, and a deck sporting it put up a 5-0 finish on the first day of leagues with Amonkhet legal.
As Foretold functions something like an Aether Vial that also casts spells, ticking up every turn to play larger and larger spells for free. As Foretold is superior because it can continue to cast spells with mana cost less than the number of counters, so it only grows more powerful and doesn't require making tough decisions. This makes it extremely potent in a deck with Ancestral Vision, which it will be able to cast for free immediately after As Foretold is cast any anytime afterwards. As Foretold is also superior to Aether Vial because it can cast a free spell on both its controller's turn and its opponent's turn, which makes it fantastic with countermagic. It's a mana engine that will generate a significant mana advantage over the long game, and it unlocks suspend spells, so it's a unique and powerful new tool that may redefine the way Modern control decks are built.
Another fantastic free spell for As Foretold to cast is Restore Balance, which in a control deck without creatures functions like a free Wrath of God that can be cast as early as turn three. It's a clean answer to all sorts of troublesome cards and a hugely powerful effect that helps make As Foretold worth playing.
Besides As Foretold, this deck is a relatively traditional Modern control deck with all the staples someone might expect and without any real surprises. It's all strong cards with a proven history, so it's fantastic to see Censor sitting right alongside them in Modern. This card is surely a Standard staple, but its versatility is already proving itself in Modern. It's a clean answer to all sorts of spells in a wide-open format, and opponents are going to have a very hard time playing around it.
Elves has gained a surprising new tool from Amonkhet in Throne of the God Pharaoh.
A deck that's designed to put a ton of creatures into play and tap them with Heritage Druid or Chord of Calling is the perfect home for Throne of the God Pharaoh, especially when the deck's plan is to already drain out the opponent with Shaman of the Pack. Throne of the God Pharaoh functions much like a fifth copy.
Amonkhet's impact hasn't been limited to just Standard and the Eternal formats – it can already be seen in top performing Pauper all-common decks on Magic Online.
The White-Green Auras or "Bogles" deck in Pauper is very similar to its Modern counterpart, which is based on enchanting creatures with auras. It's a potential home for any new auras printed so Amonkhet's cycle of Cartouche auras provided the deck with new options.
Cartouche of Solidarity gives first strike to a creature, which isn't particularly exciting, but it helps back up Ethereal Armor. What's more important is the 1/1 token it creates, which is quite useful in the deck. More specifically, it fights back against the metagame because the best way to deal with the hexproof threats in the deck is with edict effects that force a creature to be sacrificed, so it helps to cut opponent's off from that angle of attack. The extra creature is also a body to equip with auras in a pinch when no other creature is available, so the deck will be stuck with auras in hand less often. Being starved for creatures and unable to fight back against edicts and other removal is real problem the deck faces, as evidenced by Blisterpod in the sideboard, so Cartouche of Solidarity helps to make the central aura plan more consistent.
Amonkhet's time in Standard and beyond has just begun, and with Felidar Guardian banned there are many more new cards that are going to see competitive play. Answers like Cast Out and threats like Gideon of the Trials will make their presence felt in Standard before long, and Modern cards like Harsh Mentor and Vizier of Remedies are too good not to make an impact there. What Amonkhet cards are you playing with?