The Amonkhet Prerelease is almost upon us, and I'm pleased to present my first Prerelease Primer! This is designed to be a basic guide, outlining the new set in a simple way, starting with the mechanics.
Exert is an aggressive mechanic, designed to help push through meaningful and profitable attacks throughout different stages of the game. There is a healthy amount of exert within Naya colors, so expect to see it play a role in many of your games. I have high hopes for this mechanic gameplay-wise, especially compared to Kaladesh's aggro mechanic (vehicles). It provides a window of opportunity for careful planning both offensively and defensively. Exert is essentially a resource that allows you to receive an immediate benefit in exchange for preventing your creature from untapping the next turn. This allows more options if and when to use resources within a game, and how you can set up big turns with removal, combat tricks, or just with syncing up multiple exert creatures.
Keep in mind that the cost of exert is steep. Having your creature not untap allows your opponent a few turns to deal with it or pull ahead on board. The most important part of exert will be being able to save it wisely to your benefit, as the threat of it may force your opponent into suboptimal play. If an opponent has played a creature to force you to exert to find a profitable attack, remember that using removal or a combat trick may be of higher value as you retain the ability to exert – allowing you more chances to dictate the pace of play. As your opponent gets lower on life, the potential to force poor blocks becomes greater. While vehicles were an all-out race, exert is going to be about pacing.
While exert seems to be an any deck type of mechanic, there are some premium benefits for having a large amount of exert creatures. Namely, Battlefield Scavenger,Trueheart Twins, Ahn-Crop Champion can give an immense boost to an exert-heavy deck so look to take advantage of them if possible.
Cycling has been around in a handful of Limited formats. It's a rather boring and underwhelming straightforward mechanic, but there are some interesting cards with the ability.
Generally, your cycling card is going to be:
A) Too good to want to ever cycle in Limited (Curator of Mysteries, Lay Claim, Archfiend of Ifnir)
B) Medium when played or cycled (Renewed Faith/Stir the Sands/ Censor)
C) A bad card that shouldn't be in your deck but has cycling (Scarab Feast/ Compelling Argument)
My advice is to not go overboard on playing bad cycling cards in your deck for the Prerelease. If you have at least two or three payoff cards, then it can be alright to play them, but I would try to avoid cyclers that cost more than one mana assuming they aren't a card that is always playable. Cycling may be a more Draft archetype, as there aren't an Overabundance of cyclers or payoff cards for doing so.
If you didn't already know, cycling a card is bad. The more mana you spend, it quickly becomes detrimental. Having to sink mana for no card or board advantage is wasteful and can cost you a game quite easily. Understand the different between Desert Ceredon or Haze of Pollen. Of course, you know that Desert Ceredon is reasonable and Haze of Pollen is not. But in this instance, "fine" means you should play it in 95% of Sealed decks (Desert Ceredon) and "not" in 1% or less ( Haze of Pollen).
The point is you shouldn't play a card just because it cycles; if your plan is to cycle it most of the time you draw it, you're crippling yourself by playing cards you don't intend to cast. I've heard people defend cards on this logic in the past, and those people were wrong. That said, "just because it can cycle," becomes a reasonable statement quite quickly if you've opened a Ruthless Sniper, a Gravedigger or Pitliess Vizier.
For some perspective, here the amounts of cyclers in each color:
Less than you may think, and some of them are pretty poor cards that you may not want to play even in conjunction with a couple payoffs.
Here's a list are what can be considered potentially playable payoffs.
Most of the best effects are at rare or uncommon. Another bunch, like Draven Haven, require a large number of cyclers to make it worth it.
Notably, there are only three common payoffs for cycling: Pitiless Vizier and Hekma Sentinels, and to a lesser extent Horror of the Broken Lands. Look carefully. None of these cards actually require a large number of cycling cards to be good – just the threat of a cycler makes them tough to interact with through combat. These cards likely should almost always make your deck even if you find yourself short on cyclers.
It's pretty straightforward white and blue mechanic, providing some resiliency and letting you potentially dip into the minor Zombie payoffs of the set as well as any self-mill. If you do find yourself embalming, hopefully it's with and not against one of the handful of sick "Embombs" like Angel of Sanctions, Vizier of Many Faces or Glyph Keeper. While it's possible that you can have too much embalm in a deck because of mana restrictions, White-Blue Embalm can be a strong choice for the Prerelease. Fliers and resilient creatures are always good for Sealed, and Aven Wing Guide and Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun can make a white-blue deck extremely potent, especially considering how resilient these Embalm "lords" are since they can come back themselves.
While not necessarily a keyworded mechanic, placing -1/-1 counters on your own creatures (mostly in green or black) appears to be the best way in this set to snowball a game, getting out of hand quickly with the right amount of synergy and payoff cards. Similar to exert, there aren't an insane amount of cards that reward you for placing negative counters. However, they did sprinkle in high-toughness creatures which can act as your -1/-1 counter punching bag, elevating cards like Defiant Greatmaw or Crocodile of the Crossing. Dune Beetle might look vanilla, but cards like it are a great way to dish out your negative counters, providing quite the beefy curve for your efforts.
They put some payoffs for negative counters within white, so this should be considered an Abzan mechanic as a whole. Anointed Priest is the perfect example of a perfect off-color card if you are looking for a Pack Mule for negative counters. Vizier of Remedies and Vizier of Detriment are both excellent when you are playing creatures that Shrink your cards. To top it off, it's very clearly part of white's design to take the burden of negative counters. Not only does embalm has obvious synergy here, but take a look at Fan Bearer, Those Who Serve, and Anointer Priest. These are clearly designed with negative counters in mind, play and flavor wise (a 1/2 Tapper for W???)
High toughness makes many of the creatures that distribute negative counters fine in any deck, even when you may not have a plethora of synergies. Unlike cycling, feel free to play cards like Soul Stinger, Quarry Hauler or Ornery Kudu in decks that aren't necessarily popping off with negative counter synergy. Again, what Amonkhet lacks in quantity of payoffs it makes up for in the quality of those payoffs; Decimator Beetle and Hapatara are excellent Workhorse payoffs. It's entirely possible to build any Abzan color combination deck that utilizes negative counters while many of the creatures are doing their own thing.
Lastly, hard removal spells may be at a bit more of a premium as the ability to deal with a threat that has transferred its negative counters can lead to a two-for-one.
Now here we have a flashy new mechanic. There are 15, all uncommon or rare, and 10 of them are multicolored. It looks like and likely plays out similarly to flashback. The biggest difference is the multicolor commitment, as well as being "halves" that work together, either by being a setup for the second half (Reduce // Rubble or Rags // Riches) or by being cards that want to be resolved in the same turn to be at their peak like Prepare // Fight or Onward // Upward . In combination with some double-colored aftermath cards, they won't be very easy to splash, whereas it was very common to splash for cards such as Fires of Undeath or Strangling Soot. In Amonkhet, these spells such as Destined // Lead or Prepare // Fight operate best as one card and should be played in decks that can not only cast them, but cast them on time.
Don't overthink these, they are for the most part solid cards for Limited and should be played if you can cast both sides.
It's not productive to get into which colors are the strongest and weakest at this point, which is what many similar primers might do. Not only may I be wrong since none of us have played the set, but I don't want to inadvertently bias myself or any readers. You all can certainly determine what the best colors of your pool are, so here's a basic guideline for determining the colors of your build. Relax, have fun and ask your friends for help. Utilize continuous deck building!
Most often your Prerelease colors will be predominantly determined by your rares (you get seven instead of six as well as by your removal, which helps you deal with that extra rare or any surprises opponents might have. After your rares, look at your multicolored cards. In Amonkhet there are a fair amount of multicolored cards. Mechanics themselves can lead you to a particular combo (perhaps a White-Blue Embalm synergy or a group of exert cards).
Once again we see another full gold uncommon creature cycle to propel and outline certain archetypes. There is a rare cycle of aftermath allied-colored pairs in Prepare // Fight, Rags // Riches, etc., to go with some multi-colored rares that are mostly in ally colors. This is offset by an uncommon cycle of enemy-colored ally cards (Start // Finish, Reduce // Rubble, etc.), so keep an eye out for a stack of aligned gold cards in your pool. They put these cards in for a reason, so don't go off the beaten path when it's not necessary.
You generally want to play two colors, but having two common lands that fix provides an avenue for splashing, which is not always possible in Sealed. Try not to go too crazy, as there is minimal fixing outside these lands and several of the gold creature cards are archetype-specific, but be aware it is an avenue you can pursue in some cases.
As is the case for most Sealed formats, many good decks will often just be filled with your best cards, utilizing only incidental synergies. There is nothing wrong with that if your rares and removal line up, but do expect to see different Abzan -1/-1 counters, Naya Exert, or perhaps even Blue-Black Cycling decks to come together at the Prerelease. Many of your best cards in those colors will often slot into these archetypes and are built to work in synchrony, so abuse it if you can.
While Trials and Cartouches aren't technically "synergy" but more of an A + B combo to give you a benefit. Having multiple Trials is super potent and can be borderline busted. In a very loose order, Green>Red>Black>Blue>White.
Getting the most out of your uncommons can really improve a Sealed pool. A couple of strong Trials and Cartouches can provide a late-game engine to win and certainly can be a color incentive.
To round out the color pie, we have Monuments. These read as solid playables for me – like the Trials, some are better than others and can help push you into a color. Ideally, you want to be playing a large number of creatures (17+ with a majority on color) to make Monuments good. Kefnet's Monument and Rhona's Monument are both strong and have reasonable impact and can lead to overpowering draws with undercosted threats that provide excellent attacks. I think it's likely the others aren't worth it if you don't have a large number of creatures, but both Hazoret and Oketra are potentially playable.
Have fun at the Prerelease! Here are a few final takeaways to keep in mind:
- Aftermath, embalm and cycling all provide you with mana sinks, so play enough lands and try your best to have solid mana. A lot of players play straight three colors at Prerelease, but don't do this. Splashing is alright, but don't go overboard.
- Removal is excellent as always. Hard removal might be more premium than normal, as the existence of creatures that distribute negative counters as well as enchantments in the form of Cartouches make your removal more powerful.
- Unless you have a focused cycling deck, "because it cycles" is not a reason to put a card in your deck.
- Don't worry about building a specific Limited deck, "good stuff" decks will be mighty fine and will likely have some cards working together if you are two colors.
- Be careful with your exert creatures. If you are just using them at will, you will not only be very predictable, but likely just die to any reasonable curve. Try to save your exert abilities as much as possible.
- Sunscorched Desert is unplayable, please don't put it in your deck.