Amonkhet has provided a lot to chew on, and I am looking forward to going deep with the new cards in all the formats where it is legal. There's still a banned list update coming next week, so with possible Standard bannings and Modern unbannings I've been hesitant to dive into brewing head-first right away, but there's still a lot of relevant work to be done. Today I'll look at Amonkhet with a wider view by breaking down the set into a handful of categories and picking out the top cards in each, with the goal of winnowing the relevant cards from the chaff and making the set easily digestible.
I'll start simple by looking at the top cards with cycling, Amonkhet's marquee mechanic. Cycling offers the versatility of cashing a card in for a new one, at the cost of the spell being less efficient or powerful compared to a similar card without cycling. This versatility lends itself to a consistency that is highly prized in Constructed and all but ensures the best cycling cards will have an impact. Cycling cards also enable synergies with great new Amonkhet cards like Drake Haven and Flameblade Adept, and they supercharge the delirium cards that were already in Standard.
Standard completely lacked playable graveyard hosers, but Scarab Provides an efficient and easy way to interact with the graveyard. The versatility of its cycling means it will never be dead, so the normal risk of playing such a narrow effect is mitigated. Cycling even moves it from a sideboard card to a potential main deck option, especially in a dedicated cycling deck.
Archfiend of Ifnir would be relevant to Constructed solely as a large flier with the option to cycle, but its triggered ability is also extremely powerful and brings it over the top as a staple of black cycling decks.
Artifacts have been a scourge on Standard since Kaladesh brought Smuggler's Copter, but there haven't been strong enough artifact hosers to play main deck. Dissenter's Deliverance changes that equation by being an efficient artifact removal spell or easily cycling when it doesn't find a target. That makes it main deck playable, but also increases its stock as a sideboard card because it can be sided in liberally without risk of the opponent shifting away from artifacts and leaving it dead.
Hieroglyphic Illumination is much less powerful than Glimmer of Genius, but there is something to be said for the utility of cycling. It will be a staple of any cycling deck, but it could also push out Glimmer of Genius in more traditional control decks. One interesting line of play it opens up is the ability to be targeted with Torrential Gearhulk after being cycled in situations where there would be no time to cast it from hand.
Curator of Mysteries is another flier with cycling, but its more efficient cycling cost and mana cost make it even more attractive than Archfiend of Ifnir. Its triggered ability is also deceptively powerful and helps to chain cycling cards together to trigger a card like Drake Haven.
Counters are among the best cards in Magic because they are blanket disruption for anything the opponent can muster. Censor is as clean a counter as any, unlike something like Revolutionary Rebuff or Negate that are conditional. The Force Spike effect is easy to play around and quickly goes dead in the late game, but adding cycling to it removes this risk and makes the card pretty much all upside. Censor is going to change the way we play, and means that untapped blue and a colorless mana must always be respected, whether it be in Standard, Limited and potentially even Modern.
Cast Out offers a powerful and nearly all-encompassing piece of disruption with cycling attached, and I believe that makes it one of the best cards in all of Standard. Cards that deal with creatures, planeswalkers, artifacts, and even enchantments aren't easy to come by, and Cast Out does all of that at instant speed. It's hard to argue for the idea that any deck heavy with white should not play four. One comparison is Abzan Charm, which offered the choice between card drawing and disruption as one of the finest cards in its Standard format, and Cast Out is infinitely more accessible.
With the five cycling lands looked at as whole, they are the most important cycling cards in Amonkhet and will help fix mana and reduce mana flood in every deck they find their way into.
Another important class of cards in Amonkhet are those that provide value from the graveyard. Creatures with embalm can be brought back from the dead as Zombie versions of their former selves, and aftermath spells provide an alternate effect when cast from the graveyard. The best of these are sure to make their way into Constructed decks in some fashion.
Start creates two tokens at a slightly expensive rate, which isn't exactly Constructed playable, while the graveyard half Finish is essentially a more expensive Bone Splinters. I'm intrigued by this card because the graveyard half is an interesting source of value that could be effective in something like a White-Black Zombies deck that could discard it to Cryptbreaker and unlock its removal potential, or even in something like Modern Dredge as a removal spell it can dredge into.
Insult doubles damage dealt by your creatures in a turn, so it's something like an awkward sorcery speed Temur Battle Rage, which in practice might add up to enough extra damage to make it earn a place in hyper-aggressive red decks. The real payoff in Insult is in the graveyard half Injury, which is essentially a slightly weaker Hungry Flames. There's a lot of value in Insult // Injury for an aggressive deck, so I could imagine this making the cut somewhere. It's particularly interesting because it's generally a better card in the graveyard, so it could be a good value option for discard-based red decks.
Trueheart Duelist isn't much more than a bear, but the ability to generate value from the graveyard makes it a consideration in a deck like Red-White Humans that doesn't have access to Scrapheap Scrounger.
Spring is nothing more than a slightly expensive mana ramp spell, which for Standard might not be too expensive given the lack of better options. It shines from the graveyard as Mind, which draws two cards. It's pure value, even at a steep cost, and because card draw is exactly what a ramp deck needs to refuel, the card works well with itself and could find a home.
Commit // Memory is very versatile disruption against spells and permanents, and it's certainly stronger than it looks. It's a great Torrential Gearhullk target too! The top half would be good enough to play, but from the graveyard Memory provides the option to cash in your hand for a new one, which can convert extra lands and dead cards into action, which is often exactly what a control deck needs.
Cut // Ribbons is an efficient removal spell that would be playable on its own in the right circumstances, but it offers extra value from the graveyard as a powerful finisher that converts extra mana into damage.
Never offers the same removal ability as Ruinous Path, but instead of demanding for extra mana immediately for awaken it offers value from the graveyard as Return. In practice this means it will always offers this extra value, instead of a tiny fraction of the time, and that makes Never // Return superior.
Angel of Sanctions offers the ability of Banishing Light attached to a flying creature, which on its own is almost good enough to consider playing. Embalm means it can be used a second time from the graveyard if its finds itself there. It all comes together as a versatile and robust card with a major impact on the battlefield, so it's slated for constructed play.
The biggest and most immediate impact of Amonkhet will be on Standard, so I want to run down the most important cards for the format.
Channeler Initiate is mana fixing that grows into a significant battlefield presence, so it seems mostly superior to Servant of the Conduit, which I expect it will mostly replace. It could also go hand-in hand with it in ramp decks, potentially with Nissa, Steward of Elements.
Drake Haven offers a stream of battlefield presence and value for the cost of filling your deck with cycling cards. This doesn't seem to have a high cost given that Amonkhet is filled with excellent cycling cards, so Drake Haven will put competitive cycling decks on the map, likely either white-blue, blue-black, or Esper.
Gideon of the Trials has too much of an impact on the battlefield not to playable, especially once Gideon, Ally of Zendikar rotates out and it has less competition in deckbuilding.
Pull from Tomorrow is the biggest piece of card advantage in Standard since Sphinx's Revelation, and it's going to start a new era of blue control decks designed to win the long game.
Censor will find a home in various blue decks in Standard, particularly cycling-based decks, but also in decks like Jeskai Copy Cat as a way to buy time for the combo and protect it, or in a tempo deck like a redesigned White-Blue Flash.
Cast Out also has applications in various strategies, from the fastest white human aggro decks to the slowest Pull from Tomorrow control decks. It's accessible to the format's current top decks going into Amonkhet, Mardu Vehicles and Four-Color Copy Cat, so it could find homes there too.
Manglehorn is R&D's answer to Mardu Vehicles and the Felidar Guardian-Saheeli Rai combo, nerfing both in one fell swoop. This makes it one of the most important cards for Standard and a shoo-in for every deck with green mana.
The cycling lands will earn a place in all sorts of Standard decks, and because their cycling effect is so desirable they will even be played in decks that only use one color of the mana they produce.
Every set has hyped cards, and Amonkhet is no different, but there are also gems hiding beneath the surface.
Deem Worthy kills essentially any creature at instant speed – and is a fine target for Torrential Gearhulk – but what really stands out is its cycling ability, which can destroy a creature and draw a card for value. The rate isn't quite good enough to make this an obvious playable, but it's not out of the question.
Any card that says "win the game" should at least be considered, especially at only seven mana. Potential homes for the card are in a pure control deck or in a deck seeking to cast two as fast as possible with Aetherworks Marvel.
Forsake the Worldly is similar to Dissenter's Deliverance in that it's possible main deck artifact removal, but the fact that it destroys enchantments is very useful in a world with Drake Haven and Cast Out.
Gideon's Intervention is an unconventional card, but its power is undeniable, especially as a proactive answer to the most powerful cards that aren't otherwise easy to deal with.
Bone Picker is a very efficient and legitimate threat once a creature has died, so it's one of the first inclusions I'd make into any sacrifice-centric deck.
Bloodrage Brawler offers huge stats at a low cost, and often that is good enough, especially when it is so good at pressuring planeswalkers. The best homes for this deck will be able to turn its discard ability into a benefit with Madness or value from the graveyard.
Consuming Fervor offers a large stat boost at a low cost, which might be exactly what red decks need. In terms of pure damage race it's like a 3/3 creature with haste, assuming it has a target in play ready to attack, and by pushing creatures through blockers its impact is often greater.
At first glance Shadow of the Grave reminds me of this set's One with Nothing, but it's clear that in the right deck it huge potential. It could generate some modest value in a cycling deck, but bigger dreams for the card revolve turning it into more of a combo card with discard outlets like Noose Constrictor.
Every set offers something with an Eternal impact, and Amonkhet looks like it will have a bigger impact on Modern than most.
Sixth Sense will compliment Keen Sense in Modern Bogles and could theoretically push the deck to play a more grindy game, especially with Silhana Ledgewalker providing evasion.
Vizier of Remedies interacts with persist creatures just like Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, so it's an additional or alternative option for these decks. It's generally less powerful than these creatures, so it isn't likely to replace them, however it's interesting because it combines with Devoted Druid to create infinite green mana, which with the right mana sink will win the game. Devoted Druid also goes infinite with Quillspike, so Vizier of Remedies could be part of a new style of deck build around both combos.
By Force is a powerful piece of artifact removal that doesn't demand as much red as Shattering Spree nor as much mana as Shatterstorm, so it could find a niche in sideboards as an answer to Affinity and Krark-Clan Ironworks decks, especially in Team Unified.
Soul-Scar Mage isn't as powerful as Monastery Swiftspear, but that won't stop it from finding a home in aggressive red Modern decks. It could also help to reinvigorate the Blue-Red Temur Battle Rage decks that have been reeling since the loss of Gitaxian Probe.
Cryptic Serpent is comparable to Bedlam Reveler, only it's cheaper and offers a larger body. Bedlam Reveler has earned itself a spot on the fringes of Modern, so Cryptic Serpent could easily find itself in the format alongside Thought Scour and the like, especially because being blue means it's not restricted to any specific color combination.
As Foretold is very powerful in Modern when combined with zero-mana suspend spells it can cast for free, like Lotus Bloom. It will be effective in control decks with Ancestral Vision, and it enables a new style of Restore Balance deck. It's also increased the competitive prospects of Wheel of Fate.
Harsh Mentor is strong in a format with fetch lands so it could see main deck play, and it's a great sideboard hatebear for red decks.
The cycling lands are fantastic in Modern when combined with Life from the Loam or a card like Crucible of Worlds, and they can be searched up by fetch lands, so they'll enable new decks like Aggro Loam while finding their way into all sorts traditional Modern strategies.
Amonkhet has some subtle tribal themes running through it, and the influence of new cards will be far greater than simply their impact on limited or Standard.
Neheb, the Worthy isn't going to make Minotaur tribal competitive in Standard, but it's a great addition to the pantheon of Magic Minotaurs and will be welcome to many Commander and casual decks.
Liliana's Mastery is an anthem with an immediate impact on the battlefield, and that makes it a very attractive inclusion to any Zombie tribal deck.
In Oketra's Name offers a huge stat boost at a lost cost in a Zombie deck, so this could actually make the cut in Standard in a White-Black Zombies deck filled with one-drop creatures.
Honored Crop-Captain isn't technically a tribal card, but it looks best in a Red-White Humans deck as a pseudo-lord creature backing up Thalia's Lieutenant and Metallic Mimic.
Wayward Servant is a strong push for Zombie decks to splash into white.
Dread Wanderer is also not technically a tribal card, but it has a huge tribal impact by giving Zombies a fantastic one-drop.
Lord of the Accursed is an ideal lord for Standard Zombies decks as a way to push through Zombie Tokens generated by Cryptbreaker.
Regal Caracal is the lord Cat tribal decks never knew they needed.
The options provided by cycling and the late-game playability of embalm and aftermath cards means that Amonkhet looks like a very fun and skill-testing Limited format, but it's not the splashy constructed rares but the commons that will define it.
Counters will be better than normal in Amonkhet because the option to spend mana cycling cards means leaving up mana on the opponent's turn isn't as risky.
In my eyes the premier commons in Amonkhet are the best removal spells in each color, with an honorable mention for Floodwaters.
Winds of Rebuke is particularly strong against Zombie Tokens from embalm.
Compulsory Rest is poor against embalm creatures because they can sacrifice them to get them to the graveyard.
Exiling embalm creatures goes a long way.
Evolving Wilds isn't the most powerful common, but adds consistency to almost every deck. It helps support splashes of powerful cards, which will be desirable in a format that looks relatively slow.
There has been controversy surrounding the appearance of Amonkhet's special Invocation cards, but I don't mind their style on Magic's oldest and most iconic staples used in Legacy and even Vintage.8. Pact of Negation7. Counterspell6. Spell Pierce5. Stifle4. Dark Ritual3. Counterbalance2. Daze1. Force of Will
What's your Amonkhet Top 8 list? Share in the comments!