How to Evaluate Amonkhet

by Anthony Lee on 03 April 2017, Monday

Anthony Lee

How to Evaluate Amonkhet


Spoiler season for Amonkhet is beginning and while every spoiler season is a very exciting time for just about every kind of Magic player, this one is a little more special than usual because the current Standard format is one from which many players are keen to move forward.


It's natural to want to evaluate all of the new cards as they come in, and as you undoubtedly already know, it's also incredibly difficult to do it well, yet we'll try nonetheless.


There are a lot of different reasons that a Magic player would want to think about new spoilers, but I would like to share some advice specifically regarding your assessment of Amonkhet cards in terms of competitive Standard play.


I'll start by going over the most important limitations created by existing cards in Standard which you need to bear in mind as you process Amonkhet's new cards, then I'll talk about a more general point - making sure the comparisons you make in assessing new cards are actually meaningful ones.



Current Constraints

No cards rotate with the release of Amonkhet, which makes evaluating new cards for Standard considerably easier than usual, because you will not have to simultaneously account for the departure of a large number of influential cards as well as the new cards themselves.


I think the best approach you can use to get a headstart on Standard is to just focus on the existing constraints in Standard and try to work out how the new cards fit into those constraints...or break them.

These are what I would consider the three most important constraints in Standard right now, which you must evaluate every card from Amonkhet against.


They both restrict what could otherwise be playable, but they are also not set in stone, and you should also be thinking about which new cards could possibly be solutions that let you get past the limits that these existing cards set on Standard's viable options.




Constraint #1: Mana


Mana is always one of the most important constraints in any Standard format, but it's also the one that changes the most with the advent of a new block (more specifically, the new dual land cycles that invariably come with a new block).


Aether Hub Spire of Industry Inspiring Vantage


The two decks on top of Standard utilize manabases enabled by powerful fixing in the Kaladesh block – Four-Color Copycat relies on the energy engine fuelled by Attune with Aether, and Mardu Vehicles relies on the Kaladesh fastlands and Spire of Industry.


You can try to see if new spells fit in with those manabase configurations, and note that in general these manabases are good at letting you play a lot of cards in three or four colors, but much weaker at enabling color-intensive cards.




Constraint #2: Copycat Combo


The next biggest consideration would be the Copycat combo.


Felidar Guardian Saheeli Rai


The biggest impact of this combo in Standard is that it forces you to play interaction in your deck to be able to beat it, which means a lot of the linear strategies that might otherwise exist are shut out since it's hard for them to find enough space to fit a sufficient number of answers in their deck.


Consequently, you should be wary of any cards that demand a high deckbuilding commitment before their payoff, as you likely won't be able to fit as much synergy in your deck as you need to due to the ever-looming Felidar Guardian.


Walking Ballista Implement of Combustion


Instead, look for powerful new strategies that might be able to incorporate answers to the combo – whether by having the space to play lots of removal spells, or naturally wanting cards that protect you from the combo, e.g. Walking Ballista and Implement of Combustion.




Constraint #3: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar


Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

The third important consideration is the interaction of any given new card against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.


The midrange power of Gideon being able to both end games quickly or grind opponents out with 2/2s is what allows Mardu to pivot so well, which is why it has become so hard to attack effectively as it can play both as a very fast aggro deck or a planeswalker-heavy midrange deck.


But remember – Gideon is now a huge factor in deciding games of Standard, but this wasn't always the case, and he saw significantly less play in previous Standard formats.


Siege Rhino Mantis Rider Collected Company


That was because a lot of threats lined up well against him: Siege Rhino, Mantis Rider, Thunderbreak Regent, and Collected Company were all threats that trumped Gideon.


Don't just look for direct answers to Gideon in Amonkhet – look for cards with the right stats and text to make him a weak play!



As an example, Glorybringer is one early Amonkhet card which provides the characteristics you need in order to punish Gideon.



Drawing Meaningful Comparisons

If you want to meaningfully analyze new cards, you have to go beyond simply recognizing superficial similarities between the old and the new – it's extremely easy, and consequently extremely common, to simply re-word the card's text, but this isn't actually helpful at all in telling you whether a card or mechanic is playable or not.


Snapcaster Mage Torrential Gearhulk


For example, during Kaladesh spoiler season you might have heard many comparisons between Snapcaster Mage and Torrential Gearhulk calling the latter "a bigger Snapcaster Mage" or variants on that, and it's easy to understand why that reference was made – after all, they share a lot of words in their text boxes.


Dragonlord Ojutai


The problem is that Torrential Gearhulk has a totally different purpose to Snapcaster Mage, and it would have been more appropriate to draw a parallel between the blue Gearhulk and Dragonlord Ojutai.


Don't just look at the surface-level similarities between cards – rather, strive to work out how they might actually fit into Standard decks so that you can create more useful comparisons for yourself and enhance your understanding of the new cards.


Disallow Void Shatter

How does one go beyond said superficial similarities?


The key is in recognizing that cards exist relative to each other, and are all options competing against each other to be included in your deck. To take a recent example from Aether Revolt, it's trivially simple for a competitive player to see that Disallow has the ability to counter some things that its immediate predecessor in Standard, Void Shatter, could not counter – Eldrazi cast triggers, planeswalker ultimates, and so on.


The crucial step is to actually compare the value of each card's bonuses, in this case weighing up how important it is to be able to counter certain abilities against how important it is to be able to exile cards. It might be difficult, especially so early on in the format, to actually quantify how important each one is, but you need to be playtesting with this type of specific question in mind – so in this case, not whether simply "is Disallow good?" but rather "is Disallow better than Void Shatter?"

Of course, this goes beyond functionally very similar cards like Disallow and Void Shatter, which have readily identifiable points of comparison. It equally applies to cards with similar roles but drastically different abilities and stats, and even things as broad as entire set mechanics, as they can limit the scope of possibilities you consider as you assess cards with the mechanic or mislead you entirely.


To take an example from Amonkhet, I urge you not to think of the embalm mechanic as "flashback for creatures" nor as "a permanent version of unearth."



Embalm will have some similarities to something like flashback in that you can discard or mill cards with the mechanic to get card advantage, but there are critical differences that the comparison glosses over.


Call of the Herd


For example, instants and sorceries with flashback immediately present the flashback ability to you once the card is used, but creatures with embalm need to die before you get access to that ability, and that likely requires that your opponent to be killing your creatures.


You can work around that difference – perhaps by building around sacrificing your own creatures, or making sure you can put enough pressure on your opponent to force them to kill your creatures – but you can't work on that unless you identify that aspect of embalm as a mechanic, and you're not likely to do so if you just think of it as "flashback with creatures." Dig deeper into differences than into similarities.

Hopefully that helps set you up to delve a little deeper into Amonkhet's spoilers and get a headstart on the rest of the competition!

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