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Brewer's Minute: Answers in Amonkhet


Hey, everyone. It's time for another Brewer's Minute. For the past year, we've talked about how the balance between threats and answers in Standard is out of whack and causing a lot of problems in the format—basically, threats are just so much better than answers that it's pretty much impossible to play slower, more controlling decks (or even just not instantly lose to things like Verdurous Gearhulk, Heart of Kiran, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, no matter what you're playing). Thankfully, Wizards has said that they realize this is a problem and that they will be swinging the pendulum back, from all the way toward threats and more to the middle, where we have a better balance of threats and answers. The questions for this week are just what answers Amonkhet will give us for Standard, what these cards answer, and how far the pendulum has swung.

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Discussion

Artifact Answers

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Thanks to Kaladesh block, Standard is overrun with powerful artifacts, with Heart of Kiran, Dynavolt Tower, and Aetherworks Marvel all being the foundation of tier decks at various points in the past few months, not to mention other lesser artifacts that are heavily played. Wizards shied away from printing many good answers throughout Kaladesh. The best we had was Fragmentize, which is sorcery speed and only hits some targets, and Natural Obsolescence, which is a mostly worse Naturalize and not something you're happy putting in the main deck.

The good news is that Wizards pulled out all the stops in Amonkhet when it comes to beating artifacts, and now we have a ton of ways to deal with the card type. Both Dissenter's Deliverance and Manglehorn are potentially maindeckable—Dissenter's Deliverance because you can always cycle it away if you don't need it for just a single mana, and Manglehorn because it is good against both Copy Cat and Mardu Vehicles (although hopefully, Wizards will improve Standard by banning Felidar Guardian next week). Meanwhile, By Force is close to a Shattering Spree, being slightly more expensive but taking away the need for all red mana, and Dispossess is a great way to make sure you don't die to decks focused on one key artifact like Aetherworks Marvel or Dynavolt Tower.

Taken in sum, this means that out of all the categories of answers we'll look at today, artifacts come out on top. Not only did we get a lot of answers but many of the answers are also very powerful. While it's hard to give any category a 10 out of 10, artifact answers in Amonkhet come pretty close. 

Creature Answers

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The creature answers in Amonkhet are less exciting. Magma Spray is hugely important because it gives decks a permanent way to deal with Scrapheap Scrounger (which is one of the cards that makes Mardu Vehicles so hard to beat). The question is whether Wizards will ban the Copy Cat combo. If Copy Cat is in the format, it's going to be hard to play Magma Spray over Shock (since Shock is still fine against Mardu Vehicles while also being one of the best answers to Copy Cat). Otherwise, Essence Scatter is a weird card to be excited about, but a lot of the two-mana creature-only counters we've gotten lately have been conditional, so it's an upgrade. Meanwhile, Cast Out is by far the most powerful answer in the set, not only hitting creatures but other non-land permanents as well and cycling away in the early game when you need a land. This leaves us with a group of answers that is about average, with upside if Copy Cat gets banned, because if Mardu Vehicles is the main target, Magma Spray will be one of the best cards in Standard. 

Graveyard Answers

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Graveyard answers might be the strangest of the bunch. While Scarab Feast is good at dealing with reanimator / go-tall strategies and Watchers of the Dead is (fairly) good at dealing with go-wide graveyard strategies like Delirium or Rally the Ancestors, compared to past graveyard hate, these cards are somewhere between okay and bad. However, since we've been living in Standard formats without any graveyard hate at all for nearly two years (and suffering as a result), the very fact that there are cards that exile some things in the graveyard in Amonkhet Standard is quite exciting. While I would probably grade these answers as 4 or 5 out of 10, the fact that we are coming off a Standard with 0 of 10 graveyard hate makes them look pretty appealing. 

Wraths / Planeswalker Hate

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While answers have improved in many categories, there are still some groups where the answers from Amonkhet are still lacking, the two biggest being wraths and planeswalker removal. Thanks to the disappointing aftermath mechanic, we are left with four-mana wraths that look like uncommons like Infest and planeswalker removal that is still sorcery speed like Ruinous Path (although Cast Out is a hugely important answer to planeswalkers and is very good). 

While it's unreasonable to expect everything to be better in one set, and overall Amonkhet has helped swing the pendulum away from all threats and to the middle (although it's still heavily weighted towards threats, going perhaps from 0 / 100 to 20 / 80), moving forward in future sets, these groups are where we will need the most help. If Wizards is going to continue printing powerful planeswalkers with abilities that can end the game quickly, it really needs to move planeswalker removal away from being sorcery speed (where, against cards like Saheeli Rai, the damage has already been done) to instant speed. Meanwhile, the move away from four-mana wraths has further pushed Standard into a midrange grindfest, and the conditional four-mana wraths just keep getting worse and worse. 

Conclusion

All in all, I'm quite happy with the answers Amonkhet has brought to Standard. While we aren't all the way to our destination—with a good balance of answers and threats—Amonkhet is a great first step toward sanity in Standard. While we'll have to wait and see what upcoming sets bring, I'm hopeful that we will continue down the path of seeing more meaningful answers and have better Standard formats as a result.

Anyway, that's all for today. What answers are you most excited about? What else do we still need to swing the pendulum back to the middle? Let me know in the comments, and as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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