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Brewing Amonkhet


The full spoiler for Amonkhet came out a couple of days ago, and after a slow start to preview season, things really picked up in week two. Now that we can see the full picture, the set looks amazing. More importantly, since we finally have all of the cards, it's time to start brewing! 

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So today, we'll be looking at some initial builds featuring new cards from Amonkhet. Before getting to the decks, a couple of warnings. First, while the decks will have some light attempts at metagaming, we really have no idea what Amonkhet Standard will look like, so I didn't go too deep on trying to fight the top decks in the format. We'll have a banned and restricted announcement in a couple of weeks, and it has the potential to greatly change Standard (for the better). My hope is that Wizards bans one card: Felidar Guardian, which they've already said they wouldn't have allowed in Standard if they had seen the combo potential. Getting rid of the Copy Cat combo not only shakes up the format directly by killing Four-Color Copy Cat, but it also hurts Mardu Vehicles by giving players the ability to focus their decks (with the help of some great new sideboard options) on beating the format's boogieman. 

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Beyond artifact removal, probably the best example of how getting rid of Copy Cat hurts Mardu Vehicles is the debate between Magma Spray and Shock. Magma Spray is an amazing card against Mardu Vehicles. Not only does it kill a lot of different threats, but it also answers Scrapheap Scrounger (one of the cards that makes Vehicles so resilient) permanently by exiling it. The problem is that with Copy Cat in the format, you can't really afford to play Magma Spray over Shock. While Shock isn't as strong against Mardu Vehicles, it's still good at answering the deck's early threats, and it's also one of the most efficient answers to the Copy Cat combo, so players give up a bit in the Mardu Vehicles matchup to have a chance against Copy Cat. With Copy Cat gone, many decks can run main-deck Magma Spray, which will help to bring Mardu Vehicles back under control and potentially make Standard very fun and exciting. 

The point of all this is that it doesn't really make a ton of sense to metagame at this point, with bannings still on the horizon. If we build decks specifically to beat the big two and there's a banning, the decks end up looking silly. As such, the decks we'll look at today are basically first drafts to present ideas that seem fun, unique, or powerful. With this in mind, if you have any suggestions for upgrades, changes, or other decks, make sure to let me know in the comments! Anyway, let's get to the decks!

Zombies!!!

Zombies got a ton of help from Amonkhet, to the point where it seems possible that the deck could be somewhere between very good and great in Standard. The question is: what is the best way to build Zombies? In theory, they can be anything from mono-black to three colors, with black / white, black / red, black / blue, or even Esper likely being the best multi-color options. The Mono-Black Zombie list above is, for me, the jumping-off point. While it doesn't have anything earth-shattering, it does have a solid Zombie curve, good black removal, and a fairly high level of power. 

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The biggest question about Zombies in general is how much the deck depends on tribal synergies, and right now, I'm not sure of the answer. Take, for example, Metallic Mimic. It might be the best option for a second two-drop in mono-black tribal zombies, but it is likely less powerful than Scrapheap Scrounger or even Heart of Kiran if we are going to be a beatdown deck with light tribal synergies. Doomed Dissenter, on the other hand, probably works best in an Aristocrats-style list with some amount of sacrifice synergies, which the tribal build is missing. The challenge is that coming to firm answers on these questions is going to require a lot of playtesting, and with the set not yet in print (or on Magic Online), we have to work in theory rather than in practice.

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The good news is that we have the potential to build Zombies a lot of different ways. At just a quick glance, we could be RB Zombies (which would basically be a mono-black base with red for Magma Spray or Shock, depending on the metagame, along with some good artifact removal like By Force), UB Zombies (which would likely cut some of the tribal elements to take advantage of a discard package with Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam, but don't play Gisa and Geralf—it's just too slow for Standard), WB Zombies (which is personally my least favorite for building a tribal deck but offers the possibility of a pseudo-Zombie Aristocrats-style deck, thanks to ample embalm creatures, and also an all-in aggro Zombie deck with In Oketra's Name as the finisher), or even Mardu or Esper Zombies, which would combine the above ideas. 

For me, I plan on starting with the straightforward Mono-Black Tribal Zombie list and then moving forward from there based on how that deck plays. Because tribal decks are so synergy based, it's often hard to figure out just how good they are on paper. If Mono-Black isn't the way to go, then I'll try various splash colors and styles. The good news is that, with all the powerful Zombies unleashed in Amonkhet, I'm convinced there is a good build of Zombies; it just might take some trial and error to find it. 

WB God Aristocrats

While the new black god Bontu the Glorified has gotten mixed reviews, I believe it has the power to be one of the most competitive of the gods; it just takes a very specific build to harness Bontu's power. The most likely landing spot for Bontu the Glorified is an aristocrats / self-sacrifice style deck, and it looks like the combination of white and black has all of the pieces necessary to make the deck work. 

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The combination of Bontu the Glorified, Yahenni, Undying Partisan, and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim gives the deck a ton of powerful sacrifice outlets. Bontu the Glorified is absurd in this deck because it will almost always be able to attack for four, and menace means it will be super difficult for opponents to chump. Plus, it can also finish the game by sacrificing a bunch of random creatures. Yahenni, Undying Partisan basically works like Nantuko Husk, and while it doesn't offer the same "I win" potential in sacrificing our board, it's extremely hard to kill. Meanwhile, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim offers an early-game roadblock on defense, some incidental life gain, and perhaps even an Utter End every now and then. 

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While they might not look like much, Sacred Cat and Doomed Dissenter are two of the cards that make me the most excited to play this deck. Sacred Cat is almost a Doomed Traveler—giving us multiple bodies to sacrifice—while Doomed Dissenter is basically Butcher Ghoul, and both cards were staples in various aristocrats-style decks of yesteryear. Meanwhile, Sram's Expertise gives us three bodies to sacrifice and can allow us to play just about anything in our deck for free.

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Zulaport Cutthroat and Pious Evangel give us a bunch of Blood Artists, which are essential in making the artistcrats plan work. While Pious Evangel is a bit slow, once it flips around, it gives us access to eight copies of the Blood Artist effect, which means we should always have at least one on the battlefield while we are comboing off. Both of these cards also work extremely well with Bontu the Glorified's sacrifice ability, essentially doubling up on the drain, which means we need to sacrifice far fewer creatures to get our opponent's life total down to zero.

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Finally, we have a couple of grindy graveyard value cards in Dusk // Dawn and Liliana, the Last Hope. While most of the aftermath cards look pretty lacking, Dusk // Dawn is the best of the bunch, and it actually looks very powerful in our deck because the Dusk half doesn't kill any of our creatures and the Dawn half gets back all of the non-God creatures in our deck. While not as good for a combo kill as Rally the Ancestors, since the creatures come back to our hand rather than to the battlefield, the plan is the same—we sacrifice our board to get Zulaport Cutthroat triggers, return everything with Dawn, and do it all over again for even more drain triggers. Meanwhile, Liliana, the Last Hope gives us another way to get creatures back from the graveyard while also working as the backup finisher. Our deck is super good at clogging up the board, so it doesn't seem all that farfetched that we could win some games with the Liliana, the Last Hope ultimate. 

Just how good WB God Aristocrats will be remains to be seen. The good news is that we seem to have all of the pieces necessary to make a competitive deck, and this build might be the best build in Standard at harnessing the power of one of the most powerful cards from AmonkhetBontu the Glorified. While there is some graveyard hate floating around in Standard now, none of it really hoses aristocrats-style decks in the way that Rest in Peace or Leyline of Sanctity would (by hosing "dies" triggers). All in all, the deck looks like a blast to play and is fairly budget friendly, especially if you cut Liliana, the Last Hope and replace her with more removal or extra copies of Dusk // Dawn and Sram's Expertise

Discard Combo—Standard

While I can't take credit for coming up with this idea (that honor goes to a Redditor by the name frankenstein676, I believe), we can help come up with a list that supports it! The basic idea of this discard combo is to win the game as quickly as possible, with the help of Shadow of the Grave allowing us to discard a ton of cards on the same turn to Noose Constrictor. In theory, with the right draw, this can kill the opponent on Turn 3, which is extremely fast for Standard. Of course, this requires an opening hand of three specific cards, which won't happen all that often, so our goal in building around the combo is to make the deck more resilient and playable when we don't have access to the combo. 

While the basic goal of the deck is to pull off the combo, the rest of the deck is designed to add more removal and offer the deck ways to win on Turn 4 or 5 when we don't have the Turn-3 kill. Probably my favorite addition to the deck is Olivia, Mobilized for War, which offers the deck a way to get a surprise kill later in the game by playing a Noose Constrictor or Flameblade Adept with haste by discarding a card (which isn't much of a cost when we are planning on getting it back with Shadow of the Grave anyway). Blossoming Defense gives us a way to fizzle Fatal Push, which is one of the easiest ways for our opponent to beat the combo, while Hazoret the Fervent gives us another way to take advantage of our discard plan and some late-game reach.

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Perhaps my favorite part of the deck is the strange synergy between our discard outlets, Hazoret the Fervent and Shadow of the Grave. In theory, we can play a Hazoret the Fervent, discard our entire hand to something like Noose Constrictor, attack with some massive creatures, and then simply Shadow of the Grave back our hand. If we are lucky, we could even discard some Fiery Tempers, madness them for even more damage, and then get them back to deal even more damage (and have more discard fodder) the next turn. 

I'm not sure whether this deck will be more than a novelty. Noose Constrictor is a fairly powerful card, and it's worth taking notice whenever there's an easy Turn-3 kill in Standard. On the other hand, the idea of the deck sort of reminds me of GR Energy decks featuring Electrostatic Pummeler, except Electrostatic Pummeler is almost a one-card combo kill, since many random good cards incidentally make energy, so it might be that Discard Combo is just a worse version of GR Energy. Regardless, it seems like a fun idea to test out and once again offers a good shell for maximizing the value of one of the new Amonkhet gods. 

UW Drake Control—Budget

Wizards really pushed cycling in Amonkhet, much more than I imagined they would when we found out that cycling would be in the set. As a result, we actually have the ability to play a straight-up control deck built around the mechanic. While cycling is great in any deck, it's especially amazing for control because it helps us find our lands in the early game and find action in the late game; and in our deck, it actually works as a finisher as well!

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While not quite to the level of Astral Slide or Lightning Rift, Drake Haven is a very good payoff for being a cycling deck. The beauty of cycling is that it happens at instant speed, so Drake Haven allows us to keep our mana up for various counters and removal spells, and then if we don't need to do anything, we can cycle and make a couple of Drake tokens during our opponent's end step. While the tokens are only 2/2s, they do have evasion, and we should be able to repeat the process turn after turn (because we draw another card every time we cycle, which presumably finds us another cycler) until we eventually overwhelm our opponent with value. All in all, we have a massive 28 cards that cycle, which means we should never run out of action. More importantly, many of our cycling cards are actually reasonable on their own. 

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Cast Out does a pretty good imitation of Hero's Downfall, allowing us to get rid of not just creatures but also planeswalkers (and even random non-creature, non-planeswalker permanents), all at instant speed. But in our deck, it's also essentially a split card. When we don't need to be killing anything, it makes us a 2/2 Drake for only two mana with the help of Drake Haven. Stasis Snare gives us a backup Cast Out and means that our deck is overloaded with instant-speed, unconditional removal, which is something UW Control has been somewhat lacking over the past few months. 

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When we aren't winning with Drakes, we can also win with Curator of Mysteries, which is another extremely pushed cycling card. A 4/4 flier for four is already on (or above) the curve, and the ability to cycle it away in the early game or when we don't really need another creature because we already have Drake Haven online is a huge bonus. Censor is way more powerful than it looks, allowing us to counter something when our opponent taps out on Turn 2 or 3 (or forcing our opponent to play off curve, which is still a win for us); then, in the late game, when Force Spike loses all of its value, we can simply cycle it away, perhaps getting a Drake in the process. 

Basically, thanks to the cycling mechanic, we have a chance to play a true draw-go style control deck again in Standard. If you look over the deck list, you'll see that apart from Drake Haven itself, we only have a single Fragmentize (which might not even be necessary, depending on what the format looks like), two Declaration in Stones (to deal with opposing gods), one Kefnet the Mindful (which is speculative and very possibly unnecessary), and the Curator of Mysteries (which we can always cycle away) that require us to tap mana on our turn, which makes playing against this deck miserable for our opponent. Thanks to Drake Haven, our opponent will never know if we are just passing with all of our mana up because we want to make Drakes when they end their turn or because we are holding Negate, Essence Scatter, Cast Out, Stasis Snare, or any of our other instants to disrupt their plans. 

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As far as other possibilities for the deck, going Esper offers some interesting options. First, it would give us access to Faith of the Devoted, which would work as Drake Havens five through eight. In fact, Faith of the Devoted might actually be better than Drake Haven, since we don't need to attack with creatures to kill our opponent. The second big benefit of black is we get even more (and better) instant-speed removal. If we could drop Declaration in Stone for Anguished Unmaking, our deck could be close to 100% instant speed, not to mention Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness. It could also give us Archfiend of Ifnir out of the sideboard, which would give us a great answer to little creature swarm decks along with another huge flier to finish the game. Considering we're already playing some off-color cycling lands just to power up our Drake Haven, it would be super easy to make the mana work. The problem is that the mana alone would increase the budget a bit because we'd likely need Concealed Courtyard and Shambling Vent, which aren't exactly cheap. Regardless of the exact color combination, this is the first deck I want to try out with the next Amonkhet cards; it looks fairly competitive and like it will be a blast to play.

UR Prowess—Budget

UR Prowess was a legitimate deck back when Monastery Swiftspear was in Standard, and now with the release of Amonkhet, we essentially have Monastery Swiftspear 2.0 in Soul-Scar Mage. While we lose haste, the ability to deal damage with wither more than makes up for this slight downside. More importantly, we have a ton of support for a UR Prowess archetype. We can dust off our Stormchaser Mages (which is still an extremely powerful card, even though it hasn't seen much Standard play of late), bring back Bedlam Reveler, and even add in Enigma Drake as another flying finisher. 

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The basic idea of the deck is simple. We stick some early-game creatures and start casting spells to trigger prowess. Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice are especially good, since they help stock our graveyard to power up Bedlam Reveler and Enigma Drake. Eventually, we get to the point where we kill our opponent in one big attack with the help of another new Amonkhet card: Insult // Injury

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The more I think about Insult // Injury, the more I realize how scary this card is. In Standard, there are semi-competitive decks that are willing to pay three mana for Uncaged Fury to give a single creature double strike until end of turn. With Insult, we can give our entire team double strike for the same mana cost. Combine this with a bunch of powerful evasive creatures like Stormchaser Mage and Enigma Drake and you have the potential for an extremely scary deck that can win out of nowhere. In the late game, we can potentially go from having nothing on the battlefield to winning on the spot with the help of Expedite giving Enigma Drake haste for just one mana and then swinging for damage equal to twice the number of instants and sorceries in our graveyard (which can easily be 10 or more at this point) with the help of Insult // Injury

For me, this is the starting point for red-based aggro. While it's probably possible to go Mono-Red, UR Prowess offers a level of power and the ability to go long, which are often missing from Red Deck Wins strategies. There are also a few more options that could find a home in the deck but should probably be tested first.

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The problem with Baral, Chief of Compliance is that it doesn't really help us beat down, which is the primary plan of our deck. On the other hand, it can facilitate some super-explosive combo turns where we get down a prowess creature or two, along with an Enigma Drake, and chain together Tormenting Voices and Cathartic Reunions for only one mana. Whether this makes up for the lacking body remains to be seen, but I do want to try it out. Meanwhile, I'm sure Thing in the Ice is good in the deck, but including it would have pushed the deck out of budget range. Plus, I'm not really sure how to make it fit. It may just be better than Stormchaser Mage in the two-drop slot, but it's much less aggressive and likely won't do anything for a few turns, so I'm not completely sure. It might just be a sideboard card. Speaking of the sideboard, while I didn't include one for this deck (or any of the other decks we've talked about today) because the meta is unknown, Niblis of Frost seems like a great option, offering a way to deal with big creatures that otherwise wouldn't care about our damage-based removal like Gearhulks, Eldrazi, and Gods. 

Fling

As strange as it sounds, the new card I've been asked about most isn't even in Amonkhet; instead, it's a reprint brought to us by the Welcome Decks: Fling. Fling has been in Standard several times before, and it usually doesn't do anything, but in our current Standard, there are actually several different ways to make a creature that's big enough to make a single copy of Fling lethal. The challenge in building around Fling is figuring out which option is the most competitive.

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As far as I can see, the easiest way to Fling someone to death is with the help of Electrostatic Pummeler, mostly because there are so many good cards that just happen to produce energy. We need one of two things to happen to get an Electrostatic Pummeler all the way up to 20 power. First, to do it without any help from pump spells, we need a ton of energy (15 to be exact—enough to double the power of Electrostatic Pummeler five times). Thankfully, the second way is easier. If we add Blossoming Defense to the mix, we only need nine energy to kill our opponent from 20 (and only six energy to kill them from 18, if we can get in some damage in the early game). More importantly, Blossoming Defense is a card we want in our deck anyway as a way to protect our combo from targeted removal.

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The second challenge of the deck is making sure we can actually find our Electrostatic Pummeler. For this, we use Whir of Invention along with various energy-producing Puzzleknots to help pay improvise. You're probably wondering what makes Flinging an Electrostatic Pummeler better than just attacking with one, and I think that Whir of Invention is the answer. With the help of Whir of Invention, we can potentially just wait until our opponent taps out, tutor up our Electrostatic Pummeler, and win the game on the spot, whether it is during our turn or our opponent's turn. Going this route means we don't care at all about what blockers our opponent may have, and it also helps us avoid targeted removal, which is the bane of the "going all-in on Electrostatic Pummeler" plan.

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At first, I didn't have Crackdown Construct in the deck, but after finishing the Electrostatic Pummeler build (which already had both Whir of Invention and Wandering Fumarole), it seemed like a low-opportunity-cost tutor target that gives us yet another way to close out the game with Fling. If you're not familiar with this synergy, with a Crackdown Construct on the battlefield, we can animate a Wandering Fumarole and activate its "0" ability a million times, which gives us an infinitely big Crackdown Construct that we can then Fling at our opponent. The biggest problem with this plan is it take a lot of mana—once we have a Crackdown Construct, we still need four mana to activate Wandering Fumarole and another two for Fling. But even with this downside, it's nice to have a backup plan if something happens to our Electrostatic Pummelers. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What are you most excited to brew using the new Amonkhet cards? What other sweet combos and synergies are floating around for Standard or Modern? How can the decks we talked about today be improved? Which color combination of Zombies is best? Make sure to 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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