Commander Review: Amonkhet Part 1 (Mechanics, White, Blue, Black)
by Tomer Abramovici // Apr 19, 2017
Amonkhet has been fully spoiled, which means it's time to check out which cards have the most potential to see play in Commander! Here's a review of my favorite Commander cards from the new set and where they might see play. But before we talk about specific cards, let's briefly touch on the mechanics of the set:
Aftermath is a new version of split cards that have two different instant/sorcery spells printed on the same card face. Aftermath cards can only be cast from the graveyard and are exiled when the spell resolves. This basically means you're getting two spells on a single card, which is amazing card advantage. Either cast both spells regularly, or discard the card for value (i.e. Cathartic Reunion) and then cast the aftermath spell. The downside to aftermath cards is both spells are often one more mana than a regular version of that same spell.
As a general rule of thumb, the mechanic plays very well in Commander. In a slower multiplayer format, it's very important to have enough card advantage to keep up with all your opponents and paying an extra mana to do so is absolutely fine. That doesn't mean that all aftermath cards are automatically good in Commander, but they are well-positioned to be good.
While aftermath is the graveyard mechanic for instants and sorceries, embalm is the new graveyard mechanic for creatures. When the creature is in the graveyard, you can pay its embalm cost to exile the card and put a token into play that is a copy of the card. Like flashback and aftermath, embalm is sweet, sweet card advantage at the cost of more mana, making it well-suited for Commander for the same reasons as aftermath/flashback.
There are a few extra things of note about embalm. First, there's a lot more creature synergies available to us than there are instant/sorceries in Commander. For example, you can drop your embalm creatures directly into the graveyard with cards like Buried Alive and Survival of the Fittest. Second, the embalmed creature is a token, which means that it benefits from token synergies such as Parallel Lives and Anointed Procession. With all these sweet synergies available, some of the best embalm creatures, like Vizier of Many Faces, should see play in a variety of archetypes.
Exert is the final new mechanic from Amonkhet. When the creature attacks, you may exert it for a special benefit, but then it doesn't untap during the next untap step. This is neither poor nor well-positioned in general for the Commander format. It depends entirely on the card itself and what the effect is when the creature is exerted. If there are good exert creatures, then the decks looking to play them will want ways to get around the "doesn't untap next turn" downside. You can give your creatures vigilance so they never tap (i.e. Always Watching), untap them with Red extra combat steps (i.e. Aurelia, the Warleader), untap them with surprise combat tricks (i.e. Benefactor's Draught), or blink them untapped (i.e. Brago, King Eternal).
We also have a new unofficial exert lord in Samut, Voice of Dissent, which lets you play all the colors with exert creatures and can untap one of your exert creatures each turn.
Cycling is a beloved mechanic that has popped into sets for a long time. You can discard the card by paying mana to draw a different card. It's a great addition to powerful but situational cards, letting you play them when the situation benefits the spell and cycle it when it's not the right card you need at the moment. It's been a long time since a set had cards that actually cared about the cycling mechanic. The last set that had "cycling matters" cards was Onslaught block in 2002!
Amonkhet brings back cycling with a bang, adding a bunch of powerful cards that trigger when you discard or cycle cards. There's enough goodies here that I can confidently say we've got an established Cycling archetype for Commander! Before Amonkhet, the only good payoff card for the Cycling deck was Astral Slide, and to a much lesser extent Lightning Rift. You can see how much work Astral Slide can do in Commander by watching an old Commander Clash where Seth pilots a Cycling deck! With powerhouse cards such as Archfiend of Ifnir being added, I can only imagine how nasty the Cycling deck can become!
Also keep in mind that many of the "cycling matters" cards actually care about cycling and discarding cards in general. That means decks that discard a ton of cards naturally can get just as much benefit from these cards as the Cycling deck. Wheel decks, like Nekusar, the Mindrazer, will love cards like Archfiend of Ifnir: cast Wheel of Fortune for 3 mana, discard a full grip of cards, kill off all your opponent's creatures for free? Yes, please!
Angel of Sanctions
Angel of Sanctions is a more expensive Banishing Light that comes with a 3/4 flyer and a bonus embalm. Being a creature means it's more vulnerable to removal, but also comes with more potential for synergy since creature cards are by far the most relevant card type in Magic to build around. Double the trigger with Panharmonicon, bring it back from the grave with Karmic Guide, tutor it up with Fauna Shaman, etc.
Banishing Light is a decent card but I rarely play it. Instead, I play more permanent forms of removal such as Return to Dust and Swords to Plowshares. I will play better versions of the card, such as Grasp of Fate, because it exiles more permanents and opponents will think twice about destroying it because it will also return other things that they may prefer stayed exiled.
In a deck that cares about creatures, I can definitely see myself jamming Angel of Sanctions as a superior Banishing Light. We have Banisher Priest and Fiend Hunter as cheaper options to exile creatures and Admonition Angel as a bigger and beefier way to exile potentially multiple things, but Angel of Sanctions's main draw is that sweet embalm. Creature-heavy decks often pop into Green for tutors (Survival of the Fittest, Eladamri's Call, etc.), card draw (Rishkar's Expertise, Hunter's Insight, etc.), and many other creature synergies. Black also loves Creature strategies, usually sacrificing them for value (Disciple of Bolas, Grave Pact, etc.) or cheating them into play from the graveyard (Reanimate, Animate Dead, etc.). Green-White-Black is the trifecta for creature synergies, with Black adding creature reanimation. Karador, Ghost Chieftain decks may enjoy this angel, as you can chuck the angel in the graveyard with Buried Alive or dredging a Life from the Loam, and then either reanimate the angel or embalm it.
Also worth noting, in Blink decks such as Brago, King Eternal and Roon of the Hidden Realm, "Oblivion Ring" cards like the angel are particularly good at dealing with enemy commanders. If you exile an opponent's commander, they will likely opt to put it in the command zone instead, allowing you to blink the o-ring and exile something else without returning anything back to the battlefield.
Gideon of the Trials
The most relevant part of Gideon of the Trials in Commander is his third ability: you can't lose the game and your opponents can't win the game as long as you control a Gideon planeswalker. He's like a cheaper, more fragile Platinum Angel, which opens up a ton of fun strategies. First off, combo decks will actually need to deal with your Gideon before they can win the game. Secondly, you can do busted things like turn Final Fortune into a Red Time Walk and Pact of Negation into a 0-mana Counterspell.
You're most likely to see Gideon of the Trials played in, of course, Superfriends, an archetype designed to protect and take advantage of planeswalkers. Cards like Humility and Moat make attacking into Gideon a daunting task, and cards like Privileged Position remove even more methods of taking him off the table. Gideon is going to make an excellent addition in these decks, protecting you from many types of popular combos and allowing you to play silly "you lose the game" drawback cards.
Oketra the True
The new Amonkhet god cycle bears a lot of similarities to the original god cycle from Theros block, so let's compare Oketra the True to her older brother, Heliod, God of the Sun. Both are 4-cmc, indestructible, and can make tokens for 4 mana. Oketra's tokens have vigilance, but Heliod gives all your creatures vigilance and his tokens have more power. Oketra hits harder and her double strike means she has the potential to hit MUCH harder if you pump up her power with equipment, auras, spells, etc. They're both very easy to turn on and start swinging with.
Power-wise, I think Oketra the True and Heliod, God of the Sun are about equal (both are low-powered, honestly). They go into very different deck types, however. Heliod often finds himself in Control decks, either leading an Enchantment-heavy deck full of cards like Sphere of Safety and Skybind, or part of the 99 in Tribal Cleric decks like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. Oketra, on the other hand, is best suited in Go Wide strategies, which often run Token subthemes to get a lot of creatures out and then pump them for lethal combats. I can see her doing serious work as part of the 99 in Go Wide / Tokens deck such as Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer.
This one is a no-brainer: Anointed Procession is easily going to be one of the top most played Amonkhet cards in Commander. Token decks are hugely popular in this format and White is the best color for Tokens. Parallel Lives is highly played in Green Tokens decks. Anointed Procession is White Parralel Lives. Done.
Any White Tokens deck will want this card. Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Rhys the Redeemed, Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, Daxos the Returned, and so many more Tokens decks will immediately make room for it.
Approach of the Second Sun
Approach of the Second Sun is the obligatory jank "you win the game card" of the set, and it's actually not bad at all! Unlike some of the worse "you win the game cards" like Near-Death Experience, there are no flaming hoops to jump through other than getting 7 mana to cast this card, then casting it again. It's a sorcery, not a permanent that can be blown up, so it's hard to disrupt you from winning outside of Blue countermagic.
You can play Approach of the Second Sun straight in any White deck and then survive long enough to cast it again. Obviously all your opponents will be gunning for you after you cast it the first time, so you either need to have a really good defense set up or a way to speed up casting it a second time -- preferably both. From my understanding, the spell just needs to be cast from you hand but doesn't actually need to resolve, so while you can't just Fork the spell, you could Remand your Approach of the Second Sun and then recast it to win. That requires two cards and 16 mana, but hey, we're talking jank here!
You can also easily speed up the second casting by drawing extra cards, milling the top 6 cards of your library, exiling the top 6 cards of your library with Demonic Consultation, tutoring for the card in various ways such as Mystical Tutor or Demonic Tutor. Casting Approach of the Second Sun, then casting it next turn is actually not a bad win condition, considering the only way your opponents stop you is by either killing you or countering/removing the spell.
You can expect to see Approach of the Second Sun showcased soon on Commander Clash! Knowing our group, Seth and I will probably take turns jamming this card into our decks until it finally wins once.
I've previously mentioned that Banishing Light is a fine card but I only end up running slightly better versions of it. I think Cast Out is good enough for my tastes: flash and cycling makes the card much more appealing, despite costing 1 more mana. Instant speed answers often means the difference between winning and losing in Commander, as explosive game-ending turns happen regularly in this format. The cheapo cycling cost is a nice option.
I can see Cast Out seeing play in Enchantment decks like Daxos the Returned, Heliod, God of the Sun, and my personal deck, 5C Enchantments. Of course, its one of the best cycling cards in the new Cycling archetype too!
Dusk to Dawn
I looove Retribution of the Meek in Weenie decks and Doran, the Siege Tower decks. In the right deck, it's an asymmetrical Wrath of Gad — Insane! And now I am just excited, if not moreso, for Dusk // Dawn. It fits in the exact same decks as Retribution of the Meek, and yes Dusk costs 1 more mana and doesn't kill regenerating creatures, but you also get Dawn, which is a HUGE bonus for Weenie decks!
I think I like Dusk // Dawn even more than Retribution of the Meek, which is high praise indeed. I will add a copy to my physical Zedruu the Greathearted deck and will happily jam it into any deck where it fits. Seriously, for Weenie decks that want this, Dusk // Dawn is amazing!
Nevermore and Runed Halo have been stitched together and Gideon's Intervention is the result. It's one of the most powerful hate cards you can run against Voltron decks: oh, you're playing Uril, the Miststalker? Good luck with that!
Gideon's Intervention is a meta call. If you need more ammo against Voltron decks, definitely consider this.
Finally, a cat lord that doesn't suck (sorry, Raksha Golden Cub)! Regal Caracal is already well-priced by itself, dropping 7 power on the board for 5 mana, 4 of that power being lifelink! Even so, the only Commander decks that will really love this are Tribal Cat decks such as Kemba, Kha Regent and Brimaz, King of Oreskos, where you can really take advantage of that powerful anthem.
Vizier of Remedies
As Foretold is basically a mana rock that starts off doing very little but over time grows into Omniscience. In your average deck, you're probably better off running a different mana rock like Coalition Relic instead. In decks that can consistently add extra time counters to the enchantment, like Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, or even Jhoir of the Ghitu running cards like Jhoira's Timebug, As Foretold becomes super sweet.
Commit to Memory
Commit // Memory does a ton of things that I love: Commit is like a better Venser, Shaper Savant, while Memory is Time Reversal for 1 more mana. You get can get rid of problematic spells or permanents, refill your hand / disrupt your opponent's hands, and add back important cards to your library / screw over your opponent's graveyard shenanigans. You pay a bit extra for all this flexibility, but it's well worth it!
Curator of Mysteries
Drake Haven is another auto-include in the new Cycling archetype. Wheel decks, such as Nekusar, the Mindrazer might want to run it too if you find yourself with extra mana and a need for more blockers.
Kefnet the Mindful
The new god cycle from Amonkhet is generally underpowered, but Kefnet the Mindful is at least on the better end. His activated ability costs too much to get excited about, but if you've got extra mana then you can always dump it to draw cards, something I'm never opposed to. Getting seven cards in hand is rather trivial in Blue, especially in decks built around having big hand sizes, so you can consistently have a 5/5 indestructible flyer for only 3 mana.
Kefnet probably has the most potential as part of the 99 of a Tribal Moonfolk deck under Patron of the Moon. The deck is built around returning lands to your hand for value, so Kefnet's ability synergizes with it, and a 5/5 indestructible flyer is a nice boost to the underpowered tribe.
New Perspectives is probably the single best card for the Cycling archetype out of Amonkhet, probably the second best card for the archetype after Astral Slide. Cycling your cards for free is amazing, letting you cycle through most of your deck in a single turn if you wanted to. Drawing 3 cards alone is worth 4 mana in Blue as shown by Concentrate, and attaching it to an enchantment means you can bounce/blink it for even more value. It wouldn't be crazy to run New Perspectives in a Brago, King Eternal just for repeatable card draw.
Open into Wonder
Giving your army evasion and adding card draw with a Coastal Piracy effect is a potent combination. I'm just not sure what decks want this effect as a sorcery that costs a good bit of mana: decks that want to run Coastal Piracy, like Edric, Spymaster of Trest, already run many creatures with built-in evasion, and fatty creature decks like Sea Serpents that need the evasion probably want to run Thassa, God of the Sea instead.
Overall, Open into Wonder isn't a bad card, and is certainly a neat budget way of granting evasion and drawing cards. It's not the best at what it does, but it's still good.
Pull from Tomorrow
If you don't plan on ever milling your opponent out with this, Pull from Tomorrow is an even better Stroke of Genius / Blue Sun's Zenith, since it costs 1 less mana to draw just as many cards and discarding a card might even be beneficial if you have any graveyard shenanigans. So basically, Pull from Tomorrow is one of the best instant speed card draw options in Blue. Play it straight for value, or draw a dozen cards for 2 mana with Mizzix of the Izmagnus, or run it as an extra way to win with Laboratory Maniac and infinite mana. All good options!
My only gripe is that Naga is a creature type instead of just being a Snake! Tribal Snakes would've appreciated these Nagas, but noooo, Wizards of the Coast recently decided that Nagas have to be a seperate thing, despite Leonin still being Cats, Aven still being Birds, and Orochi still being Snakes. But nope, Nagas can't be Snakes! Ugh.
Trial of Knowledge
I wouldn't play Sift in Commander. However, I will play Sift if it's attached to an enchantment because I can then bounce/blink it repeatedly for value! The best deck to take advantage of Trial of Knowledge is Brago, King Eternal, where you can keep drawing cards every turn by blinking it.
Vizier of Many Faces
We have a ton of Clone cards in Commander with extra benefits. The best is Phyrexian Metamorph, but we also have Sakashima the Impostor, Stunt Double, Altered Ego, and much more. Vizier of Many Faces follows this trend of "Clone+" by adding a sweet embalm. Considering how much I love embalm, I think Vizier of Many Faces is easily one of the best Clone cards available to us. It's good played straight in any Blue deck, but gets better in Blue-Black decks that can dump it into the graveyard with Buried Alive, or token-doublers like Blue-Green-White with Anointed Procession and/or Parralel Lives.
Archfiend of Ifnir
Another key piece of the Cycling archetype, and actually a really nasty repeatable one-sided board wipe for Wheel decks like Nekusar, the Mindrazer. Play Wheel of Fortune, kill all your opponent's creatures with toughness 7 or less? Ouch!
Bontu the Glorified
If you want to play a Mono Black Sacrifice ("Aristocrats") deck and want a sac outlet accessible from your command zone, then Bontu the Glorified is a fine option. The only other option that I can think of is Yahenni, Undying Partisan, who can easily be compared to Bontu. Both are 3-cmc sac outlets. Yahenni sacrifices creatures for no mana cost, which is a huge bonus, but Bontu does drain a little and scrys. Bontu is always indestructible but needs to sacrifice something to temporarily attack or block, while Yahenni can always attack or block but needs to sacrifice something in order to be temporarily indestructible. Bontu starts off larger and has built-in evasion, while Yahenni can grow much larger than Bontu.
So which is the better option, Bontu the Glorified or Yahenni, Undying Partisan? I have a slight preference towards Yahenni because I think it's the superior sac outlet, but honestly it's very close and depends on your personal preference.
Aside from being a reasonable Mono Black Sacrifice commander, Bontu the Glorified is a reasonable part of the 99 of any Sacrifice deck. I like numerous sac outlets more, such as Viscera Seer, Vampiric Rites, Ashnod's Altar, and Phyrexian Altar, but he's still fine.
Faith of the Devoted
Another payoff card for the Cycling archetype. Not a bad inclusion in Wheel decks either if you're looking for a mana sink; Nekusar, the Mindrazer decks might want to run it.
Horror of the Broken Lands
An innocent looking common, Horror of the Broken Lands can swing for lethal rather easily. Discarding seven cards to Wheel of Fortune, for example, lets it swing in for 18 damage. In a Cycling deck with New Perspectives out, you can cycle through a big chunk of your deck for an arbitrarily large horror. Equip it with Whispersilk Cloak and go to town.
Liliana's Mastery puts down 6 power on the board for 5 mana, which is already a good start. The enchantment buffs all your zombies, so it's an obvious candidate for Tribal Zombies. It's a fine inclusion there, but I really want my zombie anthems to be creatures so I can bring them back with mass reanimate like Patriarch's Bidding and Balthor the Defiled, cast them for free with Rooftop Storm, and other "zombie creatures matter" synergies.
Liliana's Mastery is fine. It does a good job in any Tribal Zombie deck. I won't add it to my personal Tribal Zombie list that I've been playing for 4+ years, because the list is tight and non-zombie creatures need to be absolutely amazing to be worth a slot.
Liliana, Death's Majesty
Liliana, Death's Majesty is a planeswalker that caters directly to Tribal Zombie decks. She makes zombies, mills zombies into your graveyard for reanimation, reanimates zombies, and then board wipes your opponent's creatures. Good stuff! She isn't a zombie creature herself, which is unfortunate, but she does enough good things that any Tribal Zombie deck should at least consider adding her. Planeswalkers are weaker overall in Commander since you have to protect them from not one but multiple opponents, but Tribal Zombie lists often have blockers ready to protect her.
Lord of the Accursed
A zombie lord that is itself a zombie creature and gives your army evasion. Yup, this is an auto-include in Tribal Zombies. I like Lord of the Accursed even better than Liliana, Death's Majesty for Tribal Zombies. I really value the zombie creature type.
Nest of Scarabs
In a deck that regularly puts -1/-1 counters on creatures, Nest of Scarabs is a neat mana-efficient token producer. I'm not sure what deck that is, but if it exists, this enchantment is a powerful new addition.
I love Vengeful Dead in Tribal Zombies. Plague Belcher is a cheaper Vengeful Dead. This is a new auto-include. It hurts your opponents if they wipe your board, and you can use it as a combo piece with cards like Gravecrawler + Phyrexian Arena.
Shadow of the Grave
Oh, now this is a spicy card! Obviously this is insanely strong in the Cycling archetype, possibly worth playing in the Wheel archetype too. Maybe there's even good combos with Shadow of the Grave? I'm not sure, but it's exciting!
Part 2 Coming Soon! Red, Green, Colorless, Multi-Color, and Lands!
Just in Part 1 alone, we've got a ton of sweet inclusions to the format: Anointed Procession is an auto-include in Tokens decks everywhere, As Foretold is spicy ramp in any deck that can add extra counters like Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Tribal Zombies gets multiple additions like Lord of the Accursed, and much more. Most exciting for me, however, is the emergence of a brand new archetype: Cycling! I can't wait to jam a deck full of cycling cards, Astral Slide, Archfiend of Ifnir, New Perspectives, etc.