Modern Masters and other special sets have many merits (and flaws) but my favorite one is the time-walk effect they create. The Modern Masters hype wave is still going strong and we already got a first look at what we can expect in Amonkhet.
We knew even before the first card was spoiled that the setting on the Amonkhet plane will be old-Egyptian themed with a heavy focus on Egyptian mythology. For those of you not familiar with the idea - it's mostly gods with animal heads/body parts, mummies, scarabs, scorpions and sphinxes, everything that we already had in Magic before, but now in far larger doses. I presumed that the set will be full of mysteries and sphinx riddles and traps, maybe even bringing back the Trap mechanic, or introducing some sort of Riddle mechanic reminiscent of the Quests that we had in old Zendikar. All of this in the same set would make the set far too similar to Zendikar, so it had to take a different turn. Just to make it clear, it is not all about Egypt and actual history, it has quite a bit of Nicol Bolas added to the mix! As far as we know, Amonkhet is a plane created by Nicol Bolas as a refugee or as a part of some of his nefarious schemes. The Gatewatch (Gideon, Jace, Liliana, Chandra, Nissa) followed him from Kaladesh to Amonkhet, a plane they knew very little or nothing about. What they found there was a lot of sand and death. It seemed that the whole plane was cursed by death, or more precisely by undeath, with dead things coming back to life as per rule. Leylines and lifeforce was all but gone and the Gatewatch presumed that the whole plane was either dead or dying. They soon realized they were wrong, when they were saved by one of the Amonkhet gods, which they followed to a lush oasis protected by a magical barrier. This short recounting of the Gatewatch arriving to Amonkhet tells us a lot not only about the setting, but also about the set, where we can assume that not only will we get a new cycle of God cards, but also that the plane is divided between hordes of undead and the cities or communities protected by Gods. Amonkhet Gods probably defy Nicol Bolas as well, and might join the Gatewatch in stopping him once and for all? That would be pretty exciting flavor-wise, but I'm rather sure ol' Nicol isn't going anywhere anytime soon, Wizards need their main bad guy escape his final judgement for some time.
I really like mythologies in general, but Egyptian is one of my favorites and I think there is a lot of flavor that can be taken from it and incorporated into the set. After the Kaladesh block and the somewhat sad interpretation of rich Indian culture, I am sure hoping Amonkhet will not repeat the mistake of watering down the rich flavor that ancient cultures have.
Well then! Let's start with the first impressions! There are only 20-ish cards spoiled as I am writing this, but they do tell a whole lot about what we can expect in the set. There are already three cards spoiled with three new mechanics and while I do plan to bring you my full limited analysis once the complete set is spoiled, we can take some wild guesses even now.
The first new mechanic we have is Embalm as can be seen on Unwavering Initiate - a 2W 3/2 Vigilance creature with Embalm with the cost of 4W. Embalm says that if you pay the indicated cost, you can remove the card with Embalm from your graveyard and create a token that is a copy of the exiled (or embalmed, if you prefer) card and put it into play. The copy has no mana cost and is a white zombie in addition to its previous creature types. I am somewhat dismayed by the fact that they did not introduce 'Mummy' as a creature type, instead going for more zombies. Basically, Embalm is a creature 'Flashback', ability that was suggested in different forms over the years by players, and a similar design was seen in some of the fan-made custom Magic sets. This ability is certainly something that has a lot of potential, since, just like flashback it gives your deck a lot of depth and potential card advantage. It really depends on the cards that will actually have Embalm, it's not like every Flashback card was Constructed playable, but each of them that was at least decently costed had at least some potential for Constructed play. Judging from the two Embalm cards spoiled so far, we can safely assume that WotC decided to make both the CMC of Embalm cards and the Embalm cost fair and they probably didn't push it too much even on rares. This ability is certainly very strong in Limited as well, especially if the format is as slow as it seems so far. There is already a Giant Spider and 1/4 and 1/5 vanilla creatures spoiled, which is rather indicative of the direction in which this set is going. Sets that have creatures with high toughness and low power (or big butts as is the preferred term in some communities) are usually slow Limited formats defined by evasion or the ability to go wider than your opponent. It automatically makes grindy cards more valuable, and cards with Embalm certainly fall into that category. The only question left is if Embalm will be an ability that can be found in all the colors or if it is exclusive to white and maybe black? We'll find out soon enough.
The second new mechanic we had spoiled is exert - which is not even capitalized on the only card it is spoiled on so far - Glorybringer, a 4/4 Dragon for 3RR that has Flying, Haste and this piece of text: "You may exert Glorybringer as it attacks. When you do, it deals 4 damage to target non-Dragon creature an opponent controls."
This doesn't really tell us what exert is or does, but let's think about it. WotC had this to say about exert: "Exert allows creatures to give a little more effort to produce unusually good results." which hints that creatures will become exhausted after exerting themselves (which sounds logical even in real world). Being exhausted in Magic world usually means that you do not untap during your controller's next untap step, and this is probably be the case with exert as well. My other guess is that exert might just be short for 'remove from combat', but this is less likely, so let's just assume that I was right with the first guess of not untapping once. I think that Glorybringer is a decent example of this mechanic, it is definitely a card that looks good enough for Constructed play, but it is not an obvious inclusion, rather, it will depend a lot on the quickness of the format and the ability to abuse the mechanic - in short, Glorybringer looks like a very well balanced card if we are talking Constructed. There might be more pushed exert cards in the set, but no matter how strong the ability is, I don't think it will be too scary if it happens every other turn..unless it is taking extra turns. Now, if we are talking Limited, exert seems a bit scarier, since the inevitable card advantage or board position advantage that an unopposed exert creature can pile up is certain to win games. Every repeatable strong ability is a potential game breaker in Limited, even if it happens every other turn. Glorybringer looks rather busted for Limited on paper and I certainly hope there will be plenty of efficient removal in the set for this and other exert cards.
Both Embalm and exert are long-term value abilities that create card/board advantage, which only confirms my theory that this set will be a rather slow Limited format with a lot of grindy games.
This brings us to the third ability, Aftermath which can be seen on the Dusk/Dawn split card. This split card is not the usual split card we used to see in past sets, since you do not get to pick which side of the card you cast. The upright side of the card is the part that can only be cast from your hand, while the sideways-turned part of the card is a part that can be only cast from your graveyard. This is also a variation of the 'Flashback' ability, but with an interesting twist. The concept itself is not nearly as innovative as the card design, since we already had some cards that did something differently if you cast them from your graveyard, thus there is more to talk about how these cards look visually than about what exactly they do. The 'split' flashback, Aftermath, is yet another nod to the slow Limited format and slowing down Standard theory, since it is yet another grindy mechanic suitable for long games of attrition. Now, for the most interesting part - the design. Reactions that I've read were mostly negative, claiming numerous reasons for their dissatisfaction - but mostly the complaint was that it was confusing and/or ugly. Well, since both of those are subject of individual preference, I can say I am actually pretty happy with how the card is designed. The problem with the usual split cards was that if you wanted to read them it was kinda hard to do so without letting your opponent know that you actually have a split card in hand. Aftermath cards, on the other hand can be read perfectly well in both situations, when you draw them, or when they are sitting in your graveyard under other cards, if you just pull out the Aftermath half a bit from under the pile. The design might not be an eye-candy, but it is definitely very practical and once we get used to it, I'm sure we will all be fine with it. I am somewhat curious as to how these cards will look on Magic Online, since this particular design isn't really helping there, but we will see in time...sooner than usual with the early online release!
This leaves us with probably the most exciting part - the Invocations. Sure, Wizards definitely decided it is wise to put random lottery cards in the packs since it helps with sales. Sure, no surprise there, but hey, it is a good thing I guess. Anyway, the Invocations have already been spoiled, and the selection is somewhat colorful, but Wizards follows the general rule of printing cards that are in high demand and low supply in combination with some more iconic cards. Invocations are all kinds of cards, but it is curious that there is a high number of all kinds of counterspells among them, with Force of Will being the 'chase rare'. The good news is that there are few cards that are completely broken in Limited, so playing Amonkhet sealed won't be as frustrating as was playing against some masterpieces.
The last thing to discuss is the card frames and the design of the new Amonkhet Invocation cards. The reactions to these were even more negative than to the first Aftermath card, and here, I believe it was for a good reason. Invocation card names are barely readable since the space where the card name is usually found is adorned with some hieroglyphics which make it hard to discern where the card name starts and where it stops. Even the card text is hard to read on cards that have a bit more text, despite that area being clear. The art on the cards seems small and cramped, which is the worst thing here, since most of the arts look pretty amazing, especially Spell Pierce, Wrath of God and Counterspell, just to name some of the cards that I will try to pick up for my Commander deck. Talking about Commander - there are rumors that there might be some Commander leagues coming to Magic Online! I'm pretty hyped about that too!
Good luck and have fun!
About Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes, and a GP top 8, with 61 pro points total.
During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.