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Amonkhet Limited Review

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As promised, I'm back to writing about Limited! I really feel that Magic players often disregard Limited and focus on Constructed too much, thinking that Limited is 'easy' and that they can do it relatively well without any real practice. This can often be seen in Pro Tours, where players focus on Constructed so much that they don't really have enough time to put into practicing draft, which is usually even more complex than Constructed. I am not trying to belittle Constructed, but when you decide on a deck you are running in a Constructed tournament, most of the time it doesn't take a whole lot of practice to get to know it inside and out. In draft, however, the process of deciding on a deck is something that changes in every draft you enter, and each deck plays out at least a bit differently than the last one, making the whole process rather dynamic. It can take dozens of drafts before you can confidently enter one and be sure about each of your picks being the correct one. (just to be clear, that doesn't mean you won't make wrong picks from time to time) The main problem with Limited is usually the cost, since entry fees are far steeper than in Constructed, and many players feel that Limited is 'random', largely favoring players who open better boosters. While it is true that in the end it boils down to personal preference, I always argue that draft requires a bit more skill, while sealed requires a bit less skill in comparison with Constructed. In any case, if you plan on playing any Amonkhet Limited at all, this article should serve as a decent base to build upon.

General Gameplay

There are plenty of themes in Amonkhet that overlap with one another in different ways, so let's talk about how that works out. The main themes are Cycling, Embalm, Exert and the -1/-1 counters theme. Sub-themes are a bit harder to define, but one of the most prominent is the R/B (semi) Hellbent, but also U/R 'spells', W/B zombies, U/W tokens...plenty of stuff to work with.

I feel that Cycling is not only the best, but also the 'widest' theme. It feels like it is mostly supported by blue and black cards, but in reality it encompasses all the colors and can be used/exploited in pretty much any color combination. It has synergy in some way or the other with all the other themes, but it is more or less marginal. Synergy with Embalm would be pretty good, but sadly, there is only one card in the set that has both keywords on it. When you take this into account, it seems obvious that Cycling is at its best supporting the U/R 'spells' theme, feeding cards like Enigma Drake and Cryptic Serpent (really mysterious card names). On the other hand, there are plenty of cards that work wonders with Cycling only, so you can focus on those exclusively. It is important to take note that in a set that sports a ton of cards with Cycling, it is common to play low(er) amounts of lands in your Limited decks, especially if the format is slow. I would say that Amonkhet Limited decks should sport sixteen lands more often than not with all the Cycling going on. Of course, this is not a rule, each deck has different needs, but considering the fact that the set doesn't look particularly quick-paced, I believe there will be plenty of time to cycle cards to dig out lands if you end up with mana problems.

Embalm, on the other hand, might make you go up with lands, since Embalm costs are generally steep, and having a heavy-Embalm deck should mean you won't easily run out of gas, even if you flood out a bit. Even though Embalm is mostly blue and white, the zombie theme can push you into white-black instead, with two Zombie anthem effects in black and Wayward Servant as an B/W uncommon. Still, most of the Embalm cards are white, so whatever path you choose, your deck will (or should) be mostly white. Embalm is well represented in blue as well, but it also has a natural enemy in blue, since blue has three very good bounce cards that very effectively deal with creature tokens.

Exert is the aggro theme, represented in the aggressive color shard - red, white and green. Even though there are some shenanigans like untapping or giving vigilance to your creatures to circumvent the Exert drawback, most of the time, your Exert creatures will attack only every other turn. This is what made me feel that this set's Limited won't be especially quick-paced. Sure, most of the Exert creatures have really awesome abilities and are very hard to block, but still it doesn't feel like something an aggressive deck wants to do. Since many of these creatures are mid-sized or huge, I would say that even the creature decks in this limited format will most of the time feel more midrange-ish than really aggressive. I'm not really a huge fan since not having a really aggressive option often turns drafts and sealed decks into greed-fests where everyone is trying to fit in as many colors and bombs as possible into their Limited decks, but I hope it doesn't come to that.

The -1/-1 counters theme is a staple for green and black nowadays, so it comes as no surprise that we have it once again. This time around, it is a bit more creative, since putting -1/-1 counters on your own creatures can be a good thing for you, since many of them have abilities that require them to either have -1/-1 counters on them, or require putting -1/-1 counters on a creature you control. These two types of creatures certainly work well in synergy, but it remains to be seen how well this will work in real life situations. It feels that this theme is a bit of hit-or-miss, since if everything goes well for you it looks amazing, huge cheap creatures with useful abilities, but if it doesn't you end up with overcosted creatures that might take too long to become relevant.

The almost-Hellbent ability is interesting, and should be pretty good in Limited, but is only represented with one common and a couple of rares/mythic rares, so it would be pretty unlikely for you to actually make a functional Hellbent deck in Limited. I certainly hope we will see more of this ability in the future, since Hellbent and its variants are exactly what aggressive decks want in Limited.

One other thing I want to mention that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with themes is the Trial/Cartouche combination. I am the last person to recommend playing creature enchantments, but these things are very strong in Limited. The white Trial seems to be the weakest, but has the best synergy with its designated cartouche, so shouldn't be disregarded. I feel that Trials are top picks, while cartouches might not be such high picks but are still highly playable, at least as far as Auras go.

Colors

White

As I've already said, white is mostly about embalming and exerting and that tells us that white is all about creatures. This doesn't really come as much of a surprise, since white is usually the second best creature color after green, but this time around going wide is even more emphasized with three mass pump spells in Trial of Solidarity, In Oketra's Name and the R/W uncommon Honored Crop-Captain. There are a few cards that work well with creature tokens, some typical white removal, some evasion and a couple of tricks. White really doesn't bring anything we haven't seen or didn't expect from it and I would say it is not nearly as strong in Limited as it was in some of the previous sets, if it only wasn't for those Embalm creatures that are somewhat hard to evaluate. If Embalm ends up being very strong as it seems at first, white might yet again be the top Limited color. There are some tools to fight Embalm, and if those are well implemented, who knows, it might be a total miss. One white card that might fly under the radar at first is Vizier of Remedies - this card really feels like it has some amazing synergies across all colors, especially green and black and the cards that enter the battlefield with -1/-1 counters, but also cards like Consuming Fervor can make for an interesting Limited 'combo' with the Vizier.

Blue

If any of you follow my Limited set reviews you probably know that I am generally not advocating blue in Limited unless you are forced into it. This time around, I'll be a bit more lenient, since blue has a ton of Cycling cards, a ton of card advantage and the holy triumvirate of bounce cards - Angler Drake, Winds of Rebuke and Galestrike (seriously, Galestrike is awesome). There is also a fourth bounce spell in Floodwaters, if you ever need to wash away some more tokens. There are also some decent fliers (Snapping Drake with embalm at common!) and also a seven mana Confiscate that cycles. All of this makes me feel that blue just might be very strong in Limited. That coming from me usually means it is pretty damn strong. One card I am not sure about is Open Into Wonder, which might be completely bonkers or a bit too situational for serious play. I am still not sure which one is it, but I'm leaning towards completely bonkers.

Black

I'll be blunt here - black seems very bad in this set. Sure, it has a few decent rares that might tempt you, but I would stay away from it. It only has a few good creatures; it has pretty bad removal spells and I see little appeal to it. What little appeal it has is mostly consisting of some good uncommons and some cards that have good synergy with blue and green. Black certainly feels like a support color at best, and I really feel it will play a marginal role in this Limited format. One important thing to keep in mind is that the black Trial/Cartouche combination is by far the strongest, and if it can be abused, it will win games.

Red

Red isn't nearly as aggressive as we might be used to. It does have decently sized creatures, but many of them are 4+ mana and the earlier drops are often Exert creatures that aren't very well suited for constant pressure. There is a Threaten effect and a pretty good combat trick in Brute Strength, but I feel that you need to think a bit more midrange-ish when building a red deck. Red is certainly good regardless, with a decent burn suite and above average creatures, it just needs a bit of figuring out first. The main problem seems to be the lack of really good 2-drops, so prioritizing those or picking them in a side color seems to be a good plan. With Pathmaker Initiate at common, and two uncommons that prevent blocking there are enough ways to push through the last points of damage, so I wouldn't worry too much about the lack of a real Falter effect in red.

Green

Green looks great in this set, most creatures are pretty amazing, there are three good combat tricks and the only real downside is the fact it has almost no removal, but I guess you can't have it all. Green has a lot of synergy with counters, so it is obviously easily paired with black, but I feel that it is even better with red or white. Talking about pairing green with other colors - it should be easy, since green has a TON of mana fixing. This set isn't really made for three+ color limited decks, but green can support even that if everything else went south. Scaled Behemoth looks like a card that will win/lose a ton of Limited games, but since many of greens best cards have such steep mana costs one of the key cards to pick up will be Naga Vitalist, think twice before passing that one.

Conclusion

Amonkhet looks like a very interesting Limited experience, focusing mostly on creatures with few really good removal spells. It seems we will be having a lot of creatures brawling and outwitting each other in the combat step. Games will probably be pretty grindy, but I do not expect a whole lot of board stalls since trading creatures seems like a good idea in this set. I feel that the set could use a couple more equipment cards to make Limited a bit more interesting, but combat tricks (which are plentiful) will have to do. My advice is to prepare for your prerelease by memorizing all the combat tricks and figuring out how to play around those, since Amonkhet Limited will be all about the combat step.

Good luck and have fun!

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