Amonkhet preview season is upon us, and already it's clear this set is going to require a very different lens from Kaladesh block. What is the best way to use cards with Embalm? Where is the true power with the new Aftermath cards? What are the new game-changing staples that will dictate the rest of the format?
An early candidate to be one of the more important cards in the set is this extraordinarily versatile Banishing Light variant. While it costs a mana more, it has both flash and an extremely low cycling cost. While I question the wisdom of putting such a low cycling cost on such a versatile answer, there is no doubt that it represents a meaningful amount of the card's power. Presumably, the theory was that a four-cost answer isn't always good, so the time to cycle it is when that is the case. I guess I am just skeptical of what this path is rewarding.
In any event, Cast Out seems like it's probably one of the more important cards in the set. There is an extremely low opportunity cost for playing with one-cost cycling cards, and this one has massive strength against Saheeli Rai, Archangel Avacyn, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar among others.
Just using it as a straight-up control card helps alleviate the weakness many U/W Control decks have with planeswalkers.
Here we can use it as a sort of Hero's Downfall that happens to also hit artifacts and enchantments. It's also fantastic for helping ensure we hit our land drops early. Of course, on balance, it's not a natural combo with Torrential Gearhulk. Unlike Hero's Downfall, we're not exactly getting double duty out of it.
One amusing strength of Cast Out is that it gives us an easy way to get enchantments in the graveyard, which increases the value of delirium cards in control decks. And while more traditional delirium strategies didn't have the biggest problem getting up to delirium, it is kind of interesting, the idea of cycling Cast Out at instant speed in order to power up Grim Flayer in the middle of combat.
Renewed Faith is an excellent reprint that gives us multiple very appealing options. Spending two mana to gain two life and draw a card is a pretty good deal to start with. However, we also have the option to effectively “buy” four extra life for just one additional mana (in lieu of the extra card). Sometimes we'll get extra paid for the cycling, but I anticipate Renewed Faith being a popular addition to white control strategies, regardless of whether they explicitly call out cycling or not.
Anticipate has some real friction with cycling cards. The more that we spend our excess mana on cycling, the longer we sit with Anticipate in our hand, wasting the value of the option we would have had instead. The only reason I included any in the above list is wanting to ensure Torrential Gearhulk also has reasonable targets. Likewise, Skywhaler's Shot and Blessed Alliance over additional Stasis Snares are primarily to be able to flash some business back with the Gearhulk.
Horribly Awry does have the advantage of exiling Scrapheap Scrounger, but we've already got Void Shatter, Stasis Snare, and Cast Out, so I was hoping we could use Essence Scatter instead in order to gain percentage points against Torrential Gearhulk and maybe Archangel Avacyn, Verdurous Gearhulk, Maverick Thopterist, and Herald of Anguish.
The new cycling duals are excellent. I mean, for starters, there probably would have been homes for the original Urza's Saga cycling lands.
However, just as Creeping Tar Pit was a big upgrade over the already playable Faerie Conclave, so too are these cycling duals over old-school cycling lands. Even if they were just cycling tapped lands, they already would have gotten there, but to sweeten the pot even more, they count as both types.
This means they untap the Shadows over Innistrad two-color lands, going a long way towards improving the manabases of “Shards” (Esper, Grixis, Jund, Naya, and Bant). Recently, the enemy “wedges” have had more natural manabases, but that looks to be changing.
For instance, what if we were building around Drake Haven and Archfiend of Ifnir?
Drake Haven is a powerful riff on the Astral Slide / Lightning Rift style of designs. It's a little slower than either with the “cost” of each. However, it has a huge impact on the game, and actually gets the game over with relatively quickly. I mean, in general, we'd have to pay more for a 2/2 flier than a Shock, for instance.
Additionally, Drake Haven synergizes with other discard, not just cycling.
Archfiend of Ifnir also benefits from the alternative discard methods, but the payout is a little more contextually valuable. If we're in the market for a Massacre Wurm, Archfiend of Ifnir can be very effective. If we can attack someone's hand or protect the Demon, it can take over the game for us. However, it does have a lot bigger weaknesses than Drake Haven. That said, it does have cycling too. Assuming we've got the time, we can always do something with it.
It's hard to know what such a deck would look like yet, as so few of the cycling cards have been revealed. That said, we can get a sense of what the mana might look like.
For instance, so far Cast Out and Renewed Faith are two of the most obviously good cycling cards available. Putting them alongside Drake Haven and Archfiend of Ifnir in the old format would have left us horribly behind in tempo. Sunken Hollow and Prairie Stream are just not how you want to be trying to untap your Choked Estuary and Port Town in a three-color deck. With Irrigated Farmland and Fetid Pools, however, we'll be able to come out the gates much more smoothly and more naturally. We can actually afford to play even more lands, since so many of ours cycle. We also don't need as many basics, since we don't need two on the battlefield the way the Battle lands require.
4 Irrigated Farmland
We could just lean harder into the madness stuff, but we'd have to have more reason to increase our desire for the other madness cards. We're already going to be so tight on mana, as this many good cycling cards already ensure we've got plenty of ways to spend extra mana efficiently.
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 1 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Haunted Dead
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Voldaren Pariah
Of course, Standard has only a small taste of the power The Gitrog Monster can bring us. If we move up to Modern, we can actually do some pretty crazy things with Life from the Loam and Seismic Assault.
Seismic Assault / Life from the Loam is already a sick combo, but cycling lands make the engine much, much more robust. We've also got access to the Dakmor Salvage / The Gitrog Monster / Seismic Assault combo, which wins outright. Maybe something along the lines of:
There is one more card I wanted to touch on today, though it is just too early to tell the best ways to abuse it. It's not 100% guaranteed that it's real, but since it appeared weeks ago, even before the Aftermath mechanic was officially previewed, I'd be surprised if it wasn't.
The best translation we have so far:
Dusk - 2WW
Destroy all creatures with power 3 or greater.
Dawn - 3WW
Aftermath - Cast this spell only from your graveyard, then exile it.
Return all creature cards with power 2 or less from your graveyard to your hand.
Dusk // Dawn looks very promising to me, if only for a chance to cast Dawn. Dawn is a five-cost card draw engine that can serve as a serious Braingeyser in a deck with lots of creatures with two power or less (and an awful lot of the best Standard creatures fit the description).
For example, without even trying, Dusk // Dawn makes an exciting addition to U/W Spirits. Add three copies to the following deck:
The front side of Dusk gives us a potent weapon against Golgari decks that have put +1/+1 counters all over the place, while also assisting us in combating the many three-power creatures that typically surround Heart of Kiran. Then, as the game drags out, we can eventually use Dawn to give us a major surge of quality cards.
Notable Dawn-compatible creatures:
- Walking Ballista
- Metallic Mimic
- Electrostatic Pummeler
- Toolcraft Exemplar
- Thalia's Lieutenant
- Felidar Guardian
- Angel of Invention
- Baral, Chief of Compliance
- Thing in the Ice
- Padeem, Consul of Innovation
- Diregraf Colossus
- Drana, Liberator of Malakir
- Yahenni, Undying Partisan
- Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- Dragonmaster Outcast
- Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- Pia Nalaar
- Duskwatch Recruiter
- Noose Constrictor
- Sylvan Advocate
- Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- Grim Flayer
- Catacomb Sifter
- Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- Whirler Virtuoso
- Maverick Thopterist
A couple of further thoughts to consider:
Unlike Verdurous Gearhulk, Rishkar can put +1/+1 counters on your opponent's creatures, making them vulnerable to Dusk.
Dawn gives us a potentially huge number of cards in hand, without necessarily being able to cast them. Having ways to leverage these cards for an advantage without spending mana is very interesting.
Dark Salvation and other Zombie synergies take on new meaning in a world with Embalm. Remember, while there are no black Embalm cards, the “Embalmed” versions are Zombies.
Of course, the Embalmed versions are also Humans…