[Prices for certain Amonkhet singles may have changed between submission and publication. — Ed.]
Amonkhet sure looks sweet, doesn't it? Now that the full contents are known, I'm more certain than ever that the set is going to impact Standard in a major way. Saheeli Combo might not be going anywhere (without a ban), and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will probably still be the best card in the format, but I'll be totally shocked if Standard is a two-deck format a month from now.
And it's not like Saheeli and Mardu aren't interesting to play with or against—the actual gameplay in Standard right now is quite good. It's just that there aren't enough unique ways to attack the format. If Amonkhet changes that, we might end up with one of the better Standard environments in recent memory.
Financially, the important thing to remember when analyzing previews is that we're mostly looking for two types of cards:
1) High-floor staples that are likely to be good for most of their time in Standard. These cards can be fairly expensive to begin with, but we need to believe that they're unlikely to lose much value. Think Heart of Kiran; it's worth about the same as it was during the pre-order period, but you would have gotten several months' worth of use out of your copy if you'd pre-ordered it.
2) High-ceiling cards in the $1-$3 range (rares) or $3-$8 range (mythics) that have the potential to see play in multiple Tier 1 decks. These are the cards that can end up increasing in value by 300-800%. Think Walking Ballista, which started at $2 and is now worth $14.
Beyond that, it's worth taking a longer look at the set's most expensive cards so that we can see if there's anything we should absolutely trade away early on if we open it in a draft or prize pack.
Ready to get started? Me too! If there's a card that you don't see reviewed here, it's probably because I either looked at it last week or two weeks ago. Otherwise, every rare and mythic in Amonkhet should be accounted for, starting with…
Nissa, Steward of Elements - $24.99
First, let's look at what makes Nissa really exciting. See that X in the top-right corner? Wow. We've been clamoring for a scalable planeswalker for a while now, and she's finally here. Flexibility tends to be the most underrated quality that a card can have, and Nissa is overflowing with scalability. Is she great at a converted mana cost of three? Not really, but the fact that you can drop her at three is notable. There will be games when you're just not under any early pressure and she puts you incredibly far ahead. The other planeswalkers costing five or more just can't do that.
As much as I love Nissa, though, I can't recommend pre-ordering her. I just don't think people are fully appreciating how narrow she is. Not only does she require blue and green mana, her second ability is only game-breaking in a deck with a very hefty creature count. There are other red flags here too: she can't protect herself, getting her to provide even moderate card advantage is difficult, and her ultimate isn't going to close out most games. I like Nissa in Commander, but her upside beyond that is being a four-of in a single Standard deck. And yeah, if that deck is great, she might end up at $20-$25. But that deck doesn't exist yet, and if it doesn't materialize, we're talking about a $4-$5 card. If I open Nissa at the Prerelease, I'm trading her away ASAP.
Rhonas the Indomitable - $14.99
Of all the mythics currently over $10, I think that Rhonas has the best shot of maintaining its current value. A 5/5 with two relevant abilities is a stellar deal for three mana, and it combos with literally any other creature. Worst case, you can use its pump ability on some random token or mana Elf and swing in for five. I think every deck that runs green needs to at least consider Rhonas, and it might be a must-play in all the aggro and midrange builds. I won't speculate on $15 Standard cards, but buying in at current retail if you're planning to play with Rhonas is totally fine. If I'm a green mage, I'm picking up a set of these.
Vizier of the Menagerie - $11.99
For starters, Vizier of the Menagerie costs one more mana to cast than either of those cards. A better comparison might be Oracle of Mul Daya, a card that saw play during part of its run in Standard but which was fairly metagame-dependent. With Tireless Tracker, your three-drop allows you to spend mana later on (even at instant speed) to draw cards and make it bigger as long as you keep playing normally. Courser of Kruphix also rewards you for playing normally by giving you a bunch of free life and sometimes “drawing you a card” by allowing you to play lands off the top of your deck.
Vizier of the Menagerie is bigger, but a 3/4 is well below the curve for a four-mana green creature. And Vizier encourages you to warp your play around it a little – if you wants its bonus, you have to play your creatures off the top of your deck as soon as they come up. If you can get your creature count up to 30 and you decide that you are always willing to cast a creature off the top even if it's not your optimal play, then, Vizier will “draw you a card” every other turn. I'm just not seeing it. I like Vizier of the Menagerie as a solid Commander card, but I'll be shocked if it ends up as a Standard staple. Trade these away.
Samut, Voice of Dissent - $9.99
What a weird card. Samut's keyword soup is so strong that I thought she'd been cooked up by one of the chefs on MTG Cardsmith instead of Wizards of the Coast. But here she is, and here we are.
If everything is going right, you're flashing Samut in during your opponent's turn, untapping a blocker, casting another creature during your first main phase, swinging with Samut and the new creature (Samut gives them haste), and then untapping a creature so that you can block with it. That's some pretty sweet upside, but it requires a lot of mana across three different colors in order to work…and you'd better hope that your 3/4 double-striker has a way to connect.
I wouldn't be shocked if Samut finds a home somewhere, but you're betting that a random pile of keywords can make up for the fact that you're paying 3RG for a fairly small body. The downside is just too low here, and the path to upside is just too narrow. I'm selling.
Glorious End - $7.99
I'm having a devil of a time figuring out how good Glorious End actually is. It's certainly powerful with Gideon of the Trials, and you can certainly use it in Modern to prevent your opponent from going off (providing you have a way to back it up with a way to win the next turn), but I'm skeptical of any card that is only going to do anything in a very specific situation. Standard seems like a poor format for a card like this anyway, which limits Glorious End's upside considerably. $8 isn't a bad gamble for such a unique effect—cards that do things we haven't really seen before have the most long-term upside—but I'm staying away from Glorious End until I see it in action.
Angel of Sanctions - $6.99
Angel of Sanctions is very, very good. And yeah, I know that Avacyn is still Standard-legal, but I expect Angel of Sanctions to see a ton of play regardless. Angel of Sanctions is easy to cast, it gives you a relevant body, it deals with practically anything the turn you cast it, and it's got built-in card advantage thanks to Embalm. This is one of those cards that feels like it's going to be $15 for months and you'll be kicking yourself for not pre-ordering a playset when you had a chance. If you're only going to buy one card from this article, make it Angel of Sanctions.
Oketra the True - $5.99
I want to like Oketra, but the bar for white four-drops is pretty high right now (see: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar) and I'm not sure what the upside is here. Okay, so if you've got a decent battlefield, you get…a 3/6 double-striker? And if not, you can spend four mana to make 1/1 Warriors? Oketra is decent when you're ahead and it's okay at parity, but it's mediocre in the early-game and actively bad if you're behind unless you have a lot of mana. It's probably better than Heliod, God of the Sun, since it can turn itself on, but I don't see where it fits into the competitive metagame.
Bontu the Glorified - $5.99
I don't want to dismiss Bontu as weak because it only costs three mana to cast. It may not have the upside of Oketra, but the lower mana cost makes it much more interesting to me.
First, the bad stuff. I don't think that Bontu is good enough to build around by himself. You have to jump through a bunch of hoops if you want to attack with him every turn, and it's just not going to be worth it most of the time. I think that's what makes him seem sort of weak on the face of things. Yeah, if you've got a Revolt deck or something with a bunch of Eldrazi Scions already, throw in Bontu. But is Bontu good enough to enable a deck like that? I doubt it. Same for all the Aristocrats speculation—Bontu is just not powerful enough to carry an archetype like that by itself.
That being said, I can absolutely see a world where Bontu works as an enabler in some other deck where his downside is either negligible or helpful. Need a sacrifice outlet? Bontu gives you one with upside. Already planning on playing some kind of Zombie recursion strategy? Throw in a Bontu or three. Amonkhet seems to be handing us a deck like this on a silver platter, and there's a very real chance that it's going to be quite good. If you want to build something like that, buying these at $6 is totally fine. If it doesn't materialize, I'm probably going to grab a few playsets at $2-$3 just in case Hour of Devastation delivers the goods.
Kefnet the Mindful - $5.99
In grindy matchups, Kefnet the Mindful does it all. An evasive finisher that's cheap to cast, difficult to remove, and allows you to draw cards? Yes, please! I can even imagine some Library of Alexandria-style games where the control player drops Kefnet on turn 3 and forces their opponent to deal with him—or else.
Kefnet is awful against aggro decks, of course, but that doesn't mean it won't see any play. In the right metagame, it's a potent maindeck threat. In the wrong metagame, it's a powerful sideboard card. That gives Kefnet a decently high floor. It's probably not going to become a $20 staple or anything, but it's going to see more play than most people think. Grabbing copies at current retail is totally fine if you're planning to use them.
Cruel Reality - $1.99
Every set needs a few bulk mythics, and Cruel Reality is almost certainly that. A seven-mana card basically needs to win the game on the spot, and Cruel Reality just isn't cruel enough. Nothing to see here.
Harsh Mentor - $11.99
Harsh Mentor will probably see a decent amount of play in Modern, but I'm not convinced it's a maindeck four-of in Modern Burn—without a critical mass of titular spells, the deck just doesn't work. Harsh Mentor is quite good against Death's Shadow builds and Affinity, though, which is enough to make me believe that it'll at least be a sideboard all-star. It might even spawn a new hatebear archetype. Why not splash red in one of those existing D&T shells?
Standard…I just don't buy it. There aren't any fetchlands kicking around right now, and Harsh Mentor doesn't punish opposing planeswalkers. It might see some play, but I don't see it acting as a huge problem for any of the format's current best decks. Unless that changes in a pretty major way, Harsh Mentor will end up in the $3-$4 range before long.
Champion of Rhonas - $5.99
If Emrakul, the Promised End were still in Standard, I might believe that Champion of Rhonas could end up in a Tier 1 deck. The best thing you can cheat out right now is Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger without his cast trigger, though, which is pretty underwhelming. The remaining Aetherworks Marvel decks might want to run Champion of Rhonas, but this is a lot closer to Elvish Piper than Through the Breach. Playing a vanilla 3/3 for four and then having to run it into something next turn in order to sneak out whatever's in your hand just doesn't strike me as a way to win in Standard. Casual play should keep this around $2, but I'm selling for now.
Pull from Tomorrow - $3.99
Glimmer of Genius is still going to be better in most of the decks that want Pull from Tomorrow, but some of those decks are going to want to run a few Pulls as well. This isn't Sphinx's Revelation, though—the discard is still going to be a drawback most of the time (you won't always have something with Embalm to pitch) and the lack of lifegain hurts a lot. Pull from Tomorrow should be a really solid role-player in multiple decks, but it's not a game-changer. $4 is too close to its best-case scenario for me to think too hard about buying in.
Anointed Procession - $2.99
Anointed Procession seems like an expensive win-more in Standard, a format that's never really been slow enough for cards like this to work. It's great in Commander, of course, but that just means that Anointed Procession is probably going to end up at $1 instead of half a buck. Stay away for now.
Shadow of the Grave - $2.99
I can't come up with a Standard interaction that makes me want to run four copies of Shadow of the Grave, but this card really has “the look,” doesn't it? The upside is just so tantalizing…even if I don't have any idea where it fits. My head is telling me that this thing is heading straight to bulk, but my heart believes that Shadow of the Grave might spawn multiple new archetypes. I'm probably going to grab a playset of foils, but I recognize that it's a long shot to actually pay off.
Cascading Cataracts - $2.99
I'll probably run Cascading Cataracts in my four-plus-color Commander decks, and it's got some light competitive potential with Bring to Light. Otherwise, the fact that it doesn't produce mana while fixing your colors really hurts. Unless it synergizes well with a future set ("five-color matters" in Hour of Devastation, anyone?), it should end up in the $1-$2 range. I bet the foils will be gorgeous, though.
Bounty of the Luxa - $1.99
I love my Simic cards, but Bounty of the Luxa is too slow for Standard. It might be okay if you could choose between the card or the mana, but the lack of flexibility hurts a card that is already a touch underpowered. Future bulk rare.
Gideon's Intervention - $1.99
Having Gideon's Intervention in the metagame should make things pretty interesting. It's a bit slow against most of the format's aggro threats, but it forces control and some combo variants to diversify their threats quite a bit. Cast Out is going to be better most of the time, though, so I only expect Gideon's Intervention to see sideboard play unless, say, Torrential Gearhulk ends up being a much larger part of the metagame. Grabbing a few copies is fine if you need them, but Gideon's Intervention isn't going to be a multi-deck four-of.
Dread Wanderer - $1.99
$2 is about right for a card that might see play in an aggressive Zombies build but doesn't have much game beyond that. Grab a set if you want to play that deck.
Never//Return - $1.99
Never//Return is going to be better than Ruinous Path most of the time, but it's frustrating that we didn't get the instant-speed planeswalker removal that we all wanted. We have to play the cards we've got, though, and Never//Return is going to see play—especially with Embalm and Aftermath cards running around the format. Second-tier staples like this tend to fluctuate between $1 and $6, so grabbing a set at $2 each is fine if you're planning to play black anytime soon. I'm in for four of these.
Plague Belcher - $1.99
Plague Belcher can't go in every deck, but combine it with Wayward Servant and Bontu the Glorified, and baby, you've got a stew going. $2-$4 is about right if Zombie “Rally” ends up being real, so it's fine to buy in if you'd like to mess around with that deck in the early going. Just understand that if the card doesn't end up working out there, it'll probably end up as bulk.
Pyramid of the Pantheon - $1.99
On one level, this is a four-mana Gilded Lotus. But Gilded Lotus is good because you can cast it when you get to five mana and use it immediately. Pyramid of the Pantheon forces you to wait around for several turns, making it a terrible late-game topdeck. It's not awful in Commander, but I can't imagine this ends up being a competitive card. Future bulk rare.
Harvest Season - $1.49
Harvest Season is probably too hard to pull off, and it's not the sort of thing you want to be thinking about with millions of Felidar Guardians to worry about, but the upside here is pretty high. Pair this with a couple of mana-generating creatures and suddenly Harvest Season becomes one of the most powerful mana-ramp spells out there. Could Cryptolith Rite be enough? I'm betting against it for now, but it's the sort of card that could become a multi-format staple if we're evaluating it incorrectly. Pay attention to the pros' early testing and buy in if anyone gets unduly excited.
Heaven//Earth - $0.99
I could imagine Heaven showing up as a sideboard two-of now and again, but that's the extent of the upside here. Bulk rare.
Approach of the Second Sun - $0.99
I can't imagine Standard evolving in such a way where Approach of the Second Sun becomes playable. Bulk rare, albeit with some long-term potential as a casual favorite.
Liliana's Mastery - $0.99
Liliana's Mastery isn't bad—six power for five mana plus a buff for your other Zombies—but I'm not sure the Zombie deck wants a clunky, expensive enchantment. Grab cheap foils for Commander, but stay away otherwise.
Neheb, the Worthy - $0.99
Neheb looks like a casual lord at first glance, but there are a ton of abilities tacked onto this card. There's a nonzero chance that Hour will bring enough Minotaurs to give us a semi-viable Neheb deck, but I doubt it. If Olivia, Mobilized for War couldn't find a home, how will Neheb?
It is worth noting that Didgeridoo has climbed a bit over the past few days. It is a Reserved List card, and it's a must-play in casual Minotaur tribal. I wouldn't be shocked if someone buys this out (again), but we need more good Minotaurs before any real casual demand starts to develop.
New Perspectives - $0.99
New Perspectives is only good if you're 1) playing a cycling deck, 2) have a full hand, and 3) already have enough mana to play this card. It reminds me of Rooftop Storm, albeit with a free Ancestral Recall attached. Is that good enough? Maybe as a two-of or a sideboard card in the dedicated cycling deck. That's too narrow to make New Perspectives interesting from a speculation perspective, though. In the best case, it's a $2-$3 card.
Vizier of Many Faces - $0.99
Commit//Memory - $0.99
What more do you want for a buck? Commit//Memory works pretty well with Torrential Gearhulk, and it's rare that the color gets access to removal that can hit basically anything, including planeswalkers. I don't anticipate Commit//Memory becoming a four-of in multiple decks, but I do think it'll see play somewhere. Grab a set this week.
Dispossess - $0.99
Glyph Keeper - $0.99
Glyph Keeper would have been an amazing control finisher a few years ago, but it's really only good in a world with few threats and many answers. If you aren't eating multiple removal spells with your Glyph Keeper, it's just an underpowered attacker or blocker. I could see it end up as a sideboard control finisher, but even that would require the metagame to shift pretty drastically.
Heart-Piercer Manticore - $0.99
Fling effects are good enough to see play from time to time, and the fact that Heart-Piercer Manticore can hit players makes me think that it might actually make the cut. This is a pretty potent curve-topper in a deck that's trying to deal twelve or fifteen damage by the time you cast your Manticore. It might have some combo potential with Metalwork Colossus, too. I'm in for a set of these at $1 each.
Honored Hydra - $0.99
I don't see a deck in Standard for Honored Hydra right now, but it might be good enough if you can reliably get these into your graveyard. It'll probably drop to bulk before long, and I'll grab a set at that point just in case.
Sandwurm Convergence - $0.99
Fantastic in those endless games of multiplayer Commander I like so much. Way too expensive everywhere else. I'll grab a foil copy or two if they're cheap.
Sweltering Suns - $0.99
Cycling 3 is a lot, but a sweeper is the kind of card that needs cycling the most, considering how situational it is. The fact that you need to two red mana to cast Sweltering Suns hurts a bit, but this card is going to see some play regardless. Grab a set at $1—it'll probably end up in the $2-$3 range, but it has a little more upside beyond that as well.
This Week's Trends
Finally—some upward movement in Standard! Zombies are the big winners this week, with a large chunk of the Magic community expecting Amonkhet to finally make their Shadows over Innistrad dreams come true.
Relentless Dead saw the biggest gains, but Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus are starting to tick up as well. Expect this upward movement to continue throughout the week as more and more people get excited about the new set. Ditto Fatal Push, a card you should prioritize picking up if you don't have your playset yet.
Also up this week: Always Watching, the exert mechanic's new best friend. I've been telling you to buy these for almost three weeks now, so you've got no excuse if you missed the spike. If Always Watching ends up in some sort of new R/W aggro deck, it should end up stabilizing in the $5-$6 range. If not, it'll drop off toward $2 again.
Krark-Clan Ironworks was the biggest Modern gainer of the week, thanks to its namesake deck continuing to put up great results. I'm not sure what else you can target if you want to speculate on this deck, though—its most-played cards are either too recent (Sanctum of Ugin, Scrap Trawler) or are played in a bunch of Tier 1 decks already (Mox Opal, Ancient Stirrings). Regardless, I'm not selling my Krark-Clan Ironworks yet—if the deck continues to win, the card could easily end up being worth $20 or more before long.
Other Modern cards that saw some minor gains this week: Ancestral Vision, Engineered Explosives, Fulminator Mage, Crucible of Worlds, All Is Dust, Surgical Extraction, Chalice of the Void, Lotus Bloom, Goryo's Vengeance, Leyline of Sanctity, Manamorphose, and Cryptic Command.
In the world of casual play, Crumbling Ashes surged from $2 to about $4 and continues to rise in price thanks to its powerful interactions with Amonkhet's -1/-1 counters. Anyone speculating on this for Modern is probably going to be disappointed, but it can certainly stabilize in the $5 range if enough Commander players want in.
A few other older cards saw gains this week: Shining Shoal, Kaervek the Merciless, Planar Gate, and Fluctuator. Fluctuator is easy—people are going to build casual cycling decks—and Planar Gate has been spiking in fits and starts for a while now. Kaervek is a popular Commander that hasn't been printed in a while. Shining Shoal is a little harder to peg, though. Maybe there was a resurgence of the Bant Tallowisp deck that was kicking around Modern near the end of last year? It's a $10 card if it sees even moderate play, so you might want to snag a copy just in case it spikes. The buy-in is low enough to intrigue me.