Welcome to Amonkhet preview season's Ari Lax awards ceremony!
This set's categories:
The Fatal Push: Best Card for Modern Award
Basically every new set for the last couple of years has had a relevant impact in Modern, and Amonkhet is no exception. There's none as blatant as Fatal Push, but there are a few potential hits in the running.
Harsh Mentor is a card along the lines of Eidolon of the Great Revel, but unlike the Eidolon, it doesn't assure damage when they Lightning Bolt it. That alone turns it from deck-defining all-star down to a slightly situational hate card that makes some maindecks. It's also generally easier to play Magic without activating non-mana abilities than it is to do so without playing spells. Fine card, will see some play, but not quite going to live up to the hype.
For those who missed the latest news update, Vizier of Remedies is an arbitrarily large combo with Devoted Druid. You can still pay the cost of adding a -1/-1 counter to the Druid to untap it; it is just reduced to adding zero +1/+1 counters. From there, you get as much green mana as you want to spend however you want. Preferably you would find something that works with Collected Company, as both of these cards fit that category and point in that direction.
Fortunately there's an easy option. Ezuri, Renegade Leader makes Devoted Druid an arbitrarily large trampler with arbitrarily large mana…and can do so after an 0/2 Druid attacks through an Ensnaring Bridge. Ezuri points towards an already existing and reasonable archetype and already goes arbitrarily large on its own with two Devoted Druids. I'm not an Elves expert, so I don't know how adding Devoted Druid makes your core card choices branch out, but I can imagine being a combo deck pushes towards maxing out on Chord of Callings.
This may have only won because I want to write about Restore Balance. Guess what? This is my show so no one can stop me. The deck doesn't change a lot, but As Foretold is really good. Not only does it cast Restore Balance, but it assures you hit the “mana” post-Balance to cast whatever threats you draw. This list is based off one that finished twelfth at Grand Prix San Antonio. Space is a little tight and finding room for another Bant Charm or the third As Foretold would be nice, but I do like Kiora, the Crashing Wave against Death's Shadow.
The Still Not Torrential Gearhulk: Next-Best Control Finisher Award
The good Gearhulks are absolutely Titan-level finishers. Torrential Gearhulk is especially dumb as it's so hard to justify a different control finisher when you can get Mulldrifter-Snapcaster-Dragon. That doesn't mean Amonkhet doesn't try hard to get you to play something else to win the game.
Each of these is a control finisher in the same way Ishkanah, Grafwidow and bigger B/G Delirium decks are control, but it does the job of turning a mid-game around. The thing that has me skeptical is that a removal spell and an attack cleans it up if you tap out on five, which means really deploying Archfiend of Ifnir with a cycler for immediate impact costs six mana, at which point, Torrential Gearhulk.
Aside from missing the boat on cheap Harsh Mentors, Approach of the Second Sun was the card closest to making last week's preorder list. It's just so easy to get to the Second Sun after the first resolves. It feels almost Cruel Ultimatum-y in the sense that the first seven life will take you quite a ways towards the imminent end. Glimmer of Genius alone plus two draw steps is basically the whole way, seeing six cards and being one cycler away from "seven mana, win the game." You could even just have the next in hand, because I'm absolutely playing the full four. Okay, maybe not four, but definitely three.
First, the brainless U/W version. These are blue and white cards with control potential. I'm specifically not playing Drake Haven because there are already enough do-nothings, but you still want a bunch of cyclers to get seven cards deep as quickly as possible post-Approach.
Now for the real fun.
Yes, that is "kinda Turbofog with Torrential Gearhulk flashback, kinda turbo-casting seven-drop nonsense." You just don't have the typical Turbofog problem of bricking on one enhanced draw because you win the game after seeing seven cards and not 70.
It's cool that Drake Haven tokens play well with Fogs in the typical flying racing non-flying way and that Tireless Tracker Clues are a way to push closer to the second Approach. If Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian goes, I think you can brick the Shefet Monitors and Sunscorched Desert for more Spring//Minds, but the low-power ramp might just be bad to begin with. Bounty of the Luxa is good in that it curves naturally over the three-turn plan of "cast Approach, draw cards, redraw and cast Approach," but it takes a turn to get to mana mode, so it might just be too slow. Overall this is definitely a little out there, but there are cards here that have a lot of promise.
Please, just don't remind me that Torrential Gearhulk being cast twice is probably also lethal, or that recasting Glimmer of Genius off the first Gearhulk probably just leads to the second. I want to have some hopes, dreams, and fun here.
The Wild Mongrel: Best Card That's Also a Pet Award
Where cute meets playable.
This set may as well be Amon-cat, but I'm not voting for any of the dumpy midrange ones that die to all the good two-drop removal. Nice Prowling Serpopard; I'm just going to play my better Cat and flicker my Oath of Chandra. I don't really like Sacred Cat as a Doomed Traveler due to the extra cost, but Embalming for one mana as dredge value is pretty good value. To be fair, this implies that Scrapheap Scrounger, Prized Amalgam, and Haunted Dead aren't quite enough, but I can imagine some crazy sacrifice engine deck that gets off the ground by self-milling kittens.
None. Cats by definition can't be the best pet, and don't even get me started on Birds. All the dogs in Amonkhet are bipedal, sentient beings, at which point they are just roommates who eat all of your food. If you try to vote for Hippos or Crocodiles here, you deserve what happens to you.
The Icefall Regent: Good Card in Second Place Award
Often a good card is printed, but it just isn't its time because something is so much better. Dragonlord Ojutai left Icefall Regent in the dust on resilience and impact, despite Icefall Regent being an independently powerful card. Amonkhet comes in the wake of some really high-powered sets and has a few cards that fall just behind their contemporaries.
Ooh, a big haste creature. I bet that finishes people off real...
Wait. Haste and it kills things? Well, at least Samut, Voice of Dissent is six power and can kill fas…
Oh come on. There's even virtual haste here! To top things off, Samut is sadly disqualified from even winning this category, as it is third-best.
Lay Bare the Heart reads like a pretty good discard spell in a format that needed one to handle planeswalkers. How many legendary permanents could you possibly want to take?
Oh yeah, just the biggest card in the main combo deck.
And exiling random spells matters, you say? Huh...
At least you can take Nissa, Steward of Elements with Lay Bare the Heart, but that's really the extent of the upgrade. For now I'm still reserving space for Trangress the Mind. At least Lay Bare the Heart stands a chance after rotation, when both Transgress the Mind and the Eldrazi that fuel Aetherworks Marvel are gone.
Look left. Look right. One of these cards always attacks on turn 4 and sees no play. You want to try the other?
The Prized Amalgam: Waiting for the Missing Piece Award
There's always a card in the first set of the block that is clearly powerful but just a little bit off making it to the big time. With Prized Amalgam, it was the arrival of good friend Haunted Dead that pushed it over the line. What card is it this time?
Nest of Scarabs is a huge payoff compared to similar past cards. Getting an Insect token for each card turns the volume all the way up. The problem is you don't have another payoff to provide redundancy or quite enough enablers with only one set of -1/-1 counters. Maybe with another 200 cards it will hit, or maybe Nest of Scarabs just has to hope for another -1/-1 counter block in the next two years.
The Alpha Tyrranax Memorial: Favorite Limited Card Award
I have some pretty specific tastes in Limited cards, usually based on stupid decks I've done well with in the past. What ones will my teammates joke about me wasting half an hour during our Limited meeting in Nashville?
Back in my day, we paid 4GG for a 6/5 and it was bigger than anything else in the format. I've even heard tales of when 4GG for a 6/4 was a good deal. It seems like just last week we had to live with 4GG for just a 6/6 with no text. These days you kids have it too easy!
I don't think Floodwaters is the best card in the set, but it's basically a perfect spell in terms of play pattern. It's situationally extremely good or extremely not good, so cycling matters. These applies both early-game when land-light and late-game when creature-light, so it's always a decision to consider. It isn't an autowin to build to, like Lay Claim stealing a creature, so there's not a lot of feel-bads with accepting you don't need it. I don't think any other card in the set hits on all of these things in the same way. A+ to Floodwaters for just being a great card to play with, though probably not against, as you just die a lot to losing blockers.
The Caught in the Brights: Funniest Card in the Set Award
Every set has a card that just makes you chuckle. Kaladesh had some strong nominees in this category due to Vehicle shenanigans, and there's a strong case for Cat nonsense this time. However, there was a clear winner this season.
Something about this card being so just hits the right notes for me. You are just building and building this thing so excited for the final payoff. You can build free spells, Black Lotus every turn, and..... this.
Listen, I get it. Not every architect gets to build pyramids or skyscrapers. Someone has to build the stadium toilets. When Nicol Bolas shows up and doesn't have to use an outhouse, that's when the praise of the God-Pharaoh will roll in. Just take pride in your work for what it is and make the best darn Dragon toilet you can.
The Cryptbreaker: Most Likely to Inspire Horribly Misbuilt Decks Award
Sacrifice decks are really a three-part combo: sacrifice effect, payoff, and fuel. Often the sacrifice effect and payoff are the same card and Bontu kinda represents that, but where is the fuel? Rally had Collected Company and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Rally the Ancestors itself to assemble the massive number of bodies it needed to win. Aristocrats had Lingering Souls. You will notice these are just good cards on their own that happen to provide the support necessary for the sacrifice effects to get out of hand.
If anything, Bontu the Glorified is the Skirsdag High Priest of the lot. It's a payoff, and not even an immediately game-ending one. I'm still waiting on the Lingering Souls part of the equation to show up.
That's it! I've figured it out. One more set and it's the Hour of Devastation. More counters, the devastation is clearly Nest of Scarabs making enough Insect tokens for all this sacrifice nonsense to work!
Nissa, Steward of Elements is a great card, but it takes some real deckbuilding decisions to carry the maximum amount of weight.
Just because you can cast Nissa for X equal to any amount doesn't mean you should treat it as a normal X spell. The typical play pattern for Nissa is going to be casting it for some smaller number, using the +2 ability, and setting up a subsequent 0. Alternatively, just cast it for a slightly larger number, fire off the 0, and hope to hit.
These are all things you can plan for in deckbuilding. What is the typical early point you are going to cast it on a stable battlefield? Add two counters to that value, and that should be a point where you are lining up your mana costs. Oddly that puts Nissa at that same cost point every time (1GU for one loyalty, add two the first turn to hit three-drops next turn), but that's the price of getting "0: Plus a card and possibly mana."
It's the same style of deckbuilding as Collected Company. It's probably even more similar than it seems at first glance because the solid mid-game point to cast Nissa and fire a 0 is probably X = 3 as a five-drop, meaning you want a decent density of good creatures in that price range to hit off the top. Oh well. Having an actual creature curve was nice to try while it lasted.
The Reflector Mage: Already Sick of It Award
“In a year and a half, I predict we will all look back on this card and say 'good riddance.'” Oops, Reflector Mage didn't even last that long. There isn't anything quite that offensive, but there are definitely a couple of cards we will be waiting to see gone.
Hahahahahahahaha people actually wanted Miscalculation back hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
Yeah, let's play around Force Spike, and oops, they just cast Glimmer of Genius and cycled this for value. Let's not play around Force Spike, and oops, best card got countered for two mana. Great job, got wrecked regardless.
Yeah... I was just going on about how awesome the play pattern of Glorybringer is. Except for the games where you look at your hand with no reasonable way to play around it on turn 4, shrug, and have to hope you don't just get Flametongue Kavu Dragoned. Oops, didn't have a kill spell, just going to get Visara'ed out of the game and die to a giant flying creature. Maybe I can hope they don't have a way to untap it, or a second Glorybringer, or normal spells, and my stuff can race, but really that hope is just going to turn to disappointment and we all know it.
Well, it was nice knowing you, four-toughness creatures. See you in fall of 2018.
That's it for this set. Remember to thank this show's sponsors: Thoughtseize, Faerie Rogue tokens, and storm count ten. Join us again in three months, which is a time span that makes no sense for a set named Hour of Devastation.