Amonkhet has been fully previewed.
The final half of the set was released in one burst. Most of the set's remnants were expected filler commons and uncommons that are necessary to round out a set, mostly for Sealed Deck and Booster Draft.
One creature almost slipped past me, hidden by the allure of fancy rares and mythics.
A Bird that has striking similarity to your friendly neighborhood Human Insect.
It's obvious. A 3/2 flying creature for one mana.
But Tom, it's not a 3/2 flyer for one mana. It takes work.
Bone Picker asks for a creature to have died this turn. Naturally, a deck with some creature removal is a fine home for Bone Picker. A few ways to kill off one of your own creatures without a significant loss would be optimal.
But how much effort is really needed? Can simply playing a game of honest Magic be enough to have Bone Picker cost only one mana? There have been cases where we thought that going hard to make a creature “good” was necessary.
Tarmogoyf doesn't need Edge of Autumn or Horizon Canopy to be relevant. Death's Shadow doesn't need a ton of Phyrexian mana spells like Mutagenic Growth, Gut Shot, or Dismember. Both need a few enablers, but not necessarily an entire deck built around them. With Tarmogoyf and Death's Shadow, we learned that the conditions get met for them to be good cards naturally, simply by "playing Magic."
Bone Picker also has a “hard cast” mode that will ultimately come up some percentage of the time, like a Daze or a Force of Will does. A four-mana 3/2 isn't what you sign up for, but neither is a five-mana Counterspell. Game states happen and I'm happy to have the option. Ancestral Vision would even better if it also had a real casting cost of 4UU or whatever.
The deathtouch on Bone Picker really gives off the impression that this card is pushed. Most notably, the deathtouch lets Bone Picker trade with Heart of Kiran. Trading with literally anything is great on a flying creature. Only first strike really trumps Bone Picker in combat.
Then there's always combat to enable Bone Picker. Opponents will be blocking and creatures will be trading. Opponents will have to respect this fact and even cast their removal at sorcery speed. I do love people contorting their play out of respect for cards that may or may not be in my hand.
I think Bone Picker will turn out to be the best card in Amonkhet. It's a little complex, so it takes some understanding to wrap your head around. It's not the best Limited card or the best card for Standard, but it has the best chance of dipping into Modern or Legacy and surviving the test of time.
I've got a feeling that Bone Picker will end up falling under the “just play natural Magic” end of the spectrum to be good. To find that out, I've been working on some new Standard decks that play enough ways to enable the reduced cost of Bone Picker.
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Bone Picker
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Night Market Lookout
Low-land-count mono-colored decks have been what I've had the most success with in Standard over the past couple of years: first Boss Sligh, then Mono-White Humans. Now black might have the tools that I'm looking for to run people over.
I initially was tempted to go down the Zombies route, given the new Zombie cards that Amonkhet has. Bone Picker didn't really fit in that strategy anywhere, so I decided to play a mish-mash of the cheap threats that Standard has for black.
Decks like these thrive on their one-drops in a Standard world where people are going over the top of each other. The new cycling duals will incentivize people to play high land counts and thus bigger threats, much like the Theros Temples did.
Night Market Lookout has been a pet card of mine since I first saw it. If the mana for W/B Humans felt reasonable, then I'd be playing that deck for basically just Night Market Lookout and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.
Dread Wanderer is what really gives life to Mono-Black Aggro and the Zombie builds. A 2/1 for one with an ability that promises late-game utility is just what an aggro deck needs to not run out of gas.
Now, hear me out.
A turn 1 Walking Ballista for zero into Bone Picker is walking a fine line. That line is a combination of a great aggressive start and horrible card disadvantage. Falling on the right side of that line will greatly determine the potential of Mono-Black Aggro.
It'll take constant pressure and enough cards left over to justify binning a Walking Ballista for such a quick start. To ensure that you have enough spells to compete, the land count must be low. Twenty isn't as low as the eighteen or seventeen that I like playing, but it'll do.
Walking Ballista is, of course, more than just a Dark Ritual for a Snapping Drake. It scales well, just like in any deck. It's a fine turn 4 play as a 2/2 that affects combat. Alongside Night Market Lookout, there is significant reach in the deck to finish games off once the opponent has stabilized. “Throwing away” a Walking Ballista isn't even bad if it fuels a Scrapheap Scrounger or is the first creature in your graveyard to guarantee that Liliana, the Last Hope returns something. The pings are also good with the removal suite.
A mix of -2/-1, -2/-2, -4/-4, and Walking Ballista pings will give some wiggle room to optimally affect opposing blockers efficiently. Walking Ballista powers revolt for Fatal Push if needed as well. Never//Return is your sorcery-speed unconditional removal for creatures and for planewalkers that can't be dealt with via combat. The Return part is nice as a mana sink that attacks delirium, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Liliana, Death's Majesty targets.
Collective Brutality can pitch Dread Wanderer or Scrapheap Scrounger at a virtual gain of card advantage. Liliana, the Last Hope sometimes mills over one of those or a Never//Return as an extra useable threat. The pieces are there.
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is there for extra value at a low opportunity cost. The slot could go to maindeck Gifted Aetherborns, but I figured the Aether Hubs to be largely free. The potential card draw from Glint-Sleeve Siphoner counts a few percentage points towards having future land drops, which allows for a lower land count. The little things add up.
The sideboard is straightforward for things I want to deal with. Scarab Feast is great at fighting anything from B/G Delirium to Prized Amalgam decks. Cycling for one black mana makes drawing multiples never dead. Scarab Feast is almost good enough to maindeck.
Harsh Scrutiny is for decks with creatures that have highly impactful “enters the battlefield” abilities. This includes Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Archangel Avacyn. It's arguable to want Transgress the Mind or Lay Bare the Heart. I truly hate spending two mana on my discard spells in my aggro decks and would rather scry 1 for one mana at the risk of maybe missing from time to time.
- 4 Bone Picker
- 4 Carrier Thrall
- 3 Pious Evangel
- 4 Sacred Cat
- 4 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 2 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 3 Bontu the Glorified
- 3 Yahenni, Undying Partisan
This list is derivative of one that SaffronOlive designed. I made some preference changes, but mostly just jammed Bone Picker in the deck. If there's any deck for Bone Picker to be good in, it has to be one with a sacrifice theme.
There's typically a take on the old Aristocrats archetype every year or so. Sometimes it's good, like Rally the Ancestors. Sometimes it's too goofy and just cute nonsense.
Zulaport Cutthroat and Pious Evangel are your payoffs for routinely sacrificing your own stuff. Zulaport Cutthroat is quite proven to be a great engine piece, while transforming Pious Evangel into Wayward Disciple takes time and effort. If this archetype is a flop, it'll probably be because Pious Evangel is just too slow.
Of these, I like Carrier Thrall the best, as it's a body that threatens to trade with something early before giving an Eldrazi Scion token that can be used for mana or to trigger a sacrifice without a mana investment.
These are the outlets to sacrifice to. Of these, Bontu the Glorified is the strongest, but the slowest. Yahenni, Undying Partisan doesn't require a mana investment but doesn't have a great payoff either. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is around as a cheaper threat that can sometimes give extra life or start exiling things. With the trio all being legendary and providing different effects, it's best to have some sort of split, though my configuration is unlikely to be optimal.
- 2 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Bone Picker
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 2 Glorybringer
- 3 Soul-Scar Mage
This is Bone Picker in a fairly normal-looking R/B Aggro shell.
Bomat Courier is playing multiple roles here and tying the deck together. You want some number of artifacts to enable the best card in the colors: Unlicensed Disintegration. Bomat Courier won't combo with Bone Pickers in hand, but it will surely be awesome with any Bone Pickers drawn from the activated ability.
The deck leans more on damage-based removal to get value from Soul-Scar Mage. It's nice that Cut//Ribbons turns into a permanent Grasp of Darkness. Soul-Scar Mage also affects any non-combat source, so Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance also give -1/-1 counters.
There's a minor energy theme going on here. I wanted another artifact anyway to make the Unlicensed Disintegration more reliable, so an Aethersphere Harvester made its way in. The Aethersphere Harvester is a good use for a Soul-Scar Mage that's been outsized on the battlefield.
The more I work with Bone Picker, the more I want to play with it in a basic shell without too much self-sacrificing going on. We've only scratched the surface on viable decklists to put Bone Picker into. Removal spells and combat are likely enough to get you an undercosted flyer, which includes basically every Standard deck that isn't winning with Approach of the Second Sun.
I wouldn't be surprised if Bone Picker shows up in a wide variety of black Standard decks after a few tournament results flesh out the metagame. I don't want to wait, though. I want to be there Week 1 with the best Bone Picker deck.