It's that time again! I'm here to predict the Top 20 Standard cards from the newest set, Amonkhet. This is a series I've been writing since Eldritch Moon, where I'm predicting the amount of Standard play each card will have throughout its life in Standard, and not necessarily just for #SCGATL this weekend. If you're interested in seeing the previous Top 20 lists and the cards I was right or wrong about, you can find them here:
Like in the previous lists, the cycle of rare dual lands won't show up here. Overall as a group they will most likely see the most play, and ranking them individually takes up too much space, so I'm purposely leaving them off the list altogether. Anyway, let's get into the Top 20 Standard cards from Amonkhet, and afterwards you can let me know which cards I'm under- or overrating.
Leading off our list is Trespasser's Curse, which will be a vital sideboard card for black decks against Four-Color Saheeli. Not only is it the perfect card to stop the Felidar Guardian combo, but the life-draining effect for each creature that enters the battlefield is still a useful effect even when your opponent isn't trying to combo. Each creature that enters the battlefield under your opponent's control, from Rogue Refiners to Thopter tokens, will represent a two-point life swing, which can really add up over the course of the game, making this two-mana investment a critical card against the current best deck in the format.
To be honest, when I first read this card, I thought that one of your own creatures had to die in order to enable the cost reduction clause. However, being able to Fatal Push your opponent's two-drop and then cast Bone Picker on your turn 2 is exceptionally powerful, and I expect Bone Picker to see play in black aggressive decks. I'm honestly not exactly sure where Bone Picker will end up showing up, but thankfully Tom Ross gave us some wonderful ideas. One thing I will point out is that Bone Picker can do a solid job at pressuring planeswalkers, an ability that is as important as it's ever been right now in Standard.
Cards that have the text “win the game” are usually trap cards for Constructed, meaning they aren't competitive enough to see play. Approach of the Second Sun is the exception to the rule and will make an impact on Standard from the start. It's a nice win condition for Aetherworks Marvel decks that can help dig to find the card as well as cast the first copy, which doesn't need to be cast from hand. Approach of the Second Sun is also a perfectly reasonable win condition in U/W/x control decks that can severely slow the game down.
The card that I overrated the most from Aether Revolt's Top 20 list was Metallic Mimic, as I thought it would make a big impact in Humans strategies for Standard. Little did I know that Walking Ballista would almost singlehandedly keep the Humans deck out of the format. I guess Fatal Push and Shock also had a big say in that.
Anyway, Glory-Bound Initiate is a wonderful addition to Humans decks and is basically a two-mana Baneslayer Angel when paired with Always Watching. The problem is Magma Spray is also entering the format, and with the amount of one-mana removal spells, cheap sweepers like Sweltering Suns, and Walking Ballista everywhere, I'm still worried about the viability of Humans decks moving forward.
Dread Wanderer is an intriguing card that can help out a couple of new or existing strategies that may see a resurgence. There are plenty of Zombie-themed cards in Amonkhet and it will be interesting to see what types of Zombie decks emerge. I could see an aggressive Zombie deck built around other new cards such as Plague Belcher and Lord of the Accursed that Dread Wanderer will play a big role in. There are also already-seen graveyard strategies built around Prized Amalgam that Dread Wanderer can slot into as another way to return the Prized Amalgams from the graveyard. Dread Wanderer will be a nice role-player for multiple archetypes.
Never//Return provokes the instant comparison to Ruinous Path, and even though Never//Return will most likely see about the same amount of play as its predecessor, that's still enough to place it here on the list. Standard is built around powerful planeswalkers right now and it's vital to have the ability to remove them from the battlefield. Return will also be a more useful card in gameplay situations than people realize with the ability to exile a key card from your opponent's graveyard.
Amonkhet is my first exposure to cycling cards in Constructed, and I've been very impressed with their power. Hieroglyphic Illumination is directly fighting with Glimmer of Genius in the four-mana card draw slot, and although I didn't think there would be a better option than Glimmer throughout its Standard life, Illumination will have its place. Everyone knows by now how good flashing back a Glimmer with Torrential Gearhulk is, and flashing back Illumination isn't far off. Anyone that has played a Torrential Gearhulk deck has probably died with copies of Glimmer in hand after missing land drops, and Illumination can help in these worst-case scenarios. Add in additional equity with cycling combos with cards like Drake Haven, and we have a card draw spell that will see ample play in Standard.
13 and 12.
I'm grouping these two red one-drops together, as they should see a similar amount of play and may bring red aggro back to the format. With the addition of one-mana instant-speed removal spells to the format recently, good one-drops are necessary for aggressive decks to survive, and red received a couple with Amonkhet. There may compete against each other or one may see play when the other doesn't in certain decks, as they have different synergies in the format, but I'm excited to see what impact both Flameblade Adept and Soul-Scar Mage will have on Standard.
Nissa, Steward of Elements is easily my favorite card in this list and most likely of the set. With a unique planeswalker design, she's a card advantage engine that's a great play on turn 3 and on turn 8, where she can turn two lands into Thundermaw Hellkites to finish off your opponent. So why is she so low on the list, you ask? Well, it's hard for two-color cards to be high up on my list, as having two colors will naturally reduce the number of decks where it's playable. Also, Amonkhet Standard will be more hostile towards planeswalkers than the previous format was, with faster decks and natural predators such as Glorybringer. Finally, Nissa loses the heads-up battle in the mid-game to the other popularly played planeswalkers, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
If you can survive to the late-game, Pull from Tomorrow is an exceptional reward. We haven't seen an escalating card draw spell like this since Sphinx's Revelation, which was format-defining. Pull from Tomorrow doesn't give you the lifegain buffer as well, meaning you have to have already somewhat stabilized before taking a turn off to cast it, but the rewards are just as good. The “drawback” of having to discard doesn't matter when you are drawing five-plus cards already. Pull from Tomorrow is also the perfect way to dig for the Approach of the Second Sun that you cast the turn before and put back into your library.
I've started to come around on Rhonas the Indomitable, the only God to make my list. I wasn't too interested in the card at first because of the clause of needing another large creature to be able to attack or block, as I've had plenty of experience with green creature decks against removal-heavy decks where having two creatures on the battlefield is asking for a lot. However, the raw stats on Rhonas are just so good that I think it's going to have a huge impact on Standard, starting Week 1 with G/B Aggro decks.
We don't get unconditional counterspells for two mana any more, which is absolutely fine with me, but even our two-mana "counter only creature spells" spells have been conditional recently. Essence Scatter will be a staple in control decks moving forward with the power level of creatures these days. Sure, it can't exile Scrapheap Scrounger, like Horribly Awry can, but being able to also counter the big threats of the format in Verdurous Gearhulk; Ishkanah, Grafwidow; Glorybringer; and Torrential Gearhulk for two mana is too important.
Liliana, Death's Majesty is another planeswalker that will be a Standard staple; unlike with the other planeswalkers, it's because her minus ability is game-changing. For the cost of five mana, you can return the best creature from your graveyard to the battlefield as well as have Liliana on the battlefield. Liliana will fit right into B/G Delirium decks returning Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Noxious Gearhulk to the battlefield, but it could also fit into Aetherworks Marvel decks as a way to put Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on the battlefield. It's hard to have multiple copies of a five-cost planeswalker in a Standard deck, but Liliana, Death's Majesty could change that.
Magma Spray is a welcome addition to red decks as a way to exile Scrapheap Scrounger, which has been a problem card throughout the past season. Harnessed Lightning has been the most popular red removal spell, but dealing with Scrapheap Scrounger has proven to be a huge hole for the card. Amonkhet has also introduced new quality one-drops and support for aggro decks, which will also make Magma Spray a heavily played removal spell. It will be interesting to see exactly how Magma Spray and Shock will work together moving forward.
Manglehorn is the ideal design for a creature to “hate” on the top two decks from last season, Mardu Vehicles and Four-Color Saheeli. It's not powerful on rate, only being a 2/2 for two, but it can have a big impact in very specific situations, from destroying a Heart of Kiran to stopping the Saheeli combo. Manglehorn is a wonderful Traverse the Ulvenwald bullet, and I can't imagine any green creature deck not having access to some number of Manglehorns in their 75. I don't think its power level will be high enough to be a good sideboard card to reliably take down Four-Color Saheeli, but it's still a fine card to have in the matchup with stronger pieces built around it.
Censor is the type of card that will have a drastic impact on games even if it isn't in your deck. No one likes getting their spell Force Spiked, and it will be hard to tap out to cast spells into two open blue mana from your opponent. What makes Censor so good, though, is the ability to cycle it away for one mana, making the opportunity cost of playing it extremely low. Even just having one Censor in your deck, and cycling it away on turn 1, sends a signal to your opponent to be cognizant of the card and to play around it for the rest of the game.
Similarly to Censor, a good amount of the strength of Cast Out is the ability to cycle it away for only one mana. We already had Quarantine Field in the format, which has the same effect at four mana and also has upside, but it has only seen fringe play. Having the ability to cycle is important enough to turn a fringe-playable card all the way up to third place in my Amonkhet set review, so I guess that shows how important I have found cycling to be early in my Standard testing. Flash is another vital component of Cast Out's playability, as being able to interact with the Saheeli combo at instant speed is absolutely vital in Standard's current form.
I was wrong. Glorybringer is the real deal. It's the perfect addition to Four-Color Saheeli, which was already the best deck in the format, to be able to beat other midrange decks without having the combo. It's the best way for Four-Color Saheeli to pressure other planeswalkers, namely Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, that it struggled with in the past. Not only is Glorybringer a perfect target for Saheeli Rai's -2 ability, as the token can be exerted without concern, but even Felidar Guardian can reset an Exerted Glorybringer to allow it to keep attacking and breathing fire all over your opponent's battlefield. Four-Color Saheeli was already the best deck in the fomat, and Glorybringer is going to push it far over the top.
The amount of power that you're getting for three mana is pretty insane with Gideon of the Trials. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has been dominating Standard for many months now, and I believe the power level of Gideon of the Trials is very close. There's a big difference between a four- and a three-mana spell, and Gideon of the Trials will slot into hyperaggressive decks even with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the format still. If this list were only for the first season of legality, I think Glorybringer will see more play, but after rotation this fall, it's very possible the format is warped around Gideon of the Trials. For better or for worse, I expect Gideon of the Trials to be the most influential Standard card out of Amonkhet from now until it leaves the format.
There you have it, my Top 20 Standard Cards from Amonkhet. Each set there are a couple of cards I miss. What's your breakout sleeper of the set that I missed? I'll see you all at #SCGATL this weekend, where we will see for ourselves what the building blocks of the Amonkhet Standard format will be.