Despite Pro Tour testing being a huge grind, I still enjoy every minute. Why would I be playing the games if I didn't derive any enjoyment from them? On the flip side, some of the cards suck to play with. This can be Spike-hates-losing-derived misery due to low quality or inconsistency, but sometimes it's just hating what happens when the card resolves.
These are the cards from testing I've felt the most polarized about. Love them or hate them, here they are.
Most Favorite: Censor
Censor is just such a great card.
Got nothing to do with Censor? Not feeling like your opponent is going to walk into it after they un-drop on turn 3? Great! Censor's got you covered. Need to ensure land drops up to six? Censor does as much as it can. With a card like Cast Out, there's some feel-bad because you know you are going to want it later but need the land later, but with Censor, the feeling is always “thanks for showing up, and I'll try to use you next time."
The thing that gets me? Unlike Mana Tithe or Force Spike, getting Censored doesn't feel that bad. You know why? At the end of the day, they were going to get a card out of it anyway. You just opted to not give them artificial tempo and a card, and you got to choose if you wanted both players down or up a card. Sometimes you look at a hand, know you are going to be mana-light, and guess what, something is getting Censored. You can accept your fate, make your decision, and regardless of what you do, it's not blatantly worse than the opposite situation.
But you know what makes me the happiest about Censor? That it is not Miscalculation and is still absurdly good. It's very possible I never stop saying that, even after everyone who wanted that card in Amonkhet learns their lesson.
Least Favorite: Haunted Dead and Stitchwing Skaab
The swings just get me here. Here's a sample of two games.
I draw Stitchwing Skaab. It ends up in my graveyard. I have zero Prized Amalgam. I feel like an idiot having to pay two mana and two cards for a 3/1 flier after jumping through hoops to get it in my graveyard. Is that even a good deal?
Dredge and I don't have the best of histories, and a lot of that is due to what I specifically call out as “the Dredge problem." You have so many specific cards that make up your combo and you see a lot of cards, but you have to hit them all. Back in the day it was "Narcomoeba, Dread Return, discard outlet, and draw spell." Congrats, only one Narcomoeba is on your top 35 cards, you can't do anything.
In the current Standard decks, it's "discard outlet, Prized Amalgam, Skaab, emerge creature." Your odds of finding them all are okay, but wow does your game plan feel anemic if you miss a bit. I do love some mediocre beatdown, but this is really, really mediocre. Like, “Limited deck I felt lucky to 2-1 with” level mediocre.
Gross. Please don't make me play these cards.
Most and Least Favorite: Horror of the Broken Lands
Let's start with the positive: Horror of the Broken Lands makes Living End into an actually fun deck. Instead of only being able to Wrath and hope three random 3/4s and 4/4s are good enough, Living End is often "Wrath during your turn, untap, and kill you." Horror of the Broken Lands is often one mana for eight power.
Basically, Living End feels like a real Modern deck and not just something that exploits Plague Wind being good against 60% of the field while being incapable of beating the other 40% or hate cards. I've been a broken record for multiple weeks now, but seriously, play more Living End now. Or play more Leyline of the Void, because both Living End and Dredge are great decks that will maul you if you don't.
As for least-favorite, this has been my Limited experience with and against Horror of the Broken Realms.
Wow, I hit my fifth land, let's play Horror. Wait, I don't have a cycler, this is just a Durkwood Boar!
Okay, block your Horror of the Broken Realms with a 3/3 and a 2/2. Okay, you cycle another Horror of the Broken Lands, guess you got a two-for-one. What, don't have another five-drop to cast? Well, that sucks, try again next time.
There's just this super-awkward sequencing where you want to cycle to hit your fifth land and do stuff, but you want your cyclers later, but you also want most of your cyclers as spells because they are solid creatures at that point, and really it just all kinda falls apart and reminds of testing Legacy Doomsday. Oops, cast Ponder on turn 1, that was a punt because I need another cantrip to make this pile cost less mana so I don't have to spend a draw step on Dark Ritual. The Sensei's Divining Top ban makes me happy because there's now an actual 0% chance I play that deck again instead of virtual 0%.
Just please, don't make me do that kind of dance. I'm sure not going to make myself do it.
Most Favorite: Cartouche of Zeal
I really like not making things block and giving things haste. Despite only playing one sanctioned event with the card, Pyreheart Wolf is probably in my top ten favorite cards. Just add a little Lightning Mauler and we're off to the races.
Cartouche of Zeal is both cards in one! I liked Hammerhand, but the creatures in Amonkhet are just bigger and better than those in Magic 2015. That extra attack and lack of block is worth another two or three damage, and that's a big deal when you are throwing most of a card away solely to bash their face in.
My favorite part of Cartouche of Zeal is that you have the illusion you are getting value somewhere. Wow, I get to recast my Trial of Zeal and Lightning Strike something else. A two-for-one! No, I really got a half a card out of that Cartouche, and I know that, but I don't care because I feel vindicated.
Most and Least Favorite: Hazoret the Fervent
I still have no idea if it is really any good.
The games you attack with it on turn 4 are brutal, but is it definitely better than a 5/3 with trample? If they could double block Fleetwheel Cruiser, it also could be chumped for a while, or at least long enough to untap and slam Cast Out.
Then there are the games you draw one too many land and your options are to hang out and cast her on turn 6 or burn multiple turns casting and activating her. Those games just feel so off. Sorry, we can't draw Bloodrage Brawler every game; sometimes we have to actually cast spells the hard way.
Also, how are you supposed to play Glorybringer if you play Hazoret? You certainly don't want enough lands to cast five-drops or to have a Dragon hanging around, keeping your God from attacking. Is that cost really worth the benefit?
But then you get to attack on turn 4 with Hazoret and threaten lethal through basically anything the next turn, and you really have no idea whether you want four or zero of the card in your deck.
Least Favorite: Synchronized Strike and Vizier of Tumbling Sands
I've only had this card cast against me once as of the time I'm writing this section. It killed all of my creatures.
I'm off it. I already played against Dauntless Onslaught once. I don't want to play against the same card again and never be able to attack or block with two creatures. Now they can even attack me and still prevent me from swinging back! I basically can't play Magic if my opponent has this card.
Vizier of Tumbling Sands is a similar effect with a slightly different kind of paralysis.
Back in the day, Michael Jacob was playing a Zendikar draft. His opponent was playing a U/R deck. In an aggressive format playing against colors lacking sweepers, Mike opted to just cast all of his threats to play around Whiplash Trap temporarily answering two of them.
From that moment on, Mike was a broken man. His VS. System training made him heavily consider all combinations of effects and how to play around them. How could he ever feel sure of his decisions for the rest of the format knowing there was a possibility that Khalni Gem could show up and make anything happen?
In Amonkhet Draft, Vizier of Tumbling Sands is that card for me. Just knowing it exists causes me to pause for no reason. I then realize they would have cast a three-drop on turn 3 and not been attacked for a million or whatever, but still. What if they do have it? It's uncommon in a color with no similar effects, so it's just frequent enough to think about but not enough to ever actually play around.
No card could possibly cause this much unneeded anxiety.
Most Favorite: Nissa, Steward of Elements
Many people would say the thing I love most in Magic is combo, but it's not really that. It's the experience of taking a game your opponent truly felt you were nowhere close in. It's the breaking of uncertainty or reversal of expectation on their part, when in reality you knew the whole time what was going to happen. Sometimes that's Tendrils of Agony, sometimes it's just double Cryptic Command. The real highlight is when they have to double-count in shock. Wait, you cast what spells? Let me get out the pen and paper and... yeah, dead.
Nissa, Steward of Elements is a card that offers a lot of options, but I literally can't pull myself away from one: the hidden combo.
See, if you have a Nissa on six loyalty and eight lands, you can float two mana, ultimate Nissa to untap those 5/5 lands, cast another Nissa, ultimate that, and boom, twenty flying damage. Good game, sorry about that whammy.
I'll cast Nissa on turn 4. I could 0, but why not just +2 and get assured value? Well, I guess I don't want one of those, scry to bottom. Turn 5 rolls around, well, I guess it's random on top, unsure if I want it, so may as well scry. Hmm, keep both. Turn 6, well Nissa is on six, but ten damage doesn't do anything. I'll just 0 it to put in the land I left up on that turn. Then turn 7, slam combo. Wait, eight lands how? Those fly? When did this happen? How did this happen?
I try really hard to argue for other lines. I can't bring myself to think they are better, because surprise death by flying lands is just too much fun.
Nissa's a weird card, as are most multicolored planeswalkers. Determining if the card is good is only half the battle, as finding a shell that fits it and is good is twice as hard as for a monocolored planeswalker. That said, I really hope that, if I end up playing Nissa, Steward of Elements at the Pro Tour, my expected line is the one I describe, because I know I'll fail to talk myself out of it almost every time.
Aside: note that Saheeli Rai combo was no fun to win with because they always expected it. They weren't even happy when you didn't have it because that meant you would just topdeck it three turns later!
Least Favorite: Ishkanah, Grafwidow
This card is the worst. It is literally queen of the do-nothing games, and there is very little I hate in Magic more than do-nothing games. I want dynamic games where people make decisions about trading, racing, holding back for better blocks, and so on. The old "no one attacks or blocks or casts spells that matter" just sucks.
That's basically all that happens when Ishkanah, Grafwidow is involved. Sometimes you are ahead and she is six power for five mana, but most of the time she is a Moat that slowly drains your opponent to death four points at a time. Except you want to cast some random spells, so that's four points one turn, then a turn or two off, then another four, and then eventually someone falls asleep and dies.
If you try to kill her, guess what, she's back the next turn. Whether it's Grapple with the Past; Liliana, Death's Majesty; Traverse the Ulvenwald; or just another natural copy, you didn't accomplish anything. Congrats, nice job trying to attack, idiot. Hope you enjoy your experience. I bet when you try to do this your Vessel of Nascency will flip three lands and a creature you have to take and you will have to cast Siege Mastodon Spider with no friends.
Overall, Amonkhet Standard has been a blast. The next two weeks are definitely going to be a wild ride, and all I hope is that at the end it has stayed the same.
Is that too much to ask?