By Tom Vandevelde
Amonkhet has arrived, and that means it’s time for another installment of my “Top 10 cards in…” series. For Amonkhet, I’ve decided to go back to card clusters instead of just individual cards, because I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. As has been the case with many of the new sets in recent years, the power level of Amonkhet is quite high, which means there are plenty of solid additions for Gentry. (It’s also worth noting that there is no set rotating out, which means the card pool for Gentry is incredibly large at the moment, and only stands to grow even more with Hour of Devastation.)
First, some honorable mentions
Good cheap removal
Magma Spray and Compulsory Rest provide decent to good new removal spells. Magma Spray is one of the better additions as far as Standard is concerned, but with less Scrapheap Scroungers and the like running around in Gentry, I don’t expect it to be a huge upgrade over Galvanic Bombardment for instance. In a vacuum, it’s definitely one of best new additions, but because so many similar effects already exist, I decided to leave it off the list. If Embalm turns out to be better in Gentry than I expect it to be, Magma Spray’s stock should rise (and Compulsory Rest’s should fall), however. With Shock capable of hitting players and Planeswalkers, Galvanic Bombardment scaling into the late game and Magma Spray ready to keep the Graveyard empty you can custom fit your red removal suit to whatever you expect to find at your next event.
Plenty of efficient beaters
There are few cards that really stand out above the others here (although one did make the list), but Amonkhet has plenty of decent to good two-drops, from the different Exert creatures to the two-color uncommon cycle. I could see several of these making their way into the different aggressive decks. The best of the bunch seems to be Exemplar of Strength, which can be a 4/4 on turn two if you manage to enable it with a one drop like Thraben Inspector or Festering Mummy.
The return of Ramp?
Weaver of Currents provides double ramp on turn 3, something we haven’t seen in a while. Add to this the 6 mana 6/7 hexproof Scaled Behemoth (significantly better than the 7/6 Plated Crusher, which will sometimes come out a turn later), and it looks like the green-based ramp deck that saw some play in recent years could be heading for a revival. Unfortunately, the growing availability of counterspells for creatures and the plethora of fast aggressive decks with cheap removal mean that ramp doesn’t seem all that well-positioned at the moment. I expect it will have to wait for the metagame to shift.
Cycling on situational cards
Cycling improves any card it is on, but is especially valuable on situational cards like artifact and/or enchantment removal. That makes Forsake the Worldly and Dissenter’s Deliverance into excellent sideboard cards. Fragmentize and Natural State will still see plenty of play, as their lower cost-efficiency often proves invaluable against Vehicles, but I expect many decks to play one or two of these in the sideboard, just in case a bigger artifact/enchantment comes along. Unburden is another card in this vein.
Cycling doesn’t just improve situational cards, it also works tremendously well on cards with high mana costs and splashy effects. Of these, I think Lay Claim has the most potential by far, and I would name it the honorary nr. 11 on this list. In a format where Planeswalkers tend to dominate (more on that later), stealing one just doesn’t seem fair. I expect to see one or two of these between the main deck and the sideboard of blue decks, aiming specifically at the slower match-ups, where it can be cycled early, or provide a game-changing play later in the game.
10. Angler Drake
Angler Drake is the biggest and meanest iteration of a “Man O’War”-creature we’ve seen so far, and if the metagame is slow and midrangy enough for a 6-mana creature to make its mark, I expect Angler Drake to be one of the better creatures in a “blink”-type value deck, even without the presence of Felidar Guardian. If the format is dominated by very aggressive decks or control decks with lots of counterspells and few creatures, however, I don’t expect to see too many Angler Drakes. Also look for its value to go up depending on the number of viable Embalm creatures (bouncing tokens is better than bouncing creatures), and the amount of enchantment-based removal such as Compulsory Rest (bouncing your own creature).
9. The Trials
The Five Trials would have easily made the Top 3 had Felidar Guardian still been legal. Blinking them is just brutally powerful. The Cat has left the building, however, and therefore their ranking has dropped somewhat. If some of the Cartouches find their way into midrange builds with enough creatures to support them, the Trials become a powerful option, but since Aura’s tend to be less powerful in constructed formats, I’m starting out slightly hesitant.
A quick overview of the possibilities.
- Trial of Solidarity one goes well in a go wide strategy, and its cartouche fits that theme perfectly. How convenient!
- Trial of Knowledge certainly isn’t bad, but I expect it will remain in the shadow of the instant speed card draw the format has to offer.
- Trial of Ambition is especially good against some of the powerful hexproof critters (Bastion Inventor, Scaled Behemoth, Plated Crusher and Autumnal Gloom), but doesn’t match up well against the many Servo and Thopter tokens running around, so its power level will rely mostly on the expected metagame.
- Trial of Strength is more than decent on its own, and it combines well with several of the Cartouches, so I could definitely see it functioning as a late-game plan in an aggressive shell.
- Trial of Zeal is the best of the bunch, and could function in a similar vein, getting returned in the late game to burn out opponents who thought to have stabilized. It helps that the red Cartouche also works particularly well in an aggressive creature shell.
- Out of the Cartouches, I like the red one best, with the white and green ones close behind. The blue Cartouche comes in fourth. I like that it replaces itself, but it’s hard to see a shell where it really fits. The black one is unplayable in constructed.
8. Nest of Scarabs
Out of the different build-arounds in this set (Faith of the Devoted, the different Monuments), I think Nest of Scarabs has the most potential by far. In a deck built to abuse it, this could easily net you 6 or more 1/1s for three mana, which is quite something. And don’t even get me started on having multiples in play. The interesting thing will be to see if there’s enough support in the form of good creatures that provide (several) -1/-1 counters, and if those cards then work well in the kind of grindy shell required for a card like Nest of Scarabs to shine. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is, and if there isn’t, there’s always a chance that Hour of Devastation will feature even more cards that provide -1/-1 counters. It may not be great right away, but I expect this card to become a major player at one point or another.
7. Enigma Drake / Cryptic Serpent
Both Enigma Drake and Cryptic Serpent are incredibly cost-efficient creatures in spell-heavy decks, where they are basically a 4+/4 flyer for 3 mana and a 6/5 beatstick for 2-3 mana. Those are Modern or even Legacy-worthy stats and those are the kinds of things I’m always looking for in a new set. Take into account that these work very well with some of the new cycling cards (more on that later), and you suddenly find yourself considering a deck-type that we haven’t really seen much of in the still relatively short history of Gentry: a spell-heavy aggro-control deck that controls the board with efficient removal and counterspells, all the while beating down with high-powered low-cost creatures, following in the footsteps of Grixis and Temur Delver in Modern or various Threshold decks in Legacy.
6. Essence Scatter / Hieroglyphic Illumination
Alongside another card that’s higher up on this list, Essence Scatter and Hieroglypic Illumination should provide blue control and aggro-control decks with a major boost. One of the major problems many counter-heavy control decks have struggled with throughout Gentry’s history is that there have been very few playable two-mana counterspells. Being able to disrupt an opponent on just two mana is essential to make it to the late game, however. Essence Scatter’s return definitely helps in this spot, where Horribly Awry was currently the only real option – no, I’m not counting Revolutionary Rebuff. Having a common two-mana counter is a godsend. (Thank you, Kefnet!) Hieroglypic Illumination is a good, versatile card-draw spell in the common slot, another type of card blue decks have been missing. While it’s not as powerful as Glimmer of Genius, its cycling clause allows you to play more card draw without the risk of drawing too many 4-mana cards, which is a huge boon.
5. Bloodrage Brawler
Bloodrage Brawler provides a lot of stats for just 2 mana, making it a powerful addition to almost any red aggro deck. Its three toughness also makes it immune to the first Galvanic Bombardment, Magma Spray or Dead Weight (ok, kind of). Keep in mind that you don’t have to discard if you play it as the last card out of your hand. Where I really expect it to shine is in some new iteration of the RB Vampires deck, where it provides additional synergy with the different Madness creatures as well as Fiery Temper and even Alms of the Vein.
Flameblade Adept is another card that may fit such a shell. As long as you can turn it into a 2/2 menace for one reasonably reliably, the Adept is a very powerful card, and a good addition to the often underutilized one drop slot in Gentry aggro decks. I’m thinking Flameblade Adept into Heir of Falkenrath into Bloodrage Brawler + Fiery Temper kind of starts. Just don’t try to combine it with cycling cards, as those will usually prove too slow for an aggressive shell. The question that remains: is it worth one of the valuable uncommon slots?
4. Lord of the Accursed + Zombie friends
I know Wizards tends to pre-build certain decks for us (the RW Vehicles deck being the latest iteration of this phenomenon), but come on! WB Zombies has relatively few synergies outside Amonkhet, but the cards it this set immediately make it into a player for Gentry. Most “lords” (which is what we call creatures that pump or give bonuses to a certain creature type) are printed as rares, complicating or often disabling these kinds of “tribal” decks for Gentry, but Lord of the Accursed is in fact an uncommon, adding a ton of power and synergy to the Zombie deck. Wayward Servant and Binding Mummy both provide solid bodies and excellent synergy, and Stir the Sands should give the deck some range against more controllish builds. I don’t expect this to be one of the best decks in the format, as there is a lot of 2 damage removal and there are quicker, more powerful aggro decks (the aforementioned Vehicles deck as well as RG Energy Aggro), but I would recommend you come prepared for the zombie apocalypse during the first events after the release of Amonkhet. People love to play with new cards.
3. Bone Picker
While you may not be able to play it on turn one, Bone Picker should be a one mana 3/2 flying deathtouch in any deck built to accommodate it. That is a very strong card. I could see it fit in both aggressive shells and more midrangy builds, although I mostly expect to see it in the former. Note also that Fatal Push without Revolt can’t pick this off. Most of the red removal, as well as Dead Weight, can, however, which is the only strike against it in my book. It may be a little high on this list, admittedly, but I wanted to see individual cards on the podium, rather than card clusters.
Censor is incredibly powerful, and I expect many less experienced players to overlook it. “But it’s just one additional mana!” Yes, true, but the cycling is a real game changer on a card like this. Look at it this way: in the early turns, it will either trade for one of your opponent’s spells (often trading up in mana) or it will require them to play everything off-curve in order to play around it, thus slowing them down (also consider they might do this just at the threat of Censor, you don’t even need to have it in hand). If they play around it successfully, or if you get to the late game and they can easily pay for it, you just cycle it for one mana. It is an awesome card, and I expect to see plenty of it, even though its rarity may work against it at times.
1. Cast Out
Unconditional, instant speed removal that doesn’t just nab creatures, but also enchantments, artifacts and even – gasp – Planeswalkers? Cast Out should be incredible in Gentry, which has occasionally struggled finding answers to Planeswalkers and other problematic non-creature permanents. I suspect it may even change the dynamics of the metagame as a whole. Tag on the cheap cycling cost and its implications for Delirium and the manageable mana cost (I could see people splashing for this card in midrange builds), and you get a slam dunk number one on this list. Quick pointer: I recommend keeping this card in mind when deciding between Natural State and cards like Fragmentize or Forsake the Worldly.
There, that’s it for my Top 10(ish…) cards in Amonkhet for Gentry. Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments!
Tom Vandevelde has been playing Magic since Tempest, and competitively since Time Spiral. Deckbuilding is his favorite part of the game, which has led to him taking an interest in less conventional formats like League Standard. Alongside his teammates on Team Wrecking Ball he is shooting for the Pro Tour, but you will just as often find him playing Pauper, Pack Wars or Mental Magic, or helping out newer players. You will often find Tom streaming on twitch.tv/wreckingballmtg, where you can actually challenge him to League Standard matches in between rounds! Be sure to come hang out and don’t be afraid to ask questions!