Every once in a while I do something different on this blog. Today is one of those days. Again, I am violating my rule to keep things here about writing. But in my defense, it is still about fantasy, in a way…
This weekend is the prerelease for Amonkhet, the newest set for the collectible card game Magic the Gathering. The main purpose of this post is to talk game strategy, to provide a jolt for your game playing, and more importantly for mine. I imagine most of the folks following this blog will not be interested, but I urge you to hold out for a few more paragraphs before going on to something more worthy of your time.
As I mentioned, this weekend is the prerelease for Amonkhet, the newest set for the collectible card game Magic the Gathering. If you haven’t played, Magic is essentially genre fantasy made manifest. Just like how epic fantasy sends readers on a power trip in a magical land, Magic the game gives you that very power in your own hands, allowing you to play out epic battles with monstrous creatures and explosive spells. It even has its own fiction to go along with the game (which can be found HERE). The writing is not the best, but Magic has more than two decades of lore and world-building that give it a depth that is hard to find elsewhere. If you are a fan of fantasy fiction and board games, you should do yourself a favor and try the game out, or at least check out the lore. The game is a bit complicated to learn at first (as the jargony latter half of this post will demonstrate), but there are a lot of friendly, casual players out there who are more than willing to help you learn. And you know the best place to start? Prerelease!
A prerelease is a chance for players to try out new cards a full week before they officially release. As such, it brings out all types of players from competitive to hyper-casual to completely-new. Most pro or even semi-pro players are not going to be at your local prerelease, they’d probably prefer a competitive draft instead as the prizes are usually better. (For an idea of what happens at prerelease, look HERE.)
Magic prereleases are one of the few indulgences I allow myself these days. I missed the last one in January because I was fully fixated on finishing my book. This time around I actually have time and money to spare, and I find the themes and concepts of Amonkhet intriguing. I haven’t been this excited for a set since Shadows over Innistrad (having to play with eldrazi again in Eldritch Moon killed that buzz).
Needless to say I am very hyped about the new set, and about finally getting back into the game after such a long while. I don’t spend a lot of money of Magic tournaments. During an ideal year, I might hit all four prereleases and maybe a draft or two. The past year has not been ideal, not at all. Add to that, my Commander play group is almost dead because we have been losing players (a common thing for expat groups in Korea).
To any non-magic players who have made it this far, I’d like to repeat my urgings for you to check out the game. They even have free-to-play game apps on iOS and Steam, so you can try out the game and learn the basics for free. If you love fantasy like I do, you have to try it. I started playing Magic the Gathering in elementary school and it is one of the primary reasons I got into writing fantasy stories. The crazy characters in the cards gave me the prodding I needed to start creating ones of my own (it also significantly boosted my vocabulary!).
Without further ado, let’s talk Amonkhet sealed.
I should preface this short discussion by stating that I am not a pro player. I don’t even draft that much. But I do read a lot about limited strategy which has consistently kept me going 3-1 at prereleases. I have often been close to a sweep, if not for poor luck or hard-to-manage match-ups.
During Shadows over Innistrad, I lost to a guy that dropped an Ulvenwald Hydra every game. That is just hard to deal with. The guy was a great player, too. He only lost a single game the entire tourney, and guess who was the one to beat him? Yup, me. That was a huge level-up for me because I won that game by learning his deck, predicting his plan and countering it. I knew exactly the spell he was trying to play, and when I avoided it, the game tilted in my favor to give me the win even with the hydra on the board. It’s the sort of deep-play stuff the guys at Limited Resources are always preaching about. Despite the match loss, that one win did feel really good.
So take what I say here with a grain of salt. This is as much an exercise for myself as to help others. What I want to do is look at one common and one uncommon in each color and discuss why I think they might be good. As any regular limited player knows, the commons and uncommons are the cards that you need to know, since your chance of getting or encountering a rare is, well, rare. And I’m not going to mention the very obvious choices like removal, but some of my choices are already popular.
Before looking at colors, I’d like to go on a slight tangent to say that I think “exert” might be a bit too underrated right now. A lot of people are focusing on the negative of having the creature frozen for a turn and unable to block for two turns. Yes, this set does look to be fast and aggressive, so it’s a valid point, but they seem to be forgetting a key factor: enablers. W/G Exert (with maybe a splash of red or blue) seems to be a real deck in this set. Here’s why:
Green and white already have a lot of good cards with exert. And they have more than these six common/uncommon cards that allow you to recover your exerted creature if you need to. Sparring Mummy is just a decent common, but in an exert deck it gets much stronger. Synchronized Strike allows your exerted creatures to hit harder on their attack and untap, or spring back as blockers. And if you can splash in a Vizier of Tumbling Sands, you will be in a really good spot. If you have enough white or green enablers, then you can splash red for some of that color’s best exert creatures like Trueheart Twins or Battlefield Scavenger, which trigger on each and every creature exerting. Boom.
Needless to say, I think “exert” deserves a bit more love. But I of course could be totally wrong. A lot of new mechanics are not really knowable until they’ve been played a lot. I hear “revolt” underwhelmed in the last set, though I didn’t play any Aether Revolt myself.
Back to the main topic, here are some cards that I think could be good in your sealed deck.
WHITE (Why do spoilers start with white when it is dead last alphabetically?):
A 3/2 for 3 is not bad, but vigilance gives Unwavering Initiate an extra boost–especially in what looks to be a really scrappy set. Embalm allows him to come back for more late game when you need extra hitters or blockers.
Vizier of Deferment is just nuts, very versatile. You can pull your opponent’s creature from combat or save your own. You can straight up kill an embalm token. If you time it right, you can fizzle your opponents combat trick or removal. And of course, you can reset your exerted creature if you need to. All in all, very nice.
Two mana bounce is not too shabby, though the additional cost can be chaotic. You can set your deck up to take advantage with embalm creatures or the new split-spell cards. But your opponent might have a bunch of those, too. Sometimes it is just worth the risk.
Open into Wonder is great at any point in the game. Turn three or four you can get a couple free hits and a replacement card or two. Late game you can end it all. The only drawback is, of course, you need some creatures on the board to make it do anything.
Supernatural stamina seems widely overlooked in my opinion. This is as good as combat tricks get, especially for black. One mana to bring your creature back from the dead, and maybe kill one of your opponent’s creatures, too? Nice. At its near-worst, this card can save your guys from most removal. However, it won’t save a token, nor will it counter the few exile spells in the set like Cast Out or Final Reward.
Bone Picker is just great without being able to cast it for one mana, which I guess will happen enough to make it a genuine mythic-uncommon. A lot of people have noticed this one, so I won’t elaborate further.
All of the cartouches seem at least reasonably playable. The one that stands out to me, though, is the red one. It does a whole lot for just one mana. For one additonal mana you can give your newly casted creature haste and a power boost, and eliminate their biggest wall for the the turn. That could turn into quite a good hit. It does, of course, suffer the common drawback of being an aura. But at one mana, it is also really good for bouncing trials. If you’re in red and have a good trial in your colors (like Trial of Zeal!) you should definitely play it.
Battlefield Scavenger I mentioned before as a great exert splash. A 2/2 for two mana with upside is always playable regardless. This one even gets you cards.
Initiate’s Companion looks pretty bad. One toughness is just horrible. There’s a lot of -1/-1 counters flying around in Amonkhet that will straight up kill this guy. But in the right deck, like W/G exert, he might have a place. If you attack this the cat and a couple better creatures, he might make it through unscathed. If they do block it, it will likely trade anyways. Good as long as it doesn’t get burned to death, which is a big if. As a cat daddy, if I get this guy and the cat lord I might force it just to have an army of cats! And lose a lot, of course. But soooo worth it!
The crocodile is just big and difficult to kill. Stands up to the best staple removal in the set and has such a hard body. I wouldn’t play too many, but one or two definitely.
So how did I do? This is my first time writing a Magic strategy article. I would appreciate any feedback! And good luck at prerelease! Hoping you pull that foil God or, better yet, an invocation! I got a Chrome Mox in my Kaladesh prerelease kit which was pretty sweet. Didn’t help my game much, though. I’m hoping to win some packs, which I will probably take in Aether Revolt form since I have absolutely zero cards from that set.
Good luck and feel free to provide some comments on my thoughts here.