Amonkhet Draft – A Failure to Agree on Reality

Posted May 18, 2017 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: Decklists

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I just don’t see it. I mean, I hear it everywhere, and I read it everywhere, but I just do not see it: Amonkhet draft being fast. It just isn’t.

Yes, there are fast decks, mainly red/white ones. They have the tools to succeed, but they are not quite as fast as the fastest decks in other formats, and there are tools to stop them. Yes, there is the blue/white Slither Blade deck which can catch people off-guard, but that is just the type of strategy which usually thrives in slow environments, as a reaction to too much durdling around. (Remember original Ravnica block draft? Of course you do. Was that a fast environment? Most certainly not. Did people start having success with hyperaggro R/G crap decks once everyone started to spend their early turns returning lands to their hands and then discarding? Hell yes!)

I admit that may personal experience with this format sums up to a meager four draft leagues. But in addition to that, I watched about a dozen draft videos, and several additional hours of draft streaming. I watched a lot of coverage from GP Richmond, and all of the draft coverage from PT Amonkhet. I looked at the top 8 deck lists of all three Amonkhet limited Grand Prixs on that weekend, and at the collected 3-0 deck lists from the first draft round of GP Bologna. I read the features about successful drafters in all those coverages. I took an especially close look at Frank Karsten’s list of most-played commons in day 1’s draft. Oh, and I also always take notice of the screenshots of winning draft decks which players like Andreas Reling post in my timeline.

And I do not see a fast format. There is a heck of a lot of midrange decks, some controllish builds and some aggro. Creatures with exert heavily encourage you to attack, and players have begun to figure out that giving haste or vigilance to or untapping those creatures is powerful. But the games still go long, often even very long. And aggro is by no means king of the format if you just look at the results. It can be good, but it is not as good as people were led to believe during the first weeks, when Red was an underdrafted color and removal was valued criminally lowly (both of which I witnessed shockingly often).

You see, it is unlikely that draft formats will ever return to the days when you actually could spend the first couple of turns adding nothing to the board without risking to get overrun by an opponent who curved out. That is not the measurement of a slow draft format today. So forget the silly mantra that every new draft format is “great” in its first week, but “tempobased” after that. All formats are tempobased (and that is an important aspect of making them great)! Being slow or fast is about the number of lategame cards you can get away with running, not about a guaranteed number of turns you can survive while playing goldfish.

Done with my rant, I will now present you with my first winning Amonkhet draft deck after three failed attempts with a 2-1 score. I neither forced those colors nor that strategy, I just happened to end up there; and I do not even think that this is an especially great example of U/B control, but it did the trick.


Attempting an Actually Helpful Early Analysis of Amonkhet Draft

Posted April 15, 2017 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: General

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Stating the obvious: I have not played with this set yet, I just read the spoiler carefully a few times. However, I have an excellent track record of judging the dynamics of a new draft environment, so I trust that I will not be too far off in my assertions.

This is how I expect Amonkhet draft to shape up:

Speed: Slow

The fastest decks will be less fast than those in most other draft environments. However, the power level of midrange cards is high enough that Amonkhet draft will not be an extreme durdle format. You might not die on turn 4-5 too often, but you still need to prepare a solid defense if you do not want to die on turn 6-8.

Correlation between rarity and power level: Average

This correlation has been quite pronounced for quite a while now, and Amonkhet neither bucks this trend nor stands out as extreme.

Frequency of nearly impossible to beat bombs: Lower than average

“Can be beaten” does not mean “fair”, though. Amonkhet‘s bombs are still hard to beat, and a slow environment means that they will get to influence games more often.

Synergy rewards: Higher than average

This is certainly not an environment where you just take the generally strongest card, but it’s not as extreme as some others.

Manafixing: Slightly better than average

Evolving Wilds and a renamed Shimmering Grotto at common is twice the amount of non-green fixing many other sets get, and with Amonkhet being slow and not requiring double-colored mana too often, Painted Bluffs looks reasonable to me. (Note also the synergy with Naga Vitalist.) Green specifically offers a lot of fixing, and cycling really helps to smooth draws and find splashed lands. A not base-Green deck will probably still not want to go above two and a half colors, but should be able to do so with good consistency. For Green-based decks, however, I guess you can go up to five, although actually having to run a basic land of each type to fetch might not work out in your desired spell/land ratio overall, and if you mill yourself or get milled, you might lose access to a splash color that way.

Mana ratio: Average

Of course, cheap cycling cards generally allow you to cheat a little on the number of lands. On the other hand, though, you will often want to support more than two colors; you really want to get to 4 and 5 mana fast to not fall prey to the strong midrange cards of this format; and you have quite a lot to do with your mana. In the end, I think you will end up with a default of 17 lands just like in a generic draft environment.

Importance of generic two-drops: Low

The importance of two-drops, even if they were just the lowly Bronze Sable, is continously being underestimated by players, including pro level players. Amonkhet, however, looks to me – for the first time since Icannotremember – to be a set where generic 2-drops are actually really bad, being slow and not needing early creatures for synergies like comvoke or vehicles. But then again, there aren’t even many generic 2-drops in this set! It’s still important to acknowledge, though, that curving out in the early turns is less important than usual (although you should still at least be able to sideboard early plays in).

Importance of medium big creatures: Average

You mostly need them to keep up with your opponent’s medium big creatures, and to draw out removal from your opponent, but you definitely need them.

Importance of evasion creatures: Higher than average

Amonkhet has not much evasion, and the ground will tend to get stalled. Don’t go overboard, though – if your midgame creatures have evasion, and your opponent’s are big, you’re probably not winning. Better cut lower mana slots instead.

Importance of big finishers: Higher than average

It’s a slow format, so they have time to come online. Also, because the medium big creatures are dangerous enough to draw removal, your finishers have a better chance to stay in play. Oh, and since many expensive creatures have cycling, you can afford to play noticeably more of them than usually.

Quality of “small” removal: Average

There is some reasonably efficient removal for creatures with low toughness, but it suffers from being more situational than it would in other sets, since creatures tend to come back and/or be big. Magma Spray is obviously still very good, but you really should consider taking less efficient, but also less situational removal spells over it, because there will be big creatures that need killing.

Quality of “big” removal: Below average

Killing something big costs at least four mana in Amonkhet, probably five, and you will have to rely heavily on uncommons to do it.

Quality of combat tricks: Average

Note, however, that the value of combat tricks tends to go down rapidly in slower formats. I do not expect many combat tricks to be particularly high picks in Amonkhet.

Importance of artifact removal: Low

There are just not many artifacts around which need to be killed. On the other hand, there are no less than three common artifact destruction (or exiling) spells with cycling, so the cost of including one in your maindeck is also quite low. You don’t need to, though.

Importance of enchantment removal: Average

There are more enchantments than artifacts at all rarities, and they also tend to have more impact on the game. Unfortunately, there is very little enchantment removal to be had – essentially, you need to be white (at least as a splash). With games going long, the chance that an enchantment will have a strong impact on the game increases, but all in all this isn’t a dedicated enchantment set, and you might get by without enchantment removal. I still advise you to snag one if there is a good opportunity, though.

The preseeded draft archetypes:

WB – Zombie tribal.
WG – Exert midrange
WU – Embalm midrange
WR – Exert aggro
BG – Counterbased midrange
BU – Cycling-based control
BR – Discard-based aggro
GU – Resource accumulation control
GR – Fatty midrange
UR – Instery-based midrange

…and, of course, good stuff multicolor Green!

This got already longer as intended (as always…), so I’ll stop here. I hope I gave you a good starting point to explore this new environment. Good luck with your Amonkhet drafts!

Roses are Red; Bears Still are not Blue

Posted March 3, 2017 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: General

Tags: , , , , ,




Maybe in Amonkhet?


My Wish List for Amonkhet

Posted February 28, 2017 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: General, Next Level Cube

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Previews for Modern Masters 2017 have begun, and I couldn’t care… okay, to be honest, I am mildly curious – but that’s about it. It’s just a reprint set, after all! It will be very expensive to draft (maybe except for the very first days, before prices for its singles normalize), and it is unlikely to make any card I want for my Limited Card Pool – which is essentially my brand of casual play – significantly cheaper. Actually, I believe that people are under a misconception: The point of these sets is not to make entry into Modern cheaper, but keeping its cost somehow stable, while hopefully growing its player base.

So, what is really on my mind right now is Amonkhet! There are some things I’d like to see in this set, and I’ll share my wish list with those few readers I still have. (A reminder: Fewer viewers, and fewer comments even more make me less likely to blog.)

1. Wither

Also, -1/-1 counter matter cards which specifically care about those counters (so no proliferate or the like), but I’m happy with wither and cards with -1/-1 counters in general. There’s a plethora of cards that work with a +1/+1 counter theme, but a dearth of the opposite.

I might possible even get this wish, since info on the two planeswalkers from Amonkhet‘s planeswalker decks has been leaked, and the new Liliana seems to have an ability that gives -1/-1 counters. Additionally, wither fits the flavor of a pseudo-Egyptian world ruled by a dark overlord really well.

2. Enchantment matter cards

While Theros wasn’t that long ago, they essentially blew it in regard to its supposed enchantment theme, and especially Black, Red and Blue still need a lot of help to contribute enough for such a theme in a Next Level Cube.

I’m not quite as optimistic here, but I believe there is a chance. With WotC churning out two blocks per year now, it might already be time for another stab at this theme, and enchantments wouldn’t be a bad fit in that world. But then again, they’re not exactly a shoo-in either.

3. Enemy lair lands

Yup, like the ones from Planeshift. They would be a fine addition to the triple lands cycle from Shards of Alara / Khans of Tarkir, if this cycle were complete.

This is most likely wishful thinking, though. While I believe that lairs of powerful beings would fit Amonkhet well, and while MaRo has been talking a lot lately about completing land cycles, those lands are probably not near the top of the list, and even though a minor wedge theme in Amonkhet does not seem outright impossible, it would still come a little early after Khans of Tarkir.


Okay, those are my wishes, but what will we likely get?

1. Wither

Yes, I actually believe wither will be in this set! It’s high time for a -1/-1 counter block, it fits the world’s theme, and I think the spoiled ability that uses those counters is real.

2. Curses

I mean, DUH. Don’t like that sort of card much, though. However, how can you have mummies without curses?

3. Traps

I almost forgot those, but they fit just as perfectly as curses, they were popular in Zendikar, and they were really missed by players when the latter world became an eldrazi battleground instead of an adventure world. I am, again, almost convinced we will get those. My only doubts stem from space considerations – if wither, curses and traps come back, how much room is their left for new mechanics? Oh, and I generally don’t like those, but one or two great single designs might be able to win me over.

4. Gods

This prediction was almost as DUH as that for curses even before they spoiled artwork that really, really looks like it depicts gods. They might even be enchantment creatures again, judging by their look. I think it’s too early, though, to bring back such a specific mechanic as devotion, but if they believe the set overall feels different enough from Theros, this is still a possibility, although probably only for the gods then. But it seems more likely to me that Amonkhet‘s gods will feature a slightly different take. I’ll still hate them anyways.

5. Desert

Almost another DUH, but then again, this card has minor gameplay issues… it’s still very likely in, though. And I don’t really care either way.

6. A minor zombie tribal theme

Mummies are definitely in in a big way, and mummies are zombies in Magic. Also, tribal is a popular theme. I wouldn’t mind a couple extra well-designed zombie tribal cards, but I’m not in a dire need for them either.

7. Overpowered planeswalkers

I know, I’m such a prophet, right? You just need to make sure that people cannot play competitively without a bunch of mythic rares. And we know practically for sure that Nicol Bolas will be in this set, so there’s that.