Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet
There’s a lately been a bit of a resurgence in Egyptian-themed media, from that really bad Alex Proyas film starring Jaime Lannister, or the upcoming remake of The Mummy with the ever-present American action-hero/really short guy Tom Cruise. Magic: The Gathering is ready to pile on the budding Egyptologists out there, with a set that smells like the Nile.
Amonkhet contains 264 cards to add to the ever expanding pool of the Magic: The Gathering’s metagame. It is the first set in that block, to be later followed by Hour of Devastation. Also included are the first 30 of the 54 extremely rare Masterpiece cards, titled Amonkhet Invocations, inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics, which have been mocked widely for its unreadability and its garish colouring.
The story continues approximately 5 minutes after the end of the previous set’s storyline, in which the Gatewatch head over to this new plane, ruled by their arch-enemy, a powerful dragon lord named Nicol Bolas. These plucky rabble rousers end up starting a revolution in this world, as they did in the last world they set foot in.
The set introduces to 2 new major mechanics, with 2 new minor mechanics, Embalm and Exert, both of which fit the flavour of the set. Embalm turns any of your creatures in the graveyard, either through death or discard into additional tokens (in all its mummified glory) that are exact copies of the original, complete with their abilities and keywords. On the tabletop, this means every creature with the keyword, is effectively 2 cards, and therefore quite conducive to long grindy strategies when the game goes down to drawing cards off top of the deck. On the other hand, the tokens are tokens, so if they get bounced back to hand they are effectively removed, and are susceptible to being pushed off a ledge by a Fatal Push, which was printed in Aether Revolt. Having two for ones is always valued in any competitive environment, and I wouldn't be surprised if some cards made it to established decks, or form a new archetype all by itself.
Exert is the other key mechanic, and in a world where you are encouraged to compete to be noticed and be found worthy by this world’s five gods, each warrior ought to just try a little harder. Exert allows your creature’s attack to have an extra effect in exchange for not untapping the next turn. The extra effect ranges from situational, to generally useful, to game-winning- most of the generic card effects tend to be stapled to this mechanic. Exert is best abused with another keyword, Vigilance, which allows your creatures to not tap when they attack, allowing you to exert turn after turn, stacking all those tiny incremental advantages to a winning position. Whether the payoff is good enough at a competitive level remains to be seen.
Two other minor mechanics are also attached- Cycling, Aftermath and -1/-1 counters. Cycling is a returning mechanic and is very simple, but at the same time very relevant- you pay a certain amount of mana to discard a card and draw its replacement. You would use for example if the card in question isn’t relevant at the time, or the window of opportunity to use it is long passed. Aftermath is a mechanic stapled to the set’s split cards. You cast the top half of the card from your hand, but when it is cast from your graveyard, either by itself or through other means, the effect on the bottom half takes place- so it’s effectively two cards and I’m always happy to play it when I can. The -1/-1 counters mechanic weakens your opponent's creatures over time, until they wither away into the aether, but some of your own creatures also come in weakened by this mechanic itself.
What stands out most is the quality of the cards that answer threats on the field. For cheap removal you have a reprint of Magma Spray, that coincidentally removes the thing you hit it for good, which is the perfect answer to those annoying gits that come back from the dead. The addition of some quality countermagic in the form of Censor and Essence Scatter gives much benighted control players some extra tools in their fight against aggressive decks. Manglehorn, Dissenter’s Deliverance and By Force to hate out artifact-based strategies.
Just because the answers are good, doesn’t mean the threats aren’t bad either. Gideon of the Trials is an adequate tag along for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, whilst costing 1 mana less than his bigger counterpart. The world’s five gods- Rhonas (snake god), Oketra (cat god), Kefnet (bird god), Hazoret (dog god), Bontu (croc god), array themselves for battle and can do a lot of damage whilst being impervious to all mortal weaponry, but only if you meet their onerous conditions before they’ll pitch in, and each of them have an ability that helps achieving their condition. However give them a Vehicle and they’re happy to drive it for you in the meantime.
Initially when the set was spoiled, it looked unexciting, and largely this set isn’t as impactful as Aether Revolt, or Kaladesh, but then that was just a really good block altogether that produced enough cards that saw play in older formats like Modern and Legacy, which have an incredible card pool and where games are decided in the first two or three turns, so it's more of a syndrome of having too high of an expectation.
I might just play a pre-release to see how it all plays out.
Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet is officially released on 28th April, but however pre-release is on the 22nd / 23rd of April.