Amonkhet Spoiler Review: Part 2
The new spoilers are in and yer old pal Duke reviews the playable cards, berates the jank, and takes obligatory swipes at Mark Rosewater. On to the spoilers!
Amonkhet continues the Expertise cycle from Kaladesh. The Kaladesh Expertise cycle were Sorceries and featured the baby Cascade ability. They’re appropriately costed, somewhat underwhelming and saw sparse play in some sideboards. Kari Zev’s Expertise was seeing play in Modern due to the broken nature of it’s interaction with the Fuse cycle from Dragon’s Maze. With the new rule change on Fuse cards the Modern viability will cease.
Liliana’s Expertise is also appropriately costed and seems less likely to see constructed play. It’s an Enchantment that gives Zombies you control +1/+1 and creates two 2/2 Black Zombies. Which means that those 2/2 Zombies are actually 3/3’s. Adding six power to the board for five mana is meh. Combine 6 power with the anthem effect and it transforms into a staple for the filthy casuals playing Zombie tribal on their kitchen table.
Despite some support in SOI and Eldritch Moon, Zombie tribal is still not a competitive Standard strategy. Liliana’s Expertise certainly has synergy with the new Embalm mechanic. An Orzhov or Mardu Embalm Zombie tribal strategy will be tested by brewers. The power level of future Embalm cards will determine the likelihood such a deck has of success in the Mardu Vehicles/4C Saheeli meta. The fact that Embalm cards are only Zombies after they’ve been Embalmed, makes the strategy mana intensive and sluggish. Nothing spoiled thus far, Liliana’s Expertise included, gives Duke much hope for such a strategy cracking into the meta.
Liliana, Death’s Majesty is 5 CMC and enters play with 5 Loyalty. Her +1 creates a 2/2 Zombie and mills two cards from her controller’s library. The -3 puts a creature card from the graveyard to the battlefield. That creature becomes a black Zombie in addition to it’s other types. The Ultimate at -7 Destroys all non-Zombie creatures.
5 CMC is steep in the aggro/turn 4 infinite combo Standard meta. The +1 is just ok. Playing Embalm creatures mitigates the milling of two cards. The mill also feeds the -3 ability.
The -3 is very exploitable. Even with Emrakul’s banning, paying five mana for a planeswalker and putting an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger directly to the battlefield seems, as the kids say, deece. As mentioned above this new Liliana, seems geared towards making G/B Delirium viable again.
The -7 Destroys all non Zombie creatures. One would think could be great in the earlier mentioned Zombie tribal strategy. One would be wrong. As Ol’ Duke never gets of saying, if one is in a position to Ultimate a planeswalker, that person is probably already winning. Most planeswalker Ultimates are win-more abilities. In this case the Ultimate is ineffective against Mardu Vehicles since it misses Gideon and Heart of Kiran and it’s too slow against 4C Saheeli.
New Liliana wouldn’t even be particularly good in Zombie tribal. There are no game breaking Zombies to recur with the -3 ability in any format. Graveyard recursion decks that currently exist in the eternal meta have easier and cheaper ways to cheat fatties into play.
Liliana, Death Wielder is the face of one of Amonkhet’s Planeswalker Decks. WotC has made it clear that the Planeswalker Deck planewalkers are not meant to be Constructed format playable. Finally a promise WotC can keep. Liliana, Death Wielder is exactly the level of terrible we were promised. Liliana’s Influence is the sweet synergy you can rock by playing Liliana, Death Wielder’s Planeswalker Deck. The upside is that, because they are equally awful, Planeswalker Decks are actually a lot of fun when played against each other.
Obviously Jank 7 CMC enchantment is obviously jank. The art if weird too. Gideon is trying to stop some guy from doing something naughty, but that’s not the problem. A planeswalker is a demi-god with the power to traverse time and space, call forth world-breaking ancient arcane energy and return from the dead. Yet Gideon can be effectively restrained by the use of two normal dudes. Apparently all Nicol Bolas has to do stop the Jactice League and operate unfettered is to hire ten security guards.
How can Gideon explain this to other planeswalkers?
Gideon: “I was ten feet away from thwarting Nicol Bolas’ nefarious machinations and then it happened”. Liliana: “Did Bolas summon forth a horde of dragons; Lure Emrakul into your path; shatter the world before you into a thousand pieces?”
Gideon: “No, he had a couple goons near the door.”
What’s this? An actual answer in Standard. The masses of those who hate themselves enough to play Standard were crying out for real graveyard hate. However, that was two months ago. G/B Delirium is basically dead and GB Snek, sans Emrakul, is Mardu and 4C Shaheeli’s bottom b*tch. Mono Black and Rakdos graveyard recursion strategies are already on the bubble of Standard viability. This will put them on the wrong side of relevance.
This card belonged in the Shadows block. It could have answered GB Delirium without the need for a ban-hammer. As bad as Standard was pre ban, it is far worse now. Where we once had three tier zero decks; there are only two. Which is what happens when WotC refuses to print hate. Mark Rosewater whined constantly on his blog about people complaining that relevant hate isn’t fun.
If relevant hate doesn’t exist, the format will be solved quickly and become almost instantly homogenized. Lack of true hate cards has a detrimental effect on meta diversify. Recent history has also shown that bans won’t fix the current meta.
As it turns out the answer to creating a diverse meta is printing answers. When the only answer to Mardu Vehicles is joke rare like Release the Gremlins, there are no answers. That means if the deck one is brewing can’t naturally outrace Mardu Vehicles and Saheeli, there’s no point in continuing to test. It’s simply not viable.
The same is not true in Modern. For example, one does not have to throw out a deck idea because it can’t outrace Affinity. There’s artifact hate in every color. Just jam a few hate cards in the sideboard and the deck is now viable.
What were we talking about? Oh yeah, Scarab Feast. MaRo promised more answers in future sets. So far the outlook is still bleak, but Feast is at least a start. Apart from being a fine sideboard card against the above mentioned fringe Standard recursion strategies; Feast can also answer Scrapheap Scrounger. Perhaps even more important is that Feast only costs one black mana to Cycle. Getting rid of a dead card is huge in a format so dependent on curving out.
Cartouches (pronounced Car-too-sh) and Trials are Amonkhet’s self contained synergies. There will be a pair like the above in every color. In this case, Trial of Ambition provides an Edict effect. Cartouche of Ambition puts a -1/-1 on a target creature and gives the enchanted creature +1/+1 and Lifelink.
Like all Auras, Cartouches can be a two for one opportunity for the opponent to kill the creature in response; essentially countering the spell. There are ways to mitigate the risk such as targeting the Cartouche on an irrelevant creature and forcing the opponent to waste removal on a creature they otherwise don’t care about.
Playing any Cartouche bounces any Trial back to hand. The Trial can then be replayed for value. Trial of Ambition seems playable. Having a recurring Edict effect is a strong tempo play. Mardu Vehicles and especially 4C Saheeli are swing wide strategies. However, Trial coming down on turn two or three can cause Mardu to stumble if the pilot has a slow start.