Amonkhet is Finally Here, but What was Good?!
What Was Tried
Amonkhet Remastered has finally been released on MTG: Arena. It was highly received, while also highly anticipated. While some cards were left out, the unfortunate consequence of remastered sets, the major staples were added and even some that were not even in standard set: Invocations and some Pioneer cards. Most would ask what exactly was good, what was played, and what were the duds in the set; maybe even what has risen exactly. We will take a deep delve into a remastered set that gave us some anticipated archetypes, some not so anticipated, and some that should be shelved for the time being. I wanted to test as many cards and archetypes as possible in the short time before my article deadline. I had a goal set in mind, and we are about to go through each set of cards and synergies. Without further ado, let us begin.
First up, everyone who has played for a couple of years that played in the Standard with Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation remember all the red cards: Earthshaker Khenra, Ramunap Ruins, Hazoret the Fervent, and Soul-Scar Mage. I jammed as many of them as I could, 4-of everything with 1 random Grim Lavamancer and some curve fillers that are the usual suspects, to maximize on wizards and playing virtual Lightning Bolt in Wizard's Lightning and, of course, Embercleave. I quickly realized the red cards were still as powerful as they were previously. However, I think you do not need Embercleave as Hazoret is good enough on its own to kill the opponent quickly. This opens 4 slots from losing Embercleave to give you either more efficient creatures or some more burn to give reach. While Embercleave is the ultimate reach card, you could get stuck with Hazoret and Embercleaves in your hand and stumble to muster up the clean on curve kill. One notable tip for the Mono Red Deck is if you are going to run Soul-Scar Mage, and you want Skewer the Critics, you do not want more than 2. If you have too many Spectacle cards in your deck, they can get awkward in having a significant amount of them in your hand, but not triggering Prowess since you have to deal damage first and that is usually reserved for creatures first. Lastly, I think Ahn-Crop Crasher should be left on the bench. The format is too efficient for a 3 mana 3/2 in the format and there are way too many good 3-drops to have Crashers in your deck. When most decks are main decking disfigure, shock, reckless rage, eliminate, heartless act, Bonecrusher Giant, etc. Crasher is just not good enough when you can run other 3-drops that gain way more value than getting 1-for-1'ed. Overall, our draft list went 2-1. We lost to Mono Black in 3 games and couldn't get past multiple Regisaurs. We crushed Field and Grixis. Here is an updated list going forward here.
The most anticipated card to be released in Amonkhet Remastered was Thoughtseize. Thoughtseize has been in Standard twice and both times was thought to be a bit too good in Standard, but powerful enough to be in every older format since its inception. The ability to nab any card in a player's hand for 1 mana is huge regardless of the 2 life you must lose. Even against mono red, the ability to snag a potential Hazoret can save your life in the mid to late game for such an investment early game. What did I try first? Mono Black Control with the usual cards, but with 4 main deck Phyrexian Obliterator. I have been trying to get Mono Black, specifically a control style deck, to work in Historic. However, the problem was the 1 and 2 mana spells were mostly medium mopey spells that seemed more positioned for distinct specific roles, rather than being generally powerful enough to be starters in a deck outside of, say, Agonizing Remorse. Gifted Aetherborn is okay; Duress is whatever; Disfigure is more of a sideboard card; and Heartless Act is fine, but you do not want it against control, combo, or Field decks. Thoughtseize changes all of this. Or...So I thought. I wanted to try to leverage Golos and Cataracts to continuously draw 3 cards, effectively (by activating Golos through Cataracts), while also using Mastermind's Acquisition with Cataracts to have bullets that Mono Black couldn't deal with other colored spells that you could cast with Cataracts. Regardless of the record (0-3, in fact) the deck had 2 major flaws that I hadn't considered: 1) Massacre Wurm is not good when cast off Golos as the only major big spell; 2) Mastermind's Acquisition is just too slow. Mastermind's Acquisition costs too much and is too slow in a format trying to kill you on turn 4 or 5 when the spell you are going to get is not going to win the game on average anyways. If you are going to play Mono Black, especially the control version, you do not need tutors, Golos (which seems to be bad all around), and Cataracts. Thoughtseize did a lot, but your deck should be leveraging what is good in the Black cards specifically and not trying to do anything cute, just stick to the fundamentals and play Torment of Hailfire as your big finisher or Ugin (though Ugin doesn't seem too good right now in the meta). If I were to revisit this archetype again, I would start here.
The next Thoughtseize deck I wanted to try was something I've always wanted to try in Pioneer, but never got started on MTGO since the MTG: Arena Team announced Pioneer was coming to Arena. However, with Amonkhet Remastered giving us Demonic Pact which is probably one of my top 5 favorite cards of all time, I wanted to try it out. The original idea was from WonderingMurloc (here) on the Think Twice Discord, and I quickly got to testing. Much to my dismay while Thoughtseize was still as powerful as anything, Demonic Pact is just not particularly good. To be fair, the deck is 80 cards which hinders the consistency, and you probably should be on 60, the core of the deck needs to change as Demonic Pact and Doom Foretold need to be ahead for you to get the value you want, surprisingly. 4 damage and gaining 4 life is decent, but on turn 4 or 5 and not even on the turn you play it, is just slow. Most of the time, the discard mode does not net you much value, and blinking it is more for you to not die than generating any type of meaningful value. You know what card Demonic Pact wishes it were? Elspeth Conquers Death (ECD). ECD exiles a nonland Permanent you usually want to remove, albeit 3 CMC or higher (Deal 4 gain 4 mode); it slows them down and interacts with them the turn after (Discard two cards mode); plus, it recurs a creature or planeswalker that is in the graveyard (draws two cards); all while not having to worry about losing the game and still can be blinked to gain roughly the same value. If I were to visit this archetype again, I would start at 60 cards, but given the power of the format and how efficient it is, you can do a lot better than Demonic Pact currently.
I took a break from Thoughtseize decks to play an old Archetype in Standard that did see a lot of play in Modern: Izzet Phoenix. In my previous article, I noted that Hollowed One was a trap and that you should not play it, but people would try it. I did just that. I reasoned that if Stormwing Entity was playable in Standard on turn 3, maybe Hollowed One being a 4/4 for 3 was good enough. First off, Strategic Planning is a great enabling magic card fueling graveyards of a lot of archetypes. Strategic Planning is basically a pseudo-Tormenting Voice without having to draw the cards but putting them into the graveyard which is what you want to do anyways. The problem is Strategic Planning does not help your Hollowed One plan, and in fact slows it down as you are not discarding or cycling cards. There were games where I got the turn 3 dream of casting Cathartic Reunion and playing Hollowed One for 1 mana, but still a vanilla 4/4 creature for 1 mana on turn 3 is just not good. Your creatures in 2020 need to affect the battlefield in some way or be way bigger. Failure to follow these rules in most archetypes is a plan doomed to failure. The other problem? Arclight phoenix is just not good, at least not with the spells we have at our disposal in the Historic Format currently. You are never going to see the phoenix decks of old, or even the Hollowed Ones' of old, without Faithless Looting (Banned in Modern) and/or Burning Inquiry, respectively.
One thing to note in my Day 1 of testing the Historic Format that I had not anticipated though wrote about as being already good, was the prevalence of The Scarab God. In my initial testing, The Scarab God was everywhere and I did not anticipate the amount of decks that would be played using The Scarab God, which was a monumental mistake in testing as I did not prepare to account for him. A mistake I would not make in Day 2 of testing. In the Historic Format, that is one threat (spawning a slew of archetypes) that you must account for or else you will have an awfully long match ahead of you.
On Day 2, I set out to test out my favorite land from Historic that I had a lot of success within Standard before its demise of being banned. The reason Field of the Dead was banned in Pioneer is how good it was with Hour of Promise, albeit Pioneer having better accelerants in Llanowar Elf and Elvish Mystic. Hour of Promise allows you to fetch any 2 lands, typically Field of the Dead, on 5 mana while also having the upside of netting you more value in the second clause of if you have 3 or more deserts in play you get two 2/2 zombies. That is incredible value at 5 mana, especially if you are casting it early from ramping with Growth Spiral, Explore, Elvish Rejuvenator, and Uro. We also added Approach of the Second Sun for the inevitable late game finisher along with Golos to add value for Field while trying to cast Approach from Golos's second ability. Wrath of God was also released in the set, so you would think all these cards would just make the deck itself, right? I was sadly mistaken, or rather this configuration did not work well for me. Wrath of God (WoG), while good at what it does, and better than Shatter the Sky, does not permanently deal with any of the Amonkhet Gods, Indestructible creatures, and recursive threats (Dread Wanderer, Gutterbones, etc). Golos incentivizes you to play big, powerful spells to make his activated ability worthwhile, and I felt Approach would do this, but Approach is just not good in this shell. Ramping into a gain 7 and hoping to win the game shortly thereafter on turns 5-8 is just not fast enough when decks are usually killing you as early as turn 3 if unabated. Our own Tin Street News Team suggests going a more Sultai Route with something like this.
I tried a lot of different takes with Collected Company, but I quickly figured out that I wished I had Spell Queller and Reflector Mage. Barrin is not as good as Reflector Mage but is fine. None of my drafts panned out as I was trying to be too fair with the card. However, there is a place for it in the aggro decks already going wide or even tall at 3 CMC to warrant it. Collected Company is a card that basically allows you to recover from a sweeper on the opponent's turn, so even if you are trying to be fair you can still play the best 3 CMC creatures, or lower, and still gain value. I am not completely sold on Company being obnoxious or anything, however there are multiple content creators who have seen significant success with Company in their deck.
The last deck I tested was another Thoughtseize deck but was a way different archetype that I have ever played. This idea originally was trying to leverage Arclight Phoenix again while trying to play Lurrus. See the problem? Lurrus cannot be a companion if Arclight Phoenix is in the deck. I immediately cut them and started searching for stuff to replace them. I, then, found Kiln Fiend and Crash Through. The deck I ended up testing first was what I dubbed Lurrus Blitz here. I wanted to play a Modern Archetype style deck to just try to kill the opponent as fast as possible. While you do not have Monastery Swiftspear or a lot of the cheaper spells to make this possible in Historic, you do have a lot of great 1 mana spells. Thoughtseize is the glue that holds this archetype together to clear the way for your threats: Young Pyromancer and Kiln Fiend. Kroxa, Stitcher's Supplier, and Dreadhorde Arcanist all enable your game plan of just trying to either reach them with Kiln Fiend and/or out value them with your Village Rites and Reckless Rages/Innocent Bloods triggering Pyromancer. The core of the deck is not new, as a lot of these lists run other cards like Archfiend Vessels, Knight of the Ebon Legion, etc. With how uninteractive the Field decks were, and how 1-for-1 Grixis was, I felt this was the best way to kill them as fast as possible while ripping apart their hand and keeping up with them in cards with Village Rites. After going 4-0 overall, and others testing with me, this is the version I am currently on: here. Notably, Kiln Fiend is on the chopping block due to a lot of removal being played, but if you are against control or a removal heavy deck, you can navigate around it with Thoughtseize and deploying your threats intelligibly. If you get to untap with Fiend or Pyromancer it is hard to lose from there, especially if Kroxa is part of the mix as well. The sideboard gives you flexibility changing out what is not necessary. You need more interaction against the control decks or ramp decks? Cut the Innocent Bloods for Duresses, for example. I am not one for specific Sideboard guides, as decks on the ladder can be built in many ways. The bigger the card pools, the more diversity of builds and configurations there are available. Another example is if a black aggro deck plays Leylines over Grafdigger's Cage, you probably Sideboard differently or change your plan in game 3. Likewise, if a popular list runs something specific, but you do not see it in 2 games this may change your Sideboarding strategy. The main goal of your deck and sideboard is to configure your deck to be a 75-card deck, not 60 cards in the main with a 15-card sideboard. You want each card to matter and have as much versatility and flexibility as possible, while also being as synergistic as possible with the main core of your deck. Having a bunch of 2 and 3 mana spells in my Sideboard would not be as conducive to my plan as having a bunch of interchangeable 1 mana options. So far, outside of Tin Street News Team's results with Sultai Field, Lurrus Blitz has been the most impressive.
What Was Good
1) The Red Cards - The red cards were good in Standard, some are used in Pioneer, and even Modern. While I already went into some detail as to the deck they were good in, what else can be said about them? If you are in Red, especially aggro, you are playing most, if not all, of these cards minus a couple of old standard staples that are not powerful enough. Each threat is just that, a threat that must be dealt with or suffer the consequences. While Abrade might not be a sure-fire main deck card, it is still relevant out of the board to deal with pesky answer cards like, say, Glass Casket. As I predicted in my previous article, the red cards are here to stay.
2) Thoughtseize - This card is easily the best card in the Historic Format right now, and it does not seem to yield anytime soon either. Thoughtseize has given black based decks powerful ways to fight against any deck as it will hit your opponent's best card that is not a land. In fact, Thoughtseize alone has possibly turned Field of the Dead decks from Bant to Sultai! People will argue as to the validity of Thoughtseize bringing Grixis Pile back from the dead, however I contend the next card I am about to talk about is why Grixis Pile is even a deck.
3) The Scarab God - The black based midrange to control decks have what is their finisher of choice in the format. The Scarab God was as powerful as I remember in Standard, and possibly more powerful given the creature available to reanimate and spell to defend him. The fact that most spells do not permanently answer The Scarab God outright is why he was so powerful early in testing each time I faced him; I did not actually play with him in testing. The Scarab God has resurrected archetypes thought to be dead, mainly Grixis Pile. The addition of Thoughtseize to answer the early game and The Scarab God in the mid to late game, you have many of your holes covered from just 2 cards alone. Sprinkle some Grixis Pile usual suspects (Yes, looking at you multiple incarnations of Bolas) and you have a deck powerful enough to handle most things just from the maindeck alone. Look for The Scarab God to continue to menace the ladder for those who are ill-prepared to deal with him.
4) Hour of Promise - If there is a card that is going to get another card banned, it is Hour of Promise. As stated previously above, Hour of Promise basically got Field of the Dead banned in Pioneer, though it is debatable given all the other powerful cards in it. There are answer cards or safety valves in Historic that can handle Field in many colors, so we are in a wait and see approach. The prognosis of Field of the Dead and Hour of Promise together, along with Thoughtseize, in Sultai Field looks to be rising to Tier-1 status.
5) Collected Company - Content Creator, streamer, and eccentric personality Crokeyz is quickly making this card one of the best, but obviously isn't the only one. He was just one of the first to branch off with Jund Food/Sac adding in Collected Company and accelerating out Bolas' Citadel. I do not feel Collected Company is too powerful, however if you have faced the Jund Company deck of Crokeyz, you know how powerful it is. Other players have taken the Gruul and hyper aggressive approach to Collected Company to use it as a card with reach to increase the amount of power on the battlefield. Collected Company is also great to recover from sweepers and the like. Gruul based strategies look to be very formidable in Historic.
6) Strategic Planning - If there is one card that is going to be used for graveyard strategies, it is Strategic Planning. Planning allows you to fill the graveyard easily, while also choosing what you need to put onto the battlefield when you look at the top 3 cards. Strategic Planning was impressive in fueling the graveyard for not only Uro, but a surprise card which we will be talking about in the sleepers section: God-Pharaoh's Gift. Another use for this card is with Underworld Breach, but we are still a bit far from that combo being a legit contender, for now.
What Were Duds
Amonkhet Remastered would not be a set without some duds. Of course, I did not play with the entire set yet, but I have either witnessed, played, or played against most of them. Let me tell you, most of the white cards were just not good. Approach did not do much, even if cast early. 7 life does not mean much, and even with using Narset's Reversal you still have to wait another turn to play Approach again; gaining 7 life in a format that can deal 7 or more damage in one turn with a sneeze is not a plan I wish to hang my winning chances on. WoG is probably fine but coupled with the other cards in a deck may overshadow how powerful WoG is. One might try to find a spot to play WoG in a deck, but this also means you must play the other cards, and UW is not high on the win conditions these days. This is not to say they are bad, or that the UW core archetype is bad. It is that currently the deck is not great without a sorted metagame. As an aside, to borrow a phrase from Emma Handy, it is 2020, do not put Sphinx's Revelation into your decks. It is not played in Modern anymore. It is legal in Pioneer, and it is not played there either. It is better to shelf this card and remember the good days of Old Standard when it was one of the best cards you could play.
Unexpected Cards That Impressed
1) Champion of Wits - Typically there are always some sleepers cards that shock people that you would not expect to be good or even playable. Champion is one of those cards. However, this card is quite good at what it does, even if the casting cost is a bit much. The main reason is it fuels the graveyard efficiently, and you do not care if it dies as it will come back eventually from the Eternalize ability. This card was a staple in standard for multiple archetypes, but really fueled a card and deck I did not think would be good enough. See the next card. 2) God-Pharaoh's Gift - I initially wrote this card off because we did not have access to Refurbish from Kaladesh Block. However, I was proven wrong when I played a match against MTG_Joe (twitter/@MTGJoe2). He was playing Sultai and was using all the mill cards, along with Champion, to fuel his graveyard to eventually cast Gate to the After Life from the hand or the graveyard using Emry, Lurker of the Loch. It turns out given the current card pool, you can get to 6 creatures relatively quickly with virtually every mill card in Blue or Black; the green was for Uro and ways to deal with Grafdigger's Cage from opponents' sideboards. I can safely say I was wrong about GPG and look forward to this archetype, and Joe's deck took me completely by surprise.
3) Doomfall - Doomfall was a role player in the days it was around in Standard. It was a secondary way to interact at 3 mana when you had nothing else to do and use it as an interactive spell against the opponent's hand, or more importantly a way to deal with a resolved lone Scarab God or Hazoret. What I did not expect was how good it was against me in testing. I did not have it in any of my black based decks. This was a huge mistake and was punished for it. I am not saying this card is a world beater and should be a 4-of in all black based decks, but you should be running some of them in your 75 to exile sticky threats or increase your hand disruption interaction.
Which card(s) did you feel were impactful in your games? What card(s) did I leave out of your list(s) of cards?! I will conclude by saying Historic has been a blast since Amonkhet's release. While most expected certain cards of older Standard to be impactful, other cards added are just far and away the best ones. For example, if you are in black you are playing Thoughtseize and it is not even close. The next few sets might bring more powerful cards in other colors to balance things out. What we do know if the meta has been fresh with all the new cards, with some powerful decks popping up as a result. Leave a comment below to let us know what you feel about it!