Magic the Gathering: Amonkhet
Amonkhet (AKH; Set 1 of 2 in the Amonkhet Block)
Designer Credits (Bottom of page, click "Credits")
Pre-release dates: April 22nd-23rd, 2017
Official Release Date: April 28th, 2017
Number of Cards: 264
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
With the new season comes a new Magic block, so we're back once again to discuss the next set! We say our goodbyes to the plane of Kaladesh and give our greetings to the almighty God-Pharaoh on the plane of Amonkhet (MAY HIS RETURN COME QUICKLY AND MAY WE BE FOUND WORTHY). Amonkhet is an Egyptian-themed set that brings us new storylines, new dangers, and new mechanics to introduce to the world's greatest collectable card game. As always, a few notes for readers who may or may not be familiar with Magic: The Gathering:
- If you're not familiar with Magic, this is not the post to teach you. If you're curious about what is arguably one of the greatest (if not the best) strategy card games of all time, then I recommend visiting their official primer page, downloading and playing their Magic: Duels app, or watching Sean Plott's Spellslingers series from Geek & Sundry. You can also try purchasing a Duel Deck such as the recently released Mind vs. Might, or search out a reputable FLGS (friendly local game store) and have people teach you. They'll be more than happy to get you started!
- This is not one of my standard reviews with a rating, because Magic sets are not easily rated. The set has just been released and is not even allowed in official game formats until this weekend. There are also a lot of ways people play the game, and reviewing an entire set to address even the most popular versions are well outside the scope of this post.
- Speaking of the different ways people play Magic, here's some full disclosure for readers: I am a casual player who enjoys going to pre-release events, playing Limited (sealed and draft), and Commander.
Setting & Storyline
Just as Theros was ancient Greece and Kaladesh was India-inspired, Amonkhet takes its inspiration from ancient Egypt. Like Theros before it, Amonkhet has a top-down design that unabashedly uses everything we know and love about ancient Egyptian clichés, including pyramids and monuments, mummies, gods, deserts, the Nile, emphasis on the afterlife, and cats, camels, and crocodiles (oh my). The artwork, like Kaladesh, is bright and sunny. The gods are based on many of Egyptian deities, sporting animal heads (similar to Bast, Thoth, Sobek, Anubis, and Wadjet), and the usual mythical animal suspects such as jackal-, snake-, and bird-people, sphinxes, manticores, minotaurs (rams, not cows), serpopards (shut up, it's a thing!), and ammits make up the magical menagerie of the plane. Sandwurms also make an appearance, because it's hard not to add some Dune references to a desert-based set. Also cats. Did I mention cats?
If you're interested, there's a great 2-part article concerning Amonkhet's design on the Wizards of the Coast website.
Amonkhet features "Masterpieces" similar to Kaladesh's "Inventions." This time we have "Invocations," which are foil cards with new art and designs, including difficult-to-read titles designed to resemble hieroglyphics. These are cards from previous sets (and a few from the current one), and some are fetching high prices on the secondary market.
Right now there are four short stories set on this plane, which you can find on the official Magic website. After the events of Aether Revolt, the Gatewatch planeswalkers (right now it's Gideon, Jace, Liliana, Chandra, and Nissa) have discovered that their old enemy Nicol Bolas has been hiding out on the plane of Amonkhet. Our heroes decide to travel directly there to confront the old dragon, with no plan or any idea what might be waiting for them. They arrive in the city of Naktamun, an oasis surrounded by a vast desert where the people spend their entire lives training to take part in the Trials of the Five Gods and ensure a place next to the God-Pharaoh in the afterlife (MAY HIS RETURN COME QUICKLY AND MAY WE BE FOUND WORTHY). Of course, not everything is as it seems in Naktamun. Nicol Bolas's symbol (his curved horns) are everywhere. There are no elderly people, and few people older than their teens. And all of them place the God-Pharaoh Bolas above everything else (MAY HIS RETURN COME QUICKLY). Nissa and Chandra discover that the plane has been altered by Bolas, who has gone so far as to somehow remove three entire gods from the plane. The gods themselves are helpless against this, as something has blocked their memories, and the plane is slowly dying under Bolas's grasp. Can the Gatewatch figure out the mysteries of Amonkhet before they battle against Bolas? Will Nissa finally return Chandra's unrequited affections? Will Gideon get screwed over by another god? Will Brendan Fraser make an appearance? Find out in the next set, Hour of Devastation!
Mechanics and Cycles
Amonkhet brings us new and returning mechanics, as well as card cycles that occur across all colors. Full details on mechanics can be found here.
Split cards are not new to Magic, but this is the first time we've seen one spell on top, and another on the bottom and turned ninety degrees. The top part of each of these spells can be played normally, but the Aftermath mechanic on the bottom spell means that it can only be used when it's in the graveyard. I personally love these cards, as you get a lot of value for having two spells per card. Many of the bottom halves work off the top, such as "Mouth // Feed" (read the "//" as "to"). In a set with a lot of discard effects, Aftermath has even more value.
A lot of cards will distribute -1/-1 counters onto creatures for random effects. Usually they're used to balance out a card that may be too powerful for its casting cost, but there are a lot of creatures and spells that use these counters for bonuses. Green and black probably have the most of these, and it's not impossible to see a board state littered with these counters as they're removed, added, and bounced around from creature to creature.
Cycling has returned! By paying a different cost, a card can be discarded in order to draw another card. Cycling is one of the most useful mechanics in Magic, allowing players to remove cards from their hands that may be too situational or too expensive at the time they draw them. Additionally, many cards now have bonuses for cycling them, such as receiving a smaller effect than the card usually offers (see "Deem Worthy" above).
Embalm is essentially Flashback for creature cards. Any creature with the Embalm keyword can pay a cost to have the creature returned from the graveyard to the battlefield with the following conditions: 1) it's a token copy of the original, and the original is exiled, 2) it's now a white zombie in addition to its other types, and 3) it has no casting cost (for any spell that might care about that). While I think Cycling is the best keyword in the set, Embalm is a close second. It allows each creature to be used twice, and nothing short of exiling the original can keep you from using it again. It's also very thematic (more mummies!). Additionally, each one has a token card available if you're lucky enough to pick one up in a pack. There's nothing like seeing an embalmed cat or hydra.
When a creature with Exert attacks, you can choose to have them "Exert" themselves, meaning they won't untap during your next untap phase. By doing so, the creature is bestowed a benefit, ranging anywhere from gaining bonuses like flying and a higher power/toughness, to untapping all of your other creatures, or damaging your opponent's creatures.
Cycles (as opposed to Cycling)
Each color has a "cartouche," which is an aura enchantment that is cast on creatures and bestows bonuses on them. The creature receives +1/+1 and a color-appropriate ability, but the spell also has an effect that occurs when it enters the battlefield. Some of these are worth it, while some are situational. However, cartouches become a lot more valuable when combined with Trials.
Each color has a specific trial that is related to one of the gods. A trial is an enchantment that sits on the battlefield and doesn't really do much after its been cast. Rather, it does something beneficial for you when it first enters the battlefield, such as draw cards, create token creatures, etc. But each trial can be returned to your hand every time you play a cartouche, allowing it to be cast again.
Each color has a specific god, just like in the ones in Theros. However, there are some key differences. First off, these gods are not enchantments. They cannot attack and block, however, unless certain criteria are met. Luckily, each card allows you to create the criteria necessary to attack or block with them. Like the other gods, they're indestructible, making them very difficult to get rid of.
Is there anything more fun than a Magic Prerelease? All the players, both new and expert, coming together to open packs and play a brand new set? Amonkhet was no exception, and just as they had done with Kaladesh, my FLGS Cardboard Castle Games got into the spirit of the set by decorating and offering giveaways, I played the midnight prerelease and then came back to the store (very tired) at 1pm for an afternoon game as well. Eric and his brother took part in the 5pm Two-Headed Giant prerelease game the same afternoon.
Wizards has done an excellent job with their prerelease boxes, making little treasure chests (sarcophagi?) that were surprisingly difficult to open, and an awesome insert that easily holds all of the packs, promo, and the very cool new life-counter die. The box acts as a useful deck box, and the packs come with spare cards with mini markers so you can indicate which creatures are embalmed and exerted, or which have -1/-1 counters or brick counters (which are used for all of the very cool artifacts).
Additionally, the prerelease included a Five Trial of the Gods for the players to complete. Any player that fills out all five trials received a cool 4-sided Nicol Bolas die.
Decks and Experiences
I had two very different game experiences, both of which had me a bit concerned about the state of Amonkhet in the Limited format (draft/sealed). My pulls for this game were not that great: two of my rares were "Dispossess," one of the many anti-artifact cards that would get few targets if I actually ran it. I drafted a Black-Red zombie/minotaur deck with a splash of white, as they were the only colors I had with some decent removal and creatures. I ran my promo "Nehab, the Worth," who helped me shut down my opponents several times alongside "Liliana's Mastery," which boosted my zombies. I lost my first game (my opponent played a combination of "Bontu's Monument" and "Trespasser's Curse," which kept sucking my life away), but I was able to win my next three. Normally I enjoy playing red and being aggressive, but I didn't find this deck to be that fun or interesting. Oddly enough, my games were almost all mirror-matches. Everyone I played seemed to be using a black-red variant, most likely due to their removal spells.
Saturday Afternoon Prerelease
The next afternoon, my pulls were luckier and I ran a significantly more interesting deck. I crafted a white-green deck that included a lot of great rares such as "Mouth // Feed," "Prowling Serpopard," "Channeler Initiate," "Gideon of the Trials," and my only drawn Invocation: "Worship." The combination of Gideon and "Worship" meant I had two ways to keep myself from losing while my creatures clogged the board and stampeded over my opponents with combat tricks. These games were a lot more interesting to me than the midnight prerelease, and yet I saw the same thing I saw the previous night: lots of mirror-matches, with people running green/white or green/blue or splashes of other colors, but mostly my green and white cards against my opponent's similar build. I lost one game outright, won two more, and ended my last game by almost going to time in the first round. I had played "Worship," meaning my opponent couldn't kill me as long as I had a creature on the board. With no solid removal and no way to destroy my enchantment, we played cards back and forth until we realized there was no way for me to successfully attack past all of his creatures. In the end we played until the last card was drawn, and I lost by running out of cards in my deck first. I conceded the second game, as it was time for me to head home.
I forget which event I was playing in, but I definitely lost once to "Approach of the Second Sun," which was just silly (10/10, would lose to again). I got help a few people build better decks with their cards, had a couple of laughs, and I'm pretty sure shared some sleep-deprived hallucinations with people at 4am. All in all, a good time.
Eric's Thoughts and Experiences
[Before we get to my final impressions, Eric wanted to talk about his thoughts on his prerelease game and the set.]
I played in the two-headed giant prerelease event of Amonkhet with my older brother, George. Two-headed Giant is a format where two teams of two players battle each other.
We opened our prerelease kits and got to work building decks! Since our card pools were shared, with some of the good red and green cards, I built a bit of a red/green aggro deck to bring the beatdown to our opponents. The best card from my deck was a "Glorybringer," of which I had two. One was even my special foil prerelease promo.
It’s hard to recall all of the strategies we faced, but in the end we went 2-1 and split the last round with our opponents, both of us getting 3 packs.
There are several cycles of cards in Amonkhet, including the “bicycle” lands, as well as the trials of the five gods, and their cartouche’s as well. The synergy between the Trials and Cartouche’s are pretty cool for limited play.
Gideon of the Trials
Gideon is back! This time his 0 loyalty ability turns him into a 4/4 Soldier creature with indestructible that prevents damage dealt to him, which is typical Gideon, but he also has a second 0 loyalty ability that gives you an emblem that says “As long as you control a Gideon planeswalker, you can’t lose the game, and your opponents can’t win the game.” Jacob had a copy of this card in his Saturday card pool!
Do you like free spells? Well that’s what you’ll be getting if you play "As Foretold." A three mana enchantment that adds a time counter to it every turn, and once per turn, you can cast a spell from your hand with mana cost less than or equal to the number of time counters on it for FREE. This card is very reminiscent of "Aether Vial" from the set Darksteel.
Bontu, the Glorified
One of the most synergistic god cards from Amonkhet. Bontu shows off a 4/6 body with indestructible and menace. However, like all of the gods from Amonkhet, she has a requirement to be used in combat: a creature of yours has to die for her to attack or block. That won’t be hard to do given the number of zombies that black decks can produce!
Three mana: End the turn. You lose the game at the beginning of the next end step. This card is a crazy risk to take, but with the right setup (looking at you, Gideon), you can just stop someone’s combo and end the turn, shutting them down. Just be careful to make sure you have a way to stop that trigger from making you lose the game!
Vizier of the Menagerie
This friendly guy lets you look at the top card of your deck whenever you want and use mana of ANY color to cast it if it’s a creature spell. That’s crazy good in the right deck. I’m already imagining people using this to peek at a "Torrential Gearhulk" at the top of their decks and then flash it in as a blocker and cast a free spell from their graveyard. This has got to be one of the coolest mythic rare cards in the set hands down.
So after a fun-filled weekend of Amonkhet, how does this set look, and what can we expect? Of course it's too early to tell what will happen in many of the Magic Constructed blocks like Modern and Standard, as the set isn't "officially" released and legal until this Friday. But there's a lot of artifact-hate spells that are designed to offset some of the more powerful cards from the previous set, Kaladesh. The return of Cycling is absolutely fantastic, as is the Embalm ability (which, sadly, I never got to use, but saw plenty of others use it against me). I didn't care much for the Exert ability; while some of the Exert cards have great abilities, others really aren't worth removing your creature from combat for one of your turns and two of your opponent's. But I know a lot of people who disagreed with me on this, so your mileage may vary.
There are some incredibly powerful cards in this set that are sure to dominate the tournament scene, including the new planeswalkers and possibly the gods. I enjoy the Amonkhet world, art, and storyline, and I'd be interested to see how the Limited format changes with this new set. So far it appears to run a lot slower than past sets: even with a bunch of aggro red-black decks, the matches went longer than usual.
Between the bomb rares and mythics, cycles of great cards, lands, and "Masterpiece" Invocations, Amonkhet is shaping up to be a fun set. We'll revisit everything again for the next set, "Hour of Devastation," that will conclude the Amonkhet block. Until then, go out and have fun!
This review was supported in part by Cardboard Castle Games, located in Evans, GA. Cardboard Castle Games offers the newest and hottest CCGs and board games, and offers sleeves, mats, deck boxes, dice, and more. Check out their store and website for Amonkhet singles, packs, or boosters for your next draft!
All artwork and cards are owned by Wizards of the Coast and are used here for review purposes only. Geekundspiel makes no claim to ownership of these materials, nor responsibility for mummified persons or animals.