Magic's latest set, Amonkhet, releases soon, and the first week's worth of spoilers is behind us. Amonkhet is an Egypt-inspired world created by Nicol Bolas, where everyone competes in trials to impress the gods and prove themselves worthy of the god-emperor's favor. Mummies do all of the labor, and gods walk among the mortals. Amonkhet sees the return of cycling and -1/-1 counters, as well as God cards, with a new twist. Additionally, it introduces two new mechanics: embalm and exert, along with aftermath, a new twist on split cards. Finally, Amonkhet's edition of Masterpieces, Amonkhet Invocations, provide a flashy frame for the gods, their servants, and their powers.
First debuting in the Theros block, gods return in Amonkhet. Much like Theros's gods, they provide a constant effect and conditionally become powerful, indestructible creatures. Unlike Theros's gods, they are always creatures, but they cannot attack or block when they are not "active," and have distinct activation conditions.
Hazoret the Fervent is the red God, who becomes active when you have one or zero cards in hand. The payoff is an efficient, hasty 5/4 body. Hazoret also has an activated ability for which allows you to discard a card for 2 damage, pushing it towards being an active creature and adding even more aggression. This works perfectly with Red's madness cards from Shadows over Innistrad block, as well as some of the new Amonkhet cards that trigger off of discards and cycling.
Kefnet the Mindful is the blue God, who becomes active when you have seven or more cards in hand. Its activated ability costs to draw a card and return a land you control to your hand. This pushes Kefnet towards a control build, functioning as an evasive, indestructible finisher. The ability to bounce a land seems questionable in a vacuum, but when it can bounce a land with cycling, it gains a lot of value.
Embalm is the latest twist on unearth-style mechanics, allowing a second use of creatures. Unlike unearth, it puts a permanent copy of the creature into play, rather than a temporary one, but the creature created is a token, is a white zombie, and does not have a mana cost. This makes it more similar to the token flashback spells from Odyssey block, such as Roar of the Wurm, or also like the card that likely directly inspired the mechanic, Back from the Brink.
Angel of Sanctions demonstrates what embalm can do when it is pushed. A powerful flying creature with a built-in Oblivion Ring is nothing to scoff at, but embalm means that even getting rid of the creature does not get them their card back, as the embalm token comes with the same Oblivion Ring attached to it.
Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun provides a different twist on embalm. His triggered ability works well with the tokens embalm creates, and after being embalmed, he can use the ability on himself.
Cycling Back In
Cycling, everyone's favorite deciduous mechanic, returns once again. Unlike the last several times it showed up, in Time Spiral and Alara blocks, cycling is back full-force, including cards that trigger when you cycle, similar to the popular Astral Slide and Lightning Rift.
Archfiend of Ifnir is one of these cards. Notably, there is a new twist on the effect, triggering when you either cycle a card or when you discard a card. This allows it to play nicely with other discard outlets, such as those from the Shadows over Innistrad block, as well as cards like Cathartic Reunion and Baral, Chief of Compliance. Archfiend is the strongest of these effects yet spoiled, potentially wiping the opponent's board with a few cycles. Curator of Mysteries and Drake Haven are the two other effects of this sort spoiled so far. Together they provide a potential backbone for a powerful Cycling-based control deck.
Fetid Pools is part of the latest cycle of dual lands in Amonkhet. These lands have cycling, which is incredibly powerful for dual lands. These are the first lands with cycling that are Modern-legal. On top of that, these lands have basic land types, allowing them to be fetched be effects such as Wood Elves and the Fetchlands. Imagine fetching a blue cycling land in response to an opponent's spell in Legacy, casting Daze by bouncing it to your hand, and then cycling it to draw a card.
New Perspectives is the other exciting cycling-related card in Amonkhet. It draws three cards when it enters the battlefield, which is already fairly powerful, but on top of that, when you have seven or more cards in hand, you get to cycle cards for free. Not reduced like Fluctuator, but actually free. With some incredibly powerful cycling triggers out there in older formats, such as Resounding Thunder or Decree of Annihilation, this can make a huge and immediate impact.
As Archfiend of Ifnir shows, -1/-1 counters are back in Amonkhet, for the first time since Scars of Mirrodin block nearly seven years ago. And for the first time in a long while, they return without a mechanic that makes use of them, such as wither, persist, or infect. Instead, -1/-1 counters just show up on individual cards.
That is not to say that there is no payoff for building around -1/-1 counters. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons provides both an outlet for -1/-1 counters as well as a reward for distributing them. Scarab Feast provides a similar reward. These cards together give plenty of incentive to dish out the pain, but in older formats they can take it one step further, combining with Blowfly Infestation to make a churning set of -1/-1 counters and tokens that triggers Zulaport Cutthroat infinitely. While four cards is probably a bit much to make a splash in Modern, it can certainly do work in Commander and kitchen table games.
Channeler Initiate is a more mundane way to interact with -1/-1 counters. It dumps a few on one of your own creatures, giving you two options: sacrifice something you do not care about for an underpriced fatty, or leave them on the Initiate and slowly remove them for its mana-generating ability.
Soul-Scar Mage is the flip-side of that coin. It does not care about generating -1/-1 counters, but it certainly makes it easy. A 1/2 prowess body is plenty powerful, as Monastery Swiftspear proved, and Soul-Scar Mage trades haste for an Everlasting Torment-style ability to turn non-combat damage into -1/-1 counters.
Don't Overexert Yourself
Exert is another new mechanic in Amonkhet. The rules of it are fairly simple: you can choose to "exert" a creature, keeping it tapped down for your next turn, as it attacks. If you do, you get a bonus. This bonus can range from the fairly mundane, such as Glory-Bound Initiate's buff and lifelink, to exciting, such as Champion of Rhonas cheating a creature into play or Combat Celebrant giving you an extra combat. While these cards may not make much of a splash beyond Standard, where the Champion especially slots nicely into the Aetherworks Marvel deck, Combat Celebrant may have some applications alongside Goblin Rabblemaster.
Aftermath brings a new twist on split cards, combining them with flashback to create a very interesting take on things. Normal split cards offer you a choice between two different options to cast from your hand, potentially with the option to fuse them together as one spell. Aftermath cards, on the other hand, let you play both halves of the card separately: one from your hand, and the other from your graveyard.
Gideon and Liliana
The latest version of Gideon, Gideon of the Trials, is quite possibly his best iteration to date. At three mana, it is cheap enough to potentially be viable in Legacy. The +1 negates a single large threat, such as whatever Reanimator can cheat into play. His first +0 turns him into a 4/4 beater, which is rather efficient. And his second +0 turns him into a Platinum Angel. While many decks can simply remove the Gideon before killing you, some decks do not have an effective method to do this. Ad Nauseam Tendrils, for example, tends to win the game with a single Tendrils of Agony, and does not run any main deck cards which can remove a 3-mana planeswalker.
Liliana's latest card Is not quite as splashy, but is still quite powerful. Liliana, Death's Majesty comes down at five mana with five loyalty, and her -3 ability is a self-only Rise from the Grave, which itself is a five mana spell. Additionally, her +1 generates zombie tokens and self-mills, allowing her to protect herself and simultaneously fuel her -3. And her -7 destroys all non-zombie creatures, an ability she can easily get to that can turn the board drastically in your favor. She slots perfectly into the Delirum list.
Invocations are the latest set of Masterpieces, the unique foil mythic rare cards that show up on average once every four boxes. This time, the theme is the gods, their servants, and their abilities, which means a lot of splashy instants and sorceries, as well as cards such as Aven Mindcensor (also appearing at rare in the set) and Counterbalance. These show up in a unique, controversial frame, complete with hieroglyphics in the name and type line. All of the Invocations yet spoiled are shown below. Three, the remaining gods, are still outstanding.
And that is it for the first week! Tune in over the next week in The Rumor Mill to catch the remaining three gods, the missing planeswalker, and full reveal on Friday.