Amonkhet spoilers have made it clear that the new set is inspired by the past. There are many cards that aren't direct reprints, but that pay obvious homage to cards of the past by bringing a piece of history to the present. This flavor makes sense in Amonkhet's Egyptian-inspired world, given that much of what we know about that culture revolves around their ritualistic approach to death and Afterlife; it feels like cards dead and gone have been exhumed to live again. Maybe they never really died, and these cards achieved the immortality that the Egyptians strived for. Today I'll explore some of these new cards and their connection the past, and I'll revisit history to determine how we can make the most of these cards in the present day.
When cycling was a major constructed theme back in Onslaught block, cycling decks were filled with cards that at face-value weren't constructed playable, but offered the utility of an efficient cycling ability. Noble Templar, which became a staple when printed at the end of the block in Scourge because of its Plainscycling ability and useful body, is the perfect example.
If cycling is to make an impact in Constructed again it is going to be on the back of cards like Noble Templar, and the new Winged Shepherd immediately jumps out as such a card. It's not as flashy as obvious cycling options like Curator of Mysteries and Archfiend of Ifnir, but if white is to have a cycling deck then Winged Shepherd could be a staple in it alongside Cast Out and Renewed Faith.
Sultai Emissary was never quite one of Standard's top staples, but it flirted with the competitive realm in decks with Nantuko Husk and Zulaport Cutthroat. Amonkhet's Doomed Dissenter brings this same two-for-one functionality to the current Standard, so there's potential for abuse alongside Zulaport Cutthroat and Defiant Salvager in a dedicated Aristocrats-style sacrifice deck. Perhaps the most compelling reason to play such a deck is the freshly spoiled Bontu, the Glorified, which provides a big payoff for sacrificing creatures and a great outlet for doing just that.
Another card to keep in mind for such a deck is Sacred Cat, which isn't quite as good as the card it draws historical comparison to, Doomed Traveler, but does offer two creatures in one. It looks perfectly playable in a deck that can abuse it.
Vizier of the Menagerie offers the ability to play cards from the top of the deck, so it's very much like Future Sight, but being restricted to creatures makes it feel a new addition to the line of green creatures that give the ability to play from the top of the deck, which include Courser of Kruphix and Oracle of Mul Daya. Playing creatures is obviously quite different from playing lands, and it feels like the potential power level is higher. There's nothing stopping its controller from chaining together multiple creatures, so Vizier of the Menagerie can create a ton of value quickly.
An immediate application for Vizier of the Menagerie that comes to mind is in Modern decks with Chord of Calling, which can use it as a one-of bullet to produce value in a creature-heavy deck. It also has great synergy with the Modern fetch lands shuffling the deck for a fresh look at the top.
There could be potential applications in Standard in any creature-heavy deck, or even as a one-of to tutor for with Traverse the Ulvenwald. Some versions of Four-Color Saheeli use Traverse the Ulvenwald, and I could see this creature-heavy deck playing a copy to tutor for to grind out extra value when the board is stalled. It even has plenty of shuffle effects to give fresh looks. The extra ability to use any color of mana to cast creatures is also certainly useful, especially in the four-color decks that might use it to cast creatures like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.
Champion of Rhonas brings back a classic creature by way of its exert ability, which mimics the activated ability of Elvish Piper. It's a fun and flashy way to show off the power of the new mechanic, and it adds a new dynamic to the old ability by bringing it to the combat step. It also makes the ability more reasonable for Standard, given that it can only happen every other turn without help, and it exposes the creature to blockers. Moving from a 1/1 to a 3/3 body makes it a more robust creature against removal, and more palatable in situations where it doesn't have anything to put into play.
As far as potential in Standard, it's only as good as what it can put into play. There are certainly powerful options, like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but it's possible we'll see the ability better used on cheaper, fairer creature as more of a tempo play than a combo-style knockout punch. Playing a free Verdurous Gearhulk, for example, seems like a reasonable way to win a game without the risk of an uncastable card being stuck in your hand.
When embalm was first spoiled I could not help but notice the obvious similarities to flashback. The mechanics of the ability are the same, except Embalm is reserved only for creature spells compared to Flashback for noncreature spells. Some Flashback spells got around this restriction by producing creature tokens, like Roar of the Wurm. I had hoped we would see a powerful card with an embalm cost cheaper than the casting cost, which functions like an alternate cost and payoff for getting it into the graveyard, but I did not expect we would see something so functionally similar to Roar of the Wurm in Honored Hydra. Honored Hydra does even better with Trample and a cheaper casting cost to make it even more reliable.
Roar of the Wurm was a staple when it was in Standard, and while creatures are relatively much better now I still think Honored Hydra could have a place in the format. It's a great way to get value from self-mill or discarding, but it's also a fine two-for-one creature when cast from hand, which will be especially valuable with the rise of blue control imminent.
Honored Hyra is also entering Standard in the context of support cards that come together to produce a discard and graveyard deck strikingly similar to the Madness decks of old. While the Blue-Green Madness decks are the most famous, there were competitive Red-Green Madness decks that used many of the same cards supported by burn like Fiery Temper, and it's these decks that are modeled today. Noose Constrictor replaces Wild Mongrel, and Incorrigible Youths is like an Arrogant Wurm. Avacyn's Judgment even does a fine impression of Violent Eruption. There's no replacement for Basking Rootwalla, but Flameblade Adept does provide the deck with an aggressive one-drop that plays well with discard, and it gets even better when combined with Sheltered Thicket.
Never is the newest version of Hero's Downfall and Ruinous Path, which have been staples of Standard throughout their lifetimes whenever planeswalkers must be answered. Instead of instant speed or the awaken mechanics, Never offers the aftermath ability to be cast as Return to produce a 2/2 Zombie Token and exile a card from the graveyard. The ability to exile is certainly useful, but the real value is the 2/2 creature it leaves behind. Compared to Ruinous Path, which is a reasonable comparison given they are both currently in Standard, the four extra mana for aftermath can be split across turns as opposed to awaken demanding the mana immediately, so it's more versatile. On power level, a 2/2 creature is less impressive than a 4/4, but it doesn't come at the cost of a land. I expect its versatility makes Never the superior choice for most decks, and it will be more necessary now than ever with Amonkhet introducing more powerful planeswalkers to Standard.
The last time control decks were an everlasting presence in the top tier of Standard is when Sphinx's Revelation was legal, and Pull from Tomorrow brings blue control decks a tool with the same card advantage potential. At two mana plus X it's a mana cheaper, which is made up for by discarding a card. This means it's actually better as a pure card advantage spell, because it digs deeper and can convert a dead card into card advantage, but this is no small price to pay for not gaining the life Sphinx's Revelation provided. The real benefit is that Pull from Tomorrow isn't pigeonholed into white decks, so it can support all flavors of blue control. The card advantage of Pull from Tomorrow plus counters like Censor and Essence Scatter will bring about a renaissance of blue control in Standard.
Fighting back against blue control, and against everyone for that matter, will be the crimson tide of mono-ed aggro, lead by Soul-Scar Mage as the most efficient aggressive red creature since Monastery Swiftspear. It lacks haste, but that won't stop it from being a Standard staple. It does make up for this with its ability to turn burn into -1/-1 counters, which offers some utility for shrinking blockers or taking down a large creature over the course of multiple turns, but what matters here is the prowess ability turning it into a sizable attacker. Beyond the burn spells that support prowess, it's going to go very well alongside cards like Harsh Mentor to create a potent red aggro deck in Standard.
Standard-playable countermagic has been difficult to come by in the past few years, but there have been many formats where Standard was defined by efficient counters like Circular Logic, Remand and Mana Leak. A classic favorite is Force Spike, which at one mana is very efficient and has the potential for tremendous tempo swings. On the other hand, it's simple to play around if you are determined, so it creates a fascinating psychological game with the opponent. Opponents will often play around a card that isn't even there, but they may also leave Force Spike's owner with a dead card. Censor brings Force Spike back to Standard, but with the cycling ability removing any chance for it to be a dead if the opponent does play around it. At two mana it's not as efficient, but it's still going to have the same dramatic impact when it does catch an opponent. It's also going to have the same impact of pushing some players to slow down their spells and play around Censor, whether it is in hand or not. Playing around spells is also going to be more difficult than in the time of Force Spike, given that Standard is full of tapped lands and is getting new ones with the cycling dual lands.
Censor will be a staple of any cycling deck, and is a likely four-of in anything with Drake Haven. It will be great in control decks for slowing down the game, but it could also be effective in more aggressive decks as a tempo play, especially given that these decks will put more pressure on the opponent and give them less time to actually play around it. Censor might also be fantastic in a deck like Jeskai Copy Cat, where it can be used to protect the combo or slow down the game long enough to assemble it. Don't forget it can also be cast by Torrential Gearhulk!
What might turn out to be the most important Amonkhet card for Standard is an homage to the past that's supercharged for the current day. At the rate of a 2/2 creature for 2G, Manglehorn offers the same ability to destroy an artifact that has been proven so effective historically on Viridian Shaman and Uktabi Orangutan. The card advantage and tempo gain inherent to destroying an artifact while gaining a creature a creature are obvious. There are also many benefits from this effect being on creature instead of being a spell, such as easy access from a card like Traverse the Ulvenwald or the ability to be reused by a card like Felidar Guardian. Manglehorn is even better than previous incarnations because its ability is a may, so it will never be forced to target its controller's own artifact.
Manglehorn also comes with a new additional way hose artifacts, a passive ability that puts opposing artifacts into play tapped. This ability has serious implications in Standard, where it hoses Felidar Guardian by tapping the artifact copies that Saheeli Rai creates and renders them unable to attack. This ability will also provide more subtle benefits that may accrue over a game, like tapping new Scrapheap Scroungers so they can't crew Heart of Kiran and slowing down artifact mana like Cultivators' Caravan.
Manglehorn is going to be a sideboard staple of nearly every green deck in Standard, and given that the top two decks are currently Mardu and Four-Color Copy Cat, which Mangelhorn shines against, it may very well become a main deck staple, at least until the metagame shifts against it. That said, it's even strong against control cards like Dynavolt Tower and Torrential Gearhulk, as well as black-green deck staples Walking Ballista and Verdurous Gearhulk, so it's hard to imagine it ever not being part of the metagame.
What other Amonkhet cards pay homage to the past? What cards are on your top ten list?