Slotting Amonkhet into Standard
Whenever new sets come out, players tend to make the same mistakes every single time. The most common mistake is overvaluing new cards and undervaluing the old. The first few tournaments after a new set has been released are full of people playing decks that end up having way too many new cards, and most of the time, those tournaments are won by decks that only play a handful of the best new cards alongside the already established powerhouses of the format.
This isn't to say that new cards are bad or that you shouldn't play them. Plenty of new cards are good and are going to see play. From a realistic standpoint, however, Amonkhet is only one of seven sets in Standard, and therefore it's pretty unlikely that a high density of Amonkhet cards are going to find their way into the best decks. To go one step further, we already know which cards from older sets are good or bad, and we don't yet know which Amonkhet cards are going to be the top performers, making it even harder for new cards to be standout performers in week one.
When you roll this all together, it's pretty unlikely that a deck featuring something like 30% or more of its cards from Amonkhet is going to be a good choice for the first event. The exception comes when we get one those sets that come out every few years that end up being really pushed beyond the power level of the rest of the format. Sets like Kaladesh, Khans of Tarkir, or the original Innistrad are examples of these kinds of pushed sets that immediately left their mark on Standard from week one onward.
Ultimately, this means that decks like Mardon't Vehicles or Four-Color Copy Cat are most likely going to still be pretty good choices to play in the new format. As a result, it benefits us to take time to figure out what they will look like with new cards in the mix. This is useful both if we want to play with these decks or even if we just want to know our enemy. To that end, I'm going to go through each of the current top decks in Standard and take a look at what new cards I think will or won't make the cut in these decks.
There are basically two existing versions of Mardu Vehicles. There is a base black and white version that uses Walking Ballista and Archangel Avacyn that generally plays more black-based planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis or Sorin, Grim Nemesis in the sideboard. There is also a base red and white version that uses Veteran Motorist, and plays more red-based planeswalkers like Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
I'm going to look at new cards in the context of both.
Gideon of the Trials
I don't think this card makes the cut in Mardu Vehicles. Neither version is capable of easily playing a WW card on turn three, and even if that were true, I'm not sure that Gideon does enough to warrant inclusion. The card is a solid, but is it a little awkward in that you can't both play offense and protect yourself at the same time with it, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar does with the 0 ability. Gideon of the Trials also prevents you from casting Gideon, Ally of Zendikar the next turn, which is the best card in the deck, and anything that creates awkward synergies between cards in your deck and diminishes the power of your best card has to go. The emblem also doesn't stop the Saheeli Rai/Felidar Guardian combo. Initially, I believed that it bought you a turn, but on second consideration, they can just make enough Guardians to send lethal damage at you and lethal damage at Gideon and you'll still die anyway.
Liliana, Death's Majesty
This is one of my favorite cards from the new set. This is a well-designed Planeswalker with balanced abilities for five mana. This card could easily slot into the sideboard of the black and white-based Mardu Ballista, however, I don't believe it will find a home there. Ob Nixilis Reignited is likely to be a better choice. While Liliana's +1 ability – put a 2/2 Zombie into play – rivals Ob Nixilis drawing a card, the -3 ability doesn't have a lot of power in this deck since it cannot bring back Walking Ballista for value and Scrapheap Scrounger already has recursion. Archangel Avacyn, the best recursion target, is likely to get sideboarded out in situations where you're bringing in other five-drops like Liliana. I think Ob Nixilis drawing cards and destroying big creatures is going to be the better card, although I do think it is close between the two walkers, as Liliana's ultimate is easier to reach and very powerful in Mardu.
Angel of Sanctions
I'm a lot higher on this card than most people I have seen. I think this could easily find its way into Mardu decks. A giant, flying Oblivion Ring that dodges Fatal Push and is big enough to Brawl in combat with cards like Toolcraft Exemplar and Scrapheap Scrounger seems good to me. In the case where they do the unspeakable and slay this Angel, you can always just pay six mana (which you will definitely have because you are savagely flooding out) to bring sexy back. Just be warned that the token has no mana cost, so they can Push it around if they so desire.
Despite how much I adore this card, it's going to be interesting to see if it can actually see play here. It sits on top of Archangel Avacyn for the five-mana slot, and as we've found out time and time again, it's pretty tough to knock Avacyn off her throne. And while we're on the topic of contenders to Avacyn's throne…
Glorybringer is good at killing opposing Gideons and Felidar Guardians. It doesn't take long for this card to exert its influence on the game state. This card could easily slot into the base white-red version of the deck as a good curve-topper to go along with Chandra and Gideon. Much like Angel of Sanctions, however, it does have to compete with Archangel Avacyn, and who knows if it will be able to win that war.
I think this is a good card, but I don't think this is a good home for the card. Nonetheless, I imagine people will test this out in Mardu Vehicles, and I could easily be proven wrong. I suspect this card sees play in a deck with Always Watching, where it can attack as a 5/5 lifelinker every turn. Mardu Vehicles isn't really a great home for a card like Always Watching, as it conflicts with both Gideon and Heart of Kiran and 1WW isn't an easy mana cost.
Cast Out is probably the best card in the set, and it will definitely see play in both versions of Mardu Vehicles. I'm not sure how many copies will find their way into the main deck, but there will be sideboard copies for sure. It answers the Saheeli combo and it takes care of Gideon and Avacyn in the mirror. Oh, yeah, it also cycles, because why not?
Versions of Mardu are already playing cards like Foreboding Ruins or Smoldering Marsh that nearly always come into play tapped. Canyon Slough is a great upgrade to those cards, as a land that also helps improve the consistency of the deck by cycling late when you don't need it. I imagine one or two copies of this land will make the deck.
Cut // Ribbons
If Cut was instant speed, this would definitely see play, but as it is, it's hard to justify a two-mana sorcery speed removal spell that doesn't kill Heart of Kiran or interact with the Saheeli combo.
There are a lot of cards that could conceivably fit into Mardu Vehicles from Amonkhet. This doesn't come as a surprise when you consider that Mardu Vehicles is a three-color good-stuff aggressive deck with a transitional sideboard plan. It can really play pretty much anything.
With that said, I don't think very many of these cards will actually make the cut. As of now, Canyon Slough and Cast Out are the only two cards that I feel confident will end up in updated Mardu decks, with some cards like Angel of Sanctions, Glorybringer, and Liliana, Death's Majesty being borderline cards that are worth testing and could very easily see some play, depending on what the format looks like.
One thing to note is that if Glorybringer does end up being a very powerful card for the deck, that just increases the value of a card like Thalia, Heretic Cathar, since it would both stop Glorybringer from dealing any damage and exerting itself on the first turn, which is a big swing.
Lists to Test
Four-Color Copy Cat
Versions of Four-Color Copy Cat that play Oath of Chandra and Chandra have basically separated themselves as the best version of the archetype. Ben Friedman came with an interesting take on the archetype, utilizing Traverse the Ulvenwald and Walking Ballista. It's possible his version would have established itself as the best version had the format been given another month to grow with high-level events.
Let's look at some new cards that could see play here.
Vizier of the Menagerie
This card is sweet, but unfortunately it's Naganna make the cut. I'd rather just play a Chandra than durdle around with this glorious creature. If Courser of Kruphix was legal to go with this card, that would be a really sweet combo. Maybe in Modern!
The force is not with me. I think Release the Gremlins is stronger. Blowing up artifacts is well and good but if you're not gaining some value off of it, you'll still end up losing to the rest of the Mardu deck.
How much of an energy theme will the deck continue to take in the future? I think it's a close call as to which is better between this and Servant of the Conduit. Servant adds energy, which can be useful for other cards, but Channeler Initiate will eventually grow into a serviceable threat later in the game that can also importantly block Scrapheap Scrounger. Servant is likely still better, but I think it's close. One thing in favor of Servant of the Conduit is that it is occasionally correct to block with a second-turn Servant of the Conduit and Channeler Initiate doesn't do that very well.
The name of this card describes the progression of a Magic player through dealing with Heart of Kiran. First there is a long period of growing dissent, then this is printed, and finally deliverance happens. This beaut blows up Heart of Kiran, Dynavolt Tower, and Walking Ballista, three super annoying cards to deal with for Copy Cat. In matchups where it doesn't do anything, like the mirror, you can just cycle this for a single mana. I expect this will see some amount of main deck play and additional sideboard play.
This is another card that could conceivably see main deck play. It's good at taking out annoying artifacts out of Mardu and in the mirror match it actually stops the combo. Saheeli token copies are artifacts, so they would all come into play tapped, preventing you from dying to it while this is in play.
Four-Color Copy Cat has an issue with having enough white sources. It barely has enough to cast Felidar Guardian as is. With that said, things could change because this card is phenomenal and could easily be worth trying to fit into the deck. I don't think this card feels as at home here as it does in Mardu Vehicles, but Gideon is one of the biggest issues for Copy Cat to beat and this is a clean answer to the Gidfather.
Nissa, Steward of Elements
I could see this as a sideboard planeswalker to combat control strategies since it is cheap enough to slide under countermagic, much like Saheeli. I don't think this card ultimately is that powerful, though, at least not in this deck. I could see this being a great card in a deck like Modern elves, where the 0 ability works a high percentage of the time.
I am sure some number of these will see play in this deck, but I am not great at building mana bases so I can't tell you exactly which ones or how many copies of them will make it. My guess is that the deck ends up playing two or three total split between Scattered Groves and Sheltered Thicket.
Now when you make a million gajillion token copies of Felidar Guardian, you can actually make two million gajillion instead. Value!
It's a good, clean answer to Scrapheap Scrounger, but unlike Shock it doesn't interrupt the Saheeli Combo. I think I'd rather just rely on Cast Out as a catch-all answer then try to play this game where I'm hoping to Magma Spray a Scrapheap Scrounger while I die to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Much like Mardu, there isn't a whole lot of cards that slot into this archetype. I think a couple of cycle lands and a copy or two of Dissenter's Deliverance and Manglehorn are basically the only cards I would immediately find room for. Cast Out is also a great card, but it's probably relegated to being a sideboard card for dealing with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It's hard to find room to maindeck it, since every card you add has to take away from the supporting cast behind the combo.
List to Test
Black-Green Energy ended up proving itself to be the best version of Black-Green Constrictor as the format developed, but it's unclear to me that this will remain the case once Amonkhet comes out. I suspect that the archetype will continue to exist, as it is a powerful shell playing great creatures and efficient removal.
Rhonas the Indomitable
Grim Flayer, Mindwrack Demon and Verdurous Gearhulk are all capable of turning Rhonas online by themselves. Rishkar + Winding Constrictor and Tireless Tracker + cracking a clue are also easy ways to make Rhonas a creature. I'm not sure how consistently you will be able to keep Rhonas active, but it is definitely a card that has potential here.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Rhonas crews Heart of Kiran and Heart of Kiran when crewed by another creature is enough to make Rhonas active. Gideon is also an easy way to make Rhonas active. Maybe a return to Green-White Tokens?
Liliana, Death's Majesty
Now this is a great shell for Liliana, Death's Majesty. Liliana's -3 ability has a lot of power behind it when it's returning things like Verdurous Gearhulk or Gonti, Lord of Luxury to play. Even rebuying a Tireless Tracker isn't too shabby. I'm excited to play with this card in this deck.
I can see a world where this is a sideboard card to combat an oppressive blue control deck. I don't think this world is likely, I'm just saying that my imagination is capable of thinking about it. In that world, this card sees play and it's also four power for Rhonas. When we come back to reality, I don't think this card is going to make much of an impact, at least not in Standard.
On the surface this seems like a great card for the deck. Servant of the Conduit is a good card in black-green deck – it just sucks way too much in the late game to warrant playing it. That's where Channeler Initiate comes in. While it also sucks to topdeck this card late, at least it can turn into a relevant threat at some point.
Or at least, it would, if there wasn't one giant flaw with this card in a black-green deck. This card will Wind up seeing no play in this archetype and our options are Constricted to just Servant of the Conduit if we want to ramp. As it turns out, Winding Constrictor increases more than just energy counters and +1/+1 counters. It also works on -1/-1 counters, which means that Channeler Initiate can't be profitably cast with a Winding Constrictor in play. Whoops.
Manglehorn + Dissenter's Deliverance
Much like in Copy Cat, these are both cards that are powerful enough to play in the main deck. I don't believe there are any existing decks where these are dead cards. Even against the mirror you can blow up Walking Ballista, Aethersphere Harvester or Verdurous Gearhulk, and Temur Tower has both Dynavolt Tower and Torrential Gearhulk. Against Four-Color Copy Cat you can just cycle the Deliverance and jam the Manglehorn out there in shame as a poor mockery of Thalia, Heretic Cathar.
Lay Bare the Heart
It's close as to whether this is better or not than Transgress the Mind. Both cards take ;laneswalkers, and neither take Heart of Kiran. This can nab things like Fatal Push or their two-drop, but it is significantly worse against control decks where you almost always want to take Glimmer of Genius. Transgress exiles the Glimmer while Lay Bare the Heart leaves it for a later Torrential Gearhulk to flash back.
A split is likely correct.
Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons
This doesn't slot into any existing decks, however, if they print more cards to combo with -1/-1 counters to go along with Channeler Initiate or Nest of Scarabs, then this could be a real card. We've seen a steady stream of 1/1 deathtouch creatures be relevant before with both Garruk Relentless and Pharika, God of Affliction. Pharika could use the ability anytime you have mana and creatures in the yard, whereas Hapatra needs specific situations to make it work. I guess you could say Hapatra is just a Pharika on a Leash. Korny, I know.
I think black-green decks gain the most from Amonkhet. There are a number of playable cards that could all see play in one version or another. There could even be a new version pop up based around -1/-1 counters, depending on the support.
Lists to Test
This next list is the “let's hope we don't get paired against Four-Color Copy Cat” version
Much like I alluded to at the beginning of this article, I feel like the best versions of Mardu Vehicles, Four-Color Copy Cat, and Black-Green Constrictor at the start of the format are going to be versions that mostly stick to playing tried and true old cards and don't go overboard in playing too many new cards. I expect to see a lot of these decks playing mostly the same configurations as before but including Cast Out, Manglehorn, Dissenter's Deliverance, the cycling lands, and a few other small updates to an already all-star cast of cards from previous sets. That's not to say that Amonkhet will have only a small impact on Standard. While that's certainly possible, I do think that there are a number of other new shells that could easily spring up around powerful cards or mechanics, such as cycling and exert, and I'm looking forward to building decks around those, even if they don't fit cleanly into existing shells.