Red Mages Quarterly: Amonkhet

Simon Irving Standard

(Editor’s Note: Welcome back to the Card Kingdom Blog! As we explained yesterday, we’ll be creating more content than ever before this year, thanks in part to our talented staff, who will be contributing articles and other creative work to this blog. Today, you’ll be hearing from Simon from the Retail team at Mox Boarding House Seattle. Simon has been playing Magic since 2001, and he has a special place in his heart for red cards.)

Amonkhet is finally here, and Magic players around the world are wondering what gifts and blessings the God-Pharaoh has bestowed upon their favorite deck, archetype, or format. But for players like me, there’s only one question to be answered: What can Amonkhet do for the Mono-Red players? Yes, we’re always here, a tribe of our own, attacking with haste and dealing three damage to your face. No mono-colored strategy has the following and loyalty to rival Red Deck Wins, and the archetype manages to crop up nearly every season.

With that in mind, let me be your friendly neighborhood (goblin) guide to the best that red has to offer in Amonkhet. I’ll be breaking down the three pillars of red decks – creatures, burn spells, and utility cards – and grading the set accordingly. Ready? Who I am kidding, of course you’re ready – you’re probably sending creatures into the red zone!

Creatures

Let’s start with the card I find most exciting: Harsh Mentor. We haven’t seen a cheap red creature with this much potential since Eidolon of the Great Revel. While you could always zap your opponent in Standard for crewing vehicles and activating Walking Ballista, Harsh Mentor’s best home is likely in Modern. Watch your opponent’s life total plummet, as Mentor triggers off everything from fetchlands and Mishra’s Bauble to half the cards that Affinity runs. Activate Inkmoth Nexus? Shock. Equip Cranial Plating? Shock. Sacrifice a bunch of stuff to Arcbound Ravager? Shock-shock-shock! While visions of Mentor singlehandedly carving up ambitious Legacy Miracles players have vanished with the latest B&R announcement, I still expect this card to make some waves across multiple formats.

For Standard, Glorybringer flies higher than any competition. The big dragon will probably do its finest work in multi-colored decks, but it’s still an unparalleled finisher for any mono-red deck that can support a five-drop. Stapling a removal spell onto a Stormbreath Dragon is a potent combo, whether you need to defensively pick off a threat, or go aggro and snipe a key blocker that’s holding the rest of your creatures back. Glorybringer creates dramatic swings of momentum and looks certain to be a staple of the format for the next two years.

Amonkhet also brings us two intriguing one-drops. Soul-Scar Mage bears a strong resemblance to Red Deck Wins Hall-of-Famer Monastery Swiftspear, and can quickly snowball out of control if backed by an array of powerful removal spells. The -1/-1 counter ability may prove harder to utilize, since aggressive strategies usually want to clear the way completely. You can kill an indestructible Gideon with a Lightning Axe, though, so keep an eye out for that interaction regardless of which side of the match you’re on. While the Mage has had significantly more hype, Flameblade Adept could be a sleeper, poised for a breakout performance in the right deck. Combo the Adept with Bomat Courier for huge attacks, while drawing back up to a healthy hand size if you’ve swung with the Courier a few times.

Speaking of discarding cards, both Bloodrage Brawler and Hazoret the Fervent warrant strong consideration for Standard. We’re already seeing Bloodrage Brawler cropping up in U/R Emerge lists, allowing you to go aggro while discarding Prized Amalgams or Stitchwings. However, in a mono-red or red/black aggressive strategy, it can just as easily enable Fiery Temper, Scrapheap Scrounger, or the nearly forgotten Bloodhall Priest. Hazoret can serve as a strong finisher for any of these strategies, rewarding you for dumping cards from your hand and providing game-winning reach with her activated ability in the later turns. Any red deck that can be attacking with Hazoret on turn four will be a force to be reckoned with, since few decks will have the tools to blunt such a powerful curve.

Overall, Amonkhet brings one of the widest and most versatile selections of red creatures we have seen in quite a while. I give the set an A- for creatures.

Burn Spells

For burn spells, we have fewer playable options to consider. The return of Magma Spray is certainly nice. Exiling Scrapheap Scrounger gives it a niche all to itself, while complementing Shock against all those Toolcraft Exemplars and Veteran Motorists that flood the board. Sweltering Suns is a much-needed mono-red sweeper, which will serve as a valuable check on weenie strategies and midrange decks that don’t want to be two-for-one’d. Finally, Cut/Ribbons is a curious and powerful spell if you can splash for some black mana, providing early removal AND a late-game killing blow.

You’ll notice that these three spells don’t damage players at all, or only do so effectively in the later turns. Amonkhet lacks much in the way of spell damage aimed at players. If you enjoy burning out your opponent directly, you’ll be leaning on your old friends Fiery Temper and Incendiary Flow once again. Not being able to target players is a major demerit in my book, and Amonkhet burn scores a C+ from me.

Utility Spells

Finally, we have an assortment of utility spells to consider. Cartouche of Zeal may not look like much, but I’ve won more games than I ever expected with the awe-inspiring power of Hammerhand. Don’t knock it ’til you try it – at one mana, the price is hard to argue with, and remember that it can trigger prowess. By Force is a strong sideboard option against many strategies, and may prove single-handedly responsible for putting Release the Gremlins out of a job. Insult/Injury is a strange one, providing something like double strike to all your creatures AND spells for a turn, plus a small bump of damage in the late-game. At sorcery speed, I don’t know how many shenanigans this card can enable, but the effect is undeniably game-changing.

Last but not least, fan-favorite Fling deserves a shout-out. While Fling may not have a strong history of top-tier performances, we shouldn’t rule out this out-of-left-field strategy with Electrostatic Pummeler and Metalwork Colossus around. I mentioned that Amonkhet was missing direct damage spells – will Fling prove me wrong?

All in all, Amonkhet provides red with a nice selection of utility and sideboard options. I’ll settle on a nice, solid B grade.

So, where does that leave us? All things considered, I give Amonkhet a B+ Red Deck Rating. The powerful creatures are a huge shot in the arm for Standard, giving red decks tools to build momentum and close out games much faster than before Amonkhet. Eternal formats even got a new goodie in Harsh Mentor. Amonkhet has few direct damage spells to offer, however; hopefully we get at least one powerful, versatile instant in Hour of Devastation. Maybe even Lightning Bolt? Please, Bolas. Please!

Header design: Chris Rowlands
Header art: “Hazoret the Fervent” by Chase Stone