When I first looked at Amonkhet, I assumed it was going to be a grindy format with embalm and cycling synergies playing a huge role. In practice, Amonkhet is a very aggressive Draft format, and exert is by far its most important mechanic. Exert means that 2- and 3-drops attack like 4- and 5-drops, and blocking is very hard. There are several playable Auras and combat tricks, and the removal is mostly clunky and expensive.
Even though aggro is the best, it’s possible to draft slower decks—certain green ramp strategies, for example, can work, and B/W Zombies can be a controlling archetype. In general, though, your mindset should be that the format is quite a bit faster than what we’re used to, which will make cheap cards better and expensive cards worse. I believe that Magma Spray is the best common in the set, whereas cards like Electrify and Angler Drake are a bit worse than they would be normally.
In Amonkhet, most color combinations have distinct archetypes. Some are similar, like all the aggressive ones, but some are unique, like U/B Cycling. In today’s article I’ll talk about my preferred version of each color combination, always keeping in mind that I consider the format exeedingly fast.
The Decks I Want
I believe that B/W Zombies is the best deck in the format, but it’s not easy to Draft. A lot of the cards that are good in your deck are good in every deck, which is unique for a tribal archetype.
When we had Allies in Battle for Zendikar, a lot of the cards were only good in the Allies deck. If someone opened Kalastria Healer and you were the only B/W Allies player in the Draft, you’d get it. You’d even table it. In Amonkhet, this does not happen. If someone opens a Fan Bearer, you’re not getting it 8th pick even if you’re the only Zombies player in the pod. Even a card like Binding Mummy, which is theoretically a Zombies card, will be picked up by a lot of U/W and R/W drafters who want a 2-drop with upside. The real payoff from being Zombies comes in the form of cards like Wayward Servant and Time to Reflect, which are uncommon.
The upside is that, as far as synergy decks go, Zombies is not that synergistic. If you have a Lord of the Accursed, a Binding Mummy, and a Time to Reflect, you’re good to go. Sometimes you have no Zombie synergies, and your B/W deck still ends up solid. You can win a lot of games with Gust Walker, Cursed Minotaur, and Trial of Solidarity. This makes going for a B/W deck quite safe, because even the worst-case scenario is still good.
One card I really like in this archetype is Wander in Death. Since you have a decent amount of creature synergies and they’re mostly cheap, the ability to get two of them back in the mid- to late-game is excellent.
This is probably the best aggro archetype, and also very straightforward. Both white and red have good 2- and 3-drops at common, both colors have good removal, and both colors even have bombs if you’re lucky. I consider the white and red Trials to be the 2 best uncommons in the set (in this order), and both red and white Cartouches are playable.
If you’re a R/W Aggro deck, your deck will likely end up a bit cheaper than other aggro decks, which is good. Most R/W decks will cap out at 4 mana, which is a fantastic place to be.
Decks I Don’t Look For, But Don’t Mind Playing
B/R is a straight aggro deck, and unless you happen to open the Minotaur Lord, there isn’t anything complicated about it. The main problem with this archetype is the 2-drops—red has some good ones, but most of the black 2-drops (Dune Beetle, Doomed Dissenter) are defensive. You can play Miasmic Mummy, but it’s mediocre. As a result, you have to be careful not to end up too clunky.
There are two black commons that I think really complement the red aggro cards—Supernatural Stamina and Cursed Minotaur. Supernatural Stamina lets you make two plays in one turn when your deck is flooded with 3- and 4-drops, and Cursed Minotaur is just so hard to block—it’s one of my favorite cards in the set and I think it’s quite a bit better than most people realize. It also helps you that a good portion of the black decks aren’t interested in those aggressive cards, so you can get the Minotaur much later than you would if it were a red card.
Green is in a weird place in this set since half the cards are ramp and half are aggressive, but there’s enough aggressiveness in it that you can pair it with red—Hooded Brawler, in particular, is way above average for a 3-drop and fits nicely in any deck that is interested in attacking.
Other than Hooded Brawler, you also get two playable 2-drops in the form of Bitterblade Warrior and Initiate’s Companion. Neither of those cards are amazing, but they’re both solid, and 2-drops are a hot commodity in this set, so pairing red with a color that has two solid options is good. On top of that, you get some very late Khenra Charioteers, and that card is amazing.
U/W Embalm Flyers
U/W decks often end up quite good, which is weird considering that I don’t think the U/W combination really has an identity—I called it U/W Embalm Flyers because that’s descriptive (you want embalm creatures and flyers!) but you can have U/W decks of all sorts, ranging from aggressive to defensive. Most of the time, though, you’ll win with flyers.
Most U/W decks, in my experience, start with the gold cards—Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, and Aven Wind Guide. Once you have one or more of those, then you just draft blue and white cards and end up with a deck—you want removal, sometimes bounce or counters, and creatures. There aren’t many cards in this combination that actually get better because you are U/W, so it’s really only the gold ones that will push you to it.
If you’re U/W, you should pay attention to the small synergy between the white “Zombie matters” cards and the blue embalm creatures. Since every embalm creature is a Zombie and blue has two at common (plus the gold uncommon), you can play cards like Binding Mummy and Time to Reflect.
The B/G theme in this set is counters, which can be used both on your creatures and in your opponent’s. If you open Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, then you’re golden, but Nest of Scarabs is also good in the archetype and a card that no one else wants.
Past that, your deck can take quite a few different directions. Some of them will be more aggressive and have cards like Destined // Lead to combo with deathtouchers like Bitterblade Warrior, or to alpha strike. Some will be slower and try to assemble a reasonably-sized creature plus Cartouche of Ambition. Some will be a normal mix of creatures and spells, and not focus on the counters synergy at all. Like B/W, B/G is a deck that can bail you out—you don’t need to find the synergy to have a functional deck, and Decimator Beetle is going to be good no matter where you end up.
Unlike most other decks, this deck can also splash. You get to play powerful gold cards like Prepare // Fight, Start // Finish, or even the rare double-splash for Heaven // Earth or Glorybringer off of a couple of Gift of Paradise. I don’t love the 3-4 color green decks, but they are a decent alternative if you find yourself picking up bombs of multiple different colors, and they’re often B/G.
In my experience, most G/W decks are just creature decks with a lot of pump spells. You have a decent amount of removal for a G/W strategy (Cartouche of Strength, Compulsory Rest, and Fan Bearer are all great and common) and both colors have a lot of good 2- and 3-drops. If you’re G/W, you can often try to make exert the focal point of your deck. Not only do both colors have very powerful exert creatures at common, but green also offers many ways to untap them (Initiate’s Companion, Synchronized Strike, and Ahn-Crop Champion). This also works in R/G, but it’s more important in G/W since white has more exert than red and there’s a gold uncommon that works with it.
In practice, G/W decks aren’t much different than R/G decks, though they tend to be slightly smaller overall (but still bigger than R/W). As such, you still don’t want to focus on the ramp side of green—Naga Vitalist is not a priority pick and you should never play Gift of Paradise in a G/W aggro deck.
Decks I Don’t Want, But Can Work
U/B Cycling is, for the most part, a trap. When I started drafting the format I tried a variety of Drake Haven decks, often with multiple Faith of the Devoted, and I found them severely lacking. You simply don’t have the time to be cycling a ton of cards, and I don’t want to ever put a card like Compelling Argument in my deck.
In my experience, U/B control decks can exist, but they’re not cycling decks. Faith of the Devoted is basically unplayable, but the other cycling cards can be good if you don’t tunnel vision on them. Just play your U/B deck like a control deck, with a ton of cheap removal, and get your cycling synergy from Seeker of Insight (which is a key card for the deck and what I consider the best blue common).
When you draft a U/B deck, it’s important to keep in mind that a ton of other decks will be super aggressive. Prioritize early blockers and early interaction, like Splendid Agony, which is much better in this archetype than in most other black decks.
Personally, I don’t think those decks work. They rely too much on specific cards and force you to play cards like Compelling Argument and Tormenting Voice, which I do not want to play. My U/R decks are not Enigma Drake decks—they are Slither Blade decks.
I’m not in the Andrea Mengucci camp of “Slitherblade is better than Jitte,” but I think there is a deck for it and that deck is U/R. You don’t need Slither Blade itself to make the deck work, but it’s the philosophy that counts—if you are U/R, you want to be as aggressive as possible and you want to go as low curve as possible—even lower than R/W. Both Cartouches are quite good here, and depending on the exact composition of your deck, Pursue Glory can be a great finisher.
Decks I Avoid Like the Plague
U/G is mostly a ramp archetype and usually splashes a color for removal. In theory, you want cards like Naga Vitalist and Weaver of Currents so you can ramp into powerful creatures like Angler Drake and Scaled Behemoth. In practice, what ends up happening is that people Magma Spray your Weaver of Currents and then have 10 power worth of creatures by the time you play your first big one. Even if you do manage to stabilize, some of the exert creatures are very hard to block and will be able to finish you off.
I consider U/G to be the worst archetype in Draft. Green and blue are the two worst colors, and their mechanic isn’t good. Whenever I find myself in U/G, I’m either splashing multiple mythic rares (which makes your deck similar to the 4-color B/G decks) or I try to take a more aggressive approach to at least try to steal some games, because I think normal U/G decks never win. I’ll basically try to draft a bunch of 2- and 3-drops and then beef them up with Cartouche of Knowledge to get them through, with the occasional Open into Wonder and even Decision Paralysis to break stalemates. Since you have many ways to get your creatures through, you should prioritize high power over anything—Trial of Strength is very good in this deck, and Initiate’s Companion is better than normal.