Amonkhet is finally here. I absolutely love it! The sealed format feels like playing good old fashioned Magic, cycling and playing cards out of your graveyard. Embalm is a fantastic mechanic for grinding out games of Sealed. Perhaps Amonkhet draft will be fast enough to mitigate it, but in Sealed I am a big fan of embalm.

Cycling also does a ton of work to smooth out Sealed play. In Aether Revolt and Kaladesh, you’d run out of cards or get stuck with situational ones, and lose the long game because of it. You cut lands, but that made you more likely to get mana screwed and lose a quick game. In Amonkhet, you can manage resources and never run out of mana sinks and spells to cast. I’m excited to play competitive Sealed starting with PPTQ season this weekend.

I got a solid Prerelease pool that let me test out both new mechanics. I really like that blue has tons of embalm creatures and cycling cards, along with some nice fliers. I expect to play blue often in the format. Here’s my first stab:

Cruel Draking

Creatures (16)
Ruthless Sniper
Labyrinth Guardian
Tah-Crop Skirmisher
Ancient Crab
Baleful Ammit
Blighted Bat
Aven Initiate
Grim Strider
Naga Oracle
Curator of Mysteries
Horror of the Broken Lands
Angler Drake
River Serpent

Spells (7)
Cruel Reality
Final Reward
Drake Haven
Lay Claim
Unburden
Compelling Argument
Lands (17)
Evolving Wilds
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (21)
Festering Mummy
Doomed Dissenter
Cursed Minotaur
Soulstinger
Slither Blade
Seeker of Insight
Winds of Rebuke
Illusory Wrappings
Shadow of the Grave
Painful Lesson
Trespasser’s Curse
Supernatural Stamina
Grasping Dunes
Sunscorched Desert
Painted Bluffs
Kefnet’s Monument
Luxa River Shrine
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Harsh Mentor
Failure // Comply

[casthaven]Cruel Reality[/casthaven] is the truth. There are a few games where you draw it too far behind to tap out for it, but mostly you trade off as much as possible and then cast a seven mana spell that wins the game. A strong embalm deck can fight through [casthaven]the Abyss[/casthaven] for a few turns, and that’s what I lost to in the finals, along with the new Gideon. But for the most part, I felt like all I needed to do was survive and land my game-ending curse.

[casthaven]Lay Claim[/casthaven] also does a ton of work. You can always cycle it away, and there are a few ways to get it back later if needed. But mostly you just wait until seven mana and take the best permanent on the board. The format is slow enough that a seven-mana [casthaven]Volition Reins[/casthaven] turns out to be just perfect. Also note that while enchantment removal is pretty sparse in the set, bounce spells like [casthaven]Floodwaters[/casthaven] or [casthaven]Winds of Rebuke[/casthaven] are good defense against your opponent’s [casthaven]Lay Claim[/casthaven].

[casthaven]Aven Initiate[/casthaven] really impressed me. Go figure. A [casthaven]Snapping Drake[/casthaven] that flashes back for seven mana is an amazing common. I have a hard time seeing what blue common could be better. It feels great to trade off early with any three-toughness beater knowing you can get your win condition back later once you stabilize. And if they never trade with the first 3/2 flier? You’re probably in good shape. Outside of [casthaven]Magma Spray[/casthaven], you’re always getting great value on the trade.

Once the Magic Online prerelease began on Monday, I got to try another take on deep embalm thanks to some sweet rare pulls:

Yes, those are two copies of [casthaven]Glyph Keeper[/casthaven]. I don’t know how you work through two of those facing you down. Usually the first one gets the job done anyway. I lost one match of the competitive league when I had to mulligan to four on the play after losing a close game one. Otherwise, this deck crushed.

Cycling really helps make sure you dig into both lands and your best spells, which means your deck is more consistent and you can game plan more effectively. On top of that, a few cycling spells go a long way toward making [casthaven]Cryptic Serpent[/casthaven] a cheap closer. I’m a big fan of it if you have enough spells with cycling and/or cheap removal. Anything five mana or less is a great deal for a 6/5, and I’ve cast is for UU multiple times already.

[casthaven]Binding Mummy[/casthaven] was an all-star as well. Technically, the two of them were the real powerhouse. Even a single copy on board helps clear annoying attackers, but when you have two, every embalm token you make, and every other zombie, take out two blockers. In a tight race, this can turn the game in your favor. Two drop 2/2s usually don’t make the cut in Sealed, but ones with useful late game abilities do. While a tap here or there isn’t too great, and it’s pretty hard to do it at instant speed (hello [casthaven]Stir the Sands[/casthaven]), the ability is useful and give you tools to plan a tight race.

Finally, watch out for [casthaven]Edifice of Authority[/casthaven]. This card is for real in a slow format. It works better in control decks, as it only stops attacking for the first three uses. But if you don’t want to attack early (or only with evasion) then it’s basically [casthaven]Icy Manipulator[/casthaven]. Once you get it charged, it can even keep gods and other annoying activated abilities turned off. Amonkhet sealed is slow enough that building up three charge counters is going to happen often, and the Edifice slows the game down anyway. Also note that it doesn’t tap the creature, so the prevalent untap effects don’t stop it. I’d put Edifice in any Sealed deck I have, unless I’m really aggressive, which I doubt I’ll be very often. Great colorless uncommons are where I always look when reviewing a Sealed pool. I’ll be checking for [casthaven]Edifice of Authority[/casthaven] every time.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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