Well, we’re finally coming to the end of this retrospective, and not a moment too soon! Ixalan’s story got its first chapter on Wednesday, and I can’t wait to turn my attention to the new set and its story next week. But first, it’s time to look at the block that seems to be meant to bring the first act of the Gatewatch Story to a close. I’ve already written about Magic Origins, Battle for Zendikar, Shadows Over Innistrad, and Kaladesh. Now it’s time for Amonkhet!

The Cards

Alright, let’s start with the story spotlights: Renewed Faith, Cruel Reality, Anointed Procession, By Force, and Gideon’s Intervention. This is a cool shift in the way Wizards does Story Spotlights—highlighting a single character’s journey—and I’d love to see more of this in the future.

I really like how this framed the set with the story of how Gideon gets from having his heart leap at the sight of Oketra the True to putting himself between a god’s weapon and one of the plane’s people. Gideon’s Intervention is also thrilling on-card storytelling: it’s one heck of a first-set cliffhanger (especially given how poorly facing down a god has tended to work out for Gideon previously), and it revved me into high gear with predictions that being denied his Worthy-ness would ignite Djeru’s spark as a planeswalker.

Beyond the Story Spotlights, the gods were an impressive quintet, and Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun was a flavorful way of telling a story with Embalm. Liliana’s Mastery gave Lili a little space to shine, but Nissa was oddly missing outside of the
Gatewatch’s nifty arrival card, Open Into Wonder. Approach of the Second Sun did a nice job setting up the zeitgeist of the plane, much like Inventors’ Fair in Kaladesh.

Hour of Devastation as a set is, for me, the apex of Gatewatch-era on-card storytelling, and I’m excited to see where Wizards continues from here. The use of the Hours theme to the story spotlights (Hour of Revelation, Hour of Glory, Hour of Promise, Hour of Eternity, and Hour of Devastation) offered a compelling way of tracking the process by which Naktamun falls to Bolas’s prepared and prophesized apocalypse. The balance of having one Hour in each color was really pleasing aesthetically, and it gave a nice tour of the story’s big players (the new gods, the Eternals, the Gatewatch and Bolas).

We got key moments in Samut and Djeru’s journey that helped to flesh out their arc (Djeru’s Renunciation, Crash Through, Life Goes On). We got the exerted gods cycle (Oketra’s Last Mercy, Kefnet’s Last Word, Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Rhonas’s Last Stand, and Hazoret’s Undying Fury). The first four served as elegies for what each god was about, while Hazoret’s Undying Fury gave a nice hint at Hazoret’s eventual survival.

Solemnity and Tragic Lesson helped bring home the tragedy of the gods’ deaths, with Solemnity also helping to cap Gideon’s challenging journey with the gods of Amonkhet. Puncturing Blow gives a welcome moment of hope, with the people of Amonkhet bringing down The Scorpion God. The Defeat cycle is effective as a way of getting at Bolas’s total triumph. I also like how the gloom of some of these more overtly story-related cards finds some relief in the surprising humor of the set overall.

The Story

I think the overarching story of Amonkhet worked well and generally held together, although it did have some missed opportunities. Amonkhet set up intriguing mysteries, such as how and why Bolas hijacked the plane (which many, myself included, had assumed he had created). The question of whether Bontu the Glorified was in cahoots with Bolas loomed large over the story and had a solid payoff. Nissa’s transition from green to green-blue made sense, and her adventures trying to understand herself in the Trial of Knowledge made for some rich storytelling. There was some more movement in Jace and Liliana’s relationship (with Jace’s horror at her brutal slaughter of Razaketh and Liliana’s emotional struggles after Bolas took down Jace in the final battle), as well as more minor movements in the Nissa-Chandra-Gideon love triangle. Amonkhet also ended on a fantastic cliffhanger that foreshadows an eventual death for Gideon.

There were a few balls that felt like they got dropped. Mysteriously killing Temmet off-camera wastes the promise of his card a bit. I wonder if he was supposed to die in “Servants,” but the Story Team thought better of having the main heroes murder a guy. Razaketh was a fun spin on a demonic master and the story of his showdown with Liliana was quite good, but having him so small in the story (and somewhat easily dispatched by the combined might of the Gatewatch) felt like a little bit of a letdown.

I really like where the story of Amonkhet and its inhabitants ended. The survivors are trekking across the desert in search of a new home (Crested Sunmare’s flavor text hints at this plot thread), Hazoret survives as the last god, and heroes like Samut, Djeru, and Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons protect the plane’s people. Bolas, meanwhile, has a potential headquarters in Naktamun with his Eternals, while the Anointed may be building their own strange society (judging by Mummy Paramount). I am legitimately excited about potentially returning to this plane and continuing this story at some point.

I am disappointed by Samut not being integrated into the Gatewatch story (see my comments from last week about the problems with the emergent Planar Guardian trope), but it is widely theorized that her first planeswalk was to Theros, so it might not be all that long until we see her again.

I have qualms with the conclusion to the Gatewatch’s story in “Hour of Devastation,” however. I wonder if Bolas buried the Gatewatch too much in his opening monologue, which seems to vindicate a lot of complaints about the story’s main heroes. I also worry that we’re looking at an overcorrection. Having the whole Gatewatch show up in every story is overkill, I agree, and there have been a couple of sets where I think there’s one or two sets with too many Gatewatch planeswalker cards. But having spaces in each story at Gatewatch HQ on Ravnica, where we can see the relationships develop in Magic Story, would be nice. That way, everyone need not join in on the plane-hopping adventures, and it’s not that hard to fabricate reasons for different planeswalkers to sit certain adventures out.

If I’m right that we’re going to do a series of “picking up the pieces” blocks (and I could be wrong—we might just see the whole Gatewatch stumble bedraggled to Dominaria at the end of that set’s story), we’re now looking at a year or more without movement on many of the Gatewatch’s internal relationships. And, as someone who has bought in on the Gatewatch and bought in hard, I’m really going to miss that.

Beck’s Top Five Stories of Amonkhet

#5—Brazen by Michael Yichao

“Brazen” is the turning point in Gideon’s journey, where he realizes that something has gone horribly wrong with this plane, as he joins Djeru’s crop and watches most of the group die in the Trial of Ambition. And, while Bontu is eventually revealed as Bolas’s lackey, she makes fair points in her critique of Gideon and his quest for faith when he confronts her. There’s a rich ambiguity, which, along with the first-person narration, really brings the reader into Gideon’s complicated headspace. The story also teaches us a lot about what it means to live on this world, as Gideon revels with Djeru’s crop, watches members sacrifice themselves so that others may become Worthy. And Djeru killing a dear friend by drowning to keep his body intact for embalming? That is an act of strange kindness that tells you a lot about the characters.

#4—Judgment by Doug Beyer and Alison Luhrs

In some ways, “Judgment” struck me as a rather uneven. The abrupt capture of the Gatewatch as heretics felt weird to me, and Samut’s certainty of the Trial of Zeal being a butchering of heretics clashes with the rules for the world set out in some of the cards—Glorybringer specifically indicates that the Trial of Zeal is actually highly unpredictable.

The stuff that works in this story, however, more than makes up for the parts of the story I question. Nissa using Jace as a weapon during the Trial of Zeal? Hilarious. Samut and Djeru’s interactions? Heart-rending, a great job of using actions to show an intense, self-sacrificing friendship. And perhaps more than a friendship—with Samut’s begging Djeru to grow old with her, I actually really want to see a romance between these two. Hazoret’s closing prophecy of Gideon’s death? Brilliant, far-reaching foreshadowing that also heightened suspense for the showdown with Nicol Bolas, especially as some players already interpreted Gideon of the Trials and his ultimate ability as a sign of Gideon’s impending demise.

#3—The Writing on the Wall by Alison Luhrs

Alison Luhrs put in a lot of good work on this set’s story, but for my money, her best was on The Writing on the Wall. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, since this story did advance my favorite ongoing subplot and give at least some (admittedly coded) acknowledgement of Chandra’s attraction to Nissa and Nissa’s awareness thereof. The reveal that Bolas hijacked this world (rather than making it, as pre-Mending planeswalkers were wont to do) was a huge story swerve that opened up a series of intriguing mysteries. Nissa’s dream-communion with the Soul of Amonkhet also gave a strangely beautiful vision of the Curse of Wandering as a kindness and set up the world’s mystery more, as did her conversation with Oketra, which revealed that the cat-faced goddess did not
remember what happened to the plane.

#2—Endure by Michael Yichao

Speaking of people who put in a ton of work on this story, Michael Yichao was quite the workhorse. His last, “Endure,” put a really nice cap on the story of Amonkhet and its people. The way they chose their different paths—Hapatra going with the survivors, Djeru and Samut going to save Hazoret—had a richness to it. Hazoret fighting and severing her own arm in order to save her life was a nice touch, the people of Amonkhet felling a god was exciting (and a welcome modicum of triumph over Bolas), and the passing meeting between the Gatewatch and Djeru and Samut gave some welcome closure to their relationship for the block (with a nice echo of Gideon’s Intervention in Gideon saving Djeru from Neheb, the Eternal’s blade).

I was, again, disappointed to see Samut become the Planar Guardian planeswalker, but her people do need her, having her first planeswalk sparked by the thanks of a god was an interesting twist on what can make a spark ignite, and I bought Samut using super-speed to figure out how to travel back so quickly.

#1—Hour of Eternity by Ken Troop

I’m befuddled by the fact that this is my number one story for Amonkhet. On paper, this shouldn’t be a story that I liked this much. There is little Gatewatch, little sign of important characters, and limited hope. And yet, I don’t think any other story showed me so much about what it meant to live in Naktamun. The forbidden-ness of romantic and parental love. The intensity of the training the initiates undertook. The sheer gutsiness of its people. There is, perhaps, room to critique this story for setting up emotionally manipulative situations for cheap thrills, but I like what Michelle of the Loregoyfs had to say about the story: that it showed what was at stake in conflicts like this, and, I would add, why the multiverse needs a Gatewatch.

Further, the heroism of Amonkhet’s people—the blade master fighting Eternals so others can flee, the vizier of Oketra emboldened to try slaying the God-Pharaoh, the initiate trying to save a child by letting himself be stabbed by Eternals—this bravery is the impression I take most, this resilient and bold spirit. For that—for the spirit of a plane I have genuinely loved visiting—this is my favorite
story of Amonkhet. But, all that said—Ken, did you have to kill the child?

On that note, so ends the Gatewatch retrospective! Thank you for reading, and make sure you come back next week when I finally start writing about Ixalan!

Beck Holden is a Ph.D. student in theater who lives in the greater Boston area. He enjoys drafting, brewing for standard, and playing 8-Rack in modern. He also writes intermittently about actually playing Magic at beholdplaneswalker.wordpress.com.

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