Amulet Bloom primer: part 1

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Modern Modern

Modern is a strange animal these days. The format came to a weird state of having only two types of competitive decks (with very few exceptions).

First type is a combo. Such decks try to assemble a powerful combination of cards that kills the opponent as soon as possible. Combo decks, as in all other formats, run some number of card selection spells and some protection to push the deadly combination through disruption. Different decks achieve the “combo goal” in different ways: some try to be the classic combo decks  I mentioned (Storm, Ad Nauseam, Griselbrand), others incorporate an aggro plan in case the combo fails (Affinity, Elves, Infect, Burn), and some decks just ignore the other side of the board completely (Boggles in hands of Dan R Ward).

Second type includes a variety of decks that have a plan to disrupt all these combo decks and then win with whatever. Execution of such plan is getting more and more challenging, there are too many combo decks, and they oftentimes require very different cards to beat them. Such “disruption-based” decks may be a good choice if you can predict the metagame well and also draw right answers on right time. The decks like this are GBx, Grixis, UWR Control and many others.

Yet another combo deck…

Ok, so, Amulet Bloom. What kind of deck is that? Well, it definitely belongs to a combo bracket, right? With Amulet Bloom it is possible to kill your opponent as early as turn 2 if you get the right combination of cards. Let’s take a look at the deck and see how it assembles the combo and fights disruption. Here is my current list for upcoming Grand Prix Pittsburgh:

To combo off on turn 2, you need to have 4 pieces: Amulet of Vigor, Summer Bloom, a bounce land and either Primeval Titan or Hive Mind + Pact. With Amulet on the battlefield, you play your bounce land, untap it with Amulet trigger, get 2 mana, bounce it back to your hand, cast Summer Bloom, play the same land 3 more times to get 6 mana, and then play Titan or Hive Mind and enjoy your opponent’s agony. So, it is a 4 card combo, and 4 cards is a lot for a combo deck. There are quite a few 2-card combos in this format, so why would a sane man play this pile of cards?

… well, not exactly

The answer is simple: Amulet Bloom is insanely powerful even if it doesn’t get the combo pieces and plays “fair” game.

In fact, I don’t really treat Amulet Bloom as combo deck. Comboing off on turn 2-3 is just a nice bonus that gives you free wins sometimes. Amulet is more of a ramp deck that relies on resolving Primeval Titan. As soon as Titan hits the battlefield, things start getting rough for your opponent since every turn you may search for the cards you need in this particular matchup. You may get another Titan by getting Summoner’s Pact, disruption in a form of Pact of Negation or a removal like Slaughter Pact and Engineered Explosives. Every turn the Titan survives it gives you more and more cards to eventually overwhelm your opponent. The Titan itself is a huge threat, it is very hard to beat 8/6 double striking monster in combat. Since every turn gives you card advantage, the longer a game goes the more likely you win. Such statement is weird, but Amulet Bloom has the best late game in the format. Yes, you read it right: this “combo” deck beats control decks by playing better long game!

That is what makes Amulet Bloom unique and unfair. It may kill fast when needed, or it may play long grindy game when going off is too risky or not possible. Knowing this is very important if you want to play Amulet well. Depending on matchup and game situation, your deck can be anything: it can be aggro by searching Slayers’ Stronghold and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, it can be midrange by getting Titan after Titan after Titan, and it can be control by searching counterspells, removal and slowly winning with a lonely Titan. And yes, sometimes it is a combo. It is a combo far less often that everything else though.

Lands and card draw

The deck plays 27 lands, 10 of them are “Karoo” lands. 27 is a good number if you play more than 8 cantrips, otherwise I would recommend 28.

  • 4 Simic Growth Chamber, 3 Gruul Turf, 1 Selesnya Sanctuary, 1 Golgari Rot Farm – this is the core of your deck, these lands make Summer Bloom and Azusa fantastic. Karoos allow you not to run out of lands in your hand when you make all these extra land drops. The selection of these 9 is simple: all of them have to provide green in order to play Titan, in addition, you want as many UG ones because half colored spells in your deck are blue, at least one RG and WG in order to search both of them to activate Sunhome, at least one GB to pay for Slaughter Pact. This version plays extra RG lands in order to play sideboarded Pyroclasms more reliably
  • 1 Boros Garrison, 1 Slayer’s Stronghold, 1 Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion – this is what helps you attack with Titan the turn it entered the battlefield and to search 2 more land this way. Sunhome allows you killing opponents faster and also makes sure your Titan doesn’t die in the combat
  • 3 Tolaria West – this is how you convert lands into business. With Amulet in play, searching Tolaria West + Simic Growth Chamber with Titan trigger gives you exactly 1UU and sends Tolaria West to your hand. You can transmute it to a pact, Engineering Explosives or any utility land you need
  • 1 Khalni Garden, 1 Radiant Fountain, 1 Cavern of Souls, 1 Temple of Mystery, 1 Vesuva – here they are, lands that do something besides giving you mana. Khalni Garden and Radiant Fountain help survive early onslaught, Garden also provides protection from sacrifice effects. Cavern of Souls shines against decks with counterspells, Temple of Mystery helps get cards you need, Vesuva becomes a second copy of whatever you need the most at a given moment
  • 4 Gemstone Mine, 1 Mana Confluence, 1 Forest, 1 Island – untapped lands that allow you to play your spells. In general, you want a blue source on 1st-2nd turn to play your cantrips and you also want at least one green source in your starting hand. With this configuration, you have 14 blue lands, 10 of them can be used on turn 1 or 2, you also have 17 green sources total. I strongly recommend playing 2 basic lands to make Ghostly Quarters and Paths to Exile less scary

Cantrips are represented by 4 Serum Visions, 3 Sleight of Hand and 2 Ancient Stirrings. Serum Visions is the best card selection spell in Modern, so easy 4 of. The split between Sleights and Stirring is dictated by the limitations of the latter: you cannot get a Titan or Summer Bloom/Azusa by using Stirrings. It is at its best in finding Amulet or bounce land, but that the least important pieces of the engine. I don’t want to draw more than 1 Stirrings, so 2 feels like the best number (I would play 2.5 if I could).

The engine

  • 4 Amulet of Vigor, 4 Summer Bloom, 2 Azusa, Lost but Seeking – this is how you get the fast mana. Summer Bloom is the most important card in the deck by miles. If you’re playing against Amulet Bloom and turn 1 Inquisition of Kozilek shows you a hand with Summer Bloom and Amulet, it is usually correct to discard the Bloom. Resolved Summer Bloom moves you 3 turns ahead of your opponent even without Amulet. Also, keep in mind that you may utilize extra Summoner’s Pacts to get Asuza, it’s ok plan if you don’t have other acceleration
  • 4 Primeval Titan, 4 Summoner’s Pact, 2 Hive Mind – this is what you ramp into. Tolaria West also belongs to this category since it can find you Summoner’s Pact which finds you the Titan. The deck has 13 “threats”, and you don’t really need more than 1 in your hand: resolved Titan brings its colleagues from the library
  • 2 Pact of Negation, 1 Slaughter Pact, 1 Engineered Explosives – your “control” elements. I like Engineered Explosives in the main deck since it is a “catch all” answer that kills pretty much anything you want

Sideboard

  • 1 Cavern of Souls, 1 Ghost Quarter – extra utility lands that are good against blue decks and decks with dangerous lands (Affinity, Tron, Infect). Feel free to swap these with other utility lands in main deck, the exact split is a metagame choice. However, I do not recommend replacing any “mana” lands with these in order to free up spaces in sideboard. You really need to keep main deck manabase colorful enough so you can actually play your spells. Consistency over power. Always
  • 3 Leyline of Sanctity – discard is the best disruption against Amulet Bloom, leylines stop it. Also helps against Burn
  • 2 Seal of Primordium, 1 Nature’s Claim – this deck dies to Blood Moon and Splinter Twin is another enchantment you don’t like. I play 1 claim since it marginally better against decks like affinity and also playable against burn and such, but overall Seal is a better anti-enchantment hate
  • 2 Swan Song – all the above plus it helps you resolve your big spells against decks with counterspells and to stop other combos
  • 2 Pyroclasm – good against creature decks like affinity and elves
  • 1 Hornet Queen – helps you stabilize the board against aggro decks and also represents 5 distinct threats which is a good brick wall for GBx decks
  • 2 Dismember – a good way to survive in bad matchups like Splinter Twin or Infect. People typically don’t play around it, catch them off guard!
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Other cards to consider

Here are some other cards that may deserve a spot in main deck or sideboard:

  • Simian Spirit Guide – helps you play the Titan one turn faster, also enables T1 kills. You may play it if you value explosiveness over consistency. I think this deck is explosive enough already
  • Explore – another way to ramp on turn 2 or 3. I believe it is too slow and doesn’t do enough. Feel free to test it, but I would rather play extra copies of Azusa
  • Mortuary Mire – very interesting option from BFZ. It ensures you’ll never run out of Titans, it allows you to create an endless stream of titans/hornet queens against decks like Jund. It is less mana hungry than traditional “Titan into bounce land + tolaria west” approach. Worth testing
  • Ruric Thar, the Unbowed – good against spell-based combo decks like Storm or Ad Nauseam. Searchable with Summoner’s Pact, just make sure you can pay for the pact the turn after you play Ruric
  • Spellskite – in theory, helps against Splinter Twin, Infect, Burn, etc. In reality, it dies to artifact removal that gets sided in against Amulet of Vigor. I tried them and wasn’t impressed
  • Chromatic Lantern – serves as a mana source and a way to beat Blood Moon. It’s not the most effective way of beating it though. Even if you can resolve your Titans with Blood Moon on the battlefield, they are essentially 6/6 creatures with no abilities, that may not be enough to win
  • A lot of people suggest playing big creatures like Thragtusk, Sigarda, Dromoka in Amulet Bloom’s sideboard. I don’t think any of them are needed. All of them are way, way worse than Titan even in the matchups they’re good against. So if you want more threats, just play more Tolaria West or cantrips to find Titans.

Mulligans

This deck mulligans well. Don’t be afraid to mulligan hands aggressively, value card quality over quantity. At Grand Prix Charlotte earlier this year I mulliganed every game during first 4 rounds of day 1 and won all these games. New mulligan rule makes things even better, free scry is very close to “draw a card” in this deck.

Here are a few rules of thumb in regards of mulliganing. Keep in mind that they are mostly applicable to game 1. If you know your opponent deck, the decision may be different.

  • Obviously, you mulligan hands that don’t have any lands besides Karoos. Also, it is usually correct to mulligan hands with no green sources unless you have fast blue mana and plenty of cantrips
  • A hand with either Summer Bloom or 2 Amulets plus a few lands is usually a keep. Such hands enable turn 3 Titan
  • A hand that cannot play Titan earlier than turn 5 is usually a mulligan. I’m sure you’ll be dead by turn 5 in Modern
  • A hand with lands and ramp but without business is usually a keep. You have 13 big spells plus 9 cantrips, and you only need to get one of them to make such hands perfect
  • A hand with 2 or more Slaughter Pact/Pact of Negation/Engineered Explosives is usually a mulligan. Non-engine spells aren’t needed in the first 3-4 turns and are effectively blanks
  • A hand with 2+ cantrips and a few distinct engine pieces is a good keep. Cantrips will help you to find remaining pieces.

That’s all I have for now. This is part one, in the second part we will review Amulet’s gameplan against the most popular decks in Modern. Stay tuned!

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Denis Ulanov

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