Since the release of Head Designer Mark Rosewater’s teaser for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, we knew that there were a few specific cards with bizarre abilities to look out for. One of these cards that emerged was The Millennium Calendar. Rosewater stated that there was a card capable of being sacrificed to force each opponent to lose 1,000 life, so long as it had 1,000 counters on it. Now we have full context for exactly how this card works, and it’s a doozy.
The Millennium Calendar is not the only card with a strange ability previewed in the teaser, however. Another card has the ability to destroy all other Creatures if its power is exactly 20. My initial expectations were that this ability would be featured on a Creature that was relatively clunky and the ability would be pretty unrealistic to pull off. As it turns out, this Creature costs only two mana, and is quite efficient for what it does. Bizarrely, the 20-power clause actually ends up being a downside.
While getting to 20 power in a traditional manner is quite difficult, there is a combo that appears to be taking the MTG community by storm. This powerful two-drop has a lot of potential, both as a combo piece and simply as an efficient threat. Let’s take a look at this two-drop and where it might shine.
Executing the Combo
Amalia Benavides Aguirre is a solid two-mana card with a few different abilities that all add up to give it multi-format potential. Right off the bat, you get a 2/2 that demands an additional cost to target with opposing spells. Amalia also states that, whenever you gain life, it Explores. Exploring is a powerful ability, helping you hit your Land drops, dig for strong non-Land cards when necessary, and grow Amalia to make it more threatening. If you can Explore enough times to get Amalia’s power to 20, you can destroy all other Creatures, then attack your opponent for 20 for an easy win.
Normally, this would be very improbable to pull off. As MTGPioneer points out, though, Wildgrowth Walker makes things much easier. All you need is either a way to Explore or a way to gain life to start a chain reaction. If you Explore, Wildgrowth Walker triggers, gaining a +1/+1 counter and gaining you three life. Once you gain this life, Amalia Explores. This will, in turn, trigger Wildgrowth Walker once again, and this process repeats until Amalia has reached 20 power. To ensure this happens, you just need to leave a non-Land card on top of your deck each time you Explore.
From there, all other Creatures will get destroyed, allowing you to attack for 20 and win. Of course, if you execute the combo with Amalia having Summoning Sickness, you will need to fade a removal spell, but at least you gained a bunch of life and got to Explore a ton of times too. The key to making this combo stronger is to add extra consistency to the rest of your deck that furthers your gameplan. Luckily, there are a few ways to do this.
Elements of Consistency
In formats like Pioneer and Historic, there are a few different key aspects you will want in order to help make your combo as resilient and easy to pull off as possible. The first thing you need is redundancy. It can be difficult to draw both parts of the combo each game, so having ways to find your combo pieces is important. The existence of Collected Company and Chord of Calling really help in this regard.
Next, you want enough ways to start the combo. Cards like Lunarch Veteran not only get the combo going, but also make Amalia into a big threat when you don’t have access to Wildgrowth Walker. With Lunarch Veteran in play, every Creature that enters the battlefield on your side of the board generates extra value.
You can also go the other route, playing cards like Jadelight Ranger. Jadelight Ranger provides value on its own, grows Wildgrowth Walker naturally, and can start the combo as well.
Elements of Resiliency
Finally, you ideally want ways to protect your combo. This is where Tamiyo’s Safekeeping comes into play. Tamiyo’s Safekeeping can give your Amalia Indestructible, protecting it from opposing removal spells. On top of that, Tamiyo’s Safekeeping gains you life, allowing it to be used proactively to start the combo as necessary.
Be careful, though. If you target Wildgrowth Walker while attempting to combo, you can actually end the game in a draw. This is because, without the ability to remove Wildgrowth Walker or Amalia, you will continue to Explore and gain life indefinitely, since neither card features a “may” ability. That being said, if you throw a card like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose into the mix, you can win the game by draining the opponent in the process, without needing to attack at all.
You may also want ways to rejuvenate your combo pieces vs decks with lots of removal. Importantly, both Amalia and Wildgrowth Walker are two drops, enabling Extraction Specialist as a great tool in Pioneer. You can even throw in Alseid of Life’s Bounty as a way to protect your combo pieces without giving them specifically Indestructible. In Historic, rather than playing Extraction Specialist, you can use Lurrus of the Dream-Den as your Companion, since the card is not banned in the format.
Beyond the Combo
It’s clear that the combo with Wildgrowth Walker gives Amalia a chance to see Historic and Pioneer play, but it’s important to acknowledge that, in a Standard environment, the card is relatively strong on rate alone. Lunarch Veteran is Standard legal, which can help guarantee that Amalia generates a lot of value in a Creature-heavy deck. In an aggressive shell with ways to gain life, Amalia threatens to grow quite quickly, and the damage adds up. Not to mention, if your opponent does want to kill Amalia, they will lose life as a result.
There are already some solid, aggressively costed Vampires and Vampire payoffs in Standard, such as Markov Baron, Bloodtithe Harvester, Voldaren Thrillseeker, and Vampire Socialite. With new Vampire additions to Standard in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, such as Bloodletter of Aclazotz, perhaps Mardu Vampires can grow in popularity and makes use of Amalia as well. It doesn’t take much to get Amalia going, and its Ward ability combined with its sheer efficiency gives the card a shot to show up in a multitude of places.