There is a reason that games have rules: without them, everything would just be Calvinball. Rules provide structure, cohesion, and comprehension. To mess with them is to risk your game flying apart. Magic is no different. Draw one card, play one land, each land produces one mana, use that mana to pay the cost of your spells; simple, easy, fair. Which is why cards that break those rules are so powerful, and why each time Wizards messes around with them too much, game stability is compromised.
By now, you’ve certainly seen the leaked Dominaria FAQ. As a result, you know that there is a new mox coming. Mox Amber will be the ninth tournament legal mox in Magic‘s history. The question is, how well it will measure up? Older moxen have a somewhat inconsistent history, and it is not guaranteed that a new mox will be playable. Every mox has seen play, most extensive, but enabling them isn’t always easy. Therefore, Mox Amber’s playability will depend on how easy it is to use, and how closely it resembles the original, “unconditional” moxen. I am skeptical it is worthwhile in Modern, but there is a chance.
The Original Moxen
The original five moxen make up most of the Power Nine. They are arguably the best “lands” ever printed. They cost no mana to cast and produce mana, just like lands. Most of the time, they’re better than lands because you can play multiples, in the same turn, in addition to a land. Mana acceleration is good, and free mana acceleration is utterly busted. Furthermore, because they function just like a land, they replace lands. Functionally, Mox Sapphire is an Island that you cast, meaning it replaces Island. This is how mana-hungry Vintage decks get away with low land counts. Yes, there are cards like Chalice of the Void and Stony Silence that make moxen liabilities, but the risk is small compared to the benefits.
Not only being the first moxen, but also the most busted moxen, makes the originals the measuring stick for all the subsequent moxen. There will never be anything that exactly copies them, but how close a given mox comes determines its playability. The degree to which the mox reduces the need for lands and accelerates your first turn determines its value. All the moxen have seen play, but none have the universal value of the originals: some are niche, which others are widespread in a certain type of deck.
The Balanced Moxen
Wizards has subsequently tried to weaken the moxen. They’ve also been incredibly stingy with them, only making four more in the past 25 years. In fact, as I was looking it up, I realized that it is a regular release every seven years. Mox Diamond was released in 1996, then seven years passed before Chrome Mox saw print in Mirrodin in 2003, and then seven more between that and Mox Opal in 2010. Mox Amber is overdue at eight years. I need to ask Rosewater if this was intentional. In any case, none of these moxen were as good as the originals, though a few came close.
The first new mox is also currently the worst mox. As far as I can determine, and I will stress that records from 1996 are sparse, Mox Diamond saw limited play before Legacy Lands became a deck. The mana ability is superior to that of the originals since it produces all colors of mana, but the drawback is significant. You must discard a land for Diamond to enter play. This means you need extra lands in your hand when you play it, and as a result, you couldn’t cut lands for the mox. Thus, it never saw widespread play, instead serving as an accelerant in broken combo decks that already played lots of lands. Between taking up a spell slot and requiring more lands, most decks didn’t want Mox Diamond.
Legacy Lands changed that trend. Lands runs as many lands as its name suggests, frequently requires color fixing and acceleration, and can mitigate the drawback with Life from the Loam. Other land-heavy decks have also adopted Diamond, meaning that it is finally a format staple in Legacy, if a niche one. The lesson is that context is key, and having the ability to play a mox doesn’t mean you should.
The second Mox is in my opinion the most powerful. Chrome Mox requires a sacrifice of a colored spell to do anything, but that proved to be acceptable. It could be used turn one without difficulty or any deckbuilding restrictions and functioned just like a land. This is as close to the originals as any mox has come and Chrome Mox has seen widespread play. In Standard it was everywhere. Affinity ran a set because even if you didn’t imprint anything it was still mana for Frogmite and Myr Enforcer or Arcbound Ravager chow. Other, ostensibly fair decks, ran Chrome too to try and keep up with the artificial menace. Even the older formats got into the action.
Once Affinity was banned in Standard, Chrome Mox began to fall off. As the format slowed down card advantage became more important pitching a card to the Mox became too burdensome. Since then, fair decks have stayed away from Chrome Mox while broken combo decks are fine because they don’t care about card advantage. For this reason, Chrome Mox is banned in Modern.
Next is the only Modern-legal mox. Mox Opal is designed to be the most niche mox ever, and it succeeds. Keying off the artifacts matter theme in Scars block, Opal only produces mana when you have metalcraft. Which isn’t a big deal, as it counts itself, but most decks don’t play many artifacts to begin with so they can’t utilize Opal. The biggest change from Chrome to Opal was the addition of legendary. This appears to be Wizards’ new balancing strategy, and it makes sense. Multiple moxen are extremely powerful after all, and legendary status means that any extra copies will be Lotus Petals at best. Which is still pretty good, but not five-jewels good.
The restriction on how it produces mana means that Mox Opal has never seen widespread play. However, in artifact-heavy decks, it’s a four-of. It does everything you want from a mox in the right deck. In Affinity it is almost always active turn one and will always work by turn two in any artifact deck. This means it is always the same as a land turn one in Affinity and very close in artifact combo decks like Krark-Clan Ironworks. These decks would play the means to turn on Opal anyway so the restriction isn’t a problem and thus it functions like a substantial chunk of a land. I can’t say it’s a full land because you can’t keep multiples in play, but it certainly lets artifact decks cut some lands.
And now, the star of the show. The first thing to note is that Mox Amber is legendary, just like Opal. Also like Opal, it keys off the set’s focus, in this case other legendaries; specifically, creatures and planeswalkers. If you have a legendary creature or planeswalker, Amber produces a mana in their colors; otherwise, it does nothing. Colorless is not a color, so Karn and Hope of Ghirapur don’t work.
Mox Amber requires cheap legends to shine, and for this reason, I don’t think it was designed with Standard in mind. True, we haven’t seen the full spoiler yet, but I have doubts about there being enough playable one-mana legends for the mox. The current spoiler has a number of two-mana legends, but again, the main value of a mox is first-turn acceleration.
That’s why I think it was intended for Modern. Modern only has one legal mox, and I can’t see Legacy or Vintage using this one. Considering that white has more cheap legends than any other color with red a distant second, I think it was intended for a white-based aggressive deck. The question now is whether it will actually have a home in Modern.
Is It Worthwhile?
Given the mentioned limitations, is Mox Amber a good use of deck space? That will depend on how much it resembles the original moxen, specifically how well it functions as an extra land drop turn one and if it replaces lands. The whole point is that you’re running a card that functions as a land but is also an accelerant. If you can’t replace lands or it can’t be used until turn two or later, why not just run Birds of Paradise? Barring that, there needs to be some extra payoff to make it useful.
Is It a Land Drop?
Is Mox Amber an extra land drop? Kind of. If you have it, a land, a castable legend, and a one-mana, same-color spell in your opening hand, absolutely. If not, then you’re wasting a card, because the mox isn’t accelerating your turn one. As a means to jump up the curve it works, but I then question if it’s better than a mana dork. Lightning Bolt on the creature slows you down in either case, but in the mox scenario, you also spent an extra card. That’s not great. As to whether it replaces lands, the answer is no. In order for Mox Amber to do anything, you have to have already played a spell, so your demand for land on turn one remains the same. After that turn, Mox Amber becomes more like a land, but the value of the acceleration also substantially decreases.
This limitiation is a huge strike against the mox. Explosive creature decks that could play and may want a mox will struggle to include the card because they cannot shave on lands. Humans is close to this theoretical list, already runs 18 lands and has to mulligan a lot because it can’t find the first land to get going. Meanwhile, Affinity runs fewer lands with a full set of Mox Opal, and is perfectly fine because in that deck, Opal is a land. They will always turn on Mox by turn two, frequently one, and can always use the mana. There’s little hope that Amber can make Humans’ problem better, so I think it compares poorly to Opal and the original moxen, putting it in the same category as Mox Diamond.
What about the Mox Diamond approach of building around the card? There isn’t a drawback that can be taken advantage of here, so the possibilities are limited. Instead, we would simply have to embrace the limitation and make use of the acceleration. We’ve established that cheap legends are necessary and that white has the best, followed by red. Why not go for a legend aggro deck? Because just playing a bunch of 2/2s for one isn’t very good in a format filled with one mana removal. Flooding the board against Jeskai isn’t useful when they can Bolt and Path your early plays then use Lightning Helix to stabilize. Instead, we need to go the blitz approach.
Legend-Whack, Test Deck
The idea here is to flood the board with as many legends as possible, boost them with Bushwhackers, and hope that’s good enough. Which is obviously the same plan as 8-Whack, and frankly I think it’s quite a bit worse. While Thalia provides powerful disruption, especially in a fast deck, there’s no real payoff other than Mox Amber. 8-Whack has all its Goblin synergies when the pure blitz plan fails; Goblin Grenade is surprisingly powerful. Instead, what if we used Amber as a turn two or later card to help accelerate out prison pieces?
Moon and Taxes, Test Deck
4 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Leonin Arbiter
4 Magus of the Moon
3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
4 Mox Amber
4 Blood Moon
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
2 Ajani Vengeant
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Inspired Vantage
4 Arid Mesa
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This is more plausible to me. There are plenty of ways to turn on the mox, and you do benefit from the mana even late because it gets around Blood Moon. The thing is, this is not as good as it could be because it is playing Mox Amber.
Compared to its Rival
The biggest problem Mox Amber has in Modern is Simian Spirit Guide. It does most of what I’ve been doing with Amber, but at considerably lower deckbuilding cost. It’s also much faster. Consider the above Moon and Taxes list. Changing Mox to Simian makes it far more likely to hit a turn one Blood Moon. This requires a land, two Simians, and the Moon compared to three moxes, a red land, a red legend, and the Moon. Simian also has other benefits, like easier turn one Thalias or just being a creature that can be played to deal damage. The versatility and greater speed are more valuable than the permanent mana boost.
Ultimately, this is the problem with Mox Amber in Modern. If you want to accelerate early, it will be far easier and more reliable to use Simian Spirit Guide. If you want a permanent boost down the road, there are plenty of options from Noble Hierarch to Talisman of Progress that don’t require building a deck around the accelerant. Can you play the card and have it be good? Yes. But why would you want to?
Subject to Change
Of course, this is only the way things look right now. There are 117 cards left to be spoiled, and it is entirely possible that there is some amazing payoff card such that you want to play lots of legends in your deck anyway, in which case Mox Amber will be a natural addition. The legendary sorceries certainly suggest this is possible, though none is good enough on its own to justify such a deck. Time will tell, and if something does appear, I will revisit the mox.