Last updated on August 16, 2023
Dreadhorde Invasion | Illustration by Stanton Feng
How do you represent a full-scale army in a paper card game? You can’t just throw 1,000 miniatures onto the table or greenscreen it in like they do in the movies. You certainly can’t create a real-world coalition and have people larp as your fighters. That would just be ludicrous.
Magic’s solution was the amass mechanic, introduced in War of the Spark and tweaked in The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. Amass represents an entire army with just one token that grows over time. Let’s make Uncle Sam proud and join the army to break down amass and rank its best cards!
What Are Amass Cards in MTG?
Gleaming Overseer | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Amass is a keyword mechanic that creates an Army token. When you amass, you put +1/+1 counters on an Army token you control equal to the amass number. If you don’t already control an Army token, you create a 0/0 Army with that many +1/+1 counters instead.
Amass was introduced in WAR but later changed to be more specific. The first wave of amass cards all created a Zombie Army, but with the addition of “amass orcs” in LTR, the original mechanic was changed to “amass zombies”. This allows different sets to represent armies that match the flavor of that set.
#16. Warbeast of Gorgoroth
I’m only mentioning Warbeast of Gorgoroth because it enables some infinite combos. If you can pump your armies up to 4/4s or greater or copy the Gorgoroth, the Army keeps replacing itself when it dies, resulting in infinite death trigger/infinite ETB combos.
#15. Lazotep Chancellor
Lazotep Chancellor turns self-discard into on-board advantage. Cycling, wheeling, and looting are common ways to trigger the Chancellor, even though the 1-mana premium caps how often you can amass each turn.
#14. Grishnákh, Brash Instigator
In a vacuum, Grishnákh, Brash Instigator creates a 2/2 Army and Threatens a creature with power two or less. It’s perfect in sacrifice decks where you can pick off the stolen target then have two bodies left over to feed sac outlets.
#13. Gleaming Overseer
#12. Assault on Osgiliath
#11. Commence the Endgame
A 6-mana draw-2, in this economy? Commence the Endgame is more like a flash creature that draws cards on ETB. The Army is a 2/2 at minimum, often bigger than that. Sometimes it’s enormous! It’s also uncounterable, making it a mirror-breaker in control matchups.
#10. Widespread Brutality
Prior to LTR, there weren’t really “amass” decks, but the new support makes Widespread Brutality better. The baseline is a 2/2 that deals two damage to all other creatures, but that scales up if you already had an Army on board.
#9. Enter the God-Eternals
#8. Lazotep Plating
#7. Dreadhorde Invasion
The next coming of Bitterblossom this is not. Dreadhorde Invasion is good for making expendable bodies, but it doesn’t go wide and never really goes tall enough for the lifelink ability. It generates sac fodder, but it’s on the weaker side of token generators.
It might get a much-needed pick-me-up from the new LTR amass support.
#6. Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Oh look, they said the thing! Roll credits! Eight mana is pushing it, but Sauron, Lord of the Rings delivers. You get a 9/9 trampler, amass 5, mill some cards, reanimate a creature, and get a ring-tempting bonus. As a cast trigger, you get most of the value even through a counterspell.
#5. Fall of Cair Andros
Fall of Cair Andros converts all excess non-combat damage into a bigger Army token, even damage that you’re not dealing. I’m not fixating on the activated ability, but instead imagining this with Blasphemous Act or Chain Reaction.
The ability on Barad-dûr isn’t efficient, but it’s borderline free to slot into your mana base. If it makes an Army here and there, great! No harm, no foul if it doesn’t since it still taps for black mana.
#3. Shagrat, Loot Bearer
The main appeal of Shagrat, Loot Bearer is the potential for a new Rakdos () equipment archetype. It’s fun with cards like Bludgeon Brawl or Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith, and it can even yoink an opponent’s equipment for a bit.
#2. Sauron, the Dark Lord
Sauron, the Dark Lord has one of the most brutal ward costs we’ve seen so far and amasses with every spell your opponents cast. You can feed the armies through a sac outlet or let one grow larger over time like a Taurean Mauler, ironically also an Army.
That last ability is potentially huge card advantage, so you’ll want to surround Sauron with other ways to be tempted by the ring.
#1. Orcish Bowmasters
Orcish Bowmasters is a game-changer. The baseline is two 1/1s and a ping on ETB. That already allows it to ambush a 2/2 in combat and leave the relevant body behind. Any extra draws from your opponents then result in extra pings and amassing for no additional investment. Force the issue with wheel effects or sit back and punish draw spells.
Whatever the case, I think we’ve got an S-tier commander card on our hands.
Best Amass and Amass Orc Payoffs
Amass lends itself well to sacrifice decks. Unlike most token generators, amass goes tall instead of going wide. Cards with amass 1 are at their best when they’re adding another body to the board, not when they’re adding a +1/+1 counter, so sacrificing armies to keep the sac fodder coming is your best bet.
Amass is restricted to only zombies and orcs at the moment, but it can still round out some of the thematic decks featuring these creature types. Zombie decks in particular make good use of amass zombies, and we’re bound to see more creature types supported in the future.
Amass is also at its core a token mechanic and a +1/+1 counter mechanic. Decks can lean into these features and find some pockets of synergy (shout out to Chord-O-Calls for the terminology).
What Is Amass X? Amass 1? Amass 2?
The number on amass tells you how many +1/+1 counters you put on your Army token. To amass X, put X +1/+1 counters on an Army you control. If you didn’t already have an Army, create a 0/0 Army with those +1/+1 counters instead.
Whenever you amass, the Army you put counters on gains the amass creature type. For example, if you cast Relentless Advance, you create a 0/0 Zombie Army with three +1/+1 counters on it. If you then cast Foray of Orcs, which has amass orcs 2, the resulting creature is a 5/5 Zombie Orc Army.
Does Amass Target?
No, amass doesn’t target. It simply puts counters on a chosen Army upon resolution. If you somehow control multiple armies and cast an amass spell, you don’t announce which Army gets the counters until the amass spell resolves. You can also amass an Army with shroud or protection.
Some spells with amass require a different target. If none of its targets are legal upon resolution, the entire spell is countered and goes to the graveyard, meaning the amass doesn’t happen. For example, you might cast Callous Dismissal targeting an opponent’s creature. If they sacrifice it in response, there’s no longer a target, and Callous Dismissal is countered. The amass 1 never happens.
Amass vs. Amass Orcs
Amass is the general term for the mechanic that creates Army tokens with +1/+1 counters, whereas “amass orcs” is a specific subset of amass cards that specifies that Army’s creature type. Sort of how “mountaincycling” is a specific version of the broader cycling mechanic.
Amass is no longer stand-alone rules text. With the release of LTR, amass was updated to include the creature type associated with the Army it creates. All prior amass cards created Zombie Army tokens, but the text was changed to “amass zombies” to distinguish them from LTR’s “amass orcs”. Future use of the amass mechanic should specify a creature type. Amass squirrels anyone?
Why Was Amass Orcs Created?
Amass orcs was created to capture the feel and flavor of a Tolkienesque Army of orcs, like the one at the Battle of Helms Deep.
Prior to LTR, all amass cards created zombie tokens, and a Zombie Army isn’t exactly accurate for Lord of the Rings. Amass orcs was created to separate the mechanic by factions by creating Orc Armys instead, rather than keep it zombie-centric.
Has the Original Zombie Amass Been Erratta’d?
Yes, the original amass cards have received errata to include “amass zombies” in their rules text. Amass no longer inherently makes zombie tokens. Instead, it specifies the type of creature it creates.
What Happens if You Destroy or Kill the Army in Response to Amass?
If the Army you control leaves the battlefield with another amass spell or ability on the stack, it simply creates a new Army token. Since amass doesn’t target, removing the Army in response doesn’t cause that spell to fizzle.
What Happens When You Create a Copy of an Amass Army?
Copying an Army usually creates another 0/0 Army token that dies right away due to state-based actions. Spells like See Double can copy an Army, but copies don’t get the +1/+1 counters on the original card unless otherwise stated.
A card like Volrath, the Shapestealer can copy an Army, but Volrath specifies that it becomes a 7/5 until end of turn, which means it survives and you can amass onto it.
If you control Parallel Lives but you don’t control an Army when you amass X, you’ll create two 0/0 armies, one with X +1/+1 counters and one with no counters at all. The one without counters usually dies immediately unless there’s an effect on board pumping it.
Is Amass Good in MTG?
Amass branches off into enough different strategies (aristocrats, tokens, +1/+1 counters, zombies matter) that it’s just an altogether good mechanic. It’s a bit misleading that the flavor of the mechanic is building an unstoppable army, but the best way to use it is making tiny armies and sacrificing them for value.
No matter, that was an intended play pattern when the mechanic was created.
Armied and Dangerous
Fall of Cair Andros | Illustration by Shahab Alizadeh
Turns out I hired all these larpers for nothing, eh? Amass does a solid impression of controlling an army in a card game, even if you have to use your imagination a little bit.
I’m most excited to see which creature types get the amass treatment in the future. Do you have a preferred creature type you’d like to recruit into your Army? Is it squirrels? It’s squirrels, isn’t it? Let me know in the comments below, or over in the Draftsim Discord.
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