Just a quick introduction before we get started, I’ve been branching out a little bit and looking for other topics to write about recently. One of my favorite hobbies over the last few years has been the return of Magic: The Gathering to my life. Like many of you out there, I played a lot as a kid in the 1990s, but I sort of fell out as school and video games started taking over my free time. Tempest was the last set I bought booster packs for, and I jumped back in with Origins and Battle for Zendikar about two and a half years ago.
Briefly about my tastes, I enjoy playing Limited formats and absolutely adore drafting, and I’m getting back into Standard thanks to Amonkhet proving to be a solid set. I also play Legacy Burn for the forseeable future, and I avoid Modern like the plague. Selvala, Explorer Returned is the only Commander deck I run, and I don’t like Commander enough to build another deck.
Since getting back into Magic, I’ve done a lot of catching up and feel pretty confident in writing about it to some extent. However, if you’re coming for the deep insight along the likes of LSV or other world class players, well, I’m not going to be able to help you out there. I’m just a guy who enjoys writing about his interests, and you can look at me as such. You can read my commentary with a sense of empathy and help me improve as a player, or you can take a cynical route and lord your superior knowledge over my casual head.
Just as long as you’re reading, I’m happy.
We’ll see how this goes. We need to set up plugins to properly display Magic: The Gathering cards and decklists, and I need to actually learn how to use them. Maybe I’ll get to streaming some drafts and whatnot in if I can get a proper setup in the near future. Please be patient with me for now.
And now… the cards!
Now, for the topic at hand, we had a new expansion come out this past Friday, Hour of Devastation! Nicol Bolas returns to do battle with the upstart Gatewatch team in his Egyptian-esque plane, and yeah… it’s not looking good for anything in his destructive path. Nicol Bolas is a name that I remember from my childhood since I remember owning all five of the Elder Dragons at one point. Little did I know how much of a major player he had become in Magic’s multiverse over the years.
The previous set Amonkhet has been my favorite since getting back into the game, narrowly beating out Shadows over Innistrad, and I like it much so that I’m actually looking forward to its small expansion, something I didn’t do for Oath of The Gatewatch, Eldritch Moon, and Aether Revolt. Hour of Devastation looks like a lot of fun with some genuinely killer cards.
Like many of you, I’ve been pouring over the spoilers for the past few weeks, looking to build some dream decks with the exciting new cards. However, since I currently have an offspring on the way, I’ve been living on a budget and haven’t been able to sink as much money into Magic as I did a year or so ago.
You know… adult stuff.
So I put a limitation on myself to not buy any cards that are over $2 through the retailers online. I’ll use the same limitations today in this rundown, meaning we’re not talking about Nicol Bolas, the new Gods, or any planeswalkers. I suppose these cards will be used in budget Constructed decks.
Yes, Nicol Bolas is going to defeat the Gatewatch, and the allied group of “Superfriend” Planeswalkers finally seems to have bitten off more than it can chew. Hour of Devastation features an entire cycle of these “Defeat” cards dedicated to each member of the Gatewatch, but Liliana’s, Chandra’s, and Gideon’s Defeats are the only ones that I think should get your attention. They are incredibly limited in the targets that they can hit, only being able to target creatures and planeswalkers of the same color, and they are strictly sideboard material unless one color just starts to dominate the format.
However, when they are put to good use, they can be absolutely devastating to your opponents’ gameplan. Removing deadly threats from the board for only a single mana is nothing to scoff at, and the upside you gain for using them against Gatewatch planeswalkers is just an added bonus.
Chandra’s Defeat is the best since dropping a quick 5 damage anywhere and at anytime you choose will kill just about every red creature in the set. If not, the small cost of a single red mana means you should have plenty leftover to finish your target off with a quick Shock or a Magma Spray.
Liliana’s Defeat is also fantastic, and only its Sorcery casting speed holds it back. This would be game-breaking at Instant speed.
Gideon’s Defeat requires the creature to be attacking or blocking, but the benefit of this card is that you remove your target entirely from the game, not just put it in the graveyard.
Jace’s Defeat is a solid counterspell too. Outside of the strict limitation of blue target, an unconditional blue counterspell for just two mana is the dream. I won’t play this as often as the other three listed above, but it’s on my radar. Nissa’s Defeat is bad and the only one you should totally ignore in this cycle.
Straight-up mono-red aggro decks with burn spells and tiny creatures that hit fast and potentially hard are back in style. Amokhet earned a reputation for being a fast set, and Earthshaker Khenra is perfect for helping push through as much damage as quickly as possible. If you are on the play, this card will almost ensure that you can slip three creatures through blockers on turn three and give yourself a huge head start in a race to zero.
It even works on turn four if you’ve played a card with Menace, and if the game goes on for too long, Earthshaker Khenra can use his Eternalize ability to push through even more damage in the late game as well.
Burning-Fist Minotaur is more of a Limited card, but I’ll use a few of them here in there. I like how it paves the way for Hazoret the Fervent to burst in early, how it profitably removes dead cards from your hand, and how it helps trigger Drake Haven or Ruthless Sniper.
I haven’t been around to play an Overrun style card in Standard, but I did manage to draft it once or twice when Conspiracy: Take the Crown was making the rounds. I made a deck that devastated the board when it was paired with an Expropriate.
This just looks busted in some deck, and there are plenty of ways to put this to good use. Oketra’s Monument will enjoy seeing this in a GW Weenies deck, and the main deck I’m thinking of for Hour of Devastation, which I’ll get to later, wants to see this, as well.
My favorite deck with Amonkhet was a fun UR Prowess deck I put together that replaced old staples like Monastery Swiftspear and Abbot of Keral Keep with my favorite card from the set, Enigma Drake. It was definitely slower than the old Prowess deck, but when tied with Shock, Magma Spray, Galvanic Bombardment, and a barrage of cheap burn spells. Oh, it was such a blast!
However, I am aware that Stormchaser Mage and Bedlam Reveler will not be around forever (nor did Soul-Scar Mage live up to expectations), so in preparation for their retirement, I decided to make that deck that is even slower and entirely new for me: a UR spells control deck. Sure, I’ll still include Shock, Magma Spray, and Sweltering Suns, but I also need to include more card draw and counterspells. Supreme Will does both! Whichever you need at a moment’s notice, Supreme Will will help you punish an opponent for using a powerful spell or help you dig deep for the card you need.
Censor turned out to be a really popular blue uncommon for similar reasons in Amonkhet, and these two cards will go well with one another.
Same deck. I’ll need to replace Incendiary Flow in the coming months, and while Abrade can’t reach and hit the player, it does have the added bonus of Instant speed and even an option to remove an artifact from the board. Most of the time, this will just be three damage to a creature, but two mana is a fair price to pay for that. I prefer it over Harnessed Lightning as well, but I have those in a RG Energy deck.
Open Fire is also in the running as a semi-decent burn spell. It’s on curve with Shock, Magma Spray, and Electrify, but 3 damage to a creature or player for three mana is a lot more reasonable than 4 damage to just a creature for four mana. Many are down on Open Fire since it’s slower than Lightning Strike and much slower than Lightning Bolt, but it will still find a place in burn and control red decks.
No harm in trying since you’ll find plenty of this common in drafts.
The deck I want to make the most in Hour of Devastation is the GB -1/-1 counters deck. Originally, I wanted to make this deck in Amonkhet after Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons was spoiled, but the set didn’t produce enough support to build around her. This is no longer the case with Hour of Devastation.
Hapatra in on curve with Ammit Eternal to make a perfect combo. Every time your opponent casts a spell from turn 3, you drop a -1/-1 counter of him and create a snake using Hapatra’s ability! Not a bad deal, especially if you can sneak him in and remove all of his counters.
Obelisk Spider also pairs well with these cards, acting as a really firm blocker, weakening opponents’ creatures, and creating snakes with ease. The added bonus of life drain is just icing and it brings back memories of Kalastria Healer from Battle for Zendikar.
Banewhip Punisher is also a versatile card which can deliver a -1/-1 counter, destroy a creature, and act as a blocker. Just solid all around, and it fits very well in this deck.
Meanwhile, Lethal Sting is a little slow at Sorcery for what it does, but the negative effect of a -1/-1 on your own creature is actually a positive in this deck! For three mana, you make a snake, get some life drain, and take out their biggest threat. Where’s the downside?
If you create enough deathtouch snakes, this is where Overcome comes into play with this deck. Trample plus deathtouch is a devastating combo, especially when you apply them to three, four, five, or even six creatures.
Combine these cards with hits from Amonkhet like Decimator Beetle, Channeler Initiate, Exemplar of Strength, Splendid Agony, and Cartouche of Ambition, and you’ll be tossing around countless -1/-1 counters and reaping benefits while your enemies become weaker. Can’t wait to give it a try.
That was relatively painless, I hope
Those are my picks, and I’m sticking with them. Sorry if I didn’t gush about The Scarab God or Nicol Bolas because I think everyone else is at the moment, and Standard is actually getting better because players are starting to build decks again, not leaning on bombs. I hope Hour of Devastation doesn’t derail the upward momentum Amonkhet brought to the table, along with the banning of several overpowered cards.
Like I said, this is something new and we’re working on how the plugins and what not work. Any advice, any hints from experienced Magic players, that would be a lot of help. Until then, thanks for reading.