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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Jul 20 2017 12:00pm
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First Impressions

During the time Hour of Revelation was being spoiled I had mixed feelings about the set. The thing is, usually when a new set is about to be released there are cards I'm excited about. During the spoiler period we get to see the good cards first so I'm usually excited right from the start. With Hour of Devastation it didn't happen. There wasn't a single rare or mythic I'd want to cast and I didn't really see any (mechanics') theme in the set. The set seemed kind of bland. I lost interest in the set and didn't really follow.

When the whole set was spoiled I went over it with my flatmate. I wasn't particularly feeling well so I wasn't paying much attention but what I remember is that neither of us was particularly interested in the set. The cards that caught my eye were not even rares. Both of us decided that we would skip the prerelease this time.

On the first prerelease day I decided to participate in the Vintage Challenge (using tix I got for a sealed deck) meaning I wouldn't be able to participate in a either of the Saturday's prereleases but I could possibly play on Sunday. At that time I didn't even think that I'd go there. My plan was to play Vintage during the night and sleep during the day on Sunday. Nevertheless I fired up Magic Online (which failed to load 3 times) and the first thing I did when my collection actually loaded was check Hour of Devastation cards. I read every single card and tried figuring out if the cards make some sense. They didn't. I tried thinking about it in a context of Amonkhet (suddenly realizing this is a small set) and its cards and it all started to make sense. Why did I fail to look at the cards in context the first time? Was it because I no longer play limited or Standard?

Before I'll talk about Hour of Devastation I'd like to talk a bit about limited in general from my point of view. I've been playing limited actively (2-3 drafts a week minimum) since Onslaught and I stopped playing limited actively with Oath of the Gatewatch. When Innistrad came out I started to observe a change in design. I can't really describe what was different but I felt it, it was a big change. The second big change came with Battle for Zendikar. The set was designed in a very different way and was rather complex and many players struggled with it. I remember that this was the only set I actually spent all the deckbuilding time by actually building a deck during the prerelease. Oath of the Gatewatch was an exception for many reasons but Shadows over Innistrad block and Kaladesh continued in this kind of multilayered design that gave big freedom and high level of complexity. Amonkhet took it even to a higher level. The set was even deeper from my point of view. This for me meant that it became the most fun set of all time and a limited GP I participated in was one of the best I went to. In Amonkhet one could build anything they liked and it required very different skills to pilot a certain deck. I was very happy about Amonkhet and wondered if this isn't a bit too much for an average limited player. Since I'm not entirely sure whom to mark as an 'average limited' player though (since I'd consider myself rather below that average) I had difficulties seeing if Amonkhet was a good thing or bad for Magic in general. You see, I'm one of those people that liked Standard when 4c Saheeli was around. I loved all the mirror matches and games against the 3 top Standard decks. Each game was different and required a lot of skill and thinking both proactive one and reactive one. The decks were very strange beasts and needed very careful piloting no matter if you were on Mardu Vehicles or a Copycat deck. I liked playing that format similarly to Amonkhet limited - in the very small limited amount of decks there was a lot of depth and complexity (meaning fun in my terms). The format revolving around just 1 deck was a problem for the format as whole and I understand something had to be done about it, but I was very saddened that the beauty I saw when playing this format is something that many players didn't see. I was afraid that Amonkhet would be 4c Saheeli in limited. I played a lot of AKH and wanted more and more but I noticed that the players around me had a different point of view and that many of the players actually disliked Amonkhet. Disliked it to the extent that it showed on the prices of packs and very fast decline of limited events attendance.

When I saw Hour of Devastation it seemed like a step back. Once you experience something that offers many possibilities you don't want to go back to something offering less of them and this is something probably why I didn't like Hour of Devastation the first time I saw it. It seemed to create a more aggressive Amonkhet environment (similarly to what Oath of the Gatewatch did with Battle for Zendikar) thus cutting the very wide range of possibilities what to do since the focus would be more on the creatures (I'm not a fan of creatures). Similarly the cards for constructed seemed shadowed by cards from a block that wasn't supposed to be in Standard now anymore and that's maybe also the problem why there isn't much of a focus on HOU. This means that when BFZ block will leave the format though we might need to go back and review HOU again and finally see a bigger picture of the whole thing. Talking about context, the very first time I saw the spoiled cards I should have thought about the set in context with Amonkhet and future Standard, not the current one.

Hour of Devastation in context

Zombies turned aggressive which wasn't an archetype I'd want to play. In Amonkhet Zombies could possibly sit back and drain life (I really liked that), in Hour of Devastation they have aggressive and good two-drops and one interesting uncommon - Unraveling Mummy.

Blue-Red or Blue-Back spells though turned way more interesting. There are more cards with cycling but they aren't that interesting in these colors since the cards in Amonkhet seem to be way better. There is a card I really like and it is called Riddleform. It is an enchantment for 1U that turns into a 3/3 creature with Flying whenever you cast a noncreature spell. For 2U mana it allows to Scry 1. It is an uncommon which makes it an easily accessible win condition. There is a range of strange creatures that work with either cycling or discarding a card, some have Prowess. Bloodwater Entity stands out. Firebrand Archer is similar to the black one drop that gives -1/-1 counters and there is also Unsummon! It's been a long time since there was a relevant (bounce) spell for 1 mana and many people forget that this card exists while this card seems to be one of the best commons! In these colors one can also play a tempo deck if not control.

The oddball in the archetypes is Blue-White tokens or Blue-White Eternalize/Embalm. In Amonkhet neither of these archetypes actually worked unless you were the only player actually drafting the cards. White creatures with Embalm were good in different archetypes as well and blue cards were also drafted by other decks as means to slow opponent down. This way UG decks could stay in game long enough to start casting their big creatures or UB decks could get to mid- to late-game. There were few multicolored cards that were really good for this archetype but it was difficult to put it together, there simply wasn't enough cards. In Hour of Devastation we have Eternalize instead of Embalm. When I saw the mechanic at first I felt like that this is comparable to Morph and Megamorph and wondered if the ability would be useless. There are cards that seem bad but there are also cards that seemed too powerful. There is Sunscourge Champion and Sinuous Striker that are both cards that seemed a bit unfair to me.

Exert decks have also cool new additions. Vizier of the True is a card that I passed in my first draft and I really regretted it later. When I saw what the card does I was very surprised. It was even better than I envisioned. There are two 2-drops with Exert in the same color and few more in other colors. One usually wants to look for green or red cards. Khenra Scrapper seems very solid and can deal a lot of damage. The new thing with Exert in HOU is that one does not necessarily need to attack with the creatures. In green we have 2 mana dorks with Exert and one of the white creatures creates tokens when Exerted (there is also Pride Sovereign but I don't talk about rares since those won't be that common in limited, I think anyone can understand that this kind of a card is simply good). There is a 2/1 Flyer that untaps a creature when it attacks (Dauntless Aven, common) which is also a great help in this archetype. There are even more tricks that can untap and pump your creatures.

There is a theme of Deserts throughout the set. I wouldn't be afraid of them, they are good and some cards become insanely good with them. Even if you just want to have some cards to cycle, the lands are your best friend. The cycling costs in general are higher in this set. Sand Strangler suddenly becomes removal that leaves behind a 3/3 body and that is good. Gilded Cerodon can also be pretty annoying with a Desert somewhere around. How much Desert cards will be relevant is something to be seen, but my evaluation was positive.

Red is the aggressive color that also has access to very good two removal spells at a common slot - Puncturing Blow and Open Fire. There is also Inferno Jet that costs 6 mana and deals 6 damage to target opponent. I can imagine that anyone would frown upon the card but note that this card has Cycling which takes it to a totally different level of a Lava Axe.

Apart these archetypes you can play whatever comes to your mind be it creature heavy or spell heavy. While two-color decks seem to be the best the set allows for multicolored control or value decks.

With this sudden realization I decided to go to the prerelease after all to see how it works in practice. I was exhausted from the Vintage Challenge I played that day and bound to do very silly plays. The constant effort I had to exert to count damage and work with creatures though helped me in the prerelease quite a lot.

Prerelease

I came to the LGS with few more players I met on the way there. Since I play primarily online now I totally forgot how it feels to be at a tournament with many people around when the temperature outside is 33ºC (91ºF). Inside the temperature was even higher and the air was very humid and it was difficult to breath.

I paid the entry and got my prerelease pack. Then I waited for the signal to start building our decks. My plan was to open a God, play that and win. That first part went according to a plan but not the latter. My God was blue-black and my blue and black colors didn't contain enough of good cards. My pool offered a very solid green base. White wasn't good enough to stall nor good enough to attack so I ended up in green-red. The plan was play as many mana dorks I could early game, survive and start casting fatties from round 4 till the end of the game. I was surprised that it worked - 6/7 Hexproof proved to be very efficient even though it still couldn't cope up with turn 2 Bloodrage Brawler (I actually won against this card followed by Khenra Scrapper, how was that even possible?).

The biggest surprise of the prerelease was how lifegain was interwoven with the rest of my opponents' decks. In this format it seems like quite a big thing that doesn't make you trade lifegain for something else. It is something that is actually printed on good cards in general (sure, there are also cards like Oketra's Last Mercy which I wouldn't want in my deck at all). Desert's Hold or Sunscourge Champion are cards you'll likely end up playing.

Apart from playing there were primarily two things that changed for me. This time around the table order was changed which confused me since I had no idea where to go. There are two rooms in the store. In the larger space there were usually tables starting from 1. Since there were more players though it was usually less pleasant to play there. The other room, being actually larger but containing less tables, was usually better since there the air actually circulated there. I was never fan of playing there though because the constant cool air flow was making me sick and that is why I was quite happy that someone changed the table numbers. Table 1 was in that room and I did not expect to spend much time anywhere near that table. For the whole event though I played at table 1 and 2. So now my throat is sore and my ears ache but I shouldn't complain, right? A small price paid for one of the best prereleases I experienced but during the whole event I missed my small room I live in and Magic Online. The number of my Planeswalker Points speaks clearly about how many events I attended this season!

The second revelation was that paper events require more interaction than I was willing to go through. Magic Online is also something that allows me to think more about what I do since it also stops whenever I want and when a spell is on the stack. It's the magical key F2 that allows me to proceed in the game whenever I want. I realized that this is something that doesn't work in paper since the players tend to go on and use shortcuts unless they are stopped. I suddenly realized that I might need to talk during the event! When this thought came to my mind I really wanted to run away and wait for Monday to play my sealed deck online. It seems that the social aspect didn't really appeal to me. I was really interested in Hour of Revelation and that's it. Nonetheless I talked with the local pros and other participants and that was cool, just the playing was different (during the later rounds of the Vintage Challenge I was actually writing notes of what to do next turn because I was afraid I'd forget it due to being exhausted, here at the prerelease...how would that look like?)

What was rather unusual in these days is that I had actually read the cards I played and my opponents played. Sometimes I was surprised about what the cards actually did. I don't know if I just didn't believe Wizards of the Coast would print something like that (see Bloodrage Brawler that seemed OP to me, I know it is AKH card). It took a me while to understand that the Desert-checking cards actually have effects that actually last and that Ambuscade doesn't Fight but really just deals the damage and at instant speed as well. All this could have been just because I was too exhausted to play but it could also have to do something with the fact that I came completely unprepared for the event.

The overall experience from the prerelease was good. I saw various decks and I liked the cards in them so I decided to give a draft go. I wasn't feeling confident enough for 8-4 draft (even though I considered it since it would be over fast if it wouldn't go well) so I entered the 6-2-2-2 equivalent League.

Draft

 

I still felt very exhausted from the weekend and wondered what I can possibly draft. When I stared at the first pack my thoughts went in all directions. When this happens I usually know that I'm not in a good shape to play Magic and often play or draft very randomly (usually I know very specifically what I want to pick).

I knew that the rare was not a card I'd like to pick - Swarm Intelligence. Then I looked at uncommons. Merciless Eternal was a solid pick since it can be both aggressive, defensive and allows for more synergies. Exactly due to its versatility I was very afraid to pick the card since my brain already sent me the signal of 'do not try to draft anything complex'. The other card I considered was Oketra's Avenger because that seemed pretty good to me and would still allow me to play something relatively aggressive either white-red or white-green. In the end I picked Tenacious Hunter. I always wanted to try drafting BG counters and this card seemed as a card for a straightforward deck and I could choose anything as the second color which wasn't the case in the previous cases.

In this pack it seemed clear to me that the pick was Ambuscade. A very good removal spell and there was simply nothing else I'd be interested in.

Here I received a gift in the form of Appeal/Authority. The only relevant card otherwise was another Ambuscade. Since the pack featured both cards it seemed that green was wide open.

When I saw the contents of the next pack I couldn't believe my eyes. I picked Overcome. All I needed now were some creatures. If possible on the lower end of the curve.

Steward of Solidarity seemed to be like one of the ideals two-drops I could pick.

4/4 Vigilance, Reach for 5 mana seemed solid and I wasn't really sold on 2/5 for 4 mana so I picked that.

In this pack I wished to pick the 2-drop but I preferred to pick more removal first. Creatures couldn't disappear from the other packs fast, right?

I wanted to pick the Granitic Titan just to be able to cycle it but in the end I picked the mana dork. The creature is not terribly bad but not an ideal creature for an aggressive deck since it costs 4 mana and is 2/4. For my plan of building a wall of creatures and then playing Overrun it seemed good enough though.

Gift of Strength gives +3/+3 which is ok. The Reach part is something that surprised me during the prerelease, not going to make the same mistake twice. When I played with this card later though it did kill some Sphinxes and gave me more time to stay alive.

A good card for an Exert deck which my decks wasn't. Nice trick though.

Unsummon Pick 11? Unbelievable.

Not that I would like this creature but still CMC3 which so far was low on my curve and a creature...From time to time it could get rid of a Aftermath or Eternalize/Embalm card.

Random pick that has constructed potential.

Ruin Rat is not that bad to be my pick 14.

Last pick.

I wasn't really thinking about this pack. What I wanted to pick was Dauntless Aven or Abrade even though it was offcolor. In the end I picked Hour of Revelation which was an obvious mistake. The pick was certainly Dauntless Aven.

Since I messed up my first pick I really needed to start picking cheap creatures and especially those costing 2 mana. While Sunscourge Champion is good it probably wouldn't be too good in my deck anyway. Oketra's Avenger seemed very good in theory and would be even more awesome with the card I passed in the previous pack (facepalm).

The packs obviously wanted to laugh at me since this pack featured Vizier of the True which would be a really cool addition to a deck that would feature that Aven. I was on tilt a bit and decided to not pick the card and picked Bitterbow Sharpshooter that I wouldn't even play most probably.

Harrier Naga was by far the best creature (Deserts not happening in my deck).

I still needed more creatures so I picked another Harrier Naga and didn't feel bad about it.

In this pack I really wanted to pick Angel of Mercy or rather Aven of Enduring Hope. But then I didn't really need a 3/3 Flyer for 5 mana and the life gain wasn't something relevant for me either as I had the means to stop an opposing attack. I wanted something I could cycle thus. There was Angel of the God-Pharaoh and Beneath the Sands. I shouldn't need a ramp or fixing 4/4 Flyer seemed better so I picked that (possibly better than the 6 mana Cycling 3/3 Flyer from Amonkhet?)

2/3 that allows me to remove a card from the graveyard when it enters into play or 3/1 that does the same when it attacks? For some reason the 2/3 P/T seemed more appealing.

Sandblast was fine.

I didn't want any of the 3 drops nor the 4 drop. Decided to pick the 4 drop for a change since it possibly could chump something and become a 4/4 creature with Vigilance. I think the card is not good though.

Nothing interesting. Bitterbow Sharpshooter.

Another 'aggressive' creature joins the ranks - 2/5 attacker!

Ok, I accept. 3/1 for 3 as a pick 11 is ok.

I didn't even read what the card does. Probably limited card with zero relevance? (still don't know what it does)

0/5 could possibly stop my attack! Not really.

Oh someone passed me a beautiful Island.

Similarly to pick 1 from pack 2 I messed this up. The card I really wanted was Destined/Lead. Magma Spray looked promising and Trial of Solidarity could deal a lot of damage. My creatures weren't necessarily too aggressive and I didn't expect this card to do that much since it doesn't give Trample and I probably wouldn't get the chance to draft any Cartouches. Because of that I turned away from the card and picked the rare I wouldn't play instead. I suppose I should have just picked that Trial.

As usual when I mess up I'm punished for it. Anyway I needed creatures and cheap ones. So Initiate's Companion it was.

While Watchful Naga and Sacred Cat have lower mana cost than Tah-Crop Elite they aren't really doing anything. This card alone can create a huge swing when it exerts and it can swing for two in the air each turn. I was very happy to pick this.

For some reason I decided that 5/5 fatty is better than random 2/2 I really needed.

Here I would have picked the random 2/2 but Pouncing Cheetah can surprise unsuspecting opponent and can change the maths (more common). For that I decided to pick this over Watchers of the Dead.

Ahn-Crop Champion. 4/4 for 4? Solid. Not awesome but better than 5/5 for 5. I really didn't want another 2/3 for 3.

Forsake the Worldly was something I was actually glad to see. There are certainly artifacts and enchantments I'd love to get rid of. White seemed to be drafted a lot and that color often runs Pacifism-like cards a removal. So this card often finds some use (in worst case can be cycled away).

Cool trick I drafted here.

I didn't feel like picking Supply Caravan, so I picked Gift of Paradise instead.

Giant Spider against some flyers might actually come handy (not really)?

Nothing relevant, Gift of Paradise then.

Oh, a creature I can play!

Benefaction of Rhonas can be good in some decks but not in mine so I picked an Island instead.

This card is good. But obviously not for my deck.

Mountain this time.

Submitted Deck

 

Round 1
During the prerelease I was unable to win a die roll but this time I could finally be on play. I kept Initiate's Companion, Plains, Steadfast Sentinel, Forest, Forest, Overcome, Forest. I played Initiate's Companion. My opponent produced Unwavering Initiate and enchanted it with Cartouche of Solidarity. That was a little bit problematic since it could block any of my creatures and kill them in combat. So I just played my creatures - Steadfast Sentinel and Oasis Ritualist - and waited for the right moment to strike or a removal spell. Later I drew Appeal/Authority, played it and swung for ten planning to play Overcome next turn dealing the remaining 7 damage if possible. I was one damage short if my opponent would block with all his creatures but two of my creatures would still be alive against my opponent's one. They conceded though.

Next game I mulled to 5 keeping 3 lands, Ambuscade and Spidery Grasp. That wasn't something I'd be happy about but at least I had enough land. I needed to draw some creatures. I drew Those Who Serve while my opponent was attacking me with Solitary Camel and Ruin Rat. I still couldn't draw another creature so I decided to block the Camel and play one of my tricks if needed. Well, my creature died in the process but at least I got rid of the Camel. My deck then provided me with the creatures I needed. I drew Harrier Naga and Initiate's Companion which needed could get through Deathtouch Rat and 0/4 wall. My opponent then enchanted their rat with white Cartouche and played Hour of Glory on my poor mana producing 2/4 creature. They played Sandblast on my 3/3 which I wanted to save, so I played Spidery Grasp. Next I played my 5 drops. Since the game took quite a long while I managed to draw both Appeal/Authority and Overcome so it was time to deal some trample damage. I played my Overrun and my opponent conceded.

Round 2
Next I kept a hand with Steward of Solidarity, Tah-Crop Elite, Pouncing Cheetah, Ambuscade and a 5 drop. My opponent played 0/4 for W mana and Cunning Survivor that I decided to block with Pouncing Cheetah that I was willing to trade for some cards. My creature survive the attack though. Next my opponent played Fan Bearer and a Swamp. I had to kill the Fan Bearer if I wanted to attack with one of my creatures later. Since my Cheetah had power 4 that turn I could also attack into that 'wall'. I played Tah-Crop Elite next which could also make the Cheetah big enough to go through that 0/4. My opponent played Grisly Survivor into which I gladly attacked (with Exert - luckily remembered that I can't use the Attack with All feature). In the following turns I was just playing creatures and my opponent tried to get rid of them. Then I top decked Overcome and won the game.

I kept 3 lands, Graven Abomination, Initiate's Companion, Oasis Ritualist, Appeal/Authority. I simply curved out and attacked with my 3/1s into my opponent's 1/3s. They were reluctant to block so they took some damage. I decided then that it is time for a big swing thanks to Appeal/Authority (tapping the 1/3s) and won the match.

Round 3
I kept a two lander again and I didn't feel good about it since I was on the play. But I had a curve and if I drew a third land I'd be unstoppable or at least I thought so till the moment my opponent played Khenra Scrapper. All my creatures were power 3 creatures though so it was clear that my opponent wouldn't want to block. When the creature was enchanted with Cartouche of Solidarity I realized I could easily lose the game if I wouldn't draw a removal spell for the enchantment or the creature. My opponent was down to 11 so in theory I could still attack even if one of my creatures would die in the process since their creature would in theory stay tapped thanks to Exert. Unfortunately that was the case since they found a way how to untap the creature every single turn. When Dauntless Aven joined the Scrapper I realized that it is the time to finally start blocking. I needed to keep enough power to hit for 8 if I would draw Appeal/Authority or Overcome. I double blocked the Khenra for 4 turns and lost to the Aven because I didn't draw any removal or the Trample cards.

4 lands, Steward of Solidarity, Tah-Crop Elite and Spidery Grasp were my keep in game 2. We both played a two drop with Exert (my opponent had Oketra's Avenger). On turn 3 my opponent played Oketra's Monument which would prove deadly for me if I hadn't had an answer for it. My opponent then played Tah-Crop Elite, Vizier of the True, another Vizier of the True and Defiant Khenra. Thanks to my two drop I was able to have more creatures in play and if needed chump with something since some of my creatures would end up tapped. I had Spidery Grasp and Appeal/Authority in my hand which won me the game against this insane board.

In game 3 I kept a very slow hand and hoped my opponent would play Oketra's Avenger into Khenra Scrapper. Instead they played Steward of Solidarity and Khenra Scrapper next turn. I drew 3 lands and thus didn't play anything till round 4. I also knew from previous games that the Khenra Scrapper would deal a seriously big amount of damage and that I would probably have 1 or 2 attempts at killing the creature. Act of Heroism and Dauntless Aven made me feel even worse since that meant I had only 1 attempt at either double blocking the creature or killing it with Ambuscade. I played the removal spell and was very relieved the Khenra Scrapper died. I was down to 4 though and all I had was 2/4 that couldn't block the Dauntless Aven. In the meantime my opponent's two drop was producing 1/1 Warrior tokens that alone threatened to deal the last 4 damage. I was lucky though because I managed to play 2 creatures in one turn followed by 4/4 Vigilance, Reach and none of those creatures died. I started attacking with 4/4 Vigilance, Reach creature and Tah-Crop Elite to deal few damage and reduce the number of Warrior tokens. I drew another 4/4 creature and had Spidery Grasp in my hand when things would go awry. The game started to look good and I just needed Appeal/Authority or Overcome to win the game. I drew the card and won a turn later.

I wanted to write 'ggs' but the game window disappeared and I didn't realize that it just disappeared but is still open. Hope my opponent didn't get offended.

I stared at my 3-0 prizes in disbelief for a while and then blankly stared at MODO thinking about Hour of Devastation. I had a feeling that I want to play more drafts or sealed decks and wondered if it is because I liked what I saw or because I did well in my two events. I didn't want to admit that I could possibly like HOU. Since I don't have enough information yet from the few games I played it can't be my final opinion on the set. But I certainly felt the same way about Amonkhet after my first few events. In the case of AKH though I really loved the set right away from seeing the spoiled cards. Was I just spoiled by AKH?

If you managed to read so far, I'd recommend trying Hour of Devastation out. I didn't like the cards or the set at all before the prerelease but playing with the cards briefly made me change my opinion very quickly. Give it a chance and if you won't like it even after your event(s) you'll at least know that you tried it out and saw for yourself. Judge the set based on an actual experience.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (stsung on MODO, stsungjp on twitter)