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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jul 12 2017 12:00pm
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After my Iconic Masters article spent a lot of time in writer’s block (and then submission time) purgatory, my quarterly limited article is appearing as normal. In addition, my proposed timeline from my last article is already wrong, since the Treasure Chest changes were so minor (and the Limited article isn’t that long for a small set) that I tacked them on as an addendum to this article. Now on to the Gatewatch’s darkest hour.
Hour of Devastation tells an interesting story (as would be expected when you have the heroes lose for the first time in recent history), but mechanically not much has changed—as such, let's get to the mechanics!
Apparently someone thought Exert wasn't making triple-Amonkhet fast enough, so we have yet another mechanic which disincentivizes blocking, though more directly this time. Afflict shows up in Grixis colors (as you would expect in the Bolas set) and often shows up on creatures with upside if they aren't blocked (either saboteur abilities like (Eternal of Harsh Truths) or can grow like (Merciless Eternal)). Overall it seems well-costed and continues the trend of an aggressive format.
Apparently someone Embalmed those creatures a little too long, as they're back and they're angry. The main thing that changes from Embalm to Eternalize is that they have to be small creatures (as they always return as 4/4) or they have scaling effects based on their power to make them more expensive on the front end. There are also a lot fewer: a vertical cycle in the primary colors of white and blue, while the other three colors each get a rare. However, it feels like the cards are a lot worse this time around, at least the non-rare ones. The two commons are (Steadfast Sentinel), which draws bad comparisons to Unwavering Initiate (yes, 2/3 Vigilance is better than 3/2, but it's not a full mana better, and the Eternalize is more expensive/color-intensive to boot) and (Proven Combatant), which has a worthless front half (and it's not even like the ability to chump-block is valuable in the Afflict/Exert format). The uncommons are better, but both tacked "discard a card" onto their Eternalize costs, which makes them worse when you're topdecking. Maybe you're supposed to discard them directly to get their back halves, but that seems cute in what's shaping up to be another fast format.
While Shefet Monitor meant Amonkhet technically cared about the Desert subtype, Hour of Devastation blows the theme out in earnest with cards like (Wretched Camel) and (Gilded Ceredon). What's more interesting is the Deserts themselves, and while Amonkhet had a couple colorless Deserts for flavor, Hour of Devastation focuses on two cycles. The common cycle is a set of monocolor Cycling lands, and while Cycling lands are still good, I'm worried if the combination of expensive Cycling costs and entering the battlefield tapped will make them rare to see outside of the Desert and/or Cycling decks (though you should be safe running one or two in any non-hyper-aggressive deck). The much better cycle is the uncommon one, which don't enter tapped, provide colored mana, and let you sacrifice Deserts to get effects. As for the payoffs, there surprisingly isn't that much, but most of them seem good, and it seems relatively easy to get a Desert.
The big hype for Exert is that it now appears on tap abilities, but it only appears on an uncommon cycle in the Naya colors and (Oasis Ritualist) (and two rares). Otherwise the traditional attack trigger Exerters continue the aggressive trend, though it feels like their cost is more on the front end and less on the Exert trigger this time.
Returning Mechanics:
Aftermath returns on another ten cards, but every pair is flipped (the colors of the normal half and Aftermath half are swapped) and now the allied-color cycle is uncommon and the enemy-color cycle is rare. Cycling returns as well, but surprisingly there aren't any other innovations with it (either a "type-cycling" like Forestcycling or Zombiecycling or cycling with no mana cost as foreseen in Future Sight), just a couple of interesting cards like (Nimble Obstructionist) (the only "when you cycle CARDNAME" trigger in the set) and (Hollow One).
Before we start, a quick note: only the enemy color pairs get gold “signpost” uncommons this time around. Instead, the uncommon Aftermath cards are allied-color, and they tie in better to the archetypes than the uncommon Aftermath cards in Amonkhet.
White/Blue: Tokens/Eternalize
Apparently the world really doesn't like Nicol Bolas trying to raise up an army, as almost everything in the set seems against this archetype. I mentioned how all the nonrare Eternalize cards seem bad, but there's also a lot of incidental graveyard hate ((Graven Abomination), (Ruin Rat), (Puncturing Blow)), explicit graveyard hate ((Crook of Condemnation)—you should never play it, but they might) and bounce (Unsummon, (Consign/Oblivion)) to hate on the token strategy. In addition, there isn't much to tie the strategy together, as the only explicit support card is (Vizier of the Anointed), which doesn't seem great as a build-around (as opposed to a value card) when all the Eternalize cards are expensive (and everyone in blue or white will want the good Embalm cards in Amonkhet). This seems mostly unplayable unless the format is much slower than Amonkhet. At least you get (Farm/Market), a Rebuke with great upside?
Blue/Black: Cycling/Discard
The payoffs for Cycling in Hour of Devastation seem more focused towards the long game than the ones in Amonkhet. A card like (Cunning Survivor) isn’t at its best when you’re cycling three cards in a turn, while a (Vile Manifestation) doesn’t turn on until later (though it works great as a 0/4 wall until then). The Cycling cards themselves seem to be very good though even if they’re late-game focused, as (Razaketh's Rite) is a nice way to counter the inherent weakness of Diabolic Tutor, while (Striped Riverwinder) seems way too big for common (and will probably be Pauper-playable in Reanimator decks). However, the biggest change is that there are some cards that discard as a cost to help trigger the payoffs. (Merciless Eternal) seems like a generic aggro card, but I have no clue how good (Seer of the Last Tomorrow) is: cards like Vedalken Entrancer are normally great, but this format uses the graveyard a lot and is fast, even before you consider the discard cost which discourages multiples. (Consign/Oblivion) is good of course, though I wish Oblivion said target player so it could trigger your discard payoffs once in a blue moon.
Black/Red: Afflict Aggro
Amonkhet’s “heckbent” theme is completely gone in Hour of Devastation (though some discard costs help support what’s left of it in the format), so all that’s left of an RB theme is an aggro deck tied together by a lot of Afflict creatures. You also still have a lot of good removal, and there isn’t much else to talk about (especially after I took such a stand on the last RB deck and got it completely wrong).
Red/Green: Deserts-Matter?
The majority of the Desert-matters stuff is in green, but I think the archetype is red/green for a couple reasons. First, the two red Desert-matters cards are a good common ((Gilded Cerodon)) and a contender for best uncommon of the set ((Sand Strangler)). Second, red’s Desert-matters cards require you to have Deserts to be good (unlike a more-generic (Desert's Hold) or (Unquenchable Thirst)). Finally, (Struggle/Survive) mentions lands, and Survive might actually mean something if you’re sacrificing Deserts for things (though obviously Struggle is more than good enough on its own).
Green/White: Go Wide?
What is the theme here? (Appeal/Authority) clearly points towards a strategy that wants to go wide, and having (Overcome) at uncommon (the closest thing we’ve had to Overrun below rare in years) helps that even more, but where is the token creation? Yes, (Steward of Solidarity) is good, but what else is there (and Eternalize is so expensive it doesn’t count)? (Overcome) is still good if you’re getting all your creatures naturally and Authority still works well with the Exert cards in the colors, but you’re drafting a basic deck at that point rather than a theme (which can still be good).
White/Black: Zombies
While (Unraveling Mummy) clearly points to WB continuing its Amonkhet path, there are some changes. First, white only has three Zombies (not counting Eternalize), but they’re all common and (Mummy Paramount) looks like a powerful tribal piece (and that doesn’t count (Unconventional Tactics), which doesn’t seem great at first glance but could help break board stalls). Second, black has six common Zombies (though (Moaning Wall) doesn’t fit the most with the “attacking” theme for Zombies in this set), as well as another good lord effect in (Accursed Horde). Finally, all of the Zombies are very aggressive and seem well-fit for this aggressive environment.
Blue/Red: Spells/Graveyard
(Bloodwater Entity) continues the “spells and graveyard” theme from Amonkhet, though I suspect its main power will be as a Wind Drake with Prowess (as the recursion ability isn’t actually card advantage). Other than that, blue gets an aggressively-costed Prowess creature (Spellweaver Eternal) and the interesting enchantment (Riddleform) (which is good because it does something if you don’t have spells), while red gets more low-drops in the form of (Thorned Moloch) and (Firebrand Archer). As for the spells themselves, Unsummon helps the tempo aspects of the color (as does Consign), (Crash Through) is an interesting red cantrip (though I wonder why it’s in the same set as Afflict), Strategic Planning (a nice Portal Three Kingdoms reprint—this was over $100 at one point when it was the best non-restricted cantrip in Vintage before Preordain was printed) is a great card selection spell, and the pair of (Abrade) and (Supreme Will) are just raw power (even if their flexibility shines more in Constructed).
Black/Green: -1/-1 Counters
This theme was unclear during previews, especially now that the “putting -1/-1 counters on your own creatures” theme was left in Amonkhet (other than (Lethal Sting)), but (Obelisk Spider) shows it clearly. Other than that, (Banewhip Punisher) and (Tenacious Hunter) are support, but there’s nothing else other than two good removal spells you’d play anyway ((Lethal Sting) and (Torment of Venom)). I guess you can play the typical “Rock” gameplay with efficient creatures and removal, but again, that’s not really a theme (though “meat and potatoes” Limited seems like a good strategy here at first glance).
Red/White: Wide Exert
Back to obvious themes, as (Resolute Survivors) is very aggressive (as is (Vizier of the True), though it can be used defensively as well with the Exert tap abilities), (Oketra's Avenger) and (Khenra Scrapper) are more aggressive exert creatures, and (Dauntless Aven) is a great untapper. Very simple, and probably very good.
Green/Blue: Ramp
(River Hoopoe) wants you to get mana and draw cards (while providing a good defensive body early), and all the expensive cards that cycle help that plan as well. There is also a lot of good ramp and color fixing in the set, as green has three non-rare ramp cards ((Beneath the Sands), (Hope Tender), and (Oasis Ritualist), and artifacts have Manalith and Traveler's Amulet as well (and that even ignores the subpar lands (Crypt of the Eternal) and (Survivors' Encampment)).
Other Notable Cards:
The highest profile cards I haven’t mentioned yet are the defeat cycle, and while the planeswalker stuff is mostly flavor text (literally in the case of (Jace's Defeat) and (Chandra's Defeat)) they’re still good sideboard cards (except (Nissa's Defeat)). There are also some good common fliers, including Angel of Mercy rip-off (Aven of Enduring Hope) (though the angel was never common) and “best Wind Drake ever” (Aerial Guide) (maybe Nimbus Naiad or Warden of Evos Isle were better, though the latter was only common in a Masters set). (Inferno Jet) is also worth mentioning, as getting to put a Lava Axe effect in your deck for relatively little cost is very power, though again it’s only at its best in a slower format. Finally, (Saving Grace) is weird: it can serve as a Fog or work to completely win combat (particularly on an exerted (Oketra's Avenger), all while improving the stats of the enchanted creature.
Hour of Devastation Treasure Chest Update:
While we knew the Invocations would force an update to the Treasure Chests, it turns out not much else changed, so I can cover the highlights here rather than in a separate article.
Other than Temporal Trespass, all the additions are either the Hour of Devastation Invocations or expensive cards from Kaladesh block. The latter includes many Constructed staples, from Fatal Push (at a nice frequency of 25—sell now!) to the enemy Fastlands (at a large frequency of 20, continuing the overprinting of lands in the chests narrative) to Aetherworks Marvel (apparently they had to finalize the list before the ban happened, which makes absolutely no sense, but if you contact support they’ll give you a replacement). There are also a lot of the Planeswalkers, including the Planeswalker Deck-exclusive ones (and Verdant Crescendo as well), since they’re actually expensive due to rarity.
Most of the removals from the chests are related to Masterpieces, either the new ones (Diabolic Edict, Omniscience) or the old ones (Arcbound Ravager, Mox Opal, Cryptic Command). Otherwise the cards are mostly worthless due to reprints (Pyromancer Ascension), overprinting of niche cards (Mind Stone, Graven Cairns) or bannings (Sensei's Divining Top).
Frequency Changes:
Starting with the frequency decreases, the important change is that the Power Nine are back down to a frequency of 3—not as exclusive as 1, but still cut in half. The rest of the list includes more overprinted niche cards (Fire-Lit Thicket going to 3, Candelabra of Tawnos going to 6) and a surprising number of cards from Masters sets (Cabal Therapy, Leyline of Sanctity, Spellskite among others). In fact, a lot of the non-Masters set cards with frequency decreases are ones I have in my Iconic Masters design (Bloodghast, Ancestral Vision, Flusterstorm)—it’s probably just a coincidence, but maybe I should add Restore Balance and Worldly Tutor?
As for the increases, there isn’t a main theme, but the changes are welcome all the same. The ones that stand out are Council's Judgment going from 12 to 20 (nice since that card is hard to reprint, though it would be fine in a Commander deck) and Gorilla Shaman going from 25 to 40 (that promo is almost $20, and it’s the cheapest version—again, sell!). Serum Visions going from 6 to 25 is also nice, since it wasn’t reprinted at common in Modern Masters 2017 for some reason.
Overall Analysis:
If you ignore the new Invocations the total number of cards in the Treasure Chests actually went down by 14 cards, but that addition means the pool expanded by 466 cards. However, as you may have guessed, the Hour of Devastation Invocations aren’t the greatest—if you take the most expensive version of each of the cards (with the exception of the gods—I estimated by using the middle three prices of the Amonkhet Gods’ Invocations—and Doomsday—I took the ~20 ticket Weatherlight version rather than its ~80 ticket foil), the mean is 6.47 tickets and the median is 2.69 tickets, similar to the Amonkhet prices pre-release (though I bet I’m over-estimating the prices of the bad cards—that median is between the “middle” god and No Mercy). Otherwise, there were a lot of negative value choices (headlined by the halving the frequency of the Power Nine), and cards like Gorilla Shaman, Fatal Push, and the Planeswalker deck cards (which will likely fall like a rock in the near-future) can only do so much. Overall the value of the pool increased by almost 1900 tickets, so the average price of an added card is just over 4 tickets, though again that’s the mean, and thus not relevant unless you’re opening a very large number of chests. I wish there was an easy way to calculate the median value of a chest (and ideally the distribution of values), but that would require a lot of work (and well outside the scope of an aside in a Limited article)—maybe I’ll work on that sometime in-between all the other articles I want to write.
That’s all for now—it’s strange to staple the Limited Review and Treasure Chest articles together, but it’s better than submitting a ~1,000 word article for the latter. I’m not sure what I’ll do next—I’m still working on the “one card from every set” series in anticipation for Masters 25, but the full analysis of Treasure Chests also peaks my interest (even if the work required for that doesn’t—if there’s an easier way to get the price of every curated/PZ2 card and/or the average value of the Modern rare/mythic, please let me know!). Of course, with all my burnout, maybe I just need a break for a couple weeks. We will see.
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