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By: gwyned, gwyned
Jul 24 2017 11:00am
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I. Introduction

The return of the God-Pharaoh is upon us! Welcome to Hour of Devastation, where this final hour brings devastating spells, an unstoppable legion of undead soldiers, and the very end of the world. For me, that means it's time for the latest edition of my Standard Pauper set reviews. If you're looking for superb analysis of this set's impact on Limited and Standard, I'm afraid you've clicked the wrong link. Instead, it is the purpose of this article to highlight the best cards from this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. With this set we return to the world of Amonkhet, highlighting the two new mechanics of Eternalize and Afflict, along with the previous Embalm, Exert, and Cycling. As always, it would probably be good to already have a solid understanding of how these mechanics work before continuing with this review, as I will not be spending time to explain them in depth.

Unlike my previous reviews, I will no longer be examining each and every card in the set. Rather, I will be discussing what I believe are the cards that will see the most play in the new format and highlighting those that I believe will be particularly relevant. For this article, I will also be looking at the two Common cycles in the set, as these are usually particularly interesting. So with that out of the way, let's take a look at the cards.

II. Card Evaluation
A. Top Picks

1. At first blush Act of Heroism looks like a pretty typical inexpensive combat trick in White. The card allows you to turn a tapped out creature into a surprise blocker, and gives it enough of a boost that it should survive combat. However, what elevates this card above other such combat tricks is the fact that it allows the targeted creature to also block an additional creature. While some of the time this may simply enable you to trade 2-for-2 (their two creatures for your creature plus the trick itself), there will be opportunities to 2-for-1 your opponent with this card. And even outside of those situations, being able to block two creatures unexpectedly can definitely disrupt your opponent's well-laid plans. 

Verdict: This small act of heroism has the potential to make a big impact.

2. A 2/2 Flying for 2U is already borderline playable in Standard Pauper, but it's the secondary ability that makes Aerial Guide worth taking note of. Unlike similar cards that grant Flying to another creature only when it enters the battlefield, this card can do so turn after turn at virtually no cost. Better yet, it also isn't linked to any one creature, meaning you can always grant Flying to your best creature. And if your opponent wants to disrupt the effect, they have to remove Aerial Guide prior to the beginning of combat, as otherwise the ability will still resolve. This is a surprising amount of utility out of a simple 2/2 Flying creature, and as such is a card that will probably see play in almost any Blue-based deck.

Verdict: I hope you don't need my guidance to see why this card is worth playing.

3. Its strange name aside, Ambuscade is among the better of the Green Fight cards we've seen at Common. While a bit expensive at 3 mana, it's an Instant speed effect, gives your creature a small Power boost, and doesn't actually allow the other creature to deal any damage in return. Given that the average creature at Common has 2 Power, this card is almost a Green Lightning Strike, or at least as close as this color is ever going to get to such an effect. Granted, you do have to have at least one creature in play to get any value out of it. But if you're playing Green, it goes without saying that creatures are already probably a big part of your game plan, so most of the time that shouldn't be an issue.

Verdict: I expect this will see use in plenty of ambushes.

4. Cunning Survivor is virtually a reprint of Elusive Spellfist from Dragons of Tarkir but with a different trigger for its ability. While cycling or discarding a card is definitely harder to pull off then casting a non-creature spell, there is enough synergy with the larger themes in Standard to make this an effective card to build around. Attacking each turn with an unblockable 2/3 is already pretty strong, and like the Spellfist you can even activate this multiple times in a turn to further boost its Power. While you won't want to play this is just any Blue deck, in one that is designed to take advantage of its ability this will prove to be an important card. That said, the challenge of triggering its ability keeps this from being a top contender.

Verdict: A cunning player will be able to craft the right deck for this card.

5. Firebrand Archer alone may be enough to inspire another Izzet Spells archetype in Standard Pauper. A 2/1 for 1R is not a good card in general, but unlike the similar Thermo-Alchemist, early on you may be able to hit your opponent for a few points of damage before leaving it back and relying primarily on its pinging ability. Typically it won't generate as much damage as the aforementioned Alchemist, simply because it does very little if you aren't actually casting any spells. However, if you can get both this and the Alchemist into play at the same time, every Instant and Sorcery spell you cast generates an additional three damage, which should finish off an opponent pretty quickly.

Verdict: While solid, I wouldn't brand it as being quite as good as Thermo-Alchemist.

6. Frontline Devastator is easily the best of the Afflict cards at Common. A 3/3 for 3R is fine but generally not that great in Red. Additionally, while the additional two damage from Afflict is nice when your opponent decides to block it, generally that's not going to make that big of a difference either. But what makes this noteworthy is the ability to pump its Power up, even if it a bit expensive at 1R per activation. This will tend to make your opponent want to block it (and thus activate the Afflict ability). Even better, it means that you can hold it back on defense and trade with almost any creature your opponent can throw at you. Overall then, while none of the components themselves are fantastic, there's enough value her to make it worth a second look.

Verdict: While not devastating, I wouldn't hesitate to use it on the front lines.

7. I almost ignored God-Pharaoh's Faithful, as a 1 cost creature with zero Power that only gains you Life is normally not a card that would see any play. However, this card does have two important things going for it. First of all, as a 0/4, it is a surprisingly effective blocker, and one that your opponent probably won't want to waste a removal spell on. Second, assuming you can get this out early, this can net you a surprising amount of Life over the course of a game, potentially even netting you two or more in the course of a single turn in some cases. It's too bad that it doesn't activate for spells of its own color, which will probably restrict it to Control archetypes. Overall though, I think this is worth considering for the right deck.

Verdict: I have faith that this will find the right deck.

8. Amonkhet block has featured a surprising number of expensive creatures with Cycling, but in my estimation Rampaging Hippo is the best of the bunch. A 5/6 for 4GG is reasonable in Green, and the addition of Trample means that your opponent won't simply be able to chump block it turn after turn. Six mana is also cheap enough that you can reasonable expect to actually get to cast this is a typical game, especially in a color that has some decent mana acceleration. And when you draw it early or have it in your opening hand, you can always simply Cycle it away for 2 mana. This also puts it into the Graveyard, which in the right build has some potential advantages as well. If you're looking for big Green fatties, this is a good choice.

Verdict: A rampaging hippo is definitely a dangerous foe.

9. Despite its miniscule stats, Ruin Rat and its ilk have proven to be a very important tool in Black's arsenal. Given that its creatures are often under-powered, Black simply needs an effective way to trade with any of its opponents creatures. And in this case, not only do you get that needed utility, you also get the small bonus of being able to exile a single card from your opponent's Graveyard. Interestingly enough, you can even use this ability to remove the creature that the Ruin Rat just killed in combat, making this a great counter against a variety of different Graveyard recursion cards. So while this isn't the most impressive card, its importance to what Black is often trying to accomplish shouldn't be ignored.

Verdict: This may just be the ruin of many different schemes.

10. Hexproof is a dangerous mechanic in Standard Pauper, especially in a large creature like Striped Riverwinder. A 5/5 for 6U is quite expensive, but in a Blue Control archetype this makes a pretty decent finisher, especially since you can just Cycle it away for only one Blue mana if you draw it too early. There are quite a few decent creature Auras in the format right now that can make this into a very potent threat. Playing something like Tricks of the Trade or Ghostly Wings on this creature is a significant upgrade, and Hexproof means that you don't have to worry about getting the creature removed when you go to cast the Enchantment. While only a true Control deck probably wants such an expensive creature, this has some potential.

Verdict: Despite the cost, this could wind up being a potent card in the right deck.

11. Thorned Moloch is another card that seems like it would fit well in an Izzet Spells archetype. Normally Red wouldn't play a 2/2 for 2R, but the fact that this has both Prowess and First Strike (although the latter only when it's attacking) is a significant upgrade. On offense, your opponent will almost never want to block this, as it should be trivial for you to punch through whatever creature your opponent puts in front of it. And even on defense, your opponent still has to consider the fact its Prowess ability, making combat a somewhat risky proposition. Overall, while seemingly tailored well for the Izzet Spells archetype, even a Mono Red burn deck could probably get good value out of this card if it includes enough spells.

Verdict: Have I made the point about how good this card could be?

12. Torment of Venom is an interesting removal spell. For 2BB at Instant speed, you can immediately take down any three Toughness or weaker creature. In combat, the fact that these are -1 / -1 counters is significant, as it not only allows your creature to finish off a bigger one but probably means it will survive the process as well. The secondary effect is also interesting, forcing your opponent to choose between losing 3 Life, discarding a card, or sacrificing a nonland permanent. While most of the time players will choose the first option, there may be times that the second or third option is actually slightly beneficial for them, which is something to keep in mind. Overall this is good, but not quite as good as unconditional removal.

Verdict: This isn't a card that should torment you too badly.

B. Cycles
1. The Desert Cycle






One of the perennial problems in Magic is drawing too many Lands in the course of a game. Lands that cycle solve this problem quite elegantly, allowing you to discard them for a new card and a marginal cost. Unless you're playing a very aggressive deck where the fact that these Lands come into play tapped is an issue or need a very finely tuned mana base, including a full playset of these in your deck is probably a good idea. In this case, the cost to draw the new cards is 2 mana, one of which (presumably) is the same color as the land would have produced. This is somewhat of a blend of the original cycle back in Urza's Saga (which has never been available on Magic Online) that cycled for 2 mana and the newer one from Onslaught that cycled for a single colored mana. Interestingly enough, it appears that each land in the cycle will also be a Desert, which looks like it will matter for at least a few cards at Common (see below).

Verdict: Assuming you're playing a typical two-color deck, I wouldn't let these desert from your deck.

2. "Deserts Matter" Commons






This cycle of creatures (plus the Blue creature Enchantment Aura) are vanilla creatures with an additional ability that turns on whenever you control a Desert or have one in your Graveyard. They are each fairly costed for their stat-lines, but even with the secondary ability they don't offer much benefit for the cost of having to include Deserts in your deck. The Falter-like effect of Gilded Ceredon is probably the most interesting, making this creature more difficult for your opponent to effectively block. But of them, the best is probably Unquenchable Thirst, since it is not only still decent even with a Desert card but is also an effective removal spell for Blue. Overall though this cycle is pretty lackluster, and certainly doesn't give you enough incentive to include Deserts in your deck if you weren't already going to play them.

Verdict: Unlike the previous cards, you would actually prefer these to desert your army.

III. Final Thoughts

Overall I was not impressed with the Commons for Hour of Devastation. While certainly some of the above cards are interesting, none of them are powerful enough to cause a shift in the metagame, and by and large the two new mechanics will be a non-factor as well. The Izzet Spells archetype hasn't been as popular as of late, but if any decklist is able to really take advantage of these new cards, it will be that one. Sadly, the cards that will probably have the biggest impact on the format will be the cycling Common Lands, simply because the ability to turn a Land into another card can be such a big factor. After all, all other things being equal, whoever casts the most spells usually wins the game.

IV. Conclusion

So that's my pick of the Commons from Hour of Devastation for Standard Pauper. In closing, let me remind you that you can check out all of my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. You can get a sneak peek at any of my videos before they go live here at over on Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my videocasts, and click the Subscribe button. You can keep up with everything I'm doing on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Finally, I am the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge League, which is a weekly "league-style" PRE in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded each week for the Top 4 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. You can find all the information about the league here, and we'd love to have you come join us in the #mpdc chat channel in the future.