They say he can't be beaten.
They say he's always got a plan.
They say he's better than all.
I guess there's always a greater power…
Nobody can say that Jace never had a chance to shine. He had a pretty good run, too. Nevertheless, the God-Pharaoh has returned.
Spoiler: Sometimes the bad guys win.
The God-Pharaoh's glorious victory has been commemorated on five color-hosers, each named for a Gatewatch member defeated by Nicol Bolas. Like most color-hosers, particularly those that hit only a single color, these cards are typically for sideboards (though, depending on how the metagame moves, it's always possible we start seeing them showing up in maindecks).
While they explicitly call out the name of a Planeswalker, they are actually quite versatile; it's just that they each give you a bonus for following in Bolas's footsteps and defeating a Gatewatch member.
Jace's Defeat is assuredly going to be successful.
Gainsay has been around for a very long time, and each time it's printed, it has been widely adopted and quite successful. Jace's Defeat is a strictly better Gainsay, nearly identical in every way, except with a bonus against Jaces.
Gainsay has seen play in every format, including Vintage and Legacy. I wouldn't expect to see a lot of Jace's Defeat. The chance of a scry 2 after you counter their Jace, the Mind Sculptor isn't really going to make you play this meaningfully more than Gainsay. However, if you were already in the market for it, this is an upgrade.
In Modern, Jace Beleren and Jace, Architect of Thought are the main Jaces, at least these days, in most spaces. But if the JTMS were to ever switch places, the ways he'd facelift the format would leave other plays in a daze.
Still, it's better than Gainsay.
Here's an example of a possible home, adding four copies of Chandra's Defeat to the sideboard:
U/R Control enjoyed modest success in Amonkhet Standard; however, its greatest weakness was Aetherworks Marvel decks. That proved to be kind of a problem, given how dominant and popular Aetherworks Marvel was. However, Aetherworks Marvel is now banned. This bodes well for U/R Control.
Would you pay one mana to draw your choice of one of these two cards?
Those are some pretty fantastic cards. Paying an extra mana is not trivial, but both of those cards are a little overpowered to start with, and you get your choice when you cast Supreme Will...
Supreme Will is a Mana Leak / Impulse split card at a one-mana premium. In a world where people already play Spell Shrivel, I'm confident this one will show up. It's kind of nice that early on you can use it as a counterspell and then later, when they could just pay, you can instead use it to dig. Besides, despite what Hollywood would have you believe, a counterspell isn't always the answer to everything.
That said, I do think it's easy to overrate the card. After all, getting glutted with them isn't exactly great. You can really slow yourself down, if you're not careful. Besides, frequently, all you want is a Counterspell with a capital "C." Still, the card looks good to me, and the increased flexibility it gives Torrential Gearhulk is significant.
Abrade is an attractive card. It's just tough, because how many spells that deal two or three damage can you really play? Harnessed Lightning is mostly better, at least in U/R Control, but you could easily play it alongside (maindeck or sideboard). It's kind of a Dissenter's Deliverance, except you always draw a creature-only Lightning Bolt.
Dark Betrayal was a popular tournament card and it could only hit creatures. While Chandra's Defeat only deals five damage rather than destroying the target, few red creatures have more than five toughness anyway.
While red creatures aren't ultra-popular right now, a single set and a single banning could change everything. Even so, Chandra's Defeat also hits planeswalkers, and red planeswalkers are quite popular and strong.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Chandra, Flamecaller are both very popular, usually in the discussion for Standard. Killing either of them for one mana is already very exciting (both go to five loyalty when first played with a +1), and getting a free loot is just gravy.
While dealing five damage to Nahiri isn't as exciting, it's still nice to have the option. As for non-Standard-legal planeswalkers, we have Koth of the Hammer, Ajani Vengeant, Saheeli Rai, Dack Fayden, Domri Rade, and the list goes on and on; plus, it's just nice to be able to get more mileage out of that sideboard slot. Dealing five damage for one mana is very much the sort of thing we could be interested in, whether targeting Goblin Guide or Thundermaw Hellkite.
While Liliana's Defeat is a sorcery, it picks up a ton of power from the ability to hit Liliana, the Last Hope; Liliana, Death's Majesty; Ob Nixilis Reignited; or Sorin, Grim Nemesis. This really changes the sideboard dynamic we've been accustomed to the past couple of formats.
Now it's a lot harder for aggro players to sideboard into planeswalker midrange transformation plans against opponents with spot removal. You can sideboard in Liliana's Defeat, planning on targeting Cryptbreaker or Diregraf Colossus, and still hit Liliana, the Last Hope if it comes to that. Planning to hit Winding Constrictor or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner? Well, them switching to Ob Nixilis Reignited is no problem.
As for more powerful formats, Liliana's Defeat is likely to show up lots of places. There are a lot of popular and important targets, and mana efficiency is at a premium in the older formats.
While I would definitely find room for some Liliana's Defeats in the sideboard of Zombies, Mardu, and anything green and black here's another possible home that might be enabled by a particularly important new card from Hour of Devastation:
While red gives us access to Magma Spray and Harnessed Lightning, black already offered Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness. Red has Wandering Fumarole, while black has more dual lands with blue. Red has Sweltering Suns and artifact kill, while none of black sweepers could really compete, and the format hasn't been great for discard.
Bontu's Last Reckoning is a very different sweeper from what black has had access to lately (and certainly nothing red has access to). While it's definitely not Damnation, it is more versatile than most five-cost sweepers we'd expect to see. You're usually going to pay at least six (three now, three later), but we might end up spending a lot more, later in the game.
When you're low on mana, Bontu's Last Reckoning is sort of like a Slaughter Pact version of Damnation. A little later in the game, if you're getting beaten down, it's kind of nice to be able to spend more of your mana digging to find what you need to get out of whatever spot you might have found yourself in, and less on the sweeper itself.
In addition to the flexibility that comes from such a low cost upfront, the drawback of Bontu's Last Reckoning can be mitigated by untap effects and alternative mana sources (though I recommend artifact mana more than mana creatures, given the nature of Bontu's Last Reckoning).
Interestingly, with red and black each having a three-cost sweeper option, Wizards of the Coast wasted no time before giving white one as well:
Okay, we're probably not playing this one for three all that often, but it will come up sometimes, particularly in tokens decks. Even at six, however, we're still talking about Akroma's Vengeance. It is triple white, but this is an excellent time for Akroma's Vengeance. Many opponents are diversifying their threats with creatures, Vehicles, planeswalkers, enchantments, and so on. Having a sweeper that hits everything is a big game (plus, I think Hour of Revelation just plain looks stronger than Bontu's Last Reckoning).
The biggest drawback is that it doesn't play well with Cast Out. However, it does have one more hidden upside...
When either Gideon becomes a creature, it also becomes indestructible until end of turn. This includes from Hour of Revelation, leaving us with the only permanent on the table. Obviously, Gideon already worked with Fumigate; however, now there are a lot more permanents we can hit that previously dodged.
Speaking of all these Gideons...
Another important note on embalm: remember, the tokens are white. As such, anything can be Gideon's Defeated once it's embalmed. It just needs to be attacking or blocking. That we can do it for just one mana means a lot, as white typically doesn't get very good two-cost removal, let alone one-cost.
I'm not at all sure it's the right effect for the format to come, but Oketra's Last Mercy is an interesting variation on the Bontu's Last Reckoning style of design. Resetting your life total to twenty is a very dramatic effect for just three mana and can go a long way towards helping you live long enough to untap again. Additionally, it's kind of interesting that if you play two of these "Last" cards in the same turn, you're kind of beating the system, only skipping your untap once.
Nissa's Defeat is a little bit of an odd duck. While each of the other Defeats hits creatures (or spells, which includes creatures), Nissa's Defeat hits green enchantments and Forests instead. This sort of implies an added strength to green creatures, in that there aren't any color hosers that hit them.
Nissa's Defeat is sort of a weird Peak Eruption. In lieu of dealing damage, you have the added flexibility of hitting green planeswalkers or enchantments (and if you hit Nissa, an extra card is definitely sweet).
- 4 Adorned Pouncer
- 4 Initiate's Companion
- 4 Pride Sovereign
- 2 Prowling Serpopard
- 4 Regal Caracal
- 4 Sacred Cat
- 4 Scythe Leopard
Okay, I'm not so sure we actually even want Nissa's Defeat. It's possible, but it really doesn't look all that great with current information.
I'm mainly just excited about Cats.
With a second, very legit lord, Cat tribal might actually have chances. It would not take many more good Cats in Hour of Devastation to push the strategy into competitive play. What they really need is something to help them against fast aggro. Adorned Pouncer is an excellent card, but I think we probably need at least one more.
While Adorned Pouncer is a fantastic Cat, it's in a very different camp from Pride Sovereign. It's just a straight-up powerful card, and you can play it in non-Cat strategies. Paying two mana for a 1/1 with double strike is already worth considering, doing some pretty amazing things with pump spells and +1/+1 counters. However, seemingly for free, we also get the option to buy a 4/4 double striker for five mana. That's a pretty potent second option, especially when both threats are coming from one card.
The five Defeats really set the stage for Hour of Devastation and what is sure to be a very fine moment for the Nicol Bolas brand. What I appreciate is that all three Grixis Defeats can hit Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh (though the red one only kills him if he ticks down).
There's a new curve-topper in Standard.
Confirmed: Grixis is go!
Now, with the Gatewatch defeated and the God-Pharaoh returned, the only question is how to build the best Grixis deck...