Preview season has been pretty fun for me this time around. I usually pay attention from afar and wait for the entire set to release before getting my hands dirty, but The Locust God threw me a curveball this time around.
Specifically, after its reveal, I found myself paying close attention to the other gems that Hour of Devastation might offer my Intruder Alarm combo deck in Modern. You can imagine how happy/surprised I was to discover that The Locust God was not the last addition we would gain from Magic's latest set. With Hour of Devastation now completely revealed, it only makes sense to take a brewer's first look at all of our new toys!
After a new set releases, I tend to return to similar behavior patterns that have worked for me in the past. Generally speaking, I first comb over the set a few times, looking for any cards that jump out to me as having potential. Those cards go on a list where I can review them and explore them at will. What I don't do, however, is get too caught up on any individual card just yet. There will be time to go deep on cards later, but I don't want to let an entire set's worth of ideas gather dust while I focus on just one card. Of course, we will definitely be focusing on that card eventually, perhaps even tomorrow, but first let's just get an idea of what we are working with.
Today, I want to talk some more about the Modern Intruder Alarm combo I introduced last week, complete with Hour of Devastation updates. Then I'll take a look at some of the Hour of Devastation cards that might be soaring under the radar. With a new set, attention tends to get focused on the obviously powerful Tier 1 stuff, but there are always future standouts lurking beneath the surface. With our first pass over the set, let's see if anything sticks out to us. But first, Modern!
No Need for Alarm
Last week, we debuted an initial shell for a new Intruder Alarm combo deck in Modern that utilizes cards like Beck//Call and Hunted Phantasm for explosive turns.
With a deck as strange as this one, it would not be too surprising to see the list sputter out, as I failed to make meaningful improvements to the list. Unfortunately, that is just a part of being a deckbuilder and you need to come to grips with it. Over the course of the week, however, testing and list changes kept leading to a better and better deck.
My toolbox was improving, with a sideboard that could now actually compete against the powerful linear decks of Modern. I was gaining consistency in my manabase and in my ability to combo off. I was even learning new lines of play and specific matchup tricks. The deck was performing so much better than expected and I still did not have The Locust God available to test with! With everything going so well, I was not looking for it to get better, but it absolutely did as I scrolled through my Twitter feed and saw the following preview:
To most people, this just registers as a pretty good Limited uncommon, but to a guy who has been knee-deep in Intruder Alarm for the past few months, this card is a godsend. In my current list, I am playing multiple copies of Thraben Doomsayer, which has been good, but Steward improves on Doomsayer in a few meaningful ways.
First, and most importantly, Steward of Solidarity is a two-drop, which means curving into a turn 3 Intruder Alarm needs no one-drop mana accelerant to aid it. This gives us more free wins against the field, which a combo deck will always take. Second, it is a little easier on our mana when we do want to cast the card. Two white mana out of a deck with no other double-white cards isn't always a given. Third, it costs two mana for the purposes of Chord and Aether Vial, which means faster setup for our various combos.
Now, these things are not universally good. For example, Aether Vial is most commonly going to be left at three counters in our list, so drawing a Doomsayer afterward causes no friction, whereas Steward of Solidarity needs to be cast and exposed to sorcery-speed removal. The exert clause also makes Steward worse in fair fights where you just want to chump block a big Death's Shadow or Tarmogoyf until you draw out of it. These cases tend to be more fringe, though, whereas the benefits are things we can take advantage of in every game.
I think we still want access to Doomsayer, as there are plenty of times where we are playing Chord of Calling and three is no harder to grab than two. In these spots, Doomsayer doesn't need to exert and also brings about a useful fateful hour ability which has come up a surprising number of times in testing thus far. We can probably shave one of our two remaining Sprout Swarms, though, and increase the creature density for our Chord and Vial synergies.
With two brand-new cards for the deck in Steward and The Locust God, as well as a week's worth of testing, our shell took on quite the makeover. We will break down new interactions momentarily, but first let's get to the list.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Hunted Phantasm
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 1 Kiora's Follower
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Steward of Solidarity
- 1 Thraben Doomsayer
- 1 Azami, Lady of Scrolls
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 The Locust God
- 1 Dryad Arbor
The first huge change to the list that I have to call out or else it is easy to miss: Dryad Arbor. I was interested in Dryad Arbor from the start but decided to try out Khalni Garden in its place. Since then, I have reconsidered and Arbor has been amazing. It triggers Intruder Alarm in very much the same way that Khalni Garden does and it will still draw you a card off Beck. But on top of that, Dryad Arbor gives us some more nifty interactions.
First of all, it is a zero-cost creature, which comes up in multiple ways. It can be Chord of Calling-ed for using only three mana or creatures, which can be a crucial tool to outrace an opposing combo deck at times. Remember that Dryad Arbor untaps with Intruder Alarm, so it can effectively sub into our combos in place of a Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch for our mana purposes. Having an effective cost of zero also allows us to Aether Vial Dryad Arbor in the turn we have cast our Vial. This means we can untap on turn 2 with two lands on the battlefield and a Vial on one counter. I also went ahead and added a Misty Rainforest to the list so we can have some fast Dryad Arbor action at times, which allows us even more flexibility.
Kiora's Follower is another neat addition since last week. The idea here is that we basically gain another mana creature that happens to have a ton of additional synergy with our other cards. We can untap Aether Vial for a second use in a turn. We can untap Izzet Staticaster to take down 2/2s. We can untap Steward of Solidarity to work around exert. We even can access a few new combo interactions once Follower is in the list
Hour of Devastation adds a ton of depth to our already deep shell. We gain a lot more ways to wiggle out of situations and into a combo kill seemingly out of nowhere. Let's actually go over these new combo interactions that we have access to; in addition to the five core combo endgames we broke down last week, we have picked up four more.
Steward of Solidarity + Intruder Alarm - This creates arbitrarily large numbers 1/1 vigilance creatures, which can occasionally be an advantage over the typical 1/1s that Sprout Swarm and Thraben Doomsayer Provide but will usually function the same.
Azami, Lady of Scrolls + The Locust God + Intruder Alarm - I mentioned this as an afterthought last week but figured I would detail it better here. Azami plus Intruder Alarm functionally replaces Beck, allowing you to go arbitrarily large with The Locust God. Every activation of Azami puts a 1/1 Locust onto the battlefield, which will trigger Intruder Alarm and allow you to continue.
Kiora's Follower + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker - This is a backdoor Kiki-Jiki target that can stand in for Restoration Angel when need be. The catch here is that this particular combo only works on the opponent's end step. Each copy of Kiora's Follower will need to tap in order to untap Kiki-Jiki, so they cannot attack in the same turn. If done on the opponent's end step, however, all of those tokens will survive until the end of your turn, allowing you to attacking for lethal in the interim.
Kiora's Follower + Forbidden Orchard + Intruder Alarm - This combo allows you to generate arbitrarily large numbers of mana and untaps at the expense of generating an army for your opponent. If you add Beck to this mixture, you get to draw your deck as well. This is not necessarily a combo you are ever looking for, but sometimes it will fall into your lap, so it is important to recognize its existence.
Our sideboard has also been greatly improved with a more thought-out set of silver bullets. Most of these are relatively straightforward, so I won't go into them now, but expect a matchup guide and sideboard guide out of me in a few weeks once I can begin testing this on Magic Online!
One card from Hour of Devastation you will not see in this list is Pride Sovereign. While Sovereign does work with Intruder Alarm, it requires that you have a mana creature out alongside it (and Dryad Arbor does not count). If you check that box off, this does amount to an arbitrarily large number of lifelinking Cats and a gigantic Pride Sovereign that can attack that turn, but rarely will either of these facts matter when the alternative is an equal number of 1/1 tokens and a Kiki-Jiki to win that turn.
Still, one underwhelming kitty does not make for a bad set. While most of the Magic world is rightly excited by the new planeswalkers and pushed cards, there are always some cards that pique my interest despite not being the most obviously powerful. I wanted to spend a few minutes going over some of these cards and talking about where my brewing process might begin with each. As I get more time to test and iron out concepts, we will learn which of these ideas are worth pursuing further, but this is always a good place to begin.
This is quite the payoff, but it comes at quite the price. I don't actually think Overwhelming Splendor is too great of a card when you pay full retail on it, just because there are so many ways to work around it or remove it. I am interested in this for decks that can cheat it onto the battlefield, however. A few years ago, I had a concept for a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx-fueled Enduring Ideal list that played out rather how a Prison deck might. Once it got a high enough devotion to white, though, it could Enduring Ideal to fully lock you out of the game. Zur the Enchanter helped to provide some early-game consistency and to beat various combo decks before they could go off. While the list needs more work, to be sure, I do like the idea of Overwhelming Splendor to add to the toolbox.
Expect me to revisit this idea in greater detail at a future time. Until then, however, the list is completely serviceable and quite fun to play (if you're into long games and punishing the opponent, that is).
For those of you who don't know, I have a storied history of trying to make cards in this space work. I have gone down the rabbit hole trying to make Surrakar Spellblade, Cold-Eyed Selkie, and Cephallid Constable work, but Dreamstealer looks like it might top them all. Dreamstealer is definitely a three-mana play that gets killed by most removal, but in situations where that doesn't happen, it offers you a chance to basically win the game on turn 4. Combining this with even just a Giant Growth is likely to take your opponent's entire hand, and menace means that any double-block they may have lined up is not going to go too well either.
We will likely want to include Dreamstealer in a shell with hand disruption or other means to protect our 1/2 without needing mana up on the turn we cast it. While we could slow-play it a turn to protect it, that does lower the explosiveness of its ability should we connect. Transgress the Mind and Lay Bare the Heart both make for good lead-off spells though, so I would probably go barking up those trees first.
The other place to go with this is some sort of haste-granting shell. Casting this with Bloodlust Inciter or Cartouche of Zeal sounds kind of fun to me. That said, we definitely need to make sure our little discard package is worth the effort rather than just including more damage, so this is an idea we will have to test out later on to see if it has any legs.
There is not much to this card, but at the same time, there is quite a lot. Eight life for a single mana is worth investigating further and I want to give this the attention it deserves. We currently have quite a few different payoffs in Standard for either gaining life, or having a high life total, and Hour of Devastation gives us another one in Crested Sunmare. I don't know if there is a deck here, but there are enough compelling game pieces and lifegain options that aren't embarrassing that spending some time down this rabbit hole is probably worth it.
Generally, any card that can bounce a mass number of permanents for cheap is worth looking at for potential combo shells. This one even comes with the real upside of being a loot engine should that be something you need. Obvious homes for this include Puresteel Paladin combo, but I can see it working out in other places as well.
This is a card that is easy to sleep on just because it does not look inherently powerful and you need to figure out how to use it, but I am a fan.
Unearth is one of my favorite Magic cards ever. I love being given a set of restrictions and then trying to find the best way to maximize the card within them. Claim is certainly more difficult to do this with than Unearth, as the restriction leaves out a third of the range, but we do gain a useful and cheap aftermath in exchange.
Again, I really have not spent time delving the format in search of the best targets for this, but for starters, I know we have Thraben Inspector and Grim Flayer, so it can't be that bad. This is the type of card that just does so much for such little mana that I would be extremely surprised to not see it find success. I will be doing plenty of brewing around the card and will report back with a list next week!
I don't need much of a reason to believe and this card has me all sorts of excited for a couple of reasons. First of all, while it has a cool combo element to the card, it comes at a low opportunity cost thanks to the front half being a solid card selection tool. This means that, unlike a Through the Breach, we won't be stuck with a clunky five-drop in our hand. We do pay the cost of our opponent knowing about our mana cheat spell, as it is sitting face-up in our graveyard, but that trade-off seems fine.
Unlike Aetherworks Marvel, this does not cast the creature from the top of our deck, so Eldrazi cast triggers aren't coming along for the Believing. Still, fatties like Void Winnower and Omnath, Locus of Rage might be good enough to draw attention to Reason. In Hour of Devastation we also get Razaketh, the Foulblooded and Chaos Maw as exciting options. I would also like to explore these options for Indomitable Creativity at some point.
Hour of Promise is likely to get ignored by most people, as a five-mana Explosive Vegetation is just not too exciting and its kicker asks a lot of deckbuilding costs out of you. That said, I am sure some people will be drawn to the card, as I happen to be one of them. The Desert clause on this is nice and I will certainly be running some number of Deserts while playing this, but that payoff is secondary to what I am really after here: nonbasic land fetching.
Even at five mana, the ability to grab two nonbasic lands of your choosing can be absolutely game-breaking. You can imagine a scenario where you just find two copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and then cast an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on your next turn. Finding a Westvale Abbey and Spawning Bed is kind of nice (or triggering your Desert bonus). Sandstone Bridge and Looming Spires give you some immediate value if that seems attractive to you. And we all know I will be spending many evenings casting Hour of Promise for a pair of Ruins of Oran-Rief.
This is the card that I have first in my exploration queue, but I am well aware that the brewing for this one is going to go deep. Hour of Eternity provides an effect that feels extremely abusable. In some ways this has a Necrotic Ooze vibe to it, but because you're getting entire text boxes and not just activated abilities, the combo latticework gets even deeper and more intricate.
This is a card that I feel you need to do proper homework on before writing it off or singing its praises. I can tell you for certain that I will be trying my best to brew with this, though, because the payoffs are just so awesome. I'm guess you need to have a really good two-card pile in your yard to make this worth considering. Those two cards don't need to immediately win the game, but they need to make your commitment to this spell worth it. Once you start getting back three bodies, you probably should have some plan for an instant win in mind. It is possible that Standard does not have the tools to make these goals a reality, but there is only one way to find out!
While this card is not likely to show up too often in Constructed, it does bring some novelty to the table. I could see playing a copy in our R/G Planeswalkers deck using Indomitable Creativity, for example. In that world, it comes out between a 4/4 and 6/6 and will have flying, haste, and trample thanks to Reality Smasher and Glorybringer. Factor in the obvious synergy with tokens and you get my attention. Ultimately, I don't think it will make the cut, but this at least gives you an idea of where this card might find a home.
Some people aren't all too excited by Ramunap Excavator, but with ten cycling lands available in the format, this card is a lot closer to Courser of Kruphix than you might realize. For me, I am most excited about trying this creature out in decks with The Gitrog Monster, who has been on my back burner for about a year now. I keep wanting the Frog Horror to be good, but the Standard conditions have not had much give to them over the last year.
This deck is extremely heavy on the lands with 29 in total, but I think we have enough cycling and enough utility that we can probably get away with it. This list is a good place to kick us off, but we certainly need more testing before we can be confident in any of our choices.
And with that, back to the brewing!