With the full Hour of Devastation previews unveiled, it's time to get to work. There are a lot of strategies to figure out…
…before eventually deciding to play Grixis.
Vile Manifestation is one of the most interesting cards in Hour of Devastation. The floor, while not exciting, is really not that bad, either. A 0/4 with cycling 2? We could do worse.
Of course, where the card really shines is in a deck with more than zero other cards with cycling. Pretty quickly, we're starting to get into quasi-Tarmogoyf with cycling territory. Sure, Vile Manifestation never gets more toughness, but the sky's the limit on power, and besides, four isn't exactly "low-toughness."
One possible home is in some kind of a U/B Cycling Aggro deck alongside Draft role-player Shadowstorm Vizier and soon-to-be Draft role-player Cunning Survivor.
Cunning Survivor and Shadowstorm Vizier share a couple of important qualities. They are both three-toughness two-drops (take that, Magma Spray) that do an extra damage for every card you cycle. What's more, they both have evasion. While we could get ambitious and try to deal twenty to someone in one shot with New Perspectives or Shadows of the Grave, we could also just be content with two-cost 4/3 unblockable and 4/6 flying creatures. Besides, Vile Manifestation gives us 7/4s, and Hollow One is frequently a zero-cost 4/4.
Hollow One looks to be one of the most important cards from Hour of Devastation. Although it may be hard to swallow that the promise this little number holds might prove empty, I, for one, would go to my grave before I would allow it to be discarded without looking inside and making sure the whole shell really is boring and that, regardless of how one fills it, it's missing what it takes inside to finish first.
If we cycle just two cards on turn 3, we get a one-cost 4/4. If we've got a third, now we're at a zero-cost 4/4, even if we play multiples. Even if we weren't getting paid any other way, we're still getting a 4/4 on turn 3, and we'regetting a little selection from cashing in cycling cards we don't really want at the moment. However, if we played any of the aforementioned two-drops, now we're getting somewhere.
If we wanted to go even deeper, we could start looking to stuff like Grisly Survivor.
Without evasion, and costing three instead of two, I think we should probably pass on Grisly Survivor. It does get so big, so quickly, that it might find a home in some kind of a Fling deck or some such, though.
Ruthless Sniper is definitely an option, whether it's maindeck or sideboard. I'm concerned about playing too many non-cycling cards, and it does open us up to Magma Spray a bit more; however, it can also be a fantastic plan against aggressive strategies if they can't get it off the table immediately.
Scarab Feast takes on new meaning when there is the possibility of shrinking your opponent's Vile Manifestation in combat. We're planning on just cycling the card anyway, but at least Scarab Feast has some spots where it's nice to cast, like in response to a Traverse the Ulvenwald. I'm just not sure we're really going to ever want to cast Lurching Rotbeast, and Razaketh's Rite is pretty expensive for a deck short on particularly good things to go find.
Yes. Yes, he is.
Razaketh's Rite looks like it has potential to me, but you really have to be a deck that is sometimes in the market for such an expensive tutor. An aggressive deck isn't likely the best place. That said, even just one or two would make one-of sideboard cards go a bit further. The card's primary purposes, however, would seem to be New Perspectives and various control decks.
Cards that cost two to cycle instead of one generally need to be cast pretty regularly to be worth the trouble. While I generally like Supreme Will more than Countervailing Winds, the card does have purpose. First, drawing one of these and two Supreme Wills might be better than drawing three Supreme Wills. Beyond that, if we're playing a cycling deck, we can pretty quickly get Countervailing online early. Later, the card is mostly a hard counter we won't want to cycle anyway, but if we do, it's nice that it triggers our cycling synergies (unlike Supreme Will).
U/B Cycling doesn't need to be so aggressive, however. For example, here's a much more controlling build:
- 1 Torrential Gearhulk
- 1 Archfiend of Ifnir
- 1 Curator of Mysteries
- 1 Nimble Obstructionist
- 4 Vile Manifestation
While most of its homes aren't going to be so fancy, I definitely don't mind trying the miser's Nimble Obstructionist here.
Nimble Obstructionist is priced to have an impact on fetchland formats like Modern and Legacy, but it's also got plenty of Standard applications:
- Planeswalker abilities (or flashing down and attacking one)
- Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- Evolving Wilds
- Liliana's Mastery
- Cast Out
- Preventing your opponent from drawing a card from cycling
That's just to name a few. Nimble Obstructionist is even easier to cast than Vendilion Clique, and it's not even legendary.
The spot I am most excited to try Nimble Obstructionist is in Grixis (shocker), where it can help fill out the creature counter necessary to make good use of cards like Liliana, the Last Hope and Dark Intimations.
Liliana, the Last Hope and Chandra, Torch of Defiance can be great lead-ins to Dark Intimations, as they typically demand an answer or things are going well for you. However, that's still not quite enough, and Liliana isn't really all that great unless you have some creatures to occasionally get back. Nimble Obstruction addresses all of these concerns, while also just being a relatively efficient form of interaction.
I would guess it will prove one of the better cards in the set.
The God-Pharaoh's time has come.
And just in case you like a more traditional control deck, with only a light Grixis touch, here's a more conservative option:
As for the cycling synergies from earlier, it's a little slow, but I am really feeling Abandoned Sarcophagus.
Abandoned Sarcophagus is a very promising card draw engine when combined with proactive cycling cards. That you can drop it and immediately start casting spells out of your graveyard is pretty exciting. Most cycling cards are overcosted to begin with, though, so we're probably going to get choked on mana basically continuously.
Here's an attempt at a more dedicated Abandoned Sarcophagus deck:
Here, we're kind of just playing a non-blue battlefield control deck that eventually takes over the game with Abandoned Sarcophagus. It's not just that all of our cards can be cantrips. All we have to do is play some Razaketh's Rites and we have a ton of late-game inevitability. We just need to buy a little time, do a little ramping, and then drop the Sarcophagus. The first time we get a chance to play Razaketh's Rite out of our graveyard, the game is just going to spiral out of control.
Beneath the Sands is a fairly modest ramp spell, but being able to flash it back once we drop the Sarcophagus is excellent. Cycling for two isn't the greatest these days, but the card is solid to draw whenever we see it. Early, a ramp spell is exactly what we want. Late, we can cash the extra-mana card in for something else. It's not as exciting as Shefet Monitor, but what is?
...and how much are we just going to search up two Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and get into the Ulamog business?
- 1 Noxious Gearhulk
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 2 Shefet Monitor
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Ulvenwald Hydra
- 1 World Breaker
- 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
The Desert package is actually quite rich in variety of options and synergies. Outside of just powering up our Hour of Promise, there are a lot of really cool interactions you can pull off once you've got four ways to tutor up two at the same time and four more ways to get whichever missing piece you might want.
Dunes of the Dead can make a natural complement to either Hashep Oasis or Ifnir Deadlands. Being able to sacrifice it for a spell-like effect and then also get a third Zombie is very economical. It's nice to get a land into the graveyard for Hostile Desert anyway.
Even without Evolving Wilds, we're doing pretty well here. Hissing Quagmire, Sanctum of Ugin, Desert of the Indomitable, activating Hashep Oasis or Ifnir Deadlands, or rebuying World Breaker all work.
I tried Hour of Promise in various beatdown decks as sort of a sideways Liliana's Mastery, but nothing seemed as good as ramping out Ulamog. Besides, if we want to make tokens for five mana, it might be time to get ourselves into a Regal Caracal-based operation.
Wasn't Felidar Guardian banned?
Oh, you think there are no Cats in Standard...?
Well, this should set your mind at ease:
- 4 Adorned Pouncer
- 4 Initiate's Companion
- 4 Pride Sovereign
- 4 Regal Caracal
- 4 Sacred Cat
- 4 Thraben Inspector
I think there's probably a good chance of Cat tribal actually getting there in Standard. For starters, Pride Sovereign gives us another good Cat lord without needing us to go all-in (similar to Regal Caracal).
Pride Sovereign activating even once leads to a pretty big advantage, and Initiate's Companion gives us a built-in combo for untapping the Sovereign every turn. Appeal // Authority is an excellent way to get our Initiate's Companion through, but even if it dies in combat to a blocker, trample damage still gives us another untap.
Appeal // Authority can do a lot of pumping for very little mana, which is particularly nice on double strikers like Adorned Pouncer.
Adorned Pouncer is a very exciting threat, even without feline synergies. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Always Watching; and various pump spells all lead to extra mileage out of double strike. Regal Caracal's bonus is well-utilized. What's more, Adorned Pouncer does a sideways sort of Scrapheap Scrounger impression, eventually coming back as a 4/4 double-striker for just five mana (without even costing an extra card).
While I don't think it's particularly likely to pan out, one other aspect of the Pouncer we might be able to exploit is its status as a "token-maker."
Rhonas's Last Stand could just be used in some kind of a fast aggro deck with Stompy influences, particularly one with mana creatures like Channeler Initiate and Servant of the Conduit. A 5/4 for GG with echo is pretty exciting, though hardly busted, and that's not even factoring in casting it with more than two lands on the battlefield.
If we really want to push the limits of what the card can do, we may want to look into copying the token…
...or we could just focus on exploring every possible Cat deck until the best one emerges.
Compared to the previous list, I think this build is likely to be too slow and clunky. The pump spells added a nice dimension, and the glut of four-cost enchantments is particularly painful when we're giving up Gideon to make room for them. Besides, Rhonas's Last Stand is going to be really awkward if we cast it before turn 4, and really slow if we play it after.
I like Cats, but not like this. Not like this.
Okay, I should have been more specific. Not like that either.
Eternalize gives us lots of new things to try embalming (yippee!), and Vizier of the Anointed is sort of an Embalm/Eternalize lord. It's sort of a four-cost 2/4 that "draws" a card in the form of the creature you tutored for. Then, if the Vizier lives, you draw a card each time you Embalm or Eternalize. That's actually a pretty awesome payoff, all things considered. I wouldn't be surprised if Vizier of the Anointed tends to be the best card in decks that actually play it.
We've already got some pretty exciting targets, not to mention Adorned Pouncer; however, if we can support the green mana, Hooded Hydra is a pretty exciting target, too.
Sunscourge Champion might be solid here, but I can imagine decks that push it way harder. Gideon's emblem is nice, or anything just globally pumping your team as a static effect. The real synergies, however, are going to come from being able to discard stuff as upside (once again, stuff like Hooded Hydra).
This is definitely not a deck trying to build around Champion of Wits, but make no mistake: there are some wicked janky brews possible with Champion of Wits. I'm not sure where the exact convergence of U/G Madness and Reanimator and Infect plus pump spells is, but Champion of Wits is hanging out there.
If we do find a really dedicated graveyard strategy involving these cards, I could easily imagine Nearhearth Chaplain being a part of it. You can't go get it with the Vizier of the Anointed and it won't draw you a card, but maybe we don't end up going that far into that sub-theme. As long as we're discarding it profitably, it's like discarding a Lingering Souls (albeit for a mana more).
While we're talking graveyard synergies, we might as well touch on Zombies and the new graveyard synergy they picked up.
Unconventional Tactics is a little unusual of an approach, but it does make for a really enticing combo with Cryptbreaker. Just keep discarding it to the Cryptbreaker, and when the token resolves, you'll get Unconventional Tactics back. There are a variety of ways you could exploit it as a sort of Zombie-Squee, but sometimes you'll just want to go upstairs and hit 'em Elspeth, Knight-Errant style.
To the air!
We could also look at speeding up and trying to support In Oketra's Name, perhaps with Festering Mummy. I'm really not sure the mana is ideal for such an approach, however. It's probably worth keeping in mind that both Embalm and Eternalize make Zombie tokens…