Hour of Devastation is a strange set. It has very few clear all-stars. There are some cards with potential, but the vast majority of them are the kind of card that might work out but could easily miss. I think Wizards of the Coast took a lot of chances with this set in very much the opposite of the way that they've been doing lately. Rather than pushing a few cards to be sure they'd be good and risk letting them take over, the power here looks scaled back. There are cards that might be good, but it's hard to find a clear home run.
Obviousness need not apply.
A lot of the influence of this set will be a more of a nuts-and-bolts level; utility spells like Abrade and the Defeat cycle are a lot of the cards with the clearest Constructed applications. The flashiest rares in Hour of Devastation for Standard are probably Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher.
You think those aren't in Hour of Devastation? I think they're the new rares that we'll be seeing in Standard.
I think Shefet Dunes, Ipnu Rivulet, Ifnir Deadlands, Ramunap Ruins, and Hashep Oasis are likely the most important cards in the set, just because they make it so much easier to get colorless mana in decks that are using colored spells. This isn't quite the return of painlands, but it's still a game-changer for Eldrazi.
Recently, a midrange Red Eldrazi deck has been popping up on Magic Online that plays cheap red removal; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Hanweir Garrison; Glorybringer; and the Eldrazi trio of Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher. Smoothing this deck's mana with Ramunap Ruins and adding Abrade to its removal suite is a clear upgrade. A new version of the deck might look something like:
This basic strategy is remarkably versatile. You can basically play any color with its cheap removal, best planeswalker, and maybe another good threat to round out the Eldrazi package.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Bearer of Silence
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
This deck is built to play very much the same way, but with slightly different threats and interactive elements. Overall, I expect it's a very similar power level, though it may need some tuning.
While these lands are the cards with the most obvious impact, they're hardly the most exciting. To me, the most interesting cards in the set are certainly the new aftermath spells, in particular Consign, Claim, Reason, and Driven, each of which obviously goes in a completely different deck and strategy.
Consign is obvious. The use for Consign is in a U/B Torrential Gearhulk deck. These are similar to the U/R Control decks we've seen more recently, but with black removal instead of read. The biggest problem these decks face is that it's harder for them to exile creatures, which means Scrapheap Scrounger and assorted Zombies are harder to deal with, the mana is harder because a lot of black removal costs double black mana, and they haven't had an equivalent of Sweltering Suns.
Bontu's Last Reckoning potentially solves the issue with not having a sweeper, and Consign offers a versatile answer to problematic enchantments and artifacts that slip through that's more efficient than Commit, something U/B often has problems with.
Of course, it's also possible that the correct solution is simply to play all three colors, which would offer access to Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, which I have to imagine is an asset.
This deck is very similar to shells we've seen, but Hour of Devastation offers some interesting new options.
Supreme Will might actually be great.
The nature of blue control decks recently has been that they're just trying to trade cards on turns 2 and 3 so that they can draw cards on turn 4. This means it's often right for their opponent to pass and strand their mana on turn 3, and Supreme Will is the perfect card to punish that without losing interactive cards from the deck. Moreover, the drawback that a Mana Leak effect is dead in the late-game is counteracted by the fact that, in the late-game, you should have plenty of mana to be happy to just spend three to find the card you want. Additionally, obviously, this offers a reliable, flexible option for Torrential Gearhulk. If anything, I might not be using enough of these.
Consign plays really well as a card by itself; if your opponent every goes down to one or zero cards in hand, you can use it to bounce a permanent and then make them discard that card with Oblivion. It's also a tempo spell early that gets you a value card late, but more importantly, it's fantastic with the Torrential Gearhulk "Memory trick." You can target Consign with Torrential Gearhulk to cast Oblivion in your opponent's draw step to empty their hand and lock them out of sorcery-speed plays, and, of course, you can use Consign on Torrential Gearhulk to relive the fun of using Vapor Snag on your own Snapcaster Mage, but with way more value.
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is a card I'm comfortable putting in this kind of deck without even exactly remembering the details of its abilities. It offers an extremely reliable way to end a game that sidesteps a lot of answers from most decks. It's the ideal card to be able to eventually find with Glimmer of Genius and Supreme Will.
The Scorpion God is offering a similar concept of inevitability and looks to take complete control of the late-game against some decks, which ideally being extremely difficult for other decks to answer. It's entirely possible that it's not worth it, but Olivia Voldaren overperformed, and I think that's the closest analog, and I'd definitely want to see if this can do something similar.
Swarm Intelligence is another way of accomplishing the same goal. It seems extremely difficult to lose if you untap with Swarm Intelligence, and some decks will have a lot of trouble removing it from the battlefield or killing you before you can resolve it. It's possible that Sphinx of the Final Word is a better way to accomplish this goal, but again, I'd err toward trying the new card.
Dreamstealer is a card I included in both the sideboard of this deck and that of the black Eldrazi deck, and it seems like a potentially great way to attack opposing control decks, as there's no way they can win a game while getting hit by it regularly, menace will make it functionally unblockable, and Eternalize means that, in addition to being a reliable early proactive play, it's also a value play that's particularly hard for decks with counterspells to reliably stop, especially if they move away from creature removal in sideboarding. This might be one of the most underrated cards in the set, though I'm almost exclusively interested in it as a sideboard card.
Hour of Glory and Hour of Devastation are expensive answers that cost more mana than I want in a maindeck spell, but sometimes it's important to be able to exile a creature, and each is a powerful card to be able to use with Torrential Gearhulk. Hour of Devastation feels like the right sweeper in this kind of deck because I'm skeptical of getting 1BB reliably for Bontu's Last Reckoning, and being able to answer planeswalkers is fantastic.
I'm not using any of the defeats in this sideboard because I think they're all narrow enough that they really need to be targeting specific cards or metagames, and it's not clear which one you'd want or why. As a three-color control deck, this deck already has a lot of really good sideboard options.
Claim is a great card, but I don't really think any of the cheap creatures in Standard are good enough to make me want to play this card. It's far more exciting in Modern, especially in Jund Death's Shadow, where it can return Death's Shadow or Tarmogoyf and give either haste.
Reason // Believe is the perfect card for a ramp deck, as ramp decks need to assemble a very precise mix of mana and big things, so scry 3 is a great effect, and Believe is obviously at it's best the more big things you have to put onto the battlefield. I'm not sure exactly what this deck should look like, but high creature density seems like an asset, maybe something like:
- 4 Channeler Initiate
- 1 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 3 Matter Reshaper
- 3 Reality Smasher
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
This deck's somewhat weird. The idea is basically to just play a midrange value game while making land drops until casting Hour of Promise, and then ideally finding Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. I'm a little concerned about the quality of interaction. It's possible that you need to splash Harnessed Lightning, but that's not trivial to do and ramp decks generally prefer to avoid playing cards like that, so the hope is that the Eldrazi allow you to overpower most opponents instead.
This deck has some minor cute interactions, like putting the -1/-1 counters from Channeler Intitate on Matter Reshaper in the late-game, but mostly I'm just excited about the prospect of playing Duskwatch Recruiter with an endless stream of value creatures against decks that are trying to beat this deck with removal.
The last split card I'm interested in is Driven // Despair. This is a powerful card that has a lot of different possible applications, but it plays particularly well in a B/G Energy shell with a few small tweaks:
- 1 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 4 Hope of Ghirapur
- 3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
This deck doesn't feature any new cards other than Driven/Despair because Hour of Devastation doesn't play into the +1/+1 counters or energy themes. The tweak here is to include Hope of Ghirapur as a way to get onto the battlefield faster, making Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Rishkar, Peema Renegade better, especially since a flying creature is an excellent home for +1/+1 counters. More importantly, it gives you a one-mana creature that can reliably connect to draw cards with Driven and make your opponent discard with Despair.
I considered trying to go for more of a swarm approach with Blisterpod and Catacomb Sifter, but since Driven gives trample, I think it's best to just try to have big enough creatures that they can reliably attack, which B/G Energy is great at generating.
Hour of Devastation may not blow anyone away out of the gate, but it's important not to underestimate it, as new sets always shake up Standard, and this is just a look a few cycles that jumped out at me rather than an exhaustive list of the cards this set offers to potential Standard decks.