This week has been a whirlwind of excitement! Standard is about as healthy as I've ever seen it and I'm not sure that's going to change any time soon.
We're only days into experimenting with Hour of Devastation, and those who thought that this set wouldn't have that much of an impact on the format are terribly, terribly wrong. While the changes to how Wizards posts 5-0 decklists from Magic Online Leagues has limited the amount of information that the public is being given, I've been hard at work in preparation for the first Open of Season Two in Cincinnati!
There've been many doors opened with this set. Many decks gained additional tools, giving them the push they need compete with the existing Tier 1 decks we've come to know and love/hate, such as Mardu Vehicles, Zombies, Temur Energy, and Monument. Going into the Invitational, those were the decks I expected most of the people there to be playing. Now, with Hour of Devastation, I don't know what to expect. Some new archetypes have sprung up online, and while there really isn't enough (any?) information to know what is the best, there is enough to know what's potentially viable.
It's been known that originally Battle for Zendikar block was not supposed to be legal with the release of Amonkhet block, and the interaction of Hour of Promise finding Shrine of the Forsaken Gods was never supposed to exist. That being said, curving a removal spell into Beneath the Sands into Hour of Promise and a land allows you to hard-cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn 5. That's a scary thought that reminds me of how Aetherworks Marvel decks were just able to cast their threats in the late-game, but much, much sooner.
There are versions of the deck that run Servant of the Conduit or Druid of the Cowl if you want to dodge the front side of your Kozilek's Return. Personally, I prefer adding more removal spells to the deck as well as a card like Matter Reshaper, where I can either answer their early threats or just put a roadblock on the battlefield that benefits you if your opponent kills it. The slight Desert theme is there to occasionally turn on Hour or Promise's secret ability of making two Zombies as well as facilitating the mana requirements to cast Matter Reshaper and the sideboard Thought-Knot Seer and Warping Wail.
While I'm not claiming to have perfected this list, it's a starting point for this archetype in the new metagame. Time will tell if it's fast enough for the hyper-aggressive decks or resilient enough for the disruptive ones.
Of all the existing decks in the format, U/R Control has gotten the biggest power boost in my opinion. Hour of Devastation might just be the most important card from Hour of Devastation. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has had a presence in the format that control decks of all kinds have had issues with since it's been legal. When Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has resolved, without targeted planeswalker removal spells that only black has, control decks have fallen prey to a single copy of the powerful white planeswalker for nearly two years now.
Hour of Devastation changes all of that. Not only does it deal with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but a card that I've been a huge fan of and has traditionally served me well in the past against the U/R Control decks, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, is made almost irrelevant.
So if U/R got all these tools, then why Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh? While Torrential Gearhulk is generally larger than everything else going on, with the aforementioned Ramp decks potentially on the rise, you need to be able to attack an opponent's hand. Having a threat that can pressure your opponent and is resilient to removal is crucial, as a card like Abrade can handle Torrential Gearhulk. The black splash in the deck is relatively free, coming from a couple of cycling duals and a Sunken Hollow, which, by the time you have seven lands on a stable battlefield, should be doable with as much card draw and filtering you have.
While those two are decks I'm 100% certain you'll see this weekend, this is one I'm not sure you will. Not because it's not good enough, but because the correct version has yet to be crafted.
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 2 Chaos Maw
- 4 Combat Celebrant
- 4 Curator of Mysteries
- 4 Glorybringer
- 4 Insolent Neonate
The idea of this deck is to dump cards into your graveyard via cycling, Strategic Planning, Cathartic Reunion, Champion of Wits, and Insolent Neonate to be able to turn on Gate to the Afterlife and put God-Pharaoh's Gift on the battlefield as early as possible. From there you're abusing Combat Celebrant's exert ability to get multiple "beginning of combat" steps and use God-Pharaoh's Gift's trigger multiple times the turn you deploy it. From there you can bring back Glorybringer and exert multiple times with each Combat Celebrant you're able to return.
Hollow One fits in as a body to put onto the battlefield, usually for free with the amount of discarding this deck does. It either holds the fort against an aggressive onslaught or helps your beatdown plan when chaining Combat Celebrants. The other role this deck can take, easily overlooked at first glance, is just hard-casting 4/4 flying creatures for four and five mana and attacking!
I feel like this card is slightly underpowered for its mana cost. If it dealt four damage, I believe it would be appropriately costed, but we're not looking to actually cast this card. The one thing that this deck was lacking was the ability to come from behind and a free Sweltering Suns when you get your engine going can be just what you need to turn the corner.
Getting back to my Delirium roots and revisiting a deck from Standard past, we have this gem.
- 1 Noxious Gearhulk
- 3 Torrential Gearhulk
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 2 Champion of Wits
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 1 The Scarab God
Long has it been since I've considered adding blue to the old B/G Delirium deck. Previously you had to play either a sometimes-insufficient Negate or a hard-to-cast Disallow to get a counterspell into this kind of deck. The mana has always been the issue in making this deck work, but with the arrival of Supreme Will, our woes have come to an end.
I sang Supreme Will's praises before getting to play with it, and after this week, I'm convinced I was underselling it. The Impulse / Mana Leak split card is all I'd hoped it was and more. I'll repeat what I've said before: if your deck contains Supreme Will and you're not playing four copies, you're wrong, plain and simple.
One creature I'm excited to get to play with in this deck is The Scarab God! Rebuying Torrential Gearhulk with The Scarab God's ability has to be the dirtiest thing you can do in Standard. The Scarab God also can act as a graveyard hate card against Prized Amalgam decks and the like, on top of being a sizeable body that gives any deck trying to grind you out without counterspells for it fits.
The inevitability of this deck is like no other. Liliana, the Last Hope might get her last hurrah in Standard with a deck like this. Containing the battlefield early while giving yourself time to set up and then shifting roles, Raise Deading your powerful game-enders late, is what makes her superior to Liliana, Death's Majesty. We also see a split of the delirium enablers, Vessel of Nascency, Grapple with the Past, and Strategic Planning, because of their varying types assisting in our efforts even further.
Those are all some interesting decks in the format, but there are plenty of things that have changed even disregarding new cards.
The days where Fatal Push is the best removal spell in Standard may be behind us. While Fatal Push still handles such premier threats as Longtusk Cub and Heart of Kiran, many of the decks people are playing are nearly entirely immune to an un-revolted Fatal Push. Tireless Tracker often gives the advantage to the player against any kind of removal-spell-based matchup, and not being able to kill said Tireless Tracker could prove to be game-changing. That doesn't make it any less good of a card, only that there are better options now in the format.
Temur Energy was one of the best-performing decks from the Invitational and while it might not have gained all too much from Hour of Devastation, Bristling Hydra remains one of the most difficult threats to deal with in the format. We've been gifted with several answers in the form of Doomfall and various deathtouch creatures, but you still have to have an answer for the hexproof Hydra and in short order, because that's how quickly this creature can deal with you if you don't deal with it. Another card many decks may lean on to beat Bristling Hydra is Hour of Devastation. Unfortunately for them, getting to the requisite nine energy to make the Hyrda survive the powerful red sweeper isn't actually all that difficult.
The threat is real. Zombies are coming for your brains and it might not be in the form of Mono-Black Zombie tribal that we saw Gerry Thompson win the most recent Pro Tour with. The biggest winner from the new set might just be decks abusing Prized Amalgam and various Stitchwing creatures with the addition of Champion of Wits.
Speaking of Champion of Wits, this card is my pick for breakout card of the weekend. It's the fuel for many combo-feeling graveyard decks as well as filtering and fueling "ordinary" delirium decks. It's unassuming on the surface, but after playing with the card, I'm highly impressed and wouldn't be surprised to see more than one deck in the Top 8 at SCG Cincinnati pack multiple copies of this card.
It's been a while since I've been this excited for a new Standard format. We're finally in an environment where we have a full two years of cards legal in the format, and that's where the crazy decks come together, bringing strategies from forgotten formats woven into a nicely knit package. I honestly have no idea what the best deck of the format is, and that's truly exciting! See you in Cincinnati!