Big and Small Lessons from the Pro Tour Hour of Devastation Limited Coverage

Pro Tour Hour of Devastation was a 10/10 excitement extravaganza. It might be the most beloved PT of all time. Anything I’ve seen anyone say has been purely positive, despite 6 red decks in the Top 8. There were great storylines, plays, players, and commentary. One of the best things about these high-level tournaments is that they provide an unparalleled experience to learn from. Whether you just started playing Magic yesterday or in Alpha, there’s a lot of knowledge you can glean from every PT. Today I’m going to cover the Day 1 Limited lessons I saw. Some of these are format specific, others are stand-out plays and decisions. All the timestamps are drawn from the Twitch coverage.

The Manalith Deck

While they weren’t the main features, Sam Black and Matt Severa proved that 3+ color decks filled with mana ramp, removal, and bombs are legitimate in this format. What’s more, they capitalized on Manalith, a card I figured would be unplayable when I first looked at the format. R&D managed to pull back hard on the aggressive creatures in Hour of Devastation, and because of that slow down, these ramp strategies can succeed.

While I won’t claim this strategy works every time, it is a good way to chain a bunch of powerful rares together regardless of color. Oasis Ritualist is the premier common because it holds down the fort while providing a hefty mana boost alongside color fixing. Once you have a pair of these and a Manalith or 2, your deck can support whatever card it wants. Sam Black was playing four colors, and was playing 2 (!) colorless Deserts in his deck because his mana was good enough. Wow!

The ramp deck also offers a back-up plan when your Draft starts looking like a train wreck. We’ve all started a Draft with 4 cards in four different colors. Then good cards keep coming but across various colors, and you have good cards but no idea what to do.

Now there’s a solution: just play everything! There’s tension when drafting this deck, because sometimes it’s right to just go deep on this plan, but if it backfires you’ll have one of the worst decks of your life. Thus, it can be correct to stick to two open colors once you finally figure what they are and draft a more normal deck. Other times, the pieces are there and the all-color monstrosity will make for a much better deck than one that’s lacking playables across 2 colors.

One final word of advice here. Don’t draft this deck when you don’t have a reason to. Removal spells are the key, since there are acceptable common and uncommon finishers like Greater Sandwurm available. Without removal, you’ll spin your wheels and then lose to an uncontested flyer your opponent cast on turn 4. Thankfully, removal is pretty plentiful, even in the form of sweepers. And if the multiple sweepers in the set aren’t enough I suggest you get lucky like Sam and draft an Invocation Wrath of God.


Card Evaluation and Pivoting

Kentaro Yamamoto’s Draft at the start of the day (1 hour in) presents some interesting points. First, he wisely pivots away from his Pack 1 pick 1 Ominous Sphinx when blue isn’t open. He ends up in green, but not a crazy Manalith brew as described above. Rather, he ends up so deep in green he can go nearly mono-green with whatever secondary color he wants. He picks up a late Lethal Sting, but the next pick is what’s interesting to me. He can choose between Granitic Titan and Khenra Eternal. It’s nice to grab the Eternal because he just took a black card, but he takes the Titan instead.

Here, he’s leaving his options open, but there’s more to this decision. Kentaro knows he’ll be in green, and if that’s the case then he won’t be particularly aggressive. Khenra Eternal just isn’t that good in G/B, whereas the Titan could be decent in a bigger R/G deck. I love this pick because it hedges and at the same time is an informed decision based on the format’s archetypes.

Then P2P1 happens. Kentaro picks Rampaging Hippo over Rhonas’s Last Stand and Twitter explodes. Rhonas’s Last Stand is powerful and wins games when cast turn 2. Hippo is a good common for the green deck but nothing more. I suspect that he made this pick for one of two reasons. First, he might have simply never played with or against the card. This is why it is so important to play with rares early, talk with your friends/teammates about them, and get an understanding of how good they are. The other possibility is inbred testing. It could be the case that Kentaro’s team valued Rampaging Hippo so highly that they were willing to take it over better cards. This can easily happen with the pervasive hyperbole in Magic. The following conversation isn’t very far-fetched:

Player A: “Wow, my Rampaging Hippo just crashed through Striped Riverwinder. It’s great!”
Player B: “I’ve had good experiences with the Hippo too.”

Next day…

Player A: “Just 3-0’d another Draft with a pair of Hippos. I’m not passing this card ever again.”

Obviously these are extreme statements from a small sample size, but such instances happen all the time in Magic. The main problem is that large sample sizes are hard to capture especially in the short time frame before the PT. Generalizations have to be made, but keep in mind context, reasoning, and stay clear of the hyperbole when possible. This problem also occurs for many of us within our own Drafts. You win with a certain card or style of cards and start picking them more highly than you should, which leads to a losing strategy. You might not see that you’re losing because of bad picks since they won for you in the past.

An example of this happened to me in Return to Ravnica Draft. I won a lot with Doorkeeper decks at Grand Prix San Jose in Team Draft. I then went on to MTGO and drafted the deck a bunch because I thought it was great. After incinerating countless tickets, I finally had to realize that my evaluation of the card was wrong, and that my earlier success had to do with weaker Team Sealed decks combined with a bit of luck.

Lastly, Kentaro took an Ahn-Crop Champion over Hooded Brawler late pack 3 because he simply didn’t think he needed the Brawler. But it would have been above replacement level, and could have given him a bit more early game. This is a friendly reminder not to hate draft in pod play except in extremely narrow circumstances (there’s literally no card you’ll want to play/sideboard in). Also remember that if you’re scared of passing a bomb, first you’d have to play the person with that card, they’d have to draw it in your game, and it would have to be much better than whatever else it was replacing. This lesson has been repeated many times, but it’s still a relatively common mistake.

Patience: The Good and the Bad

Bram Snepvangers and Mike Sigrist played a heck of a game 1. It revolved around Bram’s Hour of Revelation and whether or not Mike played around a sweeper. Mike was extremely patient and waited multiple turns until he could cast Mouth // Feed in the same turn for 6 cards (at 2:08:00). A less experienced player would have probably played out more cards to swarm Bram before he could put up more defenses, but patience ended up winning Mike this game. When is patience a good thing?

Patience worked for Mike because he wasn’t pressured to act. He knew he had the tools as the aggressor to win a long game due to the extra cards with Mouth // Feed. The point isn’t that he knew Bram had a wrath, even if Bram’s plays made it more of a possibility. It’s that Mike was winning as long as he played around a wrath and thus it was right to wait. If the game were different, and Bram had a flyer attacking Mike, patience would cost him more than it would help. What’s important here is that there is a downside to patience—your situation can get worse.

In fact, I would argue Bram was too patient this game. He was trying to engineer a situation where he could Hour and then make a good follow-up play, but Mike was going wide enough to start getting damage through. Once Mike played the Frontline Devastator, Bram’s board was inferior, and had he wrathed here he may have won the game.

There’s always the perfect window to execute a game plan, and figuring out where that window is separates the good players from the great, so be wary of sunk cost fallacy. Sometimes I might be patient because I think my opponent has a Sandblast. Then a couple turns later I can no longer wait to attack because I’m going to lose the race to a flyer. The important thing here is to attack! You might think, “Well, I played around the Sandblast before, so I should keep doing so.” That’s irrelevant. What’s important is whether it’s right to attack this turn. If you lose to the Sandblast, oh well—you did what you could to win. You waited and then had to lose to the card anyways. If they don’t have it you might feel dumb, but at least you reassessed and attacked. You might even have been correct to wait even though they didn’t have it because you were far enough ahead on board. The important thing is to reflect after these situations, which helps inform similar decisions in the future.

A Few Smaller Lessons

  • Kentaro made a tricky play to kill his own Camel and targeted himself to get a discard trigger for his Archfiend at 2:29:00. Always look for unique interactions like this.
  • Mana efficiency is often more important than optimizing a removal spell in a race, especially when you’re limited on a color. Kentaro does a good job of playing around a trick and setting up a retrick at 3:46:00. He doesn’t block with the Tenacious Hunter against two small creatures, but then doesn’t take his opportunity a turn later to use his Desert’s Hold. He wants to save it for a big creature, but then doesn’t use his white mana that turn. He’s limited on white mana later, which hurts throughout the rest of the game.
  • We see the importance of mana efficiency again in round 3 (5:09:00) when Sergio Ferrer Rozalen can set up lethal by using his Gift of Strength the turn before he casts a lethal Overcome. He tries to hide the information and doesn’t cast his spell, which is correct under most scenarios, but here mana efficiency trumps everything because he can’t cast both the following turn without drawing a land. He also had to make the unconventional play of using his combat trick as a non-lethal burn spell in this alternate scenario, which is strange in and of itself.
  • Know your deck inside and out! Alex Hayne actually beneficially mills himself at 5:02:00. Any burn spell he would mill wins, and this play let him topdeck the necessary answer on the last possible turn.

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