I’m excited to draft Hour of Devastation. Are you? Good! While we can’t do that quite yet, we can think about casting these juicy spells. I already have some ideas—Let’s go!
Sand Strangler/Desert of the Fervent
I like that we’ve already seen some cool mini-build arounds like Sand Strangler. It obviously increases the importance of Deserts, but I particularly like that those Deserts can be in your graveyard already. How might that happen? The new common Desert cycle! Desert of the Fervent is the perfect land to add to red decks. It lets you keep a low land count but really helps prevent flooding. I like this effect way more on a land than a card like Desert Cerodon because you’ll always have a use for it, adding utility to the deck without using an actual spell slot. Desert Cerodon was just too low impact for its cost and didn’t fit the super aggressive red decks or spell-based red decks.
I also like that the cycling lands will vary a lot in their value among colors and from Draft to Draft. The blue one shows this off particularly well. Typically, blue decks want a bunch of lands in play thanks to the many embalm cards (and eternalize now) they play. But some blue decks value cycling highly. This means the land could be a realistic 3rd pick, or closer to an 8th pick. Yay to changing Draft values!
I appreciate that Sand Strangler can kill your own creatures. While this isn’t relevant very often, it is nice to have the option since we’ve seen so many “your opponent’s creatures” cards lately. When might you want to do this? The most common example is when you have a creature with eternalize or embalm that’s been locked down. Compulsory Rest has this option built-in, but the new Desert’s Hold doesn’t. I’m just hoping this comes up for me at least once in the format.
I’ve talked before about how bad U/G-based ramp decks were in AKH Draft. There were two problems with the deck, and thankfully Oasis Ritualist helps fix one of them. One issue was that the ramp deck lacked a core identity at common. You had Naga Vitalist and Gift of Paradise, but then there were also a bunch of really aggressive creatures like Initiate’s Companion and Hooded Brawler. Oasis Ritualist is a sign of better ramp times to come as long as the rest of the set cooperates. Single-handedly ramping to Greater Sandwurm on turn 5, it provides an uncommon level of ramp at common, and that’s significant. You now have a go-to 4-drop that will be part of your plan. The ramp decks before wanted 7 mana quickly and consistently but just weren’t that good at pulling it off.
Naga Vitalists will be far less common now that they’re only in one pack, but the good news is that if you are the ramp drafter at the table, you can probably get them later. Let’s say you’re lucky and you happen to get 2 Vitalists pack 3 and have 2 Oasis Ritualist. It won’t be that crazy to cast turn-4 7-drops, and that’s just broken in Limited.
Angel of the God-Pharaoh
I’ve picked this card out because I think it will be overrated early. If you look a little closer it’s pretty similar to Winged Shepherd, which was a fine card but not a particularly high pick. The extra point of power and toughness is nice, but you’re really getting taxed for cycling. A 6-mana 4/4 flyer is below rate for flyers these days. Yes, cycling is a great option, but let’s be real here—you aren’t going to be cycling your flying finisher all that often. This means the card will get picked highly when most of the time it is just a 6-mana 4/4 flyer. Compare that to other powerful flyers like Oketra’s Attendant or Angler Drake and you can start to see how this doesn’t quite stack up. All that said, I still think this is a good card you’ll always include in your deck, but I doubt it should be a first pick out of too many packs.
One positive point for the card is that the 4th toughness becomes more relevant than it was before. Electrify was a common burn spell that kept big flyers like Angler Drake in check, but that’s being replaced by newcomer Open Fire. This means the difference between 3 and 4 toughness becomes quite a bit more relevant in this new environment.
Fan Bearer was one of my favorite AKH cards. It worked great in aggressive decks to push through damage, but also gave slower white decks breathing room while they set up for their big spells. It was also one of the few ways to use your mana every turn of the game when you were out of other outlets. Sure, embalm gave you extra ways to spend your mana as did expensive cycling cards, but part of the reason the format was a 15-16 land format was due to the lack of true mana sinks.
Sunset Pyramid helps alleviate that problem just like Fan Bearer and helps ensure you’ll never flood after a certain point. I particularly like the play pattern promised here. At first you get to just draw a few extra cards when you have mana left over. Some of those draws will likely be lands. That way you’ll have the extra mana needed to scry and can bottom any lands you happen to see. It’s been a little while since we had Seer’s Lantern and I’m excited for a repeatable scry effect again in Limited. I also loved that you can scry end step and then again during upkeep if you need to.
All that said, this card is truly glacial, and unless the format is radically different from triple-AKH, it won’t be a high pick. Remember, exert is still present and there’s only so much durdling you can do. But if you can navigate the game to a board stall/topdeck war, Sunset Pyramid will make it so you win virtually every time, and I love cards that push hard in different directions because they reward careful deckbuilding and developing cohesive in-game plans.
Torment of Scarabs
I want to end with another cool build-around. Melissa DeTora did a good job covering this mini-mechanic, which shows up on 3 cards in the set. I’m most excited by this card because it just sits there and eventually becomes a win condition all by itself. I also think the card will work well in aggressive decks, which Melissa disagrees with.
Aggressive decks want a hyper focused plan to kill their opponent, but in Limited that doesn’t always work out. It’s nice to have powerful cards that can help you win when your plan A doesn’t get there, but that also contribute to your overall plan. This card will generate card/board advantage or just deal damage to your opponent. These are all things you’ll want over the course of a game, even if card advantage isn’t your primary goal. Historically, punisher cards have been overrated because each individual rate is good but your opponent will always choose the least bad option. While that is true, this card is a bit different. It eventually scales to the point where all the options are game-winning.
I have to say that this is the card I’m least sure about, but it’s also the most exciting. It’s a win condition all by itself at uncommon, which isn’t something we see very often. There will be times where it’s bad, and your opponents can board against it if they have cards like Sacred Cat sitting in their sideboard. I love Magic when it has good counterplay, and seeing this type of card littered among a ton of other interesting ones has piqued my interest. I’m excited for the rest of the previews to wrap up and to see what craziness Bolas has cooked up for all of us at the prerelease!