After yet another week spent exploring the new Standard, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best deck is Mardu.
Good, old, boring Mardu. Don’t get me wrong—there are a bunch of viable Standard decks and the differences between them are close. With that said, I believe Mardu is positioned as the best at the moment because of its removal package and transformational sideboard plan. But there’s plenty of content out there about Mardu, so why not dive straight into the new set?
Originally, I thought I would write about my picks for the strongest cards in the set. I decided against it for two reasons. First, my CFB Ice teammate Mike Sigrist kindly reminded me that he usually writes about that topic for every new set release. Who am I to go against the spiritual leader of our team? Second, while looking at the spoilers, there were no cards that caught my attention. It looks like Wizards learned their lesson and decided to stop printing busted cards. Instead, they apparently decided to print graveyard hate cards. Where were those when Emrakul was wreaking havoc all over Standard? I really like this trend and hope it continues in the future. Instead of playing with the obviously overpowered cards, players like me will have to spend hours and hours trying to figure out new and exciting decks with less powerful cards.
Today I’ll be talking about the cycles of cards you can find in Hour of Devastation and their potential in both Constructed and Limited. Let’s start with the lands. There are 2 cycles of Desert lands. One is common and the other uncommon.
The common ones are quite simple. You get a Desert that enters the battlefield tapped and produces 1 mana of a certain color, and for 1 colorless and 1 mana of that color you cycle the land. When you compare these with the cyclelands we had in Amonkhet, they’re obviously worse. In mono-color decks, it basically doesn’t matter which one you have, but in multicolor decks the old ones are much better. The only way I can see the new ones becoming better is if there is a way to get value out of Deserts. As for Limited, I’ve always liked the cyclelands and don’t think these are much worse. With these at a common level, I don’t think you have to worry about picking them up early. It also means more people will have them, which should lead to more normal games, which is definitely a good thing for Magic.
The uncommon ones were spoiled by Limited Resources and they don’t surprise me a bit as they seem decent in Limited. Well, at least some of them. Basically all of them are playable, save the blue one. The downside of losing a couple of life if your mana base doesn’t come together should be offset by the effect they provide in the late game. Still, the blue one has such a weak effect that I don’t think I would want to play it very often. Red is also on the lower end in power level, but I still think I would want it in my aggressive red decks as it gives you the option to burn your opponent out. The black land is likely the best, as having the option to kill a creature is big. White’s small Overrun also seems strong. It’s hard for me to gauge how good the green is. A sorcery pump effect isn’t something you’re usually looking for, but it can still force your opponents into unfavorable blocks.
Overall, I really like these—spell lands are especially valuable in Limited nowadays when you have bunch of playable cards in each color. Therefore, you can afford to “waste” picks on the lands that will then help you win close games while acting as another spell. For Constructed, the white one has the greatest potential, followed by red. And, the Desert type on the cyclelands comes handy here. In Standard you could use the white Desert as a 1-of in some Human decks. I could see the red one being played in a Modern Burn, but that might be a stretch. The life loss is probably a bit too much in such a fast format. It’s too bad that colorless mana doesn’t really help you cast any spells in that deck.
The next cycle we have are the Defeat cards. Nicol Bolas shows up on Amonkhet as the big, bad boss to fight the Gatewatch. As a result, we have cards with both great flavor text and that function well in sideboard. They are all narrow but powerful, except for the green one. You shouldn’t spend high picks on these, but I also think people pick these cards lower than they should. Strong sideboard cards are very strong in Limited.
In Constructed, it’s a bit different. They’re narrow, so you shouldn’t have too many copies in your sideboard, but I still think you’ll be seeing them often. The Jace one is basically a better Gainsay and that has always been a useful card. White, red, and black are basically the same card, while green is probably too narrow—unless there is an enchantment-based deck in the new Standard, I don’t see much use for it.
I love the design of this cycle. WotC is calling it overexertion. Basically, you get a cheap, strong spell, but it has the drawback that your lands won’t untap the next turn. It’s hard to judge how big of a deal the drawback is. My first instinct is to figure out good the effect on the card is, and then try to figure out if the drawback is too big of a deal. Unfortunately, I don’t really see that much of a use for them.
Rhonas’s Last Stand dies to basically any removal in Standard (Push, Grasp, Harnessed). It might be a bit better in Modern, but I think the drawback of skipping your next turn is too punishing there. Overall, I think it would be good in Standard if it were harder to remove.
As for Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Wrath of God effects haven’t been good in Standard for a while because of Vehicles, planeswalkers, and Scrapheap Scrounger. It might be good against Zombies and B/G as a sideboard card. In Modern, you would still rather jam Damnation.
Hazoret’s Undying Fury and Oketra’s Last Mercy are quite bad. Life gain has basically never been good, so I don’t think the white one has much of a future. Fury is a weird one, but I think ultimately too expensive for such a weak effect.
Kefnet’s Last Word is probably the most interesting. Control Magic is a strong card, but the drawback of not untapping 4 lands is huge. You have Confiscation Coup in the format, so unless there are some enchantments worth stealing, I’m sticking with Coup.
In Limited it’s a bit different, and I expect the green, blue, and black ones to be high picks. Skipping a turn for a 5/4 on turn 2 is something I’ll gladly do, and Control Magic or Wrath of Gods effects are always good in Limited, even if you have to skip a turn to cast them. On the other hand, red and white are too much of a hit or miss, so I wouldn’t want them in my deck.
The last cycle is the Hour cards. They’re a bit different from the others as they only share a name but all have a very different function. Hour of Revelation is my favorite, but right now Fumigate is played in Mardu because it doesn’t affect your planeswalkers or Heart of Kiran, which makes this card a bit worse. I’m not sure if this will fit into some sort of white-based control, because even there you probably want to play Cast Out, which this card doesn’t combo well with Planar Cleansing. Still, if you omit Cast Out, this actually kills all your opponent’s pesky planeswalkers and Vehicles.
Hour of Devastation might be the best card in the set. Conveniently, the only card it doesn’t kill is Torrential Gearhulk. This is big for UR, which has a lot of problems with resolved planeswalkers. Now with Nicol Bolas, we might be even seeing Grixis Control in the format.
Hour of Glory is also solid, though expensive. Hour of Promise seems like it could have a lot of potential. A ramp spell that can also produce two creatures is very interesting—we might be seeing Ulamog in Standard yet again. Hour of Eternity is a build-around card—the preview article mentions a bunch of combos with it. In the end it’s still a 7-mana card that can be Negated so I don’t think it has a great future.
In Limited, Hour of Glory is likely the best. Hour of Eternity is an interesting finisher, but it still might be worse than Hour of Revelation or Devastation. Hour of Promise seems almost unplayable, but if your deck has a bunch of good Deserts it could see some play.
That’s it from me today. I’m excited for the new set and can’t wait to play with the new cards. What about you? What are the cards you love? Are there any hidden gems that will shine in the new format? Let me know in the comments.