Amonkhet was a set with one of the biggest gaps between Draft and Sealed. Draft was blazingly fast, with focused two-color archetypes, Zombies, Trials, and exert. Sealed, on the other hand, was slow, multicolored and bomb-heavy—you could still have focused aggressive decks in Sealed, of course, but it was much less likely.
It’s important to keep in mind that this article is going to be focused on Sealed, since it’s targeted at the prerelease. If Amonkhet is any indication, then Draft is going to be very different and a lot of the things you read here will not apply.
Also remember that Hour of Devastation is a small set, whereas Amonkhet is a big set. As a result, specific cards from Hour of Devastation will appear more often than specific cards from Amonkhet.
Afflict is strictly an aggressive keyword, and a straightforward one at that. For most slower decks, afflict is going to be only mildly relevant.
Afflict shines against creatures that have low power and high toughness, because those are the ones that usually don’t trade. If you have a 3/3, it used to be that a 1/4 and a 3/2 would stop it just the same. If it has afflict, however, then the 3/2 will trade and you’ll take the damage once, whereas the 1/4 will be basically useless. As a result, cards that weren’t that good to begin with (like Ancient Crab) become slightly worse.
That said, there aren’t that many afflict cards in the set—only 9: 3 at common, 3 at uncommon, 2 at rare, and 1 mythic. As such, you shouldn’t make too many choices based on the fact that afflict exists. It’s not like 1/4s and walls suddenly become unplayable—they’re just a bit worse.
Eternalize is a very powerful ability. Most eternalize creatures are reasonably costed on the front side, and then you get a good payoff late in the game, which is great in Limited but even better in Sealed because it lets you play early drops to compete against the aggro decks while not hurting yourself in the late game against the slower decks. I expect eternalize to be very good at the prerelease.
For the most part, eternalize creatures are bigger than embalm creatures were, which makes both bounce and incidental self-milling better, which in turn means cards like Winds of Rebuke become better than they were before.
Exert is the same ability we had before, and it’s still mostly focused on aggression. There’s now a different kind of exert, from abilities rather than attacking, but for the most part things should remain the same. Because exert exists, cards that untap your creatures become a lot better than they would be in a normal set, but that’s no different than Amonkhet.
Aftermath is also very straightforward. If you can cast both sides of an aftermath card, they’re usually quite good. In this format, I suspect you should be able to splash the back side more often than not if you deem the effect worth playing.
Cycling is still great, and still skill intensive. Obviously if you’re about to die or you need to make land drops then you’re going to cycle away some cards, but whether to cycle a 5- or 6-drop on turn 2 is one of the most complicated decisions you’ll make in an Hour of Devastation Sealed match. My inclination is that if your card is situational (such as Countervailing Winds or Djeru’s Renunciation) then you want to cycle it early if you suspect it’s not going to be useful, but if your card is powerful in the late game (such as Angel of the God-Pharaoh or Striped Riverwinder) then your default should be to not cycle it.
In this set, there are also several uncommon cycling lands, which you should almost always play as many of as you have if they are on your main colors. Those let you get away with playing more lands than normal—18 with 2 or 3 cycling lands, for example, should be a good number for a deck that’s relatively slow, whereas the more aggressive ones will probably play 17 with 1 or 2 cycling lands. If you have few cycling lands and many cheap cyclers, however, then you can get by with fewer lands than normal (16 and, in some rare cases, 15).
The Sideboard Hate
While none of the sideboard hate cards (the “defeat” cycle) are main deck playable, some of them are extremely powerful, and you cannot forget to side them in if they are good. Jace’s Defeat is merely OK, especially because it’s hard to see a focused blue deck, but Chandra’s, Liliana’s, and Gideon’s Defeats all have the potential to be the best card in your deck against the right opponent.
I would go as far as saying that it might be correct to change colors in games 2 and 3 just because you have multiple copies of those cards. If I have two decks that are close in power level and I opted for R/G instead of R/B, but I have 2 Liliana’s Defeats in the sideboard, I’m going to switch to R/B if I play against a deck that’s heavy black because those two cards are likely good enough to tip the scales. If I have ways to splash, then I’ll definitely splash those three against the right opponent. They are truly very good if they are on, and you should take them into account.
The exception is Nissa’s Defeat, which doesn’t really do much. I think people will often side this in against any decks with Forests, but I think that is wrong—you very rarely want a Stone Rain. Unless your opponent has an actual Nissa that you can’t deal with, this card should not come in even if they have a lot of Forests.
There is a lot of fixing in Hour of Devastation. In green, you have Beneath the Sands and Oasis Ritualist at common. For artifacts, there are Traveler’s Amulet and Manalith, also at common. For lands, there’s Survivor’s Encampment at common, and then Crypt of the Eternals at uncommon. Given that this is a small set, this is an unprecedented level of fixing at common for a set that does not support multicolored cards by design.
On top of it all, there’s also cycling in the set, which makes it easier to find your splash mana and also easier to get rid of your splash cards if you’re unable to cast them. As a whole, Hour of Devastation is a very splash-friendly set.
In practice, this means that you should look at your Sealed pool with the knowledge that there’s a good chance you are able to splash things and build multicolored decks. Most of the time, when I open a Sealed pool, I tend to think, “do I have to splash?” but with Hour of Devastation I’m going to be thinking, “do I have anything worth splashing?” because I know it’ll be very easy to do it.
The Speed of the Format
I believe figuring this out is the most important skill for Hour of Devastation. Is the format fast or slow? Should I play 5c green control with all my rares, or R/W Aggro with pump effects? Does it look more like Amonkhet Draft or Amonkhet Sealed?
I think the answer is that you can play both. Most of the commons in every color are geared toward aggression, as are the keywords—when you go through the colors, you’ll see that there are more commons that want to attack than commons that want to block in all of them. The big thing is that you do not need that many focused control cards in a color because you’re playing multiple colors.
If I’m playing an aggressive deck, I need 23 aggressive cards in a color combination (minus maybe a 2-card splash for removal, but splashing is worse in aggro). If I’m playing a control deck with a ton of fixers, then I just need 23 good control cards—I’m not limited to a color or a combination. As such, the fact that there are more aggro cards than control cards doesn’t necessarily mean that most decks will be aggressive since you have a higher percentage of your pool to work with in the control deck.
In general, I would say that:
- If you can build a focused, aggressive deck, then do so. You need a great curve, synergy, and at least some removal.
- If you have multiple bombs in different colors and enough fixers, build a multicolored control deck. Play all your removal, some cheap blockers, and ways to win the late game.
- If you have neither of those, then still tend toward the control decks. I think the aggro decks have to be good to win, whereas the control decks do not. Even if you have no bombs, try to build a multicolored control deck and play your bad finishers—most pools will have a Wurm of some sort that can kill the opponent.
- If you have no bombs and no removal, then play a bad aggro deck and remember that the prerelease is all about having fun.
Some formats, like Fate Reforged, are defined by bombs—rares so powerful that they will eclipse anything else and win the game on their own. Hour of Devastation doesn’t look like it’s going to be like that. For the most part, the rares are straight bad, and the ones that are good look beatable. Most of the true bombs you’ll see will be from Amonkhet. You will still need removal, because there will be big creatures, but they will be of the “Wurm” kind and not the “Dragon” kind, so there will be very few of those “oops, I lose on turn 5” moments with cards from Hour itself.
White seems ill-equipped to play the control game—much like in Amonkhet, its focus is aggression and exert creatures. The main loss here is 4 fewer packs of Trial of Solidarity, which was the card you were most looking to open, on top of 4 fewer packs of Cartouches to bring them back. There used to be some busted white Sealed aggro decks with 2 Trials, and now those are going to be very rare.
My impression is that few decks are going to have white as a main color, but the ones that do will be very good, because you’ll need a lot of great creatures to make white work. Look to get Steward of Solidarity at uncommon and Dauntless Aven at common—the Aven in particular looks very important to me, as it offers a strong enough evasive body on its own and powers up all your other exert creatures.
White doesn’t lend itself to splashing very much, with Angel of Condemnation being by far its best card but costing double-white. White usually has a lot of great rares, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this time around. My guess is that Desert’s Hold will end up being splashed for in multiple decks, but that’s probably the only white card you’re really looking to splash. If you have a ton of fixers, you can potentially splash for Angel of the God-Pharaoh as a fixer.
One card that you should really avoid playing is Oketra’s Last Mercy. It looks flashy and the possibility of gaining 15+ life is appealing, but it’s just way too narrow to be good. If you’re interested in this effect, any sort of Fog will be much better. You can side it in if you think the game is going to come down to a race, but do not maindeck it.
In Amonkhet, blue was a control color for the most part, and it focused a lot on cycling synergies that ended up just not being very good. There were also some more aggressive blue decks, especially paired with red, but those were also not great.
In Hour of Devastation, things also seem to be similar—there are some dedicated aggressive cards and some dedicated control cards, but rarely cards that can do both. If you play a blue deck, you have to make sure you are focused on one or the other.
In the aggressive blue decks, Aerial Guide is the card you’re looking for. A 2/2 flyer for 3 is an OK rate in an aggressive deck, and the ability to fly something every turn is very powerful. Unsummon is also a good tempo play and you can really punish someone who decides to play a very slow deck. For uncommons, I’m a fan of Imaginary Threats. It doesn’t seem like it does much, but its effect can conditionally range from eating two creatures to winning the game on a stalled board, which is great on a card with cycling.
For control decks, I’m really looking at Striped Riverwinder. 5/5 hexproof for 6 is no joke [Editor’s Note: It actually costs 7.]—it blocks everything and is a quick finisher, and cycling here is just a bonus. The card is especially good if you slap Cartouche of Ambition on it.
If the format plays out as I believe it will, then I think Striped Riverwinder will be very powerful, and often worth splashing for on its own. Other than that, Vizier of the Anointed is also a potentially splashable card, since the body is OK and it can provide good card advantage for certain decks, especially if you have a powerful eternalize creature.
One card that is worse than it looks is Unquenchable Thirst. In most formats, keeping a creature tapped is very similar to killing it, but Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation are exert sets, which means there are several cards that untap your own creatures, and all of those splash-hate on Unquenchable Thirst. I can see playing it, but be ready to side it out against exert decks.
As always, black is a little in the middle—there are good removal spells and OK creatures for all types of decks. If you look at the common creatures, most of them are actually fairly aggressive. There are two common, playable 2-drops on top of cards like Carrion Screecher and Marauding Boneslasher. Then you also have cards like Moaning Wall, which is OK in a control deck but horrible in an aggressive one. Overall, it seems like there are more cards that only aggressive decks want than cards that only control decks want.
Black has two common pieces of removal that almost any deck will be happy to pick up—Torment of Venom and Lethal Sting. Torment of Venon costs double-black, but Sting will probably be splashed for in a lot of green decks, especially those with counters synergy.
As far as uncommons go, I’m a fan of Banewhip Punisher. The 2/2 with the enters-the-battlefield effect is already quite good, and being able to kill any shrunk creature is excellent. For rares, you have Hour of Glory as a very splashable effect—it’s hardly worthy of being a rare and god forbid you actually get to use the bonus Lobotomy clause, but it’s a great card in Sealed just as a cheaper Final Reward.
Since I’m talking about black, I want to mention a card from Amonkhet that I believe got even better: Cartouche of Ambition. Cartouche of Ambition was always a good card, but the absolute best combo you could assemble with it (Scaled Behemoth + Cartouche) didn’t come up that often because Behemoth was an uncommon.
With Hour of Devastation, blue also has a Behemoth, except it’s common. Striped Riverwinder is already a great card by itself, and with Cartouche of Ambition it’s going to be almost unbeatable. If you have this combo, I’d consider splashing either part in your deck.
I believe I’ve been writing these prerelease articles since Return to Ravnica, and I don’t think I’ve ever not said, “red is an aggressive color,” so I don’t see why I would start now. Red in this set wants to attack as much as it always does.
The best common red creature is probably Khenra Scrapper, which at potentially 4/3 menace is no joke, but the real nice cards are the removal spells—Puncturing Blow and Open Fire are both common and some of the best removal in the set.
Red also has quite a lot of reach this time around, since Open Fire and Blur of Blades both hit players, and Inferno Jet is probably the best Lava Axe variant in the history of the game. I suspect I’ll lose several games I thought I couldn’t lose to this card, and I recommend you try to keep your life total healthier than normal if you’re playing against a red deck in this format.
On top of everything, there’s Crash Through, which is very unassuming but I think has the potential to be great in many spots. I feel like if it had cycling R everyone would like it, though it’s obviously just better than that the great majority of the time.
Green can be quite aggressive, since it has powerful creatures, but I feel like green’s greatest strength is being the main color in a multicolored deck. Between the artifact fixers, Beneath the Sands, and Oasis Ritualist, it’s quite possible to play 4 or even 5 colors in your Sealed deck, and I believe this is something you should look to do.
I’ve talked a fair bit about splashing and the 5c green archetype, so if you aren’t sure what I mean exactly, here’s Eduardo Sajgalik’s 9-0 deck from GP Richmond (it doesn’t have Hour of Devastation, but illustrates the concept):
Green has great commons overall. Rhona’s Stalwart and Ambuscade are both quite good, but I think one hidden gem will be Bitterbow Sharpshooters. A 4/4 for 5 is not good but it’s not awful, and reach looks like it could be important, since both blue and white have great flyers at common.
I think there are two traps in green: Nissa’s Defeat and Life Goes On. Nissa’s Defeat I’ve already talked about, and Life Goes On is mostly similar to Oketra’s Last Mercy. I think people will focus too much on “can I turn this on?” and then if the answer is “yes,” they’ll play the card, but strict life gain is rarely worth it in Limited, so the question you should ask is “can I turn this on and do I need the life at the cost of a card?” The answer to that is usually no.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and have fun at the prerelease!