Welcome to another P1p1. By now, you know the drill—I present you with a pack, you choose a first pick, and then I present you my choice and explanation.
Normally, The Scarab God would be a no-brainer pick, given that it’s better than anything else. What if an Invocation is thrown into the mix, though? Most of them aren’t actually good, but the ones that are good far surpass most bomb rares. I still remember the feeling when I had an amazing B/G Draft and my opponent played Sword of Feast and Famine both games—it wasn’t pleasant.
So the question here is: How good is “No Mercy”? With Invocations, it’s very hard to know—chances are you’ve never played any of them, so you have to evaluate on the fly. No Mercy used to be unbeatable in Limited, but is that still the case in Hour of Devastation?
My inclination is that no, it isn’t. It’s still going to be an impossible card for some decks to beat, but creatures hit very hard nowadays. It used to be that every creature had 2 power, which meant your opponent needed to connect with 10 to kill you with a No Mercy in play. Right now, creatures often have 4, 5 or even 7 power, so it’s much easier to force through 20 damage even if any creature can only attack once. There are also many control/ramp decks in this format that establish total dominance before they kill you, and those can sometimes even mill you out with a card like Ipnu Rivulet.
The Scarab God is a gold card, but it’s actually unbeatable for a lot of decks. Sure, it dies to Puncturing Blow, but if it doesn’t die immediately, it takes over any game. It’s worth splashing for no matter what you’re doing, so it’s going to make your deck way more often than not, even if it’s a gold card.
Honorable Mention: No Mercy
No Mercy is beatable now, but I imagine that it’s still very good. It would be my second pick here.
Honorable Honorable Mention: Open Fire
Hour of Promise doesn’t go in every green deck, but it goes in the best ones—the 5c ramp/control decks (which don’t have to be 5 colors, of course. They’re usually two with two splashes). As a ramp spell it’s a bit expensive, but when you get two 2/2s out of the deal, it becomes very good, and you only need 1 Desert in play to do that, so a deck with 3 or 4 Deserts should be able to trigger this relatively often (though you have to be careful not to cycle away too many).
On top of that, Hour of Promise gets utility Deserts, which can be very powerful in the right situation. Getting an Ifnir Deadlands and another Desert can help you kill multiple creatures, getting Hashep Oasis can push a lot of damage through, and even something like Ipnu Rivulet can help you deck your opponent with the right support.
Honorable Mention: Oasis Ritualist
Oasis Ritualist is like a less polarizing Hour of Promise—whereas the sorcery ranges from amazing to unplayable, the Ritualist ranges from very good to bad. You can always play it if you find yourself short on playables, though it’s not going to be great in the aggressive decks and it’s going to be a nice addition to any of the decks that actually want Hour of Promise. Normally this is a spot where I feel that you should hedge and take the more versatile card, but I think Hour of Promise is enough better in spots where it’s good, and the Ritualist mediocre enough when it’s bad, that taking Hour of Promise is correct here.
If you’ve followed my articles for a while, you’ll know that I subscribe to a very “drafting the hard way” style in most formats—I like being flexible and reading the table for what’s open, as opposed to just tunnel-visioning into an archetype. For this reason, I very rarely first pick gold cards—I’d rather have a 7 that I’d play 70% of the time over an 8 that I’d play 35% of the time.
In this case, though, Samut is not far and away the best card in the pack, but it’s also going to be played more than most rares would because there’s a lot of fixing in this format, especially in green. If I first pick Samut, I’d expect to play it in every green deck and some amount of nongreen decks as well, and I expect it to be good every time.
Honorable Mention: Ambuscade
I’m not as big on Ambuscade as some other pros are since it won’t always be good in your green decks, but it’s still instant-speed removal that kills almost anything and sometimes even gets you sweet 2-for-1s. So while I’m not thrilled to first pick it, I’m not upset either.
Oketra’s Avenger isn’t an exciting first pick, but it gets the job done. White decks in this format are almost always aggressive, and a 3/1 for 2 that can exert to survive any combat fits the bill. You’ll usually want as many as you can get as 2-drops are very important and it’s better than the average 2-drop.
Honorable Mention: Spellweaver Eternal
I expect this pick to be controversial, but the things I said about Oketra’s Avenger also apply here —Spellweaver Eternal is a great 2-drop that you can play in decks that really need 2-drops. I’ve rarely thought “wow, my deck has too many 2-drops,” but I often think, “I really wish I had another 2-drop,” and the best way to prevent that from happening is picking them early.
I suspect a lot of people would take either Sinuous Striker or Vizier of the Anointed here, but I don’t think that’s right. I think establishing early pressure is very important in the aggro decks, and if I’m blue in this format I’m way more likely to be aggro than control. The 5-color decks can be base blue, and they don’t want Spellweaver Eternal, but they also don’t want Sinuous Striker (which I believe to be a very overrated card most of the time), and will often play but don’t need the Vizier.
I think control/ramp is one of the best decks in this format, but you need a combination of things for it to succeed—namely, a powerful late game, a way to stabilize the board, early defense, and fixers. Of those, I feel that early defense and fixers are very easy to come by. As such, I’ll often try to start with the payoffs for the 5c deck, knowing that I’ll be able to get the support crew later.
Sifter Wurm isn’t a megabomb, but it’s a strong payoff. A 7/7 trample is no joke, and you get a bunch of life and scry 3 on top of that, so it even helps stabilize a bit if you’re far behind. There have been many games where I felt I couldn’t lose, only to have my opponent exert their Ritualist and play a 7/7 that also gains them 5 life. I could no longer win. The card is very powerful.
Honorable Mention: Banewhip Punisher
I like Banewhip Punisher—it’s good in any deck, and good against any deck. It has one main problem, though: it’s black, and not the most splashable card ever. I think black is easily the worst color in this format, so I’m not very happy to pick a black card. I’ll still do it, of course. I’ve first picked my share of Torment of Venom, but when an option as strong as Sifter Wurm is also on the table, and in a color/archetype that I’d much rather be in, I prefer to start the Draft with that.
If this were a more “normal” format, or my first Draft in this format, I’d probably take Banewhip Punisher, though.