Hour of Devastation Standard is here and in full swing, so there are now plenty of decklists available to help give us an idea of what's going on in the metagame. Beyond the Magic Online league 5-0 results, there was also a Standard Pro Tour Qualifier online, and a weekend of SCG events with an Open and a Classic, so there is a lot to cover.
An exciting new trend in the metagame is the arrival of a red aggro deck, or as it has often been known historically, Red Deck Wins. This sort of strategy has been successful in many Standard formats in recent memory, but it has fallen from favor recently without strong tools to leverage against a hostile environment. Now the banning of Aetherworks Marvel has helped to open a void in the metagame to be filled, and some effective new Hour of Devastation cards have pushed the deck into the realm of competitive playability.
Red Deck Wins hasn't been a fixture of the metagame over the past year, so it's not quite clear how to best combine the tools available into a streamlined deck. Players have been trying all sorts of combinations, but what is clear is that the new Earthshaker Kenra is a perfect addition. A haste creature that turns off blockers is exactly what the strategy needs to push through damage and put the opponent on the backfoot. Its eternalize ability gives the deck extra value from the graveyard, so it's an ideal way for the deck to stay relevant late in the game against opponents that grind it down with removal.
The ability to turn off blockers is embraced as a major theme of the deck that moves beyond Earthshaker Kenra to include a set of Ahn-Crop Crasher, and it's pushed even further with Cartouche of Zeal. This cartouche paves the way for the trials to make their Constructed debut because of its strong synergy with Trial of Zeal, which adds a bit of card advantage to the deck, where it's effective for mowing down blockers or finishing off the opponent. This combination helped the deck make its way to the top four of the Magic Online PTQ, and an identical list was played by Steve Rubin, so it's definitely something to take seriously.
Hour of Devastation also provides the red deck with a very interesting endgame powered by Ramunap Ruins. Red decks seek to eek out every last point of damage to bring the opponent from 20 to 0 before their more powerful cards take over the game, so being able to fit in an extra damage source without the cost of using a spell slot is a very big deal, similar to how Red Deck Wins of old used Barbarian Ring to help finish off opponents. Ramunap Ruins is made even better because of its synergy with Sunscorched Desert, which not only deals a damage by itself, but can be sacrificed as a Desert to deal two more. A mana source functioning as a Lightning Bolt is a big deal for red decks, and this sort of damage engine being built into the mana base provides the deck with reach that is very difficult for opponents to stop. It's a big factor in pushing this deck over the top into competitive Standard, and the deck will continue to succeed as it's further refined.
Here's a version of the deck that plays a more burn-heavy approach supported by Thermo-Alchemist.
Ramunap Ruins as a colorless mana source has bolstered the Eldrazi and helped bring them back to Standard, but Eldrazi can also make use of Sunscorched Desert as a colorless land. This package is not only a strong damage engine for Red Deck Wins, but also a potential base for an aggressive Eldrazi deck. Jonathan Job combined the two into an aggressive red deck with Eldrazi at the top of the curve to give it more finishing power, and he took it all the way to the Top 8 of the Standard Open. The deck even includes a copy of Dunes of the Dead in the Desert package as an extra colorless land that offers great value when sacrificed.
A more dedicated tribal approach to the Eldrazi finished 9-0 in the swiss of the MTGO PTQ.
This version is intriguing because instead of the typical mono-red build, the deck uses a blue core, made possible by Ipnu Rivulet, to take advantage of Eldrazi Skyspawner, Drowner of Hope and especially its playset of Elder Deep-Fiend. Elder Deep-Fiend is a perfect followup to Matter Reshaper or Eldrazi Skyspawner, and it can create an insurmountable endgame when multiple are chained with Sanctum of Ugin, another colorless source for the Eldrazi that this deck puts to great use.
The deck retains the best red removal in Harnessed Lighting and Abrade, and it adds Vile Aggregate as a potentially massive threat. Dipping into a second color also gives the deck Wandering Fumarole, which is effective as an extra creature for this aggressive deck. Metallic Mimic holds the deck together as a functional Eldrazi lord, and it provides an effective two-mana play in a tribe without other good options on that spot in the curve.
Winning the Standard Open was a Four-Color Control deck that earned Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh glory immediately upon becoming tournament legal.
The deck is very much Jeskai, and in fact splashes into black solely for Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, which can be cast from Aether Hub or the single Fetid Pool. The mana base supports the deck's heavy white requirements, which include Fumigate and Linvala, the Preserver. What's most surprising about the decklist is a pair of Dovin Baan, which hasn't had much Standard success in the past but may have finally proved its worth. It's effective against aggressive decks by holding down a threat, and its card advantage and life gain ability is very potent when the planeswalker is protected. The deck is full of cards to make that happen, including Supreme Will, which is already making an impact as one of the best control cards in Standard. In this deck, it has replaced other three-mana countermagic options like Disallow and has pushed Anticipate out entirely.
The best part of this deck is the sideboard, which allows the deck to get aggressive by bringing in Spell Queller, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Glorybringer and pressure unsuspecting opponents. There's a lot of potential in the deck and its sideboard, and it looks to be a top contender in the metagame going forward.
A subtler approach to control is the continuation of the blue-red deck that was the major control deck before Hour of Devastation. It was a big winner from the banning of Aetherworks Marvel, and it gained some great tools from the new set, so everything points to it being a contender in the new metagame, especially after its second-place finish in the MTGO PTQ.
There's nothing special-looking about this deck, but the addition of Supreme Will, Abrade and Hour of Devastation show that it's seen some major additions from the new set that make it more competitive than ever, and without the need to stretch its mana for other colors at the cost consistency.
Champion of Wits is proving itself to be one of the most important creatures from Hour of Devastation, as it is the perfect enabler for Prized Amalgam graveyard decks with an Elder Deep-Fiend endgame. Temur versions that added Traverse the Ulvenwald, Vessel of Nascency and Grapple with the Past to the typical Blue-Red core were the most popular online before the weekend, but this Four-Color Sultai-based version that reached the Top 4 of the Open looks like the most effective way to build the deck.
In addition to making Prized Amalgam easily castable from hand, which the Temur version can't do, the Sultai core provides Grim Flayer as a strong threat that allows the deck to start developing the board and pressuring the opponent early. It also provides Haunted Dead, which seems like a real upgrade over Stitchwing Skaab because it generates more battlefield presence that's harder to deal with. The deck retains the best part of the red versions with a set of Kozilek's Return it can cast with its Mountain, but it also can be discarded for its graveyard ability which doesn't require any mana.
Black opens up the sideboard to more powerful options as well, including Bontu's Last Reckoning as an additional sweeper, and a set of Fatal Push and a pair of Liliana, the Last Hope to really slow down aggressive decks. As a Traverse the Ulvenwald target, Distended Mindbender is a way to knockout control decks.
Another deck that has seen some upgrades from Hour of Devastation is White-Blue Flash. The deck all but went extinct after Smuggler's Copter was banned, but it came back as an answer to Aetherworks Marvel and even won a Grand Prix. The Aetherworks Marvel banning seemed like it would make the resurgence of Flash short lived, but the printing of Nimble Obstructionist as a new flash threat and with Supreme Will as a new piece of instant-speed disruption and card selection have given it new life.
Zombies had a huge impact on the metagame after Amonkhet, but it struggled to survive in the Aetherworks Marvel era. A new Hour of Devastation addition, The Scarab God, is a perfect addition to the Zombie tribal theme and provides an extra dose of power for the deck.
Another benefit of the blue splash is Gisa and Geralf, another Zombie that pushes up the power level of the deck and plays well with The Scarab God as a way to fuel the graveyard.
At Pro Tour Amonkhet, Sam Black revealed his Abzan Cryptolith Rites deck based around abusing Anointed Procession, Hidden Stockpile and a wealth of expendable token-generating creatures like Blisterpod, Sacred Cat and Catacomb Sifter. The deck struggled against Aetherworks Marvel, so that banning alone was a big boost to the viability of tokens in the metagame, but it has also gained some fun new tools from Hour of Devastation.
In the mana base, Shefet Dunes gives the deck a way to create an anthem effect to boost its many creatures and help push through for the win, and Hashep Oasis is another source of extra damage and value. More surprising is Driven // Despair, which can be a source of value when combined with a large army of creatures, whether it is Driven drawing extra cards or Despair pressuring the opponent's hand. It doesn't take much to Recoup the card invested and gain an advantage, and it's exciting to think that the card could be competitive in Standard.
The sideboard features Dreamstealer, which has been popping up in various decks as a way to pressure control decks that won't be able to block it and will eventually be forced to deal with the eternalized copy once they destroy Dreamstealer the first time.
Hour of Devastation has made its presence felt in Standard, and the format is only going to get more interesting as players attempt to make the most of the new cards. Ramp decks did not have a great weekend, but it will be exciting to see if the Pros can make it work at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation next week, and to see how else they deal with the Mardu Vehicles and White-Blue Monument decks that still have a strong presence in the metagame.