Standard was in a rough place before the banning of Aetherworks Marvel, but in the days since the metagame has evolved into something that looks much more healthy and interesting. Last week, I discussed the effect of the banning and the decks that appeared in its wake, but the format was something of a lame-duck with the release of Hour of Devastation imminent. Now the prerelease has come and gone, and the set will be fully released tomorrow. It has been out on Magic Online all week, and those that can resist the allure of drafting are already grinding Standard and figuring out what works and what doesn't.
There was an announcement from the Magic Online team that going forward they would be cutting the number of decklists they publish in half, which unfortunately means there are less decklists available than normal, so it will take a bit longer for the metagame to hash out, which is their intent. This has forced me to get a bit more creative about finding metagame information and mining decklists to share, soI've been paying close attention to players streaming live on Twitch, which provides a unique look inside the minds of high-level players - and access to their decklists. Today I'll share the best of what I've found streamers piloting, along with some published 5-0 decklists from leagues, to paint a picture of the metagame with Hour of Devastation added to the mix.
The most important card in Hour of Devastation may be its namesake, Hour of Devastation. It changes the paradigm of Standard sweepers by hitting planeswalkers along with creatures, which makes it a very potent answer to midrange decks. It's notable as an efficient and effective way to clear out Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and its tokens, which no other card could claim to do previously. Its value in a control deck is obvious, and it even allows Torrential Gearhulk to survive, so the obvious home for the card is in Blue-Red Control. It has been a second-tier deck throughout the year, in part because it struggled at dealing Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but the banning of Aetherworks Marvel has helped to solve that problem. Blue-Red Control would seem to be in a great place now, especially since beyond Hour of Devastation it has also gained some other very attractive cards including Abrade as a new creature removal spell that's also a clean answer to Heart of Kiran, and Supreme Will as a flexible Mana Leak // Impulse hybrid, but it's the arrival of Nicol Bolas threatens to irrevocably change the deck, as evidenced in this build by Brennan "BDeCandio7" DeCandio.
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is an extremely powerful finisher, and it helps to alleviate Blue-Red Control's biggest weakness, which was its inability to lock up the game and kill the opponent quickly after gaining control, which allowed time for threats like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to beat them fair and square. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh won't allow the opponent that same luxury, and not only can it deal massive damage to finish off the opponent, it can also use its +1 ability to strip the opponent of any Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger they are holding, and it can even use its +2 ability to peel a copy from the opponent's deck and cast one for itself!
This strength at keeping Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in check may prove to be very important in the new metagame, because even though Aetherworks Marvel has been banned, that's not the end of the Eldrazi. There's a new deck designed to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as soon as possible, and it makes great use of some of the best cards Hour of Devastation has to offer.
Hour of Promise is another marquee card from Hour of Devastation, and it may be even better than its red cousin. At first glance, Hour of Promise might just look like an overcosted Explosive Vegetation or an unwieldy Desert-themed card, but in truth it might just be Primeval Titan at a discount. Hour of Promise can search for any two land, and that vastly increases its utility and power level. What stands out as the most powerful option in Standard – and what this deck attempts to leverage – is its ability to search for two Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, which effectively means it is ramping four mana as opposed to two in the the race to 10 mana to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Alternatively, Hour of Promise can find a Sanctum of Ugin or two to set up a chain of the massive Eldrazi. It can even dig for specialized lands like the new Scavenger Grounds, which this deck uses in the sideboard as a way to hose the opponent, and the toolbox could be expanded to include others. There's also the possibility of adding a critical mass of Deserts to the equation, likely Desert of the Indomitable and Hashep Oasis, to even further increase the power level of Hour of Promise and take advantage of the two Zombie Tokens it can create as threats or blockers to buy time.
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is still the most powerful card in Standard, and without Aetherworks Marvel to cast it for free, players will find another way to play it. Hour of Promise looks like the best way to make that happen, and while it's not yet clear how to best build this new ramp deck, decklists will quickly be refined because reaching 10 mana and casting the Eldrazi provides players with a very clear goal to hit.
I'm a big fan of this build by Todd "ToddStevensMTG" Stevens because it loads up on all of the best acceleration available, including Servant of the Conduit as a two-drop accelerator and Chandra, Torch of Defiance as a pseudo-Explosive Vegetation with its mana ability. The deck even uses Hour of Devastation as a backup to Kozilek's Return and an even better answer to Gideon, All of Zendikar, which has historically given ramp decks problems. The deck makes a few minor pickups from Hour of Devastation as well, with Beneath the Sands as a superior ramp card to other three-mana options because of its ability to cycle in the late game, and Abrade as an additional targeted removal spell beyond Harnessed Lightning.
A pair of Chandra's Defeat in the sideboard, along with one in the Grixis sideboard, are a nod to the increase in red's popularity after gaining new tools with Hour of Devastation and Abrade. These have brought a rise of cards that need destroying, like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer, which also saw a marked increase in popularity after the banning of Aetherworks Marvel pushed the format towards midrange.
Recently Red has struggled as an aggressive color to fill anything more than a supporting role in Mardu, but some unexpected new tools might have given the color a new identity.
The Blue-Red Prowess archetype has slowly and quietly accumulated some strong cards over the past months, with Soul-Scar Mage and Stormchaser Mage being perfect cards to build on, but nothing has materialized as a competitive deck. Hour of Devastation looks to change that by providing more great payoffs in Riddleform, Bloodwater Entity and even Spellweaver Eternal. It also adds a fantastic cog to the engine in Crash Through as a cheap cantrip that can push its prowess creatures through blockers. Unsummon is another cheap spell that manages blockers and adds to the prowess count. This deck definitely has a lot to prove if it is to compete with the top tier decks, but this list by Jim "JimDavisMTG" Davis has given it a promising start.
Cat Tribal had never been anywhere close to reality in Magic's history, but Hour of Devastation changes that with some powerful cats worth playing, specifically Pride Sovereign, which creates a team of tokens and functions as a sort of lord that rather than pump the team grows itself. Additionally, Adorned Pouncer as a strong creature that works well with anthem effects and provides value from the graveyard.
As this list from Samuel "samball49" Rubin demonstrates, the new cats combine with the best cats in Amonkhe –with Sacred Cat as a robust curve-filler and Regal Caracal as the archetype's main tribal payoff – to reach the critical mass of felines necessary to make a functional deck. As it turns out, there are some other strong cats available, specifically Longtusk Cub as a holdout from Kaladesh, and Metallic Mimic posing as one to give the deck another lord. The deck fills in the gaps with the most powerful white cards available, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as a massive standalone threat and Cast Out as a versatile removal spell, and it comes together as a convincing deck that rivals Zombies in its ability to put a lot of power and toughness into play and overwhelm the opponent. One competitive advantage it has is the lifelink ability on its creature tokens and from Regal Caracal, which could give it the edge against aggressive decks. There's definitely some room to experiment here, and this deck uses Appeal // Authority as a source of extra damage that can help it push through blockers.
So far there has been very little Hour of Devastation innovation in the online league decklists published, which reveal the usual suspects like Mardu, Temur Energy, Black-Green Energy, and Mono-White Monument all looking as strong as ever. One deck that did stand out is this Black-Red Control deck centered around a playset of Doomfall and its great interaction with Goblin Dark-Dwellers.
Doomfall is a very intriguing card because it offers the ability to play main deck discard without the risk of ever having a dead card, and it's a perfect fit for this control strategy that uses it to deal with the most troublesome cards its removal will struggle against while having the option to serve as creature removal when necessary. This versatility gives a lot of value to Goblin Dark-Dwellers as a way to reuse it, so it could bring this forgotten card back into the metagame.
This strategy is another beneficiary from the rise of red. It makes great use of Abrade, and Hour of Devastation in the sideboard could easily be main deck as the metagame dictates. The sideboard contains some other interesting cards, like Bontu's Last Reckoning as a powerful sweeper that leaves its planeswalkers intact, and Dreamstealer as a unique way to put pressure on control and ramp decks. What's most exciting is Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, which it can cast from Aether Hub, and could potentially be moved into a reworked main deck as an alternative approach to Grixis Control.
The printing of the various Desert lands has massive implications for the Eldrazi creatures, which can put the colorless mana they produce to great use. Utility lands like Endless Sands are a nice addition, but what's most important are the uncommon colored Deserts like Ramunap Ruins, which essentially function like a pain land for the deck that produces colorless or colored mana. Access to these new lands gives Eldrazi decks exactly what they need to function smoothly, and that puts them back into the metagame for a stint before they rotate in a few months. There is potential for all colors and flavors of Eldrazi to be competitive, but red is off to an early lead, as seen in this 5-0 list.
It's only a matter of time before Hour of Devastation makes a real impact on the Standard metagame. What do you think of the strategies I shared today? What decks have you seen that make use of the new cards? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.