Journey into Nyx is coming soon. Now over a third of the set is spoiled, and soon all the new cards will be Standard legal. Last week I talked about a powerful new card, Dawnbringer Charioteers, and I built a white/blue heroic deck based around it. Since I built that deck last week, there have been some new cards spoiled that fit right into the heroic strategy. I think some useful new Journey into Nyx cards will allow heroic decks to establish themselves as players in the Standard metagame.
Sage of Hours is a Mythic that pushes the power-level of heroic cards to the highest level yet.
Taking extra turns is nothing to take lightly. A single Sage of Hours is capable of taking multiple extra turns, so it can function as the basis of an extra turn-generating engine. Taking extra turns tends to snowball; extra turns provide more opportunity to generate more turns. In theory, with the right set of cards around it, Sage of Hours can generate infinite turns and lock the opponent out of the game.
At the simplest level in Standard, combining Sage of Hours with a cipher spell, like Hidden Strings, will generate one extra spell a turn, which is the beginning of going infinite; Sage of Hours with five cipher spells would be a hard-lock. Done fairly, five counters is no small feat, and getting five a turn in order to chain turn after turn is going to be pretty difficult to sustain, but something like taking an extra turn every few turns is a realistic goal.
Sage of Hours is also effective as an aggressive heroic creature. It gets +1/+1 counters like any other creature with the same ability, so it's a very functional creature along the way to generating extra turns. Even without the ability to take turns, at the very least Sage of Hours is worthwhile blue heroic creature for just two-mana.
Sage of Hours also has the aspect of always being a threat that the opponent must respect. This can create a game of chicken where the opponent will want to hold back and play around losing to you playing some spells and taking an extra turn, but they also risk losing to your aggressive creature if they do nothing. This is what makes decks like Splinter Twin and Birthing Pod excellent in Modern, and it's a trait shared in a small way by Sage of Hours.
Sage of Hours is a proactive threat that is good against any opponent; it's the sort of card worth building a deck around. Sage of Hours is the heroic two-drop that blue has been looking for. The next-best option Artisan of Forms is quite good, but it requires other creatures to function. Where Artisan of Forms works best with other creatures in deck to copy, which doesn't synergize with the idea of running heroic spells, Sage of Hours could function in a deck with nothing but spells that target it and mana to cast them.
Sage of Hours can be played as a 4-of without reservations. Sage of Hours will often be best in multiples, because the best heroic-enablers like Triton Tactics and Hidden Strings target two creatures, so the cost of growing one Sage of Hours is the same as growing two. In this case two is better than one, and the second Sage of Hours will serve as insurance against removal on the first or allow you to take two extra turns in a row.
Sage of Hours needs to be approached a bit differently than other heroic cards we've seen. The Ken Yukuhiro UB Heroic deck works as a fish deck. Many of the cards that trigger heroic are instants that can double as Counterspells for removal, for example Mizzium Skin. The deck can play aggressively while protecting its threats with the instants. These spells will be excellent for protecting Sage of Hours, but they alone will not be enough to consistently generate extra turns.
A heroic deck with a spell base like Ken Yukukiro's or the UW deck I built would work work fine with Sage of Hours, but I think the card needs to change the way I look at the heroic ability. If I look at Sage of Hours as a combo card, more options seem attractive. There are more ways than just heroic to get counters on Sage of Hours.
Standard includes Return to Ravnica block, so we have access to the Simic guild and their assortment of cards that manipulate +1/+1 counters:
The most elegant option is Bioshift, which with two creatures in play functions like a poor-man's Triton Tactics. It seems very good with Sage of Hours, and it can take a bunch of counters from one creature and move them to Sage of Hours, all while triggering heroic. It seems particularly useful with Nivmagus Elemental, which can generate four counters and set up an extra turn.
Give // Take gets Sage of Hours nearly all the way there by itself, and the Blue half of the card could be quite useful.
Burst of Strength generate two counters for the price of one, and it can abuse cards like Retraction Helix or serve as a weak combat trick.
Some wilder options:
Master Biomancer does a lot of the work, and it gives Sage of Hours more value initially.
For seven mana, Krasis Incubation is a way to repeatedly generate 3 counters.
Vorel of the Hull Clade might be viable because of how powerful it can be. It doubles counters, so combine it with Sage of Hours to generate a lot of extra counters. It does require removing all the counters at once, so it cannot create an infinite turn loop, but well-played it will functionally achieve nearly the same result.
Another very interesting option is combining Sage of Hours with the new planeswalker, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. It creates three counters a turn, so that's more than halfway towards going infinite. This would seem excellent in a Bant build focused around gaining heroic with enchantments, and I suspect such a deck will be a player in block constructed, but it could also work in a more combo-oriented build in Standard.
Another exciting one is Primeval Bounty. Each noncreature spell cast generates 3 +1/+1 counters, so it goes a long way towards approaching infinite with Sage of Hours. I really like this approach because of how well it synergies with the rest of the deck, and because it's powerful enough to serve as the alternate win-condition.
Digging into other colors, Corpsejack Menace halves the necessary work to be done, and Varolz, the Scar-Striped has potential.
Sage of Hours was actually officially spoiled on the mothership in a casual column, and the writer included it in all sorts of wacky non-Standard decks. I don't think Sage of Hours is a joke, and it's too powerful to not consider for Standard. When I think about what to combine it with, I can't help but think of a very freshly spoiled card, Battlefield Thaumaturge:
Another 1U heroic creature...blue is getting some seriously powerful heroic cards. The actual heroic ability here is that it gains hexproof, which is not exactly something worth building around, but it gives the card additional functionality. The real useful ability here is the static one, and it reduces the cost of heroic-enabling instants and sorceries by one colorless mana. This doesn't do much for the typical suite of one-mana instants, but it has some serious implications with other cards. For example, Dauntless Onslaught, which targets two creatures, will cost just a single W mana. It's ridiculous with a few cards, like Glimpse the Sun God, which can target every single creature in play for a single W mana.
Glimpse the Sun God is normally a heroic enabler with potential to target one, two, three, or more heroic creatures. The cost is a bit expensive, but Battlefield Thaumaturge lets it target everything for free. For those looking to stay in blue or add redundancy, Gridlock provides the same functionality. This combo is the sort of thing many heroic decks might be interested in. It is explosive, and it would work well with Sage of Hours. These cards are also excellent for tapping down an enemy team and clearing away blockers, so it would seem to be a great fit in aggressive white-based deck too.
Battlefield Thaumaturge also combines quite well with the new card Launch the Fleet, which will effectively double the size of an army each time it is cast. This seems completely out of hand when combined with Vanguard of Brimaz and Phalanx Leader. These sort of synergies allow the deck to proactively set up a strategy that will be strong in a vacuum against a wide variety of opponents.
I have all sorts of deck ideas with the new cards, so here's what I have in mind.
This is an attempt at abusing Battlefield Thaumaturge with the eight X-spells I discussed earlier. There is an assortment of heroic cards that all provide various forms of value but still work towards the same plan. Triton Fortune Hunter allows the deck to generate card advantage from the X-spells and to quickly dig through the deck with the spell suite. Sage of Hours is the centerpiece, and this deck is designed to grow and protect the card as a threat and source of extra turns. Fabled Hero fills a similar role, but it seeks to simply win the game as quickly as possible. Favored Hoplite is a critical piece of the puzzle as an early source of board presence. It attacks, it blocks, and it will often do both.
This deck is not going to ever go infinite, but it will nickle and dime the opponent while finding the ideal route to victory. The x-spells double as virtual Time Walks against aggressive decks, which gives the deck a lot of interactive potential. This deck is well balanced and should be able to win nearly as many fair, grindy games as it does the fastest, most unfair games.
This is a monoblue attempt at abusing Sage of Hours. The most important combo here is Nivmagus Elemental and Bioshift on Sage of Hours. This deck also plays a full 8 cipher spells in an attempt to go infinite with Sage of Hours. The scry lands are played simply as additional sources of card selection but the ideal number may be much lower or much higher. In reality this monoblue version of the deck may be too clunky and one-dimensional to be competitive, but it's certainly very fun, and it's a valuable thought exercise.
This Monowhite deck is a bare-bones look at an aggressive white weenie-style heroic deck. It goes without any clunky combos and instead maxes out on consistency and synergy. The core here is Vanguard of Brimaz and Phalanx Leader, which combined with some spells can quickly generate a large offense. This build is capable of winning with natural creature curve-out draws, while other times it will resemble a combo deck when all cylinders are firing. Gods Willing and Ajani's Presence can be used to counter removal, which gives this deck the ability to play like a fish deck against control opponents.
This Azorius version of the heroic deck is built around the Vanguard of Brimaz and Phalanx Leader core, but it splashes into blue for Battlefield Thaumaturge and Gridlock to go along with it. This brings the deck to the highest power level, and it's capable of some extremely fast and aggressive draws. The deck pays the price in the manabase, which loses some consistency. Mana Confluence is an excellent option here because this deck is likely to win the game or effectively lose before the life loss is relevant.
I could not build a Simic version of the deck that I was comfortable with, but I am sure some version is out there. A BUG or Bant build abusing Sage of Hours with some of the cards I discussed earlier seems promising, and I know there are countless other options out there. If you have some ideas to share or questions to ask, please turn to the comments!