There’s nothing as fun in Magic as when a new set arrives. This weekend we’ll all get a chance to play with Hour of Devastation for the first time at prerelease events at stores all over the world. This is a real treat for me. Most summer releases over the years have been core sets with lots of reprints. I’m thrilled to see a brand new set. Amonkhet has been very interesting for Limited formats and has been useful for Constructed as well. Now I’d like to invite you to a summer full of new and exciting desert adventures. No, I’m not trying to convince you to join the Marines, I’m talking about playing with the new set. Hour of Devastation promises to build on those good Amonkhet sealed deck and booster draft experiences.
The frame of reference for prerelease weekend is sealed deck. That’s perfect for me. I live for sealed deck and booster draft. It took me all spring to get my head around Amonkhet sealed. Hour of Devastation is a whole new set, but I believe it will be very useful to bring what I learned about Amonkhet sealed deck to this weekend’s prerelease events.
My goal with this article is to share some ideas with you in order to help you do better at your prerelease events. Prerelease events are mostly for fun, a less competitive battlefield on which to explore and try new things. At the same time, your store is probably giving away booster packs based on match wins. If that’s the case, then I want to help you win more boosters at your prereleases this weekend.
What new game mechanics are in this set? This is an area in which Hour of Devastation provides good service as a companion set to Amonkhet.
Eternalize, for example, works in almost the same way that embalm works on Amonkhet cards. When a creature with eternalize is in your graveyard, you can pay the activation cost to exile that creature from your graveyard and put into play a token copy of that creature except that the token is black, has no mana cost, has power and toughness of four, and is a Zombie in addition to its other types. You can only use the eternalize ability whenever you could play a sorcery.
The other new keyword ability in Hour of Devastation is afflict. A creature with afflict triggers when it is blocked causing the defending player to lose life equal to the afflict value. For instance, if your creature had “afflict 1” your opponent would lose one life when he or she blocked your creature. If your creature had “afflict 2” your opponent would lose two life instead. Afflict is an interesting way to make your creatures dangerous to your opponent even when they are blocked.
Prerelease Product Mix
The product you will receive this time around includes four booster packs of Hour of Devastation and two packs of Amonkhet. You also get a promotional foil card that could be any rare or mythic rare from Hour of Devastation. You can use this card in your deck. Even though we aren’t playing under quite the same rules this weekend as we would at a more competitive tournament, there is a limited amount of time to build your deck, so it pays to be as efficient with your time as possible. When your judge tells you to start building your deck, get all six packs unwrapped as quickly as possible. Then sort your stack of cards by color. It’s easy to get sidetracked by a couple of your new cards, but keep in mind that you only have a certain amount of time (usually half an hour) to get your deck built. Make sure you have time to read all of your cards. The next thing you should do is lay your cards out on the table in front of you, by color. This will let you see what color or colors your strongest cards are in. You want to play to your strengths. Very often, the colors you have the most cards in will be the best choices for your sealed deck. In Amonkhet sealed, it was often fairly easy to splash a few cards of a third color. Magic sets come and go, but the most basic guidelines for successful sealed deck building never change. You’re building a forty-card deck. You’re looking for twenty-three or twenty-four spells and creatures to be supported by either sixteen or seventeen land cards. A two-colored deck will work a lot better than a three-colored deck. I think you want at least thirteen or fourteen creatures in this format.
Others feel differently, but I don’t get much out of the early card spoilers that come out. Learning about one card from a new set every couple of days doesn’t get me excited about the new set. I get excited when I can see the entire set. I want to investigate the whole set, see the interactions and the broad tone that the new set provides. And while I certainly do read and study all of the new rares and mythics, they aren’t the cards that I’m most interested in. As a sealed deck player, I know I’m only getting about six rares or mythics in my card pool, as well as a foil promo card. The bulk of my cards are commons along with almost twenty uncommons. Commons and uncommons are the important basic building blocks for every sealed deck. That amazingly powerful mythic rare that you have in your deck won’t do you any good at all if you get killed by your opponent before you ever get a chance to play it. This rest of this article focuses on the best commons and uncommon cards that Hour of Devastation has to offer. These are the cards that are going to make your sealed deck work. For each color, the cards that I discuss are listed with the best cards first. I’m also listing the colors in best-to-worst order. I always put the artifacts, lands and gold cards at the end of the review.
Open Fire is a common instant for 2R that deals three damage to a target creature or player. If you’ve been playing Magic for a long time, just swallow hard and accept the fact that Lightning Bolt costs three mana in 2017. More importantly, this card is red’s best, easiest removal spell that can also go to the face. Obviously you have to play all the copies of this spell that you find in your card pool.
Sand Strangler is an uncommon 3/3 Beast for 3R. When this creature enters the battlefield it deals three damage to a target creature if you control a Desert or have one in your graveyard. Apparently we all need to play a couple of Deserts in our decks. Memo received! With a Desert, this is a sicko card. I think I’ll play three Deserts in order to make sure I have one early enough to make Sand Strangler trigger as early as turn four.
Burning-Fist Minotaur is an uncommon 2/1 Minotaur Wizard with first strike for 1R. For 1R you can discard a card to give this creature +2/+0 until end of turn. This is a must-play in all red decks. Two-power, one-toughness creatures aren’t generally the best for sealed deck but this one has the ability to make itself bigger. The threat of you pumping your first striker will be as important as the actual ability.
Abrade is an uncommon instant for 1R that can either deal three damage to a target creature or can destroy a target artifact. I have a feeling I will play it to kill a creature ten times as often as I will destroy an artifact. Removal is always important in limited and this is a very efficient way to deal three damage to a creature for just two mana.
Puncturing Blow is a common sorcery for 2RR that deals five damage to a target creature, exiling that creature if it would die this turn. A four-mana sorcery is a blunt weapon without subtlety. Now put every copy you find in your card pool into your red sealed deck and thank Nicol Bolas for his fiery blessing.
Khenra Scrapper is a common 2/3 Jackal Warrior with menace for 2R. When you attack with this creature, you can exert it to give it +2/+0 until end of turn. In Amonkhet, Cursed Minotaur proved its value time and time again as a three-drop creature with menace. Cursed Minotaur is a 3/2, Khenra Scrapper is only a 2/3. Still, with the ability to power up with its exert ability, this affordable common is just about a must-play.
Gilded Cerodon is a common 4/4 Beast for 4R. When this creature attacks, you choose a target creature and make it unable to block until end of turn in you either control a Desert or have one in your graveyard. I believe Deserts will be the most popular third color in this format. Decks will run something like fourteen basic lands and either two or three Desert cards in order to turn on cards like this one. You can’t have very many five-drops in your sealed deck but this one can often make the cut if you have Deserts in your deck, which you easily can.
Granitic Titan is a common 5/4 Elemental for 4RR with menace. If things get tough and you can’t afford to wait for your sixth land you can cycle this away for two mana. Menace makes this the big cycling monster that you want to use to fill out your sealed deck. Much better than Amonkhet’s Desert Cerodon.
Inferno Jet is a common sorcery for 5R that deals six damage to a target opponent. You get one more point that the old Lava Axe for one more mana. Not the greatest bargain ever, and red decks are likely to be able to use many, if any, spells that cost six mana. However, the risk value of including this card is low because you can cycle it for two mana. I know I’m a madman with aggression issues (only in the game of Magic) but I never saw a Lava Axe I didn’t like. I’m tossing you one Inferno Jet to put in your midrange red sealed decks. Catch!
Solitary Camel is a common 3/2 Camel for 2W. This creature has lifelink as long as you either have a Desert in play or in your graveyard. There are plenty of Desert cards in the set, and in Amonkhet as well. This is a fair investment for a 3/2 but a more than fair deal any time your Camel has lifelink. I might play this card without Deserts in my deck but I will definitely play it every time I have three or more Deserts in my deck.
Sandblast is a common instant for 2W that deals five damage to a target attacking or blocking creature. Yes, it’s not going to be easy to hold up three mana waiting around for your opponent to attack with a big creature. Your opponent will be thinking that you have a trick in hand, he may even put you on Sandblast. Still, removal is a must in limited formats and this card does a lot of work for a common. Five damage can get rid of a huge range of the possible threats in the environment.
Dauntless Aven is a common 2/1 Bird Warrior with flying for 2W. When you attack with this creature you untap a target creature you control. You might choose to use this ability to untap the Dauntless Aven itself, practically giving your creature vigilance. A better choice would be to untap a creature that you just exerted. Even when this creature’s triggered ability doesn’t matter that much, you’ll be happy with a cheap common flyer.
Act of Heroism is a common instant for 1W that untaps a target creature and gives it +2/+2 until end of turn. That creature can block an additional creature this turn. This format is all about combat tricks, and this is a good one. You can attack in with your best creature knowing that you can use this card to surprise your opponent next turn when he attacks you.
Sunscourge Champion is an uncommon 2/3 Human Wizard for 2W. When this enters the battlefield you gain life equal to its power. In order to activate the eternalize ability on this creature you pay 2WW and discard a card. A 2/3 for three is just playable, but eternalize makes this card completely worthwhile. The Champion returns to the battlefield as a 4/4 Zombie that gains you four life. Heck of a deal.
Unconventional Tactics is an uncommon sorcery for 2W that gives a target creatures +3/+3 and gains flying until end of turn. When a Zombie enters the battlefield on your side you can pay one white mana to return Unconventional Tactics to your hand from the graveyard. Even this card is not sneaky, it provides a nice temporary power boost and, more importantly, evasion. Most white decks will have at least a couple of creatures with eternalize or with embalm and the creatures these abilities return to the battlefield are Zombies and therefore trigger Unconventional Tactics. I wouldn’t play this card nearly as often if I had no way to ever return it to my hand.
Steadfast Sentinel is a 2/3 Human Cleric with vigilance for 3W. Steadfast Sentinel also has eternalize 4WW. Anytime a creature with eternalize will fit into your deck, you want to take advantage of it. Cards with eternalize, and embalm before it, are essentially two creatures in your deck for the deck commitment of just one card. I would like this card more if it were a Zombie but Human Cleric makes more sense. It’s a Zombie when you eternalize it…
Djeru’s Renunciation is a common instant for 1W that lets you tap up to two target creatures. You can also cycle this card for one white mana. A decent combat trick for any white deck, this one is particularly good for aggro decks. Aggressive decks will be quick to know when they would rather tap two would-be blockers and when they would rather cycle this for another card.
Banewhip Punisher is an uncommon 2/2 Human Warrior for 2B. When this creature enters the battlefield you may put a -1/-1 counter on a target creature. You can pay one black mana and sacrifice Banewhip Punisher to destroy a target creature that has a -1/-1 counter on it. That’s a four-mana solution to just about any of your opponent’s creatures. Most of the time you’ll play it and sacrifice it on the same turn to get rid of some pertinent threat. Other times, you might play this creature and use the -1/-1 counter to destroy a one-toughness creature, then hope for the ability to put a -1/-1 counter onto some more dangerous threat later in the game while Baneship Punisher is still on the battlefield. This card will worry your opponent as soon as they see it.
Lethal Sting is a common sorcery for 2B. This spell destroys a target creature, but it has an additional cost requiring you to put a -1/-1 counter on a creature you control. This is a better than average removal spell for the format, but at a price. The problem isn’t that you will be sad to put a -1/-1 counter on one of your creatures, the problem will be when you want to play this spell but have no creature in play that you can put a counter on.
Accursed Horde is an uncommon 3/3 Zombie for 3B. For 1B you can make a target attacking Zombie indestructible until end of turn. This is a very powerful combat ability. You don’t have to keep two mana up all the time, just when you attack with one of your Zombies. Your opponent doesn’t want to let you kill their blocker while keeping your Zombie alive for the mere cost of 1B. They won’t block unless they just have to. This card helps you get extra damage through many times without you actually activating the ability. This is a good card even if you aren’t going for a Zombie-based strategy.
Marauding Boneslasher is a common 3/3 Zombie Minotaur for 2B. This creature can’t block unless you control another Zombie. Clearly this card is best in a Zombie deck, preferably pairing black with white because that’s the color with the most non-black Zombies. However, aggressive black/red decks also want this card.
Scrounger of Souls is a common 3/4 Horror with lifelink for 4B. This casting cost would be too high in some other recent formats, but it’s just fine for a 3/4 lifelink creature in this sealed deck environment. Lifelink is often a killer-ability when it appears on black creatures and that is particularly true in this format. The reason is that there are a lot of decks taking the aggressive line. They are aggressive but they may not be able to finish you off before you land this big lifelink creature. This creature’s arrival is an immediate problem for aggressive opponents. It is very hard to kill with its four-toughness.
Wretched Camel is a common 2/1 Zombie Camel for 1B. When this creature dies, if you control a Desert or there is a Desert in your graveyard a target opponent discards a card. This card is good in most decks. Even though it may not be much more than a speed bump at times, it makes your opponent lose a card from their hand as long as you have a Desert either in play or in your graveyard. I would rate this card even higher except that you will so often not have a Desert in play in the first three or four turns of the game when you might first play your Wretched Camel.
Khenra Eternal is a common 2/2 Zombie Jackal Warrior with afflict 1 for 1B. This is a very simple creature, but he can be another link in the chain in a black/white Zombie deck or in a black/red aggro deck where the afflict ability might matter more often.
Overcome is an uncommon sorcery for 3GG that gives creatures you control +2/+2 and trample until end of turn. This slightly nerfed version of the classic Overrun may not feel particularly new or exciting but it will win a lot of games and worry opponents from the first Forest that you play each game.
Ambuscade is a common instant for 2G that gives a target creature you control +1/+0 and then deals damage equal to its power to a target creature an opponent controls. Keep in mind, this isn’t a fight effect. This effect is more like a sucker punch, a straight-up removal spell for green in most situations where it’s relevant.
Devotee of Strength is an uncommon 3/2 Naga Wizard for 2G. You can spend 4G to give a target creature +2/+2 until end of turn. Repeatable combat tricks like this one are generally very good. It’s a bit of a problem that this ability costs five mana. I believe the speed of this sealed format will support this card just fine.
Bitterbow Sharpshooters is a common 4/4 Jackal Archer with vigilance and reach for 4G. This card is likely to get yawns from some because it doesn’t look like a game-winning card. What it is is a bunch of stats and abilities for a fair price. Quite a bit better than Giant Spider for one more mana.
Feral Prowler is a common 1/3 Cat for 1G that draws a card for you when it dies. This two-drop blocks small things and lives and replaces itself when it finally dies. This makes it better than an average two-drop.
Sidewinder Naga is a common 3/2 Naga Warrior for 2G that gets +1/+0 and trample as long as you either have a Desert in play or in your graveyard. You don’t put Deserts in your deck because of this little common, but if you plan to include Deserts for other reasons you will want to go ahead and play Sidewinder Naga as well. He probably makes the cut in most green decks even without Deserts.
Oasis Ritualist is a common 2/4 Naga Druid for 3G with two tap abilities. You can tap the Ritualist for one mana of any color, or you can tap and exert Ritualist to add two mana of any one color. You don’t normally want to spend four mana on a creature that makes mana, but this card has enough value on the battlefield that he might be worth the trouble. Once he’s in play, your third color splashing problems are over and you might even play a six-drop on turn five, or even a seven-drop by exerting your Ritualist.
Gift of Strength is a common instant for 1G that gives a target creature +3/+3 and reach until end of turn. Defense against flyers is one reason to include this combat trick in your deck, but it’s also good as a tool of aggression in an angry green/red deck or in a more cunning green/black design.
Supreme Will is an uncommon instant for 2U. When you play it you choose to either counter a target spell unless its controller pays three mana or you look at the top four cards of your library putting the card of your choice in your hand while putting the other three cards on the bottom of your library in any order. The second ability of this card is oh so very close to our old friend Impulse from so many years ago. This card is a very useful tool for any blue sealed deck.
Ominous Sphinx is an uncommon 4/4 Sphinx with flying for 3UU. When you cycle or discard a card, a target creature an opponent controls gets -2/-0 until end of turn. My main interest in this card is simply as a 4/4 flyer for five mana. This is a bomb creature in this format. It’s triggered ability will certainly come in useful sometimes but isn’t something I would build around in my sealed deck. That means that this creature should be just as at home in a blue/white build as in a blue/black one.
Aerial Guide is a common 2/2 Drake with flying for 2U. When this creature attacks it gives another attacking creature flying until end of turn. Without playing a single game with this card as of yet I can tell you with confidence that this is better than any of the common blue creatures from Amonkhet. Evasion is the name of the game in limited. This is the base casting cost for a 2/2 flyer. This ability makes it profitable to play blue in attacking decks.
Unquenchable Thirst is a common enchantment for 1U. When this card enchants a creature, that creature is unable to untap during its controller’s untap step. Furthermore, if you have a Desert in play or in your graveyard, Unquenchable Thirst also taps the enchanted creature when this enchantment enters the battlefield. Without Deserts, this card is a decent blue removal card. With Deserts this becomes one of blue’s better removal cards in years. Better get some Deserts in your deck, I reckon.
Tragic Lesson is a common instant for 2U. You draw two cards and then discard a card unless you return a land you control to its owner’s hand. Normally, you pay three mana to draw two cards at sorcery speed. Tragic Lesson is an instant. As far as this card’s alleged “downside,” remember that you draw the cards before you have to decide whether to discard or return a land to your hand. Sometimes you will draw two cards you need and you won’t want to discard anything. That’s cool, return a land to your hand. Other times you’ll draw a land you don’t really need and you can choose to discard that. Other times, you’ll be excited about both cards you drew but you have something else in your hand that you’re happy to get rid of. There’s nothing tragic about this lesson.
Aven Reedstalker is a common 2/3 Bird Warrior with flying and flash for 3U. You might still play a 2/3 flyer that costs 3U if it didn’t have flash, but you certainly can’t ignore a 2/3 flyer that you can surprise your opponent with after they have declared attackers. You can’t fill up your deck with four-drops, but this one makes the cut.
Countervailing Winds is a common instant for 2U. When you play it you counter a target spell unless its controller pays one mana for each card in your graveyard. You can also cycle this card for two mana of any color. No, you’re not likely to counter something on turn three, but this card is essentially a hard counter later in the game. You know, when your opponent tries to play a bomb, for instance.
Non Basic Land Cards
There is a cycle of uncommon Desert cards, one for each color. These lands enter the battlefield untapped and can tap for either one colorless mana or one mana of a specific color when you tap it and pay one life. For example, Hashep Oasis will let you tap it and pay one life to get a green mana. Ifnir Deadlands works similarly and gives you black mana. Each of these uncommon Deserts also has a color specific ability. Hashep Oasis allows you to tap it and spend 1GG to sacrifice a Desert to give a target creature +3/+3 until end of turn. You can only use this ability when you could play a sorcery. Ifnir Deadlands lets you tap it and pay 2BB and sacrifice a Desert to put two -1/-1 counters on a target creature an opponent controls. Ipnu Rivulet can tap to produce blue mana. You can also tap it and spend 1U and sacrifice a Desert to mill the top four cards of a target player’s library into his graveyard. Shefet Dunes can tap for white mana. You can also tap it and pay 2WW and sacrifice a Desert to give your creatures +1/+1 until end of turn. Finally, Ramunap Ruins can tap for red mana. You can also tap the Ruins and pay 2RR and sacrifice a Desert to deal two damage to each opponent. The best thing about all of these uncommon Deserts is that their secondary abilities allow you to sacrifice *any* of your Deserts, not specifically themselves. You could give your blue deck a secondary win condition by simply including one or more Ipnu Rivulets and as many other Desert lands as you could reasonably fit into your deck. The “Deserts matter” subtheme is one of the more intriguing features of Hour of Devastation for sealed deck players.
There is a cycle of common Desert cards, one for each color. These lands include Desert of the Fervent, Desert of the Glorified, Desert of the Indomitable, Desert of the Mindful and Desert of the True. These lands enters the battlefield tapped and tap for one colored mana. Desert of the Fervent produces red mana, for example. Desert of the Fervent can also be cycled for 1R. The other four lands in this cycle can also be cycled for one colored mana and one generic mana. I believe it will be correct to play several of these in your sealed decks. The danger is that you have a land enter the battlefield tapped when you really need mana from that land right away. Entering the battlefield tapped is such a downside that it overshadows the value these cards have as cheap cycling cards in your deck. However, if you need Deserts in your deck and don’t have better options, playing these common cycling Deserts will usually be fine. You just don’t want to overdo it.
Crypt of the Eternals is an uncommon land that gains you one life when it enters the battlefield. You can tap this land for one colorless mana or you can use this land to filter a generic mana into either a blue, black or red mana. The Nicol Bolas colors… how interesting.
Survivors’ Encampment is a common Desert that taps for one colorless mana. You can also tap the Encampment and tap an untapped creature you control to make one of any color mana. This could be an easy way to access a third splashed color while including another Desert in your deck.
Sunset Pyramid is an uncommon artifact for two mana that enters the battlefield with three brick counters on it. You can pay two mana and tap the Pyramid and remove a brick counter to draw a card. You can also pay two mana and tap the Pyramid to scry for one. Card-drawing artifacts have been too slow for sealed deck the last several times they have appeared, but Sunset Pyramid is cheap enough to play and activate to make it useful for many sealed decks.
Traveler’s Amulet is a common artifact for one mana. You can pay one mana and sacrifice the Amulet to search your library for a basic land, reveal it, and put it into your hand. It doesn’t accelerate your mana but it can quickly allow you to find the basic land you need if you decide to splash a third color. This card was originally printed in Innistrad and was reprinted in Theros.
Manalith is a common artifact for three mana. You can tap Manalith for one mana of any color. I’m concerned that this color fixer/mana accelerator will be too slow for the sealed deck format but I believe it’s worth a try. It’s an efficient enough card for what it does. This card was originally printed in Magic 2012 six years ago in 2011. Confusing? I couldn’t agree more.
Appeal/Authority is an uncommon split aftermath card. Appeal is a sorcery for one green mana that gives a target creature +X/+X until end of turn where X is the number of creatures you control. Authority is a sorcery for 1W that taps up to two target creatures an opponent controls and gives your creatures vigilance until end of turn. This is an impress one-two punch for green/white decks that can be lethal in many situations. Even when you don’t win the game immediately, you risk little since your creatures have vigilance for the turn.
Obelisk Spider is an uncommon 1/4 Spider with reach for 1BG. Whenever this creature deals combat damage to another creature it puts a -1/-1 on that creature. Whenever you put one or more -1/-1 counters on a creature each opponent loses one life and you gain one life. There are a lot of ways to put -1/-1 counters on things with black and green cards, particularly if you get the right cards in your two Amonkhet boosters.
Bloodwater Entity is an uncommon 2/2 Elemental with flying and prowess for 1UR. When this creature enters the battlefield you can put a target instant or sorcery card from your graveyard on top of your library. Red gets good common removal in this set and it’s nice to know that you can get another use from a spell in your graveyard by playing this slick little flyer.
A Few Takeaways
There are a lot of reasons you will want Desert lands in your deck. For this reason, you are going to have to careful when you design your mana bases. It’s going to be easy to have three, four or even more Deserts in your deck, but make sure that your mana base design is based more on making sure you can play your spells and less on cute tricks that you can do with the uncommon and rare nonbasic lands.
I like the blue commons in this set much more than in Amonkhet. I think blue is stronger, overall, in this set as compared to Amonkhet. I sort of hate that I still rate blue the worst of the five colors. I don’t think blue is bad, I just like the other colors more for sealed deck.
The lack of good, straightforward removal effects make Amonkhet a sealed format where you could play a big creature without fearing its immediate removal. Red and black each gain so many common removal spells in this set that you are going to have to think a little differently. Big creatures are going to die more easily in Hour of Devastation decks than they did in Amonkhet decks.
Hour of Devastation will slow down the average speed of sealed decks as compared to Amonkhet. This is because there will be fewer cheap creatures with exert available. This doesn’t necessarily allow you to play a bunch of five and six-casting cards. Mana curves will continue to matter in this format almost as much as they did with Amonkhet, but there will be fewer blazing fast decks. Two-drop creatures will matter less in this format than they did in Amonkhet, although there are still some worth playing. Most importantly, Hour of Devastation should be just slow enough to make long games interesting and late game bombs a serious possibility.
Good luck this weekend in your prereleases. I hope we all come home with some good cards and some booster packs as prizes so that we can start booster drafting the set.
Thanks for reading.
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