As was recently announced by Mark Rosewater, small sets as we know them are going away, and that marks a big change for us who partake in a draft or three on the weekend. While this change is interesting and overall good for us Limited players, it's not taking place just yet.
For now, we have Hour of Devastation coming into the mix and joining Amonkhet to make our new Limited environment.
What We Know
Let's zoom out just a bit to get a feel for what is actually happening. We've been drafting Amonkhet for a few months now, and the format is pretty well sorted out.
The name of the game? Aggression.
Exert had a huge impact on the format, making blocks range from laughably bad to not a great option. When an aggressive mechanic ends up being the marquee mechanic for a set, it creates a scenario where it is the bottom line for the set.
You can't expect to do well if you are doing things that don't affect the board while your opponent is affecting the board in a big way. This fundamentally changes how you approach a format.
As an example, let's say you open a pack and narrow your choice down to these two cards:
In an average format, you would have an interesting decision to make here: Do you want the powerful but expensive seven-drop that could win you the game on its own? Or do you want the efficient and consistent two-drop?
In Amonkhet the answer is clear: you want the two-drop! And I would go as far as saying you are simply making a mistake if you take the Cruel Reality. A mistake I have made and will continue to make, by the way.
Triple Amonkhet was a fast, aggressive format that punished blocking. But we aren't playing triple Amonkhet anymore, we are playing with two packs of Hour of Devastation and one of Amonkhet, which means that the small set is the set that dictates a lot of how the draft will go. The one pack of Amonkhet comes at the end of the draft, but it still has a sizable impact on the format as it still makes up one third of the total cards opened.
So it's through the lens of an aggressive format that we'll be looking at a few of the archetypes today.
White-Black Zombies may have been the best deck in Amonkhet from a practical standpoint. Most people put Red-White Exert as the most powerful archetype, which it was, but it was also the most hotly contested amongst drafters. You were likely to be drafting it against one or even two other players at your table, which meant the version you ended up with was often just a fine example of the deck rather than a powerhouse.
Zombies on the other hand was easier to see when open. Don't get me wrong, people loved drafting this deck too, but if it was open it was much easier to spot. And if you were the only Zombie drafter at the table, you were in a fantastic position.
In Hour of Devastation the Zombie horde grows even stronger.
Mummy Paramount fits perfectly into the way Zombies plays out in this block. It's a two-drop, which is huge as those are always in demand for a deck like this. It's also an aggressive card in that it only gets the pump ability on your turn for the most part, which will encourage you to attack with it. Additionally it's a common, so you can load up on these. (Remember, this is a small set, so you're way more likely to get multiples of a common.)
Marauding Boneslasher has an extremely sweet name, but also hits really hard as a 3/3 for three mana, and in a proper Zombie deck, it will often have no drawback at all.
More aggressive two-drops you say? Sure, why not? Khenra Eternal is yet another two-mana attacker with the Zombie creature type that will serve just perfectly in this type of deck. Afflict creatures are a great way to end the game if you get out to one of those quick starts but can't quite get the last few damage points in. Merciless Eternal is another of the same type of card—hard to block effectively and also good at punching in damage in the late game regardless of the blockers your opponent has.
Unraveling Mummy is the headliner uncommon for this archetype, and it's a very good one at that. Its activated abilities might seem sketchy given that you must be attacking to use them, but when you remember how aggressively the Zombies in this set are leaning, it makes sense. Also, this particular combination of activated abilities makes for great attacks and not great blocks. Seeing a theme here?
Blue-Red Spells was one of my favorite decks to draft in Amonkhet. It was powerful, kind of consistent, and hit the format from a cool angle. The problem was that I didn't get to draft it very often because it relied heavily on two or three big payoff cards at uncommon.
If you got three or four of these cards, you were set. But if you didn't, the deck did a lot of wheel-spinning and not a lot of actual winning, which made it difficult to go for in draft since you never knew if you were going to get the good stuff or not.
In Hour of Devastation, it seems that this deck has a lot of good ways to get spells into the graveyard, but fewer great ways to capitalize on them. Instead, we have a bit more of a tempo-oriented game plan that is capable of quick kills and can be a nightmare for the opponent because of its ability to punch through for incidental damage.
The short- and long-term damage potential for this deck is downright scary. Not only can it punch through for a lot of damage via cards like Riddleform and Aerial Guide, it can also chip away at a withering life total with cards like Blur of Blades, Fervent Paincaster, and Firebrand Archer. Yikes.
The interesting question to me is where the line is between how many spells you want and how many creatures you want. This set feels like the creatures are a bit more important, which is a contrast to Amonkhet where the spell density was more important.
Let's face it: the embalm deck never really came together in Amonkhet. Sure, you'd play creatures with embalm here and there, but you were rarely building around the effect. Now we have eternalize, which is much better than embalm.
The thing about embalm was that it didn't scale effectively with the game. You might feel okay about playing an early creature for its normal cost, but when you had to pay much more later in the game and ended up with the same creature, it felt like it wasn't keeping up. A 2/2 or 3/2 or 1/3 late in the game just didn't have enough impact on the board, even if you were getting it for "free" from your graveyard.
Eternalize changes that, as the 2/3 you played on turn three now becomes a big 4/4 later in the game.
I saw this card and it made me wonder about White-Blue Eternalize as an archetype in the new format.
Vizier of the Anointed is an uncommon build-around based on both eternalize and embalm, and it looks like it could have some promise. I looked up the rest of the eternalize cards in Hour of Devastation and if you exclude rares, there are a total of four others, all in either blue or white:
This is how it goes sometimes early in the format. You get an idea, you look into it, and it doesn't really pan out. This doesn't mean that if you build around a Vizier of the Anointed that it won't be a good card. Remember, it searches through your library, so you don't need a ton of eternalize and embalm creatures to make it pretty good. That said, it doesn't look like this archetype is going to be something you'll draft often simply because there aren't that many options for it, and the options we do have range from not great to pretty good.
Good to know.
Think Big Picture
Amonkhet set the stage for this format to be very aggressive thanks to exert. I would assume similar for Hour of Devastation, but leave room in your mind for the chance that it plays out significantly differently than Amonkhet. As we found out when we looked into the white-blue archetype, things don't always pan out how you expect them to. And with a whole bunch of new cards to draw us in, anything could happen—which, of course, is why we love this stuff so much.
Until next time!