Welcome to the desert oasis of Hour of Devastation, where the return of the God-Pharaoh is upon us! As with every expansion, we welcome new mechanics and new cards, which not only enhance existing decks, but also resurge forgotten archetypes and enable new strategies. What has Hour of Devastation brought to the world of Standard, and what have our players brought to the tables here in Kyoto?
White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift surprised the world by taking down a Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier. Running Strategic Planning and Champion of Wits, the focus was on filling up the graveyard quickly to enable Gate to the Afterlife. In addition, they also had Refurbish to recoup Cataclysmic Gearhulk or a binned God-Pharaoh's Gift. Thereafter, a steady stream of creatures would rise from the grave and overcome opponents quicker than they had expected.
In addition, Champion of Wits was also an integral enabler of emerge strategies, where you could use it to discard Kozilek's Return, and then sacrifice the 2/1 body to summon Elder Deep-Fiend! Eternalizing costs seven mana, but it is appreciated when your matches go long.
The Deserts from Hour of Devastation played very, very, important roles this weekend. Since they were all lands—which entered the battlefield untapped—it was not difficult for players to incorporate them into their mana base for irresistable value.
There were different reasons—all important—as to why each of these Deserts were crucial in the decks they were housed in. For starters, they all provided colorless mana, which meant that they assisted in the summoning of Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher.
White aggro decks welcomed one to four copies of Shefet Dunes, depending on what you were trying to do. Mardu Vehicles could play one or two copies in place of Plains, while Oketra's Monument and other tokens or White Weenie strategies could afford up to four since Shefet Dunes has obvious synergy with the "going wide" approach.
Full playsets of Ipnu Rivulet were seen in God-Pharaoh's Gift decks to mill yourself such that you could enable Gate to the Afterlife quickly, while Ifnir Deadlands served as bonus removal in Zombie and Black-Green Constrictor decks.
Hashep Oasis was played by 47 players, most of them trying to cast Hour of Promise while receiving two Zombie tokens from it. It was also witnessed in Red-Green Pummeler and Black-Green Constrictor decks, where it could be used pump Electrostatic Pummeler or Dreamstealer for likely calamity! Imagine that!
In the case of Ramunap Ruins, it resulted in the surge of Ramunap Red, where the focus was to use early, efficient creatures to apply pressure before finishing your opponent off with direct damage. Sunscorched Desert was extremely scary because it represented three damage if you played it and then sacrificed it to Ramunap Ruins. A handful players even included Dunes of the Dead to get a free Zombie while doing so.
Earthshaker Khenra also contributed greatly towards Ramunap Red's popularity for being one of the most efficient two-drops to have saw print recently. Combined with Ahn-Crop Crasher, it was very difficult to defend against Ramunap Red's little red men, and one could be severely punished for holding back potentially-useless blockers. Naturally, the prevalence of Ramunap Red also caused Chandra's Defeat to be included in a whooping 152 sideboards, as a cheap burn spell to not only nuke any creature in Ramunap Red, but also Chandra, Torch of Defiance!
Now that you understood the format a little more, let's talk about Crook of Condemnation.
As one of the most important sideboard cards in the format, it was played by no less than 113 players (a quarter of the entire field), who wanted to shut down the God-Pharaoh's Gift strategy, while occasionally clearing out Temur Emerge's graveyard of Kozilek's Return, Prized Amalgam, Haunted Dead and World Breaker. It was also randomly efficient against Torrential Gearhulk, embalm and eternalize cards, and hosed any deck that sought to abuse Minister of Inquiries or Perpetual Timepiece!
Over 150 people played with Scavenger Ground as well, since it doesn't sacrifice as many card slots in their 75. Take note that it also worked alongside the cycle of uncommon Deserts from Hour of Devastation if you don't need to clean out graveyards. For instance, you can still sacrifice it to Ramunap Ruins to deal your opponent 2 damage.
However, when it came to the most-heavily played card from Hour of Devastation, it was Abrade hands-down. Of the 463 players in the room, nearly 300 players were sporting at least one copy of Abrade, although the majority of them chose to split three or four copies between their main deck or sideboard.
It was not difficult to understand why, since it was one of the most powerful and flexible answers printed in recent years. Not only does it kill important creatures (no two-drop passes the Abrade test, as the pros say), it will also shatter Heart of Kiran, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, as well as God-Pharaoh's Gift! This indicated that almost two-thirds of the players in the room today were playing red, making it the most dominant color at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.
Hour of Devastation certainly provided numerous possibilities but did we also mention that Hour of Devastation (the card, specifically) was a key board sweeper in Blue-Red Control and Red-Green Ramp? Hour of Devastation (the set, specifically) added a ton of tools to new decks, but specifically the color red, and we're seeing that here in full force this weekend.