Hour Of Devastation: Building Decks With White

You want The Innovator? You got him! He’s starting the season off with the endless builds you’ve come to expect for SCG Cincinnati!

The Hour of Devastation is upon us, and there’s a lot of work to brew. Today, I’d like to take a look at the white cards of the new set and their applications in Constructed.

Act of Heroism is probably just a Draft trick, but if it does find a home, it’s probably because of its interaction with exert abilities and other tap abilities. That said, it’s hard to imagine we’d actually be wanting to block two creatures often enough to be worth playing this over Prepare // Fight, and that’s not exactly the most ubiquitous staple to begin with.

That said, maybe Prepare // Fight has new purpose with the printing of Pride Sovereign

Between Pride Sovereign and Regal Caracal, we might actually have enough incentives to play Cat tribal. That Pride Sovereign has such a powerful tap ability increases the appeal of tricks like Prepare // Fight (or other untap spells, like Blessed Alliance). It also increases the value of Always Watching, even though the enchantment doesn’t buff the Cat tokens. Giving Pride Sovereign vigilance means we can attack and make tokens, of course, but it also means our attack is for two more, if we want.

Adorned Pouncer is one of the most attractive Cats in Standard, and likely to show up in a variety of decks without any tribal support. Of course, the nature of Pride Sovereign and Regal Caracal is that they are each so powerful of cards on their own that they don’t really need to be supporting all that many Cats to pay for themselves. Perhaps we don’t even need Longtusk Cub, Initiate’s Companion, Scythe Leopard, or Prowling Serpopard?

Heck, you could go even further and cut the Sacred Cats if you’re not particularly in the market for token-making. That said, lifelink is a pretty respectable ability for a deck with a variety of pump cards. Appeal // Authority in particular works well with so many lifelink creatures.

Of course, Appeal // Authority really shines when targeting an Adorned Pouncer, leading to some pretty big turns out of nowhere. This combo is also not exclusively the domain of dedicated Cats decks. For instance:

Verdurous Gearhulk can be pretty sweet buffing an Adorned Pouncer, though the curve can make things a little awkward. Adorned Pouncer gets so much power from being eternalized as a five-cost 4/4 double striker that our appetite for five-drops is lower than normal.

One last application of Adorned Pouncer I’d like to touch on is its use in some kind of dedicated graveyard-based strategy. Maybe it can be a part of some kind of Delirium deck. Then again, maybe we’re supposed to be milling ourselves with cards like Benefaction of Rhonas.

Normally, you can work to make Benefaction of Rhonas a fairly reliable draw-two with selection. However, with enough graveyard cards, it starts looking like a draw-three or more. For instance:

Adorned Pouncer, Honored Hydra, Angel of Sanctions, Sunscourge Champion, Appeal // Authority…we’re talking about an awful lot of cards that can still bring us value, even when they aren’t one of the two cards we’re taking from the Benefaction.

Sunscourge Champion is a very interesting card. Without trying, it’s sort of a sideways Kitchen Finks. You get a 2/3 for three that gains you two life, but then, instead of a 2/1 for zero that gains you two life, you get a 4/4 for four that gains you four life. You do have to discard a card, but that’s basically transforming whatever you’re discarding into an Obstinate Baloth. Of course, that’s where the synergies come in that make the card actually good. If you discard an Honored Hydra, you’re actually turning the cost into upside. Additionally, stuff like a Gideon emblem means you’re gaining more life on both sides of the card.

Draft only. We’ve just got so many better options for this type of effect.

The closest comparison to Angel of Condemnation is Eldrazi Displacer. Flying and vigilance are great, though having to tap to use either ability means the card doesn’t have “virtual haste” the way Eldrazi Displacer does. While it does have that exert ability as an added way to threaten to lock opponents out, it can be a bit of a house of cards. If your opponent can kill the Angel, you’ll have lost many turns of progress.

One interesting difference between Angel of Condemnation and Eldrazi Displacer is the speed at which the target returns. With the creature gone until the end of the turn, there’s plenty of time to Wasteland Stranger it away for good…

While this execution is very rough, the primary tech here is the use of pain-Deserts to enable colorless Eldrazi.

Having a bunch of respectable colored sources that also fuel colorless-only Eldrazi represents a major change to the Standard landscape. There are many exciting new ways to build manabases that enable a very different mix of spells than we’ve be able to reasonable run recently. For instance, imagine the possibilities with a manabase like:

4 Dunes of the Dead

4 Aether Hub

4 Shambling Vents

4 Concealed Courtyard

4 Shefet Dunes

4 Ifnir Deadlands

1 Swamp

1 Plains

These new lands might also have interesting applications for mono-color decks. For instance:

Or, if we wanted to go even deeper, we could look at infusing a strategy like this with some new synergy, such as Banewhip Punisher and Grind // Dust.

Grind // Dust is an extremely exciting payoff for an extremely poorly supported subtheme. However, it’s so good on its own, we might not need to try very hard. It’s possible that Ifnir Deadlands is enough, though it might take Banewhip Punisher to push it over the edge.

Alternatively, we could focus on maximizing Grind // Dust by pairing it with Archfiend of Ifnir, letting us build a Plague Wind.

Obviously, we’re not always going to have an Archfiend on the battlefield, but it is an attractive prospect, dropping the Archfiend on six, cycling something for one, and then being able to clean up the following turn, even if they kill the Archfiend.

One other Shefet Dunes synergy I’d like to try out is pairing the card with Hour of Promise. Hour of Promise can set up all the Desert synergies, of course, and if we’re playing some kind of a tokens deck, we might be especially appreciative of extra global pumps lying around.

Hour of Promise is one of the most enticing cards in the set, and I just keep coming back to how sick it is to search up double Shrine of the Forsaken Gods whenever you happen to draw Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

This package is so tight, we might be able to put it into some very non-traditional shells. For instance, here it is a G/W Tokens deck:

I am skeptical that we’re actually going to even want Desert of the Indomitable, but Desert of the True is right out.

Maybe some kind of Splendid Reclamation deck or New Perspectives deck will utilize it, but I truly doubt it.

With so many good options to cycle for one mana, we really need to want to cast two-cost cyclers. A six-mana 4/4 flier isn’t remotely close in Constructed. Compare to Curator of Mysteries.

We wouldn’t want to cast this often enough to play it with a cycling cost of two. To make matters worse, it doesn’t even have cycling!

Hour of Devastation is such a powerful new sweeper, I am skeptical of putting all our eggs into the Crested Sunmare basket. Nevertheless, if we can make even one token, we’re way, way ahead. While I don’t think you have to go all-in to make Crested Sunmare worth it, it’s nice to get an idea of the extremes, particularly when there is so much competition at the five-spot anyway.

Here, we’re going pretty hard on the lifegain theme, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we could get by on a lot less. It’s particularly sweet when the lifegain card can be played on our opponent’s turn so that we’re making two 5/5s a turn rather than just one.

Some other cards to keep in mind:

While Crested Sunmare doesn’t trigger it straight-up, we could also look to God-Pharaoh’s Faithful for repeated lifegain triggers.

God-Pharaoh’s Faithful actually looks pretty solid. At the very least, it’s a potential sideboard option, doing a little bit of blocking while gaining a pretty good chunk of life in decks with card draw. I’m particularly interested in trying it in some kind of Painful Truths deck. Costing just one is great with so much extra card draw, getting cards out of our hand before casting Truths. The lifegain is better-leveraged when we’re using our life as a resource.

Dauntless Aven is just not quite efficient enough to try to jam it in some kind of Exert deck, but it wouldn’t be the worst. For now, I’m thinking Draft, however.

Probably Draft, but it’s not completely out of the question. The chances are slim, though. If you compare Desert’s Hold to Unlicensed Disintegration, the comparison isn’t great. Pacifism is definitely weaker than Murder, and Desert’s Hold actually costs an extra mana (even though they both have a “quest” you have to complete to get the bonus).

Once you factor in just how steep competition is at the three-spot, those chances really don’t hold up. They evaporate. They desert you. They dry up.

Like the way water does in a desert.

I think you’d probably have to be really taking advantage of it as an enchantment. Otherwise, whenever you lose a whole game on account of that extra mana, you’re going to get your just deserts.

Draft chaff, but if your plan is to outlast the mirror match, it’ll have you laughing last as you take out the trash.

Like this card.

Djeru, With Eyes Open has some aesthetic similarities to Thalia’s Lancers, but a toolbox of planeswalkers is actually much better than a toolbox of legendary cards at the moment. Part of the strength comes from planeswalker payoffs, like Oath of Liliana. Part of the strength comes from the built-in mondo-combo of searching up Liliana, Death’s Majesty. Djeru, With Eyes Open makes killing Liliana much harder, and her ability to get Djeru back (and find another planeswalker while he’s at it) is actually very difficult to slog through. He can even go find another copy of Liliana!

Anything with cycling of just one white mana is at least worth a second look, though nowhere specifically comes to mind yet. It’s such an aggressive ability, it’d be nice to use it in some tempo-based strategy with a number of cycling payoffs, but it’s also in a color that doesn’t really feature cycling payoffs itself. It’s such a versatile ability, though, and the cycling ability so strong, I’d bet it shows up in high-level play.

Duty. Absolute duty. And I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t serve me.

A solid sideboard card, not only for hitting Gideon (and gaining tons of life), but also for hitting cheap, fast creatures like Toolcraft Exemplar, Thalia’s Lieutenant, Archangel Avacyn, Shambling Vent, and Needle Spires.

Hour of Revelation has a lot of similarities to Akroma’s Vengeance, though it also hits planeswalkers. While it doesn’t cycle, some decks will be able to take advantage of the discard from time to time (especially with Selfless Spirit). For the most part, however, it’s just sweeping the battlefield for six.

The biggest challenge to running Hour of Revelation is skipping cards like Cast Out. Cast Out becomes a serious liability if you’re planning to Hour of Revelation, but if the plan is to rely on Hour to solve those problems, maybe it doesn’t matter.

While Gideon of the Trials might be enough, I like having a backup victory condition. Torrential Gearhulk may be far more powerful, but it is nice that Striped Riverwinder doesn’t turn on an opposing Unlicensed Disintegration or Harnessed Lightning.

A cycling cost of one is just not very high, and when you actually cast the Riverwinder, the lower efficiency than a card like Curator of Mysteries is less relevant.

I am cautious about this one, as there are lots of good threes in blue and white (Spell Queller, Stasis Snare, Disallow, Supreme Will, etc). However, depending on the metagame, Immolating Glare is sometimes less of a turn 2 play than a turn 3 play (at least on the play). Getting a Flashback Faithless Looting is a desirable upside, but I’m guessing the numbers just don’t quite line up right, at least without some graveyard synergies. Now, with graveyard synergies, we might actually be talking, but we’d have to be playing a graveyard-synergy deck that can actually make use of Immolating Glare.

Mummy Paramount is a pretty attractive Zombie payoff where they really needed it: the two-spot on the curve. Wayward Servant was already such an attractive two-drop, there was a reasonable argument to be made for stretching the mana (and it is a stretch). Now, however, we’re getting a much bigger payoff, especially since Binding Mummy is still a nice option.

Being able to play an even lower curve might make us reconsider In Oketra’s Name, but I want to try Unconventional Tactics first.

When you think about it in terms of the impact Elspeth, Knight-Errant can have on a strategy, the subtle strength of Unconventional Tactics becomes clearer. Mummy Paramount and Diregraf Colossus are both excellent targets, but anyone will do in a pinch. It’s also worth remembering that, when the game goes long, you might be able to set up a turn where you cast Unconventional Tactics twice in the same turn.

In additional to have a recurring threat of sending Mummies airborne, Unconventional Tactics is also a mondo-combo with Cryptbreaker, letting us fuel the Zombie-making even more quickly.

Might this be a place for the Desert synergies from earlier?

Too mana-intensive for Constructed, and the abilities are much less relevant there.

Leave // Chance is primarily about synergies with enters-the-battlefield triggers, self-contained (like Oath of Nissa) or external (like Sram, Senior Edificer). I am not overly optimistic about a Paradoxical Outcome without the card draw up front, at least in Standard. It might be kind of sweet in some Modern or Legacy Puresteel Paladin deck, though. It’s competing with Retrace, which costs just one. However, maybe we can make better use of it for other synergies (or just the occasional Winds of Change blowing through, or perhaps the Tolarian Winds).

The other way to use Leave // Chance is an extremely dedicated graveyard synergy strategy. Being able to dredge up a Tolarian Winds is not trivial.

Oketra’s Avenger is a pretty suspect two-drop, probably mostly for Draft. However, if it finds a home, it’s probably some kind of dedicated Exert deck. That said, I’m guessing we’ve got enough better options to not need to dip so low.

In such a deck, we’re getting extra mileage out of Glory-Bound Initiate, Glorybringer, Ahn-Crop Crasher, and Steward of Solidarity from a couple of explicit exert payoffs. We already had access to Battlefield Scavenger, but now, we gain Resolute Survivors.

Resolute Survivors’s draining really adds up, and it has “virtual haste,” as you can drop and immediately drain your opponent for each of your attackers to exert. Once you factor in Always Watching, you can really get a great multiplier on all of your units.

Steward of Solidarity is an important card to keep an eye on, as it has “arbitrarily large combo” written all over it. For instance, in Modern, Steward of Solidarity into Intruder Alarm makes a pretty intense curve (with Thraben Doomsayer for added redundancy).

I appreciate where its heart’s at, but I just don’t think there’s enough rate to make up for the vulnerability of a 3/2, particularly when Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is an option.

This is a pretty intense card against Lava Spike decks.

To understand why Oketra’s Last Mercy is so much more of an anti-Burn card than anti-aggression in general (even more so than most lifegain), it’s important to consider how your life total was lowered in the first place. Lifegain is typically very strong against Burn, as they typically sacrificed resources to do damage to you, and the rate at which you can trade resources (like cards) for life is more efficient. Besides, you only need to stay above one life. The first nineteen points of damage are “free.”

Oketra’s Last Mercy is capable of gaining a massive amount of life, frequently thirteen or more, which is basically six turns of burn spells in Modern (since they are drawing some Mountain). It’s balanced by forcing you to skip untapping your lands the next turn.

If your opponent sacrificed all their resources to do that thirteen damage, they aren’t necessarily in a great position to take advantage of that “shields down” turn. However, if they did that thirteen damage with creatures and planeswalkers, threats they still have, they might be capable of doing another thirteen damage by the time you next untap (remember, they get to attack twice in that time).

I’m not sure how much market there is for such an anti-Burn card, but if such a problem emerges, it’s a great option to consider. Even as a niche role-player for general control strategies, it might find a home, particularly if the control deck can be built with a fair number of artifact mana sources, mana creatures, or planeswalkers, allowing them to function despite missing their lands untapping.

Normally, it’s pretty easy to write a card like this off as too slow, but this one has such a profound impact on the game, it’d be nice to look at just how hard we’d have to work. This isn’t just a Humility, although that’s an important and appealing part of the package. It’s a one-way Humility, plus it turns off many artifacts and special land abilities (including creature-lands and fetching), and even some enchantment abilities.

U/R Control? Four 1/1s for six isn’t great, especially when Wandering Fumarole can’t be activated, nor can Dynavolt Tower and the like.

Mardu? Well, at least planeswalkers do all right…

Zombies? Liliana’s Mastery does help…

Okay, it’s not necessarily about locking someone out completely. Maybe just having one Overwhelming Splendor in a toolbox could add a potent dimension to a strategy. For instance:

The thing is, I don’t think Overwhelming Splendor is best hardcast in a creature-less deck. If we were just playing some kind of green mana creature deck that could ramp it out ahead of schedule, suddenly, whatever random green creatures we have lying around would dominate the battlefield.

Draft removal at best. Compare to Farm // Market.

It seeks Safe Passage and is kind of a Pariah, though it’s cheap and leaves around pants. Kind of like a roommate I used to have.

I don’t see an immediate home, but it’s a novel enough effect, it can’t be dismissed completely.

In Standard, Solemnity hits energy counters and Winding Constrictor decks, especially Walking Ballista. In terms of proactive synergies, it combos with creatures that get -1/-1 counters as a drawback, like Crocodile of the Crossing, and can be used to speed up Channeler Initiate and Exemplar of Strength.

In more powered-up formats, the card is a stone-cold killer against Infect and has some strengths against Arcbound Ravager and Inkmoth Nexus (though I’m suspicious that we’d actually want it enough to sideboard in against Affinity unless we have some other synergy with it).

Like Melira, it combos with Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap, though if we’re talking Legacy, it means any future Dark Depths you play will trigger immediately.

Draft only. At least until they print Regal Camel.

And probably still then.