The Dire Hour

Hour of Devastation promises to shake up the Standard metagame! What cards does Brennan DeCandio want to try ahead of SCG Cincinnati…and what card has him fearing for his Delirium-playing counterparts?

There are times when you’re right and times when you’re wrong. The Invitational was one of those times when I was indeed wrong. If you take a quick gander at the Grixis Metalwork Colossus deck I posted that went live last Friday, just before the start of the Modern portion, you might notice something similar to the list that Brian Coval piloted to win the Invitational itself.

For me, I’m both proud and disheartened at the same time. I’m beyond happy for Brian and the fact that he was able to take down the event with some help I was able to give him in the form of a Standard deck. I’m disheartened that I didn’t have the nerve myself to sleeve up the same deck and maybe have had a better record at the event itself. While I don’t think the deck I played was a bad call for the metagame I both expected and played against, I just know that I would have likely had a lot more fun putting 30 or 40 power on the battlefield as early as turn 4.

Aside from the event itself, Roanoke was a beautiful city with a lot of fun places to explore. As if you didn’t need more incentive to qualify for the next Invitational, getting to visit that city and be part of the biggest weekend Star City Games can offer is a great reason! Can’t wait for the next one already!

The Devastation!

With this past weekend’s Season One Invitational in the books, it’s time to set our sights on the future and see where that brings us in Season Two.

Many people have claimed that Hour of Devastation is an underpowered set and I’m not sure they’re seeing what I’m seeing. While the flashy cards were previewed early on in the season, there’s no shortage of impactful cards about to be released in Standard that I’m thrilled about!

While Harnessed Lightning has long been the go-to removal for every deck that can support red spells, it might be time for that to change. Abrade has a major upside to it that really can’t be overstated in that it kills a Heart of Kiran regardless of whether or not it’s a creature.

While that might not seem like the biggest upside, the tempo you don’t have to lose leaving up the two mana the following turn can mean all the difference if you’re trying to curve into a Glorybringer and attack a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Among other things, it deals with everything out of the newly crowned Metalwork Colossus king with ease, not to mention that being able to Terminate any Gearhulk you might be facing makes it Standard’s new most versatile removal spell.

The only knock against it is it can’t touch a Glorybringer or Archangel Avacyn. That is a pretty big downside to take when choosing to put Abrade in your deck over Harnessed Lightning, but I believe the upside outweighs it.

Counterspells have always had a downside: they can’t answer what’s already on the battlefield. That reason is why a card like Cryptic Command is one of the best counterspells we’ve ever been graced with and why Censor is also so good. If they’re not casting a spell you need to counter and you need to answer the battlefield, Censor and Cryptic Command can cycle to help find an answer or use one of their other modes to help catch back up.

Supreme Will is an amazing counterspell and might be one of the few that would get me excited to play Islands in Standard again. If you’ve ever seen any of my B/G Delirium decks, you’ll notice I often choose not to include a card like Transgress the Mind. The reason for that is I absolutely hate drawing dead cards late in the game. Mana Leak, the first mode on Supreme Will, is often a dead card late in the game if topdecked. Impulse, the second mode, is never dead. Combine those two cards and you have a card that’s good at almost every point and can offer good players the flexibility to make decisions depending on the game state.

Building on top of the cards that are very flexible being great, Doomfall is no exception. While Transgress the Mind is a card I always felt that black wanted to play in any kind of slower deck, the part where it can be a blank draw always deterred me from including it. Doomfall solves that issue entirely. Not only does the Edict mode on the card give it the ability to handle the battlefield when a discard effect isn’t what you want, it also exiles the creature!

Standard has been plagued with recursive creatures such as Scrapheap Scrounger and Relentless Dead, making Edict effects laughable, but no more! On a clear battlefield, Doomfall can even take out a troublesome God from Hour of Devastation whose ability to return to hand might prove to be too much for most decks to handle. I’m excited to finally have a flexible and powerful answer in black decks that has applications in almost every matchup at almost every point in the game.

Wow. That’s all I can say after seeing this card. Selfless Spirit? Nope! Archangel Avacyn? Nope! Ishkanah, Grafwidow and her spawn? Dead! Gideon Ally of Zendikar? Dead! Hour of Devastation deals with every problematic card a deck that’s interested in sweepers could want to deal with. This card will be the defining Wrath effect we’re going to have to get used to seeing for the duration of its legality. Besides its power in Constructed, the flavor of this card really draws me in. It literally is the Hour of Devastation and Nicol Bolas is unleashing his wrath on all who oppose him.

One card Hour of Devastation plays quite nicely with is Torrential Gearhulk. U/R Control has long since been missing a great catch-up card and this may very well be the answer they’ve been waiting for to make that archetype Tier 1.

The poster child for the set is here in all its glory.

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is the biggest, baddest planeswalker this side of Karn Liberated. While protecting itself with the minus ability isn’t likely to get you to the next turn with this mighty planeswalker, since it drops to only three loyalty, both of its plus abilities put it well out of range of most individual threats that are played in Standard. Being able to cast a spell from the opponent’s deck will be very hit or miss most of the time, but you have to think, they’re playing good cards too, right? While the biggest whiff will be hitting an opposing Attune with Aether, the upside of getting a free Glorybringer; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; or even something as simple as Unlicensed Disintegration could be game-changing.

While casting free spells is cool and flashy, the ability on this card I’m most scared of is the “exile two cards from hand” ability. The easiest comparison for that I can make and hopefully will resonate with people is to Emrakul, the Promised End. Emrakul, the Promised End was a card you could answer, but often, when your opponent would take your turn from you, they’d strip whatever answer you were holding to deal with her and leave you topdecking and not give you a lot of time to do so.

While Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh doesn’t quite strip you of all the answers you might be holding if you play around it, that’s only one of the three abilities it has you have to worry about. I fully expect to see Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh in Cincinnati next week and you’d best be ready to have game against decks playing him.

With those cards in mind, of course we’re drawn to a Grixis-colored deck such as this.

This is my starting point for what a Grixis deck would look like. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is going to be one of the most threatening cards to sit across from going forward. Any game she’s left unchecked on turn 4, the threat of her generating mana and having the God-Pharaoh cast as early as turn 5 is certainly something to be worried about.

While I did mention how well Torrential Gearhulk plays alongside Hour of Devastation, Goblin Dark-Dwellers has the ability to recast Doomfall, which only gets better when attached to a 4/4 body. When trying to attack a deck that’s trying to ramp into a giant threat or against a control deck attempting to take a turn off and cast Glimmer of Genius and has their shields down, taking whatever their best card is from their hand while putting a relevant threat onto the battlefield is exactly where I want to be. I feel that Goblin Dark-Dwellers has been long-forgotten in Standard and it may once more have its day in the sun.

It’s typical that a deck like this would have issues with its bigger, bluer counterpart; since usually the person who resolves Glimmer of Genius is ahead, the format might not be conducive to playing as many counter spells as it once was. One thing is clear: Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is going to be an influential card in Standard, and finding the right shell Week One might be the key to ending up on top.

With potential mirror matches of control decks on the rise, Fevered Visions seems poised to deal a lot of damage from sideboards, giving you a consistent stream of efficient threats or disruptive elements while punishing your opponents for playing a hyper-reactive game.

The card I’m saddest was printed is Crook of Condemnation. The lesser Relic of Progenitus still has a wide variety of utility, being able to pick and choose the card it exiles individually. I’m not sure what this card means for my Delirium friends in this last hour of their legality. All I know is that, if Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Grim Flayer are to still have a place in Standard, they have to have a backup plan in case they find themselves without a graveyard to feed from.

We’re at the beginning of the end for what has been the most dominant planeswalker to see play in Standard, second only to Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Despite all the new tools we’ve been given to fight Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the aggressive decks such as Mardu Vehicles take an early lead in the “best deck” category in Cincinnati. I have my doubts that will happen, but it certainly could if people are unwilling to give the new cards a try. I for one am ready for the Hour of Devastation to be upon us and want to see what new and exciting decks come from it!